#AtoZChallenge 2020: R Is for Romeo, et al.

One play. Twenty years. 

***

When you reread a classic you do not see more in the book than you did before;
you see more in you than was there before. 
~ Clifton Fadiman

 

The first years I studied Romeo and Juliet with my high school freshmen, when I was in my early twenties, I followed the Star-Cross’d Lovers school of literary criticism: Romeo and Juliet, two innocents, their eyes meeting across a crowded room, she teaches the torches to burn bright, he’s the god of her idolatry, he wants to be a glove upon her hand, she wants to cut him out in little stars—but the cruel world conspires to bring them down.

The way Juliet’s father tells her to thank him no thankings nor proud him no prouds but get to that church on Thursday and marry Paris or he’ll drag her thither on a hurdle—what kind of father says that to a thirteen-year-old girl? Parents don’t understand. They don’t listen.

The kids might be a little quick to act, and goodness knows Romeo should have waited to talk to Friar Laurence before buying that poison. But who can expect patience of teenagers in love? 

When I hit thirty, and had several years of teaching under my belt, I shifted to the What Can You Expect When Teenagers Behave Like Brats? philosophy: Romeo and Juliet, a couple of kids in a hurry. He doesn’t even bother to drop in on his family, just runs off to crash Capulet’s party, proposes to a girl before the first date, insists on a jumped-up wedding, then gets himself kicked out of the city, and he still hasn’t been home for dinner.

She mouths off to her father, tells him what she will and will not do, and he’s just told her what a nice husband he’s picked out for her. It’s no wonder he tells her to fettle her fine joints or he’ll drag her to church on a hurdle. I mean, if you were a parent and your daughter spoke to you in that tone of voice, would you pat her hand and ask what’s wrong, or would you remind her who’s boss here?

If Romeo had just gone home in the first place, like any decent boy would, instead of running off with his friends, this mess wouldn’t have occurred.

In fact, since Old Montague and Old Capulet had that very afternoon been sworn to keep the peace, they might have arranged a marriage between Romeo and Juliet—formed an alliance that way—and the whole of Verona would have lived happily ever after, and Montague would have been spared the expense of a gold Juliet statue. Paris might have been a little put out at being jilted, but he’d have gotten over it. Kids! They don’t think.

When I hit forty, however, I developed the dogma of the Meddlesome Priest. Friar Laurence has no business performing a secret marriage between two minors without parental consent. He says he wants to promote peace, but he isn’t a diplomat. His field is pharmacology.

Furthermore, when Juliet informs him she’s about to acquire an extra husband, why doesn’t he go right then to her father and tell the man she’s married? Capulet wouldn’t have been pleased, but he’d have gotten over it.

Instead, the Friar gives Juliet a sedative and stuffs her into a tomb with a passel of her relatives in varying stages of disrepair.

The man appears to mean well, but it’s also possible he intends to take credit for being the brains behind the peace accords.

Bunglesome or corrupt—the end is the same. With role models like this, are we surprised that children run amok?

Soon after the last epiphany, I ended my stint as a classroom teacher. I’ve wondered what would have happened if I’d continued studying Romeo and Juliet with students year after year.

Would I have had new insights? Developed new interpretations? Uncovered new layers of meaning?

How much more would I have shared with my students? Would I have continued to teach them respect and reverence? Would I have led them down the primrose path of dalliance and left them mired in levity?

How much more would I have seen in myself?

###

This post first appeared on Telling the Truth, Mainly on April 22, 2019, under the title “T Is for Time: #atozchallenge.” 

Remarkable how a stolid, stick-like, straightforward

can, in a only a year, evolve into a curving, curling, growling dog’s name.***

 

###

 

***Nurse.
Doth not rosemary and Romeo begin both with a letter?

Romeo.
Ay, nurse; what of that? both with an R.

Nurse.
Ah, mocker! that’s the dog’s name. R is for the dog: no; I
know it begins with some other letter:–and she hath the
prettiest sententious of it, of you and rosemary, that it would
do you good to hear it.

~ Romeo and Juliet, Act II, scene iv

###

Find more #AtoZChallenge posts here.

The Great Throwing-Away: Tomato Soup Cake

The Great Throwing-Away continues to unearth items I refuse to throw away.

Today it’s The Household Searchlight Recipe Book my mother acquired, according to the inside cover, in 1940.

