Category Archives: family

One Child’s Language: at 14 months

Linguists sometimes differentiate between active and passive bilinguals, the active ones speaking as well as understanding more than one language, the passive ones understanding a second language well enough but speaking in their own language. On that scale, our child could be classified as a passive monolingual. She understands a lot of words and expressions and social rituals but doesn’t try to use the appropriate words very actively. She recognizes so many words that we are tempted to switch languages or spell things out sometimes so that we don’t get her all keyed up to do something we’re not ready to do immediately—like eat or go out for a walk. She gets confused by some near-rhymes, like hedge and head, tongue and thumb, knees and sneeze. She is most fond of d, t, j, and associated consonants, together with i, a, and u for vowels. So far, she hasn’t pointed and labelled things for herself, only elicited labels from us or pointed at things we label. Her first “parroted” word was the sound of an owl she picked up from reading an animal book with the babysitter’s daughter. Now when the mood strikes her, she runs to a picture-map of the zoo and points to the owl, saying “Hu! Hu!” But of course she’s never attempted owl. The only real words she has tried to imitate are Jeep, juice, zoo, and one attempt at boo that came out pretty close to zoo.

Of course, adults don’t usually sit around naming things at each other. There are other more appropriate social rituals that involve language. She is starting to master some of them. After months of observing us waving bye-bye to each other every morning for her benefit, she has finally figured out what it means and now waves bye-bye to parting friends and vehicles, to bushes whose flowers she has stopped and patted, and to the automatic money machine whose buttons she often stops to play with on the way to the babysitter. She has just begun to say “Hi” appropriately every once in a while, but never on demand. She recognizes yes/no questions addressed to her and often responds with a vigorous shake of the head. At other times, she responds to every question, statement, or command with “huh?”

UPDATE: This child is now a 24-year-old teacher in Boston Public Schools.

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One Child’s Language: at 13 months

You can hardly sit down and read in her vicinity without her bringing one of her books over for you to read with her. She loves her books and can obviously match pictures in the book to analogous pictures in other contexts, or to real life.

She is making good headway now with language. She isn’t saying much that resembles English words, but she has gotten a lot more consonants and vowels under control and she strings together several groups of authentic-sounding syllables into play words. She does a lot of singing and babbling to herself, especially when we are out for a walk in the evenings or driving somewhere. She may just be on the verge of trying to parrot words we say to her, but she has already mastered the concept of labeling. She loves to extract labels from us for the things she points to. The relationship between fixed labels and the varied items those labels refer to is very clear to her. Her favorite game is to point to one thing for us to label, then point to another, then move her head and finger back and forth too fast for us to keep repeating the two labels in succession.

UPDATE: This child is now a 24-year-old teacher in Boston Public Schools.


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One Child’s Language: at 11 months

Three social encounters that happened at about the some time showed us very clearly how uncomfortable she is with a lot of fussing and close attention by people she doesn’t know very well. First, we took her in to the Deloitte office (where her dad used to work). There are a bunch of friendly women there who love to poke, hold, tickle, and tease babies. She froze until we walked away from the crowd, where she could run about well out of reach of any eager arms. At about the same time, we took her in for her first picture-taking experience. It was very nearly a disaster what with all the close attention the photographer and her assistant was giving her. But the same weekend, I had letters to drop off with some Yapese teachers who were in Waikiki on their way home. I walked into their hotel room with her and then put her down on the floor. Soon she was squatting near one of them, watching as he repacked his suitcase. Later, she was playing between the chairs where two other men were sitting, just as content as could be. The difference here was that these folks weren’t paying any attention to her.

Music and dance continue to be an important to her. Sometimes music is the only thing that will calm or distract her. We have a variety of cassettes, but I guess she really hasn’t heard much hard rock or country western. On the day she was crying so much we used them all. She recognized the Dave Brubeck tape as one that Daddy has danced to with her; she had been sitting in my lap, but as soon as that tape came on, she reached out for him.

She has begun to follow our fingers when we point, and she uses her own index fingers to point, too. Outside she points out all the buses; we ride them twice a day now to her babysitter’s place, so they are really important to her. At home, she points to things she wants or things she wants us to name or talk about.

