Dear March

A close up of a daffodil.

Image via Wikipedia

Dear March — Come in –
How glad I am –
I hoped for you before –

Put down your Hat –
You must have walked –
How out of Breath you are –
Dear March, Come right upstairs with me –
I have so much to tell –

I got your Letter, and the Birds –
The Maples never knew that you were coming — till I called
I declare — how Red their Faces grew –
But March, forgive me — and
All those Hills you left for me to Hue –
There was no Purple suitable –
You took it all with you –

Who knocks? That April.
Lock the Door –
I will not be pursued –
He stayed away a Year to call
When I am occupied –
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come

That Blame is just as dear as Praise
And Praise as mere as Blame –

~ Emily Dickinson

*****

Image of daffodil by Nanda93 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Teaser Tuesday 3

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by Miz B of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along. Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Open to a random page.
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (Make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title and author too, so other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teasers.

My teasers:

“I barely had time to flinch before I saw Grace’s body tossed in the air. She flew several feet, then landed in a heap as the unicorn charged again, horn lowered, teeth bared, at the crumpled figure on the ground.”

~ Diana Peterfreund, Rampant


 

 

 

How It Ends

Chicken Korma

Image by TheCulinaryGeek via Flickr

I am not devastated.

Season 8 of MI5 just ended. Nuclear war between India and Pakistan was averted.

The team, however, did not come out unscathed. Something bad happened to one of the characters.

This time last year, I would have been in tears. But I’m calm. I have discovered the way to peaceful acceptance of the demands of the script:

Wikipedia.

When I discovered Wikipedia carries a plot summary of each season of the series, I read to the very end. I knew how X would leave the show, and then Y, and now Z.

And I’m okay. I’ve had time to reconcile myself to loss. It’s easier this way.

That’s only for television.

About books, I’m more particular.

A couple of months ago, I started a novel but couldn’t get into it. I passed it to Friend #1, who read it, said she loved it, and passed it to Friend #2.

Last week, at a Proxy Valentine dinner, Friend #2 returned the book. Handing it to me, she said, “I loved it. All but the way it ended…I didn’t want the little girl to die.”

I refrained from fainting dead away and falling into the chicken korma.

I assured Friend #2 she hadn’t spoiled the book for me. It’s quirky. I knew anything could happen.

And it might be best this way. This time. For this book.

But I see no trend developing.

When Wikipedia adds Season 9, I’ll read ahead.

Otherwise, the book report rule stands: Don’t tell me how it ends.

Going Bananas

A bunch of Bananas.

Image via Wikipedia

A while back, WordPress posted a video to explain why some blogs aren’t successful. The video consisted of one word over and over: ME ME ME.

Thinking back over my posts for the past year, I thought, Uh-oh.

I’ve been working under the assumption that I should write what I know, which happens to be me.

WordPress has also been posting ideas for topics, one a day. So I checked those out.

They include the following:

  • Describe the worst teacher you ever had.
  • Are you an optimist or a pessimist?
  • What is your favorite sound?
  • How do you define a friend?
  • How do you stay focused?
  • Describe the most trouble you’ve been in.
  • What part of life confuses you the most?

Those are ME topics.

Although I appreciate WP’s  assistance, they’re also not ones I want to tackle.

I did the friend one in eighth grade (UIL ready-writing contest at the school in Martindale).

I’m a pessimist, I don’t stay focused, and I’m confused by many things simultaneously.

I don’t have a worst teacher (except the one who was too busy leering to teach).

I don’t have a favorite sound (Scott Joplin’s “Bethena,” Chopin’s “Valse in C-sharp minor” from Les Sylphides, and Kiri Te Kanawa singing “O Mio Babbino Caro” are tied right now).

And I do not intend to tell anyone about the worst trouble I’ve been in.

But I will tell about a time I was in trouble. I was four years old, and my friend Helen Ruth and I were going somewhere with my mother. Mother was dressed up so our destination must have been of some consequence. We were probably in a hurry.

