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#AtoZ Challenge 2020: A is for April (Fools’)

 

As I wrote in Monday’s not-Theme Reveal, my A to Z Writing Challenge has no theme. Officially, it’s listed as “Other and Miscellaneous.” The Archon’s Den blogger claims “chaos and confusion” as a recurring theme. I wish I’d thought of that.

Anyway, the obvious and easiest A topic is April.

On April 1, 1968, my junior English class put out a special issue of the school newspaper.

(The school was small; we twelve were the only juniors.)

One article reported the purchase of new and badly needed uniforms for the girls’ basketball team. A drawing of the outfit was included. The shorts were of your plain garden variety, but the top featured cap sleeves, a bib enhanced with vertical pin tucks and  pearl buttons, and a Peter Pan collar. There might have been a ruffle somewhere. They would spend off seasons in cold storage.

Image of Ford Mustang logo. By zopalic. Via Pixabay.com.
Ford Mustang logo.

A second article reported that the school would buy two new Ford Mustangs for use in an onsite driver’s ed. course in the fall. At the time, students had to travel ten miles to a larger district to earn the credit. Driving a Mustang, which Ford had been producing for only four years, was a Certified Big Deal.

A third item announced that the girls’ choir would sing at President Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign rallies that summer, which, of course meant nationwide travel. Dredging up words from the junior English vocabulary list, the reporter quoted the choir director: She said we’d been spuriously honored and that the tour would go a long way toward ending the mal de mer running rampant through the student body. I think she also said the girls were proud to be invited, and that she was sure they would continue to prosit.

Copies were distributed at the beginning of first period. Paper staff, mouths shut and expressions innocent, waited. The response was more than gratifying.

Sitting in the front row of geometry class, the co-editor and I watched the teacher/girls’ coach, brow wrinkled, examining the new basketball uniform and wondering aloud who had chosen it and why she hadn’t been asked for input. She didn’t say it looked gosh-awful, which must have taken immense restraint. While she was puzzling, the team, most of whom sat behind us, showed no restraint. They said plenty.

In the hallway between classes, students raved about the Mustangs. The district was small—high school enrollment numbered no more than fifty—and had to watch its pennies, so its splurging on two sports cars was almost too good to be true. One 1950 Chevy would have made a splash.

Image of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1966. By Yoichi Okamoto.  Public domain. Via Wikipedia.
Johnson greeting a crowd, 1966.

With the exception of the co-editors, choir members hadn’t been informed that they would sing at political rallies. They appeared confused but accepted the story. It made sense; we knew a number of patriotic songs.

No one mentioned that the night before, President Johnson had announced on national television, “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.” No one asked why the student body was seasick. The choir director, who doubled as our English teacher, issued a compliment. She said the quotation sounded just like her.

Finally, about noon, someone noticed the date on the first page—April 1—and we were busted.

Readers were good sports. They laughed; no one chewed us out.

Some were disappointed: The choir wouldn’t sing at rallies, and the business about the Mustangs was too good to be true.

But sighs of sorrow were as nothing compared to the sighs of relief: Peter Pan collars were out.

***

Note: The choir would been happy to sing for a different candidate, but Hubert Humphrey forgot to invite us.

***

I hoped last fall’s Great Unearthing would produce a copy of the April Fools’ issue. No such luck. I would like to read it again. I would love to see the drawing of that uniform. It would make a fine illustration when U rolls around.

***

I just checked the A to Z master list and discovered that I slipped up and registered my theme not as “Other and Miscellaneous,” but as “Author/Writer (craft of writing, stories, memoir).” That is unfortunate, because the only things I know about craft are that it would be wrong to put a colon after the are in this sentence, that the lack of a properly placed Oxford comma drives me crazy, and that the price of a dedicated, supportive critique group is above rubies.

***

Here’s are links to the A to Z Blogging Challenge master list. (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1YphbP47JyH_FuGPIIrFuJfAQiBBzacEkM7iBnq6DGDA/edit#gid=1617533974

Themes appear there. If you visit some of the blogs, you’ll make the writers happy. If you click Like, they’ll be even happier.

***

Image of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1966. By Yoichi Okamoto.  Public domain. Via Wikipedia.

Image of Ford Mustang logo. By zopalic. Via Pixabay.com.

