Sunday, November 22, 2015


I wrote the following in 2003.

I would have made the sorriest excuse for a Pilgrim. I came to this conclusion on a cold November day several years ago as I wielded an ax trying to chop a rotten tree limb. I hacked away, flinging splinters everywhere, as the deadwood flopped about like a fish out of water. Our trained and fearless German Shepherd dog fled in terror from my butchering of the branch. And yet after all my sweat and effort, all that was left was a pulpy mess.
            That’s when it struck me: I would have made the sorriest excuse for a Pilgrim. I stood there wondering, “How did they do it?” With nothing but primitive tools, how did those Pilgrims fell full-grown trees and split them into logs in order to survive that first winter? I couldn’t chop a single piece of rotten wood. How would I have possibly managed hardwood trees?
            I have a particular interest in the subject ever since I learned from my family’s genealogy that my ancestor, Moses Simmons, had arrived in Plymouth, MA, on November 9, 1621. He was 16 years old. I looked at that miserable mess of wood I had made that day and thought of Moses. I felt certain that had my ancestors’ survival depended upon me instead of Moses, we would have surely perished.
            We live in a flood plain, and since 1993 our basement has been flooded by runoff water many times. In January of 1996, and again in November, we had to evacuate to the Comfort Inn because the road we live on flooded. Water would spring up through fissures in the cement of the basement floor and level off at some point, usually between two and three feet. We would be without heat and hot water for several days. Even after the water receded, I would have to trek to the laundromat for at least another week while my washer and dryer dried out.
            As dispiriting as a basement full of water can be, it is more of an inconvenience than a hardship. I am humbled by the thought of the genuine adversity that faced those first colonists. I bemoaned the fact that we had to evacuate to a motel with heat, hot showers and cable TV. Yet 382 years ago this month Moses Simmons arrived at Plymouth and was greeted with nothing more than the prospect of a long, harsh winter ahead. No Red Cross. No Comfort Inn. No Black and Decker power tools. Not a single State Farm insurance agent in sight.
            I readily admit I’m a wuss, a spoiled product of our times. I wouldn’t trade my computer for an inkwell and a quill. Nor would I ever relinquish the advances in modern medicine. And I’ll be eternally grateful to whoever invented the treadmill, although I’m certain Moses Simmons would be flummoxed by its logic.
            Approximately 50 percent of the Pilgrims died that first winter in 1620. Considering the unfathomable odds they faced, a 50 percent survival rate is a testament to their ability and fortitude. Moses Simmons not only survived his first winter in 1621, he lived for another 68-70 years, which is why every Thanksgiving I bow my head and thank God it was Moses who lived back then and not I.