December 9, 2018

             Last week on Maine’s Channel 6 program “207” (the number is Maine’s telephone area code), there was a segment about the making of L.L.Bean boots. In 1911, L.L.Bean had come up with a solution to the problem of cold wet feet in regular boots: he put a leather upper on a waterproof rubber sole. Simplicity itself. One of the program’s hosts, Amanda Hill, went to the factory and participated in the procedure, following a boot from the “seven basic stitching steps” to the finished product.
             I grew up with L.L.Bean boots; that is, my father had a pair and wore them a lot, in the yard, in the garden, walking in the woods and hunting. The original name was Maine Hunting Shoe, but I think almost everyone called them L.L.Bean boots. Nowadays it’s been shortened to Bean Boots.
             And when my father wore out the soles, he sent the boots back to the company in Freeport, Maine, and they returned them with new soles. He used to quote the catalog’s admonition, “Throwing away a pair of Maine Hunting Shoes is like throwing away a five-dollar bill.”
             There are a couple of pairs of L.L.Bean boots in our household, Don’s and mine. We ordered our first pairs in the early 1960s, a careful purchase with savings from Don’s schoolteacher salary. My sister and are recalling that back then there weren’t women’s sizes so you bought smaller ones. The company asked all customers to send traced outlines of their feet with their orders, for accuracy. Needless to say, Don did meticulous outlines of his feet and mine. How delighted we were when our boots arrived! We were living up in the mountains in Lisbon, NH, and with L.L.Bean boots we felt we were settling properly into country life.
             We and my father were taken aback when, in 1980, The Official Preppy Handbook was published and L.L.Bean boots became “in.” But that didn’t stop us from wearing them.
             And lately I’ve been wearing mine in winter, instead of my snowboots, when snow is followed by rain.

             On another subject, but still something I saw on TV last week:
             Question: Which generation has moved less?  A reporter showed a chart and read off the list of generations: “Millennials,” he said, “Generation X, Baby Boomers, and”—pause—“the Silent Generation.” Another pause. He added in a puzzled tone, “I’m not familiar with that term.” You can imagine how I reacted to this comment. Hey, that’s my generation! (Not to mention my working title for The Cheerleader while I was writing it!) Well, I then told myself, I guess the Silent Generation is still silent.  But later I Googled “generations” and to my surprise I saw that one of the names for Generation Z, those born from 2000 to the present, is “the new Silent Generation.”
             Oh, the answer to the question. The earlier generations moved more; the millennials have moved less.

© 2018 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


December 2, 2018

             During last week’s snowstorm, we got more than a foot of heavy wet snow in Sandwich. As the snow kept coming down, I looked out windows at the lilac bushes bent over, at tree branches sunk into the snow drifts—and then I realized that the snow had also brought down the clothesline. It’s the reel type, hooked to the side of the house at one end and to a tree at the other. It still remained hooked to the house; the rest of the line had disappeared under the snow.
            And I was reminded of the last time the clothesline had come down. I wrote about this in 2006 for our website’s Ruth’s Neighborhood in a piece I couldn’t resist calling “The End of Our Rope.” Here it is.

     I don’t usually leave clothes overnight on the clothesline, but one evening in late October after a hectic day I said the hell with them.  Early the next morning we saw a large beaver emerging from the pond out back and purposefully lumbering (I choose this verb with deliberation) under the clothesline into the woods behind the toolshed.
     Then through the trees we saw that the beaver was cutting down a sapling very near the shed. The woods around our lawn have been depleted since the beavers moved in, but Don has protected the trees we really want spared by wrapping wire mesh around their trunks.
     Mesmerized, we watched the beaver at work, fearing the sapling would hit the shed when it toppled. It didn’t. As the beaver began dragging it out, wrestling it through the underbrush, waddling back to snip off a couple of snagged branches, we worried next about the clothesline. Would the remaining branches reach up far enough to become entangled? If they did, would the pressure pull the hook out of the side of the house or maybe pull part of the house out?
     The beaver got the sapling safely under the clothesline and dragged the trunk into the pond, then swam with it to the outskirts of the lodge where the beaver family has been storing their winter food supply. This sapling joined the larder. The beaver lived up to its “busy” adjective by immediately swimming back, taking the same route under the clothesline, and harvesting another sapling. Then, at nine a.m., it retired for a well-earned good day’s rest.
     We retrieved the laundry. While I put everything in the dryer, Don pondered what might happen when the beaver returned again during the night or early the next morning. He decided that the trees that could do real harm if they fell on the shed or clothesline were those already protected by wire mesh. So he simply unhooked the clothesline from the house, leaving it lying on the grass, attached at the tree end, ready to be rehooked when I needed it.
     The next morning he looked out the kitchen-sink window and shouted (appropriately), “Damn!”
     I rushed to the window. The beaver wasn’t there but obviously had been. The clothesline was floating in the pond at the edge of the lawn.
     Don said, “I should have unhooked the whole thing and brought it indoors.”
     Outdoors we went. Near the shed were more beaver-cut stumps. The beaver had done another lumbering operation, but this time one of the saplings must have got tangled up in the clothesline.
     Don pulled the clothesline out of the pond. It had been bitten into three lengths.

