Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ralph Waldo Emerson

"In different hours, a man represents each of several of his ancestors, as if there were seven or eight of us rolled up in each man’s skin — seven or eight ancestors at least — and they constitute the variety of notes for that new piece of music which his life is."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What Happened to Herman Hallen?

What Happened to Herman Hallen?

Herman Hallen was born in 1844 in Spellen, Westfalen, Germany. He was the youngest child of Hermann Hallen and Elisabetha Wink. Hermann and Elisabeth had five other children: Joanna, Theodore, Christina, Godfrey, and Anna. Immigration records show that they all traveled from Spellen to Waterford, Racine, Wisconsin, in 1856. They all show up on the 1860 United States Census. Herman was sixteen years old at the time of the census.

The 1860 census is the last record of Herman. In the 1870 census, his name is missing. The names of his parents and siblings appear in the 1870 census. They show up in various church books and civic records thereafter for marriages, christenings, and deaths. The other Hallen relatives have gravestones with dates in the cemeteries of Waterford, Burlington, Lyons, Phillips, or Marinette. Although stoic German parents would refrain from verbal expressions of grief, Herman’s death would certainly have been recorded in the church record and at the cemetery.

Herman's niece sister was my Great Aunt Elizabeth, who lived to be 90 years old. In 1975, I lived in Elizabeth's home in Tucson, Arizona. One night, I took notes as she told me the story of our Hallen ancestors, who had immigrated to the United States in 1844, from the Dusseldorf area in Germany. Elizabeth told me that her father Godfrey had immigrated to southern Wisconsin with his parents and siblings. The youngest brother Herman died in the Civil War, she said.

Was Herman killed in the Civil War? Racine County was well-known for its opposition to slavery ((,_Wisconsin), and free-loving German immigrants volunteered in great numbers. Research shows that Godfrey’s older half-brother, Bernard Henry Wink, was a Civil War veteran. Henry had mmigrated to Waterford in 1854 and later moved his family to Marinette. Herman must have also volunteered to fight in the Civil War, but his name does not appear in the Wisconsin muster rolls. Did he run away to the battle field, enlisting under a different name? Is he one of the many unidentified soldiers who died to end slavery?

Herman appears in the 1860 census records for Waterford, but his name is missing in the 1870 census. After the age of sixteen, Herman became inexplicably anonymous. His life and death remain a mystery, a puzzle awaiting resolution by a master sleuth.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

PORTRAIT of a PRIESTESS by Joan Breton Connelly

Connelly, Joan Breton. Portrait of a Priestess: Women and Ritual in Ancient Greece. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2007.

"Priestesses serving the cult were forbidden to wear fancy dress, anything of the color purple, gold ornaments, or face powder . . . Sanctuary laws thus served to level distinctions among worshippers and to promote an atmosphere of communality in which devotion to the deity came first" (90).

"White has long been associated with a state of purity and was the required color for priestly dress at many sanctuaries. It was worn by all incubants and visitors at healing sanctuaries of Asklepios, such as at Pergamon. Indeed, Asklepios was understood to be a divinity who himself always dressed in white. On Delos, those who entered the sanctuary of Zeus Kynthios and Athena Kynthia were required to be 'pure of hand and soul' and to dress in white garments. All persons entering an unnamed sanctuary at Priene were required to wear white. The priest of Athena Nike on Kos was required to wear white at all times. . . . " (90-91).

"An inscribed epitaph informs us that Chairestrate was the priestess of the 'Mother of All Things," a goddess who worship included the beating of drums" (94).

Greek female names: Charite, Chrysina (134, 135).

"Let us turn now to the public crowning, or stephanosis, which from the late fifth century was among the highest honors a city could bestow upon an individual. That this honor was extended to priestesses underscores the high regard in which they, and their service, were held . . . The highest honor of all was that of the gold crown . . . The practice of priestly stephanosis continued well into the Roman Imperial period. A woman named Aba from Histria, in the province of Moesia, was awarded a crown by her city in the second century A.D. She held the priesthood of the Mother of the Gods, among other priesthoods, and was praised for assuming not only liturgies traditionally performed by women, but also those that belonged to men. Aba was granted the extraordinary honor of having her coronation proclaimed at all local festivals" (204-205).

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"Body Ritual among the Nacirema" by Horace Miner

This article was a favorite of mine from the anthology Crossing Cultures that we used in teaching English Composition to International Students at the University of Arizona.

