Friday, December 31, 2010

Why is the weather always bad at Christmas?

Thanksgiving was spent with my sister Ellen, who lives in Colorado; Christmas was spent with my brother, Jeremiah, who lives in New Mexico. And here am I in Maine. We have each picked the place that suits us most.

Jeremiah and I had a lovely visit, a lovely Christmas together. He had never been to Maine, and was properly impressed, declaring it beautiful, and cold. I was some-what surprised by that reaction on his part, since I think of New Mexico, at least the mountainous area around Santa Fe, where he lives, as being cold in winter. And I know it snows there. But apparently we're talking degree here. Several days with highs in the mid-20s, nighttime lows around ten, are perhaps a greater degree of cold than he is accustomed to.

And then, of course, he got caught in the Blizzard of 2010, as they were calling it on T.V. This was on Monday, Dec. 27th, the day we were supposed to drive to Portland, visit the Victorian Mansion, decorated for the holidays, which I've only been trying to get myself to since I moved to Maine five years ago, take a general sight-seeing tour of the city, and then settle in for the night at the Holiday Inn by the Bay, where we planned to stay so we wouldn't have to get up at 3:30 in the morning, in order to leave my house by 4:30, in order to get to the airport by 5:30 (Jeremiah's flight was scheduled for 6:50 a.m.)

Except for spending the night at the Holiday Inn, none of that happened. It started snowing Sunday evening, the wind came up during the night, as promised by the weather forecasters, and by Monday morning it was pretty darn ferocious out there, with the winds making the snow blow at the horizontal. I had thought we would try to leave about 1 p.m., but there was just no way I was going to try to drive in the conditions I could see through my living room window at 1 p.m. I told Jeremiah that we might have to wait until later that evening -- the blizzard warning was supposed to end by six p.m. But as the day wore on I got to thinking how I didn't really want to have to cope with driving at night, on top of dealing with snow, wind and poorly cleared roads; for it was quite possible that, even if the blizzard-like conditions had eased by 6 p.m., it would still not be pleasant out there. So at 3 p.m. I made the decision -- o.k., we're going -- and by 3:30 we were on the road.

Jeremiah offered to drive and I let him. He drove very carefully -- indeed, slower than I would have, slower than all the Mainers who were passing us did -- and we arrived safely, a little after 4:30, by which time it was too dark for him to see much of the city as we drove through it to the hotel. It was still very windy, and very cold, though the snow had let up, and we were in solid agreement that we were not going to walk around sight-seeing. After taking our things up to our room, which was nice, if unspectacular, and had the promised view of the bay that we couldn't see because it was night, we went down to dinner in the very nice restaurant, where we were the only customers in the place until just before we left, when another couple came in (the hotel was obviously far from full). The dinner was excellent, to our mutual surprise (a really good restaurant at a Holiday Inn?). My scallops were perfect, and Jeremiah's eggplant with Portobello mushrooms -- which I enjoyed the leftovers from later -- was also very good. It was actually quite pleasant, sitting there by the window looking out at the snowy street under the pink city lights, with the occasional muffled-up person hurrying past.

Later we enjoyed the luxury of lying propped up by all the great pillows on our individual beds, watching an episode of Bones, a show I like because of its emphasis on the importance of science, and because the heroine is the humorless, brilliant, logical scientist, while the hero, an FBI agent, is the romantic, intuitive one.

So after all that was Jeremiah's flight cancelled, like so many others, you're wondering? Since he was flying to Atlanta, not one of the impossible places like New York, New Jersey, or Philadelphia, we were hoping against hope that his flight would not be cancelled. And it wasn't, but it was three hours late leaving. And since Jeremiah got to the airport at about ten of 6 -- courtesy of the complimentary airport shuttle, a really wonderful invention -- he had to hang around the airport for three and a half hours before finally getting on a plane. Then had to wait 2 1/2 hours in Atlanta for the later plane they had put him on, since he had of course missed his earlier connection. He was supposed to arrive in Albuquerque at 1:15, but didn't get in until 6:30 in the evening. An extremely long, tiring day for him, but obviously far better than those folks who had to wait literally days to get back home.

Well, it will all make a good story for him. He can now say he's experienced a New England blizzard.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

With a little imagination...

The ornaments I hang on my Christmas tree are nothing if not original. Many have been made by various friends over the years, out of Styrofoam balls, glitter and beads. It all started with the first Christmas my husband and I shared, in 1968, the year we were married. We were living in Los Angeles at the time -- with me chaffing because it was in the 70s, and it was Christmas -- and I invited my friends Grace and Joe up from Long Beach to a tree-decorating party. Which first involved making the decorations. And later when I was living in Boston, I coerced my Boston friends into participating in another such party. And off and on over the years, whenever somebody would visit me at Christmas time, I would have him or her make at least one ornament.

Some are quite lovely -- the one covered completely in blue glitter, for example -- some are very clever (e.g., the globe of the world with glitter continents by Boston friend Robert), some are amusing (friend Rick's The Phantom Frog Strikes Again, with its grinning masked "action figure"). One that my mother made demonstrates her patience in producing a craft: what must easily be a hundred green sequins topped by a gold star, and pinned to the Styrofoam with gold headed pins, forming a "cap" above the face she had colored in. Another face that someone else did -- friend Meaghan? (who was formerly friend Grace) -- comes complete with eyeglasses. There's a snowman, complete with three segments and a black top hat. Don't know how whoever did that one -- I think it may have been Micheal -- came up with that particular accouterment.

I've done the same thing with the Christmas tree we put up at the library: each year, we put out the Styrofoam balls, the glitter, the glue, the what-have-you, and invite and encourage people to "Make an Ornament for our Tree." And they do, little kids and grown-ups alike. Here again, some real artistic talent is revealed. But mainly it's a way to give people an investment in the tree. It's not just one we put up and decorate for them to look at, it's one they've contributed to. And we save the decorations from year to year, just as I do mine at home, which has imparted a sense of tradition to the tree.

This is the kind of thing that makes Christmas meaningful to me: people coming together to share various kinds of traditions, which give them a sense of continuity, while making the world colorful and festive (or delicious) for a while.

So Merry Christmas, already.

Monday, December 20, 2010

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree

Since I live alone, and don't usually have guests at Christmas, I frequently do not put up a tree. But this year my brother is coming from New Mexico for a visit, so I definitely needed a tree. And any tree this girl has has to be real.

But here was my problem, or rather the first of what were to prove numerous problems: where to put a tree in my tiny house? I had one the year my mother spent mid-November to mid-December with me, and again the following year, but in both instances my living room was set up differently. Once I discovered one of my book-cases was sitting over a heating vent (how had I missed that fact when I moved in?), which was not good for either my books or the temperature of the room in winter, things had to be re-arranged. Now in the only possible space I didn't have a bookcase that it was no big deal if it was partially covered by the branches of a Christmas tree, but rather the small table where I eat my meals. Couldn't very well cover that up. I finally decided I would just have to get a tree small enough to stand on top of my desk -- that was simply the only horizontal surface available.

So I drove way out to Longfellow's Greenhouses in Manchester, thinking that would be the most likely place to find a really small tree. But the only small trees they had -- which were actually the perfect size -- were live trees, and cost $65. I couldn't bring myself to pay that much for such a small tree, especially one that I didn't know what I'd do with until spring. So the next day I stopped at the tree lot I pass every day on my way to work, with the sign out front that touts "All Maine Trees." Frankly, in this state full of every kind of evergreen (it is the Pine Tree state!), I can't imagine any tree lot having anything other than Maine trees, but oh, well.

The smallest tree on the lot seemed like it would be small enough, but when I got it home I saw it was definitely too big to fit on my desk. Well, I could hardly take it back; I would worry about where the heck to put it after I got it into its stand. But that proved a task beyond my powers. It simply is not possible to screw in the screws that hold the trunk in place, while holding the tree upright. After doing a lot of screaming and swearing, which I acknowledged to myself was hardly in the Christmas spirit, I went next door and asked Bill the Drunk if he could perhaps help. Note that I don't really know that Bill is a drunk; it just seems like he's all but stumbling drunk whenever I talk to him (or possibly stoned) -- he's frequently out in the driveway having a cigarette when I'm coming or going, evidently banned from the house when he smokes. He's nice enough, but a little unsteady on his feet. Actually, when I went over there I was hoping one of the other fellows who lives in the house would be there, but as usual it was just Bill, so Bill is what I got. He held the tree while I struggled with the screws, but we could not get that damn tree to stand straight.

Finally I sent Bill on his way, and called Earl. Earl is the fellow who hauls the library's old newspapers and cardboard to the recycling center, and he has also traditionally done whatever kind of "muscle" work I needed done around the library. He is no longer young, but is determined to prove that has not affected his muscle power one whit. Though I sometimes fear he will drop dead of a stroke or heart attack on me -- all while talking a blue streak -- I find him enormously helpful. And he has helped me personally a couple of times with other Woman Living Along problems.

However, as luck would have it, Earl was not home. So in desperation I called the one male member of my staff, and asked if he could possibly help me set up my Christmas tree. With his usual good grace Bob drove from Hallowell to my place, did his best to help me, but finally agreed with me that the big problem was most likely my broken tree stand (did I mention my tree stand was broken?) So while Bob went to have lunch with his wife, who happens to work in Gardiner, I went to good ol' Harvey's Hardware and bought a new stand; Bob came back after lunch and we were able to get the tree up, and more or less straight. While he was gone I had decided where the tree would go: in the kitchen! The kitchen is separated from the living room (where I also eat) by only a narrow, waist-high counter cum built-in bookcase, so the tree would be plainly visible. And the only things taking up space on the kitchen side of the counter were a big box of bubble wrap, and the big cooler my mother gave me to carry food in when I was driving from Texas to Maine. Both could easily go down to the basement (in fact, I asked myself, why hadn't I don't that before?)