It’s had a hard life. I referred to page 77 repeatedly during my Divinity Phase, when I was eleven. Every rainy weekend—and there were more of them back them—I made divinity. It never set. I knew it wouldn’t, and I didn’t care. I didn’t like divinity all that much, but I enjoyed using the candy thermometer. The divinity always turned out sticky and had to be eaten with a spoon, but it was perfectly good.

Anyway, the highlight of the cookbook appears in the back, written in pencil, under “Additional Recipes”: Tomato Soup Spice Cake.

I grew up hearing the Legend of the Tomato Soup Cake: “Ted [my mother’s uncle Ted Lynn] was always saying, ‘Crys, when are you going to make me a tomato soup cake?’ That was his favorite.” For some reason, maybe because my father was more of a chocolate- and lemon meringue pie addict, I never got a glimpse of the cake. I don’t think I wanted to. I was addicted to Campbell’s tomato soup (cream of, made with milk and mushy with saltine crackers) but cake and tomato soup sounded incompatible (like bleh). I was in my twenties when I finally insisted on seeing what Ted was so crazy about.

Well, Ted was right. For anyone who likes spice cake, this is the one. For anyone who doesn’t like spice cake, this could be a game changer. The layers are velvety. The icing is a candy in itself.

My mother got the recipe from—if I remember correctly—the wife of the Methodist minister in Martindale, Texas, in the late 1930s. Instructions were dictated and lack detail. I’ve inserted a few extra steps in brackets. Some I remember doing myself. My mom might have directed the operation the first time I baked it, or she might have written out a fuller version for me.

And before anyone asks, I have no idea how to define a scant teaspoon.

Tomato Soup Spice Cake

Layers

2 cups tomato soup [2 cups canned soup, not the entire two cans]
1 cup melted butter
2 cups sugar
3 eggs – optional
1 handful raisins
2 scant tsp. soda

[A wisp of memory said to dredge raisins in flour before mixing with other ingredients. Specifically, I remember saying, “What does, ‘Dredge raisins mean?'” BUT, on second thought, I believe dredged raisins went into my grandmother’s applesauce cake, not into the tomato soup cake. I hate to make this difficult, but I haven’t baked either since the 1980s.*]

Cream butter and sugar, add 2 scant teaspoons soda to soup and add to sugar and butter mixture.

Sift together:

4 scant cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. cloves
3 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. all spice
1/2 tsp. mace (or nutmeg)

[Add sifted dry ingredients to wet ingredients and blend.]

Add 3 tsp. vanilla to mixture.

Makes 2 large or 3 medium layers. [For best results, make 3 layers. See “Further instructions from Kathy,” below.]

[Pour into cake pans. Bake. Possibly at 350 degrees.]

Icing

This:

1 Phila. cream cheese
? powdered sugar
? vanilla

[The corner of the page is missing, so I don’t know how much powdered sugar and vanilla are called for. Check online, act on experience, or guess. But if the online recipe calls for butter, don’t add it.]

or [and!]

This:

1 C milk
2 C sugar
1 C dates [Pitted dates. And a warning: 1 cup doesn’t sound like enough. In fact, I’m not sure this makes enough icing to cover three layers. If you increase the recipe and have some left over, that will be all right, because the extra can be eaten as candy.]

Boil to soft ball and add dates before taking off.

Add 1 tablespoon butter afterward.

[Another warning: After butter is added, the icing may need to be beaten a bit. I think it does. Fudge and pecan pralines do.]

 

Further instructions from Kathy:

Now. This is what the all the fuss was about.

Make 3 layers.

Make the second “This” icing with milk, sugar, and dates. Ice the tops of layers.

Make the first “This” icing with cream cheese. Ice the sides of the cake.

My experience: Do not try to slice in wedges. The candy icing hardens/sets and can make slicing difficult.

Instead, bisect the cake—a bread knife and a light touch can help—and then make cuts perpendicular to the cross cut. (The icing might have hardened because I cooked it too long. But I think it’s supposed to set that way. Like divinity does when the humidity is low.)

I’ve seen similar recipes online, but none looks like it would match this beast. Combine three layers of light, velvety cake with two kinds of icing, and the end product is simply devastating.

