Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Monday, December 31, 2018

Our Wedding Journey, Part IV (Conclusion)

December 20, 1969
Concordia Lutheran Church
Akron, Ohio
As our honeymoon time in New Orleans ended, we decided that instead of driving straight home, we'd alter our plans a little. Take a different route. I cannot remember now if we decided this back in the city--or if we just decided to Go for It once we were in the car and crossing Lake Pontchartrain.

But we took our new route, driving north along the Mississippi River--a trip that interested both of us greatly because, of course, of Mark Twain and Huckleberry Finn. I had crossed the Mississippi more than a few times, but I'd never driven along its course. This would be the first of several times.

We reached Hannibal, Missouri, Twain's riverside boyhood home, and we toured the Twain sites that were open (not a lot--it was nearing the New Year). (I have got to look for our pictures before my next post!) We would return to Hannibal--several times. And would also visit nearby Florida, Missouri (about forty miles southwest of Hannibal), where Twain was born in 1835.

(And this began a pattern: Throughout our forty-nine years together almost all of our "vacations" have had a literary component. Sight-seeing. (Stalking?) Visiting homes and graves and other relevant sites in the lives of American literary figures. Even trips to visit family have involved this: My mom lived her last years in Lenox, Mass., not far from Melville sites, not far from Edith Wharton sites, not far from ... you get the picture?)

Then we made another alteration (had we decided earlier? or spur-of-the-moment?): We would drive from Hannibal to Des Moines, Iowa, about 225 miles northwest of Hannibal. My parents were living there, and we thought it would be cool (!) to show up and surprise them.

I think now about the innocent daffiness of all this: making major driving alterations in late December; showing up, unannounced, at my parents' door, a door that was some 700 miles from our apartment in Kent, Ohio. (My parents, by the way, were both teaching at Drake University at the time--brought there by their college friend--and now the Drake president--Paul Sharp, who had also been president of Hiram College during most of my dad's tenure there--1956-66).

So ... on we drove, the weather cooperating (as I recall). We rang the bell--and my mom, answering, actually looked thrilled to see us. (A good actor, Mom.)

We learned in an instant that we were not the only company: My dad's younger brother John was also there--with his wife, Juanita--visiting from their home in Walla Walla, Washington (Dad had grown up on a farm in the Walla Walla Valley). I loved my aunt and uncle and was thrilled to see them.

(I think my grandmother Osborn may have been there, too ... curse you, Memory!)

But no one ever suggested or implied that we should have given them a head's up. No, they found room for us, made us feel entirely welcome.

A couple of days later, we left for Ohio--a long eleven-hour drive (Iowa's speed limit on I-80 was 75 then, and our poor VW Fastback did its best).

Again--the daffiness of doing this in winter! Thinking that nothing could conceivably go wrong. (Ah, Youth!)

Late that night we pulled back into College Court, to our apartment (323) in a building that held three other apartments: two up, two down. (Our rent for this four-room apartment was $75 a month. My car payment was $60 a month.) (323 College Court still stands--though it, as yet, provides no plaque announcing that Joyce and Dan Dyer began their lives together there--what an oversight by the local historical society!).

We fell into bed, into a deep dream of happiness from which we have not yet awakened in forty-nine years. May we never do so ...

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Sunday Sundries, 212

1. AOTW: I going to give a group award today--to all those folks who (in coffee shop and health club) foul their space and leave it for others to clean up: coffee cups and plates and wrappers in the former, towels and open locker doors and clutter in the latter. Just because you can clutter doesn't mean that you should (so my mommy would have said).

2. I finished three books this week ...

     - One, via Kindle, was Past Tense, the latest Lee Child thriller about Jack Reacher, who, this time, is in remote New Hampshire, where he is checking out some family history. While there, he stumbles upon a high-end hunting club, folks who have paid big bucks to hunt (via bow and arrow) The Most Dangerous Game, in this case a Canadian couple, who actually turn out to be more resourceful than we initially believe they will be.

No real surprises here: Reacher is Reacher (not Tom Cruise), and people who deserve it get their butts whupped--and more.

Snack food of the highest order!

     - The second was American Dialogue: The Founders and Us, the most recent Joseph Ellis volume about American history In this one, Ellis (recently retired from Mount Holyoke) visits the Founders, examining what they did--and what they had to say--about some enduring conflicts in American life: race, equality, law, and international relations. He shows us some most complex men (yes, all men--it was the 18th century!) whose beliefs and principles often clashed with their daily behavior--viz., freedom for all--and slave-owning.

One thing I like about Ellis: He is no writer of memes; he has read all the letters and published works of his principals, and he does not (to the best of my knowledge) cherry-pick those sentences that support his biases (the way meme-writers often do). He sees the complexity in history, in people, in us, and he tries to figure out what the best aspects of them (and us) would have us do.

Very powerful in places. And most enlightening ...

     - The third was Transcription, the most recent novel by my most recent literary hero, Kate Atkinson, a writer who, I now believe, is among the very best writing in English today. I have now read (in order) all her literary novels (about a half-dozen); remaining are (about another half-dozen) mysteries/thrillers that she's written, and I will start my way through them very soon.

This one is about a young woman, Juliet Armstrong (who also narrates), who, during World War II, finds herself working for MI5 in London, transcribing secretly recorded conversations of Brits who are supporting the Nazis. (So now you know the source of the title!) Pieces of her transcriptions are distributed throughout the text.

Atkinson does not let time control her; she controls it. And so here--as in her earlier novels--she moves gracefully about through the lives of her characters, in this case from WW II to 1981.

And you'd better be paying attention, for what happens in each time period matters. And--even more essential--things (in Atkinson, in life) are not always what they appear to be. Truth--in Atkinson's world, in ours--has a history.

Another thing I enjoy about her novels (including this one): The texts are rich with literary allusion--sometimes identified, sometimes not. In Transcription, for example, there are references to (and quotations from) Richard II, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Hard Times, Henry James, Much Ado about Nothing, "The Children's Hour,” Romeo and Juliet, The Mikado ... and on and on and on. This is pure nerd fun for a reader like me.

And one more thing--all the way through Juliet alludes (often obliquely) to some ... failure ... of hers. Some transgression. Our knowledge of it arrives hear the end in a stunning scene.

Nuff said. Her books are wonderful--can't urge you strongly enough to read her!

3. Looking for an excuse to eat popcorn, Joyce and I went to Aurora to see (on Christmas night!) the latest Will Ferrell film, Holmes & Watson; Ferrell plays the detective; John C. Reilly, Dr. Watson. I'm sort of a Holmes freak--have read all the stories, seen countless films and TV shows, read a lot about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle--so, you see, I had to go to see this, right?

Pure silliness and adolescent humor all the way through, and since I remain an adolescent in many ways, I laughed far more than my Better Self approved of.

