During the 16th century, a young couple in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, lost two of their children to the bubonic plague.
The pair barricaded themselves inside to protect their 3-month-old son — William Shakespeare. . . .
Waves of the bubonic plague killed at least a third of the European population across centuries. A year or so before Shakespeare wrote “Romeo and Juliet,” a powerful plague struck London in 1593.
Theatres closed for 14 months and 10,000 Londoners died, says Columbia University professor and author James Shapiro.
The writer reminds us that the ending of Romeo and Juliet turns on the plague: Friar Lawrence sends a message to Romeo in Mantua that Juliet isn’t really dead. But his emissary, Friar John, is suspected of lodging in an infected house and is quarantined–and so Romeo never gets the message. And believing Juliet is dead, he kills himself; seeing him dead, Juliet kills herself. . . .
Shakespeare lived because his parents quarantined themselves. Two of his characters died because a third was quarantined by the authorities.
I’ve been mostly barricaded in my home for twenty months, leaving to go only to medical appointments. The same for my husband; he picks up groceries at curbside. We get a lot of meds through the mail.
I’m grateful I’m in a position to stay home. I’m grateful for workers who make it possible for me to have food and other necessities.
I’m grateful for vaccines and boosters, for scientists who develop them and people who take them.
I’m grateful for masks and people who wear them.
Shakespeare was right about so many things. I wish he were right about this: We shall every One be mask’d.
If everyone were, maybe we could stop being masked sooner.
As always, I’m delighted when readers comment. But comments claiming that wearing masks or refusing vaccination limits freedom, or anything of that ilk, will be deleted. Too many people have died, too many are behaving responsibly in an attempt to stay alive and to keep others alive. Feel free to disagree with me, but do it on your own blog.
A letter my dad wrote to my cousins Wray, Mary Veazey, and Lynn Worden in Dallas while he was stationed in Europe during World War II. He’d been away from home since November 1942.
9 May 1945
Dear Wray, Veazey, and Lynn,
Well, I don’t believe I know any thing to write you children about today. I think of you all the time. Maybe I will be home to see you before long.
Say, Crystal sent me some pictures of you the other day. You had grown so much that I hardly knew you. Why you are nearly as big as Betty. How about sending me some more pictures sometime.
Say you take this five dollars and make your mother or Crystal buy you three children something. I guess your mother will take you, won’t she?
Well I guess that’s about all I know. It’s about time to go to bed.
Be sure you phone Crystal that you got a letter from me and that I am feeling fine. Tell her that I still love her.
Lots of love, Uncle Billie
The last six months or so of World War II, my father was an ambulatory patient in Paris. He’d gone deaf from bomb concussion. For as long as possible, he hid the disability from his superiors. His fellow soldiers, however, amused themselves by running for foxholes, then laughing when Daddy jumped in. One day, Major Yarborough, for whom he drove, saw them. He took Daddy out of combat and sent him from Germany to a hospital in Paris. What happened to the others for tricking him into thinking bombs were falling, I don’t know, but I understand it wasn’t pretty.
I presume he was in Belgium on the way to Paris. He was slated to leave for the States asap but didn’t get to Dallas, where Mother was living, until October 23, 1945, the day before their third wedding anniversary.
My father was supposed to be released from service in San Antonio, so my mother had gone there, where she stayed with her aunt, uncle, and grandmother, and made cake after cake. When she got word Daddy would be coming to Dallas instead, she cried. Sam, her uncle, patted her head and told her to pack her suitcase and he would take her to the bus station.
The last time my dad had been home, the family had been living in San Antonio, where my mother and grandmother worked in Army Civil Service. When the Army moved to Dallas, they moved, too. So my father knew only the address. My grandmother and her younger daughters, Barbara and Betty, lived in the main house. My mom lived in a little house in the back yard.
On the way through my grandmother’s house, my dad handed her his hearing aids and sad, “Don’t let Crystal know about these.” My grandmother, of course, told my mother as soon as possible.
