Friday, May 31, 2013

Just resting ??

At first I was delighted, just now,  to come home and find this deer (doe?) relaxing outside my office window.

Then I looked with the binoculars and realized that white patch is not sunlight.  Does anyone have any information or advice?  Is that deer sick..or just marked that way?

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Le Mot Juste -- Right Then!

          Today I read that there’s a Yiddish word  for “the right thing, said at the right time.”  Sorry, can’t remember what I was reading, can’t find it again.  But it’s a word we need in English, though it would be used rarely.  Most times you think of what you should have said hours later, perhaps in the middle of the night.   That’s why I remember clearly one time when I gave the perfect answer right then and there.
Betty and David
          My cousin Betty’s twin was as big as she was little.  She was about my height, and what with the elderly shrinking, I’m hard put to make five feet lately.
          Over the years, when Betty told people she had a twin brother, every so often she’d get the question
           “Identical or fraternal?”
           But that’s not the point of this story. 
           So Betty and I met for lunch, discovered we were dressed alike.  Neither had bothered to fuss – we were both in blue work shirts, faded jeans, clunky old-lady white sneakers.
            Lunch was fine, then we decided to stop at a supermarket.  In we went, she turned up one aisle, I started up another, and a woman tapped my arm.
           “Excuse me, but I’m curious.  Are you twins?”
            And I replied without a moment's hesitation!

“She is.  I’m not.”


Monday, May 27, 2013

Possibly Plagiaraism

Only one month till midsummer, saw an enchanting production of
"A Midsummer Night’s Dream”at our regional theatre yesterday. Music, lighting, diction, movement, costumes, all near perfection.  Magic.
           If one had to find a fault, the weakest link may have been the playwright.  There’s not much about him in the program notes.  It does say that he based some of the plot on the work of other authors – writers like Chaucer and Plutarch.  That confirms my suspicion that he is a lazy writer, who sticks in timeworn clich├ęs when he is at a loss for words. 
  "Lord, what fools these mortals be!”  Come on – you know you’ve heard that before.
 “The  course of true love never did run smooth.”  That's as old as the hills!

 He uses single phrases, also, that are shopworn from being used by others – things like “single blessedness” , and “ill met by moonlight.”  And on top of that, he simply makes up his own words when he feels like it – “moonbeam” for instance, and “swaggering.” 

But aside from that, it was a really fine production.
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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Gymsuits (that's one word)

Speaking of bloomers – I remember wearing genuine old-fashioned ones for gym class in some early grade somewhere.  They were made of a thin light brown material, that, if I remember right, gathered BELOW THE KNEES.

A few years later,the gymsuits we were required to buy ($2.50?  $3? -- or you could have a pattern to sew your own) were more modern snappy one-piece affairs.  They still had bloomer-type elastic hems for modesty, but up where today’s shorts are likely to end.  In one school I attended, each class wore a different solid color, and in another school the gymsuits had striped fabric for the top sections.
But everywhere, it seemed in those days, the material used was tough plain Indian Head cotton.  Raise your hand if you remember Indian Head cotton!  It required ironing, of course, but it bore a label bragging that it was SANFORIZED.
             Whatever that meant.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Fourth Dimension

6 pm. Hot muggy evening.  Sitting at my desk, window open, lily of the valley fragrant, cardinals calling loudly.  Flash back to a morning in May just after we built this house, wakened early by bird calls, Norm and the kids sleeping, decided to go out and see what was making the noise.

Back yard in 1955
Put on my housecoat, out back across the barren sun-baked yard to the trees over by Westland, found a bright red bird. No idea what it was called.  And then Dottie came out from next door – wakened by the bird calls, her husband and kids asleep, she was coming out in her housecoat to see what it was.  Beginning of birding for both of us.
 I sit here this evening looking at the same spot of earth -- her kids and my kids far away, all the others gone, my eyes are the only link to that morning in May.  For the first time ever I understand Time as the fourth dimension.

