Secrets of Gravesite Symbols

One of the things Jodi Thomas, sister-filly Linda Broday, and I like to do when traveling is visiting cemeteries.  My son-in-law and I also love cemetery visits. What stories tombstones of all ages can tell.

With the help of the Old Farmer’s Almanac, founded in 1792, I learned a lot about the meaning of grave symbols.  Our encounters have told us that a walk through a cemetery can be a beautiful experience cyphering the names, dates, and symbols on tombstones.

My favorite is the old cemetery in Menard, Texas.  In Texas, the grave of a deceased Texas Ranger is designated with sturdy metal Ranger markers and are set on a cross symbolic of a Texas Ranger badge.

One thing I learned, the majestic, weather worn stone carvings you see from the cipher-loving Victorians from 1839 to 1920, are more than plain Jane decorations.  They mean something; a virtue the person exemplified, a value they held dear, or a nod to how they earned their living.

I found numerous sites explaining symbols online, but of course for this blog had to limit the ones I selected, so here goes my choices from back many centuries.

  • Anchor – a symbol of hope, or the deceased was a seaman or mariner.             
  • Angel – a guide to Heaven
  • Acorn – Prosperity; power; triumph
  • Anvil and Hammer – Blacksmith
  • Bell – a symbol of religious faith or religion
  • Bird – Flight of the soul
  • Candle – Life
  • Column/Pillar (broken) – Life cut short; sudden death
  • Evergreen – Faithfulness; remembrance
  • Fruit – Eternal plenty
  • Key –  Knowledge; entrance into Heaven
  • Lily – Innocence, purity
  • Olive Tree – Peace
  • Palm – Life conquering death
  • Plow; Hoe; Rack; Stalk of Corn or Wheat – Farmer; modern day is a symbol of old age, a fruitful life
  • Rose – Love, beauty strong bond; Rosebud, youthful death
  • Sphinx – Courage and Power
  • Tree-Shaped – Possible member of the Modern Woodmen of American or member of the Woodmen of the World fraternal organization order.

Do you ever go to old cemeteries and wonder about the lives of the people with certain symbols on their stones?

 

To one lucky reader, I will send you a copy of Texas High Plains Writers 2021 Anthology With Words We Weave … Challenges.  Both Linda Broday and I have short stories in the book.  Mine is the first story I wrote as an assignment in my first Writing Class two decades ago.

Cat’s Meow

I love cats and have always had one or two.  Right now I only have one and she’s my writing assistant.    

Here are some things I learned about cats from the Old Farmer’s Almanac. I thought it’d be fun to share.

Cat ancestors were solitary hunters. To the contrary, dogs evolved from pack-hunting wolves.  Even today, domestic cats are seen as more “independent” than dogs.  This is among the reasons many people find cats appealing as pets.

A cat’s purr is created by the muscles that control the opening and closing of the vocal cords.  Kittens purr to remind their mama to keep nursing them.  Later in life, domestic cats purr to encourage you to pet them.  Not only does a purring cat in your lap reduce stress, but also it is believed, by cat specialists, to have therapeutic healing effects on human muscle and bone tissue.  House cats also “meow” in order to get your attention.

Now this is strictly my theory, but I believe cats can tell time. I don’t know how to explain it, but Miss Chili knows exactly when 3:00 p.m. arrives because she gets a half a small can of wet cat food.  She eats dry food during the day.  At about 10:00, she goes to my husband, and has a special meow to alert him to her need for a late-night cat snack.  If I go to sleep in my chair while watching television, which is common now days with the pandemic, she has a shrill three meow cry to wake me up to go to bed.  Now, remember this isn’t scientific, just my observations.

Here’s a few pro’s and con’s on having a furry friend as a pet.

Pros:  Cats make awesome YouTube videos. They rule the Internet.

  • Cats are arguably less work than dogs; they can stay inside and be happy.  I have to agree with that because when we’re gonna be gone for a few days, we can leave food, water, and two cat boxes out for Miss Chili.  While our three dogs costs us at least $200.00 a day to board.
  • Cats chase flashlight or laser on the wall.  This is entertaining for you and the cat.
  • If a cat does purr or meow or rub against you, you know that it is expressing affection.  Miss Chili can lay up in my arms under a blanket and purr for a long time, as long as I’m petting her.