After several days of shouting, Mother mentioned the hearing aids and said she thought he ought to wear them. He was embarrassed, and remained so for several years. One ear was so far gone he didn’t bother with the aid. He finally made peace with the other one and told small children who asked that it was his telephone. When he took it off at night, he was sensitive to vibration but otherwise was gone. To make him hear her, Mother had to put her mouth next to his “good” ear and shout. Twenty-plus years later, a surgery to treat his kind of hearing loss was being taught by the doctor who developed it at the VA hospital in Houston. My dad, considered a good candidate, had the surgery, and his conversational hearing was restored. He said the only negative was that for a time the chirping of birds nearly drove him crazy.
When my cousins heard Uncle Billie was home, they declared a school holiday and hit my grandmother’s doorstep. Mary Veazey was seven and Wray was six. I don’t know whether they remembered him or had heard enough to think they did. I’ll add that they wrote to him, too, even though in the early years, Wray’s letters were scribbled. Lynn, the youngest, was born after he shipped out for the East Coast.
The remark about their being nearly as big as Betty was a joke of sorts. She was my mother’s youngest sister, only eight years older than Mary Veazey, and as an adult was five feet tall. It didn’t take long for any of her nieces and nephews to grow as tall as Betty. Even I got there.
The photos of my cousins were taken at Christmas in 1957, twelve years after they received the letter
Packing for our recent move, I came across the cigar holder a Belgian farmer gave my father when he passed through after the Normandy Invasion. It’s a valued keepsake.
Thanks to my cousin Denise Worden Allegri for retrieving this letter from her father’s files and sharing it with her aunt Mary Veazey, who shared it with me.
I sit in the new living room, in my wheelchair, the only chair in the apartment, looking out across the balcony at the new view—sidewalk, pink crepe myrtle, grass, trees, and a stone.
The stone is massive. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a sword hilt sticking out the top. In fact, I would be delighted to see a sword hilt sticking out the top.
A closer look—with the camera’s zoom—suggests the stone might be hollow. Removing a sword would be easier if the stone were hollow.
Just off the patio stands a tree. At first, I thought the trunk was split, like the tomb of an ancient magician who had broken free.
Closer examination of the photo suggests it might be three small trees, three trunks, no split.
So much for whimsy.
After we’ve moved, and when it’s stopped raining, I’ll get out from behind the camera and see what’s really out there.
I’ve been concerned about the view. Our old living room looks out across a broad swath of green and shade. During our seventeen months in quarantine, it’s provided entertainment: bushy-tailed squirrels gathering acorns, residents walking dogs, Amazon and FedEx employees delivering boxes. The window has been like a great big TV screen. I was afraid the new place wouldn’t afford the same quality of programming.
But not to worry. We’re only yards from the swimming pool. In the hour or so I sat here yesterday while David hung shower curtains and found fire extinguishers, a multitude of bikinis, beach towels, and flipflops passed. Not as entertaining as squirrels, but they’ll do.
We’re not really moving moving—just to a larger apartment, about three inches away. But we have to pack as if we were moving thirty miles. Sigh.
David deposited me here and went back to meet the movers. He incarcerated the cats in a bathroom. Yesterday I prepped it. Cats don’t usually need puppy pads, but Ernest throws litter all over the place. Still, I might have overdone it.
William is yowling. He’s usually the calm one. Ernest is saying nothing. He’s probably crouching behind the commode. He’s the fight-or-flight cat. David administered calming spray but still had to hunt him down and then chase him to get him into the carrier.
Oh dear. There is a new sound coming from the bathroom. It’s either Ernest trying to demolish the litter box or Ernest trying to tear through the wall. We’ll find out later. Maybe we should have put them in the larger bathroom.
Packing. David is a minimalist. He packed his stuff in fifteen minutes.
I’m a keeper, and the descendant of keepers. I have boxes and boxes of Waller pictures and other memorabilia going back generations. When I packed two years ago—my knees had decided they didn’t like the stairs in our previous apartment—I intended to organize and scan and do whatever else that should be done with old family photographs.
We’d hardly gotten settled, however, when the rest of my body and part of my brain joined my knees in revolt. I unpacked what had to be unpacked and then sat down and stayed there. Most of the family history is still in the boxes and bins it arrived in.
I felt bad about that. On the other hand, when it came time to pack for this move, a goodly portion of my job was already done.