We drove downtown and stopped at the store. Mother was standing at the counter, talking to Rob and Nell (the owner-proprietors, as well as my second set of parents), when Helen Ruth and I yielded to impulse and began a wild rumpus.

(It must have been a very tiny wild rumpus or I wouldn’t have lived to the age of five.)

Anyway, we made a lap around the store and ended up in produce, right at the stalk of bananas that hung from the ceiling. Without a word, not a hint of conspiracy, each of us took hold of a low-hanging banana and pulled it from the stalk.

I still marvel at the precision of our timing.

Mother said what mothers say under such circumstances and opened her purse to pay for the bananas. Rob said, No, no, those girls can have the bananas.

We might have had time to say Thank you before Mother hustled us out.

All this happened a long time ago. Helen Ruth has probably forgotten it by now.

If I hadn’t been born feeling guilty, I’d have forgotten it by now.

There is no point to the story.

I’m watching Seinfeld as I write, and it occurs to me that if he can write about nothing, so can I.

***

Image of bananas by Mschel (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

***

The Formula

Elizabeth tells her father that Darcy was resp...

Image via Wikipedia

Should I or shouldn’t I?

Tell, that is.

Experts advise against it. When you tell people you’re writing a novel, they reply.

“You still haven’t finished that thing?”

“Why is it taking so long?”

“How much longer are you going to have to work on it?”

“You need to just get busy and write it.”

The questions above fall into the category called Irritating. But the questioners don’t know any better. They’re not familiar with the writing process, they don’t know the difficulties of getting an agent, they don’t know how competitive the market is, especially as we transition into the digital age.

There’s another category of questions that, while unsettling, might be classified as Helpful.

For example, when a writer friend told an acquaintance she was working on a mystery, the acquaintance said, “Well, there’s a formula for that, isn’t there?”

Yes, there is a formula. No, you don’t just make up some new characters and fill in the blanks. No, it doesn’t make the writing any easier.

No–and here’s the answer to the real question–a formula doesn’t make the writing any less worthy of respect.

On the topic of the formula, please take note of the following:

Shakespeare wrote his tragedies according to a formula: five acts, technical climax at the midpoint of Act III, dramatic climax at end of Act V, protagonist with tragic flaw that causes his undoing, etc., etc., etc. He used similar formulas for comedies and histories. His sonnets comprised fourteen lines, iambic pentameter, rime scheme (ababcdcdefef), tied up with a couplet (gg) at the end.

Jane Austen used a formula: Darcy’s first proposal (and subsequent withdrawal of proposal) comes at the exact midpoint of Pride and Prejudice. Open the book to the proposal, and you get half the pages on the left and the other half on the right. It marks the point at which Elizabeth both realizes her folly and loses control of the action.

Edgar Allan Poe wrote according to formula and also wrote an essay explaining the formula.

Aristotle mentioned something about a formula. Writers check out his rules to make certain they have all their bases covered.

From the uninitiated, a formula may elicit sneers.

But Writers, even the Great Unpublished, are proud of the formula, and proud of the company we keep.

Gather Ye Rosebuds…

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

“Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May” (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Oil on canvas, John William Waterhouse

 

 

 

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.

 

 

 

 

 

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may” (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Oil on canvas, John William Waterhouse

 

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst

Times still succeed the former.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Circa 1908 Study for next painting

Circa 1908 Study for next painting (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Oil on canvas, John William Waterhouse

 

 

 

Then be not coy, but use your time;
And while ye may, go marry:
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.

Dr. Luckett’s Babies

Stethoscope

Image via Wikipedia

When Dr. Francis Carlton Luckett arrived in the tiny farming town of Fentress, Texas, with his wife and infant daughter, in 1917, he planned to stay for one year. He moved there from Valentine, Texas, to fill the practice of a doctor who was serving in World War I. He said his family had nearly starved in Valentine because no one there ever got sick.

The local doctor, however, didn’t return home, but chose to move to San Antonio instead.

So Dr. Luckett remained in Fentress until his death in 1965.

Doctor Luckett was small–not much more than five feet tall–and spoke with a quiet, slow Mississippi drawl and a bit of a lisp. He moved slowly. There was usually a cigarette hanging precariously from his lower lip.  How it stayed in place, no one ever knew.

