Thursday, August 25, 2016

Understanding the Greeks

Last week I sat and watched hours of old home movies, of me and my husband years ago, of the children when they were little. Oh -- they were so little and so very cute! Because of those hours of watching, finally I think I understand the Greeks and their theater.
I taught high school English for many years. I taught many tragic plays -- everything from Oedipus to Shakespeare. I wanted to understand the Greek concept of tragedy, of how a story plot they already know, with already-familiar characters, could make them weep and depart in silence from the amphitheater. What was this catharsis that they supposedly experienced, this emotional cleansing and transformation? How could watching an old story do that?
And then I watched those home movies, which I hadn't seen in decades. So the images were nearly new. I hadn't seen those faces -- oh, those precious faces! -- in so many years. They are like lost children to me. Where did they go? How did I lose them? Of course, it's ridiculous; they weren't supposed to stay small. They grew up into adults just as they were meant to do. But I miss them so. It makes me cry. I would give anything to hold them again when they would fit into my arms. Now my boys wrap me in big hugs -- I am in their arms instead of the other way around.
I know how the home movies end. It's my life and theirs. I know the characters as well as any humans on the planet. The intensity of feeling resulting from watching them had nothing to do with suspense or plot development or character development. It had everything to do with knowing ahead of time the trials and sufferings we would face, and looking at our unknowing, hopeful young faces as we try valiantly to soldier on through the very full years. The emotion comes from watching people you love, before they know the black days they will face, the sorrow and tears ahead.
Julia is on the right.
I'll add that it wasn't just our family that had this effect on me. Especially in our wedding video, I was struck and my heart was overwhelmed as I looked at my bridesmaids walking up the aisle. Two have had relatively quiet lives (I think), but the others have had whirlwinds of trouble. I wanted to reach into the TV screen, grab them by the shoulders, hug them, and tell them it would be okay.
Afterward I felt emotionally exhausted, but there was something else -- a strangeness, a feeling of displacement, of having returned to the past and participated again in the children's little lives, a feeling of confusion in the present, and a longing for those years that surpasses the longing one feels when awakened from a good dream. A feeling of longing and regret.
I never understood this before. There's something about watching moving pictures, people's facial expressions,twinkling smiles, gait and movement that's missing in photographs. It's the real they, It's Philip building legos on Christmas morning and smiling up at me. It's Anna dancing in the living room and twirling her nightgown. It's Peter running around outside with Lacey, his little legs pumping. It's Julia taking her first crawl across the floor and squealing. I'm so happy I have these videos! I'm thrilled to see them again, to see my lost children again. Make no mistake! I adore them full grown. I only wish I could have both -- my big kids and my littles. Is that what being a grandparent is all about?
By the way, I'm gonna put a plug in here for the company my son works for in Chattanooga. It's called Southtree, and they convert/transfer your old photos, reels, home movies, VHS tapes, cassette tapes -- whatever you've got -- onto nice DVD, CD, or zip drive. That's how I watched mine. That link goes to their web site. They have "Legacy Boxes," a box they will send you for $40, and you can put your items into it, and it's all ready to ship straight back to them; they make it easy! Plus, if you type their name into Google, it looks like there is a GroupOn for them, %75 off. Sounds like a great deal! Seriously -- I'm so glad I did this. I'm so sorry I waited as long as I did.

I know many friends are in those emotional years of sending kids off to college. We've accomplished a big goal! We've grown them up! They're flying from the nest! I sent off three kids in four years, and after that I lay back in exhaustion and reveled in my accomplishment. I was so consumed with how far we'd come I forgot to remember the precious years. These home movies are helping me hold on to that. And since I still have one last girl at home, for only this last year, I want to pinch myself regularly and remember to enjoy every day before she's gone too.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Visiting the Kids

