Wednesday, July 21, 2010

FAMILY: My grandfather Sterling

*DETAILS FROM MY BROTHER TIM--ADDED 3-7-2013 (the original account came from my mother): Tim, born five years after the boating accident which took our grandfather's life, was an adult when Dr. I.A. Richards came from England to speak again at the University of Wisconsin--just as he had in 1931 the day before the tragedy. (Surely that day must have been very much on Dr. Richards' mind at the time. It may have been his first trip back since then.)

Tim went to hear him speak. During the Q&A, according to Tim, "I stood up and demanded, 'What happened in that canoe?' I wasn't thinking [about the effect that would have on Richards]. He was taken aback, shaken. He said, 'We'll talk about it afterwards.'"

They did, for about 15 minutes. Tim told him Dr. Leonard was his grandfather. He asked Dr. Richards about that day so many years before. Dr. Richards said a sudden squall came up, the boat capsized, dumping both of them out. Neither one of them could swim. They clung to the canoe, chatting confidently despite the cold weather and water, expecting to be rescued anytime because Sterling knew there were lifeguards on shore assigned to watch the lake for signs of boaters and swimmers in distress.

As it turned out, the lifeguards had gone inside when the weather turned cold and stormy! [Note: That was inexcusable under any circumstances, but for one of their own beloved professors to be suffering for hours out in that storm and to drown because of their negligence was a public scandal afterwards.]

Dr. R. said he saw Sterling lose his grip and start to sink and he instinctively dived down, reaching for him. His hand brushed Sterling's bald head. Dr. R. told Tim, "For a long time I was haunted with bad dreams, dreaming that Sterling was trying to come up and that my hand brushing across his head kept him from being able to."

Dr. R. told Tim he and Sterling had had a productive afternoon together and he believed if Dr. Leonard had survived, they would have "revolutionized English teaching." Tim says Dr. R. seemed more concerned about him (Tim) than the past events and "he reassured me my grandfather was a very important person." END OF TIM'S ADDITION (See end of post for addition from my other brother 3-9-13)

This photo of my grandfather Sterling A. Leonard, who became a professor at the University of Wisconsin, is just here to remind you that you will have no control over what pictures of you or information about you might be made public after your death. You might want to destroy the embarrassing ones now.

     My grandfather Sterling Andrus Leonard (Mum's father) was born in National City, California, down by the Mexican border, on April 23, 1888. (Actually his birth certificate says "4-23-18888.") If his parents, Cyreno and Eva (later known as Nana) had not divorced and moved back to the mid-west, my children might have been fourth-generation Californians, which is rare for white people.
     Sterling married Minnetta Sammis Leonard, the one whose Uncle John wrote Trust and Obey. Minnetta (long before she became DiggieDee) was an educator who tested and wrote up reviews of new toys for children, shipped to her by their manufacturers. She wrote two books, The Home Educator and Best Toys for Children and Their Selection. Mum said she never wanted for toys to play with in childhood; her mother's evaluation of many of them was based on whether Barbara liked them and how they stood up to her playing with them.
     Sterling had a PhD in philosophy from Columbia and was a very popular English teacher at her high school (and at the University of Wisconsin) and he told her she would have to work twice as hard for an "A" in his class as anyone else, so they wouldn't think he was playing favorites. He also had the only musical talent in our family; he played a violin in a string quartet which performed in their home.
      He wrote books--wrote some, co-wrote some and edited some. He wrote books like English Composition as a Social Problem, Essential Principles of Teaching Reading and Literature, The Doctrine of Correctness in English Usage, and What Irritates Linguists. He compiled The Atlantic Book of Modern Plays and Poems of the War and of the Peace. He co-edited four volumes of Real Life Stories for children and three volumes of Junior Literature.
     (I tried to summarize my grandfather's views of English usage here but I think I got it all wrong so I am replacing what I wrote with a summary just sent me by David Beard, an expert on Sterling's views. See * below.)