Cons:  Liter boxes, enough said!

  • You never really liked hose floor-length curtains, anyway, did you.  Miss Chili like to lay on the back of the sofa, separate the curtains and watch for things moving outside; thus, more regularly requiring cleaning than a dog.
  • Cats don’t fetch.
  • Kitties can be passive-aggressive … that broken lamp was no accident. And if cats could text, they wouldn’t.  They’re a tad too stubborn.

My question today is whether you prefer cats or dogs?  I like both for difference reasons.  In my household I don’t have to do “Yard Duty” for the dogs but do have to do “Liter Box Duty.”

 

To one lucky reader, I will send you a copy of my most current

contemporary romance, Out of a Texas Night.

                  Good Luck!

Tuesday’s Winner

 

Congratulations to my Tuesday blog winner…

Ruby Dykstea

Please watch for an email from me on how to claim your book.

Thank you for dropping by and leaving a comment.

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p style=”text-align: center;”>Take care, Phyliss

Punxsutawney Phil of Philadelphia … Groundhog Day

Today is Groundhog Day. This day traditionally marks the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox.  Will the groundhog see his shadow this year? What is the meaning of Groundhog Day … and why do we celebrate weather predictions from a plump marmot? I’m gonna tell you what The Old Farmer’s 2021 Almanac founded in 1792 has to say about it.

According to legend, if a groundhog sees its shadow on this day, there will be 6 more weeks of winter; if it doesn’t, then spring is right around the corner.  I don’t know about you, but our weather has been so fickled that I don’t know if I’ll even trust Punxsutawney Phil of Philadelphia to decide whether we’re gonna have winter or spring this year.

This tradition began when the farmers needed to determine when to plant their crops, so they tried to forecast whether there would be an early spring or a lingering winter. Thus, the beginning of Candlemas (February 2nd.). 

It wasn’t held as a good omen if the day itself was bright and sunny, for that betokened snow and frost to continue until the hiring of the laborers six week later.  If it was cloudy and dark, warmth and rain would thaw out the fields and have them ready for planting.

Our Groundhog Day, as we know it, is a remote survivor of that belief.

For centuries farmers in France and England looked to a bear, while in Germany, they kept their eye on the badger.  In the 1800’s, German immigrants in Pennsylvania brought the tradition with them. Finding no badgers there, they adopted the groundhog to fit the lore … thus, Punxsutawney Phil has announced spring’s arrival since 1887. Other groundhogs also have carrier on the tradition, including Ontario’s Wiarton Willie.

Though we recognize that animal behavior isn’t the only way to judge planting dates, the tradition continues, often with a wink and a smile.

So, will the groundhog in your neck of the woods see his shadow?

 

To one lucky winner, I will send them their choice of an eBook or trade size paperback of my third book in the Kasota Spring Series Out of a Texas Night.

A New Year … New Beginnings!

I hope 2021 has started off with a bang!  Mine has.  I found some things in the Old Farmer’s Almanac I want to share with you.

Some New Year Traditions I found interesting are:

  • Let’s Make Some Noise
    • In the early American colonies, the sounds of pistol shots range through the air.
    • Today, Italians let their church bells peal, the Swiss beat drums, and North Americans sound sirens and part horns to bid the old year farewell.
  • Eat Something Special
    • In the Southern United States, black-eyed peas and pork foretell good fortune. I thought we had some for New Years Day but didn’t; and, of course, no grocery stores were open, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ve eaten enough black-eyed peas in my life to have good fortune in 2021.
    • Apples dipped in honey are a Rosh Hashanah tradition.
  • Drink a Beverage
    • Wassail, the Gaelic term for “good health”, is served in some parts of England.
    • In Holland, toasts are made with hot, spiced wine.
  • Give a Gift
    • New Year’s Day was once the time to swap presents.
    • In Scotland, coal, shortbread, and silverware were traditionally exchanged for good luck.