We first see Sherlock as a bullied schoolboy (he takes care of his antagonists with alacrity), then as the world's most famous detective who's in his enduring competition with Prof. Moriarty (Ralph Fiennes).

Late in the film is a surprising musical number--one of the film's highlights.

Link to film trailer.

4. Final Word--a word I liked this week from one of my various online word-of-the-day providers:

     - from the Oxford English Dictionary--the older I get, the more apt I find this word, though I'm not crazy about all that throw-him-off-the-bridge stuff!

down-man, n.   A sick or infirm man.
Etymology: < down adj. + man n.1, after classical Latin dēpontānus old man (aged sixty) who was supposedly thrown from a bridge (attested in an 8th-cent. epitome of 2nd-cent. grammarian); this may reflect a relic of ancient river worship, where victims were sacrificed to a river god, or may refer, according to the Roman scholar Varro, to the bridge over which voters passed, an old man of sixty being no longer eligible to vote.
Obsolete rare.

1670   W. Walker Idiomatologia Anglo-Latina 338   An old down-man [L. depontanus].

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Our Wedding Journey, Part III

December 20, 1969
As I wrote last time, we arrived in New Orleans, our honeymoon destination, late, late, late at night. We were headed for a nice set of rooms in the French Quarter, a place I'd reserved after finding a description in one of those AAA Travel Guides (sacred texts in the Dyer household!). It sounded perfect.

When we got there, I had to pound on the door/ring the bell for a while before an attendant arrived. His message was brief--and cold: "You're late. We gave your room to someone else."

"But ... it's our honeymoon ...."

"I'm so sorry."


Now what? This--recall--was well before the era of cell phones and Internet.

I checked our AAA Guide again and saw there was a Ramada Inn right downtown, so there we headed, and (whew!) they had a room. We dragged our things upstairs, fell into bed, exhausted ... and grateful.

We were in New Orleans for several days, and here are a few of the things we did:

  • Went to a jazz club (can't remember the name--but it was great)
  • Took a cruise up into bayou country--Joyce was already ensnared by the writings of Kate Chopin (on whom she would write her dissertation, on whom she would publish her first book--link to book on Amazon)
  • walked around the French Quarter--looking at old cemeteries, etc.
  • ate food we'd never eaten before (including an incredible seafood gumbo)
  • celebrated Christmas in our hotel room, employing a little faux Christmas tree (the ornaments looked like gumdrops), a gift my mom had sent along with us; we both were a bit sad, I remember--our first Christmas away from our home; we both called our homes ... very emotional
Then we decided to go to a movie on Christmas night--there was one not far away. And showing that night? A new James Bond film, On Her Majesty's Secret Service. It was the only Bond, by the way, that would star George Lazenby, who (let's be kind) did not convince critics (and many (most?) viewers) that he was 007. (Link to some video.)

I'd loved all the previous Bond films--and had seen the first, Dr. No, at the old Hiram College Cinema back in 1963 (it had been released in May, so it was probably a few months later; it was the summer after my first year at Hiram College).

Joyce was not much of a Bond fan then, and this film did not do a lot to endear her to the series. And here's why: Bond gets married near the end to Tracy (played by Diana Rigg), and as they are driving off on their honeymoon, their car is attacked, and Tracy is shot dead.

How's that for a movie to go see on your own honeymoon!?! Let's just say that Joyce had a few ... questions ... afterward. (I would guess that she was already wondering what in the hell she had done!)

After a few days it was time to head home. I had to return to teaching 7th graders at the Aurora Middle School; Joyce had to return to her grad school classes at Kent State--and to her teaching assistantship.

But as we were driving north, I got an idea. Let's go home a different way!


Thursday, December 27, 2018

Our Wedding Journey, Part II

December 20, 1969
A week ago, I posted here the first installment of an account of our honeymoon trip in late December 1969. I kept no journal (as I said), but I have some clear memories of the journey from Akron (where we were married on December 20 at Concordia Lutheran Church) to New Orleans, a place we'd chosen because neither of us had ever been there. Beginning life together in a new place. Seemed like a good idea.

As I wrote last week, we spent our first night at the Holiday Inn North in Columbus, Ohio, then headed out for our second stop, Memphis, Tennessee. We stayed there in another Holiday Inn, one near a Mississippi River bridge.

Why Holiday Inns?

Well, one of the two credit cards I had was for Gulf Oil, and that card was also good at Holiday Inns. So ... I had two gasoline credit cards then (Gulf and Sohio)--no other credit cards. Visa (originally Bank Americard), Master Charge (before it was Card), and Amex--these and others all lay in our future. We were traveling with a little cash, with Gulf and Sohio.

Somewhere that long day between Columbus and Memphis (nearly 600 miles away, says Google Maps) we realized we needed a camera, so we stopped at a drugstore in some small town and bought a little Kodak Instamatic and took pictures all along the way. Those pictures are now ... somewhere. Perhaps I'll find them before I finish this little series.

I remember clearly a few of them: Joyce attached to her portable hair-dryer (plastic cap over her hair, machine churning away, Joyce reading), Joyce dragging a suitcase out of our Memphis hotel room the next morning.

We had so much fun on the trip (when she wasn't sleeping in the car!)--talking about books, our classes, our hopes, our families, the things we were seeing for the first time ...

Oh, and I had to do all the driving. She had a license, of course, but I had a stick-shift, and she did not yet know how to use a manual transmission. (The glories of teaching her that lay in our new future, though.)

I can't remember where we'd planned to stay our third night (New Orleans was still nearly 1000 miles away), but Old Man Winter had other ideas. We encountered freezing rain--an ice storm--the next afternoon; cars were sliding off the road. I was creeping along, terrified that we'd join them.

I'd already had a major epiphany, by the way. Pre-marriage, I had not been the most ... judicious ... of drivers. But now--with Joyce in the car--I realized that her life was quite actually in my hands. I became a much more prudent, circumspect driver--and immediately so. And I remain one (I hope). We've had a couple of minor accidents (none our fault), but I've never had a speeding ticket. Love taught me caution--merely one of its many lessons.

We found a little roadside motel somewhere in Mississippi--wish I could remember the tiny town where it was. 'Twas an old-fashioned motel: close to the road, one storey, park in front of your room, listen to other guests all night--that sort of place. We were lucky to find it.

In the morning--late morning--we departed to safer roads, though the landscape remained dazzling: ice on all the trees and buildings. Later, I would be constantly reminded of this whenever I read Frost's "Birches." Remember the lines?

… Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.

We had a long drive before us that sunnier morning, and we would not arrive in New Orleans until around midnight. Where, greeting us, was Trouble ...


Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Christmas 2018

Christmas was on Christmas Eve this year--that's when our son (Steve), our daughter-in-law (Melissa), and their two (peerless!) sons (Logan, 13; Carson, 9) came over for the cooking, preparation, appetizers (sourdough tree-bread, fruitcake, fondue), stuffing-faces (standing rib, turkey breast, carrots, smashed potatoes, sourdough bread, cornbread), clearing dishes, laughing, teasing, presents and pudding, gas fire in fireplace, unwrapping, cries of surprise and even pleasure, a bit of clean-up, departure of family back to their home in Green to prepare for Christmas #2.

