Twelve Days of Christmas

According to some sites, the “Twelve Days of Christmas” has a hidden Christmas meaning. It’s a secret code for either persecuted Christians or persecuted Catholics, depending on the story being told. Snopes says this is cobblers and that the song is a counting rhyme. But Snopes also says that “gold rings” refers to pheasants and that’s wrong, because the earliest printed version has an illustration of rings, not birds.

12_five_gold_rings

Five gold rings from Mirth Without Mischief. [Wikipedia commons]

The Twelve Days rhyme first appeared in print in 1780, in Mirth Without Mischief, a book for non-mischievous good children. It has the curious sub-heading “Sung at King Pepin’s Ball”. England never had a King Pepin, but France did, thus adding to the idea that the song is originally French. So what about the French hens, three of them? Certainly they were not faverolles, as some suggest, because that bird was not bred until the 1860s. Maybe in the original they were simply “poulets”.

12_days-title

Or perhaps they were something else,  something other than hens. There are several versions in France of a counting song called “The Partridge/ la Peridriole”. The oldest (possibly) says that on the first of May the singer gave his love “a partridge that flies in the trees”. Then he gives her two blue jays sitting on their eggs, three crows, and, in lieu of hens, four blackbirds “with eyes of pearls”. And so on for seven birds. “Blue jays” = “geais bleus” (geese a-laying?). The “calling birds” were originally “colley birds”, i.e., “black birds”, in the English version of 1780, so may be derived from the French blackbirds. A later version of “la Perdriole” includes two turtledoves and ups the number of gifts (and days) to nine. The next version has twelve months of the year and adds milk cows, handsome lads, and beautiful maids. Saskatchewan Métis sang a ten-gift version that included items from the other three. (All these versions may be found here.)

The “Twelve Days” of the English version probably mean the twelve days between Christmas and the Feast of the Epiphany. In the Faroes, there are fifteen days and gifts. In the north of England, only ten. (The North always gets short-changed.)

12_faroe-islands-1994-stamps-christmas-um-nh-mint

1994 Faroese stamps showing fifteen days of Christmas. Start on the right with one feather, two geese… [via picclic.co.uk]

So, a counting song. Kids would have to sing it without forgetting or confusing anything. If they couldn’t, they paid a forfeit, or, for older kids, gave a kiss. There are many counting songs sung in the world, including a few more Christmas ones:

Children, go where I send thee.
How shall I send thee?
I shall send thee one by one.
One for the baby Jesus,
who was born, born, born in Bethlehem. (several versions on YouTube)

And that brings us back around to Christian meanings hidden in the Twelve Days. Not likely. Christians have been pretty ambivalent, and sometimes hostile, to the very concept of Christmas. Christ’s Mass is a relatively late addition to Christian holy days and one disdained by early church fathers. At the time Mirth Without Mischief was published Scots Presbyterians forbade the celebration. I suppose they allowed counting songs though. Hmm, perhaps the “code” is an attempt to pretty up Christmas for hard-nose Puritans and Calvinists. No? Well, Merry Christmas anyway.

 

 

Good Books: Granfa’ Grig Had A Pig by Wallace Tripp

Back when our children were small, we picked up two books by Wallace Tripp: Granfa’ Grig Had A Pig and A Great Big Ugly Man came Up And Tied His Horse To Me . These immediately became family favorites, books still remembered as those once-small children advance into their forties.

A Great Big Ugly Man disintegrated long ago, but I did discover the dilapidated remnants  of Granfa’ Grig a little while back. The graphics from here on are scans of that particular piece of family culture. And let me just stave off those who would say that our children should have been more careful with these books. No! You do not stop a child from reading; you do not make them wash their hands before opening the cover. These are some of the myriad ways  in which people destroy a child’s interest in reading. Little children are messy and heedless of consequence, and so is their love, whether of books or anything else. Would you demand your child wash their hands before hugging you?

Ah well, another day, another rant. That’s done. Here’s the wraparound cover for Granfa’ Grig:

Tripp_cover

And the double title page:

Tripp_inscover

Is this getting through yet? This is a book of nursery rhymes, some quite obscure, illustrated by a very fine artist.

Wallace Tripp quit his day job and sought to find work illustrating children’s books in the mid-1960s. After a time, he established himself and worked on many books including the Amelia Bedelia series. Soon he discovered his forte: exquisitely rendered anthropomorphic animals. This genre lends to satire, and Tripp embraced a very gentle and humane satire that infuses all his work. Look at this silly rhyme:

Tripp_bearpin

Look at the marvelous expression on the bear’s face. And check out the children in these two rhymes:

Tripp_ale

But it’s not all animals. This rhyme was a family favorite:

Tripp_bony

“Beat you! Beat you! Beat you!” my kids would joyously shout. God knows what images were swimming in their partly-formed consciousness. And, speaking of family favorites, here is my wife’s:

Tripp_anne

She really enjoys scenes of pomposity being slapsticked.

Here’s some other Tripp work not in Granfa’ Grig:

Tripp_attila

Tripp had a company, Pawprints, that distributed his drawings in various formats. Now you should look to eBay for those calendars and greeting cards.

Tripp_ sword

In the 1990s, Tripp began to have physical problems that were diagnosed as Parkinson’s Disease. He has been retired for twenty years now.

Tripp_feet

Here is the rhyme and illustration that ends Granfa’ Grig:

Tripp_end

There are numerous collections of Wallace Tripp art reproduced on-line. For instance:

Flickriver, My Delineated Life, Michael Sporn: Some Pawprints cards

Tripp has a website but it appears moribund.