 

 

Still Sheltering, No Theme

 

For the second year in a row, I’ll participate in April’s A to Z Writing Challenge—twenty-six posts, one every day in April except Sundays. So far, nearly four hundred blogs appear on the master list, here. About half have announced themes: history, books, education, animals, gaming, parenting, personal, women’s interests, and on and on.

I didn’t do a Theme Reveal post, because because that would require me to know the theme. I registered under Other and Miscellaneous. I’m not about to say, “I’m going to write about _____,” only to get stuck at Q. If a theme emerges, we’ll know in May.

If I were going for the obvious, I’d spend April posting about sheltering in place. This is day 16. David has picked up groceries at the Walmart parking lot several times. We’ve placed small orders, trying to fill some gaps. Tonight I found myself considering which I would prefer, Wolf Brand Chili or sardines. The surprise was that both sounded appetizing. I chose something else.

Federal social distancing guidelines now extend through April 30. Davis household guidelines were extended that far two weeks ago, and we’ll go further if necessary. We don’t want to expose ourselves to the contagion, and we don’t want to expose anyone else. We’re grateful for those whose work allows us to retreat.

I hope reading this post isn’t as dull as writing it has been. If it has been, please don’t mention that in the comments.

As to comments, I want to thank the folks who’ve been reading, liking, and commenting while I’ve been doing none of those. I’m on my way to get a good night’s sleep, after which I’ll work on getting up the gumption to do better.

We saw a couple social distancing in the green space yesterday. A walk in the park can be gumption inducing. I’ll put it on tomorrow’s agenda.

Here are a couple of cats.

Sheltering, Sanitizing, & #ROW80

 

Day 10, 11, or 12, I don’t remember, of sheltering in place. I stayed in for a week earlier in the month, then went out twice, the second time unnecessary and stupid. Anyway, it feels like more than 10, 11, or 12 days.

But self-quarantine is necessary for David and me, and for the rest of the city, the state, and the country. I could look on it as my patriotic duty. Because it is.

I fell off #ROW80, in part because I’m so good at falling off challenges, but I shall pick it up now.

My goal, after a late start, was to add 4,000 words to my WIP by March 26. Tomorrow is check-in day. Well.

I got the goal down to something like 2100. I can’t do that much in 23 hours–or maybe I can; I think I’ve produced that many words in a day before. Once.

Best case scenario, I’ll get down to business tomorrow and write a couple of scenes. Last month I did two without dithering to get them almost perfect. I might do that again.

We shall see.

Now about Sheltering Place.

I’m good at it. I’m good at anything that allows for sitting around. I’m beginning to have an itch to get outside and walk up and down the sidewalk. The small outdoors on the other side of my window is usually empty. A few people walk their dogs up and down the sidewalk. I could walk all over the complex without meeting anyone. Or could, when people were working elsewhere. Maybe they still are.

I’m also getting the itch to write. I think about the WIP every day and have mentally composed a lot. Mental composition doesn’t always transfer to the page, though, especially when I look at the blank page and forget what was in my brain. Characters stop talking and there goes the sparkling dialogue.

That’s what I haven’t been doing. What I have been doing.

Cheese. Mine was cheddar, but cheddar obviously doesn’t interest photographers.

Washing cheese, frozen entree packaging, and cottage cheese.  We leave delivered and picked up food in the trunk of the car for the time it takes for the virus to die, and longer to make sure, but perishable items come inside, where they meet soap and water.

I used hot water, of course, and in so doing probably cooked the cheese. The frozen entrees are in the freezing getting freezer burn. The boxes collapsed from the scrubbing, so I trashed them. The thin sheet of plastic covering the food doesn’t provide adequate protection, hence freezer burn. But I don’t mind a little freezer burn. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

When David, the shopper, tried to buy hand sanitizer, shelves were already empty. I ordered some from Amazon. It was supposed to arrive the 13th, then the 16th, then the 29th, but it showed up on the 23rd. I soaped it up. This brand was the only one with 70% alcohol available when I ordered. I bought several 17-ounce bottles and two small ones we can carry with us. The labels are in Chinese. There is some irony in that, but irony is all it is. I’m grateful to have it.

Alcohol wipes are on the way. The 29th, I think today’s email said. We have some isopropyl alcohol (70%); our alcohol swabs are about an inch square. Not the best for disinfecting more than an inch square.

