The Ancestors. Sounds like an 80’s mini-series, rife with English accented great grandparents stepping off the boat from Italy with “party in the back” mullets, pink lipstick, and Cyndi Lauper as lead role, a Milan Bowery girl seeking fame and fortune on Broadway.
Might as well be since we know so little about our true ancestors, except how their existence defines (wrongly) “where we come from”. Am I Irish, Italian, West African, Northern European, etc.? Well, you’re none of these things, Central African brothers and sisters. Those people were just passing through, too, like you. Theoretically all humans today are incestual offspring from the same cave-dwelling parents near the Horn of Africa. Science takes over where history stops, and it says you can’t just cease descending when there’s nothing left to read about it. Illiterate ancients still have something to tell us about the past, even if modern Homo sapien is too focused on its own written history which covers only the last 5,000 years in the existence of a species dating back to 297,000 B.C.E. And the search doesn’t end there. Homo sapien grandmothers of the first eon must cross species to study their ancestors, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo erectus, and Homo neandethalensis, to name just a few. Yet all they had to rely on was an oral history to grunt about, if old grunts could be understood with Rosetta Stone-like ballads of the caves.
So although one may prove paternal connection to a Scottish King or French playwright, it might behoove our endangered species in an era of climate disruption to know how our naked 12,000x great grandmothers set the boulder for Thanksgiving.
Or perhaps we need not go that far back in time, depending on what survival tips passed down from the more recent past might be helpful to our progeny. I believe the antidote to runaway carbon belching are lifestyles practiced by ALL ancestors two or three hundred years ago, depending on what part of the earth they inhabited. Then it might very well matter if your descendants were from England or Egypt. Their published tips on living the good life had books but no cars, tables not turbines, communal protection without nuclear Armageddon, but most importantly, knowledge of locale—the most practical way to live with the nature provided. We must reset the bar of sustainability achievement to where human life was before the invention and practical (greedy) use of the steam engine. For instance, winters in Central New York were just as harsh as today, yet surmountable without central heating and iPhone data.
However, let’s keep the good stuff. Electricity conversion to power the Internet, and provide minimal lighting and steady heat and cooling sourcing to individuals and all life-giving and care facilities. Why go back to cholera when we can take along a water treatment plant? Modern advancements in medicine, surgery, immunology, etc. will go a long way in a past restart to our future success as a species. These facilities receive total community support for continuance. That is, we manufacture what will keep the least fortunate among us content and healthy. Steel plants exist, though not for profit. Break down and reuse the cities. Spread out far and wide using resources of stuff that has already been made. Make space for elder care havens and prosthetic limb factories. Plane travel outlawed. Train travel okay but highly regulated. Car travel as cold and dead as a Henry Ford scapula. Food sources localized to a 100 mile radius. No more CAFOs or cat food. No domestic pets! Befriend wildlife, but for our sake, keep it wild.
At present, in the United States, 40% of arable soil is working farmland. 915 million acres. This does not include what pollutes now as Mcmansions, car lots, and Walmarts. With a current population of 328 million, the working land could be divvied up to provide 2.8 acres (but no mule) per person. With zero population growth, this is more than enough space to pass on for several generations. Not to mention the abundance of land for the myriad communal living configurations necessary for those unable to care for themselves. And still plenty of room left over outside our living boundaries to manufacture what is needed (not wanted) on a national scale. And wild spaces preserved.
A pipe dream proposal? As it stands, alone in my room, yes. But this is just one man’s musings on a Sunday morning in bleak November, looking for a cheerful light at the end of tunnel vision civilization. There are a million paths to sustainability, but until some physics genius invents a device to blow out endless tons of atmospheric carbon into outer space, I believe measurable success must begin with a monumental reduction in energy use. The United States is 4% of the world population gobbling up 23% of its resources. One fat American uses as much energy as 128 Bangladeshis. The latter nation of Homo sapiens have joy, sorrow and overpopulation too. But they’re just not nearly as disgusting.