I was fascinated by the photographs of his graduating class hanging in the dark hallway that led back to his waiting room. My mother would hold me up and point out the young man with the handlebar moustache who looked nothing like the doctor we’d come to visit.

He had worked his way through medical school at Tulane by playing the organ in a theater while silent films were shown.

He shared his music with the community by giving concerts and playing for weddings. More than once, he dismantled the organ in his living room, transported it to the Methodist church (whose organ was not in the best of shape), and rebuilt it so he could play at the weddings of young women whose births he had attended. He wrote a piano rag, “Hospital Row,” but, unfortunately, never put it on paper.

Dr. Luckett drove Cadillacs. In the 1950s they were finned and nearly as long as our small-town blocks. He looked very small sitting behind the wheel of those big cars. He drove slowly, starting at his two-storey house at the end of our street, gliding by our house in the mornings and then back home for lunch, and an hour later back to the office.

His personal life held much sadness. After his wife died, he reared his three little girls, just as he had reared his younger sister after their parents died. His oldest daughter died when she was in her forties.

Doctor took trips abroad and then told about his experiences in Sunday-night talks at the Methodist church. He took a three-month trip around the world while my mother was pregnant with me (a fact my parents successfully kept secret from my grandmother). On his last trip to the Holy Land, he brought back a vial of water from the Jordan River, and two infants–one the last baby he delivered, and the other, the last baby named for him–were baptized with that water.

Dr. Luckett was traditional in his views. I was six years old when I heard him agree with my Great-aunt Ethel that Man would never go the moon because it wasn’t in the Bible. They also agreed that when the new dial telephones were installed in Fentress, there would be trouble, because people would get the O and the zero mixed up.

Although he used the relatively new antibiotics liberally, Doctor believed in the healing properties of  icthyol–“black salve.” Every house in town probably had a jar. My mother slapped the nasty ointment on me every time I picked up a splinter. I inherited a round cardboard container of it, with Doctor’s name handwritten in faded ink on the lid. He had prescribed it for my great-uncle’s mother-in-law, who died in the late 1940s at the age of nearly one hundred. I’ve never opened the container, but I suspect the contents are still good.

Dr. Luckett was an excellent surgeon and obstetrician. He charged $25.00 for a “baby case,” explaining privately that he chose the figure because it was low enough that he might get paid, and if he didn’t, it wouldn’t matter too much.

There’s no telling how many babies he saw into the world. He delivered my father’s youngest brother in 1919. He delivered me in 1951. In fact, my mother credited him with my being born at all. Several year before my birth she had lost a full-term baby because her doctor had not realized she would need a C-section. Later she learned that Dr. Luckett had asked one of her friends, “Is Crystal going to have a Caesarean?” When the friend said no, he had said, “She’s going to need one.” He’d never been her doctor, but just by observing her build, he had known.

Doctor and I had an excellent working relationship. He gave me shots. I blamed my mother.

He shot me full of penicillin for chronic throat and sinus infections (he and I are no doubt to blame for several antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, but in the ’50s it seemed the right thing to do). He hated to use needles on children, and somehow I knew that, so he and I remained friends. My mother was the enemy.

When I was six, he removed my tonsils, which were in such bad condition they fell apart in the forceps and and he had to pick them out piece by piece.

My mother was the enemy there, too. The book about tonsils said that during my convalescence, I would be fed ice cream, but when I said I was hungry, the nurse brought me red Jello. It stuck to my stitches. Thirty years later, when I complained, my mother asked why I didn’t just ask for ice cream. She hadn’t known it was an issue. I told her she was supposed to have known.

I should have mentioned it to Doctor. I’m sure he would have prescribed ice cream.

Dr. Luckett practiced until just a year or so before his death. When he died, it was because he just wore out. He had spent his life giving to the community.

In his early years in Fentress, Dr. Luckett lived next door to my father’s uncle and aunt. They thought highly of him, and their son went into medicine because of his influence.

