James Dewey: The Legacy of a Name

My brother James Lester Davis was born just before my 5th birthday. He was named for a paternal great-grandfather, James Davis, and our paternal grandfather, Lester Davis. At some point in his growing up years our mother told him that she had wanted to name him James Dewey, Dewey being her father’s middle name, and the one by which he was mostly called. Sometime in the 80s or 90s my brother passed this information on to me, and having already decided for many years that if I ever had a son I wanted to name him for one or both of my brothers, I decided at that point I wanted to name my future son James Dewey. It would be honoring my Grandpa Ritter, but also doubly honoring my brother James, who told me that he would have preferred James Dewey to James Lester. Grandpa Ritter had a special place in his heart, while Grandpa Davis had died the year before James was born, so obviously he had no memories of him.

In 1997 my brother James was diagnosed with cancer. On July 28, 1998 he passed away at our older brother’s house, with me and our mother and our sister-in-law at his side.

At the end of October, 1998, on what would have been my brother’s 32nd birthday,  I left New York, my home of the previous 11 years, and moved to the south where my parents and two sisters and older brother were all now residing. About a week after arriving in Nashville, TN, I met Jack Pelham. That was about it. We were involved in a few church/musical productions over the next few years, but outside of that we didn’t talk or even acknowledge with a glance that the other existed. Sometime in the spring of 2001 things changed. Through a mutual friendship we began to spend more time together. Talking. One day that summer we were standing out in the parking lot of my apartment complex with another friend. Who knows what in the world we were talking about, but somewhere along the way I mentioned that if I ever had a son I wanted to name him James Dewey, and perhaps shared the story as to why. Jack said a bit sotto voce, “We would have the same initials.” Then he looked a little flustered because we were only friends and I was not supposed to know that he was considering changing my last name to Pelham. Oh, my heart did a little tippy-tippy.

Soon we became “more than friends.” We married in March, 2002, and fourteen months later our son was born. We named him James Dewey Pelham. (Jack’s middle initial is D, by the way. And his father also has the initials JDP.) I was 41 years old at the time of my son’s birth.

These kind of things make me smile about life. I still grieve for the loss of my brother, but how awesome that I would choose a name for my son to honor my brother long before I chose my son’s daddy, and that that daddy would agree to the name, and that he would happen to have the same initials.

I miss you very much, James Lester Davis. I miss what all we could have been learning and enjoying about life together on this planet. Thank you for leaving me an awesome legacy and name to give to my only son. I hope that if you can see us down here, that you are proud of what we’ve done so far. Give us a little nudge, if you’re allowed, to keep us on the right path.

James Lester Davis 1966-1998

George Dewey Ritter 1898-1971



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Might Makes Right

In pondering more about the Boston Tea Party this morning, I got to thinking about “the glory” in knowing that our eventual independence, acquired some nine (end of war) or eleven (signing of the Treaty) years  later, came about because we won the War by the surrendering of the other side.  The rightness and justice of our cause was not what brought the achievement of that goal, but that we were physically stronger in some way.

I wonder at the fact that we were in the “Age of Enlightenment,” and not some barbaric times of Attila or Genghis, but that it was not reason that brought us to freedom and nationhood, but rather physical brutality. How glorious really is that? How satisfying is it to know that someone set you free, not because they were convinced it was the right thing to do and they wanted to do the right thing, but because you bullied them into it?

I realize that there were efforts to reason with king and country, but I’m just wondering where is the glory and joy and pride in what was resorted to for the eventual liberty?

Why do we celebrate the acts of violence and destruction?

When the South declared their own independence, charging much the same economic oppression and tyranny of which the colonies had accused the King, the immediate response was physical violence. This is the way we decide rightness, it seems. The “winner,” the biggest baddest strongest decides what is right.

Where is the glory in this?

And so it continues today.

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The hypocrisy of glorifying what you won’t imitate

My little status update from Facebook this morning:

I think that most folks who honor and glory in the founders of this nation and their actions, would rather just do that, and not imitate those actions. We love those stories and want to make d***n (pardon my Francais on a Sunday morning, but I’m looking for a strong word to describe how I see some people react) sure that they don’t take those stories and opportunities for costumed plays out of our schools. But would you perform some of the physical acts of rebellion that you so admire from 200 + years ago? Would you be proud to see your child involved in this? The “funny thing” is, if you look at the reality of things, we are under greater economic tyranny today than those boys were that threw that tea out of the boat. What are you willing to NOT METAPHORICALLY go throw out or blow up today as a response to economic oppression? I’d imagine nothing.

