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St. Nicholas Anyone - Have you been Naughty or Nice?

I was going to write about how the harvest is in and tell you about putting away all the machinery, but alas, I digress with an undercurrent of thought and hauntings.

An impromptu encounter with cheesemaker, Inga Witscher Orth and her husband, Chance from St. Isidore's Dairy a couple of weeks ago has me thinking a lot about my grandparents and their work with the Catholic Church. It was the name of the farm, St. Isidore's (St. Isidore is the patron saint of farmers), that got the wheels churning, and me remembering lessons I learned from my extremely devout Catholic, and might I add, Democrat-voting, grandma. Yes, Bravely, I am crossing into both religion AND politics with this piece.

(Artist Don Humphrey - WPA Mural in North St. Paul Post Office)

My grandmother, Mary Humphrey, born in 1912 in Milwaukee, became a devout Catholic in the economic and political turmoil of the early 1930s. She studied Christ and his disciples believing their message could help society. It should be noted that although my hippie parents (coming of age in the 60s) both rejected their religious heritage disavowing me from indoctrination, I was still susceptible to a Catholic upbringing by sheer proximity to Grandma with whom we lived off and on for many years. I am not a Catholic, but took to heart many of the lessons learned from being in her presence.

(Mary Humphrey and Dorothy Day circa 1979 Upstate New York in nearly matching dresses!)

My grandmother's life with the church was fascinating. Most notable was her friendship with Dorothy Day who my grandmother met in 1932 in Milwaukee in one of the many living room meetings and gatherings of young people trying to make the world a better place at that time. Over the years, until her death in 1980, Dorothy would come calling in Minnesota where my grandparents had relocated, and my grandmother, in turn, would visit Dorothy in New York. This was a friendship of shared religious beliefs - a drive to help others, to create a just world, and to live in peace. Not to mention the fact that my seamstress Grandmother clothed Dorothy in comfortable and practical dresses with pockets!

Thinkers gathering in the living room continued as a popular pastime for my grandmother throughout her life, and made for interesting eavesdropping for young Sarah. It was not uncommon to find a gaggle of priests or nuns visiting to discuss politics, poverty and issues of peace and justice. They always came carrying a recent piece of reading material - books, articles, letters or scripture to support their thinking and learning. What I took away from my listening sessions was that these folks believed wholeheartedly in the gospels, were convinced that it is human duty to help those in need, engaged in pacifism - opposed all wars, and ultimately sought to live their lives defending the poor, less fortunate and "downtrodden."

My grandfather, Don Humphrey, died long before I was born when my mother was only five, but he played a big role in cultivating my grandparent's relationship with the church. He was an artist - most notably a silversmith who made sacred vessels like chalices, eucharist plates and monstrances. This work brought him notoriety among seminarians, priests and bishops, and ultimately, guests in the living room salon with Grandma.

While his chalices often depicted symbols of peace, what I like best about my grandfather's work are the paintings he did in the 30s depicting farm scenes and country life. He captured the essence of farming and the community (animal and human) it brings together around work and food. These images conjure a time when human life was not so self-centered and luxurious. Perhaps folks back in the Depression understood better that despite working hard for oneself, coming together as a community to support the larger society was necessary.

While walking up the steps the other day, instead of my normal obsessive-compulsive counting of stairs, each foot, as it landed on a tread, tapped out the mantra, "One for all and all for one!" Had I become a Musketeer? No, I realized these words had been floating subconsciously through my ponderings for days as were the words of the MacArthur Foundation mission statement and motto suggesting that we all work together to create "a more just, verdant and peaceful world."

Time to come right out with it. Why have I been thinking about my grandma and her Catholic beliefs? Because these beliefs represent the backbone of her politics. It was for these beliefs that my grandmother identified as a Democrat, and here it is....what I'm not supposed to say out loud... honestly, I'm shocked, dismayed and outright offended when I read the news of Republican depictions and conspiracy against, Democrats! Naive and childish, perhaps, but to me it's ludicrous and insulting that a group of people 1) Intelligent and thoughtful 2) Reflective and considerate 3) Determined to help build societies better can be demonized. Witnessing my grandmother's altruism, quest for economic and racial justice, and desire for peace taught me what it means to vote as a Democrat. Frankly, I don't understand the Republican cockamamie twisting of ideas making what I grew up believing is good as bad. I'm getting tired of being quiet about it, too!

I understand that political platforms can have different agendas, but ultimately, I believe we all need to be good to each other. We may differ in how we see to solve an environmental or economic issue, but I say all political groups should have the same goal - to better society not tear it apart.

So, in all that remembering of the Catholic messages I learned as a kid, I turn to the saints, the real flesh-and-blood humans that they once were, to pay my respects for their ideals to live life with a conscious and deliberate purpose to be better.

In honor of a successful harvest, I appeal to the obvious saints: To Saint Isidore, the patron saint of farmers, Saint Fiacre, the patron saint of plants and flowers, growers of vegetables, and gardeners, Saint Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals and the environment and Saint Joseph, patron saint of the worker, (and to Dorothy Day, who may one day be canonized as a patron saint of journalists and the poor), your wisdom, care, and thoughtful persistence remind me that humanity must work together for a more peaceful and verdant world.

We might just have a St. Nicholas Day POP-UP at the farm store if weather permits! Tentatively scheduled for Sunday, December 5th. I'll have little stuffer treats for the shoes of everyone who has been good, and promise to have coal and sticks to fill the shoes of everyone who has been naughty!

Stay well in these dark days. Snuggle in, breathe deep and LOVE.

From the farm,


137 views2 comments


Nov 11, 2021

Excellent writing and thinking, as always. Consider submitting to the Strib or another paper to get a wider audience.


Great thoughts to ponder here; words to live by. Love your Grandfather's work, and Grandmother's beliefs. And I'm glad to see you've met up with Inga Witscher--I've suggested to her that she do a segment of her t.v. program on your farm.

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