But after they left, I realized we'd forgotten to perform one ritual: reciting "A Visit from St. Nicholas" ("The Night before Christmas")--a ritual we will have to enact the next time we see them, for if we don't do it, all sorts of evil will rain down on us, hurled by the indignant spirit of Clement Moore, 1779-1863, or, maybe, from Henry Livingston , Jr., 1748-1828, who scholars now believe wrote the poem. (Link to some info about that.)

Joyce and I cleaned a little more, then fell into bed and grieved for the energy that has somehow escaped us without our noticing--until recent years.

Christmas Day. Joyce was up about 6:15; I heard her; I knew I had to go help with the rest of the cleaning-up: the dish washing, the cutting-down of boxes for recycling, the removal of the leaves from the dining room table, the return of chairs here and there, the trips to the trash bin outside, the ... you know.

After we cleaned up (the house, ourselves), we headed over to Starbucks (my home-away-from-home, Open Door Coffee Co., was closed for the day), where we (miraculously?) got chairs next to the fireplace, and there we sipped coffee, read, and I wrote a dozen holiday cards to people who had written to me (Joyce would mail them later in the morning).

Home a little after 10, and I lay down, where Morpheus immediately found me and wrapped me in his arms until lunch time.

At which time we decided to go see a movie--a Christmas tradition (Christmas = going to see a bad movie). This year we chose Holmes & Watson (Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, the team from Talledaga Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, et al.). We drove over to Kent, where I was certain there was a 1:00 showing. I was wrong. (Can you imagine?)

I re-checked my movie app--saw the 1:00 showing was actually back in Hudson, but we didn't have time to make it ... but there was a 2:30-ish one in Aurora, so ... we drove around Kent, where we'd lived the first decade of our marriage, driving up to KSU's Satterfield Hall, where Joyce first spoke to me in July 1969--a summer-school class. And we marveled about the improbabilities/impossibilities that had brought us to that same classroom that summer.

Then we headed out for Aurora, driving up Kent's Lincoln Street, where our dear friend of 50 years--my wonderful colleague--the late Andy Kmetz--was living when we were first married.

And off we went--through Twin Lakes, where Andy subsequently moved, and where my immensely influential middle school principal, the late Mike Lenzo, had lived for years with his wonderful wife, Mitzie (also now, sadly, deceased). Mike was a life-changer for me as a teacher.

Then into Streetsboro, past Seasons Road, where once lived my terrific colleague Eileen Kutinsky, who taught 6th grade science at the middle school in Aurora. Oh, did I learn a lot from HER! (She's now 90 and still operating the family farm north of Alliance.)

And on into Aurora, where I began my career in the fall of 1966 and where I retired from public education in January 1997. (I was gone a few years--trying other teaching--college--high school.)

We drove by the house where we'd lived from 1990-97, looked at some other emotional sites, then headed to the Cinemark, where we watched the wretched movie (more in blog on Sunday) and ate the great popcorn (our real reason for going!).

And then home for a light supper (well, not too light) + a phone call to my brothers in Mass.

Then up to bed to read and unwind and stream some British detective shows.

Our son called with more Merry Christmas.

And then ... Dreamland ...

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Sunday Sundries, 211

1. HBOTW [Human Beings of the Week]: Two former students got the Old Man's eyes watering this week: One, from Harmon Middle School years ago, arranged for a gift card for me at Open Door Coffee Co.; the other--from the penultimate year of my career at Western Reserve Academy--came into the coffee shop with the young man she's going to marry and talked with me so kindly. I am a fortunate man ...

2. I finished just one book this week, the latest by Joyce Carol Oates, Hazards of Time Travel (2018), a futuristic (in some ways) dystopian tale about a young woman living in a future time when questioning the government is a fell crime: Perps can be permanently "erased." She, a high school valedictorian, raises questions in her valedictory address, and she never gets to read it: She's banished to the past (teleported--think: Star Trek), to 1959, where she finds herself at a (fictional) university in Wisconsin.

She has a new name, a new biography, and she must obey the rules strictly, or all will be over. She gets a crush on a psych prof named Wolfman (yeah, I know), and that doesn't turn out well. And then ... aw, read it for yourself!

I love Joyce Carol Oates, have been reading her since the late 1960s--have read pretty much all her novels (she is prolific in a Trollopean sense). I reviewed some of her work for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and have said there (and elsewhere) that she deserves the Nobel Prize. Novels, short stories, poems, plays, essays ... She's just great at all of it. But we'll see if the Stockholm folks agree.

This, I fear, is not one of Oates' stronger books. (I see that today's New York Times Book Review agrees with me--link to review.) But all that means is that it is not superior, just damn good.

3. We didn't go to the movies this week (nothing we were crazy to see, though the reviews of the new Mary Poppins' film are so good, we might have to check it out). We still are streaming some favorite shows, Blood in the Wire and The Inspector Lynley Mysteries with the wonderful Nathaniel Parker* (actually, we're watching them again), and, as always, I stream and re-stream and re-stream The Rockford Files ... sad.

I like Sharon Small in the series, too.

4: Whatever side of the Trump Line you find yourself, you must still find amusing this week's New Yorker cover:

5. We will enjoy spending Christmas Eve with our son, daughter-in-law, two grandsons, who are coming over for dinner & gifts & whatnot. Among our traditions:

  • Christmas tree bread (a sweet bread shaped like a Christmas tree)
  • White fruitcake (from my grandmother Osborn's recipe)--a treat I've had every Christmas of my life
  • Steamed pudding (also a Grandma Osborn recipe)--so sweet you can feel your teeth decaying in your mouth as you eat the pudding!
  • We will also, together (taking turns on stanzas), recite "A Visit from St. Nicholas" ("The Night before Christmas")--a poem I first memorized at Adams Elementary School; Enid, Okla.; about, oh, 1954?
I'll post pix of these goodies tomorrow ... or the next day ...

6. Last Word--a word I liked this week from one of my various online word-of-the-day providers.

     - from dictionary.com

turtledove [TUR-tl-duhv] noun
1. a sweetheart or beloved mate.
2. any of several small to medium-sized Old World doves of the genus Streptopelia, especially S. turtur, of Europe, having a long, graduated tail: noted for its soft, cooing call.
QUOTES: You look anything but miserable, my turtledove. In fact, I never saw you look so well.
-- E. F. Harkins, The Schemers, 1903
ORIGIN: The turtle in turtledove has nothing to do with the aquatic and terrestrial reptile whose trunk is enclosed in a shell. The ultimate derivation of the reptilian turtle is Greek Tartaroûchos “controlling Tartarus, holding the nether world”; the word turtle entered English in the 17th century. Turtledove is a compound of Old English turtla, from Latin turtur “turtledove,” imitating the call of the bird. Dove comes from Old English dufe, dūfe and is related to the verb dive. Similar forms are found in other Germanic languages. Turtledove entered English in the 14th century.

