Tuesday, September 25, 2012

My New Year's Resolution

I admit it is a bit late—but better late than never.

This has been a difficult year for our family. Nothing life-threatening, nothing that has affected any of us in a crushing manner. Of course, you can't live in this country and not be troubled in some way by the economy and the trickle down problems, but we have had some great times. The stressful situations have been ones which required waiting and wondering. I find it hard to settle down. I couldn't take a trip to England because a phone call might come . . . even though I now see I could have spent six months there and it would have made no difference. As the year progresses, it is clear that some situations will be resolved soon. All those tasks I put off because there would be plenty of time the next day will soon be adding up to an unconquerable mountain. So it is time to make a list and get going on some of the projects that have been floating in my head since January 1.

Not as easy as it sounds. The mornings are always my most productive time. By afternoon it is nap time. Then I have to get dinner and after dinner I find myself nodding off. I have a couple of appointments with doctors this week. Did all those B12 shots make a difference? Doesn't feel like it. Why those Vitamin D capsules? We'll see.

One thing is clear. Fall has arrived and with it all those tedious tasks—storm windows, de-moth-balling the winter clothes, cutting down all the dead and dying plants. I want to deliver on my promise of flannel night gowns and p.j.s for my grandchildren. Any pots left outside will crack and break over the winter. My neighbors were treated to the sight of me in my nightdress dragging in the two large ficus plants which spend their summer outside when my pre-bed-time check of the computer announced the probability of frost.

But those are all routine tasks. What about the list from January 1? Well, there are two ways to deal with that. One is to actually do the tasks. I have made some headway with that, though one of my resolutions was, in fact, to accept the fact that to accomplish everything was impossible. Photographs are just not meant to be organized. The other way is simply to cross them off unattempted with no guilt. That takes care of goals like polish the boiler room and lose 50 lbs. So if I can move more resolutions from the first category to the second, I am all set to score A for effort.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Long Goodbye

Our former neighbor Don posted this photo on Facebook a couple of weeks ago with a comment about Kate (that's her, second from the left) and how he expected her to be embarrassed by her hairdo. I wondered why we were all lined up like this and spent a few nostalgic moments checking out everyone's hair and clothes. It wasn't until the next day that Liz (that's her second from the right, although she could have been Eliza or Lillie or Ellie or Elizabeth or one of the other variations of her name that she used in her younger years) commented that this photo was taken the day Al (that's him towering above us all, third from the right) left for the Peace Corps. Coincidentally I found a photo a few days later that confirmed this.

Remember those pre-  9/11 days?  We could see a departing traveler until he went right around that corner at the end and into the plane. Al was leaving for Niger and on to his final destination, Chad. We would not see him for two years. My niece was recently serving in Swaziland and what with Skype and e-mail there were frequent opportunities to communicate with her family. This was, I think, 1989, and we would have no contact except for sporadic mail and the very occasional phone call—always at 3 a.m. 

So we had all been waiting miserably at the departure gate. There were wet eyes, there was snivelling. Soon most of us were crying. The flight was called and the crying became bawling. Al disappeared round the corner and a sympathetic woman was commiserating with the others. There was curiosity in her voice as she looked up at the flight details mounted over the desk. I should have told you that before leaving for Africa, Al would have a few days training stateside, so when the woman asked where he was going that could cause such abject misery to his family, they all chorused, "Baltimore."

Another family legend. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Unlikely Daughters of the Dark Continent

My son gave me a couple of books lately, linked by their geographical background.

The first was, The Bolter, a biography of Idina Sackville—oh, those crazy Sackvilles! The author is her great-grandaughter, who, quite understandably, wants to throw a veil over some of Idina's exploits, though she has her mind set firmly enough on sales to make sure the front cover bears the sub-title, The story of Idina Sackville who ran away to become the chief seductress of Kenya's scandalous "Happy Valley set," while the back cover proclaims. "Her relentless affairs, wild sex parties and brazen flouting of convention shocked high society . . ." Well, that's true enough—five marriages with licenses, children left behind in England and the suggestion of a lesbian affair with a woman called Alice will appeal to the prurient, but the book did paint a vivid picture of a time and place I was not familiar with. The characters were English enough, with names like Dickie, Oggie, Buffles and Gee, but the landscape was unfamiliar and the history of the period enthralling. I read it during the summer heat as I sweated and swished away flies and the odd mosquito, but the cover of the book shows Idina in her silk dress and stockings after battling the tsetse fly and the mud to get to the farm she and her husband du jour had bought and taking her place in colonial Africa with its extended safaris and endless quinine water. And gin.

Al let on that his second gift was chosen in part because of the author's name and "I don't know of any other Beryl except the Admiral's widow in Brideshead Revisited." I didn't remind him that  in that snobby book the first name revealed her lowly station. In this case it gets worse—Beryl Markham was born Beryl Clutterbuck and takes her nom de plume from one or other of her husbands. Her book is a series of auto-biographical non-linear essays mainly devoted to Africa, so once again the number and nature of her husbands and whatnots is obscured. But the book is magnificent, so much so that some people doubted she wrote it herself. What praise from Hemingway—"she can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers."

Beryl Markham loved Africa. She loved the soil and the vegetation, the animals and the light and held the natives in great regard in a time and place that was not known for such respect. After a career as a horse trainer, she became an aviator, flying the Atlantic east to west.  As the book ends she is using her plane to "elephant-spot" for safaris for Baron von Blixen. Obviously the next book to read (or is it re-read?) is Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa.

Al had his own experiences in Africa which I hope to get to later. In the meantime. let me recommend these two books. Interesting and most enjoyable.

Help: I posted two photos here and then deleted them, but Blogger seems to think I still have them and will not allow me to delete this big space. Any ideas?

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Family Joke

Poor Kingsley Amis. How could he know he was going to be such a joke in our family? Ernie and I both love "Lucky Jim", but we haven't had any followers in our family. He bought copies for each of his sisters, who politely informed him they were not amused. Then, human memory being what it is, he went out after a few months and bought them a second copy. Same reaction.
Guess I understand their feelings. Different milieu, different country, different era. Not everyone is fortunate enough to come across a bumbling professor.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012


Two of my grandchildren are obsessed with ducks—especially for pajamas and robes. Ducks seem to be a traditional design for these garments, but for baby/toddler apparel, and the grandchildren in question are seven and eight. That's where Grandma and her trusty sewing machine come in handy. I was looking in my snuggly flannel scrap box, when I found (together with remnants of flannel decorated with soccer balls and dogs and cats and racing cars) these three scraps. I could swear I took photos of the completed garments, but I can't find them, so for now this is all I have to remind me.

Here's a sort of bathtub duckie which I made into a nightdress for Caroline
Don't you love this strutting Superman duckie—pjs for Linus?

Lastly there was a robe for Linus, with somewhat inebriated ducks, some of which appear to have measles.

 So what's my problem? I have made several trips to JoAnns and can find no flannel with ducks for this year's nightdresses/pjs. Not a single bolt. I hope something new will come in, otherwise the era of duckies may be over.

Sorry for chopped off text in last paragraph. I know what caused it—don't dare fix it.