Monday, January 30, 2012

"Go placidly amidst the noise and haste...."

Forty some years ago what money I earned went for food, clothing and shelter. There wasn't a lot left over for 'the finer things in life' - like art work - which is why my walls were mostly decorated with posters. One of my favourites was one printed on 'parchment'. It was called Desiderata. At the bottom of the poster were these words: "Found in old Saint Paul's Church, Baltimore; Dated 1692". (Double click on above image to make it readable.)
So many of the lines spoke to me, like: "Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself." and: "You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should." Many times reading the wisdom in the Desiderata did help right my world and bring a peacefulness to my soul.

 It was years before I knew that this man, Max Ehrmann (1872-1945) was the author of Desiderata which is the Latin plural for desideratum, "desired things". Ehrmann did not begin his writing career until age forty. He was 54 when he wrote Desiderata which did not become well-known until twenty years after he died.

At one time, I also had a copy of this book of his poems. None of his other writing affected me as much as Desiderata did. I don't remember any of his other writings, but I've always remembered "Go placidly amidst the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence."
Recently on an episode of HGTV's "Room Crashers", I saw the first line of Desiderata painted on a wall of the makeover room which tells me that there are people today who admire Max Ehrmann's words as much as I do.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Mind To Murder

Do you ever get a notion in your noggin that you are so certain of you never question it? That's what I did with the author, P.D. James. I never picked up any of her books even though I knew she was a best selling mystery writer because I had it in my mind that I knew who she was and didn't care to read her novels. I had her confused with J.D. Robb for Pete's sake! Do you see any similarity in those names other than the initial D?
A Mind to Murder is the second book in the Superintendent of Scotland Yard, Adam Dalgliesh series. It was published in 1963. It appears there are now fourteen books in the series. Dalgliesh has been called a gentleman detective with parallels drawn between him and my beloved Inspector Morse. I now plan to read all of the Adam Dalgliesh mysteries and, most likely, all the other P.D. James books our library has including her most recent, Death Comes to Pemberley, which I know our library just got. It may have taken me awhile to realize my James/Robb mistake, but I will make up for it.

Another satisfying Gaslight Mystery read - number 8 in the series - Murder in Little Italy. Victoria Thompson does such a good job writing about turn of the century New York. If you are at all interested in this time period and like mysteries, I think you would enjoy this series and the characters.

In the box of books I received from Kristina last fall was a reprint of Jetta Carleton's only book first published in 1962, The Moonflower Vine. The story seems a simple one about a family in western Missouri during the first half of the twentieth century. A couple raises their four daughters on a farm and later in a small town before returning to the farm to live out their lives. Each summer the sisters return to the farm for their annual visit. In their remembering, the stories of their lives unfold.
I absolutely loved this book. The prose is beautiful and I could so clearly relate to the farm setting and the way the girls grew up - playing in the creek, catching fireflies, trying to find where a hen had hid her nest of eggs and helping their mother with the garden and canning. I would have said I had never read this book before. Nothing of it seemed familiar until almost the end. For many, many years there has been a scene from a book which I have always remembered although I forgot what book it was from. Although the scene I remembered was not exactly like the one in this book, it was close enough to make me think I may have read The Moonflower Vine forty or fifty years ago. Perhaps that is why I always wanted to grow moonflowers.
If you can find a copy of this book, I strongly recommend reading it. It is just plain beautiful.

One of the blurbs on the back cover of The Moonflower Vine was this: "The much the same as that of To Kill A Mockingbird...." which made me wonder, "Did I ever read To Kill A Mockingbird?" I remember watching the movie starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch (for which he won the Oscar in 1962), but did I read the book?
Bud remembers reading it for a high school class. But he was two years behind me in school and the book wasn't published until 1960, so I know I missed reading it as a class assignment. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for Harper Lee in 1961. In 2006, British librarians said it was one "every adult should read before they die". And now I know for sure I've read it. It is everything I expected a great American novel to be.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Apartment

Time passes so quickly when you have grandchildren. Luckily, even though they make you aware of the passing of time, they keep you young. In the blink of an eye, they grow from cute little kids enjoying simple pleasures on a summer day to......

responsible adults juggling school, a job and a first apartment. We had to be in Des Moines for a Dr's. appointment yesterday. On the way out of town, we made a quick stop to see Ki and his new apartment. When I heard he was moving out of the familial home to share an apartment with a co-worker, my first thought was, "He's too young to be out on his own." But after seeing him in his new home, I realize he is going to be fine - this is just the next step in his growing up.
His apartment is filled with natural light. It is spacious with a good floor plan. Laundry facilities are just one flight down. Furniture is a little sparse, but that just means Ki can look forward to picking out his own and discovering what his personal tastes are. His share of the rent seems doable, too, even if it is almost ten times the amount of rent I paid for my first place.