Shakespeare, by the way, sometimes used only turtle to refer to the turtledove--and this can sometimes bring some (unintended?) humor, as in the exchange between Petruchio and Katherine in The Taming of the ShrewHe calls her a "slow-wing'd turtle" (2.1).

*Remember when Parker played Laertes in the Franco Zeffirelli Hamlet with Mel Gibson? The deadly fencing match at the end with Hamlet?

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Our Wedding Journey, Part I

I wasn’t keeping a journal in 1969, the year Joyce and I married—but, oh, how I wish I had been! I remember a lot about our honeymoon, but so much has fled to that inaccessible land where most of human experience dwells.

So … I’ll try my best—to remember—not to embellish …

On December 20 we were married in Akron, Ohio, at Concordia Lutheran Church, a building that some of Joyce’s stone-mason ancestors had helped erect. Joyce had lived her entire life in Akron, most of her male family members working for the rubber industry. I had just turned 25; she was 22.

Our reception was at Stan Hywet Hall in Akron—once the home of the Seiberlings—in the Gate Lodge. One strong memory I have of that event: Dr. Fred Bissell, a friend from Aurora whose children I had taught (and would teach), went around the room with a little Christmas tree and “invited” (shamed?) people into attaching money to it, money that he then presented to us as cash for our wedding journey. (And, oh, did we need it! As a public middle school teacher—Aurora, Ohio—I was making only about $6000 a year at the time.)

I remember, too, Joyce’s phone conversation with her dear cousin Paul, a med student at OSU who could not make the wedding (exams). There’s a photo of her on the payphone with him.

Mostly, I remember walking around in a daze, talking with friends from all throughout my life, with my family, with my “new family” (Joyce’s), with colleagues and even students who had come. It seemed to me beyond a miracle that all this had happened …

I had met Joyce only about five months earlier—in a Kent State grad school  course on American Transcendentalism, a course neither of us had wanted to take. She’d wanted another class: closed; I’d wanted another class (not the same as hers): closed. And so we ended up in the same classroom in Satterfield Hall that summer—but it would be some weeks before we even spoke …

I’ve told this story before, so I’ll not repeat it here. But we spoke; we “hit it off”; we had a couple of dates; we decided to marry.

We had made reservations for our wedding night at the Holiday Inn North in Columbus. We would be heading to New Orleans, a destination we’d picked because neither of us had ever been there. We thought that would be cool—beginning our life together in a new place. I was driving a 1969 VW Fastback. Dark green. Snazzy ...

We were more than naïve in so many ways—e.g., deciding on a big car trip in late December. Naïve? Maybe just dumb. But off we drove that evening, and, fortunately, I-71 was clear, and we made it to our hotel with little trouble.

The next morning (it was the first night we’d ever spent together!), I learned a few things—a few differences between how men and women get up and get ready for the day. Just one example: Joyce had put her hair in curlers the night before, and that first morning came the Removal Process, the eons under the portable hair dryer (she invariably read during this “activity”).

Let’s say that I began learning the meaning of the word patience that first full day of our marriage. (And she began learning what an impatient man looked and acted like!)

Eventually, we were up and off to stop Number Two: another Holiday Inn near Memphis, TN.


*stole/adapted the title from William Dean Howells’ 1871 novel, Their Wedding Journey.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

I Meet Kurt Vonnegut

In the spring of 1966 I was feeling simultaneously free--and frightened. I had completed my student teaching (11th grade--West Geauga HS) but still had one term remaining at Hiram College before graduation. I was living at home again (after some dorm time). My dad taught at the college, and our house was only about a quarter of a mile from the campus.

So ... feeling free. A senior. Most of my requirements completed. Student teaching over. Graduation imminent ...

But frightened?

Well, I'd thought I was going to graduate school the following year: I'd been accepted into the American Studies program at the University of Kansas. But I'd recently learned some dark news: no $$ would come my way from Kansas. So I couldn't afford to go ...

Now what?

I applied for two teaching positions--one in nearby Garrettsville, where my mom was finishing a ten-year (stellar) career. She and dad had accepted positions at Drake University (Mom had just completed her Ph.D.) for 1966-67. My older brother was in grad school (Harvard); my younger brother would begin his undergrad career (Harvard) that year.

I was going to be alone here in Ohio.

I also had applied for a job in Aurora, eleven miles from Hiram.

Aurora called first. They had an opening at the middle school, and I snapped it up, even though my critic teacher at West Geauga HS had cautioned me: Don't ever get stuck in a junior high school!

I was ecstatic ... I would be rich! Starting salary was $5100!

Anyway, that final spring at Hiram I took my last class with my favorite professor, Dr. Abe C. Ravitz--a course in contemporary American literature. I hardly recognized a single name on his reading list--and his reading lists were always long. Fifteen books or so--every class I took from him. And I took every one I could--didn't always get an A. Didn't always deserve one.

Among the writers we read that spring? James Purdy. Bernard Malamud. Shirley Hazzard.

And Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1922-2007)

I was reminded of Vonnegut this morning because his 1963 novel Cat's Cradle popped up yesterday on my book-nerd daily tear-off calendar (see image at the top of this post).* And Cat's Cradle was one of the novels I read for Dr. Ravitz that long-ago spring.

the edition we read
The book--to coin a fresh phrase--blew me away. I simply couldn't believe you could write like that--could be taken seriously for writing like that.

Such a wild story about a scientific discovery of a substance called ice-9. The problem with ice-9? If it touches water, it will instantly freeze it--and the source(s) of that water. So ... drop it in the sink and ice-9 will freeze the water supply, the river, the lake, the ocean--all the oceans and water in the world.

In other words, buh-bye, world.

I loved the book and would go on to read all of Vonnegut's work--and even sneaked him into my middle school curriculum for a bit. In one of the lit books we used (1980s), Exploring Literature, his story "The No-Talent Kid" appeared, a story about a high-school boy in the band who has no musical ability--but he desperately wants to be a part of the award-winning marching band. The solution? The director suggests the boy pull the huge bass drum. He's delighted to do so. (Link to full text.)

Other years I would read aloud to my students the Vonnegut story "Harrison Bergeron," about a time in the future when the government has declared that everyone must be equal. No one can be superior in any way. It's both funny and disturbing--like most of Vonnegut's work. (Link to full text of story,)

I was especially thrilled, by the way, when I learned that Vonnegut and I share the month and day of birth (November 11), though he was older, of course--of my father's WW II generation.

Years later--in the 1980s--Vonnegut was making an appearance at Kent State University. My wife and I drove a van load of students from Western Reserve Academy to see him ... but ... by the time we got there, no more seating was available. We had to sit in an adjacent room and hear him only. He was funny and clever and wise. And I was annoyed. So close, so very very close we'd been.

