For Middle-Aged Ladies and Others

You want to help? Here’s how you can help.

Theoretically, we still live in a democracy, as long, that is, as President Bunker doesn’t dismantle it entirely with his next selfish, idiotic move. Sure, our voting rights are in peril. Thus has it been since the vote began. Poll taxes. Stuffed boxes. Gerrymandering. Not to mention the Putin bots. But despite those who want to trip you up as you attempt to do your civic duty, voting is still a thing in this country.

I’m old and cynical but I still believe that it’s not impossible to get some good people where they ought to be. Maxine Waters? She won an election. AOC? Got voted in. Val Demings? People voted for her and she won. The system is screwed up but every once in a while it works. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a Supreme Court Justice who isn’t white and isn’t a crime against nature? (That was a little dig at Clarence Thomas, you’re welcome.)

This is a little off the point, right here, but grass roots politics, in my experience, seems to be the purview of the middle-aged lady. I really hate this. It’s so sexist. It’s just gross. What, my time’s less valuable than yours, Mr. Fancy Pants? What, you’re too important to make the calls, knock the doors, tweet the tweets, Mr. Big League? But whatever. I can’t let your, what–fear of failure?—hamper me in my efforts to make a better society.

Because what feels like “failure” is very often the name of the game.

Right now, we make phone calls. Right now, months before the election, we make calls and a Huge Percentage of them don’t go through—changed numbers, people who moved out of state, that weird busy signal you get when things aren’t as they should be. It feels like a huge honking Failure, a total waste of time to make these calls.

But you know what?

It’s absolutely not.

What you are doing when you get that busy signal is helping to clean up the phone records in preparation for the Big Dance. Every single sorrythisnumberisnotinservice you hear means one less wasted stamp to pay for, one less wrong number for a volunteer to call when the Rubber Really Hits the Road. That’s what you’re doing! You are preparing the garden for the bulbs! You are defrosting the chicken for tonight’s supper! You are measuring twice so you only have to cut once! Every single damn Failed Phone Call you make should make you shout hurray!

This is all to say this: figure out how to sit in your house and use your cellular telephone (or landline) for the good of our democracy.  In NC, you can get in touch with Neighbors on Call (neighborsoncall.org) to find out how to do it. You can sit outside if you’re not afraid of mosquitoes. You can put your feet on your dog, or, alternatively, your dog can sit in your lap. You can drink responsibly. You can do one of those facial mask things. Whatever! It’s up to you!

But remember: you sitting in your chair? And making calls for the Democratic candidates who will address some of the systemic racist inequities in our government and our culture? That’s you doing something.

Trump’s Lies

The Lies of Donald Trump: An Unsophisticated but Accurate If I Do Say So Myself Analysis

 

The Vanilla Lie

The Vanilla Lie is a straight-forward lie. Easy to make. Easy to disprove. Simple, if dangerous. But not a lot of fuss. A perfect example of the Vanilla Lie is the No I Didn’t Have an Affair with Stormy Daniels episode.

Everyone knows that Trump had an affair with porn star Stormy Daniels while a) he was not only married to Melania, but, in addition, b) Melania had delivered unto him a son four months previous. He had sex with Stormy and then, when she threatened to tell, he wrote a check for $130,000 to shut her up. He denies it. But everybody knows it’s true including, and this is an important point…including Trump himself.

He’s not the first president to have played around. Nor the first to deny that he did it when everyone knows he did it. I state the previous out of a sense of fair play. But it’s not my point. My point is to explicate the Vanilla Lie, to wit: Trump knew he did something naughty and he didn’t want to get caught. Easy peasy.

 

The Public Relations Lie

Trump is a PR dude first and foremost. He’s a spin doctor. Some pundits have called him a “cheerleader;” this, they say, is why he tells us that there are plenty of Covid19 tests when there are, in fact, not nearly enough. He knows there aren’t enough because, although he often acts mentally unsound, he’s certainly intelligent enough to hear a fact and take it in, even if he doesn’t like the fact. Surely he has been told (over and over and over) that there are not plenty of tests and thus he must know, somewhere in the depths of his brain pan, that there are in fact not plenty of tests.

But here’s the rub: while he may understand the fact of the test shortage, he actively and passionately does not want you to understand it. This is the cheerleader in him: the person who says, “rah, rah, go team go, we’re number one,” even as their team is going down the tubes, because it’s better, in their opinion, for all of us to think positive. There’ll likely be a better outcome, they think, if we all can “get behind” the lie. To Trump himself, this sort of lie is a good thing if it makes people feel better for a split second. (He also assumes, because he’s spoiled, that if he wants something, it’ll occur, but that’s not lying; that’s just dreaming.) (And, of course, he figures that it’s better for his campaign if things are good rather than bad—duh—and thus he’s looking on the bright side and hoping we are too.)

The problem, of course, is that many of us are adults and prefer information to pablum. We want facts so that we can prepare. We desire the data so as to be able to solve the problem. We deserve the truth rather than a buncha bullshit. Because, while a cheerleader may have his place in games…this virus here?  The running of a country? People’s lives and well being? Those things ain’t no game.

 

The Lie of Arrogance

The third type of lie is the Lie of Arrogance. The Lie of Arrogance is the most insidious and dangerous type of lie because the Lie of Arrogance is the lie that the liar believes himself. An obvious, though not-precisely-Trump-example is Brett Kavanaugh, who got too drunk to remember his misdeed, and then, because of an arrogance borne of privilege, was unable to believe that he had been capable of wrongdoing. He lied, but the first lie he told was to himself.

Trump’s lies of arrogance are epic. He’s the healthiest president ever to have graced the Oval Office. There were more people at his inauguration than at Obama’s. Mexico was going to pay for the wall. He thought the pandemic was a pandemic before anyone else thought it was a pandemic. The phone call was perfect. The malaria drug will cure Covid19.

 

Because of the way the psyche works, many of his lies begin as one type of lie and end up as another. He’s arrogant when he says that the US economy (pre-corona) was the best of all time, but this lie derives from his ignorance of history and economics. His claim that our elections are riddled with voter fraud (though study after study has proved otherwise) is a PR lie (for his base) but this lie derives from his belief that he knows all there is to know—arrogance at its apex. The aforementioned lies are easily disproved, but Trump is too sure of himself to believe that he could be ignorant of any fact. Ignorance, of course, is not a lie in and of itself, however, in a person who has the opportunity to learn but not the will, it does reflect a less than stellar intellect and a less than sterling character.

A nice example of the way one type of lie changes into another type is Trump’s claim that there are enough Covid19 tests for anyone who wants one. This lie began as a PR lie (as Rachel Maddow describes it, “happy talk”) but has recently morphed into a Plain Vanilla lie: the straightforward I’m-lying-to-get-out-of-trouble lie, in that Trump realized that if testing is kept to a minimum, the numbers of reported cases would be low, comparatively speaking. He doesn’t want to truth to get out because the truth hurts.