So, success at last. I was so worn out, I decided decorating would have to wait for the weekend.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

'Tis the season

Well, it's all over but the shouting. Sent my last Christ-mas cards out this morning. Doing Christmas cards is an activity I actually enjoy -- I like the idea of connecting to all those I care about at this time of caring and sharing -- but it just takes so long. First there's picking out the cards, then deciding which ones should go to whom. I don't just buy a box or two of the same card and send them out to everyone I know; I want what I send to be appropriate. Does this scene work for this person or couple? Does the message inside? And I have to keep a record of what card I send to whom, since I sometimes have cards left over, which I may use another year...but heaven forbid they should go to the same people!

Then there's the fact that I send cards out to a total of 38 households (plus three Hanukkah households, but this year that holiday came way too early, so those folks are getting Happy New Year's cards from me). But the real labor-intensive part comes from the fact that I make a point of writing personal notes to everyone, if I'm not including a Christmas letter. When I do a letter it isn't a summary of the whole year, as many people's Christmas letters are, but simply an of-the-moment letter. It may vary slightly from person to person, but the gist of it is the same. That saves me some time -- it's all on the computer, any slight changes take no time at all -- but this year I didn't seem to have a letter in me, so per-sonal, handwritten notes it had to be. Those people I more or less keep in touch with during the year -- or those few who I know actually make a point of reading my blog -- may get a very brief note; others, a more substantive one. But it all takes time, and thought.

And finally, I have to photocopy all the cards, so I'll know what I've said to whom (since I remember nothing, see Note of...ah, I forget). And then I have to handwrite my return address 40 times because I don't have those little return address stickers (a frill I can't bring myself to spend money on). And at some point I stand in line to buy Christmas stamps. And all of this takes me a week to ten days to complete. Which is where I am now, tired but triumphant.

But, here's the thing. Most people (at least most women) not only churn out the Christmas cards -- and I'm sure many people have lists as long as mine, if not longer -- but they also have to buy presents for various near and dear, an obligation I'm spared because of my Starving Librarian status. If they have kids, several gifts for each one of them. If they have nieces/nephews they're close to, they have to have presents. The parents -- both sets, if you're a couple. The spouse. Secret Santa at work. Everything has to be selected (will he like this, is this too young for her, will this fit, do you suppose they already have one, can we afford this), wrapped, mailed in a timely fashion or put under the tree. On top of baking cookies for the family, and the church Christmas fair, on top of decorating the house (male contributions in this area usually restricted to putting the lights on the tree, and putting up the outside lights), on top of going to see the kids in the church's nativity play, on top of maybe going to a Christmas party, maybe throwing one. Planning, shopping for, and preparing the Christmas meal.

No wonder they're so relieved when it's all over. No wonder the holidays are so stressful for so many people (especially women). There are just too many things one is expected to do, or that one demands of oneself, to make the holiday "just right." Toward the end I got really tired of doing Christmas cards, and that was just one little task that I was demanding of myself. But ye gods, if I had to do all that other stuff...

As much as I love Christmas, with all the trimmings, I probably just wouldn't. In order to keep on loving Christmas.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Oh, yes, I forgot...

As yet further evidence that my memory is essentially useless: Ellen and I had two delays on our trip, not one. And the second was lengthy enough for us to sit down in a restaurant and have a leisurely lunch.

Friend Fae drove us to the airport at about 11 a.m. Saturday, for our 12:50 flight to Colorado Springs. Although we'd been blessed with sunny weather throughout our stay, the last ten minutes of the drive were in pouring rain, that had us all feeling nervous. Indeed, both Ellen and I were worried about Fae having to drive home in that rain, but she assured me in a later email that it stopped as soon as she'd left the airport (it would seem the gods didn't want people coming to the airport, but if you'd already dropped off your passengers, ah, what the hell). After we'd snaked our way through a longish security line that nonetheless moved at a reasonable pace -- and during which a smiling, very young, security guard reminded me that I'd have to dump that water bottle in my hand ("Or you can just dump the water in the bin and keep the bottle," he'd said helpfully, but, thinking about those annoying faucets in the ladies room, where you have to hold your hands just so to get the water to come on, and it can go off any time it likes, I decided against the refill-it-after-the-security-rigmarole substitute for having to purchase a $2.50 bottle of water post-security.) -- and after following the little old white-haired gentleman who had to all but undress (first they had to tell him to take off his belt, but then his suspenders set off the alarm. So then he undid them at the front, but of course that didn't help at all, since the metal clips that had attached to his pants were just as metal dangling down around his knees. Finally one of the security guards helped him undo them at the back and remove them. At least they didn't say, O.K., sir, you'll need to step over here for a pat-down.) through the security gate, we found a Departures monitor and learned that our plane wouldn't be leaving until 1:20. We had nearly two hours to kill.

So we opted for lunch. And not in a food-court kind of set-up, with overpriced fast food, but in a real restau-rant, where you sat down, ordered, and waited for them to cook your food. A first for me, in many years of flying. The place was called Yankee Pier -- more irony -- and served really quite excellent seafood. I had the fish and chips, and while the fish was fried, the flesh was cooked just right, not overcooked, not rubbery, and the batter was very light. Excellent fried potatoes made out of real (as opposed to pop them frozen out of the bag) potatoes. Ellen said her tuna melt was "real" tuna (as opposed to canned), and delicious. It was nice not having to rush, or take the food with us, to clumsily consume while waiting to board the plane.

Of course, this meal did not come cheap, $34 for the two of us, with only water to drink, and no dessert. Ah, well, we just pretended we could afford it.

By the way, re the very nice young security guard: throughout our various flights all TSA workers seemed to be bending over backwards to be pleasant and courteous, and Ellen and I were both wondering if the recent flap over the pat-down business had anything to do with that. At any rate, it was better than being treated like a potential criminal...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The unfit traveler

One thing my trip to San Francisco demonstrated to me is how fearfully out of shape I've become. I haven't exercised in months, because I finally reached the point where I just couldn't force myself to do this thing I had always hated doing. (Rather amusingly, my sister was reading on the trip a book on staying fit and feeling good for women "of a certain age," that included a section headed "All the best people hate to exercise.") I knew I would feel better -- though I always feel terrible immediately upon finishing an exercise session -- knew my increased stiffness was due to no exercise, knew it was affecting my stamina, which isn't good at the best of times.

But it took all that hiking up steep hills to convince me that I needed to bite the bit and start exercising again. It wasn't just the Streets of San Francisco, though there I was usually bringing up a limp fourth (Ellen, who exercises regularly, and seems to be made of energy, was always way out in front and never even seemed winded). But there were other demonstrations.

We got in on Wednesday morning, and after lunch Fae suggested we go to nearby "Windy Hill" (which turned out to be appropriately named) from which you can see both the sea and the bay. I later learned, thanks to signs along the trail, that this is part of the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve of San Mateo County. The climb up to the top was neither that long nor that steep, but Fae and I vied for who would get there last. Near the top, in the first "open space" (most of the way up we had scrub brush on one side, and a hillside covered with scrub brush on the other), I saw a bench, and practically cried Eureka. But we weren't quite to the top. Ellen and Jim were already there, taking pictures of the bay. And if you looked off to the west, there was a slim line of the Pacific Ocean, gleaming in the sun. All very nice, if a bit nippy, but I'd been given my first taste of my out-of-shapeness.

Then, Fae's idea for Thanksgiving afternoon, when we were waiting for the turkey to roast, was to walk "up the street" to where one of their neighbors ran a miniature train around his back yard every holiday. Fae knows I love trains, and thought I'd enjoy this. Which I did -- it was an adorable little train, complete with whistle which the "engineer" blew as we went around curves -- but the walk up and up and up the winding, winding, winding street to the neighbor's house had me ultimately collapsing on a guard rail to catch my breath and slow my heart rate. I felt like a little old lady. Since their retire-ment Fae and Jim have been doing a lot of walking, and it has obviously paid off.

So, Melody, it's time to get off the bed where you're taking that nap, or get off that computer where you're doing that admittedly fascinating genealogical research, or get off that couch where you're watching the latest episode of Bones or Fringe or Lie to Me, and EXERCISE.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Where I left my heart

Went to the San Francisco area for Thanksgiving, with my sister Ellen. I had invited myself to the home of friends Fae and Jim months ago, and when Fae was having a hard time coming up with additional people to invite, I boldly suggested my sister. I knew Ellen had never been to San Francisco -- and while Fae and Jim actually live in Redwood City, about 20 miles south of SF, I knew we would be going into the city at least one day -- knew she could use a special little holiday, rather than sitting at home alone (her only son lives in Hawaii, and was not coming home for Thanksgiving), and felt sure Fae and Jim would enjoy her -- she is a pleasant, agreeable, and very funny person -- and that she would like them (they are pleasant, low-keyed, very hospitable).

It was a really good trip. Even the flying was relatively hassle-free. No, we did not get patted down, or put through a machine that would enable some stinker to put our naked images up on the Internet. Indeed, at none of the airports we went through -- Portland, Maine, Denver, CO, Colorado Springs CO, or San Francisco -- did we see anyone being patted down or zapped with radiation. Nor were we cursed with weather delays. The only real delay we had was in Colorado Springs, when the United agent informed us over the intercom that the flight attendant had "called in sick," and the person who would be replacing her would be arriving at about the time the plane was scheduled to leave. Even then, though we were about half an hour late leaving, we "made up the time?" (How? By flying faster? If that was the case, why don't they always fly faster?)