Christmas Poop

As the immortal Arnold once said, “Not everyone in the world celebrates Christmas the same way. Everywhere is different.” Why, he himself was visited by the Devil as part of his native Yuletide tradition. True story. One place that is very different is Catalonia.

Catalan nativity scenes usually include a figure known as Caganer, which is to say, Shitter. Caganer may be a small boy or a grown man dressed in traditional Catalan costume who is taking a dump in a corner of the creche:

Caganer figure from Barcelona [Ekasha; Wikipedia.com]

Caganer figure from Barcelona [Ekasha; Wikipedia.com]

But there are many variations on the Caganer theme:

Partial screen shot for "caganer catalog" on Google Images. This hardly scratches the surface. You can find Caganer Putin, Einstein, Antonio Gaudi, Edward and his bride (in wedding dress, kissing). Hello Kitty, every single character from Star Wars (may the farts be with you), Tintin and Snowy pooping in tandem, and every single soccer player in history.

Partial screen shot for “caganer catalog” on Google Images. This hardly scratches the surface. You can find Caganer Putin, Einstein, Antonio Gaudi, Edward and his bride (in wedding dress, kissing). Hello Kitty, every single character from Star Wars (may the farts be with you), Tintin and Snowy pooping in tandem, and every single soccer player in history.

I suppose that the Caganer figures are a way of expressing humanity’s need for humility since sometimes we all have to go. But maybe I’m full of shit. You can buy Caganer figures via caganer.com or fold your own paper version from here (#10).

Catalonia has a second Christmas shit tradition: Tió de Nadal. Tió is a log. A face is attached to one cut side and the log is then propped up on a bipod as though this anthropomorphized object was trying to raise itself from the ground:

Tió de Nadal [Toniher, Wikimedia Commons]

Tió de Nadal [Toniher, Wikimedia Commons]

Tió has good reason to raise up and run (if he had stick legs) because on Christmas Catalan kids beat him with a stick Singing:

Shit, Log
shit nougats
hazelnuts and cheese,
if you don’t shit well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
shit, log!

And Tió responds, crapping out goodies. His nether parts (the other end of the log) are covered with a cloth that is pulled back to reveal a pile of candy — chocolate, I assume, including some of those truffles that look like little dried turds — then adds a bit of smelly herring to indicate that the kids have beaten all the shit out of him and he is now evacuating his undigested dinner.

Catalan kids hitting the log[a href="http://suitelife.com/2010/12/15/caga-tio-and-caganer/">Suite life

Catalan kids hitting the log [via Suite Life ]

All of this is grist for the psychologist’s mill since “log” can equal a turd and shit is connected with wealth and stuff — but that’s boring. The real question is: what is the relationship between Tió de Nadal and Caganer? And, until a few years ago, there was none. But then Benito Cereno and Anthony Clark created a tale for Comics Alliance which tells the real back story behind these two mythic figures. Click on the sample below to read the entire thing:

poop_Benito Cereno & Anthony Clark Bring You a True X-Mas Story of Poop Candy [Exclus

William Price Fox, Jack Davis, Southern Fried

William Price Fox grew up in South Carolina. In 1943, at the age of seventeen, he joined the army. “Horrible mistake”, he says in a later story. But he got through that, went on to New York, where he worked as a salesman and hung out with writers. One day, the story goes, a writer for the Village Voice was unable to fill his daily quota of words and got Fox to step in and write his column for him. Fox says that he never knew it was so easy and began writing full time. He was published in Saturday Evening Post, Sports Illustrated (writing about golf), and other slick magazines of the 1950s and 60s.
I recall once hearing Fox interviewed on the radio. He talked about growing up in the South and quitting high school and the interviewer, some young woman who had recently graduated with a degree in Journalism or Media or something, said that it was amazing that he could go on to be a writer. “Well,” said Fox, “I always was good with my hands.”
In 1962, a number of Fox’s short pieces were collected and published as an original paperback in Fawcett’s Gold Medal line. These paperbacks were usually priced at 35¢ but Southern Fried fetched 40¢ a copy. Maybe the extra nickel was to pay Jack Davis to illustrate the book.
Georgia-born Jack Davis drew comics for EC and Mad and later did movie posters, book covers, and all kinds of other illustration work. Davis is Fox’s contemporary and the perfect choice to illustrate his work.
This post is about Southern Fried but mostly to show all of Davis’ work for this book, which is otherwise (I think) unavailable.

fox_cover
In 1974, some stories were added to the book which was re-issued as Southern Fried Plus Six. Some of the original stories were edited for re-publication including the first one, “Lower Elmwood”, which was re-titled “Lower Mulberry”. The paragraphs that this drawing illustrated were cut for reasons that escape me:

…before the cars there were bikes. There were handlebars to be asjusted and seats that needed saddle-soaping. And they’d take the brakes apart and drop the hundred wafer parts into a shallow pan of gasoline. They’d clean the parts and check for nicks and sand. And then they’d pack the brake sleeve with thick dope applied with a flat popsicle stick and slowly fit the metal wafers into place…
And then the spoke wrench…that tiny little white steel butterfly that looked like a jew’s-harp. And it would be quiet and they’d squat or sit on Coca-Cola crates around the wheel and watch and listen for the warps…

fox_elmwood

The tone here is nostalgic and, in the stories where the main character is a young boy, the time is the early 1940s. Sometimes, to bring the action closer to the present day, Fox hedges events into the 1950s. But, with a few exceptions, think of the time as 1940.

