Friday, December 30, 2011

No! I Don't Want To Join A Book Club

Either by accident or on purpose, or "accidentally on purpose" as Mom used to say when I answered "it was an accident" when she asked why I had hit my little sister, I have been trying to break out of my reading comfort zones - trying new authors, different genres, etc.
Ordinarily I pass right by these stylized "fun" book covers - I don't want to read fun. But this one I picked up (probably because of the title and my track record with book clubs) long enough to read the blurb on the inside cover. "A delightful novel about letting go of youth and embracing the sassy curmudgeon within", I read. Curmudgeonly - that could describe my attitude lately. Reading on: "A wonderfully astute novel based on the author's own experiences, No! I Don't Want To Join A Book Club is the funny - and often poignant - fictionalized diary of an older woman a decade or two past her prime and content to have it all behind her."
Virginia Ironside currently writes the "Dilemmas" weekly advice column for The Independent in London. The heading of her website is "The Virginia Monologues". I've added it to my favorites list.
I laughed aloud so many times while reading her book and kept regaling Bud with passages too funny to keep to myself. I really identified with the 60+ year old diarist and her attitudes. Perhaps I should read more fun books.

I first read John Hart when I picked up the paper back version of his second novel, Down River, when we were on a trip. I liked it so much I came home to read his first novel, The King of Lies, which was the only book of his our library had at the time. Iron House is Hart's fourth book. The title comes from an orphanage in the mountains of North Carolina. Two brothers, the older, strong, the younger, weak, struggle to survive cold, hunger and brutal bullying from a gang of older inmates. When the gang leader is accidentally killed in self-defense, the older brother, Michael, flees the orphanage so the blame will be placed on him. Timing couldn't be worse, as the wife of a rich senator is on her way to adopt the two boys. She rescues the younger brother, Julian, but Michael can't be found.
For two decades, Michael has been an enforcer for one of New York's biggest mob bosses. Michael has met a woman and fallen in love. He wants out of the business and the mob boss has given his blessing. But the old man is dying and his son is intent on making Michael pay for his betrayal. Determined to protect the ones he loves, Michael takes his girlfriend back to North Carolina to the place he was born and the brother he lost so long ago. There he encounters a whole new level of danger, deceit and violence that leads inexorably back to the place he's been running from his whole life - Iron House.
There are some pretty gruesome torture scenes in this book. Why I can read some author's graphic descriptions and not others, I don't understand. Perhaps it is because Hart's scenes don't seem gratuitous. Perhaps he is just a better writer - he did win back-to-back Edgars for Down River and The Last Child - which is now on my 'find and read list'.

Elizabeth Adler is an author to read if you want to escape to Malibu, Amalfi, Venice, Tuscany, Paris or Monte Carlo - as in It All Began in Monte Carlo. I've read many of her novels and they do all provide a wonderful 'escape' from Midwest reality. Who wouldn't want to be in a fabulous hotel on the Mediterranean? This book has it all: romance, mystery (who's robbing top class jewelry stores of all their diamonds?), private jets, lots of champagne drinking, a movie star, a TV detective, and a mysterious Indian woman. It is a quick, fun, read - good for transporting one from winter in Iowa to sunny beaches in Monte Carlo.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Won't You Ride In My Little Red Wagon?

"Won't you ride in my little red wagon? I'd love to pull you down the street. I'll bet all the kids will be jealous when they see my playmate so sweet. Hold tight till we come to the hilltop, then we'll coast down the hill you and me. Won't you ride in my little red wagon, for you are my sweetheart to be." (Written by Rex Griffin and covered by many artists including Hank Thompson, Willie Nelson and Hank Penny, whose theme song it was.)
I first saw one of these American Radio Flyer Town & Country wagons when we moved back to West Des Moines in 1984. The woman in the apartment below us had one she pulled her little boy around in. I thought they were so cute. When I bought one for Ki for Christmas in the 1990's, they cost close to $100.