Tonight I wiped down the recliner with sanitizer gel on a paper towel. I don’t know if that’s effective in the first place, and in the second, I don’t know why I picked on the chair, since I’ve been sitting in it forever without concern. Anyway, after a while, Ernest the Cat jumped onto the footrest and lay down and stayed for about thirty minutes. When he jumped down, I realized there might be a problem. I wetted a towel and managed to wipe down his right side before he gave me a dirty look, flew down the hall and disappeared under the bed.

Ernest

Knowing he was capable of holing up there for hours, David sprayed some calming mist under the bed–we use it to get him to the doctor–and later I found him in the living room. I was able to wipe down his left side and his paws. He didn’t like the paw part but was too calm to get up and leave. I was still worried, because I don’t know that rinsing with a not very damp cloth is sufficient, and I didn’t get between his toes. He sticks his right paw in water several times and licks it before drinking.

On the other side of the issue, by the time I got to the footrest, the sanitizer had receded into the paper towel, there wasn’t much on it in the first place, and the paper was almost if not completely dry when I finished. I don’t think much was transferred, if any. And I’ve never seen him wash anything except his face and paws. Guy cats don’t appear to bathe as often as girl cats.

I thought about putting him in the bathtub and shampooing him. Under the circumstances, he would be justified in shredding me, and I would take it as my just due. It’s a small bathroom with a small closet. Nowhere to hide. But it wouldn’t have been pretty.

I worried. Then I didn’t. Now, thinking about it, I’m worrying again. I wonder if we should take him to the ER (his second home). He seems fine. I don’t know whether to go to bed or sit up and worry. It’s already after midnight, and I need sleep, but he’s my baby. And I’m programmed to worry.

So here we are. A 300-word post about #ROW80 becomes a post about decontaminating packages of cheese becomes another cat post. And words, words, words.

Not necessarily a positive. Composing anything gives me the feeling that I’ve written. And it satisfies the itch. Getting down to business tomorrow may be more difficult that I thought.

But in difficult times, I think about the British. Bombs aren’t falling. This isn’t the Blitz. They did what had to be done. So will I.

Texas Spring: Loveliest of Flowers

 

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

~ A. E. Housman, “Loveliest of Trees”

Image by gmoyer via pixabay.com

“We Have Met the Enemy, and He Is Us”

 

In the early 1970s, I watched the British series Upstairs, Downstairs—the original, which was called the best depiction of the effects of World War I on the upper and lower classes that had been produced up to that time.

In one episode, James Bellamy’s wife, Hazel, contracts the Spanish flu. A brief synopsis of the next episode, published in the TV section of the newspaper, said James and Hazel would leave London for a quieter life in the countryside. At the end of the show, however, Hazel dies.

I cried for a half-hour. Maybe the shock value was worth it to the producers, but I felt betrayed by the false publicity.

That was my introduction to pandemics. At that point, I was protected by both a television screen and time.

A hundred years later, the world faces another pandemic. Experts said ten, twenty years ago that we were overdue for it. There’s no vaccine. We’re told to wash our hands, disinfect surfaces, and avoid contact with other people.

This isn’t Pogo, and he doesn’t live in a swamp, but it’s as close as I can get. See note at the end of the post.

But we see from the experience of other countries that personal measures alone aren’t sufficient; governments have to take action. The U.S. lags far behind in attempts to delay the spread of infection.

To quote Walt Kelly’s Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

What to do? Keep Calm and Carry On. Keep Calm and Wash Your Hands.

One psychologist says—I wish I could remember who and where I read it—that instead of Keeping Calm, we should feel some fear, because fear can prompt action, such as admitting the gravity of the situation and acting on the advice of medical experts.

And if you’re elderly, recognizing their advice as a warning.

My husband and I are elderly—I don’t know when that happened, but the experts say we are—so we have soup, tuna fish, TV dinners (for junior citizens, frozen entrees), canned everything, frozen fruit and vegetables, orange and cranberry juice, and other non-perishables in the pantry for self- or government-mandated quarantine. And Cheetos, of course.

We’ve also stocked up on medications and other necessities.

We’re not hoarding. We’d have trouble if we tried: David, the shopper, says shelves normally housing toilet paper and hand sanitizer are empty.