Ki is a little older than I was when I moved into my first home away from home. It was a dark, unfurnished, three room apartment above the Pepsi-Cola warehouse in Corning. That was back in the day before cans and plastic bottles. It wasn't unusual to be awakened late at night or early in the morning by the clanking of bottles - empty cases being unloaded in order for full ones to replace them in the truck.
The apartment didn't even have a bathroom - there was a lavatory about halfway down the hallway - with a full bathroom down at the end. The only laundry facility was the clothesline on top of the roof of the building at the back of mine. Laundry had to be hauled down stairs, taken to the laundromat, washed, lugged back up the stairs, down the hallway and out the back door to be hung up to dry. But the rent was doable. And, like Ki, I was learning to grow up on my own. His first apartment is so much nicer than my first one was, but I imagine the feelings of being an adult and the freedom that comes with it are similar.

I cannot say The Apartment without thinking about the movie that came out the summer of 1960. It starred Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Fred MacMurray. And while the premise - a young man trying to curry favor and rise in his company by lending his apartment to the company executives for their trysts - seems archaic by today's standards, it seemed risque to me when I was a senior in high school. As much as I enjoyed the movie, even better was Ferrante and Teicher's theme music from it.
I can hear the theme from The Apartment (Jealous Lover, composed by Charles Williams) and be transported back to the age and time of my own first apartment.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Forgotten Affairs of Youth

I had just finished Alexander McCall Smith's The Unbearable Lightness of Scones when a trip to the library turned up his latest Isabel Dalhousie novel, The Forgotten Affairs of Youth. Ms. Dalhousie is my favourite McCall Smith character. She is a philosopher by trade and a inquisitive heroine by nature. When a visiting philosopher from Australia on sabbatical in Edinburgh asks Isabel's help in finding the identity of her biological father, Isabel is only too happy to help.
The question posed is "should the forgotten affairs of youth be left in the past, or can the memories help us understand the present?" I did not think this book was quite as good as previous ones, but still enjoyed it and the many ponderings McCall Smith presents via Isabel Dalhousie. One of the answers provided seems to be a new understanding of the meaning of family.

Sharyn McCrumb has been a favourite author of mine ever since I discovered her "ballad series" books many years ago. Her latest in that series is The Ballad of Tom Dooley. I daresay, most people were introduced to this legend via The Kingston Trio's hit recording, The Legend of Tom Dooley, in 1958: "Hang down your head Tom Dooley, Hang down your head and cry. Hang down your head Tom Dooley, Poor boy your bound to die. I met her on the mountain, there I took her life. Met her on the mountain, stabbed her with my knife."
McCrumb's painstakingly researched novel gives a more detailed and, for me, believable, version of what really happened in the 1866 killing of Laura Foster. Tom Dula may have taken the blame and been hanged for the murder, but it seems clear he was protecting his paramour, Ann Melton. The book is alternately told by former North Carolina governor Zebulon Vance, appointed as public defender for Dula, and by Pauline Foster, a cousin of both Laura's and Ann Melton's. The story has been referred to as an Appalachian Wuthering Heights.

I continued my enjoyment of reading the Gaslight Mysteries series by Victoria Thompson with number seven: Murder on Lenox Hill. "When the affluent Lintons of Lenox Hill summon Sarah Brandt to examine their teenage daughter, their worst fear is confirmed: She is with child. The pregnancy is a mystery, however, as the young woman - mentally still a child herself - is never left on her own and denies any man has ever hurt her. To help her discover who is responsible, Sarah, after much prodding, enlists the aid of her friend, Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy, who is reluctant to get involved, since no crime has been reported."

Every once in awhile when I choose a book by its cover, I get a real dud. The subject matter was interesting to me, however, so I kept reading. The Last Key by Donna Van Cleve is the fifth book in her Taylor Family Saga. Even if our library had the other books in this series, I would not read them.

If you want to read a good book about the September, 1900, hurricane that devastated Galveston, Texas, read Erik Larson's Isaac's Storm instead of the Van Cleve novel. I read Larson's book about the "deadliest hurricane in history" several years ago after reading his acclaimed The Devil in the White City.

