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THE NEW PALS CLUB WEB-LOG

THE NEW PALS CLUB WEB-LOG
improbable-looking limestone karsts in Guilin

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Here Lies Somebody

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Not long after moving here, I was looking at a cemetery about a mile from our house, and found the grave of a likely relative. Likely, because (according to The Babbitt Family History), almost all Babbitts in the US were related, and traced back to Edward Bobet — with the exception of a few who had come into this country as immigrants with names the officials couldn't or wouldn't write, and who found themselves and their descendants dubbed with the surname.

Anna Babbitt 2009

It was possible to read the name on the stone: "Nathaniel Babbitt." The soft sandstone held other faint lines, but between their weak grip on the stone and the encroaching lichens, I couldn't make out any dates. I guessed that it was one of the oldest stones in the Pioneer Burying Ground, which began use just before 1800. I pored over a copy of the family history. Not the copy my grandmother had, but a scan of a library copy that I found online. Archive.org was probably the source of it. First, I tried to read the text conversion of the book, which as full of errors due to unchecked mechanical character recognition and problems with columns and footnotes. It turns out, though, that the scanned PDF version is fully searchable and looks great.

I soon found out that the family history is chock full of Nathaniels, and not knowing exactly when to look was also a handicap. I searched on Pittsford, and found references to other Babbitts, as well as to Pittsford, Vermont, which I've found is the town that the one here in New York was named after. Since this town was called Northfield at the time the cemetery was begun, I searched that as well. Guess which other state has a Northfield where Babbitts lived. Yes. Vermont. Curse you, Vermont!

Anna Babbitt 2011

By 2011, the growth across the face of the stone had expanded. I wondered if taking a brush to it would do more harm than good. I wondered if there were any descendants still in town — or in other nearby towns. The history mentioned Babbitts in other towns in the state, ranging from a few miles away on the shore of Lake Ontario to the other side of Syracuse. I tried calling a Babbitt in the phone book, leaving a voice message that hasn't been returned yet. I stopped by the Town Hall and learned that the town historian comes in for a few hours a week on Thursday afternoons, and took down her information. Months later, I remembered in time to give her a call.

She had some interesting information for me. Going to her records, she told me that the stone is not marking the resting place of Nathaniel Babbitt, but that of his wife, Anna, born 1782, died 1806 (June 1806, though the stone apparently once claimed 1804 in error). She was aware of the condition of the grave, and didn't think there was anything that could be done about it by this time.

Anna Babbitt 2013

Looking at my earliest photos, I could now trace some of the letter shapes in 'ANNA' in the gray-green overgrowth. I could even discern in the gentle curves beneath Nathaniel's name the likely location of "1782" and perhaps "June." She mentioned a Babbitt family that she used to know in town, on Clover Street. The father's name was Arlo or Arliss, the daughters were Donna and "Betty" (short for Elizabeth). Donna moved to Iowa, Betty passed on.

Time has been hard on the graves, particularly those carved in soft sandstone. The oldest is unreadable now, and is part of a row of undecipherable white slabs. I thanked her for the information, which was more than I expected, even though I had been fairly sure she'd have access to records. With or without records, she knew the graveyard, and its stones, very well. I felt like I'd been taking up a lot of her time, so I didn't ask about the small stones piled up at the back of the yard. They are probably footstones that became separated from their original graves.

I still don't know how I may be related to these people. Mom died in 2008, and wouldn't have been able to tell me anything anyway for at least a decade before then. Her last surviving sister, the oldest of her generation, died last year, and her widower wouldn't be much interested in that side of the family (he apparently has Grandma's copy of the family history, which may have notes written in it that I'd like to see). My sisters and I are interested in seeing what we can figure out, but it may be too late to do a lot of that by now. Too bad. The internet makes parts of it very easy to do.
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Friday, February 01, 2013

Ten Years of Uselessness

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It makes sense that I should post this somewhere I can point to it, since I still do that. Up to now, I've simply given a link to some site or other that has reposted it, but what if they all wise up and drop me? Then what? Hah? Anyway, back in July of 2003, I was laid up with the flu. This was the tangible result. It began, "I've been sick lately, and, well, I wrote a sketch..."

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USELESS INVASION SKETCH (by Kip Williams, age 46)

THE AMERICAN PEOPLE (played by John Cleese) walks down the street carrying THE IRAQUI INVASION (played by an empty parrot cage). He walks into THE WHITE HOUSE (played by a cheesy storefront) and addresses COLIN POWELL (played by Michael Palin).

AP:
Excuse me... boy!

CP:
(turns around and stands up) What d'you mean, 'boy?'

AP:
I'm sorry; I have contact lenses. At any rate, I wish to register a complaint!

CP:
Sorry, squire, I can't talk to you now. It's Code Orange! (he hastily starts to put up a sign)

AP:
Never mind that now, my fine fellow. I wish to register a complain about this military action, which you sold me just a couple of months ago.

CP:
Oh yes, the Iraqui invasion. Lovely little war, that was. What... uh, what seems to be wrong with it?

AP:
I'll tell you what's wrong with it. It's empty, that's what's wrong with it.

CP:
Oh, no, no, no. It's not empty at all. It's served its purpose, it has. Freed the oppressed people of Iraq, fed the homeless, brought everlasting fame and glory to our bulging leader.

AP:
But when I purchased this dreary little police action from you, you assured me that the whole and entire purpose was to disarm Saddam Hussein and take away, quote, his vast stockpiles of ready-to-use weapons of mass destruction, end quote.