Ronald Lynam and Norman Firkins in back yard 1941
Compare that to what Mom & Dad paid for Ron's first wagon. Prices advertised in the Free Press in December, 1941 were $1.19 and $1.69 for steel wagons with rubber wheels at Biggar's while Sickler and Keever had them for 99 cents.
Betty and Ramona Lynam 1946
Ron may have still had his wagon by the time Betty and I came along, but it took a larger version to hold the two of us. Those little red wagons came in many different sizes - still do - though now many of them are made from plastic rather than metal.
A few years after this picture was taken, we had a flat bed wagon that was used to haul buckets of feed across the barnyard as well as being played with. The back wheel on the right side came off and rather than find a bolt to fix it, Dad put a nail through the axle to hold the wheel on, then bent the nail, leaving the pointed end sticking out some.
Ron, Betty and I were playing in the front yard. Mom and Dad had gone up to the other place to chore. I had my left leg on the wagon, pushing it with my right foot when the nail went into the soft part below my ankle and back out. I was impaled! All the time I was screaming bloody murder, Ron was trying his best to get my foot off the nail. He sent Betty running up the road yelling to get Mom. By the time she got there, Ron had managed to get me untangled so all she had to do was console me and bandage my owie with green salve. I'm sure she also made certain that Dad found a bolt to fix the wagon wheel!
When Doug was five and he and I lived in Cedar Rapids, my boss at the time gave me his sons' trike with wagon attached so I would have a Christmas present for Doug. They had out-grown it and it was still in really good shape. Doug had had a small wagon and a trike when he was little, but they both got left at his Dad's when we moved. (When we moved from Cedar Rapids to Des Moines the following June, my boss took the trike/wagon back.)
Leslie Lynam and kittens 1955

This picture of my little brother with his wagon load of kittens is a favourite of mine. I can imagine Betty and I singing to him: "You can't ride in my red wagon, the wheels are broken and the axle's draggin' - same song, same verse, but a little bit louder and a little bit worse: (Repeat - repeat again until finally:) YOU CAN'T RIDE IN MY RED WAGON! THE WHEELS ARE BROKEN AND THE AXLE'S DRAGGIN'!"

Preston received a wagon for Christmas one year also. His was the medium sized one. When we moved to the apartment in West Des Moines, his wagon stayed on the farm with Mom. She used it to carry feed buckets for her pigs and cows.

Do Mom's still sing "Won't You Ride In My Little Red Wagon?" as they pull their children along in the wagons they got for Christmas?

Monday, December 26, 2011

December 26 - Boxing Day

Boxing Day, St. Stephen's Day, Day of the Wren, Day of Goodwill, Second Christmas Day - all names recognized for the day after Christmas. Personally, I like "Day of the Wren" the best, not just because it is Irish, but also for my love of the little birds. It is a legal holiday in Great Britain and its Commonwealth nations - Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc.
The term Boxing Day dates back to the Middle Ages and may come from the opening and distribution of the alms boxes in celebration of the Feast of St. Stephen on December 26.
Another explanation for the name of the day after Christmas in England was the practice of wealthy landowners' giving their servants boxes of gifts, leftover food, bonuses and the day off to visit their own families to ensure that the landowners' Christmas Day went smoothly - a bribe if you will - that became known as Boxing Day.

With an English grandmother, I'm sure my Grandma Bessie Lynam was familiar with Boxing Day even if it was no longer practiced by her time. In this picture taken on the back steps at Aunt Leona's in Davenport in the summer of 1953, Grandma is separating Betty, age 7, on the left and me, age 9, on the right. This is about the ages we were when boxing day had its own meaning for us.........
 .....when Dad came home with a couple pairs of old boxing gloves which looked much like the ones pictured here. Betty and I were less than two years apart in age. It was quite common for us to squabble - even actually fighting with one another occasionally.
Dad decided we should settle our differences by punching out our anger. He would lace us up in the old boxing gloves and tell us to "fight it out" - believing that we could get rid of our frustrations without actually getting hurt. I'm sure it was comical to watch the two of us trying to land a punch on the other. It was even kind of fun for a few times but I remember the concept as quickly growing old - back to kicking, biting and scratching for us.
I had to ask my brother Ron to help me remember where our boxing gloves came from. He said our neighbors, Maurice and Shorty Reichardt gave them to us. He also remembered an incident with Dad when he was trying to teach Ron to box. He said because Dad was so much taller then than he was, Dad was sitting down. He was showing him how to feint with one hand and then land a blow with the other. Ron was a quick learner and landed a hard hit to Dad's head - giving him an instant headache and ending the lessons.
In modern times, Boxing Day has taken on yet another meaning. It has become a shopping holiday with retailers offering huge discounts after Christmas. And with most workers having today off because of Christmas falling on Sunday, it's sure to be a busy day. I'd better get going.....it's already getting late.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Cross One Off The Bucket List!