Back yard this evening.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

             Hard to believe, but if “Bloomer Girl” really opened in 1944, then I was already 18 before I first saw any professional theatre.  Blame it first on the Depression, and after that, on living “out in the country”.  Then  when I was visiting relatives in Boston, they took me to see the musical..  I was completely enthralled, devastated when the lights came up, overjoyed to hear that this was simply an intermission and there was going to be a second act.  Still remember my disappointment on learning there are no third acts in American musicals.
             Not just because it was my first, that was a really good show.  It’s hard to see why it hasn’t been revived – you may never even have heard of it.  One would think feminists would embrace a story that involved the “dress reformer” Amelia Bloomer and a thinly disguised Seneca Falls, Birthplace of the Women’s Rights Movement.  One problem may have been the challenge of elaborate costuming.  Take a look at the bloomer outfit that shocked the neighbors so:
          That rig was intended to give women freedom of movement and simplify their lives.  It’s not a theatrical exaggeration, either – here are a couple of genuine outfits, ready for your dressmaker to copy – if you have the courage!


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Rerun: Henry and Louisa

Some weeks ago, in an attempt to discourage a scammer,
I deleted an old  post I'd like to restore today, because it contains a sentence you need to see:
For 99 cents I downloaded the complete works of  Louisa May Alcott to my Kindle, to see how it all strikes me 75 years after I first read those novels.
Rose in Bloom is a sequel, what today we'd probably call Young Adult fiction.  In it, Louisa gives one of the Eight Cousins a very Victorian death and marries off several others.  At one point, to demonstrate a young couple's moral compatibility, she has them discussing inspirational authors.  Shakespeare, Milton, Keats, Thoreau, Emerson.  I’m thinking that’s a typical Victorian canon, and then I pull up short.  Wait a minute -- when Louisa May Alcott was a child, Thoreau took her and her sisters on nature walks!   As a worshipful teenager, she left wildflower bouquets on Emerson’s doorstep. For some reason it gives me the shivers to see the mature author letting her characters discuss them as dead authors.
          Characters in this novel are given to long prissy speeches.  I started skipping a lot, wondering why I was bothering to finish the book, and then I found out why.  The narrator steps out of the story to say this about her old friend Henry David: 

“Thoreau, who, having made a perfect pencil, gave up the business and took to writing books with the sort of indelible ink which grows clearer with time.” 

That gem of a sentence is buried in an obscure Victorian novel, and I don't know who'll ever get to see it. Just had to share it with you here.

The Cabin, drawn by Thoreau's sister Sophia

Friday, May 17, 2013

Muguet Memories

The lily of the valley came out yesterday.  I’m particularly fond of it because it's one of the few things I planted myself, back in the days when I could bend down.  Wish you could smell these little ones on my desk.
They always remind me of my college roommate –that scent was her favorite perfume, and she’d go around quoting Coty’s advertising slogan:
               "When You’re in Love, wear Muguet des Bois.”
     She married the first man I ever kissed.  (He survived more than 50 missions as a bomber pilot over Germany, ended up a dentist, served with the Flying Doctors.)
They moved to California, frequented Sandstone --if you’re my age, you may remember it was a clothing-optional "swingers" community associated with Dr. Alec Comfort’s book The Joy of Sex. 
In recent years she developed Alzheimers. Last time she phoned me, the conversation was pretty incoherent. She’s gone now.
Boy, you can find just about anything on the Internet!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

That's Keuka Lake, 1949 Kodachrome

            As the 1940s approached, so did World War II, when the frantic production of war materiel led to full employment and a labor shortage that ended the Depression for our family as well as the rest of the country.  And with a little disposable income, my folks “took” the Saturday Evening Post.   The magazine had all those wonderful Norman Rockwell covers, excellent poetry I pretty much ignored, and short stories by the finest writers of the day, men (of course men) like Steinbeck, Faulkner and Fitzgerald.
            I paid no attention to the authors’ names in those days, but I read all the stories, and the one I remembered for years told of the space bum, a blind troubadour hitch-hiking on spaceships so he could get back to Earth to die.  At the final verse of his ballad I started crying, and I never forgot it
                          “We pray for one last landing
                            On the globe that gave us birth;
                            Let us rest our eyes on the fleecy skies
                           And the cool, green hills of Earth.”   