We canceled a trip to Florida. We’ve reduced—practically ceased—our out-and-about. I’m sorry about Florida, but we can reschedule. I’ll hardly notice the out-and-about; it’s not like I get out much anyway (lazy). Maybe I’ll finish that eternally-budding novel.

There is a certain irony in being more concerned about a contagious disease than about cancer. The cancer belongs to me alone; I continue treatments; I’m in remission; I don’t worry about my husband contracting it; I can be in a crowd without catching or transmitting it. At some point it will recur, but I don’t often think about it. Uncertainty exists, but within limits.

With this virus, uncertainty has no boundaries, for any of us. It’s everywhere.

But about fear: We need to smile, too. It’s good for the immune system.

Dr. Murray Grossan, an ENT-otolaryngologist in Los Angeles, says that smiling has been shown “over and over again” that happiness boosts the body’s resistance.

From and article on NBC News Better”:

“What’s crazy is that just the physical act of smiling can make a difference in building your immunity,” says Dr. Grossan. “When you smile, the brain sees the muscle [activity] and assumes that humor is happening.”

In a sense, the brain is a sucker for a grin. It doesn’t bother to sort out whether you’re smiling because you’re genuinely joyous, or because you’re just pretending.

“Even forcing a fake smile can legitimately reduce stress and lower your heart rate,” adds Dr. Sivan Finkel, a cosmetic dentist at NYC’s The Dental Parlour. “A study performed by a group at the University of Cardiff in Wales found that people who could not frown due to botox injections were happier on average than those who could frown.”

And there are plenty more studies out there to make you smile (or at least, serve as reference for why you should). 

And then there’s laughter. From WebMD’s “Give Your Body a Boost—With Laughter”:

Immune response. Increased stress is associated with decreased immune system response. . . . Some studies have shown that the ability to use humor may raise the level of infection-fighting antibodies in the body and boost the levels of immune cells, as well.

When I was in chemotherapy, I tried to maintain a smile (a beatific one I like to think). That may be one reason I’ve done better than my oncologist predicted. It at least seemed to make him feel better. My radiation oncologist appears genetically programmed to smile. She made me feel better.

Anyway, I take the advice of these experts as seriously as I do the epidemiologists’: We’re washing hands, disinfecting surfaces, stocking up, staying out of crowds, and laughing as much as we can.

Marx Brothers 1931
The Marx Brothers, by Ralph Stitt. Public domain. Via Wikipedia

*

For anyone too young to remember, Pogo was a comic strip by Walt Kelly, featuring a possum and his friends, who lived in the Okefenokee Swamp. Children enjoyed the animals and their adventures; adults enjoyed the“layers of political satire.”

To see why Pogo said the enemy is us, click here. The strip ran on Earth Day in 1971.

*

Image by daynaw3990 via pixabay.com

Buoyed Up, Parasite, & #ROW80

 

Friday I announced the goal of

a) adding another 1,000 words to my Work in Progress; OR,

b) rewriting the oatmeal,

and said I would say which I’d accomplished in my Sunday A Round of Words in 80 Days report.

The oatmeal refers to the 1,000+ words I added last Thursday.

Report: I accomplished neither, and this is Monday, not Sunday.

I do not despair, however. I’m buoyed up by the thought of those 1,000+ words extant.

My next goal is to do b), above, and to submit to Austin Mystery Writers, my critique group, by Tuesday night. Monday night would be better, but a Tuesday submission is not to be sneezed at.

Here are two pictures of Ernest. In the first, he’s trying to damage a USB device.

In the second, he’s pretending he’s not leaning on the keyboard while I’m reading K.P. Gresham‘s Ink-Stained Wretches post, “Read a Book, Save the World.” 

If you have—or haven’t—seen the movie Parasite, you’ll be interested in K.P.’s post.

1,188 Down; 2,812 to Go: #ROW80

Here’s my A Round of Words in 80 Days report for Wednesday, March 4. It’s currently Friday, March 6, but this is my Wednesday report.

Last Sunday, I reported that I had not added 1,000 words to my Work in Progress, and that, as a consequence, I would “have to add 1,333.3333333 words per week to meet my goal” of 4,000 new words by March 26, the end of #ROW80.

Well. On Monday, my powers were under a cloud, so I didn’t add anything to the WIP. On Tuesday, the cloud thickened into pea soup, and I didn’t add anything to anything. My body was slightly improved on Wednesday, but my brain was still mush, so the WIP remained unaltered.

