Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"We Are Orphans, Now"

Bud and his Mom, Lottie Schaffer
Ten years ago, after his mother had passed away, I happened to run into Doug Olive and his sisters, Cathy and Debbie at 'Breakfast at the Beach' at Lake Icaria. We chatted some, remembering when we were neighbors and school mates at Jasper # 2 and about his parents. I told him I was sorry about his Mom, Shirley's, death. That was when he said, "Yes, we are orphans, now."
At the time, I thought it was a rather strange thing for an adult to say. I always thought of orphans as being children. It wasn't until my own Mother died two years later that I began to understand what he meant - how he was feeling.
Until around 1:00 a.m. this morning, Bud and I still had one parent left. Lottie celebrated her 91st birthday two weeks ago. Now she has gone on. There is no one left between us and our own mortality.

"We are orphans, now."

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Peach Keeper & Other Reads

I did not even realize Sarah Addison Allen had a new book at our library until I saw it on the shelf. I had read her three previous novels. They are ones I described as 'magical'. The Peach Keeper is more mystery and less magic than the previous books.
Willa Jackson is descended from Walls of Water, North Carolina's founding family. Her great-great-grandfather got rich by harvesting trees and selling lumber. He built 'The Blue Ridge Madam' once the area's finest mansion. But when the government purchased the remaining forests and turned the area into a national park, the Jackson family lost everything. Willa's grandmother was raised in the family home until she was seventeen. After that, the house fell into disrepair. Now Willa's old classmate - do-gooder Paxton Osgood, has restored the Blue Ridge Madam with plans to open it as an inn.
When a skeleton is unearthed beneath the property's lone peach tree, long kept secrets come to light. Ms. Addison Allen's books resonate with themes of friendship, love and tradition.

The Burying Place is another of Brian Freeman's psychological thrillers set in the Duluth, MN area. Lt. Jonathan Stride is still on leave recovering from injuries received in a fall from a bridge over Superior Bay. Physically, he is mostly recovered; mentally, he keeps having flashbacks to the night he almost died. He tries to hide the panic attacks which immobilize him.
When a call comes in that a baby is missing from her bedroom in the quiet town of Grand Rapids, Stride goes back to work. Was the baby abducted as the father says, or does he have a terrible secret to hide? And does this case have anything to do with several missing women in the same area?
Freeman is a masterful writer of strong narrative, suspense, well-crafted characters and relationships. You may think you have everything figured out, but there's always a surprise or two at the end.
As I read this book, I could not help but think of the little girl missing from her bedroom in Kansas City - the parallels between the father being suspected in the novel and the mother in the real life situation. I also thought of all the isolated farm houses I have lived in as those were the kind of locations from which the women in his novel were missing.

I first began reading Louise Erdrich when Kari was at Macalester College in St. Paul and told me about her. She has won many awards and has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. So, I was expecting another excellent read from her in Shadow Tag. I have to admit being disappointed through the first 246 pages of the book. I got tired of reading about Gil and Irene's failing marriage, his possessiveness, her game playing. It was only in the last eight pages that Erdrich's brilliance surfaced. Or maybe it was there all along and it took the summation to make me appreciate it.

Numbers four and five of Victoria Thompson's Gaslight Mysteries - Murder on Washington Square and Murder on Mulberry Bend - were just as good and entertaining as her first three. The next in the series is the one our library does not have. I may try to find it elsewhere in order to keep reading them in sequence.

Jim Harrison's Returning to Earth is the book I have been trying to listen to. It is a sequel to True North which I read and loved. My problem listening to this book is partly keeping all the characters straight. But it is mostly that Harrison's writing is so poetic. I want to stop and re-read passages and think about them - that's pretty hard to do with an audio book. Harrison's themes of the healing power of nature and the deep connection between the sensual and the spiritual need to be read slowly and thoughtfully - at least I think so.

Nights In Rodanthe is another of Nicholas Sparks' best selling love stories. When we were on the Outer Banks of North Carolina three years ago, I wanted to drive down to Rodanthe and see the inn where the movie version was filmed. We didn't find it. I finally decided we just didn't drive quite far enough before turning around and heading back to Nags Head. But I can still remember walking along the ocean shore under a full moon and could feel that magic again as I read the book. What books I have read of Sparks seem to be about lost love. Maybe that is what makes them best sellers.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Speaking A Foreign Language

Kari, Preston and Doug, early, 1972
My great-grandson, Rodney, is two years old today. I called Katrina to wish her a happy birth day and asked her to give Rodney a kiss for me and tell him Grandma said Happy Birthday. We chatted awhile and she said he has finally started saying Mama (Da-da came early, but not Ma-ma), along with a whole bunch of other words.
The conversation started me thinking about my kids, of course. Doug and Kari both developed language skills at appropriate ages. But Preston had a language all his own. It was like a foreign language to me. Oh, he had words I could understand okay. It was when he started talking in sentences that I had a problem understanding him. I would ask him to repeat what he was saying over and over until he became as frustrated as I was and gave up. The funny thing was that Kari and Doug understood him just fine. If I asked them what he was saying, they could tell me.