Her passive vocabulary is growing rapidly. Every day she recognizes more and more things by name, and it now seems to take very few instances of repetition before she “has it.” Her spoken vocabulary seems to be shrinking, but she makes the few syllables she’s using go far, and she has begun to add final consonants to some of them.

UPDATE: This child is now a 24-year-old teacher in Boston Public Schools.

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One Child’s Language: at 10 months

She enjoys music very much, knows that it comes from the cassette player (home) or the stereo (Grandpa’s house), claps hands, “dances” (by rocking back and forth), or bangs on the table when the music starts. She often sits down to look at books while music is playing.

She has begun to recognize familiar questions and phrases, for example: Where is Daddy/the puppy/the teddy bear book/the jingle bell block/the ball/your toe? Drink water. How big are you? Stretch. Let’s go out.

UPDATE: This child is now a 24-year-old teacher in Boston Public Schools.

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One Child’s Language: at 8 months

She is walking. About ten days ago we began trying to walk her with just one hand because it helped her to stand more erect…. Also this week, she finally came up with her first honest-to-goodness consonant, /b/. So, we hear a lot of /bababa/ and /b b b/. She is such fun to watch when she is playing by herself, pulling apart a stack of plastic bowls or picking small things out of a basket, babbling to herself. It doesn’t usually last more than about ten minutes before she wants to involve one of us in her play. Her favorite way to do this is with peek-a-boo….

Just this morning she is trying out a whole bunch of new sounds, some approaching /d/ and /y/. Also real throat-clearing to go along with the cough that has been part of her “vocabulary” for several months. As her dad says, her speech is not instrumental yet; it is an end in itself. She is definitely having fun with it.

UPDATE: This child is now a 24-year-old teacher in Boston Public Schools.

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Rising Patriarchy in Japan, 1280-1450

From Japan to 1600: A Social and Economic History, by William Wayne Farris (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2009), pp. 158-161:

Family and gender relations among almost all classes saw the growing power of men and a consequent decline for women. Warriors of exalted status lived in households dominated by a male head. His wife (and concubines) came to live in his house. The wife frequently attained her status as a result of a political alliance with another samurai family. Prospective wives were expected to present their mates with a dowry. By 1450, most samurai practiced unigeniture. sometimes there was also a primary daughter who could inherit property in perpetuity. Eventually, however, all siblings except the male heir lost out. Daughters were married out to other families or took the tonsure. Secondary sons tried to build their own territorial bases and frequently quarreled with the heir over property. As was true earlier, most families included servants and vassals bound by fictive kinship ties. Each main family had cadet lines on which they counted for support but which were often sources of political and economic competition….

Before 1280, commoner kinship had been bilateral, the status of women had been high, families were unstable, and divorce and remarriage were usual. The decrease in the death rate and improvements in the economy during 1280–1450 encouraged the formation of more stable farming families settled in the same village for several generations. Instead of extended lineages based on ancient surnames, nuclear families took last names based on the place where they lived, such as Mizoguchi (“mouth of the ditch”) or Fujino (“wisteria moor”). The greater wealth of individual commoner families meant not only geographical stability, but also a patrimony to pass along to an heir.

These new units were called stem families, or ie, and were fairly common in central and western Japan by 1450. Stem families placed great value on the lineage and passed along property and the family’s occupation to a male heir. They also cared for their elders and kept ancestral tablets to commemorate the dead. The head of the ie was responsible for taxes and often served as a member of the village shrine association. In these stem families, there was a new emphasis on the conjugal pair, with the male now more dominant. He was almost always the head of the ie and named one of his sons as heir, ordinarily the eldest son. The adoption of a male from another family was also common. Depending on their wealth, these households might include unrelated people such as servants….

Literature and religious doctrine reveal the decline of women’s status during this epoch. For example, Tomoe, the heroic woman warrior of 1180, became a cross-dressing shaman in fourteenth-century theater. In Buddhism, women were more closely associated with death, decay, and pollution, and one picture scroll depicts women as “evil, lascivious, and furious when rejected.” Stories written in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries explained the proper behavior for women and made them obedient to their fathers and mates. One monk wrote A Mirror for Women in 1300, listing the seven serious faults of women and prescribing ways to overcome them. Even a separate spoken and written language evolved exclusively for females.