The fact is that if Trump were a complicated person, he still wouldn’t be good or interesting or worthy. What’s remarkable is that he’s so damn simple.

 

 

ARCs Furnish a Room

One of the best things about working as a bookseller is access, of course. Not only is one surrounded by books on the sales floor, but in addition, in the back room, there are the ARCs. Advanced Reading Copies abound. Publishers send us the books before they’re books: hardback-sized but bound in paper, with the future due dates printed on the back, along with a bookseller-friendly blurb. ARCs exist so that we booksellers can read the books in preparation for their debuts. The publishers (and authors, of course) hope that we will enthuse, wax eloquent, build anticipation.Image result for bookshop

Every bookstore has so many of these ARCs in the back that we could all build second stories by stacking them up, gluing them together, and slapping a roof on top. Image result for cash register toyThere are SO MANY. And no, we aren’t allowed to sell them, and even if we were, we wouldn’t, because bookselling is not a business that makes you rich in the first place, and if a bookstore were to sell an arc before its publication date, that bookstore would be shooting itself in the cash register in more ways than one.

Some books are so Big that they don’t require ARCs. It’s not like the new Harry Potter was going to need a concerted bookseller push in order to sell. Also, what if the surprises leaked. Thus: no advanced reading copies.

But most of the time, there are ARCs.

What this means is that I get to read the book before you do. That’s a perk of the job. Many jobs have perks. If you work in a restaurant, you might get to take home the leftover cheesecake. If you’re a surgeon, you likely get special attention when you get your gall-bladder removed.  If you’re the current president, you get to spend most of your time on the golf-course at the country’s expense. Whatever.

Image result for cheesecake

But ARCs pose more than just a perk. They are also a responsibility.

Any bookseller who’s in it to win it needs to know about a new book: not just that it exists but indeed, how it exists. The customer has questions.  Is it exciting? Does it enlighten? Is it too gory for my sensitive 13 year old? Is it saccharine? What’s it like? Will I like it?

Image result for emotions
reading can be an emotional experience

Do  I want to spend my fleeting moments and my treasure on this book if it’s going to flit along the surface/not make me laugh/make me wince at the style (or lack thereof)/piss me off/etc/?

 

As you see, the bookseller’s burden is gigantic. We’re the frontline. We’re what’s between the author and obscurity. You write a book and see if you can sell it without us. Go ahead.

And so: we read ARCs. We read them and report on them and write about them. If we don’t like a book, we don’t finish it and we remain mum. Not everyone likes the same things.

Image result for chrysanthemum

I myself like a little stream of consciousness with my tea and something new under the sun. Other people like A Gentleman from Moscow. If I only sold stuff I like, well then I’d refuse to show you books by Nicholas Sparks and instead show you the door. But I am a merchant and I’m not stupid. And also, I know that there are multitudes of wonderful readers out there reading multitudes of wonderful books and that therefore, I need not despair of the state of the written word.

One of my favorite memories is this: a young man walked into the store looking for a recommendation. Perhaps he was chagrined to find himself talking to me, a little grey-haired lady in a dress. If so, he didn’t let on and then we fell in love. He wanted something to read. Had he read The Pesthouse by Jim Crace? He had, and had loved it as had I. Could he deal with Lincoln in the Bardo? Of course he could. Did he know The Orphan Master’s Son? He thought it unsurpassed, so I relayed the story of how once, when the book’s author, Adam Johnson, came into the store to sign books, I had told him that his book made me want to throw up in the best possible way, and he’d laughed and shaken my hand. I observed to the young customer that he was a good reader (by which I meant of course, that he was a reader like me). Image result for milkmanI told him that I was going to show him something I kept only for good readers and he said, “Good. I want to go there,” which is a modern way of saying, “I’m ready.” then I put Milkman into his hands. He went away. Some months later he came in again and sought me out. I could tell that he wanted to hug me. But we kept things formal.

The above is simply to illustrate the immense power with which we booksellers are imbued. I hope it highlights, in some way, why it is that ARCs are serious business. We read so that you, my friends, may read.

Image result for elizabeth mccracken
The Giant’s House is a really great novel

Anyhow, I am coming to the conclusion—not immediately, but in due course–of my bookselling career. This means that new ARCs will no longer flow into my house like they were riding the tide of Boston’s Great Molasses Flood which I read about recently in an ARC of Bowlaway, a novel by Elizabeth McCracken. 

What this means is that I’ll now have the pleasure of reading old stuff I’ve missed, the not-greatest-hit books, the quieter, less-known works by the writers I’ve read and loved. I look forward to Mishima and Murakami, to Pat Barker and Cormac McCarthy, to Atwood and Solnit and Dunmore and Woolf. But first, I’m going to revisit Jane Austen’s Persuasion, having just read about that novel in an arc of Rachel Cohen’s book Austen Years: A Memoir in 5 Novels. It’s pretty good, so far, and it’s due in May.

Image result for st john of god
St. John of God, Patron Saint of Booksellers

 

 

 

 

 

Bronson

Let’s talk about Bronson Alcott.

Maybe it’s a little weird that I’m interested in Mr. Alcott considering that his daughter, Louisa May, is the family celebrity. Lousia’s having a(nother) heyday right now, what with Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women. I just heard an interesting discussion on NPR about the new movie, in which the scholars discussed the meta-ness of the film: how the publisher in the movie wouldn’t publish Jo’s book unless the heroine married at the end, which that’s likely what happened to Louisa May, who had to marry off her heroine in order to get her real book published.

louisa.jpeg
sincerely, Louisa

Apparently, much of the “marriage is an economic proposition” talk in the film comes from Louisa May’s personal letters and wasn’t in the book itself. Meta meta meta. I love that stuff.

 

It’s not so unusual anymore, for us to be interested in the non-celebrity family members of famous people. This, in my opinion, is often thanks to feminism. It’s similar to the history of wet nursing scholarship (about which I know some stuff): what  19th-century stuffed shirt gentleman scholar wanted to write about wet nursing? None, that’s who. Same with Alice James, the troubled and brilliant sister of William and Henry. Until some woman came along, who wrote about her? Nobody, that’s who. (That woman being Anna Robeson Brown Burr who edited Alice’s diaries, albeit poorly according to various reviewers.)

sister.jpeg
Here’s a novel about Alice. Look who blurbed it!

 

And what about Dorothy Wordsworth? Ernest Selincourt wrote her biography in 1933. (He also taught Virginia Woolf nee Stephen when he was a professor in the Ladies Department of King’s College.) But after 1933? Here are the first names of the people who had something to say about Dorothy: Frances, Kathleen, Susan, Catherine, and Jo (which there’s another coincidence right there seeing as what we’re supposed to be talking about is Louisa May’s father). I digress, duh. I would also like to tell you that the Wordsworth brother and sister rambled around Scotland quite a bit.

