Friday, March 25, 2011

Those Were the Days, My Friend.

In her early days of marriage and motherhood in Marlboro, Massachusetts, my mother had a small group of friends who also had young children. Our families would gather at Fort Meadow Lake in our neighborhood to play, swim, or parade for the much anticipated Spree Day.  We didn't live there for long, but nearly fifty years later, I'm still acquainted with some of the friends and families from those days.

Swimming at Fort Meadow Lake 1957

Spree Day, Marlboro, Mass. 1959

My mother's girlfriend from those days, Carolyn Brewer (now Carolyn Towles) is my godmother.  Carolyn and her daughter Brenda, who is my sister's age, have both visited New Brunswick and Cleveland Place, and I visited Carolyn at her home in Florida just a year ago.  Since my mother died several years ago, it was special to get reacquainted with one of her peers and recall good memories.

Grey Shingles February 1962
Carolyn happily recalled an incident at Grey Shingles, which was the wee house my folks and grandfather, Allyn, built in Marlboro. When my grandmother, Anne Carritt, came by and found nobody home and the house locked, she climbed in through a window. Our dog Mixie, a large shepherd mix, cowered and hid under a bed, too afraid to be coaxed out.  Carolyn was incredulous that this large dog would be so petrified of a tiny old lady to the point of incapacitation. She never forgot it, and laughed easily recalling it.

Mixie with her pups 1961

I don't know how Carolyn and her then husband, Bud, landed in Massachusetts.  Carolyn's mother was a doffer girl at Dixie Mercerizing in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where her father was a plant manager.  That seems like a time far away and long ago to me.  I imagine it was Bud's engineering career that brought them to the growing technology sector that Massachusetts was becoming in the 50's and 60's along Route 128.  Those are the stories I absorb and relish -- the chaos of the universe that brings people together in place and time. 

My folks called Carolyn a classy lady -- high praise from my parents -- and I easily recognize that quality in her.  She was genuinely gracious and welcoming with hospitality during our visit.  She remarked that she could still see the little girl in me.   

Little Jane 1964
In the day we spent with Carolyn in Florida, I admired the array of artwork in her home and was impressed to learn that most of them were her own work. She pointed out those of a few other artists, but hers was the real talent on the wall.

Carolyn, Jane, and Bill 2010
I was surprised to see two New Brunswick landscape scenes that I immediately recognized.  One of Red Head at Waterside, and the other of the marsh at Waterside. Carolyn had taken photographs of the local area during a visit to Cleveland Place when my folks were still operating the B&B together.  She then painted these landmarks.  It was strange and thrilling to see these familiar scenes captured by Carolyn's hand, so far away from their natural setting that was so familiar to me.

Having forgotten the names of the locations, Carolyn got pen and paper to write them down and I remarked that the Red Head scene (a local tidal promontory) that she'd captured had since eroded into the ocean.  Our friends Tim Issac and Jim Blewett wrote a song about it, and made it the cover shot and title song for one of their albums.  I especially appreciated that Tim remarked to me that his song is a metaphor for my mother, as Red Head fell around the time my mother died.  Her ashes are scattered at Waterside.

Carolyn met Jim Blewett at his 50th birthday party celebration during her visit to New Brunswick.  I'm quite sure that the party was one like none other she'd been to before, as she and her husband Bill, my folks, friends, and neighbors gathered in a large circle on the wooden floor of an old farmhouse and each guest shared deeply personal anecdotes, feelings, admiration, and memories of the birthday boy.  It was quite emotional for everyone.

I sent Carolyn a copy of Issac & Blewett's Red Head CD, and in return she sent me the two large paintings.  Priceless.

Red Head and Waterside, by Carolyn Towles

Though my mother was a private person, she did tell a few stories on herself. In those early years in Marlboro, she and Carolyn had an acquaintance about their same age who'd recently had twin babies. My mother described how they'd gone to the friend's house and stood in the doorway, anticipating a visit with the new mother, when they noticed a crib and high-chair folded and unused off to the side.  The woman explained that one of the twins had inexplicably and unexpectedly died.

Saddened, the two friends silently stood searching for words of comfort, and one of them asked what was to be done with the baby furniture. The mother explained that it had been sold to another family who also had a new child.  Trying to find supportive words of optimism, my mother cheerfully replied, "Well, it won't be a total loss, then."

She immediately heard how grossly inappropriate it was, but it was too late.

I have to assume they were all good friends enough to know it was an aberration of thought and speech, and thus easily forgiven, knowing the intention.