The Tomato Soup Cake recipe is included in a cookbook published by the Fentress Volunteer Fire Department Auxiliary (or maybe it was the church?) in the 1970s or ’80s. I don’t have my copy any more, so I can’t verify, but one of the ingredients may have been recorded incorrectly. I seem to remember—lots of my memories are wispy these days—using it and coming out with an unexpected result.

According to WorldCat, The Household Searchlight Recipe Book is housed in the collections of the Turpin Library (Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, TX), the Texas Woman’s University Library (Denton, TX), the Marfa Public Library (Marfa, TX), the Alcorn State University Library (Lorman, MS), the Perry Memorial Library (Perryton, TX), and the Conway Springs City Library (Conway Springs, KS).

It receives excellent reviews on Goodreads. Various editions are available on Amazon.

***

*I haven’t baked much of anything since the 1980s.

D Is for Stinky, Ruffy, and a Dollop of Muggs*: #atozchallenge

Probably no one man should have as many dogs in his life as I have had, but there was more pleasure than distress in them for me except in the case of an Airedale named Muggs. He gave me more trouble than all the other fifty-four or -five put together, although my moment of keenest embarrassment was the time a Scotch terrier named Jeannie, who had just had six puppies in the clothes closet of a fourth floor apartment in New York, had the unexpected seventh and last at the corner of Eleventh Street and Fifth Avenue during a walk she had insisted on taking.

~ James Thurber, “The Dog That Bit People”

 

Now you would probably rather read “The Dog That Bit People” instead of the rest of this post, and so would I, but bear with me for the next few paragraphs and then you can do what you want.

The Muggs James Thurber references was a “big, burly, choleric” Airedale who acted as if Thurber wasn’t one of the family. “There was a slight advantage in being one of the family, for he didn’t bite the family as often as he bit strangers.” Over the years, he bit everyone but Thurber’s mother, “and he made a pass at her once but missed.” Mrs. Thurber felt sorry for Muggs and often said, “He’s not strong.” Thurber says, ” [B]ut that was inaccurate; he may not have been well but he was terribly strong.” He was also sorry after he bit someone, she said, but Thurber observed he didn’t act sorry either. Mrs. Thurber’s philosophy was, “If you didn’t think he would bite you, he wouldn’t,” but the ice man didn’t buy it. “Once when Muggs bit Mrs. Rufus Sturtevant and again when he bit Lieutenant-Governor Malloy” she told the cops “that it hadn’t been Muggs’ fault but the fault of the people who were bitten. ‘When he starts for them, they scream,’ she explained, ‘and that excites him.'” The time he emerged from under the couch and bit elderly Mrs. Detweiler, Mrs. Thurber said it was just a bruise and, “He just bumped you,” but “Mrs. Detweiler left the house in a nasty state of mind.”

I met Muggs and got to know him intimately (practice, practice, practice) for a high school prose reading competition, and I’ve loved him ever since.

Well, enough. If you want to read the story, here’s the link, but I hope you’ll wait till I’ve told you about my dogs.

First came Stinky, when I was about three years old. He was a rat terrier. My dad had tied a rope to the handle of my little red wagon so he wouldn’t have to bend double when he pulled me around in it. Stinky watched, and, intelligent dog that he was, often took hold of the rope and replaced my dad at the helm. He also took the helm when I wasn’t in the wagon; on hot, moonlit summer nights, through their open bedroom windows, my parents heard him pulling the wagon around the back yard. I don’t remember it, but I was told that one day I ran into the house crying as if my heart would break and said, “I hit Stinky.” I know what happened–I had invited him to jump up on me, and he did, but pretty soon I’d had enough and he hadn’t, and I hit him to get him to back off. My heart was breaking, and over sixty years later, I still get teary when I think of it. I’m always sorry after I’ve someone. Except for my friend Phyllis, but that’s a story for another time. H, perhaps, for hit.

My mother brought home Ruffy, a Border Collie-Shepherd mix, when he was only four weeks old. The giver insisted that was old enough. It wasn’t. The acquisition of a second dog surprised my father, who, I presume, thought it should be a family decision (even at that age I was surprised they didn’t discuss it, but I suppose Mother thought a 2/3 majority was enough), but he didn’t say anything, simply set his jaw in the same way he did the summer before my senior year of college when I said I was going to drop out and go to work for the IRS. I stayed in college and got my degree, but if I hadn’t, I’d have been spared a lot of school-teacher grief and would now have federal employee health insurance, which is a super deal.

