October 24th marks the birthday of Sarah Josepha Hale two hundred twenty-four years ago. Practically every English speaker recognizes her eight line poem by its first five words: “Mary had a little lamb…”
Sarah Josepha Hale was the Oprah of the mid-1800s. As editress of the Ladies’ Magazine and later Godey’s Lady’s Book she influenced literary tastes as well as fashion, cooking and architecture from the 1830s through the 1870s. House plans published in her magazines were copied across the nation. She did not support women’s suffrage, but editorialized repeatedly in favor of higher education for women. If it wasn’t for “Mary had a little lamb,” Hale would be remembered as the person most responsible for making Thanksgiving a national holiday. Beginning in 1846 she wrote letters to five different presidents advocating a national day of thanks. In the year of Gettysburg and the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln finally threw presidential support behind legislation and the day Hale had been recommending (the fourth Thursday in November) officially became Thanksgiving throughout the country.
My sister Mary did have a lamb. In fact she helped raise hundreds of them over the years. Her favorite, Lamzy Divey, derived its name from a song popular during World War II. Most folks know that the lyrics, “Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey” emanated from a childish slurring of mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy. How many readers recall that this novelty song derived from a much earlier English nursery rhyme? I might be persuaded to produce a freshly pressed quart of apple cider to the first reader who can identify the animals and their food from the original rhyme.
About the time my sister reared Lamzy Divey, she was starting to school. Lamzy Divey did not follow her because reaching school began with a one mile steep walk up to the Littleriver prairie to catch the bus. Mary’s first school year began in the fall of 1949. At that time the Macdonald ranch had a fairly large herd of beef cattle grazing downstream as well as sheep and a small menagerie of animals at home, including geese named Mister and Missus Sippi and a donkey named Daisy who flipped open any latch or untied any rope knot used to fasten barn doors. By then the most beloved of farm horses, known as “Old Jack,” had departed the Macdonald Ranch to graze on the hillside above the present day site of the Comptche Fire Department, just about where the recent “Flynn Fire” started.
Old Jack lived approximately fifty years, beginning life with our family about 1900. He was grazing those hills during the Comptche “Forrest Fire.”
About the time my sister started school, my uncle Forrest lit an evening burn just north of McDonald Gulch (about a half mile south and east of the Flynn Fire’s point of origin). The “control” burn got into a clump of dry blue blossom, turning the blaze into something of a fireball running north toward the Orr Springs Road. My cousin Jim Boyle and Mickey Smith stopped it by trenching fire breaks with their tractors then igniting a backfire. What could have become a disaster akin to the Great Comptche Fire of 1931 was put out by family members and one or two friends, with no loss of structures nor human or animal life.
For an excellent account of growing up on a farm in the first half of the twentieth century, ask your bookstore for Alice Ivec’s Picolotti’s: My Life on The Ranch.