CP:
Oh, there's some mistake. We went in to liberate the poor oppressed people of...

AP:
Listen, mate. I took the liberty of recording your voice when you sold me that thing, and here's what it says. (produces tape recorder)

Tape: (CP's voice)
"We know just where they are. We know just what they've got. They're buried in these bunkers right here, which our surveillance satellites have photographed not more than twenty minutes ago. They could not possibly be used for any purpose other than the storage of hideous, slime-dripping nuclear anthrax chemical weapons of mass destruction. Say, are you recording me?"

AP:
Right. And when we "liberated" those poor bastards, the bunker was found to contain little more than a twenty-year collection of Penthouse and Hustler magazines, plus a dozen lava lamps and a mini-bar.

CP:
Well...

AP:
Well?

CP:
Well, of course they'd cleaned it out before they left. Sold it all to their chums in the Taliban, they did.

AP:
I happen to know that their 'chums,' as you so colorfully put it, hate their guts and have referred to them repeatedly as "scabrous lackeys of the internationalist secular state," end quotation.

CP:
Well, they have to say that, don't they? I mean, it's all part of the grand scheme. Lovely little war, wa'nit? Liberated all them poor...

AP:
Stoppit! All you've done is make their lives worse than before. That's why they keep killing our soldiers.

CP:
Oh no, squire. They're grateful. That's why they pulled down that statue.

AP:
I've seen the footage of the event, and the only Iraquis in the picture appear to have had their feet nailed there.

CP:
Well, of course they were nailed there. If we hadn't nailed them, they'd've been crushed by the falling statue, wouldn't they? It was for their own safety. That's why we liberated the...

AP:
Shut up. Did you or did you not allege on several different occasions that we had found the weapons of mass destruction and that therefore the entire ill-advised escapade was a rousing success?

CP:
What, them trailers? Well, of course they was weapons of mass destruction. They could've used them for germs, or chemicals, or...

AP:
In fact, they were used for hydrogen, and precious little of that. They didn't even have walls, for pity's sake.

CP:
Well, hydrogen's pretty dangerous, isn't it, Squire? It could power tanks or jets or... and what about that Hindenberry thing? Let's see you stand in a room full of liquid hydrogen with nothing but a ripe boysenberry to defend yourself with, and you'll soon see mass destructive. Wouldn't want to be in your shoes then! And anyway, we liberated the...

AP:
Liberation don't enter into it, mate. It was a bleeding sham.

CP:
No, it was liberation!

AP:
Sham, sham, sham! And you didn't find any weapons of mass destruction!

CP:
Well, of course we didn't, Squire. They was... they was looted.

AP:
Looted? LOOTED?

CP:
Yeah. When our boys was busy not looking at the museum, they looted all them weapons out from under their noses. And anyway, we liberated...

AP:
You're saying that starving peasants with no resources of their own simply looted vast stores of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons? With What??

CP:
They carried them off on their bicycles.

AP:
But a missile weighs several tons, and a bicycle can only carry, at most, a couple of hundred pounds.

CP:
They used two bicycles, with a bungee cord between 'em. They're a nasty lot, Squire. Not like the ones that sang songs to us when we liberated...

AP:
Will you shut up? Since when is it liberation to leave a people destitute, without food, water, electricity, or law enforcement?

CP:
Those things was all shackles on them. We freed 'em, I tell you! They're grateful to us. They're singin' songs...

AP:
Those aren't songs, you parsimonious prevaricator, they're protesting in the streets, and shooting at our soldiers.

CP:
They're just exuberant. Like to fire off their guns a lot, now they're free and all. They don't mean nuffin' by it. They're just so happy to be liberated, with Hussein gone. You mark my words; he was the real weapon of mass destruction his own self, why, he...

AP:
That's another thing. You didn't even get him, did you?

CP:
Well...

AP:
You don't even know where he is, do you?

CP:
We got a tip...

AP:
You've been blowing up caravans and bombing cities and striking about blindly, because your yahoo cowboy boss refused to listen to any intelligence that contradicted his beliefs. Which, when you come down to it, precluded the use of any intelligence whatsoever.

CP:
I see. Quite. (pause) Well, then, we'd better replace it, hadn't we?

AP:
With what?

CP:
Well, them Iranis are gettin' pretty swaggery, ain't they?

AP:
I thought you were encouraging them to rise up against their religious leaders, now that they aren't accepting any more cakes from your lot.

CP:
Fair enough. How about something in a nice little Afghanistan?

AP:
You've already done that one. Worse than Iraq, if I recall.

CP:
How about... coming up to my place and re-electing my boss?

AP:
Why in the world would I want to do that? Why wouldn't I just vote for the Democrats and chase you idiots out of office, once for all?

AP:
Oh, no, Squire! No, no, no, no! You wouldn't want to do that, trust me on this one.

AP:
And why not, if I may be so brash as to query?

CP:
Well, they're a bunch of psychopathic liars, they are, always Whitewaterin', 'aving sex in the Oval Office, taking' expensive haircuts on Air Force One, trashing the White House, murderin' poor ol' Vince Foster, and claiming they invented the Internet.

AP:
Point taken! Well, then, I'll have a North Korea to go, please.

CP:
You won't regret it, Squire! I'll just wrap it up. (tears an American flag off of a roll and clumsily wraps up the same cage the AP carried in.) Come again!
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