Not long before her death, Aunt Bettie told me a story I’d never heard:

Soon after Dr. Luckett opened his practice in Fentress, he was called to deliver the baby of an Hispanic woman, the wife of a farm laborer. He entered the one-room shanty and found the pregnant woman lying on a bare dirt floor. Chickens roamed loose a few feet away.

He was horrified. He later said he had never seen such misery.

Riding back to town in his buggy, he said to himself, “This must not be.” He went to work creating a small maternity ward in his office building on the main street of town. For the rest of his years there, he required women who didn’t have a proper place to give birth, and who couldn’t afford hospital care, to come to his clinic. He was determined to give their children the best start in life that he could.

“When he provided a good place for those women,” said my aunt, “he raised the level of our community.”

And he no doubt saved dozens, perhaps hundreds, of lives of both women and children.

In the mid-1990s, thirty years after Dr. Luckett died, a clerk at a pharmacy in San Marcos, fifteen miles from Fentress, noted the address on my check and said, “Fentress. I was born in Fentress.”

My Southern upbringing coming to the fore, I asked about her family.

“Oh,” she said, “my family never lived there. I was just born there.”

She had no idea that her mother had given birth at Doctor’s clinic.

There was something else she didn’t know–that we were part of the same family.

We were both Dr. Luckett’s babies.

Image by HujiStat (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Just Wo-ahn Out

The snowy owl

Image via Wikipedia

Sometime back in the 1930s, my grandmother picked up the telephone receiver just in time to hear the Methodist minister’s wife, on the party line, drawl, “I am just wo-ahn out. I’ve been waterin’ the yahd.”

The statement might not seem significant, but my family has its own criteria for significance. And so those two sentences entered the vernacular.

They were used under a variety of circumstances: after stretching barbed wire, frying chicken, mowing the lawn.

My father would fold the newspaper, set it on the table, and announce, “I am just wo-ahn out. I’ve been waterin’ the yahd.”

I am wo-ahn out, too. I’ve been taking the Jeopardy online test.

Fifty questions, fifteen seconds to type each answer. Spelling didn’t count but was appreciated. Short answers were accepted, not in the form of a question.

I didn’t do too badly, I think. Better than last year. Last year was a mess.

I won’t include specifics, but I did okay on questions related to literature, biology, and chemistry.

But I won’t be called in for an interview. My natural distaste for geography and abject ignorance of popular culture took care of that.

Katie Who?

And there was the What’s-His-Name problem. I can see his face but–

Time is up. Proceed to the next question.

Students used to say, Why do we have to study literature? Why do we have to read Shakespeare? Beowulf? Canterbury Tales? All this stuff?

I would say, So you will know the pleasure of beautiful words and elevated thoughts. So you will understand literary allusions. So you will be culturally literate. So you will be educated.

So when you see an ad for fat-free cheese with a caption reading, A lean, not hungry, look, you will recognize the copywriter has read Julius Caesar.

Finally–finally–I came up with the right answer: You study literature so when Alex Trebec says, “The blank ‘for all his feathers, was a-cold’ you will buzz in and put the answer in the form of a question and walk away with a pile of money.

That got their attention.

I don’t know that it’s actually happened for any of them. But I fully expect to turn on the television someday and see one of my students clicking away.

It hasn’t worked for  me. But that’s all right. It is the student’s job to surpass the teacher. I shall have a vicarious victory.

Now it’s almost midnight. I must post and then retire.

Because I am just wo-ahn out. I’ve been waterin’ the yahd.

Friday

0.9 inches of snow with ice beneath, no power outages, stayed warm, wore turtleneck and roomy pullover with cowl neck and loose 3/4 sleeves to shop, shucked out of pullover in the bathmat aisle, displayed no modesty whatsoever, bought cheap watch strictly on the basis of how big the numbers are, bought plush bathmat for cats to sleep on downstairs, cats said thanks but no thanks upstairs is warmer, totted up writing assignments and despaired of ever catching up, cooked dinner, wrote several e-mails, all of them vastly more interesting than this post, rued decision to post daily, posted anyway.