This temporary solitude will probably be the high point of my day. Soon there will be men carrying in boxes and wanting to know where to put them. I didn’t sleep last night and frankly, my dear, I don’t give a you-know-what about where they put them.
I am tired and irritable and want a cup of hot tea and a bed. I feel like crawling inside that hollowed-out stone and staying there until Labor Day.
I should stop complaining. I should be grateful I’m not stuck over there watching strangers who might or might not be wearing masks box up the contents of the china cabinet because my wife said she’d been there, done that, and it was worth the money to pay someone else to do it. I should be grateful I’m not lugging boxes in the rain.
Well. William has stopped protesting. I don’t know whether he’s come to his senses and given up or what. Maybe he’s fallen ill. Maybe Ernest had as much as he could take and went mad and walloped him. I feel I should check to make sure they’re okay.
But opening the bathroom door could mean disaster. I guess I’ll just sit here and listen to the ceiling fan creak. And I mean CREAK. We didn’t turn it on yesterday and so the creak didn’t make it onto the Condition form. We’ll have to email the office and add it.
The creak makes William’s and my caterwauling sound almost pleasant.
They left the mylar-covered dust jacket standing upright between its neighbors. When I reached up to pull the book from the shelf, I came away with mostly air.
I was righteously indignant. I’d worked hard to develop the 200 Religion and Mythology section. I’d put money into it. I’d spent time and thought balancing the collection to reflect many religious traditions.
The Catholic Study Bible was a big book. A hardback. It had cost a lot. I was proud of it.
Indignation lasted about five minutes. Then I started laughing.
There is a certain irony about someone stealing a Bible.
I’m still laughing.
Other books went missing over the years, too, not surprising in a small library without a security system.
Our copy of Boys and Sex escaped from 300 Social Science on a regular basis, but it stayed in the library. We found it reshelved: in 400 Language, 600 Technology, 700 Arts and Recreation, Fiction, Biography.
I suspected middle school boys. We often found them giggling over it and similar titles in the far corner of the reading room, the blind spot we couldn’t see from the circulation desk.
Girls and Sex, however, disappeared completely, as did other books about sex written for teenaged girls. Books about child abuse disappeared as well. I believed girls took them. And I assumed they took them because they needed them. There was nothing funny about that.
I skipped indignation and replaced them.
There is an error in grammar/mechanics in the post above. Doing it right seemed just too too, but doing it wrong leaves me open to criticism from people as compulsively nitpicking as I am. It was a difficult decision. Anyway, if you notice it, please be advised I did it by choice, not by ignorance. Just sayin’.
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear; Those of mechanics—each one singing his, as it should be, blithe and strong; The carpenter singing his, as he measures his plank or beam, The mason singing his, as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work; The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat—the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck; The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench—the hatter singing as he stands; The wood-cutter’s song—the ploughboy’s, on his way in the morning, or at the noon intermission, or at sundown; The delicious singing of the mother—or of the young wife at work—or of the girl sewing or washing— Each singing what belongs to her, and to none else; The day what belongs to the day— At night, the party of young fellows, robust, friendly, Singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.
Image of Walt Whitman (1819-1892), age 35, frontispiece to Leaves of Grass, Fulton St., Brooklyn, N.Y., 1855, steel engraving by Samuel Hollyer from a lost daguerreotype by Gabriel Harrison. Via Wikipedia.
[Today I’m reblogging mystery author Helen Currie Foster’s post for Ink-Stained Wretches—about how we’re influenced by our genes, our experiences, our parenting, our parents’ parenting . . . fascinating stuff—and how writers might use what science is uncovering on the topic.]
by Helen Currie Foster
Okay—Mom Genesis such a great title, it couldn’t not be used. But Abigail Tucker’s new book of that title doesn’t focus just on moms. Tucker, a New York Times best-selling science writer, dives deep into the burgeoning science examining parental behavior—genetic? hormonal? learned?
And you writers may find it a rich source for potential plots.