“Wilma” is about a sweet good-time girl who introduces our adolescent protagonists to sex:

fox_wilma

There was a question and answer period and Esco and I really asked them. About Orientals, about fat people, thin people, old people. About dogs and animals, about dogs and people, about goats and sheep. And more, and worse than that and better than that. Nothing fazed her and the few answers she didn’t know, she said she would check.

fox_pitfight

In “Pit Fight” a nasty guy brings in a wildcat to fight dogs in the pits. It is a slaughter. Right here, I should say that Fox may write some funny stuff but he doesn’t blink at the bad parts of the South, either. It is what it is. Anyway, a smart hound is trained to go after the cat and the story is mainly about the boy narrating and his feelings about the whole thing.

fox_easyboy

“Eugene Talmadge and Sears Roebuck Co.” may be about another bad part of the South, at least if you recall that Talmadge was an arch-racist who thought the occasional lynching necessary to keep blacks in line. But Fox’s study is of the man speechifying on the campaign stump, something Talmadge loved to do. Talmadge was governor of Georgia twice in the 1930s, served again 1941-43, was elected a fourth time in 1946, the year he died. His tag-line ending to a speech:

“You got three friends in this here world and I want you to know it.”
“Tell us, Gene.”
He raised one finger, pointed it at the sun, and addressed the back row and the two men leaning on the buckboard.
“You got Sears Roebuck Company — and I want you to know it.”
“That’s right, Gene.”
A second finger…a louder voice to the back row…the two leaning on the buckboard and the two seated in the Ford by the drain ditch drinking corn whiskey out of a mayonnaise jar.
“You got God Almighty — and I want you to know it.”
“That’s right, Gene.”
And then he crashed his steel heels into the gallery boards, snapping his suspenders, rared back like he was going to lift a whole bale of cotton single-handed and roared to the men by the buckboard, the men in the Ford, to the sky, the swamp, and down the drain ditch the length of Calhoun County…
“And you got Eugene Herman Talmadge of Sugar Hill, Georgia, and I want you to know it.”

fox_talmadge

“The Ordeal of Lonnie Register” is a key story in this collection because it’s about story-telling. Lonnie is a door-to-door salesman. He sells “kerosene lamps, chenille bed spreads, hairbrush and mirror sets, and religious statues and plaques that glowed in the dark.” His rival, Frog Jones, is also a door-to-door salesman. No matter how hard Lonnie works he finds it hard to make a sale. Frog, on the other hand, would make two calls and wind up with two sales. They work at night, so that the glow-in-the-dark items can be demonstrated, and during the day hang out at Doc Baker’s drugstore, telling stories. But no matter how good Lonnie Register’s stories are, Frog’s are better.
The frustration of working so hard and showing so poorly against Frog gets to Lonnie and every couple of months he goes on a wild binge that winds up with him under arrest and having to do roadwork on the chain gang. Well, he didn’t wear a chain “but there would be a man in a black hat on shotgun” watching him. Lonnie is on the road gang when it is assigned work in town, right outside Lonnie’s house in fact. His wife has the blinds drawn and has shut the children up in the back so they won’t witness their father’s humiliation. Folks in the drugstore are busy not staring and trying not to make Lonnie feel bad. Frog, who has poor eyesight, doesn’t notice him until Lonnie’s airedale runs up to his master and jumps all over him. “Lonnie tried to shoo the dog away but you know how airedales are.” Frog sees the dog and:

fox_lonnie

Following this humiliation there is an epic story-telling battle between Frog and Lonnie and… But you already know, Lonnie just isn’t going to win.

fox_fastnerves

“Fast Nerves” is about a gambler named Greenwood Knox who succumbs to nervous exhaustion after long episodes of card-playing. For instance, after seeing Joseph Cotten demonstrate Power X in From the Earth to the Moon he leaps up in the movie theater and climbs over the seats, yelling “With that power I could rule the world!” Next thing, he believes that he is Oral Roberts, only better:

…he was grander, wiser, more benevolent than Roberts. He could raise the dead, fertilize the land, cause fish to bite, and most of all he could give away money.

Greenwood gives away all his cash, spreads general mayhem, and is committed to a mental institution. Eventually he is released and goes back to gambling, but his hands start to shake and he knows it’s only a matter of time before he breaks down again. Electroshock therapy steadies him for a while but the treatments take all Greenwood’s money. Then his buddy, mechanic Chauncey Jones, comes up with an idea:

[Chauncey] led him out to the Buick and patted the winged figure on the radiator.
“This old horse will kick up a thousand volts if I put her on the floor.”
“Whoa, now, Chauncey…”
“Greenwood, it ain’t any more than like tipping your tongue to a flashlight battery.”

fox_youallright

Oh, yeah! But it works and Greenwood gets back to his work with hands “steady as ping pong paddles”.