I love Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series and I'd much rather read the books than listen to them, but I've been trying to listen to books while exercising. Previously I listened to one that was read by the author, and just assumed this one would be also. However, it is read by Orlagh Cassidy. At first, I felt the reader detracted from the story (because I had enjoyed Ms. Winspear's voice so much), but I came to appreciate her ability of creating a unique voice for each character. Her deep voice was even convincing in the male roles.
It took me awhile to listen to this book as it is nine CDs long. Set in London in 1931, Maisie Dobbs, psychologist and investigator, has been retained by Georgina Bassington-Hope to investigate the death of her twin brother and artist, Nick, whose death has been ruled an accident by the police. Before long, the evidence surrounding Nick's death leads Maisie to the beaches of Dungeness in Kent and London's art museums. I wish I could have read the Maisie Dobbs series in order even though each one is a different mystery to be solved, the evolvement of ongoing characters would be more enjoyable if taken in order.

I wonder what I'll be listening to next?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Hall

Douglas Botkin sitting on my beloved '57 Plymouth. Fairview Church in background.

On October 22, 1954, the Iveyville Fellowship Hall and its contents were sold at public auction. The 22'x50' building was purchased by the members of the Fairview Congregational Christian Church. That fall and winter a basement was dug and a foundation readied on the corner immediately south of the Fairview Church before the building made its lumbering way the three miles to its new location. The Fairview Community Hall was brought into existence.
On March 22, 1955 a 'record crowd' attended the first event at the new Fairview Hall when around 165 Corning businessmen and their guests - farmers of the area - attended a town and country dinner sponsored by the Corning Chamber of Commerce. A month later, Tuesday, April 26, 1955, a 'family night' was held in the community hall. A program of Safety Instruction was put on by State Patrolmen and a home movie showing the moving of the hall to its new location was viewed.

Those were just two of the community wide events that came to be held at what we usually referred to just as The Hall. Many of the events hosted were bridal showers. Women of the church gathered to decorate the building and tables and bring their own artistically wrapped gifts for the bride-to-be. Believe me, it was an honor and a delight to see all those presents waiting to be unwrapped. Would one of them be the coveted electric skillet?

In addition to the gift table, there was the beautifully appointed refreshment table complete with a cake, nuts, mints, coffee and punch - all in the bride's chosen colors. This picture is from the shower for my brother Ron's fiance, Marianne. I think cars were part of the motif because my brother was such a motor head.

Several years before this occasion, there had been another big event at the hall - a surprise party for Ron's  birthday. I can still remember all the secrecy and planning that went on to pull that off. Our neighbor, Ron's friend, Fred Mitchell, was entrusted with the challenge of getting Ronald to the hall without tipping him off to what was going on. Somehow, he made up an excuse to leave off 'scooping the loop' in town to drive the eight miles out to Fairview. As they came within sight and saw all the cars, Fred must have said something like, "I wonder what's going on there. Let's stop and see." About that time Ron noticed some cars that looked very familiar, like his friend's, Delmar's. When Fred opened the door into the hall and everyone yelled, Surprise!, my brother finally tumbled. "I wondered why Chafa's car was here", he said. That was such a fun night. A hi-fi was set up and music was soon playing. There was bottled pop (an unusual splurge for my parents), chips, a cake - and a whole lot of laughter.

Our family never had to look far for someone to make a cake for a wedding or shower. All we had to do was ask Mom's sister, Aunt Lois (Mitchell). And all we had to pay for was the ingredients. She did all the baking and decorating for us. Here is Aunt Lois on the left, with Mom helping her in the kitchen at Grandma Delphia's. It looks like the sheet cakes are all ready and they are finishing the roses on the wedding cake. (I think this was for Ron and Marianne's wedding.)

The Hall played another big roll in our young lives. It is where we learned to dance. It must have been the fall of my eighth grade year when Lois Sickler came each week to give us dance lessons. I know it cost for the classes, but it wasn't much - maybe fifty cents a week. Most of the attendees were the kids from the neighborhood, although I think the lessons were open to anyone. In addition to the actual steps for the dances, she was also trying to teach us proper etiquette. The boy was supposed to ask, "May I have this dance?" And he was supposed to escort the young lady back to her seat at the end of the music. The girl was supposed to say, "Thank you for the dance."
Mrs. Sickler was a good teacher, but somewhat strict. If she saw someone doing something wrong, she would lift the arm off the record and shout at the offender. She taught (or tried to teach) us how to Polka, Schottische, Waltz, Two-Step, Fox Trot, even Square Dance. I don't remember any rock and roll, though, which was just coming on the scene and something we all wanted to learn. Each week she would take us through learning a new dance and then make us practice over and over.
As with any function where boys and girls are thrown together, there is always one or two you are 'just dying' to dance with and at least one or two you are trying to evade - hoping he will ask someone else. For me, one of the latter was Gene Welch. I don't think his folks were members of our church, but they lived close enough that he came to the dance classes. I'll never forget the night he looked around the room and zeroed in on me. "Come on, I'll do this one with you", he grunted, like he was doing me a huge favor. (So much for the proper etiquette we were supposed to be learning.) I didn't want to dance with him, but I was too polite to say so. I think the dance was a Schottishe, something neither of us was too adept at - him less so than I. Finally it was over. I made my escape back across the room and avoided him thereafter.