  And then last week I came across a battered old paperback being offered for 25 cents (same price as the original PocketBooks of my childhood) -- a collection of short stories by Robert Heinlen.  I don’t read science fiction, wouldn’t even have picked it up – but there was the title “The Green Hills of Earth.”  And there was the story.
          Seems the troubador’s name was Rhysling – suitably Welsh, though that bit escaped me when I read it years ago.  And reading it again this morning, when I  got to that last verse – I found myself crying.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

How to be a Gym Teacher

     In the early ‘60s school systems were desperate for teachers (can you believe it?)  With no education courses in my resume, I had all the substitute work I wanted, right in our own school district.  I was the high school  business department while the teacher had a nervous breakdown --all her lesson plans were in shorthand, which posed a problem, but I did learn a lot of useful stuff about bookkeeping. 
     I taught shop; one day I was the junior high nurse; I taught Spanish and history and Shakespeare and that foolishness known as the New Math.
     And one morning the kitchen phone rang while I was giving the kids breakfast, with a frantic principal on the other end of the line.            
     “Well, I’ve never done the lower grades, and I don’t know how to be a gym teacher.”
     Anna looked up from her cereal.  “Tell them you’ll take it, and I’ll tell you what to do.”
     You’ll understand what a strong personality Anna was, even at the age of eight, when I tell you that all I said into the phone was “What time do I have to be there?”
This is not me.
     “Just put on your pleated skirt,” said Anna.  (No woman would think of wearing “slacks” to school in 1951.)  “And stockings and sneakers.  And put Avi’s boy scout whistle around  your neck.”  And do you know, as soon as I did all that, I FELT like a gym teacher.
     “When you get to the school, go to the office and ask them for the key to the closet.  And tell them to bring the kids to you” – excellent advice, so I wouldn’t have to guide kids through the halls of French Road School, where neither Anna nor I had ever been.
     “Then unlock the closet and take out a ball and put it under your arm.  And when they come in, tell them to line up on the white line.”
     “But Annie, what if there isn’t a white line?
      'There’ll BE a white line.” (and there WAS a white line.)

     “You tell them to count off by twos, point to the tallest boy, say ‘You choose the first game,' go stand in a corner and blow your whistle.”
     Worked fine all day. 
     The point of the story is that an 8-year-old, because she was so close to it, could give me better instructions in two minutes than a whole department of early childhood professors could have done in a semester over at the Normal School.  (That’s the old name for a teacher’s college, kids.)
     Amy says it shows something else – that Anna, who much later became a member of Equity, was already thinking like an actress.  In just a few minutes she’d given me costume, props, script and marks to hit.
     Only problem was that as the day wore on I got over-confident, started playing Duck Duck Goose and threw my back out.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Orange Formica

        Neighbor recently died.  His kids came in from out of town and  I went over to pay my respects.  Walking in, I was transported back to the day in 1954 when we moved into this brand-new suburban development.  Time has stood still over there.  That house is still in original condition -- authentic Midcentury Modern (a term I’ve only recently learned).  It still has the orange boomerang formica counters, pegboard cupboard doors and brightly colored shag carpets throughout, except where it's black asphalt floor tile.
         Someone will buy that house and rehab it.  Too bad -- it belongs in a museum.
A few days later, the bereaved son recruited some old friends and brought in a dumpster.  I watched them all day, carrying stuff out -- and dumping it.  This gave me chills.  I’ve emailed my family:
           “Kids -- TELL ME WHAT YOU'VE ALWAYS WANTED from this house.  Otherwise – watch out!  I just may put it up on eBay.”

I couldn’t find a picture of orange formica, so you’ll have make do with pink.  Pink was big in the 50’s anyhow – that house still has the original pink shower, bathtub and two toilets. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Drink of Astronauts!!