The slow decline in women’s status beginning in the late thirteenth century was too much for some. Sixty percent of all nunneries in Japan were established between 1270 and 1470. When women took the tonsure and resided exclusively with other women, many may have found that they could manage property, create a business, and run their own lives, options not available to a woman living in an ie. During this era, these women came to be known as “those who did not form a family.” Religion also provided other comforts to females. For instance, Murōji … became known as “the Mount Kōya for women.” Females went on pilgrimages there and placed votive offerings in the shape of breasts on the walls….

Some single women reacted by finding other outlets for their talents. Wandering performers, including the ones based at Kumano, journeyed from village to village providing entertainment by juggling, dancing, doing acrobatics, or acting out or vocalizing popular stories and Buddhist sermons. They told tales guiding their listeners past fierce animals, hungry ghosts, never-ending battles, and the other realms of hell on the way to Amida’s Paradise. They thrilled their audience with accounts of famous warriors such as Yoritomo and his brother Yoshitsune. Using various props such as flowers, picture scrolls, and musical instruments, they helped to link persons of diverse stations in a more unified culture of storytelling. They also raised donations for local Buddhist temples.

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Scott Meredith Manuscript Rejection Letter, 1952

My maternal grandmother received the following 4-page, single-spaced, detailed rejection letter in response to a novel-length manuscript she submitted between short stints of teaching in various rural schools in West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia during the 1950s after abandoning her husband, who was 27 years older than her. She got her teaching certificate in 1915, after attending Harrisonburg State Normal and Industrial School, then did further coursework at Radford College (1915-18). From 1919 to 1951, she married and raised 4 children, my mother being her youngest. She wanted to be a writer, but only really succeeded at publishing short devotional pieces for magazines like The Upper Room, which never paid a living wage. So she taught school. Perhaps I’ll post more about her teaching career later on, since my wife is a teacher, my daughter is now a teacher, and I’ve been offering this free, online extension course (no grades!) in Obscure History Studies since 2003.

Literary Agency

580 Fifth Avenue
New York 36, N. Y.
PLaza 7-8795-6
Cable Address: Scottmere

April 24, 1952

Mrs. Janie S. Clay [not her real surname—J.],
Jones Spring
West Virginia

Dear Mrs. Clay,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read your novel, THE DOORMAT. Your previous writing experience has contributed to the formulation of a first rate style, end this is even more noticeable here than it was in your short story. It proves that you can keep your standards up to as high a mark in a long piece as in a short one–a sure proof of your basic writing ability. Your style has a clarity and straightforwardness that would be an asset to any writer, and you have a remarkable talent for colorful description. Narration, dialogue, and action are all handled with the ease and confidence of a born story-teller. Also, you have a grasp of character and situation that stands as a solid achievement in any appraisal of the whole work. However, all these qualities on the credit side of the ledger are not quite enough to make your novel marketable. In addition, it should have a strong, closely-knit plot, which moves along to a logical and satisfying conclusion. Since THE DOORMAT falls short in this respect. I am forced to return the manuscript to you as unsalable.

Plotting is definitely your weak point. and I will therefore devote the greater part of my report to an analysis of your story-structure. in the hope that it will help you when you begin work on your next story. You are already acquainted with the plot skeleton–lead character, central problem, complications, crisis, and solution–and I will again take it as a useful device for pointing out the structural flaws in your story, showing just why and how it fails to engage the reader’s interest.

In a novel, the familiar pattern is there even as it is in short stories. Of course. the “bones” of the skeleton won’t be immediately visible if you only give the work a casual glance, because there is always a great deal of “flesh” on them, in the way of dialogue, description, etc.;–in short, all the many striking and beautiful things that a talented writer can do with words. The pattern is there, but much expanded so that it covers a wider territory. A novel has plenty of room for development of character, sketching in background, and making the story full and rounded in all its parts; also, there is space for many exciting actions, many persons, and many problems. Nevertheless, one central problem or theme must predominate over all the others; they must stand in some relation to it, and it must give them their place and relevance in the narrative. The novel thus presents the author with an opportunity to examine one idea or problem in all its ramifications, and with a consequent chance for great variety and richness of subject matter. But the variety must be ordered and regulated by some strong line of narrative; it cannot exist in its own right, but must contribute to some oentral problem, issue, or impression, the nature of which is both clear end urgent in the reader’s mind. The reader must have an active and vital interest in the outcome of the whole story rather than a casual interest in its diverse parts. But he cannot do this if the problem doesn’t grip him from the very start, and your novel fails to meet this demand. You felt this, of course, for you mention it in your letter. It hits the nail on the head to note that the story lacks problem and suspense. The skill with which you write is not enough to compensate, and the problem remains too weak to support the plot structure which depends upon it. As a lead charaoter gives the story a point of view, so does the problem give it a purpose. I suspect that your sense of purpose in writing the book has been too-general a one to serve as a gathering-point for a strong narrative. David finally attains kind of character suggested by the title, but this is not the drama that holds the center of the stage most of the time.