(My dad played ball with all our dogs when he thought no one was looking.)

Except for a white bib and little brown “eyebrows,” Ruffy was all black, even his eyes; his hair was thick and wavy. His official name was Rough Bones, which shows why you should never ask a pre-schooler what she wants to name a pet. We gave our dogs bones from steaks and roasts, and they gnawed on and then hid them in the lush St. Augustine grass, and I stepped on them with my perpetually bare feet and cried out in pain. Two or three times a day. At four weeks, Ruffy wasn’t yet weaned, so Mother had to feed him warm milk mixed with white Karo syrup from little doll bottles I’d gotten for Christmas. At first I woke for the four a.m. feeding–yip yip yip–but soon stopped hearing his call and slept through it.

As a young adult, Ruffy, who spent most of his time confined to a big back yard plus the adjoining quarter-acre of chicken yard that lay on the other side of the driveway, chased a twelve-year-old neighbor boy who was passing the house, and ran another one up onto the porch across the street. The stiff, heavy pocket of his new jeans saved the second one from puncture wounds. After that occurrence, we confined the dog for ten days, the time prescribed for making sure he didn’t have rabies (he’d been vaccinated).

My parents took his behavior seriously but my mom noted that both boys teased him through the hog wire fence every time they walked down the street. She believed the dog considered himself provoked; she definitely considered him provoked. (She’d told the boys to stop teasing him, to no avail.)

However, when some of Mother’s out-of-town relatives couldn’t rouse anyone at the front door and offered to enter the back yard through the picket gate, Ruffy told them in no uncertain terms not to bother.  We decided he was being a conscientious, if overzealous, watch dog. We weren’t home when they came and so couldn’t call him off. Considering these particular relatives, I thought he’d been provoked.

(When it came to me, my parents always gave the dog the benefit of the doubt. “You know Sabre snaps when you pet him; leave him alone.” Sabre, my cousins’ Cocker Spaniel, didn’t often see me, and didn’t like me bothering him (probably didn’t like me at all), and he did snap, and I knew he would snap, but he was a dog and I couldn’t help myself. I saw a dog, I petted the dog. When common sense set in, about the time I was forty, I learned restraint.)

The situation with Ruffy became clear, unfortunately, the evening we had a yard full of other relatives sitting in lawn chairs and eight-year-old Sharan appeared from down the street. While she was standing in the middle of the family circle, Ruffy walked up, in my mother’s words, “smiling, with his tongue lolling out and his tail wagging,” and bit her on the thigh.

I was in the house and didn’t see him bite. When they told me they had to take Ruffy to Dr. Matthews to be watched for ten days, and then Dr. Matthews would find him another home, I cried so hard they gave me a St. Joseph’s (baby) aspirin and put me to bed. The aspirin didn’t help. Dr. Matthews told my parents Ruffy was too good a dog to put down, and he would give him to some rancher living out in the country, away from little girl visitors. I was sad but understood. Later Dr. Matthews told them that when the ranchers he offered Ruffy to learned he’d bitten someone, they declined to take him, and so . . .  It was years before I realized what had happened to him. I asked and was told the whole story.

We later learned that Smoky, a litter mate owned by another family in town, also bit. They were both sweet, beautiful dogs, good playmates for their children, and we wondered if there was something in the genes that prompted them to bite strangers. Probably not.

I have pictures of Stinky and Ruffy, but they’re not, shall we say, accessible, so I can’t post them. The dogs pictured here don’t do them justice.

So. I’ve expended all these words on two dogs. Like Thurber, I’ve probably had more dogs than one person should have, but I’ll have to write about the rest of them later, perhaps for M, as in More Dogs.

Okay. Go read “The Dog That Bit People.” You’ll be glad you did.

***

*D is also for Dogs.

***

I wish I could post pictures of Muggs, but I’m sure they’re under copyright. However, the two links in the second paragraph take you to Thurber’s sketches of him.

Image of James Thurber by Fred Palumbo, via Wikipedia. Public domain.

Image of Rat Terrier by kteri3565, via Pixabay.com

Image of Border Collie by PascalCottel, via Pixabay.com

Just Like Audrey, Almost

Those who’ll play with cats must expect to be scratched.