(Once, on one of my own few rambles, I stayed in a small hotel where they’d stayed. There, framed, on the wall of the lounge, was Dorothy’s memory of the very inn in question. In the essay, she describes how she’d rather have hung out in the kitchen with the drovers and the carters than in the formal lounge, which was, as I can attest, slightly dreary.

 

f860f969112f114424a9cfe6bd9bc6b3
The Inveroran Hotel

 

When I arrived at the Inveroran Hotel, I was drenched due to how I’d just walked over a mountain in a tempest. I’m not sure when I’ve been more exhilarated. My whole body felt like a wide (wet) eye. I was wearing a cheap poncho which descended almost to my boots, and in the wind and torrent, it whipped around my ankles like Emily Bronte’s skirts must’ve done. It was extremely energizing and damp enough a walk that when I reached the inn, I poured the water out of my boots like they were twin pitchers.)

pencil_skirt,x1000,front-c,468,0,701,935-bg,f8f8f8.u1
good lord

 

So right here, I am turning the tables, albeit slightly, and instead of writing about an anonymous lady, I want to talk about a (now) (semi) anonymous man. Meet Amos Bronson Alcott.

images.jpeg
“A government, for protecting business only, is but a carcass, and soon falls by its own corruption and decay.” 

 

***Bronson wasn’t always anonymous, which means I have taken this comparison and stretched it way out of shape but whatever. He was, in fact, pretty damn famous for a lot of his life. He had a lot to say and people listened and he had friends in high places (Ralph Waldo Emerson).

***Bronson founded Fruitlands, a utopian community which lasted about 7 minutes, well, okay, 7 months. Still, its name lives on with those of us who are interested in utopian communities which I am enough that I wrote a whole novel about a made-up one (I called it Longmeadow) (I took the name from a dairy farm that supplied our school with those little cardboard school-lunch milk cartons of the past)

download (1).jpeg
what a relief

(now, they’re likely plastic but maybe I’m a cynic). So I got all interested in utopian communities and did some research. And that’s how I found out about Fruitlands. I am glad to say that unlike some of them which shall remain nameless (Oneida, oh my god) there wasn’t too much bizarre sex at Fruitlands but who knows really.

 

 

****Fruitlands enjoyed (probably not all that much) such a short tenure because Bronson was extremely highly principled (read: a dictator) and made a bunch of rules no one could actually follow. Like: no animal labor was allowed and no artificial lights (which meant no candles in pre-electricity times) and everyone had to be vegan, though the word vegan hadn’t yet been invented. download (1).jpegThe community failed, in large part, because the women (there were two of them, Mrs. Alcott and a lady named Ann) had to do all the women’s work and the men, who were supposed to tend the fields, spent most of their time philosophizing. Then, Ann ate a piece of fish and got kicked out of the commune.

images (2).jpeg
fish tacos…..mmmmm

 

***Bronson was an abolitionist and supported women’s rights except, apparently, when it came to what men did on a farm and what women did on a farm, which every woman knows that a man may work from dusk to dawn but a woman’s work is never done. No wonder Ann felt like she needed some protein, is what I have to say.

 

I’m not saying that I don’t like Bronson. I like him fine. I figure that between him and his wife Abby, they turned out a right nice young daughter.

download (2).jpeg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RIP

I just walked up to our nice independent trail shop and bought a new pair of hiking boots. They’re plenty nice and they’ll take me where I want to go. I tried on several pairs before I made my purchase. I tried on a bright-blue colored pair which usually I like bright blue? But I rejected them. I don’t care for too much whimsy in my boots. I have been known to wear sort of a lot of polka dots, and also tights with flowers on them, and also bloomers, so this is all just to say that I’m not afraid of dressing like a clown. But hiking boots? No. Hiking boots require a sober, can-do, undistracted kind of attitude. Bright blue will not cut it.

flowered-fishnet-tights (1).jpg
whoa

 

After I selected my new boots, I gave the old ones to the kind trail shop sales-person and I asked her could she throw them out. She agreed to do it.

There were several reasons I left them at the store rather than tote them home.

Reason First: Recently, I’ve been “helping” (read: shrewishly cracking the whip) my husband clean out his workshop. His workshop is spacious, fairly well-lit, and absolutely inaccessible. This is because he collects stuff and then he puts it in there.

ARoomOfOnesOwn.jpg
everyone ought to have one

Now that he’s retired, I think it’d be good for him to have a room of his own and also a place to put together birdhouses and play with stamps and sort through old camping stuff and deal with his dad’s collection of woodworking books from the 1960’s and keep the old computer keyboards which he feels like he ought to plant with alfalfa seed to make high-tech chia pets and store a bunch of old crutches with disintegrating armpit rests and keep his old bus-driver work shirts which I recently learned he hopes to make into a sail of some sort with them and keep his hiking boots from 30 years ago when he walked on the Appalachian Trail.

 

Which reminds me that I just unearthed a blank book which we’d entitled: Stuff Dave Found Which We Kept and which listed such things as “a jar of mayonnaise” and “2 mops” and “ionic column later used in Addams Family play.” In the play, the column held a vase of fake long-stemmed roses which our Morticia arranged by snipping off the buds and arranging the stems, a la the tv show. originalThe column now resides in our living room and is currently holding a straw boater my dad bought for me in Key West 30 years ago. You can begin to see our problem with holding onto stuff. 

 

 

 

We rent a room in our house via Airbnb. It’s listed as “Cluttered in Carrboro” because that pretty much tells it like it is though recently I’ve begun to realize that with the non native-English speakers, I often need to define “clutter” which that’s pretty easy as all I have to do is gesture around the house.

Anyhow, this is one reason I didn’t want to bring my old boots home—the clutter problem.

Second: I’m getting old and my back hurts and I didn’t want to put them into my little daypack and carry them home.

images.jpeg

Third, and related to above: last year, Dave and I spent a long hot July week along with his brothers and sister and various assorted spouses cleaning out his mother’s house. We went through three industrial sized dumpsters—the 30 foot kind with the open top—and the house isn’t really all that big. It’s just that Dave’s mom had this marvelous combo of optimism (she wanted to do, and perhaps did do, All The Hobbies), and fear (there might never be another recipe for oatmeal cookies as good as that one in the 1971 Ladies Home Journal (so you’d better keep the whole canon) and if you don’t keep your bank statements from 1966, the bank might pretend they’ve never heard of you, and etc).

download.jpeg
prize-winning recipe

Due to the sheer volume of stuff we unearthed and threw away, I came down with a serious case of PTSD and I promised my own children that I would not make them go through what we’d just gone through.

 

Thus, I didn’t bring home my old boots.

.

I loved those old boots. They took me east to west across England, and from south to north in Scotland. They got taken off and put back on a whole lot in Japan, like every time I entered a house and then left same. They took me from my home in Carrboro to my job in Chapel Hill, and then they walked me around as I shelved books.  They squeaked some. I wore them as I walked with my beloved dog in the mountains of NC and also on piedmont sidewalks. I wore them on the Appalachian Trail, and in cities, and to the movies, and with skirts. They weren’t terribly stylish, I never thought, but they were friendly, and they did what they were supposed to do. They got me, is how I felt about them. So RIP, old friends. And thanks.