Yesterday, however, I added 1,188 words.

They’re bad words, slapped down off the top of my head, thrown at the page, forming one big, glutinous lump as mushy as my brain. The literary equivalent of oatmeal.

That isn’t my usual process. I write slowly and usually get it almost right the first time. This thousand words will have to be kneaded and turned and completely transformed. Into oatmeal cookies, as it were.

I hate that.

But the WIP is longer than it was two days ago. Can’t complain about that.

The next goal:

a) add another 1,000 words to the WIP; OR,

b) rewrite the oatmeal.

On Sunday I’ll report which it is.

1,333.3333333 X 3 or 160 X 25: #ROW80

I’m running a little behind in my attempt to add 4,000 words to my WIP by March 26.

I didn’t add 1,000 words last week.

Which means I have twenty-five days in which to add the 4,000 words.

Calling that 3 weeks, and dividing 4,000 words by 3, I’ll have to add 1,333.3333333 words per week to meet my goal.

Calling it 25 days, and dividing 4,000 by 25, I’ll have to add 160 words per day.

If the math is wrong, please don’t tell me.

I tried to find a picture associated with goals but found nothing but goals associated with sports. So I’m displaying a picture associated with nothing at all.

A Harbinger of Spring & a Video Fest

Today we saw the first sign that spring is upon us.

It wasn’t a robin. It wasn’t a bluebonnet.

chameleon on screen 2/29/2020
Chameleon on window screen

It was a chameleon, the first one I’ve seen in years. Once, a zillion lived in my yard in Fentress, crawled across window screens, sneaked into a bedroom and blended into the leaf-patterned draperies, causing minor panic when discovered.

Then Ms, my Siamese cat, went on a lizard binge, causing more havoc. If you think it’s unsettling to see, without prior notice, a lizard running across the bedroom floor, try opening the door and finding one lying belly up, dead, often minus the skin of his soft underbelly, right where you were planning to plant your foot. I appreciated Ms’s thought, but the gift, not so much.

Ernest focusing on chameleon

Anyway—maybe because the chameleon population had been decimated, maybe because survivors got wise and relocated—by the early ’80s, they were gone.

They didn’t frequent our former apartment, either. But now that one has appeared outside the window at our new place, more will surely follow. I hope.

Ernest hopes so, too. He saw the visitor before I did, jumped onto the window sill, stood, and batted. Stood down, stood up, and batted. Again and again.

Ernest not looking at chameleon 2/29/2020
Ernest not focusing on chameleon

Watching a beloved pet hunt and not gather is heartrending, up to a point. Mostly it’s a grab-the-camera-and-holler-at-David-to-come-see moment. We focused on the scene as closely as Ernest focused on his prey.

The hunt ended when the lizard scooted eighteen inches to the right. Ernest lost him.  He lay down and stared out the window. David tapped on the window and pointed but failed to catch his attention.

A few minutes later, we abandoned him and headed downtown to the Violet Crown Theater for CatVideoFest—”a compilation reel of the best cat videos culled from countless hours of unique submissions and sourced animations, music videos, and, of course, classic internet powerhouses.”

Most were short-shorts, amateur cats being cats, filmed by their owners. A few were scripted. I’ve included links to two of those—”An Engineer’s Guide to Cats 2.0—The Sequel” and “Henri 2—Paw de Deux.” Cat lovers—crazy or not—have likely seen them online. Crazies might think they’re worth watching again.

Here’s a link to a list of theaters (nationwide) where you can view the movie. Today’s showing was the last in Austin, but if you’re elsewhere and interested, you can look it up.

CatVideoFest raises funds for “cats in need.” Part of the proceeds from the three Austin showings will go to Austin Pets Alive, an animal rescue and advocacy organization that fosters homeless animals and finds them forever homes.

 

Bonus: Chris the Story Reading Ape’s Blog with “Caturday Funnies”

Years ago, I closed my first blog, Whiskertips, because it had, against my will, become catcentric. The title was the only one I could think of that wasn’t already in use, and I’d just acquired William and Ernest (from APA) and so had cats on the brain. I suppose the name constituted a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I’ve vowed this blog will not fall into feline paws, but lately I’ve been walking a very fine line.