“Razor Fight At The St. Louis Cafe”: Round House Brown doesn’t say much, but when Bad Dave Hill taunts him into a razor fight, Round House communicates in very immediate fashion. This is one of the stories that was edited and a chunk removed for the reprint version. I don’t know why. If the story is racist, then the section that’s removed doesn’t make it less so.

fox_razor

“The Buzzard’s Lope”:  Slim Elmo Brown is from the backwoods — Shell Bluff, Georgia along the Horse Creek Valley — and is pretty shy at the weekly square dance, but he comes out of his shell and shows people how to dance. Or, at least he shows them one version of dancing:

Slim Elmo spins the girl out and jumps up in the air. He comes down hard on one knee with his head back.
“You reckon he’s been taken hold of?”

fox_buzzard

He squats and dances in the squat. He rushes forward in a high head-back screaming leap. The floor boards make a crashing noise and the audience goes wild. Black rubber heel marks are all over…
“…it’s Horse Creek Valley all right. Claims they call it the Buzzard’s Lope down there…”
“You shore he ain’t been taken hold of? Keep an eye on his tongue when he comes by.”

fox_leroyjeffcoat

Leroy Jeffcoat plays for the Columbia Green Wave, an amateur baseball team. “The name must have come from the fact that most of us got drunk on Friday nights and the games were all played on Saturday.” Leroy isn’t much of a ball player, but he owns a snazzy uniform. In fact, he owns two of them, while one is at the cleaners, Leroy is wearing the other. This is his permanent outfit. “His was the long season.”

Fox_leroyuniform
There’s always somebody too hungover to play, so Leroy gets into most of the games. He reads everything he can find about baseball and he can imitate any ball player ever; he can hit like Ted Williams or Stan Musial or Joe DiMaggio except when he’s actually in a game, then he tries to hit like all three of them at once, gets confused, and strikes out. Most of this story is about the time that the Green Wave goes to play the State Penitentiary team, a game that they dread because the convicts play to Win:

We came to bat and Franklin Folk, our catcher, led off. Their pitcher’s name was Strunk and he was in jail for murder. The first pitch was right at Franklin’s head. He hit the dirt. The crowd cheered. The next pitch the same thing. Franklin Folk was white as a sheet.

Franklin becomes too scared to swing and strikes out. The game continues that way:

At the end of five innings we didn’t have a scratch hit. The Pen had fourteen runs and the pitcher Strunk had three doubles and a home run.
We didn’t care what the score was. All we wanted to do was get the game over and get out of that prison yard.

That’s when Leroy Jeffcoat demands to be put in the game. “I can hit that son of a bitch.” So Leroy gets in the game, playing first base. Strunk comes up to bat.

“Let him hit! Let him hit, Ed! I want to see that son of a bitch over here…Send that bastard down here. I want him. I’ll fix his ass.”
The crowd cheered Leroy and he tipped his hat like Stan Musial.
The crowd cheered again.
Strunk bellowed, “Shut that nut up, ump.”
The umpire raised his hands. “All right, over there, simmer down or I’ll throw you out.”
The crowd booed the umpire.
Leroy wouldn’t stop. “Don’t let him hit, Ed. Walk him. Walk that beanball bastard. He might get a double. I want him over here.” Ed looked at Franklin Folk. Folk gave him the walk sign.
Two balls…three balls…
“You getting scared, you bastard? Won’t be long now.”
The crowd laughed and cheered.
Again the Musial touch with the cap.
Four balls…
Strunk laid the bat down carefully and slowly walked toward first. Strunk got close. The crowd was silent. Leroy stepped off the bag and Strunk stepped on. Leroy backed up. Strunk followed. Everybody watched. No noise. Leroy stopped and took his glove off. He handed it to Strunk. Strunk took the glove in both hands.
Leroy hit him with fastest right I’ve ever seen.
…Leroy got him off balance and kept him that way while he pumped in four lefts and six rights.
They led Strunk back to the dugout bleeding.
The crowd went wild.
Leroy tipped his hat Musial-style…

fox_leroyfight

The Green Wave comes up to bat in the ninth with the score 21 to 0 against them. Strunk is pitching. He hits one man with a pitch and walks two more, loading the bases, so he can pitch to Leroy Jeffcoat.

So Leroy came up with the bases loaded and the prison crowd shouting “Leroy Jeffcoat is our boy.”
He pulled his cap down like Musial and dug into the box like DiMaggio. The crowd cheered and he got out of the box and tipped his hat.

fox_leroybasesloaded

All this time, Strunk is getting angrier and angrier. His first pitch is right at Leroy’s head. “Leroy flicked his head back like a snake but didn’t move his feet.” The crowd boos Strunk and the umpire goes to the mound to talk to him. Strunk tells the umpire to go to hell. The next pitch hits the bill of Leroy’s cap and the umpire wants to put him on base.

Leroy shouted. “No. He didn’t hit me. He’s yellow. Let him pitch.”
The crowd cheered Leroy again.
Two convicts dropped out of the stands and trotted across the infield to the mound. They meant business. When they talked Strunk listened and nodded his head. A signal passed around the infield.

The next pitch is perfect and Leroy connects with it for an honest single, but the fielders keep bobbling the ball and Leroy keeps running:

He ran in spurts, each spurt faster than the last. The throw to third got past the baseman and Leroy streaked for home, shouting.
He began sliding from twenty feet out. He slid so long he stopped short. He had to get up and lunge for home plate with his hand. He made it as the ball whacked into the catcher’s mitt and the crowd started coming out of the stands.
The guards tried to hold the crowd back and a warning siren sounded. But the convicts got to him and paraded around the field with Leroy on their backs. The game was called at this point and the reserve guards and trustees came out with billy clubs.

I’ve maybe quoted too much from this story but the writing is just about perfect and so funny. Jack Davis may have thought so, too, because he did more illustrations for it than any other in the book. Anyway, there’s lots more to the story that I didn’t quote and somewhere in there Fox mentions that there is a tale about Leroy Jeffcoat and the Green Wave playing the State Mental Institution but he doesn’t say anything more about it. I’m glad because it’s probably more fun to just imagine what might have happened.