"Body Ritual among the Nacirema," American Anthropologist 58
(1956): 503-507.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Memorial Service for Mary Ellen Ryder

Memorial Service for Mary Ellen Ryder
6 September 2008 * Boise State University Student Union Building

Friday, September 5, was a late summer day, with searing sunshine, cool breezes, and pure blue skies. It was a good day for the drive north on I-15 and I-84 from Salt Lake to Boise. There was no hint of the recent tragedy, no sign of the disaster, except for small stretches of scorched land near the freeway in a few places. At a rest stop near Boise, a “Biker Mama” said that she used to live in the Columbia Village where the fire occurred. She said that news reports stated that the fire spread very quickly, that homes just exploded one after another as flames devoured dry brush nearby. After I got settled in a hotel near the Boise State University campus, I took a drive north on Highway 55, winding my vehicle and my thoughts up the beautiful Payette River canyon in the evening light. I wanted to have a sense of Mary Ellen’s landscapes in Idaho, to see some of the places she had been.

The next day, I went by foot from the hotel to campus in the bright Saturday morning sunlight, walked by the paths along the Boise River, past the football stadium, to the BSU Student Union. At the Student Union, signs directed people upstairs for Mary Ellen’s memorial. A large meeting room was arranged to accommodate several hundred people. Greeters at a welcome table gave us a program, a copy of the obituary text, and the lyrics to the “Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell. On the right hand of the room, there was a table with pens and cards to write down memories of Mary Ellen for the family. There was a good-sized panel with various photographs, from childhood to the present, including a summer 2005 picture of Mary Ellen and her husband Peter eating a dessert together in the Lakes District. Especially lovely was a 1983 wedding photograph of Mary Ellen, playing a love song on her guitar for Peter, with a long white renaissance dress and a garland of white flowers in her hair.

Each corner in the front of the room had a large video screen, showing photos and descriptors of Mary Ellen, as prepared by some of her students. The descriptors included: CHEERLEADER, EFFERVESCENT, COLLEAGUE, DARK CHOCOLATE, STRAIGHT UP ADVICE, DARE, COURAGEOUS, MEMORABLE, TEACHER, IMPRESSIVE, ACCEPTING, OPEN, SPIRITUAL, ARTIST, GUITARIST, JUST AMAZING, BELIEVED IN ME, EYE OPENING, EMPOWERING, BROUGHT OUT THE BEST IN OTHERS, LIFE CHANGING RELATIONSHIP, FRIEND. The background music for the DVD was reminiscent of songs from the National Trust music CD’s for England’s Lake District.

I found a seat on the back row, where I would be able to easily observe and record the details of the service. Then I got up and introduced myself to Jennie Hansen, who was sitting on the front row with her husband, her father, and other close friends of the Ryder family. Jennie is now teaching several of Mary Ellen’s classes. She told how Mary Ellen had mentored her and helped her find a career in language studies. She would like to find a Ph.D. program, perhaps one in England, to complete her credentials. Her father Gary Gilman welcomed me as a fellow graduate of Brigham Young University. Then Christine Hathwell introduced herself and Mary Ellen’s husband Peter. Peter graciously remembered seeing me at the 2005 PALA conference in Huddersfield, England (maybe because I performed “The Lion and Albert” at the banquet that year).

When it was time to begin, a former student of Mary Ellen, dressed in full kilt gear, called the meeting to order by playing “Highland Cathedral” on the bagpipes. He had tried to call the family to volunteer his services, but unable to reach them, he just showed up, ready to do his part.

The Reverend Sandi McFadden was the officiant, and she gave a comforting Invocation, saying that we had gathered to mourn the death as well as to celebrate the life and resurrection of Mary Ellen, who lived with energy and vitality. She reminded those gathered that Christ will come again in glory to raise all from the dead.

BSU English Department Chair Michelle Payne then gave a welcome, citing Mary Ellen’s wit, honesty, exuberance, passion for language, and her playful performances of “Jabberwacky.” Mary Ellen invited students to learn about stylistics, schema theory, psycholinguistics, and English morphology. She was demanding but fair. She inspired a love for linguistics that led Michelle from Boise to Thailand, teaching refugees on the Burma border. She gave Michelle two hours a week for a month to help her prepare. “She was a fellow traveler, who had faith in us and taught us to have faith in ourselves,” said Michelle. “She was always a part of the WE. If the memorial service today were for someone else instead of herself, Mary Ellen would have been here for that person and the others, her voice singing and her eyes weeping. In everything she touched there was humor, music, and excitement.” Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” includes the lines “I depart as air . . . I effuse my flesh in eddies . . . If you want me again, Look for me under your boot soles . . . I stop somewhere waiting for you.” Mary Ellen is “alive and well” said Michelle.