When we went into S.F. on Black Friday, which, far from being black, was a beautiful, sunny day, I was reminded of why it remains my third favorite city in the world (after London & Paris, and just before Boston). It's beautiful, cosmopolitan, unique. Ellen was the expected delighted by it. We managed to do most of the things she wanted to do. We strolled up Grant Avenue into Chinatown (yes, "Grant Avenue...San Francisco... California...USA!"), and later enjoyed dim sum in a little tea house on an alley off Sacramento Street, (next door to the Willie "Woo-Woo" Wong Playground). We walked up Nob Hill and wandered through the quite gorgeous Fairmont Hotel's lobby, and one of its shops, full of beautiful Indian fabrics, rugs, clothing, decorative boxes, etc., none of which had price tags on them (both Fae and I were afraid to ask the price of anything). We also paid our respects to the Ritz Carlton, which was properly elegant, but not so grandiose as the Fairmont. We took a Powell Street cable car down the hill to Fisherman's Wharf, to join the thousands of other tourists, and the hundreds of seagulls. Ellen got her picture of Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

The one thing she had wanted to do that we just ran out of time and energy to do was visit Haight Ashbury, where I lived for six months in 1966-67 (see Note of June 23, 2008 for some of my reminisces ). But we went home to Redwood City and enjoyed a Maine lobster dinner at a favorite spot of Fae's and Jim's, the Old Port Lobster Shack on Veterans Blvd. -- and yes, we were all amused by the irony of this girl from Maine having Maine lobster in California, but hey, I never have it in Maine because I can't afford it -- and then went home and crashed. A good day, a good visit all around.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Former masters of the earth

I have been trying to plough my way through Dinosaur Odyssey: Fossil Threads in the Web of Life, by Scott D. Sampson. I am as fascinated by dinosaurs as any 10-year-old boy, but while the book is certainly interesting, and informative, it is also pretty heavy going, at least partly because of all the mind-numbing words like ornitho-mimosaurs, hadrosaurs, ceratopsids, not to mention all the proper scientific names of particular species -- Deinonychus, Tenontosaurus, Coelophysis. I never realized there were so many.

There are a number of concepts I've had a hard time wrapping my mind around, the biggest being that of "deep time." The (approximately) 4.54 billion years the earth has been around, that's an example of deep time. The "160 million-year tenure of dinosaurs," that's deep time. We're not talking a hundred years, not a thousand years, or even ten thousand years -- the approximate length of time human society for which we have plentiful evidence has been around -- we're not even talking about 4.4 million years, which is about how old the oldest humanoid (not human) remains thus far found have been. The last of the dinosaurs died out about 65 million years ago (that's 10,000 x 10 x 65), and this was at the end of their "160 million-year tenure." How can I possibly think intelligently about that kind of time span? And how can self-destructive humans ever hope to compete with that record for longevity?

Of course, they weren't all the same dinosaur species during that 160-million-year stretch. Just as in the more recent past, species came and went, evolved and died out, due to one cause or another. I never thought about that, but living creatures are certainly going to change, evolve, over that long a time span.

Another idea I have trouble with is that the birds of today are the descendents of a certain group of dinosaurs (interestingly, not the flying kind, like pterosaurs, but "small, carnivorous dinosaurs [that] found a way to be-come airborne," and that "managed to eke through the extinction bottleneck that brought an end to the Mesozoic." Admittedly, if you sit and watch a bunch of birds, you can spy very predatory and rapacious be-havior, but that's the closest to anything dinosaur-like that you can easily detect. But at least I'm glad to learn that no one is claiming that birds are the descendents of T-Rex.

One very interesting and highly plausible idea Sampson has introduced me to is that the weird horns/stiff neck "ruffles"/rooster-like crests/and other adornments many dinosaurs sported were less likely to have served as weapons, as originally thought -- many would have been very ineffectual weapons, because of their locations -- or even to assist in getting at or eating food, than to have served as attraction mechanisms for the opposite sex. After all, that's the purpose served by any number of oddities in the animal kingdom today. The elaborate spread of the peacock tail, the brighter coloration of the male of many bird species, the antlers of the deer, the red bottom of female baboons...all of these serve a primary function of attracting the opposite sex. I like to think of a female triceratops spotting a nearby male and thinking, "My, look at the frill on that big guy. I'd like him to be the father of my children."

Only, of course, not really thinking it, but intuiting it. Enabling the reproduction dance to go on, and evolution to continue on its ponderous but ineluctable way.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Oh they have to win they have to win

All right, I'm willing to concede that professional sports are more than "just a game." They're a competition to see which team is better trained, in better shape, with more finely-honed skills. But what I don't get is why fans identify so totally with their favorite teams. It's one thing if your kid is playing on the little league or the high school team, if a team you're cheering for is from your alma mater, even if you've long since left the place. But just because a professional team is called the Philadelphia Phillies or the Texas Rangers, does not mean it's made up of a bunch of home-grown boys. The Rangers have players from California, Arizona, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, just to name a few. And every professional team is the same. So what are the fans so invested in? What is it that makes them so hysterical when "their" team wins, so morose when it loses?

This kind of fan fanaticism is something I truly do not understand, and my inability to do so is one of the things that makes me feel I am not a member of the human race. Maybe one of my psychologist friends can explain it to me. Watching game four of the Series, I was amazed by the people in the stands that the camera would catch, some of whom looked tense and miserable, as if they might cry at any moment, some of whom actually looked as though they were praying, many of whom just looked depressed. All because it really did look like "their" team was going to lose (which it did). And of course when a favored team wins the fans jump up and down, scream, cry, hug one another, and, when they get out to their cars, drive up and down the streets with horns blaring, screaming out the windows.

Why? Why is winning or losing so important? What does it prove? That a particular team, for that game at least, was better at their job than the other team. But their expertise has literally nothing to do with the fans, or I guess I should say the fans have nothing to do with their expertise. Are not responsible for it, cannot take credit for it, really have no right to feel proud of it. And remember these are not local boys -- many of them will be playing for other teams in a year or two or three. Winner's hysteria seems to be saying 'this team, whoever it may be made up of at the moment, has a name and a home base connected or close to where I live and they've won; therefore I'm ecstatic, feel triumphant.'

And Melody doesn't get it. Is it just the old us-against-them mentality, played out in sports? A kind of tribalism, that sometimes seems genetically fixed? Melody herself is such a weird spectator of sporting events that she can actually appreciate a good play by the other team, instead of despairing because it results in them scoring a point, or otherwise furthering their cause. And I have such a strange idea of good sportsmanship that I think in a situation like the one on Monday night, when the Series was lost to a team that just plain played better, someone over the loud speaker should have called for a round of applause for a game well-played by the winning team, and should have gotten it, from a bunch of disappointed, but gallant, Ranger fans. Wouldn't that have been cool? In the best of all possible worlds...

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Take me out to the ball game

I have watched most of the first three games of the World Series (which should surely be called the National presumptuous of us!), and am looking forward to the fourth game this evening (although the competition is a new version of Sherlock Holmes on Masterpiece Theatre. The game may lose me for an hour.)

This kind of sports enthusiasm is unprecedented for me. Although I've always liked baseball, I've never been much for watching games on television. However, this summer I found myself watching at least part of the occasional game on Fox, and was reminded of what a terrific game it really is. For one thing, you can see what's happening, as opposed to American football games. You are able to clearly see both individual skill, and beautifully-executed teamwork. Indeed, with today's long-range cameras and instant replays you can see amazing detail, can see exactly what makes a particular play impressive. Surely there are few things more satisfying than a flawless double play. As someone who has always "thrown like a girl," I can't help but be impressed by an outfielder who scoops up a ground ball, sends it like an arrow clear across the field to the second baseman who tags the runner and then zings the ball to first base. And of course it's exciting when you're not sure, you're not sure, but...yes! It's a home run!

And the game is not just a matter of big lugs plowing into one another, trying to put one another out of commission (a la American football), or of purposely starting free-for-alls (ice hockey). It's a matter of skill and teamwork, rather than brute force.

But I have to say that, as I watch, I can't help but think of it as a kid's game that grownup kids are playing. I mean, think about it. When you hit the ball you have to run as fast as you can around in a circle, being sure to touch a "bag" at three points in the circle. The other side is trying to tag you with the ball before you can do that. Sometimes there's actually a skittish little dance as a runner tries to avoid being tagged. Grown men doing that for a living!

They make it "grownup" by having things like errors ("Come on, you're a pro, you shouldn't have fumbled that ball."), and by having pitchers who throw such fast, sneaky, misleading balls that it's no mean trick to successfully hit them.

I decided I'm rooting for the Giants. Yes, I know, I'm a bad Texan. But I watched the Giants play the Philadelphia Phillies this summer, and so enjoyed this "bunch of misfits," as they are frequently described, that when I learned they were playing in the Series, I decided they were "my" team. (Since the Red Sox aren't playing.) I'm especially impressed by pitcher Tim Lincecum, who looks about 16 -- it doesn't look like he shaves yet! -- who is skinny, and yet delivers his pitches with amazing power.

I'm happy the Rangers have made it to their first "National" Series, and I won't be heartbroken if they win -- after all, this is "only a game" -- but...go Giants.

Am wondering if my friends Bob and Mary, big Giants fans, attended either of the games that were held in San Francisco. Rather amazing location for the ball park, right next to the water...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Paying our respects

Well, here I've actually gone and done something. I flew to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area to visit various friends and relatives, living and dead. The main reason for my trip was to see my friend Clifford, who has known me since the day I was born. One of my father's oldest friends (they knew each other from the seventh grade on), Clifford and two other of my father's friends brought a big, soft, pale blue teddy bear to the hospital in honor of my birth. I still have that bear (Joe), though the pale blue has long since faded to grey, he's lost his stuffing and been restuffed more than once, with negligible results, and the big black eyes were at some point replaced with pale pink pearl buttons, that somehow make him look cross-eyed. Nonetheless, I love this bear.

Clifford is now the only one of "the gang" left, and has reached the impressive, but somewhat unsettling, age of 90. I thought I should check in on him. I also did some grave-hopping while in Ft. Worth. At my father's and stepmother's grave, which is located on a hill over-looking the Trinity River, it was so windy that I realized I was not going to be able to leave the flowering plant I'd brought, as it was quite likely to get blown away. I later picked up a heavy ceramic planter at Walmart's garden center, tucked the basket with the plant inside that, and made a second trip out to Oakwood to put it in place. It looked like it would now be able to withstand that Texas wind, and, if no one steals it, should be available for future "plantings."