           Thus the clothesline now under last week’s snow is the new clothesline with which he’d replaced the beaver-bitten one

ek’s snow is the new clothesline with which he’d replaced the beaver-bitten one.

© 2018 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved.


November 25, 2018

             I hope that you’ve had happy Thanksgivings and that weather problems didn’t interfere too much.
             Around here we had a snowstorm on Tuesday and some Thanksgiving-Day record-breaking cold temperatures, but it’s November in the North so we were mostly philosophical, and my sister and niece and stepmother gathered at my house for our first Thanksgiving without Don.
             We’d decided not to cook from scratch and ordered a take-out Thanksgiving dinner from a restaurant. My niece and I brought it home Wednesday; on Thursday she reheated it on and in my stove that has replaced the old Magee, announcing that she was giving the new GE a maiden voyage. This very good meal concluded with a dessert that had been made from scratch; that is, an apple tatin that Penny, my sister, had made and brought. Much discussion ensued about where the recipe had come from. She hadn’t been able to find her old one so had Googled for a new one—had the original been a Silver Palate Cookbook recipe or ? You no doubt know this type of fascinating rambling food discussion.
             During it, I thought also of the culinary delight I’d been introduced to at supper the night before when, with the hamburgers she’d made, my niece served a chopped onion mixed with mayonnaise to go on or beside them. I’ve used mayo and a sliced onion on burgers, but this chopped mixture was a first.
             Firsts. The season’s early snowstorms have caused another first: cleaning snow off a vehicle without Don. This house doesn’t have a garage. Usually Don and I divvied up the post-snowstorm chores: He cleaned off the car and truck and used the snowblower on our two driveways and the main path, while I shoveled the other paths and the woodpile area and the bulkhead. Sometimes I cleaned off the truck for him.
             Nearly six years ago we sold the truck, so there was only one vehicle to clean off. A friend began plowing the driveways. Now I clean the car off the best I can and do a prudent amount of shoveling, and the friend does the rest. And I remember the years when I could climb nimbly up into the bed of our Ford Ranger, shovel it out, and tell Don triumphantly, “The truck’s done!”

©2018 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved.


November 18, 2018

             I’ve mentioned Bayswater Books before, the enchanting bookstore in Center Harbor where I’ve done signings over the years. A while ago when a used book section was opened on its second floor, Michelle, the owner, and her staff made a fun discovery in these books: the items that people have used as bookmarks and left behind, forgotten.
            These items are written about entertainingly in “Find of the Week on the Used Book Floor” on the bayswaterbooks.com blog and in the Meredith News. A recent discovery in an autographed copy of Jim Lehrer’s No Certain Rest was a jotted note-to-self headed “What should I make for dinner?” and followed by a list of ideas that included “Mom’s couscous” and “Lara’s broccoli pasta.”
            All this got me thinking about our bookmarks. Don and I seemed to accumulate and collect them, keeping them stashed in our desks and beside reading chairs.
            There are bookmarks from the Sandwich and Laconia libraries. A faded one is from the Rochester, NH, library, which we went to in the early 1970s. From a Bayswater book-signing event a few years ago for friend and journalist Shirley Elder Lyons, I have a bookmark showing the cover of her book about our local hiking group, The Over the Hill Hikers and How They Grew . . . and Grew . . . and Grew.
            I’m fond of pretty plastic plant markers and can’t bear to throw some of them away when their original use is over. So I wash off the dirt and use them for bookmarks, Nonstop Pink Tuberous Begonia, Bruschetta Basil, etc.
Some bookmarks are presents. One is from Jefferson, NH, where my stepmother lives. My sister gave me a set of bookmarks of illustrated Emily Dickinson poems, including:

            It’s all I have to bring to-day,
            This, and my heart beside,
            This, and my heart, and all the fields,
            And all the meadows wide . . .

            Penny also gave me a set of cookbook bookmarks with quotes from chefs, gourmets, and gourmands, including Miss Piggy, who is quoted thus: “Never Eat More Than You Can Lift.”
            Then there are the souvenir bookmarks I bought when Penny and I visited England twenty-eight years ago, lovely leather bookmarks from places such as the Forest of Dean, Chipping Campden, Stow-on-the-Wold, Bibury, Moreton-in-Marsh. Oh, the memories! One of the bookmarks is too precious to use in case it might get lost (and end up in a used book section of a bookstore?). It’s from the gift shop in Jane Austen’s Chawton house.