I never dreamed when I wrote "A Personal History With Champagne" in my blog last July 10 that some very special grandchildren of mine were paying attention.
Katrina hosted our Christmas get together today at her and Brad's home in Fort Dodge. We had agreed that this year we weren't going to give gifts - just be together and enjoy the day.......
which was the best gift possible for a grandma who doesn't see her adult grandchildren all that often anymore. Now that I'm retired, they're all working and busy. Zachary was going to have to leave early to get back to Des Moines to work. A quick phone call bought him an extra hour.
We didn't have a lot of time with Alyssa as she and Evan had Christmas with his family earlier in the day and didn't get there until late afternoon.
It was these three, Katrina, Zach & Alyssa who remembered what I had written in my blog - that there are three times a year I always drink champagne, that I've always wanted to taste Dom Perignon and that maybe it was time to start a bucket list with a bottle of Dom Perignon at the top of the list.
So when they handed me a gift bag with "Welcome To The Naughty List" printed on it, my first reaction was: "You weren't supposed to get me anything".  Then I realized it was a bottle and thought they had gotten me a nice bottle of wine. When I saw the wired top of the bottle, I stopped. "You didn't!" I said as I looked at each one. "You didn't, did you?" I could tell by the grins on their faces - they did. I pulled the bottle of Dom Perignon Champagne from the bag. To say I was flabbergasted would be an understatement. I could hardly believe what they had done for me.
My first thought was "I have to save this for a special occasion, but what will that be?" Katrina reminded me that I have three choices: New Year's, Mother's Day or my birthday. I've already decided my birthday is too far away. It might be Mother's Day....but what if I don't live that long?
I still can't believe I am going to be tasting Dom Perignon for the first time on New Year's Eve. I will use one of my crystal Claddagh glasses - and I will lift it in a toast to three of the most loving and thoughtful grandchildren of all time. Thank you for a very memorable Christmas. I love you.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve, 1941 - 70 Years Ago

Ron was four years old in this photo - and not only willing to share his hobby horse with me, but making certain his baby sister did not fall off. I think the horse was one of the gifts under the Christmas tree for his second Christmas in 1941.
What a Christmas that must have been. The United States had been at war for three weeks. The Adams County Free Press headline for December 25 (which came out on Christmas Eve) was announcing the county's first war casualty. John Henry Thuman's parents had received the "We regret to inform you" telegram the previous week. It was later confirmed that the nineteen year old Navy First Class hospital apprentice had been killed in Pearl Harbor December 8.
I'm sure Mom and Dad and Ronald had a traditional Christmas with the Lynam's and Ridnour's, but many of their friends and neighbors did not. Scheduled holiday leave for men already in the service was canceled. So many young men were signing up for service that the draft board was over-whelmed. Mothers with tears in their eyes must have been begging their sons to wait until after Christmas, yet feeling proud that they would not wait to enlist.

Tires and gasoline were rationed almost immediately. By the time additional rationing was organized in early 1942, Adams County recorded their second casualty. George M. Sullivan, an aerial engineer, was killed February 7 in a bomber crash in Brazil.
The county clerk was in charge of the 10,000 ration books issued in Adams county. In order to get them to the residents, the county superintendent of schools, Maude Friman, had the duty of delivering them to the district teachers for distribution. I've wondered who wrote my name on my ration book. Was it the teacher at Jasper # 2 in 1943? Ruth Lillie?
Ration book # 4 was issued in October, 1943. Even though I was a baby (November, 1943), I got my own ration book. I'm sure it helped for the folks to have, though as far as food was concerned, they were pretty self-sufficient - raising their own vegetables and meat, and having milk, cream and eggs from their own cows and chickens. About the only things they needed stamps for were sugar (a biggie), flour, coffee and tea. (In later years, Mom would by 10 pound bags of sugar every time it was on sale. I don't think she ever got over the rationing of it during the war.)
Dad had many cousins who served in WWII while he served as a "Soldier without uniform". This from a motivational page in the 1943 Sears Roebuck catalog: "You also serve - you who stand behind the plow, pledged to feed the Soldier, the Worker, The Ally, and with God's help, all the hungry victims of this war! You also serve - you who farm, you who pray and sacrifice. You'll feed the world even if it means plowing by lantern light, and harvesting by hand - even children's hands - even if it means putting up the trucks and going back to covered wagons once again...." I used to wonder if it bothered Dad that he wasn't in uniform. I know Mom told me he was deferred because he was a farmer. I probably didn't appreciate the service he rendered to his country.

There are still many stamps left in my ration book. The blue ones have a wheat symbol while the red ones have a cornucopia. The green ones show Lady Liberty's torch and the gray ones read simply 'spare'. Either they were for items my parents didn't need or for ones they couldn't get due to shortages.