I was accompanied by my sister-in-law, Karen, on this trip (on the first it was Cliff). Karen is the widow of my stepbrother who died in 1999, while I was spending three months in France. I didn't even know he had died until I returned home, and had never yet been to visit his grave. I had also never been to visit my stepbrother Dean's grave, though I had attended his funeral, in southern Louisiana. Both of these brothers died at sadly young ages (54 & 53), and I was reminded of how sad that was, standing at their graves. But it was great watching Karen in action. Not only had she brought artificial flowers which she tucked in amongst the ones still there from her last visit ("Very unusual that they're still here," she said. "When they mow they usually take them away."), but she had bought little plastic pumpkins full of candy for each grave (she tended a total of six, all her husband's relatives, not hers, which shows you what kind of person Karen is), as well as a package of Twizzlers for Mike's grave, as that had been his favorite. I loved the efficiency combined with affection with which she freshened and tidied the graves.

And I also visited my own husband's grave, in Terrell, the morning of the day I flew back to Maine. Here, I cried. I always do. Micheal also died too young (58). All these men who don't take proper care of themselves, dying early.

But I didn't just grave-hop. I also spent some time with one of my high school classmates, whom I try to see whenever I go to Ft. Worth. On my first evening there he and his mother took me to dinner at Pappadeaux, which doesn't get very good reviews on Trip Adviser, and which was too noisy, but which served me up a delicious almond-crusted talapia. (The next night, when Karen and her partner took me to dinner, I had crab-stuffed talapia. I said it was pretty ironic, coming from a coastal state to this land-locked city and having fish twice in a row.)

Our second evening together Robert and I drove to Dallas to visit yet another high school classmate, where I admired his beautiful town house, with a view from the bedroom balcony of the Flying Red Horse, Pegasus, atop what was once the Magnolia Petrolium Building, and is now the Magnolia Hotel. This building, at 29 stories, used to be the tallest in Dallas -- I can remember driving from Ft. Worth to Dallas as a kid, and spotting the building's winged red horse soaring above the city -- but now this iconic sign can barely be discerned amongst all the city's much taller buildings. But from Steve's balcony you have a very nice view of it. At Steve's we consumed lots of champagne, the hottest Thai food I've ever had, and did lots of reminiscing, which is one of the things old friends are for. Thanks to the champagne we were all extremely amusing.

My final evening was spent with my Dallas cousins, in the first house I had been in in four days that was always cool enough for me. Temperatures were in the 80s while I was down there, which as we all know is too hot for my tastes. Jim and I are both heavy into tracing the family tree, and had a bang-up time pouring over a bunch of old photos he'd inherited from his mother, who'd inherited them from her mother. I hadn't seen either of my cousins, or their families, in over six years, so it was good to see them all again.

All in all, a satisfying visit, during which I did everything I intended to do, saw everyone I intended to see, and didn't hyperventilate too much, driving in all that mad traffic.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Going with the flow

O.K., I've now joined the rest of the human race in two areas. I've purchased a cell phone, and a rolling suitcase.

Yes, I know, I was probably the last person in the United States of America who was still lugging by hand a heavy suitcase everywhere she went. I think it was my agonizing experience at the Portland, Maine airport in January, when I was preparing to take a flight to San Antonio to attend my mother's funeral, that cinched it for me. When I got up to the automatic check-in machine, I discovered I did not have my billfold. Had taken it out of my purse to pay a highway toll; must have left it on the seat of the car. Shit. Since you can't leave your luggage unattended, I had to lug my suitcase with me, back across the street to the parking garage, and down quite a way to where I'd parked my car.

Sure enough, there was my billfold on the seat. So then I trudge back to the terminal, go up to the counter, and discover...I don't have my billfold! I absolutely went to pieces, kept crying, "This isn't possible, I just went to get it, I can't believe this is happening!" The only thing I could think of was that I had knocked it out of my purse, which meant it must be lying on the concrete out there, just waiting for someone to pick it up. And what made it all too perfect was that I was again going to have to carry that damn suitcase with me, while I retraced my steps.

I begged the woman at the counter to let me leave my suitcase with her. She kept saying she couldn't do that, but she did finally take pity on me, given that I was having a mini-breakdown right there in front of God and everybody, and said she'd walk with me over to the X-ray machine, and if they o.k.ed it, then she could keep it, while I went to look for my "wallet." So that's what we did. And the billfold/wallet (you say tomatoes, I say tomahtoes) was not lying on the pavement anywhere; it was still on the seat of my car. I had picked it up off the passenger seat, paused to do something or other, and set it down on the driver's seat while I was doing that something or other. And left it. Those near and dear who do not think my Alzheimer's is taking over, just aren't paying attention.

Well, as I said, it was probably this painful experience that convinced me I really did need a rolling suitcase. Mind you, I love my old suitcase, which is an excellent suitcase, still in perfect shape though it's got to be thirty years old. Though it's an undistinguished black, it has a very distinctive, almost military, stripe of red, kaki and olive, running across the top from the back seam to the combination lock...which of course I can no longer use. (Not being able to lock ones suitcases is damnable, as far as I'm concerned -- why can't they x-ray them when you're at the counter, then let you lock them?) This strip makes it easy to spot my case among all the other black bags coming around on the baggage carousel, as do my initials engraved on a small patch of leather at the top of the stripe.

I am very conservative in many ways, not wanting to discard or stop using something just because it's old being one of those ways. But I have had to acknowledge that, as I am not strong, and no longer young, lugging a suitcase around by hand on my travels is just proving too much for me. So there you go.

As to the cell phone, I was probably the last person in the world who didn't have one of those. They are as ubiquitous in Third World countries as they are in the U.S., but I kept saying, for years, that I didn't need one, and why get something you didn't need? Just something else to spend money on and have to stay on top of. But on my last few trips there has always been at least one instance when it would have been really helpful to have a cell phone, so that I could call and let people know I was going to be late in arriving.

So what the hell, I broke down and signed up for the cheapest plan I could find, from Consumer Cellular. A mere $10 a month, with free phone. No minutes included with this plan, but it was recommended if I expected to use 20 minutes or fewer in a month, which I do, since this phone really is intended for emergency purposes only. Twenty-five cents a minutes for all calls, including long distance. No contract, can cancel anytime. Does that sounds like a reasonable deal? It did to me.

So we shall see how this being like everybody else goes.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


O.K., now that I've got the ice cream addiction pretty much under control (very occasional now, instead of practically every night) I've turned to the caffeine addiction. Way more difficult. Actually, I've been drinking caffeine-laden sodas all of my life, without giving it a thought. But only in the last few months have I resorted to that favorite supplier of caffeine for most of the world, coffee. I've never been a coffee drinker because I don't like the taste. Love the smell, dislike the taste.

But a few months ago I discovered what everybody else discovers when they're about 18: coffee is the best waker-upper there is. At work I have an ongoing problem with staying...not exactly awake, but alert, on my toes, up to all the multitasking I have to do. I was accustomed to downing a candy bar and quite a few slugs of Diet Dr Pepper at some point, every single day, as my energy level and mental acuity began to flag. But the candy bars would inevitably begin to wreak havoc with my inner workings, after a few days; besides which there was the inevitable low after the sugar high had dissipated.

So one day I bought a cup of Pumpkin Pie coffee (or some such name) at the local bakery, Slates, intrigued by the name as much as anything. Adulterated with plenty of fake sugar and light cream, it wasn't half bad. In fact, the flavoring that entitled it to be called Pumpkin Pie made it almost tasty.

And...this was the biggie...I found that a few sips of it perked me up even better than the Coke/candy combo. So I began buying a cup about every other day -- yes, a cup would last me two days, since I never drank much at a time.

But then, as with any addiction, I began drinking more each day, so that in no time at all it was a cup a day. And I realized not long ago that I was having to consume coffee in order to get going in the morning. Big news, huh? But this did not please me. The fact that I ran down and had to have this particular pick-me-up throughout the day shouted dependence. And the idea of being dependent on anything, at the mercy of anything, has always appalled me. It was one reason I had such a hard time understanding my husband's alcoholism -- how could he bear to be so not in control of himself and his life, so at the mercy of this substance?

I also realized that while the coffee did "wake me up," it also made me very nervous, and I'm nervous enough, thank you very much. And there was the fact that I was spending $1.31 a day -- almost $7 a week -- on something that probably wasn't good for me, and adding all that light cream to my waistline in the bargain.

So I stopped drinking coffee last Saturday. And, what was probably a mistake, decided to try to drop caffeine altogether, while I was at it. For I know that caffeine tends to make me feel hungry, which means I probably eat more than I otherwise would, as I freqently have some kind of cola, or iced tea, with my meals, or between meals (the latter for the needed pick-me-up). That is, I can never have just a glass of soda, I have to have something to eat with it. And that's certainly adding to the waistline.

Until this afternoon, when I had a few sips of Dr Pepper, I had had no caffeine in a week. And I felt tired, tired, tired all week. Practically all I did when I was at home was sleep, because I felt too tired to do anything without giving myself a caffeine fix. And at work it was pretty much a matter of there in body but not in spirit. It was just a good thing there were no crises or meetings to deal with. (There was a program on Thursday evening, that I had to drag myself back to the library for.) This afternoon, when I really had serious doubts about being able to do anything at work, I decided to look online, to see what the timeline for caffeine withdrawal was. Because I felt I really could not go on like this for much longer. At one site, where "the public" was answering the question, 'how long does it take for caffeine withdrawal symptoms to disappear?' the most common answer was 'about two weeks.' Although, some people said, it can take up to three months (a couple of people said six months!) for your body to recover completely from being deprived of caffeine. Good grief.

It was after reading that that I concluded I may have been hasty in trying to eliminate all caffeine from my diet at once. So, no coffee -- I do think I can stick with that -- but there may be a sip of Dr Pepper from time to time. The girl has to be able to write, if nothing else.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

On hearing an angel sing

I suppose everyone out there -- with the exception of my friend Clifford, who doesn't watch anything but sports with the sound turned off -- has by now heard the amazing 10-year-old Jackie Evancho, either in her recent operatic performances on "America's Got Talent," or on any of the performances saved to YouTube (which include the ones from AGT). She is certainly one re-markable little singer; indeed, her voice seems to be coming out of a full-grown woman, rather than that little slip of a girl (which is, in fact, why some people were thinking there must be a mechanical trick involved). It's one thing to reach those exquisite high notes, but how can her body produce those rich, full lower notes? How has she got the diaphragm for it?