And I didn't even catch a glimpse of him.

*awful news--it seems this calendar will not appear for 2019!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Christmas Card Conundrum

I've never been really good about the kind conventions of life. Back in boyhood, one of my Christmas gifts was--always!--a package of thank-you notes, and Mom would require my brothers and me to write them, the day after Christmas. I can't say I was fond of the task. (I hated it.)

My mother and her mother were spectacular about such things--thank-you notes, condolence notes, Christmas cards. Mom, well into her 80s, was still sending them--though the number of recipients (a consequence of age) had declined markedly, of course.

In recent years I've been sending cards only as a form of reply: If you send me one, you get one back ... eventually. (Gross, I know; my mother would not have understood--and would have sent my way The Look, that disapproving facial expression that is one of my oldest memories--and deservedly so.)

So what I'll do this year is what I've done the past more-than-a-few years: write my cards on Christmas Day at a coffee shop. (Hey, they're Christmas cards: That means you write and mail them on Christmas, right? ... I feel The Look coming my way right now.)

Not that I get a lot of them--especially in these days of Facebook and texting and emailing and Messenger, etc. And ... I'm in my 70s ...

But I have a few already ... from ...
  • a revered former teacher
  • some former students
  • a former colleague
  • a long-ago friend
  • a former college roommate
Joyce and I keep the incoming cards in a little basket in the dining room (see pic above), and on Christmas Day, I will sort out those ones aimed only at me, then head over to Starbucks (my wonted coffee shop is closed that day) and spend some time (I hope by their wee fireplace) answering those notes.

Don't get me wrong. I am not complaining. I love hearing voices from the past--and, eventually, I love replying, as well. I know perfectly well that I owe many other people so much--friendship (when I often didn't deserve it), education (when I often didn't value it), respect (when I often hadn't earned it), affection (when I ... you get the picture).

So--thanks to all who wrote. And thanks, as well, to those who didn't. I mean, I like writing Christmas cards--eventually. But I don't like writing a lot of them!

Monday, December 17, 2018

Mellowing Out with Grammar and Usage

I spent about forty-five years marking the papers of my students. Over those years I taught sixth graders through college undergrads--though the vast majority of my time was with 7th and 8th graders and high school students.

The admission I must make here is that--from the very beginning to the end of it all--there were things I didn't get "right"--things I learned as I went along--things I forgot. I was only twenty-one when I first faced a classroom of seventh graders, and, sure, I knew more than they did about English grammar and usage, but there were hosts of things I didn't yet know--and I'm still learning things now. And unlearning.

For example, I didn't know then about essential and nonessential modifiers, about an en-dash and an em-dash, about the various uses of a semicolon, the difference between nauseous and nauseated, and on and on.

But as I taught more and more, I learned these things--principally because I was teaching them (no better way to learn!).

I also learned more about the evolution of usage. When I was a student, the teachers told us we must never start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction. (And I listened carefully.) They taught us not to split infinitives (to carelessly do so earned a red mark). They told us never to end a sentence with a preposition (doing so was frowned on). These "rules" (and others like them) are gone now, really--as they should be. Great writers have always "violated" all three of them--and such rules make no sense. We made them up--as, of course, we have done with all grammar/usage rules.

Take sentence fragments. Intentional fragments are everywhere. Everywhere.  And they can be effective. I use them. All the time.

And I've watched other "rules" from my boyhood that have disappeared (or are disappearing): the difference between will and shall, for example. And I've noticed in books I'm reviewing that alright is becoming common--though I still refuse to use it. (Standards!) I've also noticed the changing usage of sentences like this one: Everyone brought his book. It changed, first, to Everyone brought his or her book. Now I routinely see Everyone brought their book. To tell the truth, it's a construction I try to avoid.

Not that there are no rules, mind you. Affect and effect are not synonyms. Fulsome is not a compliment about your writing. Sojourn is not a synonym for journey. And on and on.

But, as I said at the top, I have mellowed in retirement. If somebody asks me about what's "correct" in a sentence, I will tell them (him? her?)--but I will also note  that Standard English did not come down off the mountain with Moses, that it is evolving, that we made it up, that clarity and empathy and wit and a dash of self-deprecation are still the best ingredients in the stew of writing.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Sunday Sundries, 210

1. HBOTW [Human Being(s) of the Week]: At the grocery store this morning, I saw several people with full carts at the checkout line, people who let other people with only a handful of items go ahead of them.

2. I finished three books this week--the first two are ones at which I've been picking away at bedtime before Streaming Time commences:

     - The first was Susan Orlean's latest--The Library (2018)--a book about a devastating fire at the main branch of the library in Los Angeles in 1986. No one is certain who (if anyone) started the fire--though she examines thoroughly the case of the prime suspect, now dead, a man who seemed in some ways to be guilty--but not in other ways. Orlean confesses she doesn't know what caused it.

She also tells the story of the history of libraries in L.A.--and elsewhere--and spends lots of time roaming around the place, talking with librarians, visiting with patrons, considering the problem of homelessness (a problem the library takes seriously--and compassionately). And she realizes with a new clarity the importance of libraries--to her, to all of us.

This was not my favorite of Orlean's books--I'm kind of partial to her book about Rin Tin Tin (oh, my boyhood has not released its control of me!). But this is a fine account, sharpened by her keen eye, softened by her compassionate heart.

Oh, I also like the design of the book--making it resemble a catalogued library book; the back endpapers feature a photograph of an old check-out card-in-a-pocket. It looks so real ...

     - I've been reading my way through Ken Bruen's novels about Jack Taylor (I got hooked on streaming the TV series, a series that led me to the books). The one I just finished--The Emerald Lie (via Kindle), 2016--is the antepenultimate in the series. And, as I've commented here before, the Taylor novels get ever darker as they proceed.

This one deals with some brutal murders committed by a ... grammarian. Someone who can't stand usage/grammar errors of any sort, someone who salves his dismay by dispatching the blunderer.

But that case is in and out of focus. Taylor's own personal problems are principal, too--a relationship with a naughty woman (a brutal one), his ever-declining health, his past mistakes that haunt him.

Set in Galway, Ireland, the novels are fun to read--Taylor (a former cop, booted from the force for drunkenness)  is a raconteur, a reader, and a bitter commentator on the world around him. This novel shows us that Taylor's world--which, before, we thought was dark--is actually pretty much without any light!

     - The third I finished this week was another by the amazing Kate Atkinson, a writer (I fear!) I'd not heard of until reading this item in the New York Times last July 31. She was doing a reading with other notables--all of whom I'd heard of--and so I asked, Who is this?

And, having read five of her novels, I can answer: One of the best novelists I've ever read.

