Thursday, June 28, 2012

Half-way Point

Last Sunday was the Feast of John the Baptist. It was also (gasp) the half-way point of the year. There is a connection between those two facts which was quite clear at the time, but I can't quite recall it. I do, however, recall the priest's horror that he hasn't got round to fulfilling so many of his intentions for this year. Nor have I.

In fact, as far as I am concerned, the year is pretty well shot. We are still involved with some repercussions from my sister-in-law's death. That involves dealing with a number of documents, and I am often relegated to the time consuming position of proof-reader, IT consultant (no laughter, please) and personal assistant. The weather threatens to be unpleasantly hot, and that means very little action on my part. Wimbledon approaches, and though I usually only watch the last two or three days, I can write them off. It doesn't sound too responsible to say I intend to sit in front of the television for several of the following weeks, but I love the Olympics. I feel like A.E. Housman. If fifty springs are little room for him to look at cherry blossom, I, who have used up my three score and ten, can't expect many more chances to watch the likes of Usain Bolt. I am expecting to be kept very busy toward the end of the year and before we know it, Christmas will be here. Followed by 2013.

On top of all this, I am gradually climbing out of a problem with vitamin B-12 deficiency which means that if a chore isn't done by lunch-time, there's not much chance it will get done at all. For now none of this is a a real problem, so I have time to read. Lots of time. Encouraging comments, anyone?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Family Matters

I decided that when I resumed this blog I would make it much more personal—fewer complaints about the grocery store, the absurdities of life and the trivial, and more about what has been happening to us and our immediate world. Not because I see an exaggerated worth in this but because I need a better way of keeping track. That's the "chronicling friends and family" bit in my sub-title. Perhaps some of these entries will have meaning for my children and grandchildren in years to come. I have not had the hubris to commit any of this to paper yet, but I did create a hard-covered book for my daughter-in-law's birthday. Using the Blog2Print service, I was able to preserve the first eight months of the life of her micro-preemie daughter and our granddaughter that she so beautifully depicted in her blog Veronica's Journey. I was pleased with the result and I think Marcie was too.

The most earth-shattering event in the past few months has been the illness and eventual death of Ernie's sister, Flo. She died on June 9th at the age of 86. She had been ill for a while, but she never lost the joie de vivre that characterized her whole life. At her wake my niece Megan brought smiles to our faces recounting how Flo had commented "I have no sympathy with people who don't celebrate Mardi Gras." It was a feast day she loved, and though she was scrupulous in her Lenten observance, she always took the day off to celebrate St. Patrick.

The girl on the left was courted by many a beau. The woman on the right was accomplished, a traveler, a pianist, a fabulous knitter, a homemaker with the welcome mat always out, a teacher and the mother of ten. As I look at this photo I remember her saying every time we went out, "I've just got to put my face on."
But I think this photo, taken shortly before her death, without any artifice but with her trademark smile (and the ring to match the squash blossom necklace she treasured) is my favorite. She achieved many of her wishes, including going to the Kentucky Derby last year, but there was one wish she was unable to satisfy.

Just two days after her death, her twenty-sixth grandchild was born and Becky and John named him Matthew Fiorenzo in honor of Flo, whose given name was Mary Florence. How she would have loved to hold him. She also left behind three great grandchildren who will not have sweaters from her to wear this winter.
Two of our grandsons graduated from 8th grade this summer and will start their high school careers in Fall. Here is Patrick with his parents, our daughter Kate and her husband Ron, shortly after Graduation ceremonies. In Virginia, Emmanuel will also start a new phase in his education.

That leaves three birthdays and a wedding anniversary. Sebastian Robert, our grandson, AKA Yoda, celebrated his fifth birthday on June 13th. I wish I had a more up-to-date photo, but when I was with him in Maryland a month or so ago, he and his cousin Nathaniel seemed to be missing most of the time. What did you guys get up to?

Today is my sister-in-law Mary Ann's birthday. Don't worry, Mary Ann, I won't bother with ages. I had met Mary Ann and her then fiancé John (below) in Los Angeles a couple of times, but my first introduction to the family en masse was when I made the immense train trip to Iowa for their wedding. 
Their forty seventh wedding anniversary was a few days ago, just as we returned from Flo's funeral in the same church where Mary Ann—and I and Flo and generations of Aments were married.
 They can double up on their parties, because John will be celebrating his birthday in a few days too.
Fortunately there are no more birthdays in the final weeks of June: my photos are jumping all over the place. I have no more control over them than I had over the events of the last couple of weeks. Births and deaths are like that.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Subjective Time

In my last post I wrote about my terribly lopsided education—all of it was languages and literature with a dash of history and mathematics. I do, however, think I have a shot at the Nobel Prize for Physics with my latest discovery—Subjective Time. Forget about Absolute Time and Relative Time and Newton and Einstein and the A-Theory and the B-Theory; let me introduce you to Subjective Time. I came across it twice last week.

As I was leaving the neurologist’s office, and my stated aim of celebrating the absurd demands I write more of him and his set-up later, I saw this handout at the check-out desk. It seems to stipulate in its fancy doctor language about presenting at the office that my appointment time is not my appointment time. My appointment time is a subjective concept that I should have known about, but didn’t. The whole business is obfuscated by this note at the top of my appointment card for my next appointment. Where does 10 a.m. appear on his philosophy sheet?