On this Christmas Eve, seventy years after Pearl Harbor, rather than our young people going to war, they are returning home from a long and divisive one. Thank God they are coming, not going. Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"The Whistling Season"

If I remember correctly, I was introduced to Ivan Doig's evocative writing by my friend, Kristina. The first of his books I read was his first, The Sea Runners - a novel about four Swedes escaping from New Archangel - today's Sitka, Alaska. I continued reading Doig over the years and found his novels set in his boyhood state of Montana to be my favourites.
I had previously read and enjoyed The Whistling Season, published in 2006, but when it arrived in the mail with three other books from Kristina, I decided to read it again before passing it on to my son, Douglas, whom has also become a Doig fan. (I've also given brother, Ron, a Doig book, but had no feedback about whether or not he liked it - or even read it.)
From the back cover: "In the unforgettable fall of 1909, Rose Llewellyn and her brother, Morris Morgan, bring west with them 'several kinds of education' - none of them of the textbook variety - and life is never again the same in Marias Coulee, Montana."
Oliver Milliron's wife has died, leaving him with three boys to raise. They've muddled along all right for a year when he sees an ad: "Housekeeping position sought by widow. Can't cook but doesn't bite." Such an intriguing ad cannot go unanswered. Thus we learn of the first year of the Milliron's exposure to Rose and Morris told through words of the oldest Milliron son, seventh grader, Paul.
Reading Doig is like taking a trip to the past and learning about the regional history of Montana. His themes are family, loss, learning responsibility and the importance of education. His writing is smart, funny and poignant. I'm glad there are still a few of his novels I have yet to read.

I was reading an interview with Jacqueline Winspear last month wherein she mentioned she was reading Julian Fellowes' Snobs and how much she was enjoying it. As our library had a copy, I decided to give it a try. But why did the name Julian Fellowes sound so familiar? Oh, he played Lord Kilwillie in the Monarch of the Glen series. Yeah - and he won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Screenplay for Gosford Park and he is the creator of Downton Abbey - that Julian Fellowes.
Snobs is his first novel, published in 2004. It deals with the traits and foibles of the British upper class and what happens when an upper middle class girl marries a peer*. It definitely gives insight into the British class system, but I prefer gaining my insight by watching Fellowes' highly acclaimed Downton Abbey.  The second season begins in January. Can't wait!
(*In 2011, Fellowes was ennobled as a life peer of The House of Lords.)

The more I read Ruth Rendell (also a life peer), the more I wonder about her. She is either a great observer of humanity or has one twisted mind. (Maybe both?) I really like her Inspector Wexford series, but her stand alone novels, of which The Bridesmaid is one, really delve into the themes of misunderstandings and the unintended consequences of family secrets. I chose this book from the many of hers I've yet to read because a statue of the Goddess, Flora* - representative of all the female virtues - figures predominately in the story line.
Philip Wardman is an ordinary young man with a neurotic fear of violence and death. He lives with his widowed mother and two sisters. When he meets a living encarnation of the marble Flora - Senta, a bridesmaid at his sister's wedding - he quickly falls into bed and into love. But while he fears violence and death, his new love has a morbid fascination with it. Mayhem and murder follow when Senta insists that to "prove their love for one another", they should each murder someone.
How the statue of Flora leaves his Mother's garden and is then returned to it is central to the storyline. Philip comes to believe Senta is just a little crazy. I wonder about the author.

(*See May 1, 2011 blog.)

Friday, December 9, 2011

"Yyyyyyyyyabba-dabba-doooooooo!"

My first born, Douglas Sumner, was one year and one week old in this picture taken August 17, 1963. He looks as though he was very happy to be holding one of his birthday gifts - a Knickerbocker vinyl Fred Flintstone character figure. Or he may have just been happy to be sitting on the foot stool, having his picture taken.

I remember taking this picture "just like it was yesterday". It was taken in the living room before the front window in the Hanzie house in Brooks. Doug's one piece corduroy jumpsuit was a light turquoise blue. The other thing of note in this picture are the lined plastic drapes - the only curtains we could afford. The gold colored flowers were embossed on clear plastic; the liner was white plastic. The monthly rent for our little two bedroom bungalow was $35.00.

The Flintstones, produced by Hanna-Barbera, was the first animated (cartoon) show to air in prime time. It was a big hit with families. The show ran from September, 1960 until April, 1966. The show was revived in the early 1970's appearing in the Saturday morning cartoon line-up.