I believe there are answers to life and death questions of sustainability found in the world of our ancestors who lived before the industrial revolution (billionaire takeover) ensnared humanity to suffer what need not be inevitable. Basically, if a modern Bangladeshi can do it, then so can you. But you’ll need to take out two bathrooms, a first and second car, a job you never wanted anyway, and all Home Depots.
This week I plan to convince you to do just that, with allusions to living the good life, spelled out for us in detail by literate ancestors (pre-industrial revolution). Their existence was one of (dis)natural harmony. No matter how bad things got, they carried on without threat to millions of other planetary species. Simply put, they lived better than us with less, so much less. And the lighter greed of their world, before interchangeable parts, kept mankind a stable equal among all life on earth. People might declare the end of the world, but it had to be approved by a super God. Townsfolk could imagine global warming, but until the post-pubescent thinking of Thomas Edison, a light bulb was just another flower to plant in spring—not a future invention to initiate our doom.
I am a tenth cousin to Henry David Thoreau. My 3x great grandmother, Calphurnia, was his contemporary and second cousin.
This does not mean anything more than I hope it adds some blood credence to my application as progenitor of a nobler human race.
Here is Calphurnia this past summer, resting easy on a picnic in Hubbardsville, NY.
Calphurnia’s husband, William Huntington Throop, had this to say about his wife before he joined her eight years later:
She died Sunday morning, 6:00 o’clock, December 12, 1875, peaceful, like going to sleep, mourned by every body that knew her. Prof Andrews, a particular friend of the family, attended the funeral services at my request, assisted by Prof Lewis and a quartet of singers. He read some very appropriate selections from scripture and paid a very beautiful tribute to her life and death. Prof Lewis at my request read “Thanatopsis,” that grand poem of Bryants. The choir sang “Rock of Ages” and “The Sweet Bye and Bye”, so soft and plaintive it seemed to take away the sting of death like a sovereign balm to the wounded heart. And now my bosom friend, my wife, my all, is gone. I must trudge on alone. My life is only half a life. I have living children and good friends about me. I am well and cheerful; but often an aching void comes into my heart, and I weep myself calm again.
I am fortunate that my Great Grandfather, Henry Grosvenor Throop, was a fair weather civil engineer, because over many winters he amassed an impressive archive of Throop genealogy. His most productive time was during the Great Depression with dozens of letters sent to and from Throop relations scattered about the country, before Ancestorydotcom® and those creepy cultish Mormons® thought to corner the market on clan information. Henry passed on the archive to my grandfather Ronald, who didn’t touch it. Then on to David, my father, who has an interest, but never took up the hobby to add to it. The treasures have been in my hands for 15 years and I still can’t get enough, especially during the intellectual season when the ancestors take hold of my imagination for a day, and I can easily see how their worship has been practiced by cultures from time out of mind.
I suggest it to anyone lucky to be under-employed at some lessor chore like painting or civil engineering.
Anyway, I have a book by a great, great cousin in Iowa, published in 1940, all about my patronym. From William Throope in England, to Throops in Massachusetts, then Connecticut, then Hamilton, New York, and finally, to me. The book centers mainly on the four generations of Hamilton. So many letters! It’s like reading a primer in optimism and goodness among a real world of daily smitings from God. Why the Everything King who ruled from on high wouldn’t take an hour to teach a lesson on germ theory to his devoted subjects, is cause for further study into the many religions of woe. I know this: I would not be alive and well-minded today if it were not for the devotion and complete faith my forebears had for their god, religion, and the modern sciences. Frequent death and dying made them humble and patient, nearly beyond recognition today. Pleasure slummers they were not, certainly not in the manner we expect to be entertained. However, I am confident from reading these letters, that paradise was a human place, and attainable for everyone.
Hops farmer William Huntington Throop (1807 - 1883), had great faith in science. Especially the developing social sciences. He attended several meetings on Fourierism in the mid-1840s. This was a French socialist movement to build off the philosophy of Charles Fourier (died 1837). Karl Marx would term Fourierism derogatively in his writing, calling it “utopian socialist” and unreachable. Still, Fourier had views about human equality that were way ahead of his time. He coined the term “feminism”, and advocated for sexual rights, believing people changed preferences and behaviors during a lifetime. Homosexuality and adrogyny were normal, and all sexual expression should be tolerated as long as no one gets abused. Furthermore, he believed that “affirming one’s difference” can actually be a benefit to communities.