Preston's kindergarten picture - Age 5, 1976
When he was four years old, I enrolled Preston in a structured day care where the teachers said they would work with him on his speech skills. I don't remember the name of the preschool, but it was north of the intersection of Harding Road and Euclid Avenue. At the end of the school year, I needed daycare for Kari, too, and couldn't afford to have both of them enrolled there. So I answered an ad a woman had placed wanting to babysit in her own home. She had a little boy the same age as Preston. They would both begin Kindergarten in the fall.

In the meantime, I scheduled hourly sessions with a speech pathologist two or three times a week for Preston that summer. (In the way of small worlds, the young therapist was the sister of my secretary at the Osteopathic College where I worked.) I was worried that Preston might have to wait another year before starting school, but he passed his prekindergarten test. I remember how upset May, the babysitter, was that Preston got to go to school when, "he can't even talk", and her son had to wait another year. Obviously intelligence and maturity were more important than knowing a foreign language.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Wonderland By Night

Sunday, November 13, 1960 - 'Tonight's Song' - Wonderland By Night. Kenny had written from Fort Jackson, SC, telling me about this great instrumental he loved. I had finally heard it for the first time on Saturday. Obviously it took some time to make it to the radio stations in the Midwest! I was predisposed to liking it because he did, but it was really great. So haunting and yearning. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_pDTaRRR-w&feature=related By January, it was number one on Billboard for three weeks.
Bert Kaempfert was a German orchestra leader and songwriter. He composed the music for some of my favourite songs, such as - Strangers In The Night, Spanish Eyes, Red Roses For A Blue Lady, Wooden Heart and Danke Schoen.

I had been at play practice that afternoon. Ellen, Donna, Sandy Harlow and I made posters. Afterwards we scooped the loop, flirting with a car load of boys from Creston. By the time I got home from play practice, "It's real foggy out and so peaceful and calm. I love it. I guess I love a lot of things."
Eventually, words were written to go with the music. Engelbert Humperdinck's version was one of the most popular: Stars hang suspended, above a floating yellow moon; Two hearts were blended while angels sang a lover's tune. And so we kissed, not knowing if our hearts could pay the price. But heaven welcomed us to paradise, blessing our love. Then came the sunrise fading the moon and stars from sight, recalling always our Wonderland by Night.

The diary entry ended - "Wonderland by Night - like tonight's fog and last night's northern lights."
I remember seeing the northern lights quite a few times when I was young. Even though they've been visible here several times in recent years, the last time I remember seeing them was ten or so years ago while we were still on the farm. There was a faint green glow in the northern sky, but the lights from town were making them hard to see. So we took our mothers and drove out to a dirt road north of Lake Icaria away from the city lights where we could watch and enjoy the mostly green Northern Lights. Just one more, Wonderland by Night.

Friday, November 11, 2011

One Day To "Thank A Vet"?

I'm really glad that our citizens are more conscious of recognizing and thanking veterans for their service to their country. There was a time this didn't happen.
The History Channel has been running a series about the Vietnam War this week. We watched one segment - Tet Offensive - An Endless War, 1968-1969 - the years Bud was there. Two veterans alternated telling what it was like while they were over there with film clips showing the fighting. They talked about camaraderie. They talked about not wanting to go, but doing their duty. They talked about staying alive and making it out when so many of their friends did not.

They told about the pride they felt arriving back in the United States - pride in their service and pride in the uniform they wore. And they told about the shock of their reception home - how no one wanted to sit next to them on the plane. How they were spat upon and called names. How they couldn't wait to shed their uniforms so no one would recognize them as returning soldiers.

Bud has never talked a lot about his year in Vietnam. Sometimes I have to listen to what he doesn't say. Two years ago, we went to one of the local Free Veterans Day breakfasts so many places are offering these days. It was a good breakfast. It was appreciated.
There is a regular group of morning coffee guys at this place. Bud heard one of them remark: "Yeah, look at all the ones who never eat here just coming in because it's a free meal." We haven't been back.