~ Miguel de Cervantes

Some consequences you can predict. Some you can’t predict. Some you should predict but don’t.

It’s the last of the three that’ll get you.

I had just read a brief bio in my memoir class and turned to leave the lectern, when something in my left hip went pop. Not an audible pop, but a pop nonetheless. I limped back to my chair.

With David (poor thing) half carrying me, I staggered across the parking lot, groaning every time my left foot touched the ground. At home, neighbors had the pleasure of hearing me ascend the steps and walk to the door. Yelp, yelp, yelp.

Getting into and out of the car was worse. I couldn’t climb in as usual.

Get into a car like Audrey Hepburn does, my mother said. Sit sideways, then swing both legs in. The Emily post method.

Phooey on Audrey and Emily.

Until hip day. That’s when I learned Audrey had an advantage. She had leather seats she could slide on. I have fabric that grabs your breeches and holds on. Entering and exiting, I didn’t yelp. I shrieked.

The pain wasn’t exactly excruciating, I guess, but it was close.

At home I fell into a chair, texted my massage therapist, whom I hadn’t seen in over a year, and begged for an appointment. That’s how panicky I was. I hate texting.

Anyway, the next day, David hauled me (shriek) to her office. She mashed my spine back into place, then laid her hands lightly around me just below the waist, and said, “How do you sit when you use your laptop? Is it right in front of you?”

And I said, “Noooooooooooooo.” And thought, Well, d’oh.

This is the way I sit when I use my laptop:

“Uh-huh,” she said, “I can tell you’ve been sitting crooked.”

So what’s  girl to do?

A girl’s going to do whatever it takes to stop the pain.

But the guilt was excruciating. Ernest has only recently learned to liiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeee downnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn, sometimes without being begged, or even ordered, as if it’s his own idea.

He’s the only cat I’ve ever had who followed instructions. Or, more likely, said to himself, She’s been a good and faithful servant. If this is so important to her, I’ll cooperate. I taught him to sit that way. It prevented him from laying his head on the keyboard and typing. (Once he sent an email.) I didn’t realize my hip would suffer.

And he’s a Velcro cat. He can’t help that I have to move the laptop waaaaay over to the left and stretch sideways to reach the keyboard. He needs almost constant physical contact. Denying him my lap could crush his spirit. He’s sensitive.

But for the most part, he’s done well. I gave the I-wuv-oo-oodles-but-we-can’t-go-on-sitting-like-this speech, and he gave up and moved down to lean on my leg.

Mostly. We’ve had wrestling matches. Occasionally I catch him sitting in a straight-backed chair across the room, his lips set in a grim line, staring at me. But over all, we sit in peaceful companionship.

I saw the massage therapist a second time.

My hip has improved.

And the best news is that, with practice, I’ve learned to get into a car like Audrey Hepburn.

*

Audrey’s legs aren’t visible in this clip, but you can get the drift. She does the swing-around about 1:35. That might not be leather upholstery, but she’s had more practice than I have.

100-Word Story: You’ll Be Fine

PHOTO PROMPT © Fatima Fakier Deria

GENRE: One line of fiction. The rest is truth.
100 words

Dedicated to my dear cousin Mary Veazey, who said, “Let’s go on a cruise.”
I have almost forgiven her.

POETIC JUSTICE or, YOU’LL BE FINE

 

Beautiful . . . waves, sunset . . .

Deck chairs . . .

Two nights at sea, then—shopping in Can Cún.

Uh-uh. Swimming, sunbathing, siestas. Bar open yet?

#

Soooooo relaxing. Waves rocked me to sleep.

Hurry, let’s claim our chairs.

Breakfast?

Chairs. There’s pizza near the pool.

#

I’m queasy.

Wearing your patch?

Don’t have one.

Sit here. Sea air helps. ‘Bye.

#

Find a doctor.

You’ll be fine.

Move, or I’ll ruin your sneakers.

#

I’m going home . . .

You’ve had a shot of phenergan—you’ll be fine.

. . . if I have to swim.

#

Phenergan worked! I’m fine. Let’s shop till we drop.

. . . I’m queasy.

*****

For more stories by Friday Fictioneers, click the Frog:

Young and Brave and Naive and Amazingly Stupid… but Successful

A long time ago, when I was young and brave,* I herded about forty ninth-grade students onto a school bus and took them to San Antonio, thirty miles away, to a matinée performance of Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. 