I didn't see Jackie on AGT, but my local FOX News station always shows cuts from shows like American Idol and AGT, and that's where I heard Jackie's rendition of Pie Jesu from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Requiem. I have this album, and while I don't think much of it as a whole -- it's lugubrious, as all requiems are, and more than once I can detect The Phantom of the Opera lurking in the background -- Sarah Brightman's performance of Pie Jesu on it is exquisite. But...little Jackie's is, I do believe, more so. How a 10-year-old girl could compete with a 25-year-old one, is beyond me.

But, enough rhapsodizing. Here's what I'm wondering. What kind of childhood is little Jackie having? Although it's obvious she has a god-given voice, you don't get that kind of breath control and phrasing and fullness and roundness without practicing, practicing, practicing. So is Jackie, like very talented children from Mozart to Frances Gumm (aka Judy Garland), doing without a childhood, in order to perfect her talent, and then showcase it? And how much of this has to do with the parents (as in the case of Mozart and Judy Garland), rather than Jackie? In other words, how much is she being pushed, as opposed to encouraged? And is she going to end up having this miserable life, while all of us out here are enjoying her beautiful voice?

I always worry about children being exploited. Childhood is a modern phenomenon; for millennia, as soon as children could reproduce they were likely to be married off, and among the working classes children worked from a very early age (e.g., on the farm), even if they were lucky enough to also be able to go to school. And they were always expected to adhere to adult standards, no matter how unrealistic that might be.

But we have such a thing as childhood now, and I think it's a good development, in the evolution of human culture. I'm inclined to think kids today are not given enough responsibility; not enough is expected of them; but still, I think they should mainly be involved with being kids, while they are kids. Grownup life, cares and woes come soon enough, and then last the rest of ones life. I just hope Jackie is getting to have sleepovers and go to Harry Potter movies with friends.

(Do listen to her, if you haven't. She will amaze you.)

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Today I did something pleasant that was good for me. All too rare, those things that are good for you, but also pleasurable. I had lunch outside in the sunshine. The weather was absolutely perfect, with a high of maybe 70 degrees, no humidity at all, and until about 1 p.m. there wasn't a cloud to be seen. The sun was very bright, but the tiniest whisper of a breeze kept it from feeling too hot on my face and arms as I sat eating my Subway roast beef sandwich at a clean picnic table in the rectangle of a park that stretches down in front of the State House in Augusta.

One of my errands for the day was to take the graduation card, with accompanying gift, that I had for my niece Sara (and that I've been meaning to get mailed for a week -- it's just so hard to get myself to do things these days!), to the Augusta post office before one o'clock when it closes. Driving there I passed the park, which lies across the street from the State House, sloping down toward the river. I knew I was going to have to eat soon, and the thought struck that a little picnic in the park would be nice. Something different from my usual resorting to a Burger King Double Whopper or McDonalds Double Quarter Pounder when I'm out and about and hunger strikes.

The park is very nice, but seems to rarely get used, perhaps because of its location. Maybe during the work week, when it's nice, people from the State House, the legislators' office building behind it, and the State Library and State Museum, which are across the parking lot from the State House complex, take their sand-wiches, sodas and yogurts across the street and down the slope. But today I pretty much had the place to myself, except for a mother and father with their two young kids, who seemed to be practicing riding their bikes. There were also a couple of men who looked like construction workers, who ambled past my table bearing their empty pizza box to the trash receptacle by the sidewalk. And a fellow who was taking pictures. I myself regretted not having my camera with me, as the white State House dome against that Microsoft Active Window Bar blue of the sky, framed by the trees in the park, made a striking picture.

White I ate I was reading one of my two current books, The Rose Cafe: Love and War in Corsica, by John Hanson Mitchell. It reads like a coming-of-age-while-doing-Europe novel, but is actually a beautifully written piece of nonfiction, describing the few months Mitchell spent on the northwest coast of Corsica during the early 60s, when the Algerians were fighting for their independence from France (Corsica is controlled by France, so all the papers were full of this news), and the U.S.'s involve-ment in Vietnam was beginning to gather momentum -- thus, the 'war' part of the title. You get a clear sense of the island of Corsica, its inhabitants, the various tourists -- French, German, English -- who come through, stopping at the small inn where Mitchell washed dishes and did whatever else they wanted him to do, in exchange for room and board. It's a travel book with a difference.

So after this pleasant repast I was able to make myself do some other errands that I've "been meaning to" do for ages: pick up the sweater that had been sitting at the cleaners since June, buy a couple of bottles of paint for the kids at the library, using the coupons that ran out today, buy a new pocket dictionary, and a new French-English dictionary, since the ones I've been using for years are ancient, and falling apart. And then on my way home I passed the fellow I've passed a couple of times this week, sitting out in a parking lot hawking pumpkins from a flatbed. On an impulse I swung into the next parking lot up, and drove back down to where he was, and bought my annual pumpkins. Normally I like to get these from a farm stand out in the country, but this fellow was from a farm, and deserved some business, given his infinite patience in sitting out there all day, every day.

Stopped at the supermarket -- something else I've been avoiding this week, because I just get so tired of having to eat, having to cook, having to decide what to cook and eat -- and I bought some fresh flounder, brought it home and cooked it very simply, with parsley and dill, and it was delicious.

A leisurely day, physically comfortable, with no hyper-ventilating, but still getting things accomplished. It was a wonderful day.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The price(s) of not doing it yourself

A few weeks ago I had a fellow clean out the flower beds on either side of my front stoop ('porch' is too fancy a word for two wooden steps and a wooden slab about the size of a window pane). I was hoping he could go on to put something new and exciting in, in place of the junky stuff I had disliked ever since I moved in here. However, Jim is, as he says, "a lawn guy," not a land-scaper, and I could tell he wasn't eager to try to decide on what to put in. I had originally made calls to three different landscapers in the area, and not a single one had called me back, which was what had sent me to "the lawn guy" in the first place. The day after Jim finished clearing away everything but the dwarf spruce that I had pulled out of a big pot beside the stoop and planted in the ground with my own two hands, and which I there-fore felt some sentimental attachment to...anyway, the day after he pulled everything out, and carted it away, one of the landscapers actually called me back. And made an appointment to come look at "the space," and talk to me about what I wanted, and give me an estimate. He came on a Monday -- seemed very knowledgeable, talked me out of almost everything I'd found online that I liked the looks of (everything was "too invasive"), and said he'd send me an estimate.

Two weeks later I called because I still hadn't heard from him. The secretary (or maybe his wife -- around here many many businesses are Mom & Pop concerns) told me she'd "just gotten the estimate on her desk and would send it to me right away." That was a Monday, and I didn't receive the estimate until Thursday, which makes me doubt it was sitting on her desk waiting to be mailed. But anyway, the cost was about $200 more than I was expecting/hoping it would be. So then I called ol' Jim back, to see if he thought he might be able to do it cheaper. But he listened to what the landscaper was proposing, and said he didn't think the costs sounded unreasonable. He was willing enough to put the plants in, but I could tell he was not eager to try to locate them; he suggested I do that. I didn't like that idea...this undertaking was supposed to involve money on my part, not I called the landscaper back, again talked to the ubiquitous machine, and said I had some questions about the estimate; please give me a call.

Nothing for another week. Finally I got a call from him at work -- "I've tried to call you several times as home; I guess you don't have an answering machine, huh?" Uh, no, which was exactly why I'd given him my work phone, which does have an answering machine. Anyway, I told him one of the items listed on his estimate -- clearing of the beds -- had already been done, and I was hoping we could deduct that from the costs. He said he would come out and look, and see if there would still be some clearing that had to be done, since they had to be sure all old roots had been removed. I went out that evening and looked, and could see some weeds were starting to sprout here and there, so obviously there were still a few roots in place. So a couple of days later I did put in some work, tugging away at a bunch of recalcitrant roots right next to the stoop, and the scattered weeds. I also removed some more plastic, buried beneath the top layer of soil. Jim had mentioned to me that he'd discovered several of these sheets, in the process of clearing the beds, and had decided to leave them there. After he told me that I'd taken a look, tugged on a few visible edges, and ended up pulling out everything I found. Why on earth have plastic sheets in the ground? And why on earth leave them there?

So the landscaper finally gets back to me, says he's taken a look and "they" seemed to have done a good job of clearing the beds (yes, we did), and that that should definitely reduce the final cost. So I say O.K., let's do it. And they actually came out a mere five days later, and put in the new plants.

But. I was all excited on my way home from work, thinking I was going to be seeing this whole new vision of lush greenery with white accents (my house is charcoal grey with white trim, so I wanted plants with white edges). But what I saw when I pulled into the parking area was a whole bunch of...what is it that looks like shredded wood?...covering the floor of the two beds, and four little plants on one side of the stoop, four little plants on the other, next to the preserved (but moved, when I thought where it had been was just fine) dwarf spruce. These little guys cost me $40, for four lamium plants, $33 for two hosta wide brim plants, and $52.50 for two dogwood "ivory halo." I was expecting to get full-grown plants, but now, it seems, I have to wait for them to grow. Does this seem right? Have I been took? Or is it just that I don't know how these things work?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The great American pastime

I went shopping today, which is very unusual for me. I don't mean grocery shopping, which I do about every other day. I mean clothes shopping.

As those of you who know me know, I've always hated to shop. It's always seemed like such a waste of my precious time, and I've never been rich enough to shop with anything approaching abandon. I have to think about each purchase, being as practical as I can be. First of all, is it something I can afford? (Since this is always question #1, I am always attracted to the end-of-season reduced racks, where prices have been slashed to what the items are actually worth). Then, if it's a skirt do I have at least one and preferably two tops I can wear with it? If it's a blouse do I have at least one skirt I can wear with it? Is it something I can wear to work?