I don't think any amount of thanks now will ever make up for what happened (or didn't happen) to these veterans so many years ago. Some things can never be forgotten.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

George Washington's Rules of Civility

There were one hundred ten "Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation" school boy George Washington was supposed to know. As part of an exercise in learning those Colonial manners, he wrote them all in a copy book. Rule 1: "Every action done in company, ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present." Rule 110: "Labour to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience." And in between the first and last are other gems such as this: "Shake not the head, feet or legs, roll not the eyes, lift not one eyebrow higher than the other, wry not the mouth and bedew no man's face with your spittle by approaching too near him when you speak." (From the Colonial Williamsburg website.)

All one hundred ten rules can also be found in the Appendix of Amor Towles novel, Rules of Civility. I really need to find a new way of saying how much I enjoy a book besides, "I loved this book!" Towles debut novel is smashingly smart. I hope he writes many more books. A New Englander by birth, he writes about New York - not the city where he currently lives - but the Manhattan of post-depression, pre-WWII years.
As J. Courtney Sullivan says on the back of the dust jacket: "The best novels are the ones that completely transport you to another time and place. This beautifully written debut does just that. With wit, wisdom, and rich language, Towles introduces a cast of unforgettable 1938 New Yorkers, who change the book's heroine in surprising and absorbing ways."
This is the first book in a long time that as soon as I finished reading it, I was ready to begin reading again. If it were my own copy instead of the library's, it would have passages underlined and notes written in the margins. I found truths about myself in this book and I want to remember them. Besides that, it is a Cinderella story of sorts, but one in which the heroine's wit and moxie take her out of her humble tenement and her fairy godmother is against her as much as she is for her. I think anyone who enjoys smart writing and bygone eras would enjoy this book. The Gotham City of this book is the New York I would like to visit.

Seldom do I quit a book. I almost always feel obligated to finish reading something once I've begun - especially if I'm already half way through it. Especially if the book is set in 1927 and is about a young girl brave enough to leave her Virginia mountain home for the bright lights and progressiveness of life in Chicago. Winslow Homer's 1873 painting "Girl In A Hammock" beautifully illustrates the cover of Sarah Pawley's Finding Grace. This book seemed to have everything going for it - even a "4" given it by a previous reader - but I just couldn't keep reading it. I can't even give it a "1" (nor a "-1" as I recently saw in a book that I did like).

I completed my third audio book with another of M.C. Beaton's Hamish Macbeth mysteries - this one Death of a Dreamer. Listening to a book while walking on the track or treadmill really does make the onus easier.

Numbers two and three of Victoria Thompson's 'Gaslight Mysteries' - Murder On St. Mark's Place and Murder On Gramercy Park - went down just as smoothly as the first did. I'm really enjoying the sleuthing of Detective Frank Malloy and Midwife Sarah Brandt in 1890's New York. Happily Gibson Memorial Library has eleven of the twelve Thompson has written so far.

Emilie Richards is another writer I can depend upon if I'm looking for a well written light romance. I had already read the first two of her Happiness Key novels (set in Florida, of course), so finding the latest, Sunset Bridge, on the 'new books' shelf at the library meant it was my turn to read it. This one had the added thrills of a hurricane and a bridge collapse but what I found most disturbing were all the passages about pies. One of the main characters, Wanda, has started her own pie business after losing her long time job as a waitress. Just as I wanted a martini while reading the Towles book and tea while reading the Gaslight books, I wanted pie all the time I was reading this book. Last year for my birthday, I made myself a coconut cake - this year it just may be a coconut creme pie!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Looking Forward to a New Experience

As a single parent, I missed out on a lot my children's day time school activities. I was never a home room mother or any other type of volunteer. And I was still a 'working woman' when my grandchildren were in grade school.
One of the few times I remember attending something during the school day was when I went to grand parents' day at Newton when Zach and Katrina were in the second grade. There was a program in the gymnasium involving all the students before we visited their classrooms and met their teachers.

Katrina and Zachary showed me some of their school work and then the teacher said, "Now, they are going to read for you from one of their favourite books."  They both did a good job of reading, but I remember being so impressed by Zach because he had a problem with stuttering when he talked, yet stuttered very little when he read to me.

Today is going to be my first day as a READS volunteer. I will be meeting my 1st grade reading buddy for the first time. (Lot of firsts there.) I'm looking forward to this new experience. I believe reading is one of the most important learning tools there is. If I can help someone learn to read - or learn to read better - that will be very rewarding. In fact, I won't be surprised if I get as much, or more, out of the program as my reading buddy.

READS - Read, Enjoy, And Develop Success. You will be reading more about it here - not specifics about my reading buddy, of course, because of confidentiality - but how this new experience is affecting my life.