Why I (Don’t/Didn’t) Write #ROW80

Ernest felt fine when he woke this morning, but then he was unceremoniously hauled down to the vet’s for labs, blood draw, glucose and fructosamine, all that, and now he feels exposed, defenseless, in need of laptime. So that’s what he’s getting.

I didn’t want to work anyway.

*

Ernest having abandoned the keyboard for more interesting pursuits, I type unhindered.

I planned a brief statement about a cat and a keyboard, nothing else, but as Wednesday appears to have rolled around while my back was turned, I’ll add the #ROW80 report.

The goal I stated Sunday was to add 4,000 words to my WIP by March 26. Roughly 1,000 words per week—written and submitted to my critique group—would answer.

At five o’clock Monday morning, however, my body told my brain that I wasn’t going to add 1,000  words to anything, and my brain said my body was oh, so right about that.

On Tuesday, my body said I could add some words if I wanted, but my brain said Monday’s meltdown had been so demoralizing that it had no intention of contributing one independent thought, thank you very much.

In other words, I’m where I was on Sunday.

Except I’m really a little further back than that, because I just realized the post I prepared to link to my #ROW80 announcement—which I’d put up on the group blog Ink-Stained Wretcheswas never posted here at all. I didn’t click Publish. It’s been sitting here in draft form for three days, just sitting, waiting for something to happen that never happened. 

A lot like that proposed 1,000 words.

Well. Four more days in this week. Twenty-nine more days in the month.

See § 2, ¶ 3  above.

Onward and upwards, I guess.

*

He’s back.

Rejection of Things Past

Last week I posted the following to my Facebook timeline:

I learned last month—and only now have recovered enough to speak of it—that my story was not selected for inclusion in a collection I’d submitted to. The odds were high enough against me that, although the news affected me, it did not crush my spirit. I may, however, pretend it did so I’ll have an excuse for seeking out and indulging in a couple of pounds of serotonin-producing dark chocolate, plus a large box of sugar cubes to keep the bitterness of the chocolate from curdling my teeth.

So many friends responded with comments and emojis of such warmth and kindness that, in addition to thanking them—Thank you, friends—I feel I should add an update.

Update:

I did not seek out chocolate. For four whole days, I did not seek it out.

In fact, I forgot about it.

Forgot to seek. Forgot why I’d thought about seeking.

Forgot until today when David said, “What do you want from the grocery store?”

Oh, yes. “Chocolate.”

 “A Snickers?”

“No. Maybe a peanut butter cup . . . ”

Then, remembering that Easter is icumen in: “Or maybe a Cadbury egg. But,” I said, “one Cadbury egg won’t do.”

A single egg would have sent me flying across the green space in search of a follow-up.

Dependable and then some, David returned with five Cadbury eggs.

I ate one. Then I ate another.

Two eggs for rejection of things past.

The rest I’ll polish off tomorrow, as a kind of insurance against rejection of things future.

Lines That Shut Your Eyes

 

Twelve-year-old Emma Graham and elderly Mr. Root sit outside the grocery store in a little town in the mountains of Maryland, discussing poetry. From Martha Grimes’ Fadeaway Girl:

“What’s the poem, Mr. Root?”

. . . It was a paperback, not very thick. I saw it was the poetry of Robert Frost. “But I thought you didn’t like Robert Frost. You were all against ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.’ Remember?”

“That one, yeah. But he’s wrote a couple of good ones. I kind of put ’em in between Emily’s, you know, . . .”  Mr. Root cleared his throat and intoned in a sing-song fashion:

This saying good-by on the edge of the dark—

It shut my eyes, that line did, as sure as someone passing a hand over them. “Oh,” I said.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

He read on, although I was still back there on the edge of the dark.

Then he came to:

I wish I could promise to lie in the night
And think of an orchard’s ar-bo-re-al plight
When slowly (and nobody comes with a light)
Its heart sinks lower under the sod.

My eyes snapped shut again. I had never heard anything so fearfully sad. I bit my lip to keep from crying. I could almost see it, the trees too young to be left alone, waiting for someone or something to come, and finally knowing no one ever would.

“Yep,” said Mr. Root. “Some of his, well, I’d say he knows what he’s talking about. Straight talk. That’s what Frost was really good at, none of those namby-pamby poems about Greek urns and stuff. Nope”—he held up the book—”just plainspoken, to-the-point words about nature and stuff.”

