THE HASTINGS OF BOYLSTON, MASSACHUSETTS

This writing is by no account an attempt to glorify the Hastings family name. My New England ancestors would have none of that. Quite to the contrary, it is born of the desire to commit to writing an answer to an often-asked question: Where did I come from?

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I am fortunate that some of what you will read in this narrative comes from oral history around the family supper table and what I remember from listening to my brother and sister and aunts and uncles and neighbors reminisce. Most of this story is derived from hours of research into deeds and land records dating back to the 1600s. Many hours were spent with old books, newspaper articles, and interviews.

A humble mildewed cardboard box that stayed in our basement for countless years was filled with treasure. The water-stained documents and faded pages contained therein stimulated my imagination. The box of old photos of people I didn’t know was kept in my parents’ bedroom dresser drawer where the winter woolens were stored. The pictures of grandfathers, grandmothers, and those who came before them still smell of the mothballs.

Fortunately, many of the old buildings I write about here remained standing during my sister’s, brother’s and my young adulthood. The descriptions of old roads, streams, and ponds derived from my memories add further texture to this writing. During my childhood Boylston remained a rural community to the extent that many of the old roads were dirt cart paths with grass sprouting in the center. Rusted horse-drawn farm implements were scattered in overgrown fields. An ancient, giant Fordson iron-wheeled tractor lay abandoned where it belched its last breath. Small trees, more like brush, penetrated the metal driver’s seat. Old decaying and weathered barns still stood.

My early ancestors were not diary keepers or writers of letters. They were farmers, men and women working from sun up to sun down, leaving little time for leisure. Details of their personalities are sketchy and anecdotal, but crafting this narrative allowed me to differentiate among them and to learn how they lived, who they married, and about their offspring.

Many of the old photographs included here are cause for both joy and concern. The joy derives from the thoughtfulness of those who placed these old and earlier studio portraits in safekeeping. The concern comes that in our digitized world, family photographs may disappear with a discarded cell phone or an accidental deletion. Who in today’s digital world is a designated keeper of the sacrosanct cardboard box?

If you are a casual reader of this narrative, I hope that you take from this family history urgency to write yours. Don’t rely on “File Save,” but rather click “Print” and gather the pages. Download selected family photos from your cell phone, have them professionally printed and do not forget the captions. Find a large box with a fitted top, and fill it with these treasures. Over the years the mildew will only add to the thrill and authenticity of someone someday discovering your family history.

I encourage you to embark on this endeavor for your family.

GORDON HASTINGS

THE HASTINGS OF BOYLSTON, MASSACHUSETTS IS AVAILABLE AT AMAZON.COM

 

DAN BROWN’S INFERNO

The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol and now  Dan Brown’s Inferno, another thrilling novel that will surely fly off the shelves and dominate downloads in the days and weeks ahead.

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Inferno is art, history, science and a travelogue through Florence and  Venice worthy of being transplanted to the pages of a Fodors Guide.   For fans of Dan Brown, Inferno is so fast paced that the book is a three or four session read, thrilled to follow the familiar exploits of Harvard University professor of symbology  Robert Langdon.

Brown’s multiple short chapter writing style  keeps the reader connected  despite the speed with which the plot evolves.   Fair warning, assume nothing and expect to be deceived again and again as this thriller develops.  Typical of Brown you will never know who is friend or foe until the very conclusion. Paging ahead is forbidden!  You will learn more about Dante Alighieri’s  The Inferno, and the seven rings of Hell than previously imagined and be exposed to Italy’s art and architectural treasures that are alive in the narrative.  Those who have traveled to Florence ,Venice  and Istanbul will be transplanted, imagining the  tale with even greater intensity.

Beyond the expected suspense and surprises, Inferno adds a Transhumanist dimension of  cutting edge scientific technologies that are unimaginable,  calling into question enormous moral and ethical issues in facing  threats to the world’s population. ” You know that nature has always found a way to keep the human population in check–plagues, famines, floods. But let me ask you this–isn’t it possible that nature found a different way this time?”

With the  popularity of The Da Vinci Code , The Lost Symbol, Angels and Demons,   and now Inferno  do not overlook an earlier great Brown novel, Digital Fortress.  Familiar themes and an ever-present ” mystery container” that can wreak havoc on the world. Brown also wrote Deception Point, which I have not read.

When I return to Venice I am convinced I will see Robert Langdon in St. Marks Square and just perhaps,  as the violins play, he will be holding Sienna’s hand.  I hope so!  You will understand.

Another Anya Seton Classic

British historical novelist Philippa Gregory in her foreword to Anya Seton’s Katherine  is correct in identifying Seton among those writers who  ” Dominated historical fiction  following World War II.”   In the opinion of Gordon’s Good Reads,  Seton’s historical novel  Katherine , a huge best seller in the 1950s ,  is perhaps her very best.  Katherine is without doubt a love story, a romantic novel indeed, but the attention to the detailed setting in  Medieval  England in the 1300s , gives this book high marks as a classic historical novel. Just as she did with Winthrop Women, Seton traveled to the novel’s setting and has marvelously recreated a world that only a novelist of her calibre could bring to life.

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Katherine , from rags to riches , Knights in shining armor ( John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster), serfs, England’s feudal system, bastard children, the Black Death,  kept woman, love triumphs!  All of the elements of a great romantic novel are here but with page after page the reader is placed in a time and place of Fourteenth Century squalor, chivalry and treachery amid riches , castles and jeweled crowns beyond imagination.    Arranged marriages enthroned Kings an Queens  including  12-year-old King Richard, while the lower classes begin an epoch march to freedom, long before Cromwell and Henry the Eighth dashed all hopes of equality.  Seton gets the history right and delivers the lesson  within the framework of a wonderful love story well outside the confining lines of a text-book. Add to this novel the poetry and presence of Geoffrey Chaucer!

Put Katherine on your reading list. Anya Seton ( 1906-1990), through all of the years will, never disappoint.  See my previous reviews here at gordonsgoodreads of Seton’s Winthrop  Women and Dragonwick.  Also by Anya Seton:  Avalon, Devil Water, Foxfire, Green Darkness and My. Theodosia.