A God in Ruins (2015) is sort of a follow-up to her previous novel, Life After Life (one of the best novels I ever read). That one focused on Ursula, a young woman who dies throughout the novel; then her story begins again--with different results. Her brother is Teddy, the focus of this one. He's a pilot in WW II, and it's evident that Atkinson did a tremendous amount of research on the air war.

(The title, by the way, if from Emerson--a line from his Nature, 1836.)

We follow Teddy on a number of his missions, see how he deals with violence and death--with his guilt about the saturation bombing runs he's involved in--but we also follow his personal story--his marriage, his wife (and her death), and his very troubled relationship with his daughter. We follow Teddy right into the nursing home and hear his daughter talk about how she wishes he would just die, you know?

As always, Atkinson uses time as her marionette--making it dance, change, pause, accelerate, start over, skip ... it's nothing short of amazing.

I don't want to give away too many goodies because I'd love everyone to read her work. I've got her latest, Transcription, on my pile (as soon as I finish the new Joyce Carol Oates I'm reading), and then I'm going to go back and read her mystery series. Then watch the TV series based on them ...

I cannot exaggerate her talent, her achievements. They're beyond my ability to do so.

3. Last night--not charmed by what movies were available at the theaters--we watched, via DVD, the Coen Brothers' 2009 film, A Serious Man, a film I'd borrowed from Netflix back in July 2017, but the copy they'd sent was damaged, and it locked up in the middle. (Link to film trailer.)

I bought my own copy, but we just hadn't gotten around to watching it--until last night. And what a grim and, simultaneously, funny film (the Coens are superb at this). Our "hero" (see on the roof in the poster) is a college math prof undergoing the tenure process. Things seem to be going well--for about five minutes.

And then ... his wife says she's leaving him; he has to move into a motel with his psychologically damaged brother, a student getting an F leaves an envelope stuffed with money on his desk--then denies it, he has a physical exam with his doctor, his two kids act as if he doesn't really exist, his son is smoking pot, someone is writing defamatory letters to the tenure committee, an asshole lives next door, a tornado warning ... and more.

By the end you realize--as if you didn't know--the fragility of ... everything. Every damn thing. The evanescence of all.

Oh, and it's 1967--the Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love" is on the radio, etc. People smoke everywhere ...

And, again, you ask yourself: Why am I laughing at this? Because, you realize, you're in the presence of genius--and what else can you do?

When the Netflix DVD of A Serious Man froze up, we had nearly completed our journey, sequentially, through all of their films. Seeing this one, I'm almost up for doing it all over again!

4. At the suggestion of our friend Chris, we started streaming a BBC series Wire in the Blood. And are glad we're doing so. A psychologist helping the London cops with cases. We're only about halfway through the first episode of the first season (it ran from 2002-09), so I'll have more to say later on ... (Link to series trailer.)

5. Last word--a word I liked this week from one of my online word-of-the-day providers:

     - from wordsmith.org

yclept (i-KLEPT)
MEANING: adjective: Called or named.
ETYMOLOGY: From Old English geclypod, past participle of (ge)clypian (clepe). Earliest documented use: 950.
USAGE: “The teenage jam band tragically yclept Fruitful Dave is awfully exciting.”

In Rotation; Reader (Chicago, Illinois); Aug 14, 2014.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Flashback: Lake Forest College, 1978-79

Son Steve at 10 Campus Circle
Lake Forest College
Lake Forest, IL
40 years later ...
Yesterday, just before supper, Joyce and I got a FaceTime call from our son, Steve, who had been in Chicago for a meeting. A gust of nostalgia, it seems, had billowed his sails and sent him zooming up the Lake Michigan shore to Lake Forest College (Lake Forest, IL--up the North Shore), where Joyce and I had lived and taught in 1978-79. Steve had been six when we arrived, seven when we moved back to Ohio.

Via FaceTime he "drove" us around the campus--his opening shot (where he subsequently took a selfie--see above) was the campus house where we lived that year--still about the nicest place we ever lived. 10 Campus Circle. There were other kids his age in that faculty-housing circle, and they were all running around dressed as Star Wars characters, and, with their childhood voices, making sound effects of light-saber battles. Steve was invariably Luke Skywalker--earlier, we'd had a parakeet named ... Skywalker. (RIP)

I had been teaching at the Aurora Middle School (and, later, in its new facility--Harmon) between 1966-78, the final year featuring a long teachers' strike in the spring. Joyce and I had just recently finished our doctoral work at Kent State (where we'd met in a summer school class in 1969--the same year we married!), and we were looking to "move up."

Lake Forest had hired me to be the Chair of the Education Department (a position my father had held at Hiram College, 1956-66)--a small department: I was the only full-time member! Joyce was teaching part-time--both at Lake Forest and at the College of Lake County. We made great friends and are still in touch with one whose husband had taught in the biology department.

But ...

I didn't like my job. I was supposedly teaching people how to teach--and running around supervising student teachers. But I learned something very quickly: I would far prefer to teach than to teach how to teach. I missed the middle school kids in Aurora, and by October I'd decided I wanted to go back.

Fat chance.

There were no openings back at Harmon. So, I applied a few other places, and Western Reserve Academy hired both Joyce and me for the 1979-80 school year. Joyce would stay until 1990 (the year Steve graduated from the school), then move to Hiram College to head the writing program--a position she held until she retired a few years ago.

I stayed only two years. I got in a salary snit with the Headmaster, quit in a huff, worked part-time for a year (1981-82) at Kent State and at the Learned Owl Book Shop in Hudson--and in their satellite store down in the Cuyahoga Valley called Valley Books. It's fair to say that money that year was ... scarce.

But in the fall of 1982 there was an opening back in Aurora. I leapt at the chance and stayed until I retired in 1997, loving it all--the kids, my colleagues, doing the school plays, etc. Some of the very happiest years of my life.

I thought I was done with teaching then--but a friend at WRA in 2001 said they had an opening ... I snapped at it like a hungry crocodile and ended up teaching ten more years--and loving it, as well. (Except, of course, for the essay-grading!)

Anyway, 1978-79 was an important year for us--and (except for my job) we had a wonderful time there. I had learned that "moving up" meant going to a job you love--and that, for me, meant Harmon Middle School in Aurora, Ohio.

Steve started first grade in Lake Forest--but had a horrific teacher: At an early assembly--some kind of "welcome-back" event--I saw her pull him by the ear into the gym.

That ended that.

We enrolled him in a private school, where he flourished--where his ears were safe.

He played T-ball there, too, and made some wonderful friends--Star Wars freaks all. (As his sons are now!)

