Wednesday, April 18, 2018

This Year you Have to Share, Veronica

Veronica (l) with big sister Josephine
Today Veronica is seven. This little girl, born sixteen weeks early, weighing 1 lb. 4 oz. is celebrating another year in her dramatic life. It isn’t just that she has grown and thrived, it is that she has turned out to be such a funny, captivating little girl. I could’t find a good photo of her, because all the recent ones I have show her laughing and kidding around, happy to be around her siblings and cousins and enjoying life.  She visited us with one of her sisters in January, and I actually caught her sitting down. Love you, Veronica.

But this year, as she celebrates her birthday, her brother Theodore is celebrating his Confirmation, so there is much excitement in their house tonight. I wish I could be in Maryland tonight with you all. We are thinking of you.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Good Work

I am dividing up my books into five categories:

  • those I really treasure
  • those which are too dilapidated or unworthy to give away
  • those which I will give to special people
  • those which I will donate to the library
  • ones I don’t know what to do with*

 I am hanging on to the first category and pitching the second. The library is getting a number of unused cookbooks, books on quilting (never quite got the hang of that), fifty years worth of gifts, novels and all the books you buy but are really only good for one read. It’s amounting to quite a lot. I don’t want to do it, but it is time. An advantage of having grandchildren grow older is that I know their interests. So last week I could give Ben a book on Shackleton and the Endurance. A few weeks ago I gave Patrick a book that looked like this:

It is one of several similar editions I lugged across the Atlantic and kept with pride. Or nostalgia? An end of year school prize which was awarded to two or three pupils in each class. If you were going to receive a prize on Speech Day, you were notified in advance so you could chose a book you wanted and it could be bound in blue leather and embossed with the school crest and its motto “Onward Ever.” I forgot to photograph the volume of “Nicholas Nickelby” I gave to Patrick, so I photographed the one I received the following year, “The Pilgrim's Progress.” (So impressed was I to be receiving an award that it never occurred to me I was supposed to read it. Never did manage PP.)

The bookplate inside looked just like this,  signed by the Head Mistress and annotated “Good Work”, but the form was IIL not IIIL. I was dreading how to answer if Patrick asked about the form designation.

Let me explain: after passing the 11+, we went on to Enfield County Grammar School where we were at the mercy of a streaming system. So for the first form we were democratically known as I A, I Alpha and (I think) I B. The cream began to rise to the top and at the end of the first form about a third of us were told we could learn Latin (shades of Winston Churchill.) Hence II L, leaving behind II A and II B. At the end of the second form, the two latter classes were divided into III S (Spanish) and III DS (Domestic Science.) One of my best friends was ignominiously put into III DS, and realizing quite correctly that she was destined for more than cooking cauliflower cheese, she went on later to the Open University and earned a degree.  So on to the end of the fifth form, when V L was split into VI B Arts and VI B Science, and passed on the following year to VI A Arts and VI A Science (the creme da la creme destined for university and teacher training college). And those poor souls who made it to V S and V DS has the chance to enter VI B Secretarial.

I was dreading explaining all this to Patrick, but he didn't ask. I always used to justify this dreadful way of damning all but the brightest to a self-defeating streaming system by claiming it was part of a plan to make up quickly and efficiently for all the educated men and women lost in the war. It was, I believe, the result of the Education Act of 1944. Children were ruthlessly streamed. We paid a nominal sum for milk and the infamous “school dinner.” The blessing for me was that my university fees were paid, so I suppose it was good legislation, but these days I feel a little awkward explaining it. I do feel guilty, but at least I had a great education.

* As for the books in this category, the ones with gripping titles like From the Gracchae to Nero and The Latin Subjunctive, they will join the much greater collection owned by this houses librarian, and a decision will be made at a later date.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Henry Raises an Eyebrow

This has always been my favorite photo of Grand son Henry. Taken (I think) at his third birthday party after a hectic game playing in the garden with his siblings and cousins. It would have been even more perfect if it had been taken before his mother finally had the mop of curls sheared. Who knows what the first course was, but the dessert was this impressive cake—and he couldn’t stay awake for it.