Moms will recognize Tucker’s description of the weird sensation of being kidnapped, of feeling like victims of an Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Not feeling quite yourself? In the first of a series of jaw-dropping recent research findings, Tucker reports, “Our children colonize our lungs, spleens, kidneys, thyroids, skin”—and brains. Far from being that familiar image of the one-way street, with mother’s blood, nutrients and even cells flowing into the fetus, the fetus also sends its own fetal cells into the mother. It’s “fetal microchimerism.” No wonder a burgeoning mom feels…she’s changed.
Tucker doesn’t dodge painful issues of maternal and paternal favoritism. “Some 80 percent of us allegedly … prefer one of our children to the others, and more than half of parents demonstrate so-called differential treatment toward various progeny.” The most striking predictor? “Moms appear to dote on their cutest kids.” Apparently “the components of infant attractiveness…are rigid and globally constant,” including big eyes, large forehead, small chin, and chubby cheeks. Tucker says this preference extends to nearly all baby mammals.
My father, Bill (Billie) Waller, May 1, 1915 – September 8, 1983
I remember, in no particular order–
He loved horses. When he was in the saddle, they knew who was in charge. He didn’t have to force them.
He loved driving—down backroads to see how much it had rained, or just for the pleasure of driving. He said my horse Scarlett “rode like a Cadillac,” his highest praise. He appreciated a smooth ride. Scarlett was the only Cadillac he owned.
When children started school at seven, he started at five. His mother had just died, and sending him to school with the two older brothers was easier than keeping him at home with the two younger. He had to repeat first grade.
He quit school before his senior year to farm full-time. His father didn’t think graduating was important. No one else could have convinced him to finish—except maybe one of his mother’s sisters, if she’d thought about trying.
One of his high school teachers told me, “Your daddy was just terrible. He said the funniest things. I was only couple of years older, and he was so funny, I never could get mad at him.” It was genetic. He got it from his mother’s family.
He created ridiculous fictions my mother then repeated all over town. (“Bill Waller, I am never going to believe another thing you say.” She always believed it.) He learned the art from two his of his maternal uncles.
He always gave me five-dollar bills to go to movies that cost fifty cents, including popcorn and Coke, and told me to keep the change. (I didn’t.)
He believed dogs and cats belonged outside but when the Siamese draped herself across his feet in bed at night, he let her lie. The Collie didn’t let him or his pickup out of her sight. He made sure she was in the truck before he left in it.
When I called home to say I’d locked the keys (and the spare keys) in the car, he rescued me, no matter what the time or how long the drive, without a word said. Every time.
He pointed out spelling errors on signage. The most memorable was tresspassing, on a sign commissioned by the local water company.
He said he spent half of his life waiting for me to find my shoes.
He told me to keep plenty of money in my purse and the gas tank full, but when I said shouldn’t we fill up before leaving Seguin, he said we’d wait till we got home. We ran out of gas on the country road two miles short of our destination, with only maize fields and a river between us and fuel. He walked; my dress shoes and I waited in the car.
He loved being outside and doing manual labor—cutting brush, stretching barbed wire, plowing and planting, watching the soil turn, working cattle. After a day of doing manual labor for a salary.
He made stunning chocolate and lemon meringue pies.
He liked sardines but said they should be eaten on the riverbank with a can of pork-and-beans.
He sent me to college, including three years in a dorm, financing it by periodically selling one of Opal’s offspring. Opal was a White-faced Hereford a neighbor had given me when I was eleven after her mother rejected her at birth.
When his brother called from up the street to say my grandfather, who lived next door, had set fire to a pile of brush in the small pasture next to his house, and it was getting dark and the wind was getting up, and somebody ought to do something, but he had to live next door to him . . . he drove two blocks, dragged a water hose through the yard, and said, “I’m putting out that fire before you burn up the whole town.” He was the only one of five sons who could do that and not get in trouble. He was the only one who would risk getting in trouble. (Trouble being a brief parental cold shoulder.)
He read the newspaper starting at the back. He read every word of local “county” papers, right down to the phone numbers in the want-ads. He read magazines. No books. Until he retired, when he picked up my copy of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and plowed through it. So I started giving him books.
He came home from World War II deaf from bomb concussion. Because his hearing aid didn’t filter out ambient noise, and he was embarrassed to have to ask people to repeat what they’d said, he left church dinners, large family gatherings, and other social events, early, often just taking off and walking home by himself. He quit a job that depended on his using the telephone, because he thought he might get information communicated to him—serial numbers of airplane parts—wrong, and cause a tragedy. When he took off his hearing aid at night, he was gone.