The destination for my trip last week was Chattanooga, where Philip and Kara live. How wonderful and strange it is to visit one's grown children who have set up house on their own!
The lovely painting is by Ann Calvert,
one of my mother's dearest friends.
And set up house they have. This is their living room. We watched Olympic events on that lovely TV screen. Kara has many beautiful books, the classics. Their home is tidy, neat, comfortable, quiet, peaceful. It lacks the clutter that comes with decades of thrift store shopping, a clutter my mother and I can't seem to rid ourselves of. I very much enjoyed my days with them.
The first night Philip drove us up Lookout Mountain to the college all three of us attended!
The Covenant College Chapel
Carter Hall
The college has been renovating the elderly matron of the campus, Carter Hall. It was a swanky hotel in the early 20th Century, and the main campus building when I attended in the 1980s. They are spending a pretty penny restoring the facade to its original look -- the dark windows, the stonework and crenulated tower.
Just before I came in the early '80s the building had been renovated then too. The look they chose then was more clean, sleek -- no bumpy stones or medieval edges. The back of the building still shows this look. However, this facade did not hold up well. The walls are stained and tired-looking, and the plain windows look particularly bad, like deteriorating government housing.
Interestingly, there are still portions of the old, original facade in the far rear of the building. I think they were never redone in the '70s either. Notice the textured exterior. That's the look they're trying to return to, at great cost.
Philip said portions of the building were actually falling off and crashing on the ground a few years ago, so it was absolutely necessary to do something. It does sadden me to think of how many students could have been offered scholarships with the money spent on the building. But it was money specifically designated for the repairs, I imagine, and it had to be done if the building were to be kept at all.
The lobby looks much the same.
I always loved the pool. What a view!
Here's the front, north end. The windows have such a pretty Tudor look. The tower looks a bit bizarre to me, but I do love the cap on top.

They've beautified the porch on the far north end. Sweet, sweet couple.
Philip and Kara just moved into their first "real" home together a few weeks ago. Philip had lived in a house in the city with some roommates, and then a duplex into which Kara moved with him when they married last year. But this is the first home they chose together. When her family came to help them move in, they left this sweet message on the refrigerator.
If you look closely, you'll notice there's a shortage of "e's." So I had to improvise with my message that I left for them:
We ate at the Yellow Deli, a Chattanooga landmark restaurant since the '70s. I never ate there as a student, strangely enough! I didn't get out much because I didn't have a car. And most dates I went on consisted of "Wanta to sit with me in chapel?" or hanging out in some hallway or stairwell until 2:00 AM. Or a sunset walk through woods to the bluff overlooking the valley.
The Yellow Deli has this cool dumb-waiter to carry food up and down. 
It rattled away gently, ascending and descending, as we enjoyed our meal.
We had yummy sandwiches and interesting tea. The restaurant is owned and run by some strange religious group called The Twelve Tribes. They have readily-available literature to be read. They are world-wide. They are gentle, soft-spoken folk with lots of hair and slightly hippyish clothes and good food.
I had a safe trip with lots of driving, and I got to see my two grown boys. I visited with a very dear friend in Chattanooga -- how good to see her! I relaxed. And I took all my old home movies and VHS tapes with me because Philip works at a company that transfers old movies, reels, photos, tapes -- anything you have hanging around in a box that you someday intend to see again -- onto DVD, CD or zip drive. Philip took a box full of audio and video and put it all on a tiny zip drive for me. I have it on this laptop. I have my sophomore piano recital. I have Mr. Halvorsen singing songs that he wrote. I have two years of Covenant Choral concert music. I have Peter's birth. I have our wedding, I have lots and lots of Julia as a baby and toddler. She missed the years of disposable cameras, so I lack photographs of her. But boy, do I have video! I'll write a separate post about the effect of all this viewing on me. Suffice it to say, it was emotional, as was this lovely trip. It's good to be home, but I was so happy to spend time with Peter, Philip, and Kara.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

And at Last ... Back to Jane Austen

I finished my "Cat Who" book finally, so now I turn my eyes back upon Austen's Sense and Sensibility. I begin at chapter 18.
The novel was presented in three volumes.
 As I mentioned before, Edward Ferrars does come to Barton Cottage for a visit early on. He comes just after Willoughby leaves in such a hurry. Edwards stays only a week, and his attitude is much altered from when he gently wooed Elinor at Norland. He seems troubled. His spirits are described as being "unequal," "desponding," "low," and "unhappy." He doesn't give her the attention he'd done before, and Marianne notices this. She notices also that Edward wears a ring on his hand with a lock of hair encased in it. She inquires if it's his sister's hair, and he claims it is, but it's the wrong color. Elinor thinks it's her hair, which Edward has somehow secretly procured. Marianne thinks Elinor gave it to him. Of course ... I suspect it's Lucy Steele's hair although she's not been introduced to the plot yet at all. Edward's severe discomfort about the ring indicates this. Locks of hair are already on Marianne's mind, as we know!
 As I looked at Google Images for the book/movie, I came across this one:
If you're a fan of the movie, you know this kiss did not occur in the movie. Elinor and Edward never kiss in the movie. So this was filmed but cut from the final version. I wish they'd kept it in there.