And, yesterday, he gave us a fabulous gift--a look back at an important, mostly happy time in our lives. Joyce and I were deeply moved--and want nothing else for Christmas.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Takes a Long Time, Getting Dressed ...

an ad for elder-friendly clothing
For most of my life I haven't had to think too hard about getting dressed. Sure, there were those Early Years when other people had to dress me, when I needed help, later, pulling on socks, tying my shoes, fastening my winter coat. And, even later, my parents (especially my mom) would, well, edit what I was wearing--and this continued well into my life:

  • At a family reunion in Oregon (I was in my 40s!), Mom told me not to wear jeans to a family picnic (I was the only male there without jeans--except for our immediate family).
  • When Mom was in a stages-of-care place late in her life, she told me (I was in my 60s!) not to wear shorts to the dining hall--the servers wouldn't serve me. (I did; they did.)
Anyway, for most of my life I threw clothes on, tore them off; I was as quick as a hare who notices he's been asleep and a tortoise is about to beat him in a race. I see this behavior now--in others--in the men's locker room out at the health club where I drag my Sorry Behind most afternoons. Young men changing in and out of their workout gear in, oh, about 14.3 seconds.

But now--especially in winter--getting dressed and undressed? An ordeal.

It doesn't help that I've got a bit of vertigo now--so I have to sit--or hold onto something--while I'm doing parts of the routine (shoes and socks and pants on-and-off). By the time I pull on one of my boots at the club, the Young Studs have completely changed and commenced their ferocious workouts, smiles on their faces, smiles that say: I'll never be like that old dude in the locker room!

I've not yet reached that stage when, in the morning, I'll just pull on a flannel jump-suit (see pic at the top of the page), one step up from pj's. Both my parents eventually did so, and my mom, an enormously proud woman, must have felt that the heavens themselves had cracked.

Donning winter outerwear is in the same category of I-used-to-do-this-much-faster. Boots, scarf, coat, gloves, hat--it seems an hour has passed before I manage to adorn myself for the challenges of the brumal, brutal outdoors.

Summers are so much better: sandals, shorts (that's right, Mom!), T-shirt, and ... away!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Holiday Bakery ... How Much Longer?

The last few years--as Christmas has approached--I've told myself, silently, Well, this will surely be the last year for this!

The this I'm referring to is holiday baking, something I've done for quite a few decades now--well, "quite a few" in terms of, you know, life expectancy. I just looked: The estimated life expectancy in 2019 for a USA male? 76.9 years. I'm almost there, folks. I turned 74 last month; I can still do simple subtraction.

Each year, over the Thanksgiving break, I bake a batch (or more) of white fruitcakes from a recipe long used by my grandmother Alma Osborn, who died in 1978. This year I did only five. They are sitting in the refrigerator, awaiting distribution and consumption. (Or disposal?)

I also bake cornbread from the recipe my mother used--an old Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook version. Simple and good. (Okay, I vary a little from the printed directions--but not much: Taste evokes history and memory, you know?)

The Big Challenge each year is the sourdough "treebread" creation--a sweetbread (inside are dried fruit and nuts) twisted into the shape of a Christmas tree. My Facebook "memories" feed reminded me today that it's about time to do them. The pic below is from a year ago. Before I serve the bread, I warm it up, ice it, sprinkle candied fruit on top to look like tree ornaments. My mother used to bake this bread--though not sourdough. And I've modified the recipe somewhat (I like dried apricots in it--so I add them.)

I'll also bake a batch of maple-pecan scones (using Ohio maple syrup), and in a few days I'll send off to my younger brother in Mass. the following things:

  • cornbread
  • treebread
  • scones
  • multigrain sourdough bread
  • a fruitcake
I assume they'll eat rather than clog the disposer with them.

So--as you can tell--I'm doing all this again ... one last time? The pic at the top of the page is one I took about five minutes ago: It shows the sourdough starter rising in its bowl. It will be ready about 5 p.m., and I will put some of the starter away for next Sunday's bread-baking, then save the rest in the fridge to use for the treebreads, which I'll bake on Wednesday.

You also see the cornbread that came out the oven moments before I took the pic. I'll send one to Mass., save the other for us.

Tomorrow will be scone day. And I've already baked the regular sourdough bread I'll send along in the gift box.

And by the end of the week--by the time I'm ready to mail all away (and save others for Christmas here)--I'll be telling myself, silently, This has got to be the last year for this ... right?

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Sunday Sundries, 209

1. HBOTW (Human Beings of the Week): I meant to give these folks the award a couple of weeks ago, then forgot because of the tacit insistence of some AOTWs that I recognize them for their vile behavior during the week. But ... here we go: At the coffee shop--high school students whom I see at tables working together, helping one another, reading, writing, doing math, etc. As a former teacher I find it a very moving sight, and it gives me H-O-P-E.

2. Last night Joyce and I drove up to Solon--first, a stop at Mustard Seed Market for some baking supplies, then to the movies in Solon to see Green Book, a very affecting and surprising film based on an actual tour in the Deep South in the early 1960s that the Jamaican American pianist Dr. Don Shirley made with the other members of his trio (the other two were white). Concerned about his ... safety (the Civil Rights movement was underway; not all in the South were happy about it), Shirley hired a driver, a tough Italian American named Tony "Lip" Vallelonga. The two (slowly) became friends as they navigated the turbulent seas of race relations--in the South and with each other.

A "green book," by the way is the book available for non-white travelers in the South to use; it identified motels and hotels and restaurants where the white separatists allowed them to stay, eat, etc.

Playing Tony Lip was an almost unrecognizable Viggo Mortensen, who played Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings films. Here, he is pudgy, pudgy, pudgy (his over-eating is a character trait--one scene with a pizza in a lonely motel room is priceless)--and his diction is, well, not of Middle-Earth.

Don Shirley is Mahershala Ali, recognizable (kind of) from Moonlight and some popular TV shows.

Link to film trailer.

3. I finished just one book this week--a collection of poems by Barbara Hamby, a writer I'd not heard of until a couple of months ago when one of her poems--"Penelope's Lament"--appeared in the New York Times Magazine. (Link to that poem.)

I liked it so much that I (a) memorized it, (b) ordered this collection, Bird Odyssey (U of Pittsburgh P, 2018). The last six poems--all sonnets (loosely but artistically formed)--are called, collectively, "The Odyssey in Six Sonnets," and they are my favorite, by far, in the entire volume. (I taught The Odyssey for a couple of years to freshmen at Western Reserve Academy, so, yeah, I'm probably biased.) In these sonnets I love how she blends the then with the now: In the one I memorized are references to Charlie Chan and Huck Finn; the one about Circe mentions a double-D cup!

I enjoyed some of the non-Odyssey poems, as well, but some were just a bit beyond me--or, more accurately, I didn't have the patience to slow down and figure them out. My bad.

4. Joyce and I finished streaming two great things on Netflix ...

     - The Bodyguard is a six-parter about an Afghan-war-stressed veteran assigned as a bodyguard in London to the Home Secretary, whose views on domestic surveillance are, to say the least, not popular with many. The opening episode, where our fractured hero deals with a bomb threat on a train, is really good, and you mustn't forget it as the episodes proceed.