James and I read Plutarch’s Lives, and biographies of scientists, and artists, and musicians, and explorers, and statesmen, and activists, etc. etc. and our US History books, and World History books, not just so he can know these people and events for trivia, or to pass some test, or to get puffed up about being an American, but rather for him to be inspired by whatever noble characteristics (hard work, tenacity, honesty, kindness, sacrifice, etc.) and actions that he reads about and to imitate that in his own life. And the stories of the bad guys and girls are worthy to read about too — to know what is out there, what people are capable of, and what he needs to NOT admire, and what he needs to fight against, and from what he needs to run like the wind.

 ”The question is not,––how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education––but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?” 
~Charlotte Mason

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Lessons of Integrity from Fathers

For many years my two favorite literary dads have been Atticus Finch and Pa Ingalls. This year I was introduced to Charlie Moody in his son Ralph’s memoir titled Little Britches. I loved just about everything about this man as remembered by his son, and have found someone to place up there with Mr. Finch and Mr. Ingalls. Here is an excerpt from Little Britches:

While we were milking that night, I told Father what Lucy said about her father, and asked him why he didn’t try to do the same thing.

I only saw Father mad two or three times, but that was one of them. He jumped up off his milking stool and came around behind Brindle. His face was gray-white—even his lips were white—and his voice was shaky when he said, “Don’t you ever talk to that girl again.”

He just stood there for a minute, as if he didn’t know what he was going to say, then he put the stool right down in front of me and sat on it. He reached out and took hold of my knee hard. His voice didn’t shake then, but he talked low. “Son,” he said, “I had hoped you wouldn’t run into anything like this till you were older, but maybe it’s just as well. There are only two kinds of men in this world: Honest men and dishonest men. There are black men and white men and yellow men and red men, but nothing counts except whether they’re honest men or dishonest men.

“Some men work almost entirely with their brains; some almost entirely with their hands; though most of us have to use both. But we all fall into one of the two classes—honest and dishonest.

“Any man who says the world owes him a living is dishonest. The same God that made you and me made this earth. And He planned it so that it would yield every single thing that the people on it need. But He was careful to plan it so that it would only yield up its wealth in exchange for the labor of man. Any man who tries to share in that wealth without contributing the work of his brain or his hands is dishonest.

“Son, this is a long sermon for a boy of your age, but I want so much for you to be an honest man that I had to explain it to you.”

I wish I knew how Father was able to say things so as to make you remember every word of it. If I could remember everything the way I remember the things Father told me, maybe I could be as smart a man as he was.

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Two Kinds of Hypocrites – Guest Post by Jack Pelham

The following was a post Jack made at a discussion forum this week. For a simple post in an ongoing discussion, I thought it made a pretty complete article on the subject. And so I present it to my friends here.


There are two kinds of hypocrites:

The Accidental Hypocrite.  Those who are not yet aware of discrepancies between their stated paradigms/values, and who have not yet corrected themselves because they haven’t yet realized their fault.

The Deliberate Hypocrite.  Those who do not care about the discrepancies between their stated paradigms/values and their behavior.

The second are the sort to come up with all manner of justifications for themselves, while the first will diligently correct whatever faults are exposed.  In other words, the first continue along the road toward perfection, while the second find excuses to stay more or less where they are.  The deliberate hypocrite does not reach excellence, for he has erected a wall made from the excuse of his own imperfection.  He hides behind that wall, refusing the excellence he COULD reach, on account of the perfection that he theorizes is impossible for him to reach.

It is very likely that in making this choice, he forfeits promotion to the Holy City—all in the name of what he THINKS is a “humble” saying, “nobody’s perfect”.  While he clings to his worldly status quo, he claims to be “seeking God”, whom he believes to be “perfect”.  Yet he will not cross the wall into the humility of trying and failing until authenticity is attained.  He irrationally considers not trying at all to be the nobler course, as if God no longer expects mankind to strive for righteousness.

He enjoys the company of others who prefer to live to the left of the red wall in the image above.  Those who would cross that wall, they discourage by any of a number of dishonest means.  Things like “you think too much” or “what are you going to do, start your own church?” or “you’re prideful” and so on.  They do not realize that this makes them so dysfunctional that they can scarcely correct themselves of ANYTHING.