 

 

 

download (1).jpeg

 

I live in the suburbs of the piedmont, but we own (so far, the closets of) a little house in the mountains, on a low mountain, or “knob” as the folks around here like to say. Granny’s Knob is what it’s called. We may, in fact, live in Granny’s house, as ours is by far the oldest and shabbiest on the road, but it’s fairly snug except for the stinkbug problem. But, as I’m not the type to let the perfect lie in the way of the good, we’re pretty happy with it. Plus, the monthly mortgage bill is cheap. Also, soon it’ll be beachfront property due to climate change and we can leave it to our kids who can sell it for millions.

Down in the suburbs, we have a fairly sizeable fenced-in back yard, which our Akita mutt uses to full advantage. She’s a fine dog. We found her as a little bitty thing in a box of pups in front of our local food coop. The dude who was trying to find homes for the puppies had been stymied at the shelter, due to overcrowding; a huge puppy mill—the sort that generates the type of little frufru dogs people seem to like– had been busted in the next state over, and the shelters for a couple of hundred miles around were full to bursting with traumatized Pomeranians and Malteses. So there was no room at the inn for these little Akita mutt puppies. Thus: the box in front of the coop.

One of our daughters chose her from among the litter and we took her home. We named her Pumblechook, after a character in Great Expectations. It’s nice to name your pets after minor literary characters, who are often beloved of their authors and need a little time in the sun. Pumble likes the sun plenty but, sad to say, doesn’t know enough to come in out of the rain. Her coat is very thick: Akitas were bred to fight bears in the snow country of Japan, and so when she gets wet, she’s wet for days. And when she blows her fur? Lord God, there are not enough lint rollers in the world.

I take Pumble on walks but her leash makes me sad. Leashes, while necessary in the suburbs—especially for Pumble who wouldn’t mind eating any dog smaller than herself—are restrictive. Dogs are sorta ultra-refined wolves, right, and wolves like to run free.

For many years, I’ve entertained an elaborate fantasy about taking her off the leash; what would it be like? Would she stick around? Would she frolic and smile? Would she immediately bolt? My one daughter had a rescue Husky once; that dog spent every waking moment trying to get away, despite the fact that my daughter treated her like a visiting ambassador. Take the Husky to the dog park? She’d ignore the other dogs and patrol the fence line like an obsessed prison guard. I thought maybe Pumble off the leash would act similarly; she has been known to escape our back yard and wander the neighborhood officiously, the hair on the back of her neck at full stand.

You hear about how amazing a dog’s sense of smell is; how remarkable, their hearing. If that’s true, then how come all those stories of dogs getting lost and then found 1000 miles from home. Lack of intellect? Lack of loyalty? Looking for better chow?

Up on Granny’s Knob, I decided to try to make my fantasy reality. I put a baggie of cheese in my pocket and off we went, sans leash.  Pumble was amazed. Her eyes were wide; her breath came fast. We set off up the mountain. She ran ahead ten feet, looked back, trotted ten more feet, looked back. I called to her often and toasted her return. She began to run further ahead, looking back to either a) make sure I was with her or b) wonder why I wasn’t chasing her down.

But she stuck with me. Day after day, we’d go out together leashless, and walk the mountain. Once we found a possum skull. Often, I sang. On one day, for a couple of hours, I helped my husband haul logs from up the mountain. Pumble ran around, happy, until she came to a spot that was so extremely steep that she couldn’t get up the slope. She was obviously worried and, as she’s getting on to elderly, I decided to help her, though I too am getting on to elderly. At any rate, in a Laurel n Hardyesque chain of events, I climbed down the slope and pushed her up by her butt, while Dave hauled her by her collar. “We saved her life,” I declared. Dave snorted. And while I’m fairly sure that she could’ve found her way all by herself, a doubt lingers: while Pumble’s awfully nice, she may not be the sharpest tool in the box.

One day, towards the end of our stay, I veered off the path and got totally bogged down in what mountain people call a “hell,” which is a nigh impenetrable cage of mountain laurel. Once in, you can’t really get out. I mean, you can, but it takes fortitude as well as the adrenaline that comes with panic. While I was fighting my way through, I caught the look in Pumble’s eye. “Oh. My. God,” she seemed to be saying. “Come ON.” I’m not sure but I think I saw her shake her head at my predicament. Then, with a final glance, she disappeared completely.

Back at our house, Dave stood staring into space, axe in hand. “I lost our dog,” I announced. “You lost our dog?” he said. I nodded. He put down the axe and walked up the road some, calling. About ten minutes later, Dave and Pumble returned together. I gave Pumble the rest of the cheese in my pocket and praised her, my good prodigal dog. Then I made Dave lunch.

Tomorrow, we go back to the piedmont,  back to the leash and the fence. But until we return to the mountains, Pumble (and I) will live with our memories. Do dogs remember like that?

 

Kavanaughty

I believe Dr. Ford, of course. From the evidence I heard—uncorroborated, but totally credible—the truth is that Brett Kavanaugh, drunk out of his mind, assaulted her and attempted to rape her. That he didn’t succeed is likely due to the intensity of his drunkenness. I expect he was too stumbling-drunk to see the act through.

 

It makes perfect sense to me that Judge Kavanaugh believes he didn’t do it. He was likely so drunk he can’t remember. And he’s so arrogant that if he doesn’t want to believe it, he won’t. It doesn’t jive with his self-view. He doesn’t believe that a golden boy such as himself could have acted thus. He doesn’t have a confidence problem (which comes with an associated and often useful dose of self-doubt). He may not be lying about his assault of Dr. Ford; he just doesn’t remember doing it.

 

This is pure he said/she said. I believe her. Others believe him. The FBI did/did not do its job. The White House did/did not tamper with the investigation.

 

In point of fact: Kavanaugh is innocent until proven guilty and due to a conflagration of horrors, the truth is out there but inaccessible.

 

I don’t like Kavanaugh’s philosophies, his politics, his world-view. He’s a Republican dream-come-true. But here’s the truth: the Republicans got the chance to fill the seat. They’re filling it with the most useful (to them) candidate they can find. The total fury we Democrats feel about Merrick Garland is something that Republicans choose to overlook. They’re still mad about Bork. Maybe that’s what Kavanaugh meant when he said, “what goes around comes around.” We can hope that’s what he meant. We can hope that he was talking about the past not the future.

 

But here’s why he shouldn’t be confirmed.

 

It’s his partisanship. That’s all it is. That’s all we need to think about.

 

That’s all the Senate should think about. They can’t know for sure, beyond all doubt, about his drinking/his sexual aggressiveness/his capacity for violence.