“Dear Diary” and “Dear Diary: Wanda” are two pieces narrated by a young man just in the Army as Fox was in 1943. Our hero is seventeen but: “Air Corps think I’m eighteen. Also think I finished one year of college. If they discover I finished one year of high school, will be washed out, sent home. Maybe should tell them now.”
Our hero trains, gets homesick, gets promoted, goes back home on leave, meets proud parents, and struts into high school. And so on. He has adventures — drinking, fights — and continues growing up. No Davis illustration for the first “Diary” story.
Wanda lives in Odessa, Texas, where the young man is training. He falls in love with her, or else he wants to get into her pants and can’t tell the difference. He pictures her as wife and mother:

fox_diary

Wanda’s dad tells him that she is a slut. Our hero is offended. He sleeps beside her one night but is determined to keep everything chaste. Next day she is in bed with an officer. Our hero’s heart is broken but he is full of forgiveness. Doesn’t matter; Wanda doesn’t want to see him any more:

And to think of that divine creature lying there before me in the moonlight with a slip barely on, squirming and asking for it. That’s right, squirming and asking and begging for it, and me so goddam full of love and horse shit, I didn’t know what to do.
Live and learn…

Yes. And that’s what the “Dear Diary” stories are about: living and learning.

“The B-Flat Cornet” is a sentimental reminiscence by an elderly ex-jazz player. As a memorial to a certain era of music, it works, but it’s far from the best story in the collection.

fox_cornet

Fox says his father was in a band of that era: “My dad played the trumpet, the guitar, and the piano. He sang. He was a member of a half-white, half-black band. They called themselves “The Hawaiians” and sang in Spanish.” He also says his father was in jail, made whisky, and was in the Navy like the father of the “Dear Diary” narrator.

fox_fried

The title story is narrated by a young man working at Doug Broome’s in the Five Points area of Columbia, South Carolina. There’s a soda fountain at one end and the kitchen at the other. This kind of place was all over the South before McDonald’s and Hardee’s came along, but the soda fountain suggests a pre-WWII place rather than one from the 50s.
The narrator works in the kitchen with a black man called “Preacher” because he’s in his last year at Bible College. The soda fountain is run by a white asshole named Fleetwood Driggers. Fleetwood dislikes Preacher and there is racial antagonism there. This boils up into a huge contest between Fleetwood and Preacher over who can work the soda fountain the best. I’m not going to get into the details; it’s a good story and you can read it for yourself.
One thing, of all the editing and re-writing done to stories before bringing out the re-issue, this story (in my opinion) suffers the most. First off, here (and in other stories like “Fast Nerves) Fox uses Oral Roberts as an example of revival preacher, possibly because Roberts was more likely to be familiar to Yankee audiences. Roberts went on great Crusades across the US in the late 1940s and afterwards, sometimes claiming to be able to raise the dead. So a big part of this story is when a Roberts revival lets out and 8000 people suddenly descend on Doug’s Bar-Be-Cue. In the re-issue, all mention of Oral Roberts is removed from every story and his name is replaced by that of a fictitious Sonny Love or even Billy Sunday, who died in 1935. I don’t know, maybe lawyers had something to do with it. Maybe that’s why Doug’s in Columbia was changed to Holly Yates’ place in Moss Hill and all his competitors renamed as well. Here’s a bit cut out of the story, just the last sentence here:

…the heat around the grill and the frypots had risen and nothing would put it down. Sweat was running down Preach’s nose and ears into the barbecue and lettuce and he couldn’t stop it. He grinned at me and said, “Native juice.”

Now why cut that out? The part where Fleetwood calls Preacher a nigger is kept in, so if it’s fear of racism, that fear is misplaced. But maybe this is just an historical artifact, an example of white editors in the 1970s trying to catch up with times that were a-changin’.
In case I haven’t made this crystal clear: it was a mistake to edit these stories at all. Well, there’s two places where it’s not so bad. Changing Lonnie Register’s dog from an airedale to a labrador is all right, and I understand changing Marilyn Monroe to a different sex goddess since she was dead (but Sophia Loren?)

fox_coleymoke

Coley Moke lives back in the swamp and makes whisky. Teen-aged boys come around and give Moke comics books in exchange for being allowed to drink and pass out in his shack. And Coley Moke tells them stories, mostly about his dogs. He claims that, if a “federal man” came around, one of his hounds would grab the bucket of hooch and run off with it into the swamp. Davis illustrated this in the title cut. Coley was married once:

“Yeah, I suspect I miss that old gal. Wonder what she looks like now. She was something all right. Up at dawn, cook a first class meal and then go out and outplow any man or mule in the county and every Sunday, rain or shine, we had white linen on the table and apple pie. …ain’t nothing I like better than apple pie.
“Sometimes we didn’t speak for a week. It was nice then, real nice. As long as I kept quiet and minded the still and my dogs everything was fine. But we started talking and then the first thing you know we were arguing and then she began throwing the dogs up in my face.

fox_nicethen

“Yeah, I was lying here with old Sport. He was Brownie here’s father. He was young then and high spirited and, you know, sensitive. When Emma Louise got up from her chair and come over he must have seen it in her face. They never had gotten along. He crawled off the bed and went outside. If I live to be two hundred, I’ll never forget those words…
“She said, ‘Coley Moke, you are the sorriest man on God’s green earth. Here it is almost winter, we got no money, we got no food, and you just lay there and stare up at that leaky roof. And what’s more, you’ve gone out and taken our last hog and traded it for another dog.'”
Coley smiled and leaned forward. Then his face set mean and hard. “Emma, Emma Louise,’ I said, ‘if I told you once I told you a hundred times. …But since you seem to not hear I’m going to tell you one more time. I traded that hog and I got me a dog for the plain and simple reason that I can’t go running no fox with no hog.”

fox_drinkit

There’s been a lot about making whisky in these stories, but this tale, along with the fine illustration by Jack Davis, is pretty much a primer on the subject. Lamarr Peevy narrates the story of how he drove to New York City to straighten things out with a bar-owner who has been buying his product. It’s a really funny story and I recommend it even if you don’t want to make whisky.