To continue ... last night I read through chapter 22, the end of volume 1 in the novel, and the clearest digression the movie makes from the actual story is in how it arranges the events. In the novel, before Lucy Steele arrives Col. Brandon departs in a rush, Willoughby leaves soon thereafter, Edward comes for a week's visit and leaves, and Mr. and Mrs. Palmer come for a visit as well. Both Dashwood sisters experience the sad departure of a beau, and Mrs. Jennings and Sir John see Edward and Elinor together and quickly surmise a little romance under the surface. This is crucial.

Lucy Steele (who is older than Elinor by a few years) and her sister (who is 30!) are cousins of Mrs. Jennings. Anne Steele is aware of her sister's secret engagement to Edward Ferrars. She hears Sir John teasing Elinor about him. So everyone knows there's a flirtation between Elinor and Edward. Lucy and Anne know this. Lucy still confides in Elinor. As I read this portion, I asked myself why is Lucy confiding in Elinor if she knows people are gossiping about a romance between Edward and Elinor? The passage is subtly rendered, but I think Lucy is testing Elinor. Lucy wants to know if her engagement is secure. She quizzes Elinor superficially concerning Edward's mother, what kind of woman she is. But Elinor can tell her nothing, and Lucy already knows Mrs. Ferrars is the kind of woman who will strongly disapprove of the engagement. No -- Lucy's real goal here is to inquire into Elinor and Edward's attachment. Consider these truths: the fact that Edward had just visited Lucy's family in Plymouth before coming directly to Barton, and that Lucy followed him there as soon as possible; the fact that Edward has delayed revealing the engagement to the 24-year-old Lucy while enjoying the company of the younger 19-year-old Elinor; the fact that Lucy is intent on disclosing to Elinor all the details of their engagement and the gifts exchanged as if to prove to her her prior claim; the fact that Elinor herself is surprised that Lucy would tell her of it when she's under such distress to keep it secret. She has her sister Anne as a confidante; why does she need Elinor, a woman whom her fiance clearly admires? Lucy's goal is to pry into Elinor's heart. Elinor puts up a steely resolve against it.

The effect of this news on Elinor is complicated. She's crushed that the man she loves (and who she's certain loves her) has been engaged to another woman for four years. Her heart is broken. But Austen also notes her disappointment in his clear duplicity -- that's he's withheld this information from her, and that he's expressed more-than-friendly regard for her in spite of this other pre-marital attachment. A man ought not do that. If he is engaged, he should keep a fair distance from other young women. Edward did not. This offends her; she tries to maintain her "security of Edward's honor and love"  --  because with news of Lucy's engagement, not only does Elinor doubt his love, she also doubts his honor.

The two ladies share this confidence as they walk along the road from Barton Park to the cottage. They are not whispering in a drawing room near Mrs. Jennings's big ears. In addition to Lucy's testimony, Elinor must see a small framed picture of Edward's face that Lucy carries, and then a letter from Edward to Lucy, in his own hand. She is wretched. Finally Lucy reveals that the lock of hair set in Edward's ring is her own gift to him.

No normal woman could bear up under such horrible news without revealing an ounce of distress, but Elinor is able. She has such practiced self-control, such mastery over her feelings. "She was almost overcome -- her heart sunk within her, and she could hardly stand; but exertion was indispensably necessary, and she struggled so resolutely against the oppression of her feelings, that her success was speedy, and for the time complete."

She's stunned not just by the loss of Edward's love or the realization that he and Lucy are a couple -- it's the horrible truth that she is in love with a dishonorable, deceptive man! Could Marianne retain her composure under such news? Could Marianne control her violent emotions? Never. The plot is designed to reveal and glorify Elinor's most sterling trait: self-control, composure, strength of will and mind. Her faith in Edward is deeply shaken, but so is her trust in herself. How did she make such an error as to entrust herself to a dishonorable man, a lying man, a two-timing man?