His underlying hope was to obtain a great socialist society working in harmony to provide mutual aid to its members.
Wow. My Central New York farmer ancestor was a socialist. And he wasn’t alone!
That is something the history books for kids and college students never mention while fawning over Presidents with slaves in hero worshiping detail. Free market capitalism (regulated by and for the powder-wigged white men) is the American economic system lauded in high school history books. It was those unwashed hordes of southern and eastern European immigrants arriving in the late 18th century who spread dangerous socialist ideas about communal living.
Instead of popular social movements gathering converts in early America, the textbooks focus on religious revivalism, with traveling preachers and week-long retreats about God in heaven and angels of mercy. Mid-nineteenth century Central NY is known as the “Burned-over District”, which was actually a sarcastic term coined by a preacher of the Second Great Awakening, Charles Finney, to explain the inhabitant’s skepticism of established religion.
“It was reported as having been a very extravagant excitement (early wave of Second Great Awakening); and resulted in a reaction so extensive and profound, as to leave the impression on many minds that religion was a mere delusion. A great many men seemed to be settled in that conviction. Taking what they had seen as a specimen of a revival of religion, they felt justified in opposing anything looking toward the promoting of a revival.”
Before antibiotics, mortal fears were triggered with the onset of the common cold. Coping was always a religious exercise. Yet thinking people had to question why God would take the best and the brightest just because one might cut his toe on a sharp stone. Religion just wasn’t good enough anymore, not after steamboats and locomotives came into vogue. Even the Lord’s ministers and messengers suffered profoundly their sins. God was real, and God made man, but he didn’t make man to stand there waiting and stupid, like a beast of burden. Socialism was a viable political philosophy stemming from Christianity. New testament stories of Jesus promised heaven to believers, but believers didn’t want their babies to die on a savior’s whim. People, like crops, should not be left to chance. The quest for knowledge was insatiable. Science was praised because there was a lot of good news coming out of it. Discoveries in every field of human endeavor that would improve the quality of life in a generation. Good stuff for families that God was unable to deliver after several thousand years.
Eugene Throop, William and Calphurnia’s fourth child, died a toddler in 1843. The family was hungry for practical ideas. Fourierism would take care of those who suffer. Rugged individualism was fine for young men striking out on their own, but families needed help when crisis came. Socialist philosophy would certainly please God—it claimed to do what Jesus wanted them to do—that is, take good care of each other. Perhaps a collective concerned with the health and contentment of all its neighbors would make the Lord rethink his cruel abduction of their innocent children.
William wrote about Fourierism to his brother George a few months after his little boy Eugene died:
Preston, Chenango County, N.Y.
East Hamilton (New York), Dec. 3, 1843
I sit down to inform you of a meeting of the directors of the Hamilton Fourier Association, which will take place on the 9th inst. at our place. We shall expect you to be there. Almira, too, wants to be under the doctor’s care one week more. As to her eyes, she cannot say. I can say, though, I think they are better. The doctor thinks there is no doubt but that he can cure them.
We had a Fourier meeting last Thursday evening, called the best we have had. I regret much that my friends could not all be there. A feeling of unbounded sympathy for human want and suffering seemed to pervade the whole audience, and when Mr. Cook impressed upon the meeting the importance of a Home Association and the misery and unhappiness attending the breaking up of households, children and parents, brothers and sisters scattered to the four corners of the earth, in many instances never expecting again to grasp the warm kindred hand of love or hear the soothing voice of friendship from those so near and dear to them, it touched a kindred chord that vibrated in every heart alike.
That the social feelings are not enough attended to I think is evident. Whether Association will cure the evil, we have yet to find out by trying it. That it will, I have my reasons to say yes. At all events, it is best to try it. If it succeeds, O, happy era; better, far better, to me than any heaven all the priests have ever told me about; a heaven of equality to all, the good, rich and poor, bond and free.
