Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Remembering High School


High school was a long time ago, 64 years as of this writing. This is what I remember about some of my classes at San Rafael High School in San Rafael, California.

Math: My plane geometry teacher, Mr. Woelz, told us on the first day of the semester that we had to memorize ten theorems (were there ten? a million?) and that we had to be able to write them out exactly, word for word, in a test the following day. If we wrote them all correctly, we would get an A on the test. If we made the tiniest mistake or misspelling we would get an F. That’s it, nothing in between. I went home that night and cried. The next day I passed that test out of pure fear with an A. I don’t remember the theorems at all now, and suspect that I have never needed them in my daily life. However, years later, when coming out from under anesthesia after a surgery, I was sure that Mr. Woelz visited me in the recovery room. My mother insisted that he had not. The man made a big impression on me, though his theorems did not.

French: My French teacher, Mr. Wells, was Welsh and loud and terrifying to me. I was afraid to look him in the eye. During one class he accused me of not paying attention (as if I would have dared). He boomed, “Miss Harris, what are you doing there?!!” Actually, I had been picking at some nail polish on my nail, eyes averted, while listening in horrified fascination to him sing “La Marseillaise” at a volume that could have been heard halfway to Paris. Immediately after that class that day I dropped French and transferred into Spanish. Mr. Wells is the reason that when we went to Paris I only ever ordered café au lait, because it was the only French I could pronounce.

Spanish: My new Spanish teacher was lovely and gentle and I really wanted to marry him. I never actually mentioned this to him, since all conversations in that class had to be in Spanish. I found out much later that he married someone who (in my imagination) might once have been one of his students. It is possible that because of Señor Carrasco, I now live in Nuevo Mexico and make tacos and enchiladas and burritos and carnitas todos los días.

History/Civics: We had some stellar teachers for history and civics, and they changed the way we saw the world. Mr. Fesler helped us to deal with almost everyone we would ever come across by reminding us that we all had plenty in common and that each and every one of us was just a human being who “sweat and wore socks.” Mr. Curtin stunned us all one day by explaining the threat of nuclear competition and how it led to either world annihilation or an uneasy stalemate. We had walked into his class that day as carefree teenagers and left later as concerned citizens of the world.

English: English might have been one of my favorite classes because of all the reading involved but the problem was that the teachers always wanted us to discuss what we had read and wanted us to have an insight into what the author had actually meant. I didn’t give a fig about what the author had meant, I just wanted to treasure the words that meant the most to me and hold them close to my heart. The final blow was when our class was assigned to read and discuss “Moby Dick” and the teacher insisted that all those pages about “white” and “whiteness” were symbolic and that the whale himself was meant to be a metaphor. We were stunned, disbelieving, and could hardly believe our ears. I still remember the mutterings in the hall afterwards—”he sure knows how to ruin a good story” and “symbolism? Who ever heard of such a thing?”

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Thomas Rankins: From Maine to California, and From California to Australia

Thomas Rankins is my great great granduncle (see the connection at the end of the post below).

In an earlier post about Thomas Rankins (Where Thomas Went) I had discovered that he had sailed from California to Australia in 1852, but I wondered how he had gotten from his birthplace in Maine to California. Why California? How long was he there?

That was what I was wondering back in 2017. Now, years later, I have come across the explanation. In the publication,  American Fever, Australian Gold, the authors devoted several pages to Thomas.

In 1850, the U.S. Federal Census listed Thomas with his family--parents Thomas (age 48) and Joanna (age 49), our Thomas (age 20) and John (age 18). All the men were listed as farmers. Also in the household were Sarah (16), Ada (14), Joseph (8), and Lydia (6).

“When Thomas heard the news of the remarkable gold finds in California, he… decided it was time to leave his home and family and make a fortune of his own. He was not alone in his thinking, for many young men in neighboring counties packed their bags, and bade farewell to their loved ones. The authors have found numerous men from the state of Maine sailed in the 1850’s seeking wealth on which to build a comfortable living. Thomas left the eastern seaboard of the United States and sailed south to Panama. Crossing to the western seaboard of the USA, he boarded the SS Panama on October 17th, 1851 and headed for California. On board also were Joshua Cushman Bigelow, from Norridgewock, Somerset County, and Benjamin Kendall Snow, from Skowhegan, Somerset County;* this trio would remain in company with each other.

Two days into the voyage, the ship encountered heavy westward gales with torrents of rain. She arrived in Acapulco, Mexico, eight days after leaving Panama. Sickness was prevalent on board, with seven deaths from fever. Jesse Sawyer, a steerage passenger, on October 27th jumped overboard. He left a wife and five children in Hollowell, Maine.** No doubt the passengers were relieved when they reached San Francisco on November 4th.

The boys from Maine spent less than a year prospecting in California, but had they acquired the amount of wealth that they had sought? Ben Snow, in a letter to his sister, Mary, dated June 14th, 1852,*** mentioned that he, with others had mined at Shaw’s Flat, while some had been engaged in the mines at Columbia and Tanke Hills. Most of the boys had done quite well during the past few months, but things had since quietened due to lack of water…. Ben continued his jottings to inform his sister that he along with seven men from Maine would leave California the following day to “another land of gold on the Eastern Hemisphere”—Australia. A.R. Brainerd, Joshua Bigelow, his brother Charles, Heman Spaulding, Thomas Rankins and Frank (Ben Franklyn) Allen of Norridgewock would board the ship ‘Orpheus” of Boston. “

The Orpheus arrived in Port Jackson, Sydney, Australia Sept. 1, 1852, after a voyage of two and a half months. Thomas' Australian adventure was just beginning. 


*Source as given by the authors of American Fever, Australian Gold: Maritime Heritage Project, retrieved December 16th, 2006 from www.maritimeheritage.org. 

**Source as given by the above authors: Maritime Heritage Project, retrieved December 16th, 2006 from www.maritimeheritage.org. 

***Source as given by the above authors: Letter written by Benjamin Snow, in collection of Thomas J. Bassett Family Papers, held by Depauw University, Indiana, USA.

The above quoted paragraphs come from:

American Fever, Australian Gold; American and Canadian Involvement in Australia's Gold Rush, by H. Denise McMahon and Christine G. Wild. 

CD-ROM. Published in Middle Park, Queensland, Australia, by H.D. McMahon and C.G. Wild, 2008. 

Copies of this CD may be obtained from the authors at goldfever2008@gmail.com.


How Thomas and I are related:

  • Thomas Rankins
     1830-1892 (brother of my great great grandmother, Eleanor)
    2nd great-granduncle
  • Joseph P RANKINS Sr. 1801-1882 (my great great great grandfather)
    Father of Thomas Rankins
  • Eleanor Ruth RANKINS 1822-1914 (my great great grandmother)
    Daughter of Joseph P RANKINS Sr.
  • Oscar J ELLIS 1852-1907 (my great grandfather)
    Son of Eleanor Ruth RANKINS
  • Eva Josephine ELLIS 1888-1943 (my grandmother)
    Daughter of Oscar J ELLIS
  • Daniel Lawrence HARRIS 1907-1972 (my father)
    Son of Eva Josephine ELLIS
  • Clair Marie Harris
    I am the daughter of Daniel Lawrence HARRIS