     In mid-May, 1931, my mother Barbara was very busy with and excited about her upcoming high school graduation, which was to be right after her 16th birthday. She was scarcely aware that a man named I.A. Richards, 38, was coming all the way to Madison from Cambridge University to hear more of her father's theories of English usage. Sterling arranged for Dr. Richards to speak at the University Thursday evening and the next afternoon go canoeing with him on Lake Mendota.
     A wind came up, the canoe capsized, no one on shore heard their shouts and after two hours' clinging to the hull, Sterling lost his grip in the cold water and sank. Dr. Richards grabbed for him but there was nothing to grab; Sterling was bald.
     Barbara was home alone when the police showed up at her door and stunned her with the news that her father had drowned. Her mother Minnetta never got over the fact that she had had no presentiment that Sterling was in trouble; she had thought the two of them were so close, she would have known.
     Sterling was an atheist. I have often wondered whether those two hours in frigid water changed that.
     When Richards was rescued, he had hypothermia and was nearly inarticulate with shock. He somehow felt responsible for his mentor's death. Still, he went on to become a famous educator and share his and Sterling's ideas on the New Rhetoric with the world.*
      My grandfather's death was the lead story in both The (Madison, WI) Capital Times ("Prof.. S.A. Leonard is Drowned") and the Chicago Daily Tribune ("BOAT UPSETS; EDUCATOR DIES"). The failure of lifeguards on shore to see the overturned canoe and save the two professors became a local scandal, resulting in an investigation. My grandfather's body was recovered after 46 days.
     My brothers and I never met Sterling but he left his middle name for Ted (Theodore Andrus Reynolds). I always thought if I'd had a second son I would have named him Jonathan Sterling. Since I didn't, the name is still available, in case anyone else in the family ever needs one. 

*Assistant Professor of Writing Studies at the College of Liberal Arts, UM-Duluth, Dr. Beard is writing a paper, I. A. Richards: The Meaning of the New Rhetoric and chapter 2 will be American influence on Richards and the New Rhetoric. This chapter "explores an influence on Richards that is ignored by other scholars: his relationship with American composition scholar Sterling Leonard. Most research effaces the impact of Americans on Richards’ work, focusing instead on the influence of British figures (Leavis, Empson, Eliot, Ogden, and Lewis). Americans are understood as having been influenced by Richards. In fact, Richards read Leonard’s monograph on usage in 18th century rhetorics shortly before delivering his lectures on The Philosophy of Rhetoric. Uncovering Leonard’s influence is an important first step in exploring the impact of American thinkers on the central figure of the New Rhetoric."

Here is Dr. Beard's summary of Leonard's views:
Sterling Leonard's position on usage was among the complex in the 20th century; it's why it's still so powerful, historically, today.  His work is divisible into two parts:  historical and a survey of  contemporary work.
     He was a bit of a conservative.  He saw how the rules for usage changed over time, and he admitted it was piecemeal.  I wouldn't say he was against it, but like any English teacher who suddenly realizes that rules aren't really rules;  they  are suggestions codified by time and by institutions of higher learning, he was unsettled.
     So, in the work that was published posthumously, he set out to survey what real English teachers do.  And he found that real English teachers were worse than history -- they marked as errors things that were simply "out of fashion" or ungraceful -- but still grammatically correct.  He was especially brutal about issues of diction -- just because a teacher would prefer the word "depot" to "station" when describing where a train stops does not make "station" wrong.
     I like to think of Leonard not as someone with a defined opinion (he may have had one, but it's not what I emphasize), but instead as the first person to think that grammar, style and mechanics (under the broad term "usage") was worthy of systematic study at all.  Rather than accept rules of grammar, style and mechanics as given from nature or god or the way the brain works, he saw them as historically and socially situated and so an important object of study.

Also see: "Sterling Leonard was the foremost investigator into usage in the first half of the 20th century Everything rhetoricians think they know about usage (including Richards' thoughts on the topic) derive from Leonard, who did both historical and contemporary linguistic research."

From my brother Ted Reynolds, 3-9-2013:  I have a little bit to add about Grandfather Sterling, as I remember Diggeedee (Minetta) telling me one of the last times I saw her.
As I remember (important caveat) she said that one of Sterling's central linguistic points was that languages change, and that grammar should not be viewed as laying down what the language should be, or what was correct or incorrect, but rather like a snapshot of how it actually is used at a given time (or among a given population, perhaps.)  She pointed out specifically that he said the "rules" of not splitting an infinitive, of not ending a sentence with a preposition, or of differentiating between "who" and "whom" were attempts to codify what had once been used naturally, but that these had ceased to be common usage; that the living language as used should take precedence over what had once been considered proper but was no longer the actual usage of people in general; and that English professors were inflicting unnecessary agony on generations of school children by their arbitrary insistence on outdated usages.  (Though Minetta did not use the word "anal", I could tell she wanted to.)  He was hoping to help change this through his writings and teachings.