If there is anything that will purify human nature it will be such a state of society as that.
Are not the signs of the times ominous of good to the mass? Look to Ireland. What do we see? An O’Connel, who said years ago that English gold could not buy him as it had so many so-called great men before him. No; he stands the noble champion of human rights, especially to his oppressed countrymen, wearing out his life in raising up his degraded and downtrodden brethren. If you have read his last address to the people of Ireland, you will say with me: “Go forward, noble son of the Emerald Isle. Every freeman and philantropist under heaven will second your efforts.”
Did you read what the worthy John Q. Adams said to the abolitionists who asked him to address them? If you have, say with me: “Worthy, venerable patriot of almost a century, we hope your last days may be your best days, and if you do not live to see slavery abolished in America, we hope to.” Yes, and to have a hand in it too; not by force, but by the more powerful weapon of justice and the exercise of the law of kindness.
Why, the whole world is in commotion, and it seems all tending to one grand center, viz.: the upraising of the oppressed and the advancement of correct liberal principles. The people are determined to make a trial and a thorough one, to see if they can form an Association here. We had at our last meeting to speak to us the perservering, go-ahead Mr. Cook; the faithful, upright Mr. Stebbins; the eccentric, but humanity-loving Mr. Hatch; the blunt, honest Mr. Hart. They all seemed to feel right, and, of course, spoke to the point. I hope to hear something from yourself and DeWitt and others at our next, which will be on the evening of the 9th inst., the same day as the directors meet. No more.
In October 2012 I had an exhibition titled My Patronym. I researched eleven generations of the male line of Throops, painted their portraits, researched the archive, and traveled to every Throop town and grave but one of the nine known burial grounds. I published End of the Line , a book of Throop history, but also of interest to any armchair scholar of 19th century America. (A link to a free pdf as been sent to paid subscriptions).
Here is the video I made for the exhibition:
The following scene happened ten years ago. It made me rethink how I dress to go outside.
Living Dog, Dead Lion
With freedoms taken two centuries ago by hungry families, and not by modern soldiers plying their government paid racket in Europe, Africa and Asia, comfort and joy are now ours for the seeking. We have prosperity and well-funded public libraries for the free exchange of ideas. The philanthropist social reformer Gerrit Smith funded our city library in 1853. He made two demands; locate the library on the east side of the Oswego River, and shut out no person on account of race, complexion, or condition, even if you think he or she looks like a fervent child predator (italics mine).
Last winter the library director broke Mr. Smith’s bylaw. She followed me around the children’s room eager to catch an act of supreme perversion. I was finished collecting books and magazines for the school week (we homeschooled), and Sophie looked over her picks while I stood beside her at the tall windows, staring out at the winter sky to daydream. After a while the director peeked around a shelf and asked if she could help me.
“No thank you. I’m just looking at the view.”
Then she asked again, but with a little more strain in her voice.
“Sir, can I help you?”
Pause. She stared at me nonplussed. Suddenly the “flight or fight” nerves jumped circus leaps across my skin.
“Ma’am, you’re scaring me,” I said.
“You’re scaring the children,” she replied, and glanced at Sophie seated to her right, insinuating that I made a visit to the library this day to abduct, flash or fornicate with the junior scholars. I wasn’t the only parent there. It was furlough week at the school prison, and moms and dads were all about the place, frantic in their inexperience with pedagogy.
I looked around in complete disbelief. My hair was cut, my face clean-shaven; I wore a gray London Fog overcoat circa 1966—Oh!
So, the $80,000/year library director was profiling potential perversion by my poor choice of winter wear in a children’s library, even if I wasn’t staring at the kids with a pronounced tongue loll. Then I remembered how she approached me earlier, while I flipped through the kid’s periodicals, looking for science articles to read with Sophie.
“Can I help you?”
“No thank you,” I said. “I like to find things out by myself. It’s more fun.”
That line must have sounded a siren in her brain. One eye was probably glued on me for the next fifteen minutes while her imagination played out disgusting scenarios in her perverted mind.