The day before the event, I learned that two girls planned to skip the trip. They were going to attend school but to sit in the library while the rest of the English class sat in a theater.

I consulted the principal. He consulted the girls. The girls decided they would go to see Romeo and Juliet with the rest of us.

English: Woodcut "Verona" from "...
English: Woodcut “Verona” from “Romeo and Juliet” from the 1847 edition of The Illustrated Shakespeare (Photo credit: Wikipedia). See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I hadn’t seen the movie and was surprised to learn that at least one major event–the sword fight between Romeo and Paris outside the Capulet tomb–had been omitted. Shakespeare’s plays are long, movies move more slowly than dramas at the Globe did, so something had to go.

Still, of all the deaths in the play–Mercutio’s, Tybalt’s, Paris’, Romeo’s, Juliet’s–Paris’ seems to me the saddest. Paris is the one innocent character: neither Montague nor Capulet, he has no enemies, seeks no revenge, but simply loves Juliet, and dies trying to prevent Romeo from (as he thinks) desecrating her tomb. Friar Laurence describes what he found in the churchyard when he came to wake Juliet:

But when I came, some minute ere the time
Of her awaking, here untimely lay
The noble Paris and true Romeo dead.
She wakes; and I entreated her come forth,
And bear this work of heaven with patience:
But then a noise did scare me from the tomb;
And she, too desperate, would not go with me,
But, as it seems, did violence on herself.

Three deaths in the last minutes of the play. Omitting one lessens the impact of the other two. But only for viewers already familiar with the play, I suppose. If you don’t know that much about Paris, you probably don’t miss him.

Something else surprised me, too: the unobstructed view of Romeo’s bare backside we got when he heard the lark and hopped out of bed. But in a theater packed with fourteen-year-olds, I heard not one giggle. That is my definition of success.**

And the day got even better. On our return to school, the principal came out to meet the bus. He and I were standing together, making sure students headed toward the building and not away from it, when the girls who’d threatened to boycott the play walked by.

“Well,” he said, “what did you think of it?”

One of them tossed her head and said over her shoulder, in the tone of bored superiority only a fourteen-year-old can produce, “They didn’t even show the scene where Paris died.”

That, dear reader, is my other definition of success.

Why do I write about R&J tonight? Because the Zeffirelli version is on the late movie, and I’m watching as I remember.

But now I’m going to turn off the television and make my way to bed.

Because I’ve already seen my favorite part, Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech:

MERCUTIO
then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate-stone
On the fore-finger of an alderman,
Drawn with a team of little atomies
Athwart men’s noses as they lie asleep;
Her wagon-spokes made of long spinners’ legs,
The cover of the wings of grasshoppers,
The traces of the smallest spider’s web,
The collars of the moonshine’s watery beams,
Her whip of cricket’s bone, the lash of film,
Her wagoner a small grey-coated gnat,
Not so big as a round little worm
Prick’d from the lazy finger of a maid;
Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
Time out o’ mind the fairies’ coachmakers.
And in this state she gallops night by night
Through lovers’ brains, and then they dream of love;
O’er courtiers’ knees, that dream on court’sies straight,
O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees,
O’er ladies o’ lips, who straight on kisses dream,
Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues,
Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are:
Sometime she gallops o’er a courtier’s nose,
And then dreams he of smelling out a suit;
And sometime comes she with a tithe-pig’s tail
Tickling a parson’s nose as a’ lies asleep,
Then dreams, he of another benefice:
Sometime she driveth o’er a soldier’s neck,
And then dreams he of cutting foreign throats,
Of breaches, ambuscadoes, Spanish blades,
Of healths five-fathom deep; and then anon
Drums in his ear, at which he starts and wakes,
And being thus frighted swears a prayer or two
And sleeps again. This is that very Mab
That plats the manes of horses in the night,
And bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs,
Which once untangled, much misfortune bodes:
This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,
That presses them and learns them first to bear,
Making them women of good carriage:
This is she—

ROMEO
Peace, peace, Mercutio, peace!
Thou talk’st of nothing.

MERCUTIO
True, I talk of dreams…

And I already know what happens later. They don’t even show the scene where Paris died.

*****

*  … and naive and amazingly stupid.