The Knickerbocker Toy Company was founded in 1925. They are probably best known for their Walt Disney character dolls, Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls and the cloth Holly Hobbie dolls. The company was sold to Hasbro in 1983.
Doug would probably still like to have his Fred Flintstone, not only for sentimental reasons, but also because it would be worth about $75.00 now. That is the price one on line seller is advertising - mentioning also that this is a hard to find figure.

"Flintstones -- meet the Flintstones, They're a modern stoneage family.
From the town of Bedrock, They're a page right out of history.
Let's ride with the family down the street, through the courtesy of Fred's two feet.
When you're with the Flintstones, have a yabba dabba do time,
A dabba doo time,
We'll have a gay old time."

Sunday, December 4, 2011

I Capture The Castle

Undoubtedly, Dorothy Gladys "Dodie" Smith is best known as the author of The One Hundred and One Dalmations, inspired by her own Dalmation, Pongo. She was also one of the most successful female playwrights of her generation. (Born 1896 Lancashire, England) But her first novel, I Capture the Castle, was written when she lived in America during the 1940's and was published by Little Brown in 1948. Out of print for many years, it was brought back into print in 1999. It arrived on my doorstep along with three other books in a box from one of my reading friends. That oval sticker on the cover reads: "This book has one of the most charismatic narrators I've ever met." signed J.K. Rowling.
The book tells the story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family, who live in not-so-genteel poverty in a ramshackle old English castle. While she strives to hone her writing skills by chronicling the daily changes within the castle walls and her own first experience of love, the family's fortunes seem to take a turn for the better when her older sister Rose falls in love with the new heir of the estate.
Cassandra compares their situation to that of the Bennets in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Perhaps that fact helped make this book so enjoyable for me. I could very easily imagine the young Cassandra celebrating Midsummer Eve on Belmotte Tower hill - singing and dancing around the ritual fire set within the stone circle - feeling she was becoming too old for the childhood rites, yet unready to give them up. I Capture the Castle - unexpected reading pleasure from a thoughtful friend.

A Lesson In Secrets is Jacqueline Winspear's eighth Maisie Dobbs novel. In addition to reading it, I also listened to her Pardonable Lies on CD which is narrated by the author. There is such a huge difference between this book and the last one I listened to. Part of it has to do with the book itself, but much of it, I'm convinced, has to do with the reader. This one is so much more enjoyable. The library has one more of her books on CD, then I have two others to locate somewhere else to read before the next book comes out in 2012. I adore part detective, part psychologist, part philanthropist, Maisie Dobbs.

Melissa Jones' Emily Hudson was said to be inspired by the life of Minny Temple, Henry James's cousin. It is the story of a young woman's flight from convention during the Civil War. Emily has become the begrudged ward of her puritanical uncle after the death of her parents and siblings. He sends her to a boarding school but when she is dismissed from it for her unsettling, lively disposition, he wants to rid himself of her through marriage. Even though Emily falls in love with Captain Lindsay when he is home on leave, she turns down his offer of marriage. Her cousin William, an obsessive writer, rescues her from an uncertain future by taking her to London and enrolling her in art school.
On the "Rate This Book" slip in the front of the book, another local reader had rated it 0 (zero) on a scale of 0 to 4. I would probably give it a 2 or maybe 3. It wasn't great, but it was interesting reading.

Charles Todd is a mother-son writing team; authors of thirteen Ian Rutledge mysteries and three Bess Crawford mysteries, of which A Bitter Truth is the third - and the only one our library has. I really wish they had more titles from this team.
Bess Crawford is an English battlefield nurse in WWI. Her father is a retired Colonel. She has a close family friend in the War Office. And while they help her out of some problems, her biggest ally is a memorable kookaburra imitating Australian Sergeant. I have a feeling he will appear in any subsequent novels.

Rebecca Johns is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and received the Michener-Copernicus Award for her first novel, Icebergs.  From the fly-leaf: "Winter 1944: Walt Dunmore and Alister Clark are the only members of their bomber crew to survive a plane wreck on Newfoundland's Labrador coast - but now they must fight injuries and frostbite in the subzero wilderness. Talk of their wives awaiting them at home punctuates their desperate attempts to attract rescuers and combat the bitter cold."
Not only does WWII figure in this novel, so does the Viet Nam War. It is a multi-generational telling of death and survival, love and deceit, war and domesticity. "Icebergs reveals how tragedies narrowly averted can alter the course of lives as drastically as those met head-on."

While I liked all these books and really enjoyed finding some new authors, I think I Capture The Castle was my favourite this time around.