But first, before we come to grips with the problem–or problems–let’s have a look at your lead character, Lucy Turner. She is a young girl, seventeen years of age, returning home from college because of her mother’s illness. This is a bit young for a lead, because the reader is more likely to identify with an adult facing adult problems. But you overcome this handicap by presenting Lucy at precisely the point of assuming the duties of an adult, and your further development of her character is both just and consistent. She, and your other characters, do have a liveness and naturalness in all ways that makes them attractive: you need have no fear on that point. However, she is not an exciting character, and her problems–central and otherwise–do not grip the reader’s imagination. Interest in the love between David and Lucy is aroused early, and remains the predominant theme of the narrative. The heroine at first has much to worry her though, what with her mother’s illness and her father’s drinking. Both these are out of the way before long, end something else pops up, a small example of the color question. One thing I want to emphasize here is that all these small early problems are just that–small! Yet they serve to take away interest in the Lucy-David relation, which operates independently of them. In other words, you have not used the materials of the narrative to develop anything; the events remain separate entities, and do not add up to any total impression. The story does not seem to be going anywhere, and is rather accounting for the day to day existence of Lucy, her family, and her friends. The problem of getting the young people together is there, but is not a pressing one. The reader thus has nothing to sustain his interest, nothing to hang on to. Minor problems are raised and dropped, sometimes solved, sometimes forgotten, and the question of what is going to happen between David and Lucy is apparently one that can be postponed indefinitely. As Lucy herself realizes, she can do little but wait and hope for David’s love: she cannot chase him. The fact that she cannot take a more active part in solving her problem automatically deprives her problem of reader interest. The possibility of an active solution has to be there: she cannot merely wait until the time and the circumstances come and grab her. Thus the problem at the heart of the story fails in its essential function of arousing and sustaining reader interest. What about the other problems?

Of the smaller ones, perhaps the most interesting is the race-relations theme. The new Baptist preacher, old Mr. Allen, goes out to preach before a colored congregation–a thing unheard-of in this part of the country. But this only looks as if it is going to be a problem, and it never develops into anything. There is talk, people gossip, there are objections in private conversations, but the controversy never comes into the open, and the threats soon vanish as if nothing had ever happened. The theme returns again in the last chapter, but it is no more than a promise of better things and more help for the colored people. The issue never comes to a head, and the problem fails to become pressing and vital. Mind you, there are a great many fine and telling points made by the wayside: your characters are always dropping wise and witty comments here and there, as for instance Mr. Allen’s reason explaining why so many Negroes are Baptists; and another good one that I remember is when some one observes that the Primitive Baptists are so narrow they can sleep five in a bed! These are right in tone, and this kind of color goes a long way towards making your book a pleasure to read. But of course, no amount of this kind of thing can make up for the lack of problem and plot.

The other major issue in the book is David’s attitude to the ministerial service, and this is the source of your title. But this, too, lacks vitality. The fact that he is not your lead character deprives it of a certain amount of interest for the reader. It does not come vigorously into the open until the fifteenth chapter (p. 148), then goes underground again, to be finally resolved only by the ministrations and good advice of Jim Peterson. I realize that it is not quite the same thing in its later form, but it is still the problem of how to serve adequately. The solution is brought about by a minor character, which is also a weak point, since reader’s like to see a character get out of his jam through his own exertions and by his own ingenuity.

