Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sorry, George

I am attracted to autobiographies by people born in England about the same time as I was. That’s how I came across Lorna Sage and Rosemary Kingsland. Remember Rosemary? I have analyzed the reasons to my own satisfaction, and a psychologist could probably make much of this tendency. And when I found these books on the “New Books” shelf at the library, I made a beeline for them.

Eric Clapton’s background was art and design and music and Pattie Boyd’s was colonialism and modeling—not areas which played a large role in my growing up in Enfield. But, as is usually the case, I found a couple of nuggets of interest.

Pattie Boyd (who was Mrs. George Harrison before she was Mrs. Eric Clapton) wrote at length of the places she lived. When the Beatles and other pop groups were at the height of their careers in the 60’s, their managers suggested they buy houses outside London, in remote parts of the home counties, all the better to avoid screaming fans and paparazzi (who at the time were the lesser of two evils.) So young musicians purchased a number of estates which were by now beyond the diminished wealth of the minor aristocracy, but chump change for the rockers. I was amused that she mentioned at least two of these houses with gardens designed by Gertrude Jekyll. I had visions of stoned musicians sitting around muttering stuff like, “Look, Ringo, notice how Gert used beds of siberian iris to draw your eye down to the horizon?”

I was uncharitable. In The Telegraph I found this article about the 2008 Chelsea Flower Show, where there is a garden celebrating George Harrison’s love of his garden at Friar Park. I am not sure that the “scrubby thistles and allotment vegetables, brightly clashing perennials, white-stemmed birches and scented roses” are my idea of a well laid out garden and they are certainly nothing that Ms. Jekyll* would have designed, but, George, I do owe you an apology.

* If you followed the link to the Wikipedia article on Gertrude Jekyll, you will have noticed that her name is not pronounced “Jeckle” , as I had always supposed, but “Jeakle” (rhymes with treacle.) That word may not mean much to people born on this side of the Atlantic, but for those of us raised in post-war England it brings back memories of school dinners and treacle stodge.

And why, you may ask, is this pronunciation noteworthy? Well, Gertrude’s brother, the Rev. Walter Jekyll, was a friend of Robert Louis Stevenson and the author appropriated his friend’s name for the protagonist of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Bet you, like me, have been pronouncing it wrongly all these years.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Thirty-two years ago today . . .

. . . I told the doctor that I was sure number five was imminent. It was late on a Friday afternoon and I didn’t want the doctors to take off for their weekend pursuits leaving me in labor. “Go on home”, said the doctor who examined me. But the nurse on duty told the doctor that she thought my contractions were coming on strong and the doctor reluctantly sent me over to the hospital. I pretty much walked in the door and gave birth to Lucy, who has been doing things her way ever since.

Yesterday there was a big family celebration and today Ernie and I and Lucy and her boyfriend enjoyed a quiet birthday dinner. Here is Lucy with her niece Lydia at Lydia’s first baseball game. Happy birthday, Lucy.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Go Pistons

I'm waiting for the Pistons-Celtics game to start and hoping that it will be every bit as exciting as the game on Thursday night. Lo and behold, look who is a guest commentator tonight. Chuck Daley, the former Pistons coach. I tried to take a photo from the screen: he's dyed his hair blond and pouffed it up a bit. The blond hair and the fancy pin-striped suit are a far cry from my one and only face to face encounter with a professional basketball coach.

The place: Detroit Metropolitan Airport

The time: probably around 1991

The occasion: our entire family went out to the airport to welcome Al back from his Peace Corps service in Chad. Those were the days when you could meet a person at the gate and our whole noisy entourage went down to await Al's luggage on the carousel. I turned around — and there was Chuck Daley. Without thinking I accosted him and said that I had a son who had played varsity basketball, who had just returned after two years in Africa and who would consider it an honor to shake the hand of the Pistons' coach. And coach Daley obliged.

Now back to the TV.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Reach Out and Touch Someone

I have already told you about my letter from the Queen. I didn’t tell you about my letter from the President. In fact, I had forgotten all about it until I found an envelope while searching for a photo of Pat for yesterday’s post. The envelope was empty and it took a bit of head scratching before I came up with its provenance.

Sidebar: I have always loved “correspondence.” If I had my druthers, I’d like to be an Edwardian lady of means, the sort that appears in Masterpiece Theatre productions. After breakfast, wearing a rather flattering wrapper, she retires to the drawing room to attend to her correspondence, answering invitations, catching up on her social calendar, and writing notes and letters to friends and family. Moreover, I have always loved the accoutrements of correspondence: I collect regular stationery, air-mail stationery, note cards, sealing wax, stamps, stickers and labels. When we first moved into this house, my mother in law gave us impressive stationery with our new address embossed on the paper and envelopes and she accompanied the gift with the engraved metal die so we could continue to have paper and envelopes personalized as long as we lived here. I regret I never re-used the die: in this era of computers I can whip up my own letterhead, change the color and font of the type as I please, and I don’t think I even know where I would take the die to get paper embossed.

All this leads me to Christmas 1966. It was our first married Christmas and we looked forward to sending out cards to friends and family throughout the country and abroad. We spent hours selecting the perfect card and I really loved the one we selected. The cardstock was thick and cream and the bottom edge was an elegant deckle. The design in my favorite terra cotta colors was attractive and edged in gold. Somehow it looks a little “60’s “ now, but I was so proud of it. I kept back one in an album and vowed to select a perfect card each year and add one to the album as a memento of our Christmases. But . . . that was our only Christmas without children, and in subsequent years our attention turned to bikes and toys and chunks of plastic. In 1966, after we had addressed our cards, we decided it would be downright neighborly to send one to Lyndon Johnson.