I found the middle episodes a bit ... dull (lots of sexual rolling around in bed), but the intensity was evident throughout--which is why it took me forever to watch them all. (This Old Soul cannot "take" of lot of intensity these days.)

     - The second was the new Coen Bros.' film on Netflix, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, which we (pretty much) enjoyed all the way. It comprises six stories (one of which is Jack London's All Gold Canyon--not my favorite of the six, I fear--nor was the final one, whose ending I saw coming too soon--spoiled the effect). But what a pair of filmmakers those guys are! Joyce and I watched all their films in order a year or so ago--great fun. Would do it again.

Okay, one virtue of the final episode: It was almost all talking--a rarity in films today. I did enjoy that aspect of it!

BTW: Bill Heck, the cousin of one of Joyce's dear former students, played Billy Knapp in "The Girl Who Got Rattled" segment. He was the wagon train guide who fell in love with Zoe Kazan along the way--gave such a solid, convincing performance. Emotional, too.

5. Last Word--a word I liked this week from one of my online word-of-the-day providers:

     - from wordsmith.org

velutinous (vuh-LOO-tuh-nuhs): adjective: Soft and smooth like velvet.
from Latin velutum (velvet). Earliest documented use: 1826.
USAGE: “The rope was painfully soft, as velutinous as a cat.”

Olivia Hardy Ray; Annabel Horton, Lost Witch of Salem; Bublish; 2011.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

I'm Once Again in Love with Sleep

I don't remember if I slept a lot as a baby. Based only on the way my late mother looked at me, I'm guessing I did not. But at least she had some help. When I was born in November 1944, Dad was off in Europe (World War II--and, yes, you dirty-minded folk, he had been home nine months earlier), and Mom, my older brother (by three years), and I were living upstairs in my Osborn grandparents' house in Enid, Okla.: 1609 E. Broadway Ave. (Upstairs, we were 1609 1/2.)

So ... if I didn't sleep, Mom had some help, right downstairs.

Our own son had some sleeping problems early in his life--and I still remember the Absolute Heaven when he slept through the night for the first time. I'd feared that Joyce and I would never again have a full-night's sleep.

We rotated responsibility for him in the night. Joyce would feed him; I would; Joyce would; etc. But one night when it was my turn, I was just Too Damn Tired, and I let him cry a little. He stopped. I crept in and peeked: He was back asleep again! And he never again failed to sleep through the night. This ranks right up there with the greatest gifts ever!

When I was an adolescent, of course, sleeping was as easy as breathing. My parents often let me sleep in on Saturday (better than having me awake, roaming around the house and complaining about how boring Life is!). I could easily sleep till noon.

As I could in college.

As I could during my early years of teaching (my career began in the fall of 1966). On one Saturday, early in my career, before I was married, I slept until four in the afternoon!

Joyce and I married in December 1969, and we both were pretty good at sleeping in on weekends.

Years passed. And both Joyce and I became Early Birds. (My dad had predicted this would happen to me; I scoffed as only an adolescent can scoff.)

By the time I retired (June 2011), I was getting up every morning at 5:10 (no alarm necessary), arriving at 6 at Caribou Coffee, heading then up to school (a walk of about 3/4 of a mile), getting organized and whatnot an hour or so before classes started.

But things had changed.

One consequence of my prostate surgery in June 2005 was some tinkering with my urinary tract, a tinkering that has meant, since that June day, that I must "go" when I get the first message from Down There. And the messages have come ever more frequently as the years have marched along.

I now am up, oh, a half-dozen times a night.

I can usually get right back to sleep. But not always. Sometimes I lie awake from, oh, 2:30-4--or from 3:30 to my customary get-out-of-bed time, 5:45 a.m.

Last night was one of those nights--awake for about an hour and a half in the depth of night. Mind racing. Regrets competing for dominance in my consciousness. Worries.

I don't dare take a sleeping pill of some kind. (My bladder would not understand.)

Sometimes, I'm able to nap an hour in late morning (a remedy I'm going to attempt as soon as I finish this post!). But that doesn't always work. Sometimes, I'm so tired that I'll sleep away an hour or so in the afternoon instead of going to the health club. (I despise working out now--but know I must. Gotta give yourself a chance, you know?)

But here's the thing: I love bedtime now. Look forward to it all day. (Hope Springs Eternal.) It's December, and the thought of warm blankets, talking with Joyce, a good book, streaming something interesting, an increasing drowsiness ...

Anyway, as I'm typing this, my eyelids are drooping. The bed beckons ...

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Scarlet Letters

Today's word-of-the-day from wordsmith.org is eldritch, and, as I just posted on Facebook, I learned that word while reading The Scarlet Letter; it appears in the last sentence of chapter 7:

Pearl, in utter scorn of her mother's attempt to quiet her, gave an eldritch scream, and then became silent; not from any notion of obedience, but because the quick and mobile curiosity of her disposition was excited by the appearance of these new personages.

It was a word, by the way, that I put on my English III vocab list when I was teaching juniors at Western Reserve Academy (2001-2011). I'm positive that they all remember it! As I'm sure they remember every syllable of The Scarlet Letter, a required text for English III.

I don't recall reading that novel when I was in high school or college--but I must have. Okay, let's be more accurate: Some teacher or professor must have assigned it, but as for my actually reading it? Don't think so--as least not too assiduously. Like many other readers, I could not hack my way through the "Custom House" sequence at the beginning. (In my last couple of years of teaching we read this section aloud in class--as certain a soporific as one could find!) Below is a pic of the actual text we used.

And here are a couple of things I noticed, teaching this book for a decade:
  • I remember being shocked when I discovered, reading the book (well, I must have read some of it early on ... right?) that Rev. Dimmesdale was the man who'd impregnated Hester. My grandfather was a minister; my uncle was a minister; my father was a minister. Surely, they would never ... ?!!?
  • The more I taught the book, the more I found myself weeping when Hester urges Dimmesdale to run away--to leave Boston. But the Wimp just whines ... and here's the passage that sent tears into my old-man eyes:
O Hester!” cried Arthur Dimmesdale, in whose eyes a fitful light, kindled by her enthusiasm, flashed up and died away, “thou tellest of running a race to a man whose knees are tottering beneath him! I must die here! There is not the strength or courage left me to venture into the wide, strange, difficult world, alone!”

It was the last expression of the despondency of a broken spirit. He lacked energy to grasp the better fortune that seemed within his reach.

He repeated the word.

“Alone, Hester!”

“Thou shalt not go alone!” answered she, in a deep whisper.

Then, all was spoken!

Thou shalt not go alone. Oh ... love and devotion in so few words ... Then, all was spoken!

There are more things--but, hey, read (re-read) the book yourself; hack your way through the Custom House section; lose yourself in the story. It's hard to believe, I know, but an 1850 novel about New England Puritans can move you.

And let's end all of this with a smile--with some newspaper cartoons that play on The Scarlet Letter--and the first one plays on an allusion to Gone with the Wind!