The Hall and the Church are both gone now as are most of those responsible for moving the hall from Iveyville to Fairview, but the memories remain.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"A Cup of Ale Without A Wench"

"A cup of ale without a wench, why, alas, 'tis like an egg without salt or a red herring without mustard." (Attributed to Thomas Lodge and Robert Greene in A Looking Glasse, for London and Englande {1592}) I think Alan Bradley must have as much fun giving titles to his books as Flavia does experimenting in her chemical lab.
A Red Herring Without Mustard is Alan Bradley's third mystery novel celebrating the deductive powers of his young heroine. From the back cover: "In the hamlet of Bishop's Lacey, the insidiously clever and unflappable eleven-year-old sleuth Flavia de Luce had asked a Gypsy woman to tell her fortune - never expecting to later stumble across the poor soul, bludgeoned almost to death in the wee hours in her own caravan. Was this an act of retribution by those convinced that the soothsayer abducted a local child years ago? Certainly Flavia understands the bliss of settling scores: revenge is a delightful pastime when one has two odious older sisters. But how could this crime be connected to the missing baby? As the red herrings pile up, Flavia must sort through clues fishy and foul to untangle dark deeds and dangerous secrets."
In an introductory quote, Louise Penny, author of the Inspector Gamache series, says of Flavia: "She is always feisty, always smart, I adore her. And while it is wonderful to read her as an adult, I wish I'd had Flavia as a role model while growing up. It's cool to be smart." I concur whole-heartedly. I would have loved these books when I was younger. I have to wonder if that is part of the appeal now. Does reading about this inquisitive young woman remind me of myself when I was first discovering the magic of reading books? As quickly as I finished this book, I began looking forward to the fourth in the series. I believe there are hints in this one that the death of Flavia's mother is not all that it seems and that the de Luce's may not lose their ancestral estate after all. I'll just have to be content to wait to see if I'm right.

Alexander McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street series began as a serialized story in The Scotsman in 2004. Inhabitants at the address become the characters in the books - people we come to know and care about. The Unbearable Lightness of Scones is the fifth book in this series - wherein the precocious six-year-old Bertie is still being controlled by his over-bearing mother, but, for the first time, Bertie's father finally has some say-so and Bertie is allowed to join the cub scouts; Cyril, the gold-toothed canine friend of Angus Lordie finally succumbs to the temptation of Matthew's lovely ankles; Domenica finally confronts her neighbor, Antonia, over the theft of her blue Spode tea cup and Bruce finally realizes what an egotistical bore he is and decides to change.
So with all these 'finallies', does that denote the end of the series? Not to worry, there are still many questions and answers to come regarding these familiar friends. It's like not hearing from old friends for a year and then receiving the annual yule time letter and getting caught up all at once. You don't realize how much you've missed hearing about their daily lives until you do hear about them - very interesting and comforting.
One question I had (have) that I could not find an answer for, was how the book title related to that other book - The Incredible Lightness of Being. Even if it is McCall Smith's tongue in cheek, I thought I would be able to find some reference to it. (It may have helped if I'd read the other book.)                                                                                                                  

Murder on Marble Row is the sixth in the Gaslight Mysteries series by Victoria Thompson. I am so glad a fellow friend of the library decided to fill in the gaps of missing books in this series so I can continue reading them in order. "When an explosion kills wealthy industrialist Gregory Van Dyke, Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt presumes that anarchists are responsible and personally asks Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy to track them down. Malloy is up to the challenge - but he faces a different kind of challenge when he encounters Sarah Brandt paying a condolence call on the Van Dykes. Faced with he impossibility of ever expressing his true feelings for Sarah, Frank had vowed never to see or work with her again....."
I like that this author incorporates true happenings from stories in the newspapers during the time period into her fiction. In this case an article in The New York Times from October 22, 1896 about a man being killed by a bomb in his office. And while that mystery was never solved, Sarah Brandt and Frank Malloy once again work together to uncover the real culprit in the book.

Luckily my cataract surgery only kept me from reading one day. And a bout with a cold and the flu kept me pretty much confined to my reading nook (recliner and lamp - not something electronic) so I also managed three other quick reads - two M.C. Beaton Hamish Macbeth mysteries - Death of a Charming Man and Death of a Bore and a Dorothy Garlock - Train From Marietta - all three of which I picked up at a church rummage sale last fall an put aside for a time when I wasn't able to get to the library. Now that I am feeling better and the weather is still beautiful, it's time for a library run and a reading re-supply.