Even before I do these mental calculations there are other things I have to consider. For example, when buying outer clothing, the first consideration is color. I don't even look at things that are beige, brown, rust-colored, orange, yellow, grey, greyed-down shades of blue or green (also known as teal blue and teal green), navy or -- usually -- black, because those colors do not look good on me. Second, I consider the fabric. A kicky little summer dress made out of polyester is ridiculous, because polyester is hot; likewise I can no longer wear knitted tops because they cling and my "top" (more accurately my mid-section) no longer takes kindly to clinging. Then, style. Do I like the look of the thing? These days the answer is frequently no, as I find most of the styles hanging on the racks ugly, sometimes in the extreme. Admittedly we've at least gotten away from padded shoulders, a fashion that I loathed, and which seemed to last forever, the way long, baggy shorts for boys and young men have.

And finally...does it fit? And not only fit, but look good on me? Both questions are answered in the fitting room, where one is forced to avert ones eyes at the sight of ones soft, aging, semi-nude body, while experimenting with various fashions, some of which (in former shopping expeditions) wouldn't even close at the waist.

You can see why I consider shopping more ordeal than fun. But I decided to put myself through this ordeal today because we really do seem to be in the midst of The Endless Summer, and I am sick to death of wearing the same six skirts, five tops, in various combinations. I lost the use of three old standby skirts this summer, due to the ever increasing waistline (I have gained 30 pounds in the past five years, ten of those pounds in the past year). I have more blouses, but they are not cool enough for the inferno that is my library. On top of which, I figured since this was the end of the season, there would be some good bargains to be had.

So I went to good ol' Kohl's, the closest thing to a department store in the Augusta area (it appalls me that the state capital has a K-Mart, a Wal-Mart and a Target, but no proper department store. You have to drive 50 minutes to Portland, or an hour and a quarter to Bangor, to find department stores, buried in malls.) And I helped the economies of China (a skirt, two blouses), Indonesia (a pair of shorts, since the one and only pair I still fit into -- thanks to the elastic waistband -- are starting to wear out), Vietnam (3 pair underpants) and Thailand (another pair of underpants). I will admit the fact that not a single item was made in the U.S. makes me uneasy, but here's the real killer. Supposedly American businesses have things manufactured overseas in order to keep them cheap. But a simple little cotton blouse was originally $40 (I got it for $16, which is what I would say it was worth); my pair of shorts were also originally $40 (I got them for 12). So what I'm wondering is, where are the cheap prices, that come from sending everything overseas to be put together? And my god, what must they charge for shorts at Neiman Marcus?

Well, at least I should be cool, while looking fetchingly different, this coming week

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Enough already

According to the weather guy on the radio we here in Maine are in the midst of the first official heat wave we've experienced since 2002. And heat wave it is. After a couple of days last week when there were intimations of fall -- pleasantly cool mornings, warm sunny days but with very low humidity -- all of a sudden we're getting five days in a row of high temps in the mid-90s. For Maine, at the end of August, that is really bizarre.

We've had a really good summer, for those who like summer weather. The people who have camps they trek out to on weekends, or for a few weeks, have been loving it, as have all the out-of-state visitors, and all the businesses that depend on all those tourists. I've been happy for those folks, even as I have spent most of the summer hiding out in my little air-conditioned house, avoiding the heat to the extent possible.

But even all the people who have been enjoying the summer, are ready for it to end. Mainers simply are not hot-weather folk, or they wouldn't live here. Fall, wonderful, spring, nice, winter, actually enjoy unless it's too brutal or goes on for too long, but too much hot summer weather? Boo, hiss.

But whater ya gonna do? I close my library, because it's too hot for my staff to be working in, and I come home to my air-conditioned house, and wait for fall.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Agreeing to disagree

Sometimes I despair of American culture almost as much as my friend Clifford, though generally for different reasons. My greatest dismay is at the absence of basic civility and tolerance in public debate, at the rudeness and unkindness evident in so many human interactions, from such things as the judging done on America's most popular television show, "American Idol" to the making of comments on blogs.

Those of you who bother to read the (very few) comments that crop of from time to time on this blog, will have seen the several from the gentleman who took great umbrage with my statement that Paul McCartney is not a "strong" singer. While I think our disagreement may very well stem primarily from a failure to define our terms (what I mean by strong may not be what he considers strong), still, I think his comments need not have carried the tone of contempt and disdain that they did. I believe it is nearly always possible to disagree, to point out errors, to criticize an opposing position, while remaining courteous, while exhibiting respect for ones "opponent" as another human being. Certainly when discussing something as relatively unimportant (in the general scheme of things) as a rock musician!

But for far too many people these days, that idea doesn't seem to exist. "I'm right and you're wrong which means you're either evil (in politics) or stupid (in discussions about rock musicians);" that seems to be the operating attitude. If people in the Middle East maintain such an attitude, peace will never happen there. If we do not manage to "win the hearts and minds" of the people in such places as Pakistan and Afghanistan, those who have had such intolerance deeply inculcated will triumph in that part of the world (and then where will we be?)

To me, the very essence of a civilized person is one who is civil to all, until circumstances demonstrate that that is no longer a viable position; someone who is tolerant of those with differing opinions, ways of life, religions (a basic tenant of America civil liberties, that many people are forgetting these days in their blind hatred of all things if all Muslims were flaming, America-hating radicals). But behaving in a civilized manner does not seem to be a high priority with many people these days. The art of putting down others -- especially for the amusement of still others -- seems to be valued more highly than habits of cooperation, mutual information sharing, constructive criticism, and hey, kindness. And I really don't think our country is the better for it.

I did think it was rather nice of the irate Paul McCartney fan to post a bunch of links to McCartney singing. And I also appreciated the fact that he apologized for having inadvertently posted his lengthy comment three times; that was courteous. But when I think how much more effective he could have been if, instead of an attack, he had tried having a dialog...well, perhaps it would have been less satisfying for him; but I'm sure it would have been more interesting for others. Different strokes...

Monday, August 23, 2010

To blog or not to blog

If you regularly check in with this blog, you have un-doubtedly noticed that quite a bit of time has passed since my last posting. Alas, I have begun to have second and third thoughts about this blog business.

Although I've tried to make whatever I've written about interesting, it all comes down to: my activities, my thoughts and opinions, my recommendations, my complaints, my life. And while I know I have friends out there in cyberspace who are at least moderately interested in not only what's happening with me, but what I think about what's happening with me (they are no doubt the "returning visitors" I see on the statistics page); I'm equally sure that most people couldn't care less. Especially since I rarely do anything exciting, don't report on life's little disasters in an hysterically funny way, don't reveal the sordid secrets of my life or of people I know. There are personal blogs out there that have become famous because their producers give an all but blow-by-blow description of their lives, including fights with spouses, medical procedures undergone, bouts of depression, problems or absurdities at work, etc. I'm much too private a person for that sort of let-it-all-hang-out-approach, and although I've made the occasional complaint about work (usually having to do with putting on library programs, which I DO NOT LIKE TO DO), I am much too self-protective to endanger my job by complaining too much, or too specifically.

As a culture we have become obsessed with knowing the inside secrets of other people's lives. Particularly the lives of "celebrities," whose claim to fame may be something as insignificant as having once appeared on one of the ubiquitous, and wildly misnamed, "reality" shows (there is nothing real, or realistic, about those shows. They are as phony as Pam Anderson's breasts.) And at the same time that we devour news on Tiger Woods' marriage or Sandra Bullock's divorce or Lindsay Lohan's latest arrest, thousands and thousands of us eagerly share with a million strangers descriptions of our kids' recent birthday parties, pictures of throw pillows we've crocheted, how our bedroom looks now that we've repainted it, not to mention political rants, religious exhortations and blah blah blah.

And, despite the fact that I have endeavored to make my observations, and even my complaints, interesting, as well as something that at least some people might be able to identify with, I feel I am doing the same thing as all those other bloggers out there: saying 'look at me, listen to me, pay attention to me.' There is surely something vaguely sad about that.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Giving, in a time of crisis (or anytime)

I was just trying to find out what, if anything, one of my favorite charities, the Central Asia Institute (CAI), was doing to help those affected by the recent flooding in Pakistan. The CAI, for those of you who don't know, was started by former mountain-climber Greg Mortenson, after he was rescued by villagers in the high passes of northwestern Pakistan. While he was recuperating in their village of Korphe, he learned that the children had no school and, impulsively, he promised he'd build them one. He spent the next three years trying to fulfill that promise, and found himself, in the process, falling into his life's work: getting schools built, supplies purchased, teachers trained, throughout northwestern Pakistan, and eventually northeastern Afghanistan.

Mortenson has written about his experiences and his mission in, first, Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time, published in 2006, and later in Stones into Schools, which covered the expansion of his efforts into Afghanistan. Mortenson's story is truly inspiring, proof of what a single person can accomplish if he or she is sufficiently motivated. (It also illustrates how much energy, perseverance and sacrifice are involved in bringing about a miracle.) And it provides a shining example of what the United States should be doing, in our efforts to "win the hearts and minds" of the people in that part of the world. Mortenson's organ-ization is determinedly apolitical; it is not trying to foist American ideology onto the locals; it is completely respectful of the Islam religion. It is just trying to help these very poor people obtain what they want, which is education for their children. The one stipulation the CAI insists upon is that girls must be educated, as well as boys. And in almost every place they have sought to build a school, this requirement has presented no problem.

But to return to my original impetus for this posting: what, if anything, was the CAI doing to help in the current crisis? I was especially wondering because back in 2005, when there was a major earthquake in north-eastern Pakistan, the CAI was flooded with questions from regular donors as to what the organization was doing, or was going to do, to help. After much soul searching, the CAI decided it would not try to do any-thing in the way of immediate-emergency-response. They felt there were other organizations better equipped and trained for that sort of thing, and that what they should concentrate on was exploring the area for damaged or destroyed schools, to see how they could help rebuild those. And this actually proved of enormous psychological help, during that very stressful period, because going to school every day gave the children a sense of security, and normalcy. Also, the CAI was able to provide wages for teachers in that area, some of whom hadn't been paid for months.