“Mr. Root,” I said, “I don’t think he’s plainspoken. He means a lot more than what he seems to be saying.” . . .

Mr. Root pushed his feed cap back on his head and scratched his forehead. . . .

“What do you mean by that?” His eyes narrowed as if I were insulting him.

I didn’t want to talk about it; I don’t know why I had to open my big mouth. “Well, I think he means something different from what he’s saying. Or seems to be saying.” . . .

I asked Mr. Root if I could borrow the book for a minute, and he handed it to me.

“And could I have a piece of paper and use your pencil?”

He tore off a little sheet and handed that to me, too, along with his pencil. “Whatcha doin’?”

“Just copying.”

I wrote the last lines on the paper and folded it up and stuck it in my change purse.

***

Are there any lines of poetry or prose that shut your eyes?

For Valentine’s Day: John Anderson, My Jo

John Anderson, My Jo

Robert Burns

Song and glossary follow

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fb/PG_1063Burns_Naysmithcrop.jpg
Portrait of Robert Burns, by Alexander Naysmith, 1787. Via Wikipedia. Public domain.

John Anderson, my jo, John
When we were first acquent;
Your locks were like the raven,
Your bonie brow was brent;
But now your brow is beld, John,
Your locks are like the snaw;
But blessings on your frosty pow,
John Anderson, my jo.

John Anderson, my jo, John,
We clamb the hill thegither;
And mony a cantie day, John,
We’ve had wi’ ane anither:
Now we maun totter down, John,
And hand in hand we’ll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot,
John Anderson, my jo.

 

 

Sung by Christy-Lyn

 

***

Meanings of most of the words from Scottish dialect are obvious, but here’s a glossary just in case.

jo-sweetheart
acquent-acquainted
bonny-beautiful
brent-polished new
beld-bald
snaw-snow
pow-head
thegither-together
cantie-great
one anither- together
maun totter down-must climb down

Fentress Society 1922: Maud and Carmen

 

From the Austin Statesman, Sunday, August 13, 1922. “Out of Town Society.”

 

David and I were looking at images of Fentress, Texas—thank you, Google—when he said, “Maud and Carmen Barber.”

“Where?” I said. I get very excited when names I know crop up on the Internet.

In 1922, Fentress was in its heyday, larger and busier than it was when I arrived thirty years later, and its social events were reported in the Austin newspaper.

Here’s a little something extra:

Carmen Barber, who attended the Confederate reunion at Driftwood and co-hosted the melon party, was my father’s first cousin on his mother’s side. Among the the older of his twenty-seven Woodward cousins, she spent her married life, as Mrs. Jack Harper, in nearby Martindale, where she was one of my maternal grandmother’s best friends. When my parents married, she went with them to the Baptist preacher’s house in San Marcos to be a witness.

Ophelia Waller was my father’s first cousin on the Waller side—a total of sixteen cousins there. Married to Tom Ashworth, she lived most of her life in La Feria, Texas. She died there in 2011 at the age of one hundred six. At the time of the party, she would have been seventeen years old.

Mamie Ward (Day) was the daughter of W. F. “Dick” Ward, owner of the town’s ice cream parlor. She taught school in Refugio, Texas. I remember Miss Mamie well from her visits to Fentress during the summers. I contend that her family was the closest thing to royalty Fentress ever had, because of the huge double-dip nickel ice cream cones Dick sold there for close to fifty years. If you dropped yours while getting on your bicycle, he rushed back inside his shop and scooped you up a replacement cone for free.

That’s what I know about three of the girls at the melon party.

What I don’t know—and sincerely wish I did—is the identity of the Beau Brummells who were barred from the delightful little social affair. If I think hard enough, maybe I’ll come up with some possibilities.

Already Read 2020: January

 

You’ve seen those “How Many of These Books Have You Read?” quizzes that populate the Internet? You click on the titles and the little people inside the website tally them and tell you what percentage you’ve read. I’m sure their purpose is to make me feel inferior.*

Some do more than count. One calculated my age. Imagine my surprise/embarrassment/shame when I learned that, based on the number clicked, I’m in my twenties.

Boy, did they get that wrong.

But the fault is mine—I haven’t been reading much as I should.

To remedy that, on January 1, 2020, I resolved to read more** books.