I might have ignored the whole business, but a couple of days later this notice appeared in my mail. In another rather bizarre concept of time, we see that Tuesday is Tuesday, except if you want to consider Monday is Tuesday.

I’ll send you all a postcard from Oslo.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Purple Sea, Silver Sea and 4ac

In my post on the Jubilee I wrote about those memories that come unbidden into our inward eye when we are "in vacant or in pensive mood". And by the way, I admit that a documentary on BBC America after I had posted made me realize there was a 16  month interval between the Queen's succession and her crowning, which meant I was at the end of my second form year when I watched the coronation procession. Inward eye a little short-sighted, but the rest of the memories the same.

At this time of the year I think about those lines of prose and poetry jammed into my memory out of fear of the words, "Please quote from the text to support your thesis." O-levels, A-levels, degree finals, all these rites of passage took place at this time of year, and after 50 years I can still regurgitate some supporting quotations.

The purple sea was a little different. Every year Enfield County School took part in the Greek and Latin Oratory Competition. We traveled up to University College, London and stood trembling on a stage reciting some chunk of classical literature. This was Clytemnestra's "Estin thalassa" speech from the Agamemnon, and I still remember a lot of it. It explained in Aeschylean iambic something or others how the purple sea dyed the regal robes. The First prize was always won by someone from a school like Haberdashers' Aske's, but occasionally we placed or showed. Not this year!

"Silver sea", well, that was 1956, O-levels, Richard II. The trick was always to learn a quote you could use to illustrate several arguments. John of Gaunt was patriotic, John of Gaunt understood geography, John of Gaunt was articulate—even if it didn't support anything, a quotation impressed the Examining Board. That year my head was stuffed with quotations in English, German, Latin, Greek and French (and there's still quite a bit of Lamartine and de Musset bouncing around.) I had got to choose for myself what I wanted to study for O-level, and in the interest of proving myself well-rounded, I took the three Mathematics papers. I enjoyed Geometry, did OK in the Arithmetic portion, but was adrift in Algebra. That is why I clung so desperately to the formula for solving quadratic equations. I wasn't quite sure what a quadratic equation was, but I will go to my death mumbling "x=minus b plus or minus the square root of b squared all over 4ac."

This post will all be meaningless to some people, but some will understand what education was like in those days and that it is only in the last few years that I have stopped having THE dream, the one where you dream you are going into the exam room and haven't a clue what you were supposed to have read.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Happy Birthday, Brian.

Aren't we cute?  Must have been taken in 1945.
I was just talking to my brother in England. He lives with his wife just outside Cambridge, and my niece and nephew live not too far away. They'll all go out to dinner this evening. Happy memories! Hope to see them one way or another very soon.
Before Brian retired, he traveled to the States on business occasionally and could often squeeze in a side trip to visit us. His family has delighted us by coming to family weddings and we were so grateful that my niece Karen is a hairdresser—she rescued us from family hysteria when Liz was not happy with the bouffant the hairdresser gave her when she was a bridesmaid for Kate.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

For my Grandchildren

Put this in your "Where was Grandma for the Coronation?" file. As it happens, I was there. Sort of.

Let me start by saying that memory is selective. I am pretty sure that what I am writing is true, although it surprises me that there are such big gaps in my memory and some of the more important events are missing. But some facts are as clear as if they had happened yesterday.

I don't know who organized the pageantry for the Coronation—probably some functionary called Gold Stick, Blue Mantle or Rouge Dragon—but they decided there could be no better symbol of the future of Britain and recovery after the war than masses of schoolchildren lining the parade route. So schools in the Greater London area were invited to send selected students. I was just coming to the end of my first year at Enfield County School, having started in the First Form the previous September as a result of passing the infamous 11+ exam. Here my memory fails me a little. I can't remember if there was to be one student representing each form or one from each of the three classes in every form. But I know I was determined to be chosen. The selection process involved making a scrap book about the Royal Family and the future queen. Mine was not a polished scrap book: no one's was, because we didn't have the wherewithal. My research was limited. I didn't have an encyclopedia and in those pre-internet days I had to tear photos out of my mother's Woman's Own and seek information from our daily newspaper. But I won, and I think that making that scrap book is my most vivid memory of all.

When the big day dawned, or even while it was still dark, I remember my dad waking me with a cup of tea. And then I remember being at the bus stop, which is where I learned from someone with a newspaper that Sir Edmund Hillary had climbed Everest. Did my parents send me off alone, in the dark, to the bus stop? I was twelve years old, but times were different. I must have gone off to school and joined the handful of other students who were to represent Enfield County. How did we get to Central London? Who escorted us? Did we take food? I just cannot remember. I think I have a vague memory of standing and cheering. Did I really see the colorful Queen Salote of Tonga or just read about her later? What time did we get home?

Sixty years ago! I wonder if her memories of that day are sharper than mine. I wonder why we just keep in our memories such selective pieces of information? I have made a point of checking out the festivities I can watch on BBC America and CNN and the Canadian television station. And I hope that you, my grandchildren, watch too.