I hope that eventually I'll have friends that long-lasting and forgiving.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

absit iniuria verbis: duos

And then there was the time....

I was a young Air Force wife.  We belonged to the Non-Commissioned Officer's Club where we could join other couples for dinners, cocktails, dances and social events.  The wives had an auxiliary social group that met during the day for luncheons that would feature an educational speaker, community service projects and charitable fund raising efforts.  At the end of the club year, we held a banquet to record and applaud our successes, elect committee chairwomen, and give awards for achievements.

The club photographer gathered us all on stage for a group photo.  We stood, row-by-row, shoulder-to-shoulder, refreshed our lipstick, straightened skirts, tucked blouses, grimaced to each other to check for a lodged poppy seed or pepper flake in our teeth, and then posed.  A much older woman --the wife of a senior-ranking non-com officer --who was standing next to me wore a white pullover knitted sweater.  As she smoothed down her front I spied a dark black hair on her bosom.  I delicately reached over to snatch it and just as the photographer was putting us in focus, I gingerly and effectively tugged.

"OUCH!" she loudly exclaimed!  I startled and froze with the short curly hair pinched between my still extended thumb and forefinger that just seconds before had been attached to her chest.  Too embarrassed to comment, I lowered my hand turned and faced the photographer and smiled.

That was a case of not knowing what to say.  Here's one of saying it all just plain wrong.

In high school, before Stephen and I were dating, but were getting better acquainted, I quickly learned that he was very well read--often admiring him quoting entire passages from Shakespeare, lines of poetry, or pages from classic literary works.  I was impressed; after all, I was a reader, carried honors level English lit classes, and we had a respectable library in my family home where books were considered especially important and valued when we were growing up. I was glad that I was at least familiar with Hamlet and Polonius, and could return with such quotes as, "To thine own self be true" and "Neither a borrower nor a lender be."

Stephen would frequently walk me to my locker between classes, and we'd chat before the bell rang.  In those early days, he would tell short, lively, and captivating stories of his time living in Cyprus until the war.  He recounted adolescent thrills of being a refugee and his efforts to come to the United States without his parents but with two siblings in tow.  I was growing more and more attracted to him.  (See the Do You Like My Hat blog entry.)  We also quietly shared knowing that the teacher whose French language class he was walking me to each day stood close-by carefully eavesdropping on his tales.  It was fun to watch her expressions as the stories became dramatic or when she was frustrated by student distractions when she was clearly trying to attend to Stephen's narrations.

Most of our locker visits were quick between bells and he dominated the conversation as he recounted his experiences, shared favorite authors, or we bounced back Monty Python dialogue and quotes.  On one particular day I remember, he was quieter.  He seemed concerned about something, and naturally, with my personality, I self-consciously considered that he was growing tired of me, and was distancing himself. 

So I drew upon my vast grade-eleven literary knowledge, and searched for an appropriate quote or reference to open a conversation about his quiet concerns.  Remembering an important Greek legend, and thinking it appropriate after recently learning so much about his Greek culture, I said:

"Why, Steve, you appear to have the Spirit of Androcles above your head."

He simply said, "What?"

So I repeated, "It seems you have the Spirit of Androcles hanging above you!"

He paused, thought for a moment, nodded, then said, "Do you mean the Sword of Damocles?"

Crushed, I felt my face get hot, and quietly said, "Ah, yes, I guess I do."

I then replayed in my mind's eye where I'd learned of this famous historic morality tale.  Oh, how my memory had betrayed me.  I hadn't read it in Aesop's Fables, where I'd confused Androcles the Lion, and some wistful guiding spirit of Greek Mythology somehow creating my own Spirit of Androcles, but rather entirely botched the quote as I recalled it from a version of Pygmalion.

But now, I must reveal my literary sources.

The Three Stooges.  It was in the episode of slap-stick comedy that I'd seen so many times:  Half-Wits Holiday, where Moe, Larry, and Curly are transformed in a Pygmalion plot adaptation from bumbling repairmen into society gentlemen.  In an ensuing food-fight, Moe sends a pie upward that sticks to the ceiling, and seeing his concern, a society Dame --one they were supposed to impress with their new gentle manners -- says, "Young man, you act as if The Sword of Damocles is hanging over your head!"

BINGO!  That's what I meant.

Stephen laughed.  Not so much at me, which would have been humiliating, but just for the humor of it.  Oh, yeah, I was really, really starting to like him.  It wasn't long after this admission, that I fessed up that my knowledge of Hamlet was solely from the Gilligan's Island television episode when the castaways created a musical version of Hamlet using music from Carmen.  Stephen had never seen an episode of Gilligan's Island.