Now, I ask you all, do you have a traditional you follow each year?

I waited until the end to add more to my part of yesterday’s Yee-Haw Day.  I’m so excited to share some personal news with you all. 

Oh, I have so much good news and things to be thankful for that I can hardly restraint myself.

First, the holiday weather was pretty. I didn’t get to join the family for Christmas in Dallas because of the virus but I got zoomed in, while everyone opened their presents. I received my traditional Tootsie Rolls from my youngest grandson, and a pink fitbit from one of my other grandsons. What a wonderful day. Hubby watched football and after holiday gift exchange I watched Hallmark movies. I’m so thankful for my family.

I’m so proud of my two oldest granddaughters who are essential workers, both in hospitals here and in Dallas. They are called our “trailblazers” since they got the pandemic shots first out of the box with no adverse reactions.

My oldest granddaughter became engaged to a wonderful man right before Christmas. They knew one another when she was in school and he was stationed at the airbase.  Now Daddy was in the Army Air Corp, as it was called at the time, here in Amarillo. He met and married Mother, so he was called our “Flyboy” since he was in the Air Force.  I call Dylin that.  July here we come!

Since my middle Grandson was an Eagle Scout, he was sworn into the Navy just before the schools were closed down due to the Pandemic.  He left for Chicago in April and then to begin his submarine training in Connecticut. He’ll be graduating with Honors!  I’m so proud of him.  He doesn’t know where he’ll be stationed next, but it’ll happen pretty soon.  We are extremely proud of our Sailor.

 

I’m so proud of my family that I can hardly breath because of the excitement.

 

Since love is in the air, answer my question to be in the drawing

to win an autographed copy of one of our favorite anthologies,

Be My Texas Valentine. 

I ask you all, do you have a traditional you follow each year?

May 2021 be a great year for all of us!

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The Crown Jewel of Louisiana’s River Road


 

I love the South! Several years ago my hubby and I went to Baton Rogue, Louisiana, and visited the South’s oldest and most beautiful plantation estates the renowned “The Sugar Palace” Crown Jewel of Louisiana’s River Road the Houmas House Plantation and Gardens situated between Baton Rogue and New Orleans. Although I was familiar with the Southern Plantations of yesteryear, I was astonished at the beauty and mystic of this now thirty-two acre estate with it’s five hundred year old oaks, scenic bridges, and pathways that crisscross the former sugar plantation. Some of my blog today will be facts as I interpreted them during our tour.

Warning:  This is a bit longer blog than I usual do, but there’s just too much to tell you all and I want you to enjoy my adventure.

French Explorer LaSalle first landed at this site in 1682 and described The Houmas Indians and the great herds of bison on the river banks surrounding the Houmas Village.  By the 1720’s, French settlers acquired a Spanish Land Grant and were living there amongst the indigenous Indians, in the fertile plain between the Mississippi and Lake Maurepas to the north.

The Houmas sold the land to Alexander Latil in the mid 1700’s and he immediately began construction of the two story brick dwelling (now the rear wing of the mansion).  Wade Hampton, the largest sugar producer in Louisiana and the largest slave holder in the South, built the present mansion in the late 1820’s, making Houmas House one of the first great columned mansions on the Mississippi River.

The original French Provincial house erected by Latil is situated directly behind the “Mansion”, adjoined by a carriageway to the grand home described during its antebellum heyday as “The Sugar Palace.”  The original home was later used as living quarters for the staff that served the great house.  The day we were there, they were having a wedding, so we had lunch in the beautiful Café Burnside overlooking the beautiful fountain and gardens.

In 1810, Revolutionary War hero General Wade Hampton of Virginia purchased the property and shortly thereafter began construction on the Mansion. It wasn’t until 1825 when Hampton’s daughter, Caroline, and her husband, Col. John Preston, took over the property that the grand house truly began to take shape.