Monday, June 21, 2010

FAMILY: DiggieDee

     Why, you ask, did we call my mother's mother DiggieDee? (You won't know to ask that if you haven't been reading the FAMILY posts.)
     When my brother Tim was not-yet-two, Daddy and Mummy took him to the zoo. He went from cage to cage, and like Adam, he named all the animals. But Adam wasn't a toddler at the time and wasn't restricted to just two choices--or at least he had a bigger imagination than Tim did. As he trotted along, Tim contentedly acknowledged each animal as belonging to one or the other of the two species he knew, Kitty and Doggy. Lions and tigers were Kitty. Wolves and hyenas and bears were Doggy.
     Then he found himself looking at a monkey. Before he could quite decide which camp monkeys belonged in, he saw an elephant. He was floundering, at a loss for categories. Sea lions. Beavers. Giraffes. Alligators. The unexpected complexity of the animal kingdom overwhelmed and blew his circuits.
     All he could do was helplessly scramble the two words into one and start calling everything Diggy. Now instead of two descriptive nouns to work with, he only had one. He used it for everything. Mum, in Ohio, wrote her mother in Wisconsin that Tim's vocabulary was frozen. Locked. Constipated. Well, she didn't put it that way.
     Minnetta thought it cute. She came to visit sometime later, leaned over Timmy's crib and crooned, "How's my little diggy-diggy?"
     Well, the word stuck--but not to him. To her.
     We always called her DiggyDee. Sometimes I spell it that way and sometimes I spell it DiggieDee. I can't decide which way I like best.
     By the time Timmy turned three, Mum had despaired of his ever coming out of his funk and talking at all. But one day Daddy went off to work and at some point in the morning Timmy pointed to an object and said its correct name. Chair or table or lamp. Mum said, "Yes, Timmy, chair! Yes, YES!" He pointed at something else and labeled it correctly. With each success and Mum's accompanying excitement, Timmy got excited, too.
     By the time Dad came home from work that evening, Tim was conversing in sentences. And he has ever since.

     Speaking of having two descriptive words, two words always come to mind when I remember DiggyDee. Cheerful and bustling. When we sailed the Phoenix to Honolulu, she was on the dock to greet us. She believed we were all right even though the newspapers said the Phoenix was lost.

When we reached Bali, she was there and she helped nurse me back to health when I developed scarlet fever after the harvest festival scare. Then she went on around the world by herself, by plane and river boat and I don't know what all, through Nepal and Tibet and Israel, causing a sensation everywhere with her white hair. She went home to her women's group in Madison, describing her travels and showing slides of ours and was accorded the status of a Wisconsonian Marco Polo.
     And when our trip around the world was interrupted by our protest voyage to the nuclear test zone in the Pacific and Dad was arrested and flown back to Honolulu for trial (I went with him) and Mum had to help Ted and Nick sail the Phoenix back to Hawaii, Minnetta flew out to make a home for Dad and me. We rented an apartment on Kapahulu Street, about a block from Waikiki. At that time it was one of the cheaper places to live or we couldn't have afforded it.
     DiggyDee set about her cheerful bustling. Mum, Ted and Nick were gone over two months, during which  time we were totally out of contact with them. But DiggyDee made breakfast for me and sent me off to high school with a lunch (I rode to school with Dodo and Rere Tai, who lived next door. They were the oldest daughters of seven kids, named (really!) Dodo, Rere, Mimi, Fafa, Soso, Lala, Titi, Octavia (or was it Uranium?) and Satellite. The last two were boys so maybe there was an Octavia and a Uranium.)
     I had to take home ec. and in home ec. I had to make a dress. What a disaster. I used some pink material (substance) that was thready or loopy on the top (like brocade) and kind of stretchy on the back, like foam rubber. Every stitch I had to pull out (and I had to pull out a lot of stitches) gouged little holes out of the back. I had to use a sewing machine. It would have been easier and taken no longer, because of all the undoing, if I had made it by hand. I knew how to do that. Susie Harris, the daughter of an American family we met in Jakarta, had taught me how to sew very neatly while I was recuperating from scarlet fever. My fingers and toes were peeling by then and I'd put the peelings in one of their ash-trays, I cringe to remember. They were very gracious (the Harrises, not the shredded skin) and never said anything about it, at least to me.
     When it came time to sew the three-quarter sleeves (with a flare at the end) together, I sewed the entire length of one sleeve to the side of the dress. By the time I finished putting stitches in and pulling them out and putting them in again, I was heartily sick of that dress. I don't know what grade I got on it but I never wore it.
     Then we had to make a skirt (or maybe the skirt came first). This was a lightweight cotton material with little flowers scattered over it. It was pretty billowy, so first I had to sew along what would become the top of it and then pull the thread so the material gathered at the waist, being sure, of course, to stop and tie it off when it would fit around me. Then I made a waist band to finish off the top. For some reason the length was uneven all the way around, even though I could have sworn it was even until I gathered the top together. It took hours to measure the length every inch or so, making it even by pulling up a little excess here and a lot there and stuffing it under the waistband, securing it with stitches so the cause of the unevenness would all be hidden. I was pretty proud of my ingenuity.
     (I sure hope you can picture this. I stop typing every few seconds to peer around my computer at Jerry, who is at his computer, making gestures with both hands and asking him what they mean."Like those ruffley-things along that bar above you," I say finally. "What is that called?" "A valence?" "No, I mean, what is it called when there's a straight piece of cloth and then you pull the top together like this and put--like that ribbon-thing--along it like that?" He doesn't know. Gathers, maybe. I need to have photographs of every step of the process of making the dress, like Pioneer Woman would on her blog, so you wouldn't have to try to picture it.)   
     All this to say that one day I came home from school and Minnetta showed me how she had "fixed it" for me. I know it was a labor of love and probably took her as long to re-do as it had taken me to do it. The lumps of excess cloth were gone, the cloth was all released and the waistband lay flat and neat. I guess she hadn't noticed that now the various lengths of the skirt would make one seasick.
     I never wore that one either.