When I was eleven, his hearing aid broke. He sat through the public school week evening program in the school auditorium and heard absolutely nothing.
After twenty years of deafness, he had surgery to restore conversational hearing and his original personality surfaced. He enjoyed mixing with people. He engaged in long telephone conversations with friends. He got a kick out of Archie Bunker.
He watched The Muppet Show every Saturday evening. Every time Kermit the Frog flung his arms around and said, “Ya-a-a-a-a-a-ay,” he shook with silent laughter.
He stood in the churchyard after services checking the dates on inspection stickers on windshields, just killing time. Occasionally he found one that had expired.
He was good to old ladies. He got their cats out of trees He charged Miss Blanche’s ancient car’s ancient battery every six months or so (because she drove only every six months or so). She called every Halloween and said, “Tell Bill to get up her and get some popcorn balls before the kids get them all.”
He worked best alone, I think because, although he could do a multitude of things, he figured out how to do them as we went along. He passed that gene along to me.
Let them bury your big eyes In the secret earth securely, Your thin fingers, and your fair, Soft, indefinite-colored hair,— All of these in some way, surely, From the secret earth shall rise; Not for these I sit and stare, Broken and bereft completely; Your young flesh that sat so neatly On your little bones will sweetly Blossom in the air.
But your voice,—never the rushing Of a river underground, Not the rising of the wind In the trees before the rain, Not the woodcock’s watery call, Not the note the white-throat utters, Not the feet of children pushing Yellow leaves along the gutters In the blue and bitter fall, Shall content my musing mind For the beauty of that sound That in no new way at all Ever will be heard again.
Sweetly through the sappy stalk Of the vigorous weed, Holding all it held before, Cherished by the faithful sun, On and on eternally Shall your altered fluid run, Bud and bloom and go to seed; But your singing days are done; But the music of your talk Never shall the chemistry Of the secret earth restore. All your lovely words are spoken. Once the ivory box is broken, Beats the golden bird no more.
Several years ago on Good Friday, I posted “All in the April Evening,” words and music by Sir Hugh Roberton, based on a poem by Katharine Tynan.
Good Friday is past, but music has no limits, so here it is again.
Roberton modified the words slightly; his version is the one I use. A link to the poem is here.
Links to performances and biographies of the composers follow.
Years ago my voice teacher introduced me to the song. Now I can’t sing it, because I can’t even hear it without tears.
All in the April evening April airs were abroad The sheep with their little lambs Passed me by on the road The sheep with their little lambs Passed me by on the road All in the April evening I thought on the lamb of god
The lambs were weary and crying With a weak human cry I thought on the lamb of god Going meekly to die Up in the blue blue mountains Dewy pastures are sweet Rest for the little bodies Rest for the little feet
But for the lamb, the Lamb of god Up on the hilltop green Only a cross, a cross of shame Two stark crosses between
All in the April evening April airs were abroad I saw the sheep with the lambs And thought on the Lamb of God
“Roberton was born in Glasgow, where, in 1906, he founded the Glasgow Orpheus Choir. For five years before that it was the Toynbee Musical Association. A perfectionist, he expected the highest standards of performance from its members. Its voice was a choir voice, its individual voices not tolerated. He set new standards in choral technique and interpretation. For almost fifty years until it disbanded in 1951, on the retirement of its founder, the Glasgow Orpheus Choir had no equal in Britain and toured widely enjoying world acclaim. Their repertoire included many Scottish folk songs arranged for choral performance, and Paraphrases, as well as Italian madrigals, English motets and the music of the Russian Orthodox Church. The choir also performed the works of Bach, Handel, Felix Mendelssohn, Peter Cornelius, Brahms and others.
“For a while, Tynan was a close associate of William Butler Yeats (who may have proposed marriage and been rejected, around 1885), and later a correspondent of Francis Ledwidge. She is said to have written over 100 novels. Her Collected Poems appeared in 1930; she also wrote five autobiographical volumes.“
Superscripts have been deleted from the Wikipedia articles.