Irishman John Burnside, assumed ownership of the plantation in the mid-1850’s for a whopping $1 million. After purchasing the property, he began accumulating sugar cane plantations and became the largest sugar planter in America, boasting over 300,000 acres giving him the title “The Sugar Prince of Louisiana”.  A businessman and a character, Burnside increased production of sugar until Houmas House was the largest producer in the country, actively working the crop on 98,000 acres. During the Civil War, Burnside saved the Mansion from destruction at the hands of advancing Union forces by declaring immunity as a subject of the British Crown. In addition to building a railway to carry his products to market —“The Sugar Cane Train (1862)” — Burnside, a bachelor, is also said to have offered payment to any parents in the parish who would name their sons “John.”

An avid sportsman who wagered heavily in horse races, Burnside once secretly purchased a champion thoroughbred back East with the intent of defeating the steeds of fellow local businessmen in a big race. He quietly slipped the racehorse into the billiard room of the Mansion where it was “stabled” until Burnside’s surprise was unveiled at the starting line and hailed in the winner’s circle.

Houmas House flourished under Burnside’s ownership, but it was under a successor, Col. Williams Porcher Miles that the plantation grew to its apex in the late 1800’s when it was producing a monumental 20 millions pounds of sugar each year.

In 1927, the Mississippi roared out of its banks in the epic “great flood.”  While Houmas House was spared, the surrounding areas were inundated. I learned on the tour that there was originally a tunnel of ancient trees that rose from the banks of the Mississippi up to the Houmas House, thus creating a wind tunnel and kept the house cool.  After the flood, many of these trees were destroyed and a levee was built to protect the property.

The plantation then withered away, fell into disrepair, and closed. It remained that way until 1940 when Dr. George B. Crozat purchased it to be a summer home away from his native New Orleans. He renovated the property with the intent to give it a more “Federal” look than the stately Greek Revival style in which it was conceived. The structure was painted white inside and out. Crown moldings and ceiling medallions were removed and both interior and exterior forms and finishes were simplified.

Eventually, the Crozat heirs opened the property to tourists. In 1963, the defining Bette Davis film Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte was shot on the property. The room in which Ms. Davis stayed while filming is preserved as part of today’s Houmas House tour.

When New Orleans businessman and preservationist Kevin Kelly fulfilled a lifelong dream by purchasing the home in early summer, 2003, he set about recreating the experience of encountering Houmas House circa 1840. He still resides on the property.

There were a few things I’ll never forget and one would have to see to visualize. The mansion’s faux marble exterior is painted in rich ochre which reflects the influence of Mediterranean villas owned by the wealthy Europeans that the southern planters emulated. The belvedere that crowns the house has been restored, and interior features and finishes have been reinstalled in their original form. The twin Garconierre that distinguish the property have been renovated, and the central hallway of the grand house bears a room-size mural with a sugar cane motif that characterizes the original entryway artwork common in many plantation homes along the Mississippi.

But, the most interesting of all to me from a writer’s view point is Col. John Preston’s 1847 Louisiana Census Map by LaTourette that was found in the attic in the 1980’s.  Yes, 1980’s!  It was preserved because it was stored in native cypress, which is totally unaffected by moisture, varmints, including termites, and other elements that would have destroyed it.  According to our tour guide, if this map had gotten into the hands of the Union they would have known the location of every plantation in Louisiana, but without it all they could do was guess and roam around the bayous and swamps. It’s my opinion, with my writer’s imagination, that very likely this is the reason the Civil War didn’t reach Texas until a month after the war was over.

Oh by the way, I learned from our tour guide that the men were not being rude when they ascended the stairs ahead of the women, but were being gentlemen, as it would be inappropriate for them to view the ankles of the women as they had to lift their skirts to go up the stairs. Very inappropriate.  Also, if a Southern Belle’s petticoats were showing, they were told “It’s snowing down South”.  I don’t want to tell my age, but I can remember being told that when we wore can-can petticoats.

I wonder in this picture, if Miss Scarlett knew it was snowing down South?

I’d love to hear about the most interesting house you’ve ever visited.

       To two lucky readers who leaves a comment, I will send you your choice of an iBook of

              trade size copy of my latest Kasota Spring Romance “Out of a Texas Night”.