In this light, both sisters' relationships with their suitors is viewed more accurately, and as usual Austen presents a fascinatingly complicated situation. The sisters are different as night and day, but knowing what we know about Willoughby, it seems their men are very similar. In fact, at this point in the story, Willoughby seems to be a true and loving suitor, while Edward is presented as a blackguard. As we end Volume One, certainly this is the situation. Col. Brandon is the father of an illegitimate daughter; Edward is a deceiving philanderer, and Willoughby is a true-hearted lover. It appears Marianne's mantra is true at this point: One can never truly love a second time. Brandon cannot, and Edward cannot. Only Willoughby is free to love, and he loves Marianne. Now Jane Austen must unscramble all these falsehoods and vindicate her heroine!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Peter's Summer

Last time you saw Peter back in May, he was looking like this:
 

Graduating from the university and attending a cousin's wedding.
On Tuesday he looked like this:

This summer Peter's been working on an organic off-grid farm in the mountains of Western North Carolina. He's loved it. He's always been a hard-working, happy, outdoorsy boy, so this job was a good fit for him. Plus, it was a wonderful contrast to the four years of rigorous academic life he's had.

Peter was an intern, and Tuesday was his last day. A couple own the farm. They live high on the hill in a somewhat make-shift dwelling because all their time, energies, and funds have gone into the farmwork since they moved there. They have a large garden in about 4 acres of level valley land, with various hired help especially on harvest days.

I was there for his last day, and we had a picnic.
 It was a casual affair in the shade of the side of a field with his friends and coworkers from the summer. They are sweet, kind people who work incredibly hard.
They have gorgeous -- I mean gorgeous -- produce!
Clusters of tomatoes that look like grapes! Beautiful long beds!
Peter worked very hard in the heat putting in this trellising and weeding, and weeding, and weeding.
He showed me his summer digs. He was kinda roughing it. Good thing he went to camp in the mountains all those years, because it was a bit like that, except without the dining hall.
Peter's sleeping quarters. He hung his hammock in there for the summer.
 Beautiful mountains! We walked down this path to see the greenhouse and chickens.
 Being off-grid, the farm had no electrical hook-up and relied only on generators.
Peter's only access to electricity was in the greenhouse, where he charged his cell phone.
Here he stands in front of his little kitchen building.
 A local boy with minor disabilities is having his therapy on the farm this summer, and he and Peter became buddies. Peter is good with kids.
A very large sycamore tree near Peter's cabin gives shade to the chairs beneath. That's a bee-swarm catching box up in that tree.
I could only stay about four hours with him, and it was hard to leave. I helped sort and bundle some carrots and onions, and ate lunch with them before heading to Chattanooga. I may see Peter on my return trip through Western North Carolina if I have time and if my travel allows it. It was so wonderful to see him -- I miss my boy so much!!!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

In Which Ned Is Proved to Be a Good Dog

After my recent post about how Ned chews everything in sight, you may be surprised to find that we are more and more thankful for how good he is.
That's because he's a good boy in comparison to another dog. Goldie.
Let me give you a brief history of our week with Goldie.
We brought her home from the pound Monday about noon. She was with us for 2 hours before she ran away. She pulled her head out of her collar, off the rope, escaped the fenced pasture, and left the farm. We were sad. But she was chipped at the pound, so ...
A kind lady found her trotting down the 5-lane county highway and took her home. She checked the pound website, and there was Goldie's smiling face on their site -- they hadn't taken it off yet. The lady got our number, called Adam, and Goldie was back home with us Tuesday morning. We drove to New Bern and bought her a large harness. We bought the cable and hardware for a long dog-run. This doggie wasn't escaping again! Adam put up the cable run between the barn and a a pecan tree, a lovely shady area. After all ... she was bought to be a farm dog, yes? A companion for the bored Ned, right?



As you see in the video above, Goldie would have none of it. She quickly learned how to pull out of that harness, clever girl. And we discovered what kind of dog she is! She's not some mysterious retriever/collie mix (with her long, slender nose). Oh no! She's a Walker Coonhound. Yes, that's right. We went to the pound and brought home a hound, the one kind of dog we've always said we would Never Own. Sigh.