©2018 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved.


November 11, 2018

              When dealing with mice in the house, Don was usually swearing at them, but occasionally he’d break into verse, quoting from Robert Burns’s “To a Mouse: On Turning Up Her Nest With the Plough, November 1785”:

Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!


              Recently the panic was in my breastie when I realized I was faced with another of the little first-time milestones I’ve been encountering. This one was the first dead mouse I had to cope with on my own.
              At the Old Fogeys’ Lunch last Wednesday, a popular topic was the invasion of our homes by mice at this time of year. Over shepherd’s pie, people discussed different methods of trapping. The method in our household changed a year or so ago from regular traps to, upon the suggestion of a friend, “bait stations.” Squeamish, I hadn’t paid close attention to Don’s details. I listened more closely to the Wednesday discussion.
              And I wished that throughout the years I hadn’t been Blondie standing on a chair shrieking for Dagwood to come tend to a mouse.
              Don had really got serious about invasions of the car. At one time it was so full of set traps that, if he forgot to fix them before we left the driveway, the car would resound with SNAP SNAP SNAP as we went around a corner. Nonetheless, mice did manage to chew up some of the car’s wiring. Costly!
              So: back to me one morning discovering a dead mouse on the dining-room floor. Blondie without Dagwood. I told myself that I had climbed Mount Washington, New Hampshire’s highest mountain. I could dispose of a poor wee mouse. But it wasn’t the same!
              I fetched a dustpan and a whiskbroom. I did it.
              When I reported this milestone to Penny, she said, “I yell during the process. That helps.”
               I’ll try that next time.

© 2018 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


November 4, 2018

             Last week I bade farewell to our kitchen range. It was a Magee, a cooking stove and a space heater; it was old when we got it and it has given us hot food and a warm ell for thirty-three years. But recently a propane leak was discovered in it, so, alas, it was condemned. During Penny’s visit the previous week, one of our errands was shopping for a new stove.
Back in January 2012, I wrote a piece for “Ruth’s Neighborhood” titled “Neighborhood Stoves.” It was about the Magee, and here’s an excerpt:

The house we moved into in Sandwich in 1976 consisted of a small shack built in the 1920s (judging by the newspapers we found for insulation in the ceiling), onto which in the 1960s a Cape had been built by new owners . . . The shack, which had become an ell after the addition of the Cape, contained the house’s plumbing, and for heat as well as for cooking there was a big cast-iron range that had been converted to oil from wood . . .

            Other houses in our neighborhood had normal kitchen stoves, but three of our neighbors—the Jacksons, Marcia Farley, and Lib Kennedy—had a white enamel gas range that served as a space heater in their kitchens. The lettering on the stoves said that they were made by Magee. The first time we saw one of these stoves, which happened to be the Jacksons’, we were seized by Magee-stove envy.
            In 1985 the Jacksons sold their house and moved to a retirement home. The new owners moved in, and we all introduced ourselves. It didn’t occur to Don and me to ask what they were going to do with the Magee, because we assumed they would want to keep such a treasure. Then one day Don happened to notice while driving past that they had lugged the Magee out of the house to the barn as if they were going to get rid of it. He overcame the Yankee diffidence in his soul and swung into their driveway, jumped out of his pickup, and banged on their door to inquire. Yes, they said, they were redoing the kitchen and replacing the stove with a modern one. No, we couldn’t buy it from them; they would give it to us for taking it away and saving them a trip to the dump!
            So, with help from friends, we loaded it into the pickup and brought it down to the road to its new home. Don took it all apart, cleaned every single inch, and reassembled it in the kitchen.

            And then last week, it left the kitchen, lugged out to their van by the two young men from a Laconia appliance store who’d brought and installed the gleaming new GE stove. Because the new stove doesn’t have the dual purpose of the old one, I also had to buy a small space heater for the ell.
            Farewell, Magee.