** On network TV, Romeo’s bare backside is blurry. That is my definition of turning tragedy into comedy.

SCN Stories from the Heart Conference 2012: Saying Yes

Linda Hoye, one of my sisters in Story Circle Network, reminded me today that SCN’s Stories from the Heart Conference 2012 will take place April 13-15, here in Austin. She’ll be there. Sisters I’ve met in person or online will be there. Sisters I would like to meet will be there.

Will I be there?

I’m dithering. But I think the answer is Yes.

You see, I attended the 2008 conference and benefited in ways I can’t begin to describe. In 2010, however, citing fiscal responsibility and restraint (aka saintly self-denial), I did not attend. Later, I told a friend it was a good thing I hadn’t arranged to go, because on the weekend of the conference I was sick in bed. She responded, “You were sick because you didn’t go to the conference.” She was right.

Story Circle Network, a nonprofit organization with an international membership, exists to help women write their life stories and share them with each other and with posterity. Conference workshops focus on ways to get those stories onto the page. There’s a keynote speech by a noted author, and social hours, and a farewell luncheon with entertainment, and an evening of sharing at an open mike. I could go into detail, but I won’t. All the information is on the webpage.

Anyway, some things can’t be scheduled. The most memorable moment of the 2008 conference wasn’t on the program.

It happened Saturday evening where a dozen or so strangers were gathered around a table in the hotel restaurant, having dinner and talking about our lives.

One of the women, Jean, said she had moved to San Antonio in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She had been traveling when the hurricane hit, and her home in New Orleans had been spared, but at her age, she could never feel secure living there again. She was seriously depressed; she had lost her home and way of life, the relative she had come to live with had died, and no one could understand the trauma she had experienced. She felt hopeless.

Midway through the meal, the restaurant manager, a tall, young African-American woman, stopped by the table to make sure service had been adequate. She asked about the conference. One of the diners explained why we were there and invited her to write with us.

“Oh, I’m not a writer.”

In Story Circle, that excuse means nothing.  “Then maybe you have a story to tell.”

Oh, yes,” she said, “I have a story.” And, in a voice that drew us in, she launched into an account that went something like this:

I was in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit. I managed the food services at a nursing home for elderly nuns. We helped get the nuns evacuated, but there was no room for anyone else, so all the staff stayed behind. Some of the people had gone and gotten their children, so they were with us, too. When the water began to rise, we went upstairs, but the water kept rising,  so we got on the roof. We were up there for days, with helicopters going over, and us waving and shouting, but they ignored us. When the waters went down, some of us went looking for food, because we had nothing. We waded through the flood to a grocery store where we found some bread, and we carried it back, but our legs broke out in ulcers from the chemicals polluting the water. When the helicopters finally landed, they wanted to take the children, but we said, No, if you take the children, we’ll never see them again. We kept the children with us. We were up there for two weeks. When I finally got out, I found my brother in Chicago and went to him, but the city was too big. I needed somewhere smaller and more like home, so I came to Austin and got this job. But I can’t forget, and nobody here really understands what I’ve been through.

When she stopped talking, the room was hushed. We must have looked like wide-eyed children listening to a ghost story. Then someone said, “There’s a lady here who needs to talk to you,” and led her to Jean.

Later, discussing what had happened around that table, one of the listeners called it holy.

That’s exactly what it was.

And that’s why for all my dithering, I really have no choice. I’m going to have to say Yes.

The Tale of Kerwin, Part II: Ostracism

In yesterday’s post, I introduced my first best teaching story, that of Kerwin. Tonight brings that story’s stirring conclusion.

If you have not read Part I, please do so now. Part II will pack a much harder punch if you know what came before.

Since publishing Part I, I’ve realized I failed to name the librarian who serves as our main character. For convenience, I shall call her Mary.

And before beginning, I once again emphasize that although I know every detail of this story, and that Mary’s every thought and emotion resonates with me as if it were mine alone–even so, the story is not mine. The fact that Mary is my name as well as hers is mere coincidence.

Now to resume.

You recall that Mary has been stressed almost to the point of saying a word she has never said. And that it is the Class from Hail that she fears she will say it to.

I will not identify the C from H except to say that its students were old enough to know better. Period.

Mary and the C from H had maintained a peaceful coexistence for several months without incident. Mary had simply begun carrying a strong antacid in her purse on their class day.