 

But they can know this:

 

–he’s feels entitled to the position and this, in itself, ought to disqualify him;

–he believes that he was the victim of the actions of various Democrats and thus, cannot be trusted to be fair;

–he lied under oath about the fact that he had a drinking problem in college and high school;

–he’s unable, apparently, to keep his temper and thus, cannot be trusted to use logic and law, rather than emotion and rage when judging a case;

 

This ought to be a simple vote no.

Holynpoly

My local NPR station which is all I ever listen to—except I’m trying to listen to country music some in order to expand my horizons but so far, all I like is the ladies of country, but maybe give me some time—anyhow, my NPR station gives away vacations at its yearly pledge drives. I lust after one of those trips. They begin with a trip to Paris and then someone wins and you hear them scream, “you’re kidding,” to the guy who tells them they won. And then comes the Rome trip and then London–so they always play the London Calling song—and I always hope that they’ll call me. And then comes Australia and I shrug.

Dolly n Andy

 

Maybe my lack of enthusiasm about Australia lies in the fact that Captain Kangaroo kind of creeped me out when I was a kid.

one of our festive foods: delicious horseradish

Or, maybe it’s because I come from a long line of Eastern Europeans whose favorite vegetables were those of the root variety because that’s what grows where it’s cold. While my people may have sprung from the desert, they mostly ended up in the snowy fields of more northern lands– where we hung out for a couple of millennia—and which is why all our festive foods seem to be based on those that are grown underground where they’re protected from the frost. Anyhoo, with me, anyway, the temperature of our new homeland took and held fast. Some like it hot but I ain’t one of ‘em. My last name—or my dad’s—though of course it’s mine, too—translates to “a person from a cold village.” Which reminds me of how the Icelanders have taken a giant step into the future with their “dottir” and “son” surnames which why can’t we do that?

Also, I once saw a House Hunters International Extreme Something or Other Edition episode which showed a lovely young couple—he an Ozzie (which I just read is another way to say Aussie), she a Dane—who moved to some hellhole in the middle of the outback or the never never or whatever it is so that he could get a mining job and

Coober Pedy

since it’s always like 400 degrees there, the only way humans can survive is to live in caves underground which they build and then line with cement. Which, I don’t know about you, but I kinda like a window? I saw that episode like three years ago and I still think about that young rather waifish Danish woman and hope she was stronger than she looked on tv.

 

So maybe my apathy towards Australia is based entirely on climate. Could be.

But let me say this: I thought to myself, well gosh, Australia is a whole big continent and maybe they have all kinds of weather and what I think I know isn’t exactly what is fact? So I looked it up and in fact, the climate of the whole landmass seems to gravitate between quite warm and hellish. So now I feel all self-righteous.

Now: because my imagination is worn out like an old shoe, I tend to incline towards themes—because themes make life easier to digest– so this past week I had myself a little Australia fest. They banned plastic bags. They banned guns. What’s not to like? Not that Australia needs me and my approval. But hell, why not give it a chance, I said to myself.

My festival was comprised of a novel and a movie and in fact, I had a pretty good time.      Of Killers and Thieves (which is sort of a lame title but oh well), is by a young man named Paul Howarth and is due in February of 2018 which is any moment now unless President Dumbass puts us into the middle of a nuclear nightmare which, like, seriously? Is there no one to stand up and say, “President Dumbass, have you no decency, sir?” And by no one I mean no Republican who actually plans to stay in office?

 

To continue. Mr. Howarth’s novel which is his first, is a big-time page turner but it’s also damn good and maybe even important. Talk about Black Lives Matter. Lord, God.

Here’s a question. Which of the following is worse?

  1. kidnapping a bunch of people from their homes so they can do all the work you don’t want to have to pay someone to do which oh my god, of COURSE, the Civil War was about State’s Rghts. THE STATES’ RIGHTS TO KEEP BLACK PEOPLE ENSLAVED, THAT IS.

(And another thing: if, say, I was German and every day as I walked to my college classes I had to pass a statue of Goebbels? Well hell, yes, I’d be pissed. And hurt. And resentful. And then, when I grew up and became, say, an orthopedic surgeon, I’d have to be careful to treat my German patients just as carefully as I did my non-German patients because I was still pissed, all those years later, that they hadn’t taken down the DAMN STATUE OF SILENT SAM I MEAN GOEBBELS when they had the fucking chance.) (That this is a stretched comparison hasn’t escaped my eagle-eye but I’m guessing it’s not so out of shape that you don’t take the point.)

(In fact, I myself would be a crappy surgeon due to I panic, but my point is that certainly you’d like to think you always rise above the idiocy of others and turn the other cheek and be noble, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, but even orthopedic surgeons are just humans, and if one of them left her scalpel in somebody’s leg by mistake due to a lifetime of being pissed off, well, you see where I’m going. Which is the big fat stupid human cycle of who hurt who first.)

or

2) you invade a landmass and then go about trying to exterminate all the indigenous people which, hey, doesn’t that sound sort of familiar?

Answer: both are worse.

Anyhow, Of Killers and Thieves is about a white family scraping by in the Australia of 1880. Brutality and horror and violence abound like kangaroos hop. Which, like, can you call it gratuitous if it’s all absolutely true? Me, I have nothing against violence in a novel, nothing at all.

Pulitzer Prize dude, Adam Johnson

For example, The Orphan Master’s Son made me want to throw up and still does when I recall certain particular scenes, but I think it’s one of the best novels of the last five years. One time,  Adam Johnson who is the author of The Orphan Master’s Son came into the bookstore in which I bide some time and I told him that his book made me want to throw up and he said, “thanks,” and I said, “you’re welcome.” It was a pleasant exchange.

Speaking of North Korea which is what Orphan Master is about: the president of these United States is, as I write this, embarking on a tour of Asia with Melania, bless her heart. At the Women’s March, the best sign I saw said, “Free Melania.” Anyhow, like many Americans, I feel this uncomfortable sensation in the back of my throat—sort of like the marriage of a nervous giggle and a gag reflex—at the speculation of what Our National Embarrassment might say or do in front of the good people of Japan, say, or China. Maybe he’ll say, “What, rice again?” or “I bet she has a nice little figure under that hanbok,” or maybe, “Yes this chicken is okay, but not as good as P. F. Chang’s.”

gorgeous, hunh

 

available at Flyleaf Books

 

But back to Australia. I raced my way through Of Killers and Thieves and enjoyed it very much in the same way that you enjoy pulling a splinter out from underneath your fingernail. I recommend it heartily. It’s about race, is what it’s about, and while it reads in some parts like a wish rather than a reality, in the end it doesn’t leave you so hopeless that you want to go live in a cave lined with cement.

So the next part of my Australia-fest was a movie.  I watched Australia, the big epic blockbuster-that-totally-busted by Baz Luhrmann, with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. It pretty much sucks but it has its good points, one of which is that it’s really long, which I like a long movie. It’s like that old joke about how awful the restaurant was: the food is terrible and the portions are tiny.

O Guo vors lands!