Such hypocrisy is for cowards and liars.  Brave and honest people will have none of it.  Even if they must travel alone for lack of willing company, they cannot stand to stay in the self-enforced confinement of the deliberate hypocrites who excuse their sins in the name of Jesus Christ.  These brave ones are the sort to believe Jesus when he said  that only those who “endure to the end” and who “overcome” would be worthy of the Holy City.

Indeed, there are a great many deliberate hypocrites who hope that Jesus will forget ever having said such things, and will heap upon them a profusion of “grace” in return for their stubborn insistence on persisting in their own sin.  This is what they promise themselves during their present impunity on the earth.  But they seem not to really believe that each one will meet God to be judged “for what he has done while in the body, whether good or bad”.

It will be amazing someday if I get to watch someone try to justify himself before God by claiming to be a hypocrite.


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Neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead

Often when there is a death, whether it is a well-known person or someone that my family or friends knew, I ponder what would that person have to say if they could come back and speak to us. Here we would have someone who has been to “the other side” and could tell us about it. And just this morning I was doing that very thing. Then I remembered these words that Abraham spoke in Jesus’ story of  the rich man and Lazarus:

“But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ ”

In the story, the rich man has died and from his torment in Hades he cries out to Abraham to send Lazarus to cool his tongue, and when that request is denied, he begs for Lazarus to be sent to warn his still living brothers. He believes that if someone came from the dead, they’d believe them. Abraham says not so. I don’t know if Abraham’s statement here is meant only for these brothers, or if he knows that this is how all humans operate. If so, then this is an amazing thing about us human beings. And it also says something about the power of the words of Moses and the prophets.

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Why we school the Charlotte Mason way

As we begin our new school year and I also make attempts to get back into blogging about our life and learning, I thought I would post about some things that we love about the Charlotte Mason philosophy, and why we choose to follow her ideas in our schooling.

Ideas — that’s the thing! Ms. Mason believed that children should not just be taught facts, but the ideas behind those facts. How could we not love this? Who chooses learning dry facts over reading rich stories that tell you about the ideas that accompanied this or that battle or exploration or life? Ideas you remember for the rest of your life and actually affect your mind and heart; facts are remembered for the test and occasional trivia showing off. Look! Grandma show them how you can still name all the state capitals! And so because we want to know the ideas that accompanied the signing of the Declaration July, 1776,  we spend time reading biographies of the men and women of that time. We don’t hurriedly read through a little inset in a history textbook, but spend weeks reading just a little bit each week. Then we tell back what we read and we discuss what we read and we relate it and connect it, and what needs to become a part of us will become a part of us.

Charlotte Mason had a great deal of respect for children and, after years of teaching and observing, she understood that they were created by God to be whole persons from their birth. Jack and I respect children and believe they have way more ability than most folks make it out to be. We never talked down to James. He was included in our family conversation from the beginning. We taught him language by example, speaking to him and expecting him to join in. Ms. Mason knew the best way to teach children language and the proper use of language was obviously to have them surrounded by it. Speak to them as if they were intelligent human beings (!) and read to them rich, beautifully written stories and poems. She didn’t believe in shoving information and facts down poor little ones throats, but to present them with a great banquet of ideas and thoughts through books and pictures and music and nature, and let the child feed what they will and make the connections for themselves.

We made the decision when James was a toddler to follow this philosophy, and have continued to learn through the years more about it and how to implement it in our lives. I am grateful to not just be using a curriculum, with a list of books for each subject, but to be following a philosophy of education — and really a philosophy of living. What I get in the package of a Charlotte Mason education is a community of families that are also living and learning in this way. I would say that with the friends I have made (mostly on line — yay! 21st century!) through following a CM approach, we spend more time talking about lifestyle and “training” the heart and character of our children than we do talking about what books or math curriculum, etc. to use.

The question is not,––how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education––but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?

This is the goal — for my child to care. I know that other parents in our CM community feel this way too. I can tell it from the things we talk about. I know that they too want their children to have a large room and a full life before them because of their time as a student in their parents’ home.

A Charlotte Mason education is not just for the schoolroom — it’s a way of life. And you can quote me on that :)

Ready to go!

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Recent ramblings on the passage of my time on this planet

Here are some status updates from my Facebook page during the month of June. And to these I’ve added another thought in this category.