On the day we meet them, Mary has prepared a lesson on reference books. She has made a set of transparencies. She plans to lecture. She plans to assign class work. She has great expectations. In the next forty-five minutes, she will turn the C from H into crack encyclopedia users.

Things did not go as Mary planned. Students came barreling across campus from the gymnasium. They were jiggly. They were wild. They did not care to sit and listen. Every time Mary opened her mouth, one of the C from H opened his or her mouth and spoke a gross irrelevancy. Mary thought about the antacid in her purse.

When, after eight or ten interruptions, Mary thought she had things under control, she began her lecture–again–but here came Kerwin. Late. Loud. Fully aware of the production he was making of himself.

Mary stopped, got Kerwin settled in his chair, got him settled again, got everybody settled again. Then she began–how many times now?–her talk.

For some reason, Kerwin decided he needed to move his chair. Halfway across the room. He stood, reached between his legs, took the seat of the chair in hand, and scooted it backwards across the carpet.

Now for another digression. I have described Mary as soft-spoken, polite, well-mannered. She was. But when pushed too far, Mary sometimes snapped. She increased in height. She became majestic. She spoke–not loudly–but even more softly, but in majestic, measured tones. She became Maya Angelou, Dame Edith Evans, John Gielgud, and the Incredible Hulk, all rolled into one. She was a most impressive sight.

And when Kerwin and his chair went scooting across the room, Mary snapped.

She strode over to Kerwin and took him oh-so-gently by the nape of the neck.

“Come with me,” she said. She turned and marched Kerwin to the door to the front room.

She had no idea where she was going or what she was going to do when she got there.

Once in the front room, she saw a chair by the front door. She marched Kerwin over to it.

“Sit there and don’t move,” she said.

She waved to the computer teacher to let her know Kerwin was there. Then she walked–majestically–back to the C from H.

When she walked in, the C from H were sitting at their tables. They were hushed. Their eyes were enormous.

Mary walked to the overhead projector, switched it on, pointed to the first transparency, and defined encyclopedia. She talked and talked and talked about the encyclopedia.

The C from H sat and stared with their great big eyes.

Finally, one of the C from H mustered enough courage to speak.

“Where’s Kerwin?” he said.

Mary answered, as if she’d never even heard of an antacid, “Kerwin has been ostracized.”

And in the little silence that followed, she saw one member of the C from H lean toward his neighbor and heard him whisper:

“She castrated him?”

If Mary’s career had a high point, this was it. Because she kept her cool. She got right back to her lecture.

She did not smile. She did not laugh. She did not fall on the floor and have a first-class case of hysterics.

She maintained her dignity.

When the time came, she escorted her class to the back door and shooed them out. Then she packed up her transparencies, shelved some books, did whatever had to be done before leaving campus.

Twenty minutes later, when she walked into the front room to return a reference book, she found Kerwin, still sitting in the chair by the door.

She’d forgotten to dismiss him.

He hadn’t moved a muscle.

Day 29: W. F. Ward, Confectioner, 1958

 

Out on the porch it’s August,
But it’s cool inside and dim, one bulb suspending from a cord.
A slim brunette holding a bottle of Royal Crown Cola
Smiles down from above the mirror.
In the back, where it’s dark and you’ve never been,
Sit two small, dusty tables and four delicate chairs.
Once, flappers and their beaus
Sipped sodas there and flirted,
But now they’re ghosts.
Behind the marble counter stands Dick Ward,
Eighty years old to your seven, and deaf, and wiry as the chairs,
Blue eyes dancing.
“Chocolate, please,” you say.
He leans down, tilts his head.
“What?”
You stand on tiptoe, breathe deep, shout.
“Chocolate!”
Of course, it’s just a game, because
He knew before he asked.
He dives down, disappears into the marble, rises with a cone,
Huge, double-dipped,
And proffers it.
You hand him your nickel.
“Thank you.”
As you turn to leave, Mr. Perry shuffles in.
“Bugler!” he rasps,
And as Dick reaches for the tobacco
You know that’s wrong,
Because your grandfather smokes Bull Durham,
And anyway,
How could anyone pass up chocolate?

~~~~~~~~~~

“W. F. Ward, Confectioner, 1958” first appeared in the 2008 issue of True Words Anthology, a publication of Story Circle Network.