My thrice great-grandfather William Throop knew Gerrit Smith personally. I have letters he wrote confirming their relationship. William and Gerrit shook hands at lectures and meetings, and perhaps even discussed the unwarranted exclusion of perverts and pedophiles in public institutions. What a remarkable sea change of society to be an accused clean-shaven 21st century man in his forties leaning against a mid-nineteenth century window sill. The fear bomb is ticking inside each one of us, even the professional public officials who deal with the good and bad of a city every day, and should know from experience all the makes and models of its social dregs. Still, some big irrationality informed the librarian that I was a threat to her charges. She felt the need to confront and accuse me without any revealed outward indication except that I appeared dangerous in her mind. The sad truth is that after clearing up my innocence (pointing out that Sophie was my daughter), I reminded the director that our family posed for a photography session in her living room just a few years prior. She told me I should understand that this is a dangerous world and she needs to be on the lookout for the children’s sake. Needless to say I was shaking with confusion and disbelief for the remainder of the day. I have always walked proud with my daughters, yet that afternoon I felt that I looked to everyone else like a stalking child molester in my chosen neighborhood.
Gerrit Smith poses for a photo in his old age. Sure, he looks the part of a typical 19th century child-toucher. No doubt that if alive today, as soon as he sat that long gray beard and fat round ass down on a chair at the children’s library, our director would call the police. Even if he admonished her with some words of reminder that it was his legacy which promoted the right of any man or woman, light or dark, socially sane or insane to become a library director. Distrust and cowardice is the new black in the American psychology. Five generations have passed since admirable human pride has digressed to a stone-age knee-jerk reactionary fear of everything we cannot control. So watch your backs fathers of Oswego! Keep away from your own spawn, especially if taking on any kind of interest in their intellectual development. Best to stay uninformed and working those fingers hard to callous. Remember to wash your hands in motor oil before coming to the library. The director will look to see the grease in your pores. She wants to check your threat by Oswego man standards. The only men who come to the children’s room are fathers who look very uncomfortable standing in the center of it. The director imagines a draft beer or monkey wrench grasped in each hand before determining a threat level. Come there erect and proud and you might be judged a pervert. See? I said, “erect”. It can’t be helped. Onto the pink bean bags fellow predators of my town and country! We’ll lean back, grin, and rub our hands together to the tender morsels all around.
Our youngest daughter is the newest and last “Throop” in the line, which began for old-time Judeo-Christians in the garden of Eden.
Yes, I have a mother! And she has a line of family descent to Central Africa too. But no great grandparent on her side spent a lifetime rediscovering the ancestors. Her parents surnames were Williams (mother) from Atlanta Georgia, and Rizzo (father) from Utica N.Y. I researched the Rizzo line and found a link to Laurenzana, Italy going back to the mid-1700s. My great grandparents, Frank and Assunta Rizzo, arrived to New York in 1912, and moved to Utica. Through census data, I know that Frank was illiterate in 1920, but very prolific at baby-making. By 1940, the Rizzo family had nine children, but one less mother. Assunta died during childbirth in the 1930s. The boy survived and Frank sent him to an orphanage. Their second child, John my grandfather, was born in 1914. He became a successful restaurateur. I swear the business is in my blood, but I know it can kill you. John died young at age 51.
My mother tells me how she and her siblings had to enter grandfather Rizzo’s house through the back way, so other Italian families wouldn’t notice Frank fraternizing with the “Americane”, my grandmother Keitha and her offspring (my mother, aunt and uncle). His son dared marry a non-Italian red head, which put an impure stain on the neighborhood fabric. By this time (late 40s, early 50s), Frank had no love for his chosen land. He was an illiterate widower working his back bent in a shoe factory. Hell, I’d hate the “Americane” too, riding around in their studebakers all pleasant-faced on Sunday. How did he fail so hard in a land with so much promise? Sure, he had a hard knock life, like nearly every Italian immigrant of the time. Unlike others, Frank’s big payoff in America never materialized. But he didn’t have to be such a prick about it. What kind of man would be ashamed of his own grandchildren? Just goes to show, there isn’t always romance in the past. Even a humble shoemaker from Italy can grow up to be a selfish butthole in America.