Belinda Bowler with guitar sang “The Trumpet Vine” by Joni Mitchell. As an introduction, she mentioned that whenever she sang this song, Mary Ellen would tap her wedding rings loudly on the table.

Christine Hathwell spoke of the many years that she and Mary Ellen had been colleagues and office mates at BSU. She informed us about Mary Ellen’s courage as a two-time survivor of breast cancer. She told us about the recent diagnosis of cancer in Mary Ellen’s tear duct. She read Mary Ellen’s last email to her sister Elizabeth: “My dearest sister, Let us be as hopeful as we can . . . We are blessed that there is no unfinished business between us.” Christine spoke of Mary Ellen’s generosity. She then addressed Mary Ellen’s husband Peter: “You were the love of her life. You uprooted yourself and left your job so that she could accept the offer at Boise State. She really appreciated that.” Then Christine addressed Mary Ellen’s sister Elisabeth and family: “She respected and loved you as sisters do, knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. You gave her a nephew and nieces. Otto, she admired your photos. Katie, when you play pretend, she’ll be there. Leah, you are a great mother, and you will always do the best for your children.” In academics and linguistics, Christine continued, Mary Ellen cared about academic integrity. Scholars need to be open to new ideas and connections; be rigorous and precise in research. To linguists, she would say: “Don’t be snowed by Chomsky.” Mary Ellen changed the lives of students, not in little ways, but in huge in-your-face ways. Students would often change their major after taking her class. To students she would say: “Study; learn; let learning inform your life.” To her friends she would say that she saw each of you as a unique opportunity to know someone. She could argue without getting angry. If she were here, she would put her arms around us and say, “I will miss you. Live, love, laugh, and think.”

The next speaker was Reverend Sandra McFadden. She quoted Psalm 121:8, “The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.” Mary Ellen taught the importance family, friendship, and caring. She valued generosity, and she had a generous spirit. The key to any relationship is found in 1 Corinthians 13, “love is patient ... love is kind ... love never ends.” We may ask why this accident happened to someone so brilliant and compassionate. This was not God’s doing: it was a terrible tragedy. After the Virginia Tech tragedy, Nikki Giordani said, “No one deserves a tragedy.” Mary Ellen would tell us to sing more songs, write more poems, finish the novel. God cried at this tragedy. Mary Ellen succumbed to natural laws, not to a deliberate act of God. She has been lifted from this life and carried to a new life, and she will someday be reunited with us in that new life.”

John Hansen, husband of Jennie, played the guitar and sang “The Riddle” by Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia: “Would you hear my voice come through the music / That there be songs to fill the air / Reach out your hand if your cup is empty / There is a fountain that was not made by the hands of men.”

Then Susan Tanner spoke about Mary Ellen as her “dearest friend.” They had met in a Spanish literature course at University of California-San Diego thirty-two years ago, when Mary Ellen had long brown hair, all the way down. The teacher of the course was timid and soft-spoken, so some students met together to clarify assignments and compare notes. Thus began Mary Ellen’s love affair with linguistics. Then she met Peter. Susan of Ventura and Mary Ellen of Boise both got married in 1983 to their husbands. She loved teaching and adored students. She could speak to anyone on any subject with interest, humor, and insights. She did not lose her humanity, and she loved to exchange life stories. A few weeks before the wild fire tragedy, Susan and Mary Ellen were at a Borders bookstore. Mary Ellen began a conversation with a young in a wheel chair with cerebral palsy, just as she had spoken with the ticket-taker at the movies. She was one of the friendliest and most caring people on the planet. “If you don’t like Mary Ellen,” said Susan, “you don’t like life.” Mary Ellen was impressed by a film entitled “Bucket” that featured Morgan Freeman as man who had only six months left to live. She felt that her own life had been blessed. She was so grateful for Peter and so forth, that he was willing to move to Boise so that she could have her job at BSU. She sent Glory Road by Heinlein to a friend and liked the theme “While we live, let’s really live.” She was very generous. “Mary Ellen,” said Susan, “I love you, and I will really miss you, and while I am living, I’ll make sure I really live, even though I am so busy, and not organized, or able to finish.”

Dana Dayley sang “Loch Lomond.”

BSU colleague Ed Rabin spoke, joking that Mary Ellen would not say a bad word to any living soul, unless they had the misfortune to be a politician. When they first met, she and Peter took him and his partner Tom to the Boise State Fair. He saw her a week before the fire when she got the bad news about the cancer. They ate deep-fried Oreos and used a Diet-Coke to wash it down.