Anyhoo, the Kidman Jackman (see, in Iceland, there’s be “woman” somewhere around there) did what it could to keep the movie above water but it pretty much drowned under the weight of its efforts to be sweeping. But there is a cute kid actor. And horses. And lots of Australian scenery and, if you like the simplicity of cardboard characters and good vs. evil, it has a nice satisfying end. Just don’t ask too much of it and you’ll be okay.

 

The best part is the narration which is by the cute kid actor and is in the parlance of the blackfella (not my word). An interesting part of Australia is certainly the treatment of the Aboriginals which we used to call them Aborigines. Which reminds me: yeah, you go ahead and say “Se-vee-yah” for Seville and you go ahead and say “Buddha Pesht” for Budapest but howcum you’re not saying “Par-ee” for Paris, hm? But, I’m aware that there are linguistic chic-nesses just as there are in literature which, for example, Steinbeck is outre but he might come back.

Anyhow, often, movies and novels tend to treat the Aboriginals like happy peasants at one with their universe (Australia for sure does it, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert does it, Of Killers and Thieves does it to a much lesser extent, but it’s not entirely absent even there). Which is how the more innocent among us view the Native American tribes we endeavored so hard to destroy—as happy natives—when they killed each other plenty, just as much as we’ve all murdered our neighbors, and since the dawn of man. My point is that there’s probably not that many happy peaceful native tribes on this good earth anyway because why? Because everyone is just a person and people when stressed– which when are we not– are just assholes.

9951
veddddy interesting

 

My great loss of innocence re: the dearth of the simple happy peasant occurred over years but epiphanied one day in the shower (don’t ask me why) when I realized that the sweet rose-covered cottages of the English countryside were a) probably not rose-covered and b) probably packed with a widow and her children eating clay from their yard for lack of anything better.

And if you think about it, those happy English peasants, if they stole a loaf of bread? Or poached? They were probably either hanged or, if they were lucky, packed up on a boat and sent off to Australia. Like Pip’s sponsor in Great Expectations, remember?

Magwitch

 

Life’s a big circle, ain’t it. For better and worse.

Next theme: could be the Ozarks, cuz I’m reading Winter’s Bone which wasn’t that a great movie?

this kookaburra is eating a python

 

 

Longmeadow: chapter nine

In which Mrs. Tell muses on Alta

 

Mrs. Tell

Lord knows Miss Alta’s sharp. Talk to her once, and you’ll know it too. Miss Maria was wise to pass her on some responsibilities, even for just the few weeks as she’ll be gone. It’s good for a young person to have a task set before them, even if they’re a young lady. This is something Mr. Charles said and he was right.

yawn

Better too much to do than too little–too little and a person can run amuck. If you was to ask me I’d tell you that’s half the problem with them ladies at Arum House.  They ought to come to Longmeadow for the fresh air but instead they come bored and looking to adventure.

 

 

Miss Alta takes her new duties quite serious. Each and every morning she bids me good-bye and tells me where she’s off to, just as her mother does when she goes out. This way, if Grady needs a decision, or anyone else does, he can know where to find her fast, through me.

“Grady,” said I, “You find Miss Alta and ask her some small thing even if it’s summat you could do yourself with your eyes half-open. It won’t hurt to make her feel a bit of her own importance, especially…” He understood what I was about, which I will tell you: Miss Alta must be brave to go out even though she wears that veil. We’re used to her but some of us stare nonetheless. But Grady’s a good boy and he does what I tell him. He told me about it later.

“I said, ‘Miss Alta, there’s a late calf due tonight. The farmer must decide whether to keep it or butcher it.’”

“And what did she say to that?” said I, thinking that if it was Miss Juliet, she’d have said oh, do let it live.

Grady grinned. “She had a pretty answer, to be sure,” said he. “She said, ‘Well, Grady, what do you advise?’ and I said, ‘Well, I think we could sell a good piece of veal for a pretty penny as well as the goldbeaters need some gut, if you don’t mind the term Miss Alta.’”

I smiled back at him, for in truth it was a bit funny to say ‘gut’ to a young lady but what else might you call it when that’s the only word for it?

Grady’s mouth twitched. “She said, ‘Better to sell the dogie Grady, if you think it’s best.’”

“What’s she mean by dogie?”

“She said that’s what the cowboys in America call calves is dogies.”

I was glad to see Grady grin. He hadn’t much, since the murder.

the goldbeaters

 

Things is nice and quiet what with Miss Maria gone away and Miss Juliet, both.  I have been troubled in my mind about Miss Juliet for some time: she’s a young lady who likes to have her own way and her own say more than’s good for her. It’s time she was married or engaged to be, at least. Take my Nan: a whole year younger than Miss Julie and happy as a little pearl in a oyster.

Yes, if you was to ask me, I’d say that Miss Juliet needs a nice match made for her. And she’s a girl who might have right many a suitor. Her line is pure aristocratic, her expectations large and she’s a beauty when she ain’t looking at you like she’d like to bite you or laugh at you, one.

Trouble is when you’re a girl in the countryside like Miss Juliet is, you must depend upon your mother to help you in that regard. You must have London seasons and make calls. I have a cousin who cooks in a big house near Devon and can speak of little else than her young mistresses when she visits, which she has done twice. She describes how her mistress schemes every day about who she can marry her two daughters off to.

 

“Every other weekend, a house party,” grumbled my cousin, “with more roasts and puddings and pluckings than Christmas dinner. Mistress says it’s so young men can come to hunt though the truth is what she hopes for is for them to bag one of them young ladies.”

“Is they plain, then, that it’s so hard to marry them off?” I asked.

“Certainly not,” said my cousin, glaring, which I was glad to see because I like loyalty, “they’re both very pretty, indeed. But all the high-born young men want Americans these days—Americans with their fortunes. A English girl don’t hardly stand a chance.”

Now this ain’t a problem for Miss Juliet. Her fortune’s as fine as any American’s,

I daresay. What she don’t have is a mother who has the time or the inclination to look around. Perhaps now that Miss Julie’s in London, she’ll land someone on her own. We can hope for it.

It’s different for Miss Alta, of course.

I recall back when Mr. Charles was alive, back when he was making his changes to Longmeadow, a family called the Faniels came to visit from America, with their two yellow-haired boys. I think of ‘em often, for I blame Arum House on them.  I know I ought not to and yet I do. I ought not to blame them for it, for they was trying to get out of something very like, back in America. They’d tried it and hadn’t liked it and Mr. Faniel had wrote a article about it which Mr. Henry read and then invited the whole family of them to come to England and visit. So, see, the Faniels was rushing away from sin and yet still I blame them for it. And I can’t help but think of them when I think of Arum House.  Mrs. Johnston’s that way with Bodger, for she was bit by a big dog when she was but a girl. “But, Ellen,” I say, “Bodger won’t hurt you.” She knows it but she’ll avoid him if she can.

flax tow

When I think of Miss Alta and her prospects, I think of them two Faniel boys, both tow-headed and freckle-faced, sitting in my kitchen eating at my table next to Miss Juliet and Miss Alta when they were but young theirselves. I had give ‘em all bread and butter, I recall, and I noticed that them boys had thanked me very nice when I gave them their slices.