Even without that in common, years later we married, and in our wedding ceremony hearing it and repeating it for the first time, I solemnly pledged him my trough.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

absit iniuria verbis

Communication.  It can be difficult.  Here is just one example of the many troubles I've had.

While waiting my turn holding a Chinet™ paper plate and plastic fork I stood in the hot sun and humidity in a long line at a summertime buffet along several tables of generous offerings for a potluck of picnic foods.  There was country ham, burgers, hot dogs, sausage & peppers, a variety of salads including garden, Jell-O™, and endless varieties of macaroni or marinated bean, and typically, there was the ubiquitous potato salad of every culinary variety known to North Americans.

I am usually wary at potlucks if I don't know the cooks or the cleanliness of their kitchens, and I was especially wary as these heaping vessels sat exposed in the sun and heat.  My mind's eye replayed my grade-eight science class movie about germs and bacteria, and I saw the teeming micro-organisms dividing and multiplying exponentially as Monsieur Pasteur narrated the growing potential for food poisoning the longer the uncovered dishes sat and the line slowly progressed.  I was making my selections very carefully with an uneasy feeling on an empty stomach.

I made step-by-step advances and noticed as several people bailed from the line and simply cut in with quick precision to grab a scoop of whatever caught their eye to plop it onto their plate and exit again without interrupting the flow.  I chose to follow suit.

Having spied a dish sitting in a small portion of shade, I made my choice and slid in line next to a woman whose plate was piled high with several large portions of a wide variety of dishes.  She reached for the serving spoon from the same bowl full of the shimmering molten mayonnaise and macaroni salad that I had cut in line next to her to serve myself. 

Now, let's pause for an expository passage:

We watch a LOT of movies.  We have favourites in every genre whether foreign, independent, a Hollywood blockbuster, or a clip from a little known gem.  We watch movies, rate them, discuss them, enjoy them, recommend them, love to hate them, seek out soundtracks from our top picks -- and we quote from them.
A lot.

For example:

Nell, starring Jodie Foster who plays a girl who was brought up in a cottage in the forest.  Her character had never met anyone and spoke a kind of language that she developed learning from her speech-impaired stroke-victim mother.  Moviegoers get to understand some of her mangled English during the movie.  We adopted one: "Ehbadee"; her word for 'every day'. I use it a lot.

Rain Man, starring Dustin Hoffman playing Raymond Babbitt, an autistic savant.  We use Raymond's line, "I'm an excellent driver" (it's very useful) and "UH-Oh, VERN, V-E-R-N!", when something goes slightly wrong such as a messy spill, or when we're unsure in a tense situation like when a scary dog advances; "82, 82, 82" (when Raymond immediately counts a box of spilled toothpicks) when we have to quickly add anything out loud -- a couple of us in the family seriously struggle with math.

Now, back to the picnic.

My line companion was a large woman.  Not just overweight, but one that a responsible doctor would accurately chart as morbidly obese.  She schlucked her selection of the mayonnaise and macaroni concoction off the spoon mounting it onto an already filled plate and was about to return the spoon to the bowl when she looked at me as I waited my turn.  She motioned the spoon, speechlessly saying, "want some?"   I nodded and held my empty plate forward, so she scooped and shook off approximately a half cup portion onto my plate and immediately scooped a second spoonful and motioned to drop a second helping on top of the first.  I shook my head and said.

"That'll do, pig."

Movie:  Babe; the story of a runt piglet on Hoggett's farm who trains as a shepherd dog -- Farmer Hoggett uses sheep-dog training commands to teach the pig using phrases such as "come-bye", "away-to-me" and "that'll do".  A famous line repeated throughout the movie especially in the final scene, "That'll do, Pig."

The woman snapped her head and looked at my face.  I immediately realized that in this situation, it was not an appropriate time to make that particular movie quote, and so I then blurted out:

"Oh, not that YOU'RE a pig."

She frowned and continued to look at me, remaining speechless.

So I continued, stumbling with words, stammering, becoming breathless (I can fix this!)

"It's from a movie, about a PIG! We quote from movies all the's a quote from the movie, BABE; the pig's name.  I wasn't saying you're a pig.....or calling you a pig....." The word PIG ringing hard and jarring each time I repeated it.

She put the spoon back in the bowl, and walked away from me, mid-sentence.  She never said a word.  I felt helpless and humiliated.  I remember I had to physically close my still-open mouth and with tunnel vision, rejoined my family.  

Regrettably, I have quite a number of other incidents to tell about in this blog-entry category, but for now,

That'll do, pig.