Colleague Sharon Miller worked with Mary Ellen for twenty years. Mary Ellen wrote a textbook on linguistics, but she could have written a textbook on friendship. She would invite English majors over for Christmas to sing carols. If someone said, “I can’t sing,” she would say, “Oh yes you can. You are among friends.” Sharon sang for the first time in a group at one of these gatherings. Sharon and Mary Ellen liked to go book shopping. Once Mary Ellen handed her some Spanish language books, expecting Sharon to study Spanish the way that Mary Ellen had learned Finnish for her trip to the PALA conference. Mary Ellen also like to go shopping for clothes with her friends, in an activity that she called “Running Amuck.” Peter would hope and ask for it to be a small “muck.” This activity included a whole day out with girlfriends: dining, talking, laughing, and trying on clothes – not regular clothes, but rather apparel that one would never think of buying, such as a tight stretch-fabric electric-blue sequined number that looked so insane that even the sales clerk laughed. “Mary Ellen and Peter are in my family album,” said Sharon, “along with the sister I lost.” Mary Ellen was generous and open-hearted. Stranger was not a concept for her. She would strike up a conversation with anyone. Everyone was a potential friend. “I am diminished by her passing . . .”

Joe Baldasarre sang the “Ashoken Farewell.”

Then we heard from Mary Ellen’s sister Elizabeth Ann Scanlon. Elizabeth was eight years older, the prescriptive grammarian who likes going by the rules. Mary Ellen was always creative. She even made a board game with a village of people. She started writing early. She was a Westerner at heart, who happened to be born on the wrong coast. She loved Boise. “I am proud of her, my sister, the Linguistics professor.” And she was proud of being an Aunt. She gave Katie ten books on the day she was born! “Hello, Mary Ellen. Thank you . . . my wish broke . . . I wish that you were still alive.”

After the Benediction by Reverend MacFadden, the entire audience joined in singing “The Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell with lyrical melody and harmony. How brave people are in the face of unspeakable loss. The generosity and vibrancy of Mary Ellen’s spirit seemed to cushion and comfort all of us present. After the service, the Hathwell’s invited close friends and associates to meet at their home with Mary Ellen’s family members.


Previous to my July 2008 departure for the Poetics & Linguistics Association conference (PALA) in Sheffield, England, a renaissance madrigal had come into my mind. I found myself singing “April Is in My Mistress Face,” a Thomas Morley song from a music appreciation course that I studied years before in college. After my arrival in Sheffield, I decided to visit the conference room scheduled for my presentation that Friday afternoon, but the room was not empty. My friend Beatrix was practicing “April Is in My Mistress Face” with PALA members Lesley, Michael, and Mary Ellen. Mary Ellen was singing the tenor part so that Beatrix could sing the soprano part. They were preparing for an after-dinner performance at the PALA banquet on Saturday night. The blend of voices was pleasant, and the group members kindly allowed me to practice with them that day and on the following day, even though I would not be attending the banquet. I am very grateful that they let me join their song; otherwise, I would never have gotten to know Mary Ellen.

On Tuesday, 26 August, PALA President Lesley Jeffries sent an email, with details of Mary Ellen’s tragic death the night before. On Monday evening, 25 August 2008, Mary Ellen lost her life when a wildfire consumed five homes in her southeast Boise neighborhood. Mary Ellen’s husband Peter survived the fire but suffered the loss of his beloved spouse and all of their earthly belongings. Family, friends, and colleagues were stunned with shock and grief. I wrote a mimesis of the “April” madrigal to express condolences:

BOISE (To Mary Ellen Ryder, 1952-2008)

April was in our singer’s word,
And Júly in her voice we heard.
Now in August, we remember,
And in our heart, blue September.

This past week of Thanksgiving (November 2008), I saw Mary Ellen in a dream. She looked young and happy. She was singing. Her hair was longer and darker. The cancer was gone from her tear duct. She reassured me about some challenges I have been facing; she told me to take heart, have courage, be of good cheer.

Cynthia L. Hallen
Associate Professor of Linguistics & English Language
Brigham Young University
Provo, Utah 84602
(801) 422-2020

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


"I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him."

Noah Webster inscription from the sculpture behind the Frost Library at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts.

(born October 16, 1758; called back April 28, 1843).

Thursday, September 18, 2008


The one whose weakness seems so obvious has strengths that will astonish you.