“What sort of name is Verdy?” said Miss Alta to the younger one as the four of them sat at table together.

“Name of a Greek god,” said Verdy, munching. “Vertumnus, god of vegetables and stuff.”

“Vegetables!” said Miss Juliet.

“What’s yours from?” said Miss Alta to the older boy they called Ero.

“His is a god too,” said Verdy. “Eros.”

“Oh!” said Miss Alta.

I turned to see the boy shrug and redden some, which I thought must be that name or else he’d spilled something.

 

“Miss Juliet, Miss Alta,” said I very quick, “have you finished? Take the young gentlemen to play if you have.”

“She called us young gentlemen!” crowed Verdy.

“And what should I call you?” I said, turning and smiling, for he was a lovely child after all.

“They’re just boys,” said Miss Juliet, brushing crumbs. “Come along. There’s a swing out here.” She and the younger boy ran out the door.

“Are you coming too?” said Ero to Miss Alta as they stood.

“No,” said Miss Alta. “I prefer to stay inside.”

She didn’t, but I could see: she’d never say it was the sun.

The boy shrugged and turned.

“Perhaps Mr. Ero would like to see the library?” said I.

Miss Alta looked at him. I read that look. She wanted him to choose her and what she could offer. Her hope for it was in her face.

“Why would I?” said Mr. Ero, stepping from behind the table. “Which way’s the swing?” and he was gone.

If I could have, I’d have put my handprint on that boy’s cheek quick enough for rudeness. I looked at Miss Alta to shake my head over it, but when she looked back at me, her face was as flat as glass. I think she see’d her life stretched in front of her just then and I will admit to you: I did not know how to comfort that girl who wouldn’t never have even such simple things as others have. But she didn’t want my pity, it was clear. She turned away and left the kitchen.

Yesterday, I carried some broth down to Longmeadow Village for old Miss Cripps who is ailing. Miss Maria had asked me to visit her so I did it. I’ll tell you what I understood: Miss Maria did not like to ask Miss Alta to do it. Why, you may ask? Because Miss Cripps is right ancient and as Miss Maria says it, “her superstitions get the best of her.” What that means is that Miss Cripps might not be past saying something to hurt Miss Alta’s feelings. And it’s true enough: some of them old ones still talk about faeries and hexes. They might refuse to open the door for Miss Alta if she was to show up on their doorstep, broth or no broth. I almost told Miss Maria to let Miss Cripps find her own soup, but I held my tongue for she’s infirm in a way I’m grateful I ain’t.

Longmeadow: chapter three

Here’s the third chapter of Longmeadow, a recent novel of mine. I invite you to begin at the beginning–that is, chapter one–but you do as you please. Thanks for reading. 

Mrs. Tell

“Grady, my boy,” said I, “come in and have a cup of tea. Perhaps Mrs. Johnston will give you a bite.”

Grady sat with us at the table. He’s right silent lots of times, which his mother never was so I guess he got it from his father. He’s quick, though. He was but a young man when Mr. Charles died but there wasn’t nobody more helpful to Miss Maria than my Grady. Miss Maria learned to depend upon him and gave him the job of groundskeeper when it came up. He ain’t never given her a reason to regret it for which we are all very proud.

Mags, who was his mother and Nancy’s too, was my only child, and she died of the cancer when they was both tiny. If you wish to know something for certain, it is this: if you could take your child’s pain into your body to rid them of it, why, you would in a instant. But I could do nothing for her. She scratched at her poor belly to shreds to get at what was gnawing at her there. And all the while—every hour–she begged me to look after Grady and Nan when she was gone. She fretted something fierce, for Dick was a drinker and a mean one. She could hardly breathe for the pain and yet still she was afraid to die and leave them little ones alone with him. And so I promised her over and over that I would take them and raise them and see that no harm came to them, for I loved them too. But she died worrying it, pleading with me like I was denying her that one deathbed wish, though I smoothed her and kissed her and told her I would, yes I would, of course I would. But she could not hear me say it. She died in grief and fear and that’s what.

And then, after she died, it was very terrible, for Dick would not let me have them babes, though I bribed and begged. And I am a person who usually gets what I am after. But this—this thing which was more important than any other thing I’d set my mind to, ever in my life—was the thing I could not get. Not right away.

“I’m feared something awful about them gypsies,” said Mrs. Johnston as she set down Grady’s sandwich in front of him. I noticed she cut the bread nice and thick for which I was grateful for it meant she’d come around from her pouting. When Grady didn’t want her daughter Sheila, them sandwiches got scant for a while. Sheila’s married now to Bob Greene and as big as a barn with child and Mrs. Johnston’s so proud you’d think that girl was carrying the Duke of York hisself.

“Why’d they have to choose Longmeadow to stop at?” complained Mrs. Johnston. “Everybody knows that gypsies kidnap babies. I told my Sheila: don’t you never let them catch sight of that baby of yours when it’s born. You keep that cradle on the hearth where you can see it and when you must use the privy, you just take the baby with you. It’s a juggle, but it can be done.”

15appe1-master675
nice sandwich
cradle
cradle on the hearth

 

I looked at Grady quick like, but he just sat quiet and let her talk.

“Can you not convince her?” pleaded Mrs. Johnston. “She listens to you. Can you not convince her to make them go?”

Grady shifted his long body in his chair. “Now, Mrs. Johnston,” he said, “you know how Miss Maria feels. She means to help them if she can.”

Mrs. Johnston shook her head.  “They’re beyond help,” she said. “They ain’t civilized, they ain’t clean, they ain’t Christian. And what’s more,” she said (and I saw that sharp look she gave him) “I ain’t the only one who thinks so, no indeed.”

I recall the day, not two months before, when them gypsies arrived in their painted carts. Grady found them stopped on the outskirts of the estate, but it being vast, even he couldn’t tell whether they was fully inside Longmeadow’s property line. He had to check the charts to see.

“What said she?” I asked when he first told me about them.

“I told her I thought we might ask ‘em to move on,” said Grady. “But she asked me what harm they’d done.”

“And you said what?”

“I told her that they hadn’t done no harm that I knew of,” he said.

“Yet,” said I.

all painted up

He nodded. “I told her that they seemed a quiet bunch but that it’s likely they won’t much care for ‘em.”

He meant the Longmeadows. I saw the problem. It’s her passion, Miss Maria’s, to get them Longmeadows to open their minds. She’d like to crack their heads open for them, and pour in a little human kindness, but it ain’t easy to make them listen. She has to talk to them over and over ‘til she’s hoarse to make them see anything a new way.

“I told her poaching might be a problem…” suggested Grady.

“What do they eat?” I asked. “If they don’t poach?”

“Hedgehogs and badgers, mainly,” he said, “is what I’ve heard.”