Now Henry has put away childish things and entered the teen years. In Liz’s words, "This young man is an absolute joy (albeit an exhausting one  ) to parent: he's a smart, active, loving, FUNNY, wild, faith-filled tornado and EVERYDAY he makes me laugh!" Basketball season is over and we are looking forward to seeing Henry take the mound for his baseball team. Happy Thirteenth Birthday, Henry.

Maybe this will become a favorite photo. I was reading an article the other day on the effect of one raised eyebrow, illustrated by photos of Nicole Kidman, Jack Nicolson and Vivien Leigh. I think Henry could join the club.


Wednesday, April 04, 2018

An Easter Like No Other

I already knew this Easter would be different. Not only was it so early, but two of the three daughters who usually share the day with us were leaving town. And the third? Read on.

Click to enlarge.
I was happy that Kate and her family decided to visit Patrick in St. Louis. She is coming to the realization that before long it will not be possible for her entire family to be together for some of the major holidays. Remember in my last post I said that Patrick is developing great skill as a writer? Look at this and the name in the bottom left hand corner. He was also the recipient of a handsome check. Perhaps the birthplace of T.S. Eliot is wearing off on him.

Liz and her family decided to go East to visit the boys in Maryland and Virginia. Bizarre as it sounds, it is usually impossible for them to make this trip in the summer, due to conflicting sports obligations for the fifteen grandchildren involved. Easter is usually out of the question too because some of the families are students or teachers in schools that get their Easter holidays before Easter while others get them after Easter. But it worked out this year.

Not to worry, there would still be the solemn pageant of the Easter services and a brunch with Lucy and family on Easter Sunday. However, 10 a.m. on Easter Sunday, the time when normally everyone would be arriving, when glasses would be clanking, and the aroma of Ernie’s traditional ham breakfast would be filling the air, found me alone in the kitchen chopping up fruit for a fruit salad. Ernie was in bed, where he had been since Friday, leaving me to go to church alone, though two of the girls and their families had been at church on Holy Thursday evening, before everyone took off, and Lucy and Peter were at Good Friday services. He was coughing to beat the band and was too lethargic to eat or to watch more than a few token minutes of basketball. And that’s the NCAA semis and finals!


BUT, and here’s the good part, I was not unhappy to go alone to Lucy and Peter’s house (and it is even more extraordinary that they made it to church those two times) because there was this—
Ronan Gabriel, born on March 23rd. Things are so different these days. Even though he was born by Caesarian section (for many reasons, not the least being that he weighed 9 and a half pounds) Lucy was released from the hospital after less than forty-eight hours. It was a stroke of good luck that Peter’s company had instituted a two week paid paternity leave just a few months ago. Gladys will be two this month and Joe is three and a half, so their house is a monument to diapers. A very happy monument.

Click to enlarge
And the name? This photo hangs on our dining room wall. There is a better copy of the original photograph, and I will insert it when it is found. Sigh. The gnome-like gentleman seated to the right is Ernie’s great-grandfather, James Murray. Seated on the left is his wife, the former Mary Ann Ronan. Note how she is hiding her left hand: family lore tells that she mutilated it in some way on the ship coming over from Ireland. Her brother, Charles Ronan, married Elizabeth Fox and they had a son, Edward, who died in infancy in 1862.

Click to enlarge.
 Little Edward’s headstone found its final resting
place in our living room. How it made the trip from the graveyard in Iowa to a living room in Michigan is a long story, and perhaps destined to be another part of family lore, but I am assured that no laws, civil or ecclesiastical, were broken. So Lucy grew up with little Edward Ronan, who is now commemorated in our family one hundred and sixty years after his birth.

And me? I came down with the coughing curse and spent two restful days in bed, listening to the rain rattling against the windows.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Today . . .

. . . is Patrick’s twentieth birthday. He’s our second oldest grandchild and is seen here with our second youngest (for a day or two.)

We celebrated his birthday on Saturday, because he was home on Spring break and had to return yesterday to St. Louis (the city) and Saint Louis (the University.)
I am assuming he got back OK, although he was eleven hours late on his Detroit bound trip, thanks to a no show Greyhound. We are hoping that is good practice for travel in the Fall, when he will be enrolled at the Saint Louis campus in Madrid.