I realize that if we stay on this planet long enough, it happens to us all, but it is still really weird to me that memories of things well into my adults years are now at least 20 years ago. If you were born in the 90s, or even 80s, it may not be so weird to you to think that the 90s were 20 years ago, but I keep thinking those things are 10 years ago because that was the 90s and now we’re in the 2000s. But then I realize adding 10 only gets me to one of the first 10 years of the 2000s, and now we’re in the teens of the 2000s, so suddenly 1993 becomes nearly 20 years ago! Jane! stop this crazy thing!


Someone asks “can women have it all?” and I’m wondering what “it all” is. And then I’m wondering can Men have “it all?” and is their “all” the same as our “all,” and if it’s not, well then we can’t have “it all” because they’ve got some All that we don’t have. Have you ever heard anyone ask “Can Men have it all?”? Do we assume they already have it? And what exactly is it? It seems to me that we want what they have (or at least, think that they have), AND what we have. Are they hankering for what we have along with what they have (or think they have, or are told they have)? Well? Anyone? What’s IT all about, Alfie, anyways?


I was standing over the stove, thinking about some things I’ve learned recently in a field that I’ve been involved in all my life, and I thought, ‘it’s hard to believe I spent 60 years not knowing that,’ and then I remembered that I’m not 60, and I cannot tell you what a relief it was to get back those 10 years.


As I was making the eggs and the coffee and then looking at the scene out my back door (as seen in my banner thingy up there on the timeline), and enjoying the peace of the morning, I felt very blessed that I can say that the best days of my life are right now. There’s no need to be nostalgic about the past and long for any good ol’ days. The good ol’ days are right now, and I’m very grateful for that.


It occurred to me recently that I’ve sort of been “given” the opportunity of a fresh start in my life. And perhaps you could look at it as if I’ve been able to live two distinct lives on this planet. (Will there be a third?) I often wish that I had married earlier and had become a mother sooner (and thus, more children), but I realize that I lived a life from 20 to 40 that my friends who married “young” will never be able to live — even in their empty nest years. And now for 10 years, and hoping for 10 to 50 more, I’ve been living this married/mom/educator/really-having-a-home-to-make life. (I mean no offense to my single friends on that last one. I’m only expressing how I felt as a single person.) Sometimes my 20 to 40 years seem like only yesterday; but most times they seem like a lifetime away — someone else’s life perhaps. I’m very grateful for those years and all that I got to do and see and learn. I assume that those opportunities wouldn’t have been there if I had been married and raising a family. And now I get to live and learn and grow with Jack and James. These are indeed the best years of my life. And perhaps it is that all that Jack and I experienced and learned in our other lives have made these years of 40 plus even more awesome than they would have been if we had been walking and parenting together in our 20s and 30s. I’m having a lot of fun. My 40s were quite challenging, but also full of so much joy and adventure. The 50s are looking to be the same and so much more. I’m grateful that I can live in and relish the here and now.

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Today you are 9

You’ve made it! You’re half way to legal maturity. From my point of view, you are much more mature than many 18 year olds. I am honored to be your mother, and there’s no place on earth that I would rather be than with you — teaching you, laughing with you, and being encouraged by your courage and love for truth and fairness. My prayer is that I get to see you through the next 9 years. And if I get to see you with your own family, I will be extremely happy. You will be an excellent husband and father.

You are like Shadrach, who wouldn’t go with the crowd and bow down to images. You love truth, and will not chant along with untruths. You can’t stand the least sign of foolish bullying, and will speak up. You’re unafraid to ask adult or child to clean up their language. Your dad and I have worked purposefully to instill godly values in you, but you seem to have come to us already with a desire to know and practice right living. I wonder at the ways that you are way ahead of me in courage.

You are a good student. I love to watch you interacting with your other teachers. I’m sure you bring them joy when they get to spend time with a kid who loves to learn what they love to teach. You show them respect, and you’re very funny, too. Yes, you are the munny fan. You have great wit, and there’s nothing like a fella who enjoys his own jokes.

These past 9 years have been the best of my life. I can’t wait to see what lies ahead on our walk through this life together.

A wise son makes a glad father. ~ Proverbs 10:1

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Going on a Bear Hunt

Jack found scat one day last week, and suspects it might belong to a bear. I’ll spare you the pictures of that, but I will share pictures of the camera and bait that he and James set up to see what might be lurking out there in our back yard. The day after their set up, all three of us took a long walk up and down and around to check on the bait and camera.

James and I started reading The Bears of Blue River this week, which has made the possibility of a bear(s) living in our backyard even more interesting to us.

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