“Monck’s Corner” is a short piece about a drinking adventure — or maybe, an adventure in getting drunk. No illustration.

The last piece in the original collection is called “Tourist” and this is (possibly) the Village Voice story that started off Fox’s career. The narrator is visited by a friend from the South. They do the town, or at least a piece of it:

We hadn’t been south of Thirty-fourth Street, east of Sixth Avenue, or north of Fifty-fourth Street. But we’d been thorough. We’d had pizza, coconut juice, knishes, pig’s feet, paella, and Him Soon York, and Jack had been sick on Broadway and Forty-second Street.

This piece is just about perfect but, like the rest of this book, better in the original than the edited re-issue. Either way, though, reprint or original, you owe it to yourself to run down a copy of Southern Fried. It’s just a whole lot of fun.

The Coffins of Arthur’s Seat

Arthur’s Seat is an extinct volcano just outside Edinburgh. The Seat and other peaks are located in Holyrood Park, a place for tourists and hikers now, but in 1836, sheep grazed here and locals hunted rabbits. Five boys were out after rabbits in the summer of 1836 when they opened up a recess in the rocks and discovered a stack of small wooden coffins, each less than four inches long by an inch wide. The boys threw the small boxes at each other, trashing some of them, but the next day one of their teachers made his way up the mountain and recovered those coffins that he could find. He took them home and pried off the lids to discover tiny wooden bodies. Over the next one and three-quarters centuries, people have speculated on just what these coffins are all about and why they were left where they were.

 

Arthur's Seat from Edinburgh. [Wikimedia Commons]

Arthur’s Seat from Edinburgh. [Wikimedia Commons]


Anthropologists came up with theories about voodoo dolls and the like, and folktale collectors began calling them “Fairy Coffins”, a name that has stuck. There is a notion that these might be in memory of dead children:

a mother carv[ed] them for stillborn or miscarried children: portraits of the sons she never got to raise, made from the toys they never got to play with.

Now, it is not unknown for a woman to have seventeen children, but to have them all die at birth or in childhood seems such cruel happenstance that my mind simply rejects it.

The eight coffins from Arthur's Seat. [National Museum of Scotland]

The eight coffins from Arthur’s Seat. [National Museum of Scotland]


Simpson and Menefee, authors of the key article on the coffins, put forward the notion that the coffins were related somehow to Burke and Hare, who had been convicted in 1829. Burke and Hare killed sixteen people and robbed one grave, so the number of corpses is right. But twelve of the victims were female and — so far as can be determined — all the figures in the coffins are meant to be male. Also, it is possible that the coffins were an on-going project, not meant to end with seventeen objects.
Accepting that their theory is problematic, Simpson and Menefee have suggested that investigators should look for tragedies of the era connected with the Edinburgh area that have seventeen victims — a shipwreck for instance. To date, no one has come up with a better idea and the Burke and Hare murders are given as the reason for the coffins by the Scottish National Museum.

arth_coffins2
Arthur’s Seat has certainly had more than its share of violent death: the slaughter of rebellious apprentices at Murder Acre in 1677, a murder-suicide at Hangman’s Crag in 1769, deaths accompanying various Scots attempts to rid themselves of English rule, a mutiny of local soldiers which had one direct death in 1778 and many indirect after the lads were shipped off to India. Corpses are found from time to time, some are possibly those of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s men, some are far more recent.
Once the site of a monastery, the area was considered by locals to be a place of sanctuary and various outcast individuals lived there on the fringe of society. A furnished cave from the 18th Century has been uncovered and explained as a smuggler’s hideout or an outlaw refuge, but any number of possibilities come to mind, a priest-hole, for instance, or a safehouse for Jacobite spies.
The first decades of the 19th Century, as Scotland modernized, were troubling to many locals. Horse-drawn railways constructed to bring coal into Edinburgh proliferated in the 1830s, and others were constructed to the harbors at Granton and Leith. Edinburgh residents were pleased to use the railroads for excursion purposes but were skeptical about the benefits of improving transport to the harbor towns. Leith opened its first harbor in 1806 and its second in 1817 — though it lacked effective city governance for a decade and became notorious as a hangout for thieves and ruffians. Some locals believed that the harbor towns were draining life from the region as they became embarkation points for New World emigrants.
Edinburgh was surpassed by Glasgow as Scotland’s largest city in the 1820s and there was a sense of decline in the city. The “Scottish Enlightenment” had ended before 1800 with the death of such luminaries as David Hume and Adam Smith and such soon-to-be-famous Scots as Sir Walter Scott had yet to make their mark. There was some anxiety about the great changes that were taking place.