My guess is the CAI will maintain the same policy in the current crisis, even though one of the areas most severely hit was where much of the school-building of the past 15 years has taken place. Quite possibly some of those schools have been destroyed, along with the villages they were in. Which means the CAI will have its work cut out for it once more. I would like to have seen some mention of this, of the crisis in general, on the organization's web site, or that of its founder, Greg Mortenson. Nonetheless, I do consider this a charity worth supporting -- can anyone doubt the positive effects of making possible a balanced, as opposed to extremist, education amongst people who would otherwise continue living in abject poverty and ignorance? Leaving their young people ripe for the picking by Muslim extremists? I've added a link to the CAI's web site, for anyone who might like to learn more about it. And I urge you to read Mortenson's books. They are fascinating, and make you feel good about the good people can do.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A few moments of peace

Last Sunday afternoon I drove down to a favorite spot of mine on the river. It's at the far southern end of South Gardiner, which is an unprepossessing spot in the road a few miles south of the real Gardiner, where I live. There's a fork, where you veer slightly to the left, rather than staying on the highway that curves to the right. This puts you on a road with, first, an old church, and then several large old houses on your right, the river on your left. I drove down to my favorite large old house, which has a wonderful front porch, with both a swing, and rockers, for sitting and staring out at the river across the road. I always park on the grass verge there, across from this house that I'd live in in a moment if I had someone to live with me (I get too afraid living in a big house by myself. Crazed ax murderers, you know.)

I sat there for about half an hour, watching the occasional boat go by on the beautiful, serene river. The Kennebec is everything a river should be: wide, but not too wide, gently meandering, with the occasional small, tree covered island in the middle of it. The banks are heavily forested. Indeed, looking across the way from where I sat, and down in either direction, I could not see a single sign of humankind, just a mass of green trees. It undoubtedly looks exactly the way it looked when the Indians were creeping around searching for dinner.

I love living close to this river, driving beside it every day on my way to and from work. A beautiful river is a gift from the gods. Like ripe nectarines, beautiful music, and great sex.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

If you stick around long enough...

The other night I watched part of the program on PBS honoring Paul McCartney (officially Sir Paul McCartney, but please), as he received the third annual Gershwin Prize for Popular Song from the Library of Congress. The program took place at the White House, with President Obama and family in the front row. McCartney and other performers did a selection of his songs. I missed most of the other performers, except for an all-right version of Baby, You Can Drive My Car, by the Jonas Brothers -- a very young group, with whom I am totally unfamiliar -- during which I was completely distracted by the lead singer's hair, which literally covered practically his entire face. I know that some of the time he was singing with hair in his mouth, which could not be pleasant.

But anyway. Listening to McCartney sing, I was reminded that he was never the strongest of singers, and his voice hasn't gotten any stronger with age. This guy is no spring chicken -- he was born in 1942 -- but there he is with brown hair. I've complained before (Note of June 13, 2008) about the double standard that forces women to color their hair, while men are allowed to grey naturally. But in the world of rock music this is obviously not so. Two of the Rolling Stones -- who are all well into their 60s, and looking genuinely old -- also "still" have brown hair. Their peers -- we baby boomers who may be aging but still love rock and roll -- might accept them with grey hair, but presumably not the young whippersnappers who buy the records and go to the concerts.

While watching the PBS program, I was also reminded of the book I recently plowed through (it's a BIG book): The Beatles, by Bob Spitz. In it, McCartney comes across as the most traditionally ambitious of all the Beatles, the most realistic, the best at ingratiating himself with people. This tribute at the White House is surely an illustration of all of these qualities serving the man, and providing him with those things he wanted out of life.

The book provides a fascinating portrait of the "four lads from Liverpool," who really did change popular music dramatically (I can hear my friend Clifford saying, "Not for the better!"). This relatively restrained Beatlemaniac (see Note of Nov. 30, 2009 for my version of Beatlemania) was surprised to learn about all the unpleasant realities that she was totally unaware of, during that time when she was busy thinking of the Beatles as so cute, funny, talented, and different. They were all of that, but as four very young, unsophisticated men who suddenly found themselves a totally unexpected wildly successful (originally their ambition had been to be the best rock band in Liverpool) they didn't lose any time immersing themselves in sex, drugs and rock and roll. Indeed, I had no idea that drugs played such a huge part in the lives of all four men, but especially John Lennon, who resorted to LSD frequently, once he'd been turned on to it, and was even addicted to heroine for a while. Apparently during many of the later recording sessions drugs both played a big part in the interesting sounds and effects they created, and in the rapidly disintegrating relations among the four men (in particular Paul and John, who were always in a kind of competition for leader of the pack).

I was surprised to learn what a nasty piece of work John Lennon was in general. He always hated the jolly, clean-cut, well-dressed image that Brian Epstein, the Beatles' manager, insisted they adhere to. That image worked magnificently, but John chafed under it. He was the original "angry young man," and his preferred persona, which he adopted when he first started playing the guitar at 15, and formed his first band, was that of what the British called a teddy boy, what we Americans would call a punk. Tight jeans, leather jacket, hair slicked back in a duck tail, cigarette hanging out of his mouth (all the Beatles were heavy smokers). When the Beatles went into their psychedelic phase, in the late 60s, and dropped the neat (if long) haircuts and buttoned-up suits, John became truly shaggy and scruffy looking. He was always wanting to shock people, shake 'em up, while Paul wanted to make them happy, give them what they wanted.

And you see who got the prestigious Gershwin award, even though there is no question that all of McCartney's best work was done with John Lennon. Of course, Lennon was shot to death at the tragically young age of 42, but I can't see him ever doing anything so main-stream as appearing at the White House to accept an award from the Library of Congress. But...we'll never know.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The end of the lawn mower saga

I have reported lawn mower adventures in earlier Notes (May 11 & 14, 2010). I did take the mower with the wandering knob back, waited forever while the fellow at Lowes' first tried to put on another knob that might not come unscrewed while I was mowing, and finally dug up another mower "out back" (the one I had purchased had been the display model, supposedly the last of its kind). The reason this one was "out back" was due to "missing parts," but when I said "Uh-oh," the guy assured me it was just the grass catcher, and since I had the one from the original mower I was all set.

So Mr. Lowes helps me get the new mower back into my car (I had had to have the woman next door help me get it in for the outgoing trip, as it is simply too heavy and unwieldy for me to manage alone), and when I got home I eased it awkwardly to the ground (that I can do on my own), and wheeled it down the slope to my back yard, and around to the basement door. In the basement I plugged it in so it could charge, and the next day I wheeled it out and started mowing the lawn.

And the knob fell off.

Well, hell. Obviously it was a design flaw. I was both disgusted and depressed. Was this thing made in Thailand? (See discussion of foreign-made air-conditioners, in my very first Note of June 8, 2008). Well, my lawn was terribly scraggly; I had to go ahead and mow the damn thing, trying to keep an eye on the knob, so as to catch it before it came completely unscrewed and fell off. Frequent pauses while mowing to reach down and tighten the screw. And a couple of times I failed to notice, and the knob fell off, and I only realized it because the handle started coming apart. So then I would have to go back and search in the grass for the knob.

And, as had been the case before, it took me three sessions to get the lawn completely mowed; I simply was not up to doing it all at once. Then I went into a blue funk, trying to decide what to do. Write an irate letter to the company? (Black and Decker, by the way. I thought they had good products!) I've long since learned that writing to a company can be very effective, but really, what could they do for me, except tell me to go get a replacement...which would have the exact same problem.

Should I take the damn thing back to Lowes' and just get my money back? Or should I go to the hardware store and see if I could get a knob that would stay on? Did they sell loose knobs at hardware stores? I really did like the mower, except for this problem, and really liked the idea of not having to pay someone to do my lawn.

My indecision was a decision in itself; I did nothing for several weeks. My landlord's son mowed my lawn for me once without my even asking; I later realized it was probably because John was again showing the house next door to prospective renters, and would prefer the lawn that lay in front of the parking area not look like a meadow.

Finally, the day came when I really had to mow my lawn again. Girding my loins for the Battle of the Wandering Knob, I got the front lawn mowed, and part of the back, when one of those times I failed to catch the knob before it fell off it managed to fall off in the path of the mower. And crunch, crunch, no more knob.

And thus, my decision was made for me. I looked at my receipt and saw that the 30-day no-questions-asked return period was long since past. But I called Lowes' anyway, and asked for a "manager with lots of power," and told the guy my tale of woe. And he said, "Well, m'am if you want to bring it back, you certainly can." "And get my money back?" "Yes, m'am."

Yay!!! I was out the door in a flash, trying to trundle the mower back up the slope to my car, with a handle that was trying to come apart in my hands. And then, of course, I couldn't get it into the car, and of course there was no one home next door. Well, a woman's gotta do what she's gotta do, so I walked two houses up, knocked on the door, and asked the middle-aged lady who came to the door if there were someone with muscle in the house who could help me put a lawn mower in my car. She told me no one else was home, but she'd help me. And she did. And I took the damn thing back, and got my money back, and that's the end of my trying to do something I didn't want to be doing anyway.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

And they think we sit around reading magazines

This past Saturday was Old Hallowell Day in new Hallowell. Very big deal that encourages citizens to celebrate their city (smallest city in the state of Maine), and bring folks in from around and about, to spend money at the local merchants. There's a road race, a parade, lots of junk food for sale down at the river, etc.

As usual our library had a book sale. It's generally the most successful of the three we have during the year (the others are during the town's Fall Fest, and at Mardi Gras), at least partly because it's held on the lawn, where passers-by can be lured in.