As for the complications to the central problem, most of them are provided by David, who finds that he cannot play the part Lucy would have him play. They are separated by the circumstance of his having to go off to college while she stays at home and teaches school. But the reader will feel that the problem of getting David to marry Lucy is not really pressing enough to worry about. You give her other interests that will keep her from taking his loss too hard. This is already evident by Chapter Twelve in which Lucy is made unhappy by David’s distance at the service. What happens here is that the religious interest overshadows the personal angle, and she seems so happy in the primary joy of religion that the reader will feel this is bound to be ample compensation no matter what becomes of her relation to David. Her thoughts about him at the baptizing are merely passing notions when compared to her pleasure she takes in the proceedings. It is all too obvious that if worst comes to worst, the problem of David’s reluctance and distance will not sweep her completely off her feet. This is a paradox at the very heart of your story, because the reader understands from the start that this is precisely what Christianity is supposed to do: we almost presume it when we see it in a story. This is bound to take away suspense, no matter how you try to get around it. David is at college for three years, then goes off to the war. Soon after he returns, he marries enother girl, leaving Lucy heartbroken. The loss makes her doubt, turns her listless, and almost changes her character. However, she is brought back to herself by Elizabeth’s efforts, and by the end of Chapter Twenty-two has attained inner peace and happiness. But this, of course, she could not do by herself; again, the minor character makes all the difference in the world, and moves the story in the direction you want it to go.

At this point, there is a gap in time, and the next chapter takes up three and a half years later with a remarkable accident that sets the stage for the reunion between David and Lucy: the reader hears that David has killed his wife in a tragic hunting accident, and is almost crazed with grief. This, however, is not quite fair, even as the background of a solution. Coincidence should not play a part in the construction of a story, especially insofar as complication and solution are concerned. Stories can start from a coincidence, but it is not proper to make them end there. Chance and accident can solve any problem, and should therefore not be used. The reader doesn’t want to find that the lead character is being brought to his goal by means of luck. Of course, the problem was solved when the accident took place, and reopens the possibility of David and Lucy coming together again. The accident raises another problem–getting David back into the world of men–which is solved by his summer with Jim Peterson (mentioned earlier). Gradually, you bring the lovers together, until they finally decide to get married. It was the natural thing to do, seeing that his wife was dead. But the story moves exceptionally slowly in this part, because the obstacles to their marriage no longer exist, and it is only a matter of time. You have a tender love scene between them at the time of the proposal, but it cannot seem to bring the narrative to life. (There is a slip of names, by the way on p. 242, when Lucy becomes “Mary”; guess you got excited!) The story still carries on for two more chapters, showing something of Lucy’s and David’s life together after they are married, but this does not do more than settle a few minor difficulties raised in the past and give a promise of a useful future for the two main characters. Both have learned exactly how to serve, and they are able to help each other in the work. I’m afraid the everyday-ness of much of the rest of the story is even more apparent here, and that the reader’s interest cannot possibly be sustained.

I’m sure you can see by now why I am unable to recommend a revision of your novel. Its flaws are structural, and are too basic to be “patched up.” The weakness of central problem and solution are insurmountable obstacles inherent in the whole work. However, I think you do have the talent to write a salable novel–and one with a real message–if you put a bit more thought into your plotting. By all means keep up the good work! Best wishes.


/s/Scott Meredith


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Filed under Appalachia, education, family, literature, publishing, religion

Notes from the Kentucky Ice Storm of 2009

I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, where my father was in seminary, but I only spent two years of my life there: my first year (before going to Japan with my missionary parents in 1950) and my first-grade year (during our first furlough in 1955–56). But other connections to my old Kentucky home endure. My mother and two youngest brothers went to Berea College; both brothers obtained graduate degrees in the University of Kentucky system (one in library science, the other in accounting); and two brothers have settled in Kentucky, one as a history professor at Centre College in Danville (“City of Firsts”), and the other as a librarian at what used to be Paducah Community College and is now the cumbersomely named West Kentucky Community and Technical College.

Now, two weeks after the storm first hit, my brother who lives in a suburb of Paducah (Reidland, on the way to Possum Trot) is still without power. Unlike many of his neighbors, he lacks a generator, so he’s been buying ice to keep a few essentials cold in the freezer. His saving grace is a gas water heater and a gas fireplace, which at least make it easier to wash up, stay warm, and heat up simple meals.