“How did she answer?” I asked the question though I knew the outcome.

“Oh, but we must let them stay,” I could hear her say.  “We must be generous and civil. They live in harmony with nature, which is something we should all strive to do. I shall ride down to them tomorrow and welcome them and tell them that if they are fair to us, we shall be fair to them. The people of Longmeadow will accept them after a time, I am sure of it.”

“She said we ought to welcome ‘em,” said Grady. “She said to, so I guess we’ll try.”

“Them Longmeadows’ll take it ill,” I said, shaking my head. “You’re right about that.”

“Perhaps not,” said Grady. I cast him a glance, but he looked away.

Now, if you was to ask me, I would tell you as quick as a flea: Mrs. Johnston is exactly right. Them gypsies do no good at all for us here at Longmeadow. They make people jumpy and they ought to be cleared off quick. Yes indeed, Mrs. Johnston has a point.

However, I can’t tolerate a mutiny from the staff.

“Now Ellen,” I said to Mrs. Johnston as we sat at the table, “I should think that you of all people would trust Miss Maria to know what’s best. After Milly, and all.”

I hate to bring up a sad incident, but people forget to be grateful.

Milly was Mrs. Johnston’s sister who there was something wrong with. They grew up nice enough, Milly and Ellen, but when they got to be of a age, why, Milly she went bad. She’d been a modest girl, like Ellen, but soon men from inside and outside Longmeadow Village came asking for her and she’d go with them just like that. Her daddy beat her for it, but then he died and she was free to do whatever she liked. It was a nasty business. Ellen came to cook at the manor house but she was right haunted by her sister’s doings, you could tell.

One day, things went too far. Two strangers fought over Milly and one of them ended up in the middle of Longmeadow Village at midday with his belly slit. When the constable went to ask Milly about her part in the business, he found her behind her house.
“She was naked from the waist down,” he said to Ellen as I sat with her right here in the manor kitchen holding her hand. “Her body down below was covered in pig slops and she was laughing and smearing, laughing and smearing. I had to call Tom Brady to help me get her, for she threatened me with a stick. She’s in the gaol right now and she’ll go to the asylum unless you can take her.”

“Don’t worry, Ellen,” I remember saying to her as she sat in front of him and wept, “Mr. Charles and Miss Maria will know what to do.”

And they did. Milly went to the asylum, to be sure, but only for a fortnight. In the meantime, Mr. Charles found a house a ways north of town with no one living in it and had it cleaned up until it was quite comfortable. Miss Maria hired two sturdy nurses and they brought Milly back and she lived in that house until she died of a fever some five years later. Others lived there too and live there still, like old William Patterson who wanders at night, and Mrs. Raper’s bent daughter who never did learn to dress herself, and Nally Christmas, who lost so many babies that she lost her mind too, and others besides that. The doctor visits regular with injections to calm the patients and the nurses tend them day in and out.  The house remains a deal better than the madhouse down in Hillard which Lord, you shold hear the stories. It’s paid for by the revenues from Longmeadow’s shops and its visitors. It’s called The Longmeadow Sanitary Institution and people throughout England hold it up as a model of its type. Seems to me that his success there, is what might’ve give Mr. Charles the taste for improving Longmeadow yet more.

sturdy nurses
regular injections

“Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you about them gypsies,” sighed Mrs. Johnston but she refilled my cup, which showed me that my reminder about Milly had worked just as I’d meant it to.

I nodded at her. “That’s right, Ellen,” I said. “Grady, will you come to my rooms for a moment? My wardrobe needs a bit of shifting and you can do it in a trice, I daresay.”

“All right, Laddie,” I said once we were alone, “Come, Grady, and sit for a bit and tell Granny what’s wrong.  Trouble? Not them gypsies, or not just them, right?”

He sat his long body hard down in a chair and stared out the window and said nothing. I saw that stare. I thought I knew what might be the matter. I thought it had to do with Arum House and them ruffled ladies.

“Now my dear,” I said, “sometimes we don’t care for what we must do. Nothing’s truer. But you want to hold onto your post now, don’t you? That we’re all so proud of you for?”

Grady cast me a dark look from where he sat but nodded all the same.

Arum House ladies hail mostly from money and from London. They holiday here at Longmeadow for a week or a month in order to sample what Miss Maria says is rustic country life but that ain’t no country life like none of us have ever heard of, no indeed. Them ladies might dress up in white frocks and stand for a quarter of an hour holding a beribboned staff, to watch a lamb in a field. Or perhaps they might give a newborn piglet a bath in buttermilk. Or churn a bit of butter for no longer than it takes to get bored by it. Now, is that like any farm life you ever heard of? Lord, you should hear Miss Juliet on them ladies; it’s like to make you cry for laughing. But there’s more to Arum House than just playacting. I wish there wasn’t, but there is.

b5bc2eb940a595e34c8e987cfc4f170a
how silly

I looked at Grady as he sat there in that chair in my room but he wouldn’t look back.

“Tell me, my dear,” I said again. “Tell Granny the problem.”

Sometimes Grady needs a little push to talk about this or that. This has been his way since childhood. I have learned to be patient and let him take his time, though patience ain’t my strong suit, believe you me. But, though oftimes I’ve wished to reach down his throat and drag them words right out, it don’t work that way. God gave him to me to teach me tolerating which I have tried my best to learn.

“You know what it is already, don’t you,” he said.

“Well, yes,” I admitted. Not much I don’t see here at Longmeadow.  “You took care of it?”

He nodded, very dark.

“Was it Mike?” said I.

Again, a nod.

“How did you make him see, my love?” I said.

Grady huffed. “Gran,” he said, “I cannot talk about this with you. You know that. For it’s filthy.”

I nodded to show him I understood him, for I did.

“But you fixed it?” I asked.

Grady shrugged. “I told him it was part of the job.”

“What was his worry, I wonder,” said I.

Grady shrugged again. “Maybe he thinks Mrs. Bartlett’s too fat.” As soon as he said it, he got up out of his chair. “I shouldn’t have told you. It ain’t right. I wish I hadn’t of said it to you.” He quick gave me a peck on my cheek and was gone.

I had a pang for him, having to think about such nasty things, for I knew how he felt. Many a time I’ve had to do some such here or there that didn’t sit well—especially down to Arum House. But that’s the way of things, I suppose. Us having to do what we know is wrong for them that’s higher up. It ought not to be so, especially here at Longmeadow where we’re all supposed to be equal to one another, but it is. You’d be stupid if you thought it wasn’t.

In truth, it shocked me to hear Mike’s reason. I sat on my bed and thought about it. “Arrogance,” said I to myself. “Arrogance is what that is. Maybe Mike would prefer the fields.”

It ain’t Grady’s way to give a threat, but perhaps he’ll come to it over time.

 

hughwelchdiamond_retratodelouca_1852_1854

26c325bf00000578-3000407-image-m-32_1426674927383

f13dc4821a697387b95cae90abbf2dfe
madwomen