 (The Phoenix and abbreviated crew arrived back safely from the Marshall Islands, by the way. Here are our three generations: Minnetta flanking Barbara and Jessica.)

    Sewing, cooking--and keeping plants alive for that matter--remain mysteries to me and that's how I like it.
     I guess not being domestic is a trait of Leonard/Reynolds women. Nana's "little pig sausages," pink on one side and burnt on the other, and her lumpy mashed potatoes, were legendary in our home. That was a "Nana dinner" and we wouldn't let Mum make it any other way.
     Minnetta was a sweetheart. She had a very real faith in God, not so much spoken as acted out in practical ways. I have her olive wood New Testament "bought personally in Jerusalem Sept. 1956" (much more beautifully crafted than those sold there now) and inscribed to me "in memory of very happy days in Honolulu, 1960." In the flyleaf she has listed her favorite Bible passages: John 14:1-3, 15-19, 15 [sic]-27. Romans 8:28, 8:31-39. Ephesians 3:14-21.
     Sterling had been an atheist but the two of them had been so close it was a shock to her to get the news of his death and not have had any sense that something had happened to him.  I've always wondered if his view changed any during his two hours in the icy waters of Lake Mendota.
     Anyway, Minnetta never remarried. Instead, she poured her life into her daughter and her daughter's interests, even though Earle's jobs and his dream of sailing kept Barbara on other continents most of the time. When I was very little, I remember her visiting us in Ohio. With my brothers already in school, DiggyDee made it her job to protect Mum from my demands on her attention so she could write her books. Always, in our family, writing was sacrosanct. When Dad was home, Mum would protect him from our interruptions so he could write his plays and when DiggyDee visited, she protected Mum from me.
     During the two months I lived with her in Honolulu, with Mum gone, DiggyDee demonstrated love for both Dad and me by serving us in basic ways. She was one of generations of unselfish women in this country who cooked roasts for Sunday dinner--who cooked Sunday dinner period!--and had the whole family sit together around the table to eat it, women who knew how to make pie crust, who ironed their men's shirts. I read a short story by a young man who disparaged his grandmother for holding her hand under a tea bag to catch the drips as she carried it to the trash can. That tidiness, that thoughtfulness, characterized those women.
     I have profound and amazed admiration for them. I miss them--but I don't want to be one of them.
     My attitude characterizes a new generation of women. Even Mum, to whom kitchen duties were a burden, cooked, canned and made pie crust in our Ohio days. I remember she saved dough to roll out in an uneven circle (with a rolling pin), sprinkled it with cinnamon and sugar, rolled it up (with her hands) into one long roll and sliced it. She spread the "pie crust curls" on a cookie sheet and baked them until they were golden. We kids loved pie crust curls--yet I never once made them for my own children.
      I can't make pie crust and I never wanted to bother learning.
     That's why that breed of women died out. Because we're--I'm--selfish.
     After our trip around the world, Ted and I visited DD in Wisconsin. While I was off with one of my "little friends," as she always called them, DiggyDee took Ted to lunch at a place by a lake. Halfway through the meal, she realized she had taken the chair by a tree which had the view of the water.
     She said a distressed "Oh, dear!" and apologized for not giving him the seat with the beautiful view. Ted, with what a British reporter once referred to as his "impeccable American manners," just smiled and said gently, "I've seen a lot of water. What I've been missing is a tree!"
     Besides "Oh, dear," her most typical expression was "Bless your heart!" I keep meaning to resurrect that one.)
     Tim lived with DiggyDee (he called her Minnetta) for a time while he was attending the University of Wisconsin. He wrote a poem about how economical she was. He said he never appreciated her, just felt critical and superior, letting her fuss over him and wait on him hand and foot--until she was rushed to the hospital. When he went to visit her there, the bed was empty and made up for someone else. She had died of pneumonia.
     I always used to say our family never died of anything fatal but I guess pneumonia was fatal in those days. Maybe still can be.
     Minetta Florence Sammis was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, on September 22, 1879. (She apparently was the one who added another 'n' to her first name.) She married Sterling Andrus Leonard on December 27, 1913. He died in Lake Mendota, Wisconsin on May 15, 1931 and she died in Madison, Wisconsin on October 15, 1960. She was 81.

