If anyone reads this blog on a regular basis (and I am grateful that a few people actually do) he or she may have noticed that the Practical Historian has failed to post in the last couple of weeks. I apologize for that. I have missed it terribly, but I do have a really good excuse. You see, just recently, I was sitting in my empty Oregon home (freshly repainted various shades of potato for the benefit of painting-phobic potential buyers), gazing out into the overcast Pacific Northwest mist I have come to know so well over the past couple of years.
Now I am sitting in my new house (not yet repainted, though I am in no way painting-phobic and already have my eye on several bold shades) at what used to be my dining room table (now a temporary computer desk since a vice fell on the real computer desk and broke it), looking out the window at what I can only describe as a blizzard.
But in front of me, at long last, is a working computer, happily connected to the Internet and ready to assist me in all of my blogging endeavors and I am an almost settled Midwesterner. Along the way from Point A to Point B, my family and I had many adventures and I will likely write about a few of them, but first, I want to back up a few months and also about 393 years.
It’s true that two weeks ago, several men showed up at my home and loaded all of my worldly possessions (minus a few packed suitcases) into a large Mayflower moving truck. As anyone who has ever moved can attest, it is a surreal experience watching your home transform from a lived-in family space full of comfy chairs, cheerful artwork, and cozy beds to an unnaturally clean hall of echoes. By the time the movers arrived, though, it was the culmination of a great deal of work on our part.
In anticipation of moving day we spent many weeks patching, painting, organizing, scrubbing, and simplifying. It was exhausting work, but I have to admit, pretty gratifying, too. There’s something kind of wonderful about taking a hard look at your stuff and realizing that you don’t need that much of it, and, when faced with moving it half way across the country, you may not even want that much of it.
Obviously we held on to a lot. Among the things that made the cut was our living room set (the first matching furniture we ever purchased for ourselves), our pots and pans, the excessively large fish tank (just not the fish, who all found good new homes), the cedar chest that has been handed down through three generations of women in my family, and the splintered computer desk.
As I watched the Mayflower men carefully empty my home into the truck (maybe just not carefully enough in the case of the computer desk), I found myself reflecting on the choices we had made and the choices that others in history have made when facing a big move.
I turned my attention to the original Mayflower (actually Mayflower was a fairly common name for English ships in the early 1600s, but in this case, I refer to the one that carried the Pilgrims from Plymouth across the Atlantic to Plymouth (how disappointing that must have been) in 1620. Designed to carry cargo, rather than passengers, the Mayflower probably made most of its trips carrying English wool, French wine, Spanish salt, and other highly trade-worthy goods.
In 1620, however, the ship was engaged to transport 102 settlers (only about 40 of which were the protestant separatists history has come to call the pilgrims) plus a large crew that brought the total number of people up to around 150. Some of this number originally boarded the Speedwell, also slated to make the journey, but the second ship quickly proved to be less than sea-worthy. Apparently undaunted by this unfortunate turn of events, the settlers huddled together with all of their goods and set out aboard the Mayflower on a trans-Atlantic journey in early September.
For the most part the goods with which they huddled are not all that surprising: tools, food, lots of beer (a healthier alternative to water), candles, a fair bit of warm clothing and 126 pairs of shoes and boots brought onboard by passenger William Mullins.
Mullins, one of the many “strangers” on board the Mayflower because he traveled for economic rather than for religious reasons, was a cobbler by trade and I suppose his choice of luggage makes some sense. If one’s business is shoes and his final destination is unknown land filled with potentially little in the way of familiar materials with which to work, then it might even be sound business practice.
I do wonder, though, when the Mayflower finally landed far off-course after sailing through harsh winter storms, only to endure a long freezing winter that just over half of the settlers survived, did Mullins question his choice to bring his 126 pairs of shoes? Or would he rather have had plentiful medicine, more food, a thicker coat, or perhaps more beer?
I wonder, too, if we made the right choices, as I try to find places in my new home for incredibly unnecessary items like: four wire whisks (actually, I’m not sure I have ever found much use for one), two copies of the game Hungry Hungry Hippos (one with exactly two remaining marbles), and a computer desk that proved, in the end, to be less than sea-worthy. Thankfully we were smart enough to hold onto the snow shovel. Hopefully we will survive the harsh Midwestern winter.