Wednesday, September 30, 2015

From the Drawer

A mixed bag of memorabilia from the drawer of my grandmother's treadle sewing machine . . . a pair of pince nez, snapshots of her and my grandfather during their courting days, and a typescript of a lecture on sexual intercourse. (Very positive and using proper terminology.)

And how I would like to know the story behind the lecture. My grandmother's mother had died well before my grandmother married -- did her father give this to her? A friend? Did she acquire it on her own? It will have to remain a mystery, alas. 

This same grandmother was a Sunday School teacher -- this document must have been from that time. (The kid gloves are much later.)

And in the same drawer, a letter from my seven year old self to my grandmother's sister  (Mamie) in Troy, Alabama. I love how I manage to fill both sides of the page in spite of not having much to say. (Skipper is my brother -- I don't know what was wrong with him.)

Oops! There goes the clock! Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong!  Soon it will be time for me to leave to teach my class. 

I will be sure to tell them that it's noticeable when writers are just filling space with nothing much to say . . .

Monday, September 28, 2015

Ona Blankenship (re-post)

This is a re-post from 2008.

"This is how I picture Miss Birdie," my friend Louise told me last night, handing me these two black and white photos. Ona Blankenship was Louise's nearest neighbor in Pipestem, West Virginia, back at the end of the Sixties.

You know what? Ona looks just like the Miss Birdie in my mind. While my Miss Birdie's voice and character draw from my own neighbors -- Grace Henderson, Mearl Davis, Dessie Wilson --- and from fictional characters -- you can find Birdie's kin in Lee Smith's Fair and Tender Ladies, in Kathryn Stripling Byer's Black Shawl or Wildwood Flower, and in The Foxfire Books, to name only a few -- I've never pictured Birdie as looking like any one I know. And now, here she is.

When Louise knew her, Ona Blankenship was in her eighties and living alone. In spite of failing eyesight and arthritic fingers, she created beautiful crazy quilts, Louise tells me.

The quilt in the picture isn't one of Ona's. It was made by Ollie Payne, the mother of the woman from whom we bought our farm. Ollie was almost 100 the only time I met her and was a bed-ridden invalid, covered by numerous quilts of her own making.

These wonderful, fierce old women -- everywhere I go I hear their stories. Only last night a new acquaintance told me about her octogenarian aunt, up on the roof hammering down shingles. (Didn't I have Aunt Omie doing something like that in Dark Season?)

So many stories waiting to be told -- in my family and yours, in my county and yours. Let's hear it for fierce old women!
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Twain's End

Mark Twain has been a favorite of mine ever since I read Tom Sawyer many years ago. (The scene where Tom doses the cat with the tonic his aunt has been forcing on him and the zipped-up feline sails out  the window, carrying two pots of geraniums with it, still cracks me up.When I grew older and discovered  the delightful and irreverent Letters from Earth -- I thought I'd found the real Twain, the deeper, darker thinker.

But Lynn Cullen's excellent novel Twain's End peels back the Twain persona to reveal the  man beneath: Samuel Clemens -complicated, conflicted, passionate, volatile, and deeply flawed -- something that the beloved Mark Twain could never allow himself to be. 

Cullen's story focuses on Twain/Clemens' puzzling relationship with his secretary. Isobel Lyon served Clemens for six years, traveling with the family and enjoying a high degree of trust, confidentiality, and perhaps something more. 

 But shortly after Isobel's marriage to his business manager, Clemens fired her -- and soon after vilified her publicly, calling her " a liar, a forger, a thief, a hypocrite, a drunkard, a sneak, a humbug, a traitor, a conspirator, a filthy-minded slut pining for seduction." 

Well! One suspects there's an interesting story here and, by golly, one would be right. Working from primary and secondary sources, Cullen has pieced together a completely plausible and satisfactory answer to the question, why did Clemens attend his secretary's wedding, appearing to give his blessing to the union, only to cast her into outer darkness a short time later?

The twin powder kegs of Sam Clemens' family life ( two definitely difficult daughters, a saintly, recently departed invalid wife, and a servant who may have had her own agenda)  and Mark Twain's public life (he was a celebrity who hobnobbed with celebrities, who could go nowhere without being recognized) combine to produce an explosive plot that carries the reader breathlessly along.

The book brims with lush descriptions of the world of the rich and famous at the turn of the 20th Century. An intriguing interlude (based on an actual event) is Twain's entertaining Helen Keller, her Teacher, and her Teacher's husband -- who may just be little too fond of Miss Keller.

 Isobel is a charming character -- an early career woman at a time when few women had careers. And her mother -- who remembers past glories and dreams of more for Isobel, is a character worthy of Jane Austen.

 But as in real life, Sam Clemens/Mark Twain's dueling personas take center stage. At times a lovable wit, at times a monster, at times a lost soul, his luster is not dimmed. 

Highly recommended! 

(Disclaimer: I received an advance reading copy of this book but I was under no obligation to write a review, much less a positive one.)

Go HERE for more about Twain's End.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Layla Update

Layla is doing well and beginning, I think, to believe that this is where she belongs. She is not yet off leash outside except briefly  -- and she's been good about coming when called. But with cows and chickens etc., it will be a while before we fully trust her to do the right thing.

She and Bob are good buddies with a mutual interest in sticks and branches, like the one they're sharing in the picture above.

Bob is such an easy-going sweetheart -- they play together till they're exhausted,

                       Layla also really likes the goldfish pool.

And she really likes to snuggle. . .

Even when she has to share John with Bob . . .

Willa is still cautious and occasionally does her mad woman act if Layla comes near the love seat where Willa and I are sitting . . . Layla is learning to ignore her, which is progress. 

Layla, Willa, and Bob will all ride together in the truck with John without any problems. Evidently the truck, unlike the love seat, is neutral territory.

As for the cats, Layla is very interested in them. We are keeping the cats in the back of the house till Layla goes to bed and is safely closed in the bedroom. Then the kittehs retake the night and roam free till morning.

This whole thing takes time but we are optimistic that eventually everyone will get along.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

And the Wheel Turns Autumnwards

                              Summer's lushness fades, 
                                 Air cools, leaves crisp, nights lengthen,
                                    And Autumn arrives.
                                Seasons come and go . . .
                             Seasons come and go . . .

 Day and night balance
 A brief moment in the sun's
                            Journey to the South.
                                And still the Great Wheel turns . . .
                                     And still the Great Wheel turns . . .

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Advice from a Poet

Words to live by, not just for poets and writers but for everyone. 

They are from One Hundred White Daffodils by the poet Jane Kenyon and I came across them in THIS ARTICLE. 

(Thanks to another poet, Kathryn Stripling Byer, for posting the article on Facebook yesterday.) 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Asheville After the Rain

I was in town yesterday to participate in a program of readings by members of the Great Smokies Writing Program. It was a pleasant, well-attended hour and a half or so of assorted poems, essays, novel excerpts and one very silly story. (That was me.)

Rain was falling when I left Malaprop's (Asheville's iconic independent bookstore, host of the Authors at Home reading series) and the parking garage afforded a fine view of a rainbow stretching over the cut on Beaucatcher Mountain.

I've been here long enough to remember Beaucatcher before the cut and Asheville when it was mainly boarded up stores. It's become a lively place now, full of natives, transplants, and tourists  -- a pleasant, walkable little city . . . but it continues to grow, adding hotels and high rises at a frightening pace.


I don't live in Asheville so my opinion isn't particularly informed . . . but I could wish that the growth would slow down.  I could wish that more affordable housing was being built rather than more high rise hotels blotting out the same lovely views that the tourists travel here to see.

Add caption