The sales are lucrative fund-raisers for the library, but they are a lot of work, much of it hard physical labor. When people bring donated books in, one of my staff has to go through them, pulling out any we might want to add to the collection (someone will have to check them against the catalog, to make sure we don't already have them), tossing any that are in too bad a shape (it kills me the way people "hate to throw away books," so will bring us stuff that's grown mildew, sitting in the attic or basement for years, which we then have to throw away), then put them into one of the several boxes we always have sitting on the office floor. One box holds hardback fiction, another, paperbacks, another, kids' books, another, cookbooks, etc. When a box is full it has to be labeled and carted down the stairs to our dark, dank basement.

This last step is the initial "hard physical labor;" carrying heavy boxes of books carefully down stairs and around to where they can be set down is not fun. But the real killer comes the evening before a sale. All those boxes that have been collecting for months have to be brought back upstairs, along with the long tables that they will be set out on (and no, there is noplace to store them upstairs). For the past three sales we have had the use of three brawny young men from the local pre-release program, which has helped enormously, but there are still plenty of boxes to be carried by the rest of us. The first couple of years that I was in this job the volunteer helpers were almost all elderly members of our Friends' organization, and their equally elderly spouses. I was always worried someone was going to drop dead of a stroke or heart attack.

Fortunately those folks have pretty much retired from the field, but unfortunately, younger blood, and muscle, has not stepped in to replace them. Last Friday night the volunteers who showed up were two middle-aged male members of my Board, one younger, though not really young, female member, and two other women, also no longer young. And the 63-year-old library director, who has the physical strength of a guinea pig, and the stamina of a four-packs-a-day smoker (note that i've never smoked in my life). I had sent out a plea for volunteers in our monthly newsletter, which goes out to a large number of patrons electronically, and a print version of which is distributed around town. Had also sent a Reminder email a couple of days before the event. The only responses I received were from two also-no-longer-young-women who apologized that they weren't going to be around, or they would certainly help.

Where are the men? Where are the teenaged kids? I hate lugging boxes of books up and down stairs (and note that all books not sold, except for those I'm quick enough to toss into boxes set aside for trash, have to be re-boxed and taken back downstairs at the end of the sale); and for the Old Hallowell Day sale that re-boxing and labeling and carting is done in the heat and humidity of a typical Maine summer's day. I had also volunteered to work one of the cash tables for the last hour of the sale -- because of the shortage of volunteers for that task, as well -- though I ended up spending most of the hour doing the aforementioned weeding of books that were obviously not going to sell, no matter how many sales we put them through. I was able to do this because the president of our Board, who had nobly agreed to walk in the parade, carrying one end of the library's banner, had returned from the parade and collapsed into the chair next to his wife, who was helping me. Business was very slow at our table -- the Friends' items-for-sale table, rather than the regular cashier's table -- so I left them to it, condemning myself to standing under that heartless sun, discarding or repacking books.

So we made lots of money, and thank god it's over.

Friday, July 16, 2010

A window on the past

[Note that this continues the two previous posts.]The next morning I'd planned to drive on to Binghamton, but since I hadn't had time to search out the Prentiss Cemetery, where members of the Rockwell side of the family were buried, I made the decision to try to find that first. After all, when was I likely to be in this neck of the woods again? That's a long drive from central Maine...

But once again, I got lost. Part of the problem is that the maps will refer to County Rd 4 or Guy Beardsley Rd., but the roads themselves are completely without signage. I was again pulled over, puzzling over my maps, when I saw a woman up ahead pull into her driveway, and decided to go ask her if she knew where Prentiss Cemetery was. She didn't, but assured me that one of the librarians at the public library would undoubtedly be able to help me. This kind lady was named Pat, as I saw from her mailbox, and she insisted on leading me back into town, and to the library, and introducing me to (as I was later to learn) the archivist, Leigh Eckmair. Not only was Leigh able to direct me to Prentiss Cemetery, but when she learned what families I was interested in, she started pulling out all these published genealogies, and notebooks, and boxes of records. Turns out the Coles and the Rockwells were among the major families of the area throughout the 1800s, and this little library is stuffed to the gills with information on them.

Oh, frabjous day. Talk about serendipity. Even though I had told my friend Kathy to expect me between 10 and 11 -- and it was 10 o'clock now -- I knew I had to take advantage of this unexpected golden opportunity. And I was pretty sure my being a couple of hours late would not upset my friends unduly; they're not the kind of people to get bent out of shape with worry or irritation in such a situation. So I spent about an hour looking through "stuff' -- with Leigh kindly photocopying a number of things for me -- then made a mad dash for the cemetery, which is very small, and old (1795), and where a 20-minute search produced Amos Rockwell's large gravestone. Then I was on my way, though determined to return, on my trip back to Maine the following Tuesday. Especially because, just as I was leaving, Leigh had produced a diary belonging to William Cole's mother. Imagine! A chance to read about an ancestor's life, in her own words!

I spent about an hour and a half the following Tuesday morning pouring over that diary, which was really more a day book than a diary. Elizabeth Rockwell Cole tended to be succinct. Most entries began with a weather report ("Pleasant but cold," or "Very cold", etc.) then most often it was "R. [Richard, her husband] went hunting," or "R. went to town," or "R. did chores." There was a lot more of what R. was doing each day than she herself. One day, though, she "finished throughing the wood in the wood shed" [it took Leigh's assistance to figure out Elizabeth meant "throwing" -- her spelling was not always the best]. Another day she and R. "cleaned out the stables;" on another they "moved the manure." This was a hardworking farm woman, for sure.

I was hoping to find some reference to Elizabeth and Richard's son William, my great-great grandfather. Since the earliest entries (that I saw) were from 1870, by which time William was living in Texas, I was hoping to find at least some reference to his death, perhaps some mention of bringing him back to be buried in the family plot. When I was just about to give up -- I really had to get back on the road, for that long drive to Maine -- there it was, on March 15, 1872 (William died in Feb.). On this day Elizabeth did go to town, to "the office" (how she always referred to the post office) where she "found the letter with the sad news of dear William's death." And her next sentence was, "Oh can he be dead."

The next day she and R. "took the sad news to [their married daughters] Emma and Jennie. Emma took it real hard." (Emma was just a year younger than William, and apparently they were close.) The day after that Richard and Elizabeth saw Emma again and "she cannot let go of her brother."

This was affecting. I was seeing the past. I was seeing the real people who were my ancestors, dealing with what real life was throwing at them. I wanted to read and read that diary...but I had to head on back home.

But you may be sure, I shall return.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Adventures in cemetery hunting

[Note that this continues the two previous postings.] Something I couldn't help wondering, as I drove through the area where my great-great-grandfather grew up, was how he could have exchanged this beautiful country for steamy hot south Texas. The two-lane roads I was driving on wound through green valleys sprinkled with healthy-looking farms, a number of them good-sized dairy farms, lying among hills completely covered with trees. But of course in winter it isn't green. It's frequently white, and it's cold. Perhaps William Cole disliked cold and snow. And maybe he was madly in love with Mary Jane Casterline, and willing to live wherever she wanted. This is the kind of thing you really want to know about your ancestors, more than when and where they were born.

Gilbertsville, which contains the town hall for Butternuts Township, is a very small (population 375 as of 2000 census), pretty town, lots of big old trees, attractive old houses. Not the white-with-black-shutters kind you see so much of in New England, but Victorian two-stories of different colors, many with front porches for sitting and watching the world go by. In 1983 the whole village won status as a Historic District recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, a real triumph for local citizens and people concerned with historical preservation, as they had been fighting for many years to keep a dam from being built on Butternuts Creek, which would have resulted in the entire village being flooded.

There's hardly any business at all -- I saw a quilt shop, an ice cream shop, a hardware store that at first I thought had gone out of business, it was so beat up. The cutest little library you could ever hope to see, even cuter than my little library in Hallowell, which was built to look like an English country church. The Gilbertsville Free Library looks like a small, overturned stone boat. Originally built as a school in 1818, it has served as the library since 1888. Inside it's all dark wood, with the bookcases built into the walls. This library was to prove an absolute gold mine of information, but more about that in a moment.

First, I had to get to the town from Oneonta, seventeen miles away, where I'd stop to have a quick meal, and buy batteries for my camera, since I'd discovered, as I was getting ready to leave Maine, that the batteries on said camera were dead (there's always something). I was trying to follow a map I'd pulled off the Internet, but those little back roads simply didn't run the way the map indicated they should. At one point I was idling at a stop sign, pouring over that map and my regular New York state map, when a car pulled up behind me (practically the only traffic I'd encountered since I left the highway 10 minutes before). I ran back to ask if they could direct me to the town of Gilbertsville. It turned out they lived on the edge of same, and suggested I follow them. When we reached their house the male half of the couple came back to my car and told me where he and his wife thought I would be able to find Brookside Cemetery, where various ancestors were buried.

Ah, yes what would we do without the "kindness of strangers."

Brookside is a very pretty country cemetery, with lots of the local "big, old trees." It isn't that large, but large enough for me to spend over an hour walking and driving around it, trying to find the Coles. I was just about to give up -- it was almost seven p.m., the sun was all but gone, I was getting hungry again, and knew I had to go find someplace to spend the night -- when I spotted a very tall, imposing monument across from where I was. I had visited virtually every other area in the cemetery, some of them more than once, but not that one. I was thinking, "No, it couldn't be that." But of course, it was.

I took pictures, but really could not determine if William Cole was, indeed, buried there. There were a number of small stones around the monument, which might very well have marked the actual graves of the several people listed on the monument, but they were sunk so low in the earth they couldn't be read.

At last I tore myself away, made the 20 minute drive to a town with the unlikely name of Unadilla, where I found the old-fashioned Country Motel, with a little old lady in a knick-knack cluttered office, complete with yapping small dog, running it. Was amused when I moved my stuff into my room and discovered I had to plug in all the electric amenities -- microwave, small refrigerator, air conditioner. Then I discovered that even plugged in the ac wouldn't work because there were no knobs on it. When i went back to the office to report this situation the LOL said, "Oh, yes, I'd forgotten about that. The last person, I just gave him a screwdriver, but of course he was a man..." And she gave me another room, into which I had to move all my stuff from the original room, and where I again had to plug everything in. But at least the ac had knobs on it.

Next: Serendipity