And Lyndon Johnson was neighborly enough to write and thank us. I can’t remember the contents of the letter. Perhaps it will show up one day. I do remember being impressed that we received an acknowledgement. Now as I look at the envelope, I am somewhat disappointed. It’s a flimsy item and the return address is printed in rather crooked blue type: my embossed envelopes were so much nicer. Our address is written on a plain old typewriter and if you click on the image, you can see where the number was originally mistyped (remember whiteout?) And the street was spelled wrongly. Surely the pre-Lewinsky intern who got the job of sending out “thank you’s” should have been historically literate enough to get Marlborough right.

Nevertheless, I ‘m glad I came across the legacy of the only Christmas card we ever sent to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And no, your eyes do not deceive you. That’s a 5¢ stamp. First class.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Good Friend

I don’t suppose anyone will ask me to nominate a person as a candidate for sainthood. I was thinking about this the other day, and I figured that of all the people I have met in nearly seventy years, there are about five possibilities.

One of them celebrates her seventieth birthday today. Happy Birthday, Pat. We were with her on Sunday when her children threw a surprise party for her. The party was held in the house where she and Larry lived for a long time after they left Grosse Pointe and where her son, Joe, now lives. What memories that house has. Maybe one of these days I will tell the story which involves a storm, a friend with hemophilia and a snowmobile. But this party was about Pat, one of the first people we met, together with her husband Larry, when we first came here forty years ago. I am sure I have better photos of those bygone days, but I could only find this one, pretty typical of our lives then, since it features two pregnant women, several children (some of these not ours) and food. (That's Pat in the middle in the back yard of our duplex on Marlborough.) We missed Pat and Larry so much when they moved and we are happy that their oldest son, Delmas (named after Grandpa Doyle), has moved back to the neighborhood with his family. The Doyles were a mythical bunch, the Kennedys of Grand Rapids, and we are still meeting new ones.

Pat certainly didn’t let the side down, but I won’t embarrass her by listing her sterling qualities. She has learned the secrets of serenity and I look forward to celebrating her eightieth birthday with her and her delightful family.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Thanks for some nice comments about the quilt I described in the last post. Here is the first one I made, which for some inexplicable reason I didn't think suitable for a girl. My niece Becky is having a baby in a month, so she'd better make it a boy. The yellow squares are actually a much softer and prettier shade of yellow than they seem in this photo. Enjoy it: I don't think I'll make any more quilts with these fiddly boats. I do think the blue fabric with the stars on it was a good choice.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Matchy Matchy

The winter was long and my sewing room was warm and cozy. I wanted to welcome Elizabeth’s baby with a quilt, so I spent many an hour piecing a rather complex (for me) quilt. It turned out pretty well. The boat hulls were yellow, the sails were white and the rest was in lovely shades of blue. Because surely the baby was going to be a boy! I also started this quilt, known in the family as the androgynous quilt, on the remote off chance ...

Well, as I announced, Lydia was born. And before I even had a chance to finish quilt number two, Elizabeth told me she was going to girlify the green nursery with pink curtains and rugs and gewgaws. So this sherbet number was out and I rushed out to buy pink and green fabric.

Three weeks ago my godson and his wife had a daughter and I was delighted to have a ready-made gift for them. The blue one still sits by my sewing machine. All I have to do is wait for someone to have a boy.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Esprit d’Escalier

The wit of the staircase. Finding the perfect response or retort only after you have left the room. It happens to most of us with depressing regularity, but it was surprising to find esprit d’escalier the theme of not one, but two, comic strips this past weekend. It probably happens to those of us in the geezer set more often:

(Click to enlarge)

but our younger counterparts can fall prey to slow-wittedness too.

As for me, I’ll probably think of a witty ending for this post as soon as I have published it and turned off the computer.

Friday, May 02, 2008

On the Way Down

A good friend and former colleague always used to tell me that he would retire when the Dow Jones hit 13,000. That seemed a long way off, but one day it happened and I e-mailed him immediately to remind him of his pronouncement. Steve is pretty conservative, at least fiscally, so he didn’t immediately announce his retirement and as he continued to work, the Dow actually climbed past 14,000. Finally, he came up with a date for retirement, but he looked at the figures carefully and changed his mind. I saw him not long afterwards and he clarified his statement: “When I said I would retire when the Dow Jones hit 13, 000, I didn’t mean on the way down.”

I am on the way down. Like Miss Jean Brodie, I had a prime, but it is long passed. Perhaps I should devise a graph like the one for the DJIA and plot my descent. There would be several lines, each representing a different function, like mental acuity, physical coordination, ambition, energy, decision making skills—well, you get the idea. All of them would point to the nether regions of the graph. It would be interesting to see if they descend lock step, or if some years some functions fall apart in some kind of geometric progression while others are in free-fall or remain relatively stable. Some disintegration is obvious and can be documented: some long overdue house cleaning yesterday left my body in agony and caused havoc with the arthritis in my right ankle, I watch Lucy jump up between courses and whip up a desert which I thought of making a half hour before dinner, but which seemed “too much work.” Some of my unraveling is a disconnect between what was and what is, when I look on in total amazement as my children gracefully wrestle with their families and jobs and school and church and sports and all the responsibilities I could once perform without breaking a sweat.

The economic picture has not been bright, but yesterday the Dow passed 13,000 again and continued its climb upwards today. Perhaps the economy is on the way up.

I am not.