          "My grandmother Minetta and Charlie Manson
          fought all night
          over the stump of a withered wiener
          and endless cups of tea
          she made with water she'd poached eggs in . . .

          Finally they called it a draw
          but Manson was never the same after that."
                                             --Tim Reynolds

Monday, May 10, 2010

FAMILY: Trust and Obey

"Trust and obey, for there's no other way
to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey."

My mother's mother called him Uncle John. She adored him.

In November 1891, when she was 12, he wrote her a letter. The letter has been lost but the postmarked envelope survives, with my grandmother's name and address in faded blue type, "Miss Minnetta Sammis, Terre Haute, IND."

In the lower left corner, further directions are added: "Away down South Seventh St. She is the sister of Fannie. I do not know the name or color of her cat, it has six legs two hind ones and forelegs."

The sender is "J. H. Sammis, Grand Haven, Mich."

John Henry Sammis was not only my grandmother's beloved Uncle John. He was the author of  "Trust and Obey" and over 100 lesser-known hymns.
"Trust and Obey" was inspired in 1886 when the composer of the music, Daniel B. Towner (1850-1919), was the music leader during one of Dwight L. Moody’s famous revivals. Towner provided the following account :

“Mr. Moody was conducting a series of meetings in Brockton, Massachusetts, and I had the pleasure of singing for him there. One night a young man rose in a testimony meeting and said, ‘I am not quite sure—but I am going to trust, and I am going to obey.’ I jotted that sentence down, and sent it with a little story to the Rev. J. H. Sammis, a Presbyterian minister. He wrote the hymn, and the tune was born.”

My Great-Great Uncle John Sammis was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and was a successful businessman in Logansport, Ind. Through his work with the YMCA he was called to the ministry, attended McCormick and Lane Seminaries, and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1880. After serving congregations in Iowa, Indiana and Minnesota, he joined the faculty of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (now Biola University in La Mirada, California), where he taught Bible and wrote for Biola's magazine, The King's Business.

For years I thought I was the first Christian in my family. After surrendering my life to Christ, I met my first husband at Multnomah Bible College and we both attended Biola for awhile. I was excited to discover a family member had preceded me both in faith and at Biola and that John Sammis was such a committed, enthusiastic, well-grounded Bible teacher there. A eulogy in The King's Business says he was "a walking encyclopedia of the text of the Scriptures. . . loyal to the faith he professed."

I like to believe he prayed for future generations of our family to come to faith in Jesus Christ and that in doing so he indirectly prayed for my grandmother, my mother and me.

On the back of this photo is written in pencil, "The two Johns, 1914." The younger John is apparently a grandson, visiting John and his wife Mary with his big brother Robert. On April 27 that same year, John Sammis wrote to his sister-in-law Ada on Bible Institute of Los Angeles stationery: "John is still with us. My! but he is a jewel. How he could be any nicer and stay a baby in the flesh we do not see. . ." but admits, "My hair is quite snowy since John and Robert came."

J.H. Sammis went Home on my mother's 4th birthday, June 12, 1919. Minnetta followed him in 1960 and my mother Barbara in 1990. I am sure all three of them now "in fellowship sweet sit at (Jesus') feet,” enjoying the fruit of having trusted and obeyed.