     Just came across a sentence in a new novel:  “They toasted their new-formed club with vodka and Tang cocktails…”
     And here I thought my sons were the only ones.
     I remember the evening back in the 1960s, not sure just where in the house I was dozing, overheard them out in the family room when their friend John came in and said “I brought some vodka, I  took it out of my father’s cabinet.  What should we do with it?”
     I heard our older boy say "I think you drink it with orange juice.” 
     “We don't have any," said the younger one, “but" -- helpfully -- "we do have Tang.”
     I didn't bother interfering, just went back to sleep.  Figured with any luck vodka and Tang cocktails might put them off alcohol for life. 
Some of  you won’t know about Tang, and you haven't missed much. It was (still is?) a powdered substance that reconstituted into an orange juice substitute.  The big deal was that John Glenn took it into space.   You can watch an Astronaut Breakfast in this commercial –             

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Three Inches of Pain

A propos last week's discussion of toilet paper -- and to return to the original mission of this blog, which is information about getting old --
Anyone with arthritis can tell you that reaching for toilet paper installed the wrong way means an additional three inches of  painful stretching.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Missing Ink

Okay, here’s a book you don't need to bother reading.  I had been looking forward to “The Missing Ink” by Philip Hensher, seductive subtitle “The Lost Art of Handwriting”.  Disappointment.  Sketchy, disjointed, padded out with boring interviews of nobody in particular. The best part is the title.
    Not much here for me because it’s Too British and he’s Too Young.  Very British is his  constant consideration of how handwriting reveals education, class origin, occupation.
    As for Too Young -- early on he devotes a page to “pen chewing” – and starts when he is finally allowed to use a “clear-cased plastic ballpoint” in school.  He goes into detail about the “plug you could work free with your teeth and discard, or spit competitive distances.  The casing was the perfect shape to turn into an Amazonian blowpipe for spitting wet paper at your enemies.  Or you would find that the plastic bit would quickly shatter with a light pressure of the pensive molars, first holding together, then splintering, leaving shards on the mouth … The green rollerballs and felt-tips, on the other hand, had a more resistant casing, and gratefully took the disgusting imprint of your teeth…”  
   I’ll grant you that’s pretty good, and I wish I had space to include the footnote with exact instructions for creating the spit-ball launcher.
    But he’s way too young to remember the glory days of pen chewing.  I remember the red-letter day we received our first pens -- fourth grade.  The excitement began when the janitor entered the room with a large can of ink, which I believe he had mixed himself – do I remember the term “lamp-black”?  Up the aisles he went, with a slim hose filling those inkwells, so handily situated for right-handers.  Then the teacher passed out wooden pen holders!! and finally, a little metal pen point for each of us.  I can still hear her instructions:
     Put this in your mouth and suck off the oil it was packed in.”
    That black penholder was made of soft wood, and inside of ten seconds I was chomping the paint off the top end. When it comes to real pen chewing, poor Philip Hensher was born too late.



Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Old-Fashioned May Day

When I was teaching at a women's college in Maine, back in the 1940s, some girls celebrated May Day by going into the forests and picking trillium (!), then leaving baskets on each others' doors.

1951 and everything has already happened

     Years ago (let’s say 1951) we had a neighbor who was a Mayflower descendant, and one day she showed me the cradle that stood in her kitchen.  It had been in her family since – I forget --  the 1600s or 1700s.  Heavy slabs of solid wood, with a hood to shield the baby from drafts.  What fascinated me was the underside, which had the names and dates of babies that had slept in it.  I don’t remember if they were carved in the wood, written and tacked on, whatever.
     We were expecting our second child (babies were booming all over then) and to forestall “the baby pushed me out of my crib” we decided to promote our toddler to his own big boy bed ahead of time.  His new room needed shelves for toys, so off we went to the Salvation Army to buy a used bookcase.  Found a nice one for $2.50  (minimum wage in 1951 was 75 cents.)  And standing next to it was an antique cradle.  Nowhere as old as our neighbors’ – curved and spindly.  (I later saw it in a reprint of the 1905 Sears Roebuck catalog, where it was offered for $3.)
     I remember telling myself “Forget it, you have to inherit a tradition.  You can’t start a tradition.  It’s 1951 and everything has already happened.”  But we bought it anyhow.  Put a baby-carriage mattress in it (whatever happened to baby carriages?) and lent it to a friend before our baby was born.  Lent it out a lot. 
After nine babies had rocked in it,  I found a piece of cardboard, wrote all nine names and dates and tied it to the bottom of the cradle with an old shoelace. 
  That cradle went to Hawaii, it went to Canada, it’s presently in California and there are 32 names on two cards now.  In June it will rock a new baby whose mother and both grandmothers are listed there.