Rabbit on Athur's Seat [via Crafty Green Poet]

Rabbit on Athur’s Seat [via Crafty Green Poet]


The Holyrood area was held by the Earl of Haddington whose ancestors had received it from James VI. But after the Earl was accused of non-payment of poor taxes and was found to be quarrying stone from the mountain and selling it in London, in 1831 the Crown removed the noble grant and turned Holyrood into a park, officially named King’s- or Queen’s-Park from that time forward. Locals continued grazing their flocks and hunting rabbits around Arthur’s Seat until recent times.
Modernization combined with a sense of lost importance — quite a bit of turmoil in a short period.
But, of course, the coffins might not be connected with any particular event, nor even the malaise that infected some of the populace; they might simply be the product of a person or persons who thought this a cool project.
Of the original seventeen coffins only eight are still preserved. These are on display at Scotland’s National Museum.

arth_closeup

Here’s what is known and unknown about them:
1– It is unknown exactly where the coffins were found. Various widely separathed places near Arthur’s Seat have been named. Whinny Hill, an eroded volcanic cone to the east, seems a likely candidate, though a place south-east of Arthur’s Seat is favored by some.
2– The coffins were in a niche (probably not man-made) in a hillside. Pieces of slate, perhaps three of them, were used to cover the opening. Reports that these were headstone-shaped are (I think) embellishments.
3–The coffins were arranged in two stacks of eight, and one coffin, possibly the beginning of a new stack, next to them. This description is apparently from one or more of the boys who discovered them but we have no first-hand reports, nor even the names, of these lads.

arth_clothed
4– The coffins are in different stages of decay. Whether this means that they were placed in the niche at different times or simply suffered different amounts of moisture and weathering is unknown.
5–There was no real examination of the niche nor the slate covers. It is possible that no one but the boys actually saw either of these.
6–The eight coffins that have lasted through the years are carved from Scots pine. A knife, possibly with a hooked blade, was used to cut away a recess in a 95mm/3.74inch by 23mm/.9inch block of wood. In one case the knife blade has actually cut through the coffin bottom. Since a woodworker would have (presumably) used a chisel or gouge rather than a knife, it is conjectured that the maker(s) was/were a leatherworker or practiced some other trade requiring a very sharp knife. The 19th Century Edinburgh directories on-line show a number of boot and shoemakers and there is a large saddlery warehouse as well. (The directory for 1835 is not on-line but is available at museums and libraries in the area.)
7– The coffin lids are decorated with pieces of tin. Since tin was used to make shoe-buckles, this points toward a shoemaker.
8– Some of the coffins have rounded corners while others are square. It is conjectured that two carvers were at work.
9– Two of the coffins were originally painted or stained red.
10– One coffin is lined with paper made after 1780.

Figure outside coffin. Note darkening (paint around feet. [National Museum of Scotland]

Figure outside coffin. Note darkening (paint) around feet. [National Museum of Scotland]


11– The wooden figures inside the coffins were not carved for that purpose. Some have had arms removed so that they will fit. Some show traces of black painted boots. Facial features include wide-open eyes. It is thought that the figures were orginally toy soldiers, possibly made in the 1790s.
12–Simpson and Menefee: “single-piece suits, made from fragments of cloth, have been moulded round the figures and sewn in place. With some figures there is evidence of adhesive under the cloth.” Some of the cloth is patterned or printed.
13–Some of the cloth on the figures has rotted away but what remains is in such good shape that it is thought that it could not have been buried long.
14– Cotton thread, used to sew the burial suits, replaced linen thread after 1800. Thread used to sew one of the suits is three-ply which came into use about 1830.
15– No DNA could be recovered on the dolls, cloth, or coffins. Scientific tests that might show age by analyzing paint or cloth have not been done.
So, the best conjectures are that: the coffins were carved by one or more individuals, possibly engaged in a trade that required a very sharp knife; who repurposed a group of toy soldiers for this project; and that at least one of the coffins was made within five or six years of their being discovered, though they may not all have been deposited in the niche at the same time.
That’s it. The mystery of the fairy coffins is likely to remain unsolved, barring the discovery of a pertinent old letter or manuscript in an attic trunk in Edinburgh. Meanwhile, your theory is as good as anyone else’s.

Notes:
The best article on-line is this one by Mike Dash, originally published at Fortean Times.
Article in the July 16, 1836 Scotsman (“The Logic-chair”) describing the discovery of the coffins is available on-line, but it costs..
The 1994 study by Simpson and Menefee is in the Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, available for £4 plus postage.

Cephalophores

Today, via a wonderful Wikipedia entry, I learned about cephalophores, who had not entered my consciousness before. A cephalophore is a saint who is depicted as carrying his or her own head.

St.Denis relief on the Cathedral of Notre Dame

St.Denis relief on the Cathedral of Notre Dame

Generally, this is represents a holy person martyred by decapitation. After the execution, the de-capped body picks up the head which proceeds to speak or pray.

"Martyrdom of St. Denis" in the Pantheon

“Martyrdom of St. Denis” in the Pantheon

The most famous of cephalophores is St. Denis of Paris who walked six miles carrying his severed head which recited a sermon the entire time. It might be worth mentioning that Denis is the patron saint of both Paris and headache sufferers.

ceph_Denis_statue

There are many cephalophores; France alone boasts one hundred and thirty-four. Perhaps the French prediliction for cephalophores reflects some Gallic racial memory of ancestral Celts who were notorious head-hunters.

Celtic door arch at Roquepertuse with niches for heads.

Celtic door arch at Roquepertuse with niches for heads.

Severed heads that speak are a folk-lore motif catalogued by Stith Thompson. They appear in Greek myth and Aristotle was very concerned that his readers understand that this was not possible. No, he said, it cannot happen.

St. Solange. Her severed head called out Jesus' name three times.

