My writers group didn't think this title was relevant to the actual writing but I decided it is too good to throw away. After all, this is just the beginnning.
As I visit my sister in 2002, she hustles to put food on the table, as she always does, whether the rest of us want it or not. Doggedness shows in her face and manner and I, always ready to suffer guilt, jump and ask “What can I do to help?” knowing full well she will say, “It’s all ready.” Three meals a day was the norm of our family growing up and she is not about to forget it. We may live fifty years in time from our birth in New England but all these years later, the mark of a puritan upbringing and the traditions of its society still bears its weight on our shoulders. To this day, I can’t sit watching television without a sense of guilt that I should be doing something useful. As a passenger in the car or on a plane, I always have a crossword puzzle in my lap, “to improve my mind”. The mark of doing something useful could be a curse if we didn’t see the humor in it. As my mother would say, “A New England conscience tells you what you should do but it doesn’t make you do it.”
Born and raised in New England, Nancy and I are Puritan to the core: stoic, trained to obey our parents, never question authority. God help us if we lay abed in the morning. We are the children of these long ago people, though we live five thousand miles away and almost four hundred years later. There is a touch of New England here in Hawaii: the occasional house with the Cape Cod roof. Walk into Bishop Museum and you might still hear the accent of these long ago people in the mouth of an elderly Hawaiian docent.
While visiting my sister Nancy here in Kailua, I look out the window at the jagged Koolau Mountains. They soar above the flat land before me – their sides are scored with gullies. Sometimes when it rains, we see waterfalls splashing down their steep sides. We swear they are flowing upward; probably they are with the force of the high winds at that altitude.
This is Hawaii, discovered in the late 1770s by Captain James Cook of English fame. Later, whalers realized the value of the great fishing grounds north of the islands and once brought home, besides the blubber, a native Hawaiian. He converted to Christianity and spoke often in churches of his islands needing the word of God. Men and women heard the call and signed up for a lifetime in these Sandwich Islands as they were then called.
The first missionaries from New England arrived by sail through the Magellan Straits, and changed the islands forever. Now instead of a flat sandy and treeless plain before these great Koolau Mountains lies the town of Kailua with houses, streets, markets, flowers and trees.
Outside to our right we view the ocean, while inside to the right we see Nancy’s wall with its six certificates verifying our lineage from the Pilgrims: William Brewster, former postmaster of the village of Scrooby; Thomas Rogers, a seller of fine lace; Edward Tilley, a silk-weaver and cloth maker; Mr. Edward Fuller; John Howland – a servant who bought his freedom; lastly. Mr. Stephen Hopkins making his second voyage to the New World.
Nancy and I are descended from these six pilgrims of the Mayflower, founders of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Over thirty million Americans are also descended from those arriving on the Mayflower. Their history is our history, their DNA flows through our bodies. It behooves us to know who these people are.
I wonder sometimes what made the puritans so austere – they didn’t seem to have much fun. They disapproved of dancing around the Maypole on holidays, playing games on Sunday, and card playing. Their faction arose during the Elizabethan Age, a robust and ribald time. They came into being as a protest against the Anglican Church, the Church of England. When Henry the Eighth, years before, parted with Catholicism, he left untouched many forms of worship. There were some who wanted to go farther in “purifying” the church, take away the statues, the censors, the costumes, all the paraphernalia of the church. They lead the way the way for reformation in England. And were disliked for it.
The group from the Mayflower came later – they wanted to separate completely from the Anglicans. While Queen Elizabeth of the free and easy times, tolerated dissension, her heir James I hunted them. In an age when the individual was secondary to community authority, to defy the official religion was to defy the King. His troops burst into private church meetings, jailing all participants. A leading separatist was hanged, drawn and quartered.
What a movie this would make. We’d have the postmaster of little Scrooby village, William Brewster, catch the religious fervor while a student at Cambridge and join a group of like “Separatists” to meet at secret places hidden from King James’ soldiers.
The group would hire a Dutch Captain to carry them to Holland, a country far less conservative than England, where people of all religions and nationalities walked the streets unafraid and unharmed. The separatists sold their houses one by one so as not to alert authorities, and gathered at the port to sail. Once on board and below decks, the captain and his crew stripped them of their goods and turned them over to King James’ men.
Imprisoned for months, they were released with warning of the consequences if they tried again. With no homes to return to, they set about finding new passage. Now the men boarded first, to see all was safe while the women and children waited on shore. The sound of horns ripped though ripped the air, “tata, tata,” as the soldiers rode into the group of women. The ship with the men sailed away and a great storm drove them almost to Norway, away from the Netherlands. The captain with skill brought the ship around to Holland many weeks later.
On shore, the soldiers marched the women and children, separated now from their fathers, from town to town. Taunts and cries followed the disorganized group. Their prayers were loud to their God for deliverance until they were freed to find their own way home. History doesn’t tell us how, but one by one, the group made its way to Holland.
Freedom to worship was precious to them in Holland. But economically the times were difficult and for twelve years, most of them worked at menial jobs. Watching their children grow away from strict English ways and the threat of war with Spain convinced them to move again, this time to the New World.
The leader of these six men is of course, William Brewster, called “Mr.” by the people, the only one to matriculate at Cambridge, one of the two universities in England at the time. He left before receiving a degree to work as assistant to the secretary of state for Queen Elizabeth – the one with the ruff around her neck, serving in Holland on a diplomatic mission. Here he must have learned the freedom that was allowed in the colony of Plymouth, long before he moved there. After this service, he followed his father as postmaster of Scrooby, and later was one of the 42 colonists who assumed the colony’s debt of 1800 lbs (first five generations intro) on 3rd expedition on Cape Cod 13 to sign compact
I imagine what it would have been when:
THE PILGRIM’S HAVE LANDED
After sixty days at sea, sixty days of rolling and heaving, piss pots spilling, babies vomiting, the Pilgrim women knew they had to wash. The Mayflower anchored ¼ mile out in Cape Cod Bay, in view of the tip of the peninsula where someday a tower would stand in their honor. It was the closest the ship could get. The shallop (shore boat) was in pieces and unusable for now. Already one group of men had waded to the tree lined shore, “Is this where we’ll build our colony?” Now it was the women’s turn to climb down from the high browed ship into the icy sea. Even in summer, the water was cold and this was November.
They carried bundles of soiled linen and clothes; a few pieces dropped loosely into the water but were quickly snatched from the waves. Every item was precious but God the water was cold. The clothing the women wore was drenched, wrapped around their legs making it clumsy to wade. Waist deep they moved forward, sneezing and coughing. It had been a long time since the last hot meal. But struggle they would for these were sturdy women. They had escaped from the clutch of King John’s soldiers in England, set up new homes in Holland and were now in the Promised Land.
It was desolate ahead on the shore, the men had gone exploring but not before building a big fire to dry and warm the women. Once on shore the women and girls began dipping their clothes in the water, scrubbing with hard lye soap. Dip and rinse, dip and rinse, it seemed like a chant. They took the clean material and hung each item on branches of trees and over bushes. That done, they huddled around the fire and gossiped; they were women after all.
We gather up our plates and leave the table for our own evening chat.