Like most college students he has re-thought his major a couple of times and has now settled on a double major in English and Philosophy. That means he makes his grandfather happy by his interest in esoteric philosophers and their theories of most things, and engages the rest of us by recommending books and authors a little more suited for our earthbound tastes. He is developing great skill as a writer—keep going, Patrick, we need more like you in the world. Happy Birthday.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Celebration in Rockville

It is Andrew’s birthday today. He reads this blog so no age will be given or hinted at. I suspect there will be no celebration for him tonight: he and Marcie spend their “spare” time running their six children to swimming, basketball, baseball and whatever else any of them have taken up recently.

This photo probably wasn’t taken at school, because the kids in the background are not wearing the neat green uniforms of St. Patricks. He teaches at the same school where five of his own children attend. Next year it will be four and so on down the line.

Hard to believe in is almost twenty-five years since he went to DC. He had a couple of great experiences while earning an M.A. at Catholic University: he got to be a proctor with the Senate Page program and then to work  at the Newman bookstore where he could indulge in reading—and sometimes buying—books.

Next year I will post some his wall building and woodworking projects, but for now I will only celebrate his work in the classroom, teaching Religion and Math with a class of Latin on the side. Happy Birthday, Andrew.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Cuneiform to Cursive and Beyond

In my last post I included a photo of Lydia’s paper on polar bears. It was jarring as I looked at it (in a good way, Diddy.) When I was nine I would have hand written the whole  thing and possibly given a rough idea of a bear's appearance with a hand-drawn blob. I was over fifty before I typed anything on a computer or figured out how to import a JPEG into my text.

I can’t remember learning to write, although I am grateful to whoever taught me that I was not forced to use my right hand. Like my mother I am naturally left-handed. She grew up in an era when being left handed was a mortal sin and I never noticed if she had been forced to make her right hand dominant in other tasks. I know I grew up with my left hand dominant for some tasks (knitting, sewing, throwing a ball) and using my right hand for other action (digging, hitting a rounders ball etc.) Once we could write in block letters, we waited for the next stage of growing up—learning cursives. I still have a few books with my name laboriously written on the fly leaf.

But then, after the 11+ and my entrance into Enfield County School, we had to give up cursives and learn “school writing.” We were destined for a life of essay after essay, tests with nary a  “multiple choice” question in sight and (no-one dreamed of computers at the time) years of wielding a pen or pencil. School writing was basically cursive, but with all the time-consuming loops and flourishes smoothed out or removed. It was not unattractive and it was certainly faster to use. I developed an unsightly, ink-stained “bunion” on the side of the middle finger of my left hand. The ink disappeared in the first decade of my post-graduate life, the bunion took a little longer to go. At the same time my handwriting reverted in part to my earlier style of cursive, incorporated a Greek epsilon or two  and became an unpleasant, messy hybrid.

Fast forward to the age of computers. I continued for many years to write letters by hand until it struck me that there were advantages to typing a letter. Mis-spellings were easier to correct, forgotten paragraphs could be inserted, unfortunate phrases or comments could disappear with no tell-tale remnants of Wite-Out. The warmth of my letter could perhaps compensate for the rigid medium. There are still a few letters which must be hand written, and I dread letters of condolence, not because I have no sentiments or sympathy to express, but because I often have to start again as my hand, and the brain that controls it, run amok across the page and nouns appear where I had intended to write verbs and so on. Even totally unintended words tend to make an appearance.

My grandchildren are products of their time. When we write birthday cards, with our sentiments lovingly expressed in our current version of cursives, we are often present as they open the cards and attempt to share our words with their family. Good grief, one would think we were writing in Linear B and they needed Michael Ventris to come along and put them out of their misery.


I should add that a couple of days ago we read an article about Georgetown University forbidding students to use lap tops for note taking, and insisting that their students use long hand to take notes in class. Misery ensued. Poor kids couldn’t even read their own writing. Enough said.