We first heard about his power outage when my father called his landline, connected to an older phone powered by the phone line itself. Then we got an email from him a few days later, when he ventured out to get some supplies, recharge cell phones, and send email from the public library in downtown Paducah, which had power. The laundromats in town were jam-packed, so they took their laundry to his father-in-law’s house just across the Tennessee line. (The owner of the house was gloating from Florida!)

When classes resumed at WKCTC last week, at least half the students and staff still lacked power at home, so the school made special efforts to provide them a place to stay warm, cook food, clean up, and prepare for classes. The National Guard and FEMA have showed up, but power is still out over much of McCracken County.

My brother’s home in Danville got its power back this week, after he pleaded special needs to Kentucky Utilities, which had placed private homes last on its priority list. (My brother has several serious physical limitations.) Actually, his power came back on early last week, just long enough for him to restock his refrigerator with a fresh batch of food to spoil when the power went back off again the next day. KU was restoring power first along public thoroughfares. They charged $400 to restore power to private homes. He could have paid one of the private contractors who were soliciting business in the neighborhood, but they would still have had to get approval from KU.

Fortunately Centre College had power, and many professors were camping out in their offices, some with their families as well. It was hard to get much work done, either at school or at home. When my brother went out to find breakfast after the power in his neighborhood first went out, he found a huge crowd gathered at the local Cracker Barrel, happy to wait in line in a warm place and catch up on how their friends and neighbors were doing. At one point, my brother went to see a movie in the local theater, as much to relax in a warm place as to see the movie itself (Gran Torino).

The weather has started to warm up now, and anybody with a chainsaw and pickup truck can make a little extra cash helping people remove debris from their yards.

UPDATE: Here are a few more notes about how the ice storm affected Berea, from a former missionary kid who works there.

And now, the news from Berea! The freezing rain had been falling since Monday [January 26], and I had to duck low-hanging branches as I walked to work. Although the science building roof had been repaired last summer, it’s been leaking this fall and winter, especially with the wet December….

Shortly after that, one of the Public Safety officers passed my door … in search of ice for someone injured by a falling branch outside our building. I found a Cold Pack in the freezer for her, and Josh took her to the hospital to be checked out. She had come with her daughter, and perhaps some other prospective students, from southern Ohio, and was concerned about the return home, as she was the only driver….

When I got home [about lunchtime] I discovered the power had just gone out. When I called campus to see who else might be affected, Mike Morris told me the whole town was “powerless.” It seems a major Kentucky Utilities feeder line, from which Berea Utilities obtains its electricity, had gone down. They closed campus at 2:00. They eventually decided to deem Short Term completed (today was the last scheduled day of classes) and send the students home, urging them to take home a friend who might not be able to get home. (A number of international students were on campus for the month.) Staff were also dismissed until Monday.

We were inside when we heard a tremendous CRASH, and went outside to discover that a large tree in [our landlord’s son’s house] …. had been felled by another tree, on College property, and crashed into their house. It took out their playhouse in the back yard, which is probably what spared their Doberman, and took the corner off the nursery upstairs. Thankfully they were all downstairs around the gas fireplace, but we learned today that they’ll be out of their house for a couple of months.

Later, after cold sandwiches for both lunch and supper (I’d gotten a ham recently), we decided to go see what might be open. We’d heard that the area across the interstate from Wal-Mart, as well as the far north end of town, still had power, as they were on the Bluegrass Co-Op system. We found gas at $1.79 and filled the truck (the car has starter/battery/electrical issues with which we hadn’t yet dealt, due to the cold weather), and also bought hot coffee!!! Then we found the new Walgreen’s, not far from the house, had just opened after having gotten a generator from Cincinnati. We got a battery operated radio, batteries for it and our flashlights, which were getting dim, and some candles.

When we pulled into the driveway our neighbor across Churchill Drive told us we’d lost part of our backyard maple tree. It was way across the road, so we called 9-1-1. A city crew came out before too long and removed the portion outside our yard, but we still have a huge section, probably about 14″ in diameter, inside the yard, to be dealt with at a later date. We hunkered down in the study, with the doors to the living room, basement, and sewing room closed, and weren’t uncomfortable. We “cocooned” for the night, complete with toboggans, and slept well, getting up only around 10:30 or 11:00 – even after two phone calls from campus – with the goal of finding some hot food.