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Book Report

In January, I read the following:

The Bloody Bead, co-written by Helen Currie Foster and Manning Wolfe, part of the Bullet Books Speed Reads*** collection. When sweet Miss Cherry goes missing, garbageman Juan Agosto reports his suspicions to his older sister, Teresa, a police officer. The investigation that follows provides a suspenseful read. And a fast one—like the other Bullet Books, it’s a novella, designed for busy people who want short reads. Or, for that matter, idle people who want short reads.

No spoilers here, but I will say there are some things Juan Agosto would prefer not to find in a garbage bin.

***

Broke,***** by Kaye George. In this third volume of the Immy Duckworthy series, wannabe private eye Immy moves out of the double-wide where she and her daughter, Nancy Drew, have been living with Immy’s mother, retired librarian Hortense.  The three-story house Immy rents—the one she can afford on what she earns as (real) PI Mike Mallet’s secretary—looks like it’s about to fall down, and some parts of it are. But it’s filled with antique furniture. Plus a room filled with dusty old books. Plus a ghost. Plus, on the third floor,  something that doesn’t belong there at all.

Immy’s policeman boyfriend, Ralph, is his same, dependable self, but the gorgeous Vance Valentin proves a formidable competitor, sort of. Also present are pet pig Marshmallow and Larry Bird, the vicious hen.

And then there’s the body.

***

The Whole Family: A Novel by Twelve Authors, edited by Elizabeth Jordan. This collaborative novel, conceived by author and editor William Dean Howells, concerns the effect an engagement has on an entire family. The book comprises twelve chapters, each by a different author. Each chapter is written from the point of view of a different character. Chapter I, written by Howells, introduces Mr. Talbert, the father of the prospective bride, and alludes, briefly, to the others in his household. One of these is Mr. Talbert’s sister, described as “a lady of that age when ladies begin to be spoken of as maiden.”

Here’s where the fun begins.

Chapter II, entitled “The Old Maid Aunt,” was written by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman. Mrs. Freeman was forty-nine when she married a man seven years younger than she. One critic reports that Mrs. Freeman didn’t appreciate the phrase maiden lady, so she scrapped the stereotype.

The aunt she created is young, attractive, and vibrant. And she has a past—she and the prospective groom have recently engaged in a flirtation—or something. We don’t know exactly how serious the relationship was, but it was serious enough to make the visiting groom turn white when he sees her— and to catch the first train out of town. To complicate things further, the Talbert’s new neighbor had once threatened to shoot himself if the aunt wouldn’t marry him. Neighbor’s wife is not amused.

In other words, Mrs. Freeman hijacked the plot.

The rest is a romp, with each character—the bride, her mother, her grandmother, her teenage sister and pre-teen brother, her older brothers and their wives, the groom, and others—weighing in with their own descriptions of events, opinions of other characters, and plans to help fix things. There’s a lot to fix and they are oh, so helpful.

The Whole Family was published in 1908, so, compared to contemporary novels, it begins slowly. When the maiden aunt appears in Chapter II, however, things pick up considerably.

An Amazon note: One Amazon reviewer, who gave the book four stars, writes, “I would say they [the authors] did very well , except for one, who’s chapter was so rambling and unintelligible I had to just scan the paragraphs to get any sense out of it. But, all in all, it was a good book.”*****

My note: The “unintelligible” chapter was written by Henry James. With all due respect to Mr. James, don’t feel bad if you have trouble getting sense out of it. It’s been said that Mr. James “chewed more than he bit off.” (Attributed to Oscar Wilde, Mrs. Henry Adams, and the author’s brother William) All in all, it’s a good book.

#

* Important to consider when deciding how inferior to feel: Lists vary according to the whims and biases of the makers. Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, and Winnie the Pooh show up on all the lists I’ve examined. The Twits appears on just one.

** Goals and objectives should be quantifiable, and this one isn’t, but I’ll deal with that later. The way I’ve been going, more might mean three.

*** As I’ve mentioned before, numerous times, I co-wrote a Bullet Book, too. See the sidebar.

**** Read my review of Choke, the first Immy Duckworthy mystery, here.

***** I would link directly to the review, but when I do, an enormous picture of the book cover appears on this page.

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The authors: Helen Currie Foster, Manning Wolfe, Kaye George, William Dean Howells, and Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

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So that’s January. According to Kindle, I’m now 40% through Elizabeth George‘s A Banquet of Consequences.