Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Question of Honor

Another book by Charles Todd! If I had known that Charles Todd is a mother/son combo living in different parts of the United States, I would never have started reading "his" books. I have always felt dual authors can upset the continuity of a well crafted plot. But I have read with much enjoyment everything Charles Todd has written, first the Inspector Ian Rutledge books and now the Bess Crawford mysteries. All the books are set in the period surrounding World War I and paint a vivid picture of the world of English society in that destructive period of history. Bess takes the situation further: she is a nurse in the trenches of France. In this last book she deals not only with war wounds and amputations, but also with the influenza epidemic which swept Europe around 1918. Although this sounds gruesome, and coming after my post of November 11, it could well be, but we see the death and suffering through Bess's eyes. She is a competent, well trained and focused nurse who works calmly and concentrates on the task at hand. Sad to think that in today's world she could have attended university and become a doctor. She is frequently put in charge of accompanying patients back to England and on to clinics for more treatment, so she gets home to Somerset, which gives her the opportunity to find the evidence she needs to solve this mystery. Many of the clues involve the identity of children in a photograph: we could put it up on the Internet and have an answer in a matter of hours, but for Bess (and her worthy chaperone Simon) it involves sleuthing around graveyards and markets and large houses in Petersfield.  The premise is understandable, although it seems a little far fetched that so many people who play a large role in the unravelling of the mystery should bump into each other, sometimes more than once, in the trenches of Northern France.

What made this book even more enjoyable for me is the fact that the beginning is a flashback to Bess's childhood in India, where her father was a Colonel Sahib on the Northwestern Frontier. I am now the owner of an album lovingly put together by my Aunt showing my Grandfather as a Bombadier in the Royal Garrison Artillery in Bombay.

There he is, sitting in the middle of the photo. Why did I never ask questions about his early life? In part it was because my brother and I were always aware there was some kind of family secret. It involved the Aunt who gave me the album and I am pretty sure it involved nothing more than the fact that my Grandfather adopted her, or at least reared her.

There are few dates in the album, but I think I was able to figure out that this photo was taken not long after his father died at twenty nine, leaving his mother with five young children. One of his sisters entered a convent and my Grandfather joined the Army.

He was just sixteen at the time. The juxtaposition of the Army uniform and the flowered frame made a lot more sense when I read the passage in the book which explained that soldiers had a photo taken, perhaps the only one there was of them, to leave with wives or mothers when they went into battle, in case they never returned home again. But he returned to become my Garby down the Lock. Perhaps he thought I would not have been interested in his adventures in India.

I am so sorry I never thought to ask.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The First Thing I See

When I get up each morning, I stumble out of bed, put on my glasses and find my way to the bathroom. Luckily it is not far. When I have achieved my primary goal of choosing that room first, I look out of the window. Sometimes I watch the children going to school or my neighbors going to work (I'm not exactly nosy, it is more that I have a hard time moving). I watch the birds or the squirrels in the trees outside. A couple of weeks ago, this is what I saw.

The maple on the right has already shed almost all of its leaves, not only on our lawn, but depending on which way the wind was blowing, all over our neighbors' property. That's OK, we've got theirs. That perverse oak on the left turns to a pretty bronze color, but waits until spring to lose its leaves and get ready to start the process all over again. When the trees need trimming, we may get a squirrel on the eve over the front door. The day I took this photo I looked across the street at the bare trees an thought how bleak they seemed.

Then I was looking through the photo blog I kept until my last computer broke, and this is what I found.

This will be the view before too long.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Final Farewell

It was, I think, 1997 and Ernie and I, our daughter Liz and her husband Jeff had been to England and were about to follow Ernie's dad's steps in the US Army in WW I, sailing from Portsmouth to Le Havre. No boat crowded with  apprehensive soldiers, but a vessel crammed with gamblers. We arrived at Le Havre long before we could pick up our rental car and then set out. At this point we made up our own itinerary. My memory is so sketchy. I know we looking for a specific WW I grave. An author? A scholar? Maybe it was Wilfred Owen. We paid our respects to the soldiers of WW II by visiting the beaches of Normandy with their immaculate cemeteries, we spent a night in Caen and I remember we bought something in the town square (pommes frites?) and we were so busy talking that we walked away with out paying, pursued by irate vendors. Most of all, we explored anything that looked interesting.

In the middle of nowhere we came across this little Commonwealth cemetery, not many graves but immaculately cared for. Protected from the weather there was a book in which we could sign our names  and the only other visitor was an elderly gentleman. We talked to him and he said he was from New Zealand and had made the pilgrimage to France several times to visit the tomb of his father. He then told us he was 82 and that this would be his last visit.

The beautiful poetry of Wilfred Owen or Sigrid Sassoon or Rupert Brooke will never make such human tragedy bearable.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Time Management

I found this poem recently and loved it. It "spoke to me" as they say.  I hope I am not transgressing any copyright laws. Although I found it reprinted in a book called Grace Notes, which is a compilation of poems accompanying articles in the magazine First Things, I have since found it on-line, and I really don't know what copyright laws apply here. It was written by Stephen Scaer and appeared in the June/July edition of First Things.

Time Management.

"Luther in the year he spent
as Junker Joerg in Wartburg towers,
translated the New Testament
to pass the everlasting hours.

Though living as a refugee
Erasmus wrote his tour de force.
In Praise of Folly's said to be
the product of a trip by horse.

With dinners late, D'Aguesseau saw
an opportunity to write
his sixteen-volume work of law
in fifteen minutes every night.

Today I slept late, took a walk,
sipped coffee on my ragged lawn,
checked my mailbox, saw the clock,
and noticed half my life was gone."

How very true. You too?