That we found at Huddle House – also across the interstate at the northern exit – along with a horde of other locals with the same intent. We’d been given the idea by [the] cousin of our landlord, who lives across the street with his 90+ -year-old mother. They ended up at the booth next to us. I’d taken Baachan’s [= granny’s] air pot to get coffee, and our nice waitress emptied her pot every time she made the rounds for refills. :)

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China’s Army of One-child Recruits

From A History of the Modern Chinese Army, by Xiaobing Li (U. Press of Kentucky, 2007), pp. 282-283 (footnote references omitted):

The symptoms of an “only-child” society had appeared by the 1990s and were affecting the PLA by the end of the decade. According to defense analyst Zhang Zhaozhong, the PLA has many soldiers who grew up without siblings. In the early 1990s, the only-child soldiers began to serve in the PLA. Their numbers have increased ever since. They made up 20.6 percent of the Chinese forces by 1996, 31.2 percent by 1997, and 42.5 percent by 1998. A frequently asked question is whether these soldiers’ combat training and fighting ability are in any way affected by their only-child status. A study done by the political department of a group army in Shenyang Military Region yielded mixed results. It found little significant difference between only-child soldiers and soldiers with siblings, especially those from rural areas, in their personality, training records, and service achievement. In technological training, only-child soldiers seemed to outperform soldiers with siblings in verbal tests, communication, and computer skills. The study attributes these findings to two factors. First, as only children became the norm in the late 1990s, social attitudes toward them may have changed, and so these young men may have been less spoiled than those who grew up in the 1980s, the beginning stage of the one-child policy. Second, in the “furnace of revolution” and in a “teamwork atmosphere,” the army may have reduced parental influences and any feelings of self-importance through political works and education provided by division, regiment, and battalion, and through group-oriented experiences in their company, platoon, and squad. The study did identify some problems in the “only-child army.” Some of the only-child soldiers were less cooperative with peers and more egocentric than soldiers with siblings. In some units, their performance in personal drills and detachment training was good, but their performance in tactics coordination training was poor. Some were reluctant to participate in high-risk training because they were afraid of injury.

The Hebei Military District survey provided a mixed report on only-child officers as well. In general, it found that the only-child officers were better educated, with at least a high school diploma, and had broad knowledge. Believing in competition and self-improvement, they were eager to learn and open to new ideas. Many of them were interested in technological improvement and military reforms. The survey also found that some of the only-child officers were liberal and democratic, emphasizing individual competition and equal opportunity. Some disliked political control and described the party system as “controlling,” “demanding,” or “oversimplified and crude.” They projected a new and contrasting spirit. Nevertheless, their retention level has been lower than that of officers with siblings in recent years.

The low retention rate of only-child officers may be partially the result of the aging of the Chinese population and the new four-two-one family-household structure (four grandparents, two parents, and one child). The task of supporting aging parents and even grandparents falls directly on the shoulders of only children. In today’s China, children, spouses, and kinship ties are still seen as primary sources of economic support for the elderly. The urban elderly are, however, less financially dependent on their adult children than are those in rural areas. Although the Hebei Military District survey does not explain why the only-child officers have a low retention rate, it is reasonable to assume that the lack of a social welfare and retirement system pressures only-child officers to retire early and accept a better-paying job outside the military in order to support their parents and grandparents now and themselves later.

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Holiday Hiatus

Our daughter is home for a week after her first semester teaching in Josiah Quincy Upper School. Then I head off for a small family reunion on the occasion of my father’s 84th birthday hosted by my brother who lives in the micropolitan area embracing Metropolis, Monkey’s Eyebrow, and Possum Trot. How many readers already knew where that is?

Among the university press books I will pass along to family members are In Pursuit of the Almighty’s Dollar for my father (a retired foreign missionary and small-town pastor), The Tangierman’s Lament and Other Tales of Virginia for my brother in Virginia, and What Reconstruction Meant for my librarian brother in Kentucky.

My in-flight reading will be Great Leader, Dear Leader and Under the Heel of the Dragon, and bedtime reading will be Lipstick Jihad. Excerpts to follow in 2009.

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