Goldie hates the outdoors. She will not stay in the field. She can easily clear the gate, and that's probably how she got out the first time. And as a hound, she's a runner. So for the week, she's been inside the house where she is blissfully happy. And she's a good housemate. She never barks. She's perfectly housebroken. She's loving and sweet. She's a bit BIG, but she goes outside easily to potty. She prefers a soft couch, and we must shoo her off.

Did I mention she's tall? She can put her chin on our dining table. Food is no longer safe on the kitchen counter. She eats Beau's food and her own. This morning as Adam helped me carry my market baskets out to the van, we heard a terrible crash!!!! from the kitchen. It was the sound of our KitchenAid mixer hitting the floor. Adam had a batch of silky-smooth focaccia dough being beaten to a jelly in the mixer. Our mixer does 'walk' a little, but never off the counter!
Goldie was happy to clean up the focaccia dough, although as neither-liquid-nor-solid, it was challenging to get into her mouth. Only later did we realize that the mixer had not walked off the counter. Goldie had pulled it off. While it was running!

Grr.

This afternoon she had a tussle with Beau, who is only 5 pounds of mostly-fluff. Adam quickly put her in her place. They were fighting over a slice of cucumber, which Goldie doesn't like. Poor Beau was quite traumatized.

So, the farm dog we thought we were getting, we didn't get. Ned is still lonely. And although he could easily jump over the gate too, he never has. He's not interested in getting out of his pasture. He cries for us and chews things in his boredom, but I now consider a few mangled cantaloupes a small price to pay for a good farm dog who keeps all predators away from my chickens and who doesn't leave the farm ... ever.

Meanwhile, we now have our second house dog. We were planning on a new Sheltie. Her name would have been Trixie. But Beau is only 3, and Goldie is about 5, and they could both live until 15 years old, so we may never get Trixie. I don't want three house dogs in 1100 square feet. Goodbye, Trixie. Welcome, Goldie. May you learn some new tricks and forget a few old ones.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Finishing Lucy Boston

I've read The Children of Green Knowe, The Chimneys of Green Knowe, and The Stones of Green Knowe. All are excellent children's books appropriate for mid- to late-elementary ages. I particularly enjoyed the last of these because there is no TV or movie version of it, so the story was totally new to me.
For homeschoolers, this book would be a good choice for a Medieval Period reader. It's set in 1120 in early Norman England and there's a lot about architecture in the book, plus it's told from a child's perspective. Boston has excellent vocabulary and descriptive skills, a worthy fiction writer to influence young writers.

The three books are similar in that they all involve children who belong to one very long family line (from 1120 to about 1950), the Oldknowe family. Some critics say these books are about ghosts, but that's not an accurate statement. The point regarding the children is not that they are dead. The point is that they are perpetually alive and able to drift in and out of each other's "present." So, these are not children's stories full of scary ghosts. Far from it -- they are stories full of children who long to know their distant relatives and are given a magical chance to do so. I found the idea enchanting and wonderfully effective in her plot.

The other three Green Knowe books do not have this magical theme as much. I'm now reading An Enemy at Green Knowe, which apparently has a little of this theme, but the other two books (The River at Green Knowe and A Stranger at Green Knowe) lack it entirely. In addition, those books do not have the same children in them, particularly the 20th century boy named Tolly who figures in the other books.

I've enjoyed reading about Lucy Boston, her actual house (The Manor at Hemingford Grey in Cambridgeshire, England), hunting pictures of the house online, and reading an interview with her daughter-in-law Diana who now runs the house. Lucy was evidently a fascinating and independent woman.

Lucy Boston and I have this in common: we both love children's tales with magic and adventure, and we both love old houses that contain those children, that magic, and those adventures. Apparently she did not begin writing about Green Knowe until she was at least 60, so I'm not feeling the panicky time-crunch so much these days!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Promise

Stuck to my kitchen floor
On the last day of July
While rain distorts the windowpanes,
And thunder rattles the rafters,
Is a red leaf.











Bright like the Fourth of July,
Humble as pine straw,
I thought it was a squashed fig.
My heart sprung at the thought
Of summer over,
Of stormy Autumn,
Of chilly November,
While weather bellows overhead
Of a brief break in the oppression
Of furnace days and sticky nights.
The leaf whispers,
'Soon, soon!'

Copyright by the author
July 31, 2016