St. Solange. Her severed head called out Jesus’ name three times.

One speechless cephalophore was St.Valerie of Limoges. Apparently, Valerie and her mother converted to Christianity while Valerie’s fiancé was out of town. When he returned to find that the engagement had been broken off and that Valerie had given all her property to the Church (including her intended dowry, no doubt), he became very upset and dispatched a servant to kill her. The servant cut off her head, Valerie picked it up and ascended to Heaven in a ball of light, accompanied by singing angels.

St. Valerie's martyrdom depicted on an enamelled reliquary from Limoges.

St. Valerie’s martyrdom depicted on an enamelled reliquary from Limoges.

Gone to glory or not, Valerie left some earthly remains which were disinterred in 985 AD and distributed in numerous reliquaries which just happened to be a major Limoges product in medieval times.

Different styles of head carriage: Saints Gemolus, Denis, Miliau, Denis again.

Different styles of head carriage: Saints Gemolus, Aphrodise, Miliau, Denis again.

The Wikipedia article notes that the artist depicting a cephalophore is presented with a unique problem: where do you put the halo? But there is another artistic concern: how does the beheaded handle his detached cranium? Some hold it close to their chest, some thrust forward on outstretched palms, some carry it to one side, possibly tucked underneath an arm. Clutching it by the hair and dangling it from an outstretched arm is possible, but really makes the halo problem more difficult, I think.

St.Nicasius at Reims Cathedral [photo by Geert Schneider on flickr.com]

St.Nicasius at Reims Cathedral [photo by Geert Schneider on flickr.com]

Then there is the statue of cephalphore Saint Nicasius at Rheims. He holds his head in an over/under two-handed grip, thrusting it slightly forward with a slight tilt of the noggin. His halo is behind his neck stump where two small beings, possibly other saints, hold a cloth on which are displayed their own heads, thus creating a superb display of cephalophoria.

Heaven’s Maps

Sibusiso Mthembu, who lives near Durban, South Africa, has drawn a map of the way to heaven on the wall of his home. Pilgrims troop by to view this marvel and newspapers are reporting this as yet another weird event, something to chuckle over. But maps of heaven have been common throughout human existence and they are usually quite serious affairs.

Sibusiso Mthembu in front of his map to Heaven.

Sibusiso Mthembu in front of his map to Heaven.

Heaven is not necessarilly Paradise; it may be simply the Land of the Dead, the place human beings go after death. Still, it is a place and places are located by maps. Sibusio Mthembu is unusual, though, in that he has managed to return from Heaven. Usually this is a place that people only glimpse in dreams.

Journey of the Dead to Dhuwa, Land of the Dead for the Jiridja Australians, by Binyinyuwuy, 1948.

“Journey of the Dead to Dhuwa”, Land of the Dead for the Jiridja Australians, by Binyinyuwuy, 1948.

Humans have made maps for thousands of years but one culture’s version may be unreadable by other humans from other cultures. Maps derive from concepts of the World and people’s place in it. Medieval European maps used to place Jerusalem in the center and the known continents were arranged around it. The medieval concept of Heaven has to do with concentric rings of spheres of existence. Heaven is in the outermost sphere.

A map of Existence according to Dante. [via Kinkanon]

A map of Existence according to Dante. [via Kinkanon]

As Western concepts have become more technical, so Heavenly maps have become more diagrammatic:

Chart of Heaven by Clarence Larkin, about 1895.

Chart of Heaven by Clarence Larkin, about 1895.

But ecstatic visions still occur and are recorded by those who do not fear social judgment.Brenda Davis paints what she dreams. “I can’t help it. God knows I can’t read or write, so he tells me the stories.” Here is her “Map to Heaven”:

heaven_freeman

The most exact maps to Heaven are possibly those made by Athapaskan tribes in northeastern British Columbia. Hugh Brody has written of this in his great Maps And Dreams. Hunters, some of them, would dream of the hunt they would have and the game they would take. This was a special gift of a few. Amongst these, some would also dream of Heaven and the way to get there. The maps that are made from dreams are very special and not to be seen except on special occasions, such as when the Beaver people were trying to convince certain bureaucrats that they did indeed understand their area in geographic terms and had mapped it. They brought a moosehide bundle into the meeting place:

…they untied the bundle’s thongs and began very carefully to pull back the cover. …the contents seemed to be a thick layer of hide, pressed tightly together. With great care, Aggan took this hide from its cover and began to open the layers. It was a magnificent dream map.
The dream map was as large as the table top, and had been folded tightly for many years. It was covered with thousands of short, firm, and variously colored markings. …Up here is heaven; this is the trail that must be followed; here is a wrong direction; this is where it would be worst of all to go; and over there are all the animals….all of this had been discovered in dreams.
…it was wrong to unpack a dream map except for very special reasons. But…the hearing was important. Everyone must look at the map now. …They should realize, however, that intricate routes and meanings of a dream map are not easy to follow. There was not time to explain them all. The visitors crowded around the table, amazed and confused.
A corner of the map was missing…someone had died who would not easilly find his way to heaven, so the owner of the map had cut a piece of it and buried it with the body. With the aid of even a fragment…the dead man would probably find the correct trail, and when the owner of the map died, it would all be buried with him. His dreams of the trail to heaven would then serve him well.

But the bureaucrats did not understand the map nor the Beaver people’s claim to the land. Their mindset was biased toward the geological survey maps being used by the companies who wanted to build a pipeline through Beaver territory. So it is: we are unable to understand the maps of others and we lose our way to heaven.