One more mention of the Rizzo line. My great uncle Rocky (Frank’s son) was gay but wasn’t allowed to be. I painted him in an alternate universe. One without the crudity of 1940s East Utica.
Last night my wife and I picked up where we left off on the Game of Thrones, an HBO TV series that you’ve probably heard of if presently breathing in the United States. We signed up a year ago to watch the series, yet cancelled after a couple shows because of the gratuitous sex scenes reserved to teen boys getting prepared for a life of sociopathy. I hadn’t watched porn with a friend since I was 15 years old. I didn’t want to start up again with my wife.
I can’t stop thinking of how low a human being must go to acquire fame or fortune these days. I don’t mean the pornography business. That depressing bump and grind industry serves its purpose as a hand brothel for the lonely, where employees get paid and laid often enough to accept bouts of venereal disease. It is what it is. What concerns me, rather, are the modern “mature audiences only” flicks, popularized on streaming stations across the nation. Parents, even grandparents like us, watch an hour or two before bedtime. I think about the “professional” actors in the room, stark naked, pretending to have rough dog sex while a huge production team and a boom mic assess the believability of fake groans. Does the actress practice her ecstasy/pain face in the mirror beforehand? Did the actor have his wife take a photo during diarrhea cramps to remake that convincingly sardonic look that a naked alternate universe noble might make from behind a naked alternate universe whore?
So although the misogynistic lines normalizing the “c” word, and a threadbare plot are much more entertaining than twiddling thumbs on a dark November night, I just can’t suspend my disbelief so much to normalize an insane culture. So I turn it off, to curse Manhattan and Los Angeles degenerates, and once again vow abstinence to their fake sex on TV.
That is, until I’m so bored that I’ll just burst if I don’t get my fill of pornographic imps, CGI neck slashings, and an eight year old boy being breastfed on a fake boob. (Though it appears the director dabbed real cow’s milk on his lips and chin.)
We’re going off the deep end folks. Getting too much inside our own heads, but never quite comfortable there either. No one looks at a three year old and desires Game of Thrones entertainment for her future. That would be insane. But here we are, normalizing it in our routines.
Way to go future great grandparents!
Sex and fantasy are wonderful and should be practiced often, as privately as possible, and preferably with one you like or love. It’s even cool for some to watch other people having sex, if that’s what moves the mountains inside. What depresses the hell out of me is that we let other people getting paid lots of money, wearing fine clothes and dining at the hotspots, to make the smutty entertainment for us. It puts me and maybe you in a class I think we’re both ashamed of. Do you ever feel that you were made human being in the wrong place at the wrong time?
I have a working memory of the past, not quite as far back as the setting in a fictional Game of Thrones, but recent enough to date the death of self-made dreams and actualization. My geneaologist great grandfather Henry Throop left many of his journals to posterity. I present the following entry to juxtapose the innocent world of Henry and his friends in their late teens, yet to be kissed. Henry wrote in American Morse code to disguise his secrets. For the real gooey stuff, he made up his own cipher, which my wife Rose and I cracked. He had some early crushes and ended up marrying his best friend’s “peach”, Ruby Niles, my great grandmother. Both Henry and Ruby are in are in the photo below.
Jan. 15. 1900
Last night there was a surprise party for Miss Edith Thayer at her house. It was well attended. At 10 o’clock Will Fisk took a load of boys and girls over to Hamilton and left the boys who were going to school there. These boys were Skid, Nat, John Blair, Porter, Parker and I.
We had Will’s big train and a bob sleigh with a big box and plenty of blankets. I had the darndest time I have ever had and so did some of the other people.
CODE: I took Myrtie
We were packed in like sardines in a box. There was 13 in the lead. It snowed and we had to raise umbrellas and do other things to protect us from the storm.
CODE: Parker hugged the chaperone
It is a shame that we can be young only once. Read Ecclesiastes 3 chapt. 5 verse.
[“a time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing” Ecclesiastes 3:5]
Edith was much surprised.
This week, let’s think on our ancestors. We are wonders of evolution because we are here, and have them to thank for the honor.
Thanks for reading!