© 2018 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


October 28, 2018

             Sistering. I’ve written before about first hearing Don use “sister” as a verb while talking with a carpenter about something-or-other. When I asked him if I’d heard correctly, he explained that it means putting one board beside another for support.
             What a great term! And what a great title it would be! I made a note, and eventually I used it for the title of a murder mystery involving two sisters as amateur detectives. I sent a partial first draft to my agent, who liked the draft but not enough to encourage me to continue. However, the term has continued to be special to me.
             Penny, my sister, was here last week, a very therapeutic visit. I had been feeling daunted by too many household repairs, decisions, etc., things going wrong. When such things accumulate and one more problem strikes, Penny calls that final one “And then the cat threw up on the rug.”
             So we did many errands and made decisions. We took breaks, such as lunch at Hart’s Turkey Farm Restaurant in Meredith, which we’ve known since it was still a farm, with live turkeys to be seen as well as roasted ones. And of course we went to the Village Kitchen. There, our waitress sat down in our booth to talk about Laconia High School and how Penny was a classmate of the restaurant’s owner.
             And Penny introduced me to Netflix! On her iPad, we watched Very British Problems, laughing, laughing.
             My favorite of all our adventures: As we drove past Aubuchon Hardware Store in Moultonborough, Penny spotted their sign advertising a sixty-percent-off sale on shrubs and plants. She didn’t screech to a halt, but I knew we’d be returning after our errands. We did. While I roamed around looking at rosebushes and remembering my caretaking years tending gardens, Penny—a landscape designer—zeroed in on just what she wanted for her yard: a lilac bush about four feet high (so far). Then she couldn’t resist a pink English Daisy and a Lamb’s Ear whose tag said that it produces “plump wands of candy pink flowers.” A clerk helped her wedge her purchases into her little car, where they stayed during the rest of her visit.
             When she did leave for home, as she drove off I waved and waved, loving the sight of Penny with a carful of the lilac bush and the plants for passengers.

© 2018 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


October 21, 2018

             Sears Roebuck, we always used to call it in earlier days, not simply Sears. Sometimes people called it Sears and Roebuck, but we were told that the “and” was incorrect. Either way, or later as Sears, it seemed permanent. Until recent years.
             Nonetheless, although I’d expected the worst, the news of the bankruptcy was an unsettling surprise to me. Hearing this news, did we all experience a rush of memories?
             I did, and I know Don would have. He vividly remembered how his grandmother, his father’s mother, visited the family before Christmas and sat down with the Sears Roebuck catalog on her lap, young Don and his brother on either side of her. She would go through the pages asking her grandsons what they saw that they liked. Oh, temptation! For Don, it was such an exercise in controlled greed that he didn’t recall asking for anything at all. But Sears Roebuck Christmas presents resulted.
             What also impressed him was hearing grown-ups talk about how you could actually buy a house from Sears. A real house!
             I remember being agog over the pages of dolls and their accoutrements. I remember in bewilderment the fascination with Betsy-Wetsy dolls. Then after I studied those pages I’d go on to look at all the other pages. What an education the Sears catalog provided!
             Clothes were bought there too, but by the time we were in high school we girls were looking at Lana Lobell catalogs as well.
             Eventually Don and I stopped using the catalog and went to Sears stores. During the bankruptcy news on TV, I heard that the Sears store in Concord, NH, would remain open. That was where I’d made my last Sears purchase some years ago, in the optician section.
             From dolls to my first bifocals, I’d shopped at Sears.

©2018 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


October 14, 2018

             Last week I went to the fiction section of our bookcases, looking for a copy of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, remembering how I’d written in The Cheerleader:

  • At Christmas, Snowy gave Tom a hardback copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls, trying to educate him, and Tom gave her a heart-shaped gold charm engraved “I Love You.”

             I found the book but hesitated about opening it. I thought I remembered the first lines. Should I reread them and should I reread the entire book or should I let it all remain part of the past?
             What made me curious about it is Paula McLain’s Love and Ruin, a novel about Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway’s third wife. I’ve been listening to the library’s audiobook. I’ve never read Martha Gellhorn’s books or a biography of her and I’ve mainly only known of her as part of Hemingway’s biographies, although in my younger years I had wanted to be like her, a foreign correspondent.
             Me, an intrepid reporter on the frontlines?! As I’ve written about before, that ambition dawned when I was babysitting my Girl Scout leader’s children one evening and began reading a book of my parents’ I’d brought with me, foreign correspondent William Shirer’s Berlin Diary. (Well, later when I tried some journalism I learned I did not have the temperament for domestic—much less foreign—reporting.)
             Martha Gellhorn’s romance with Hemingway began when they were both in Spain to report on the Spanish Civil War. At Bennington, for a paper for a U.S. Foreign Relations course, I decided to write about this war, a prelude to World War II. But did I choose the subject just to have an excuse to reread For Whom the Bell Tolls?
             So that was the second time I read it, and if I decide to reread it now I’ll actually be re-re-reading. I think I may just dip in.
             I liked Love and Ruin. The audiobook’s narrator is January LaVoy, who always does a splendid job. The library’s other recent audiobooks I’ve enjoyed are The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel; The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce, a novel whose protagonist can match music to your needs; and On Brassard’s Farm by Daniel Hecht, a novel set in Vermont that shows how complicated the simple life can be.

©2018 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


October 7, 2018

             There was a lot of hubbub in the house last week. This spring Don and I decided that we finally had to go ahead with a long-overdue project, replacing our old furnace. Then Don’s illness postponed things. Until now.
             We have two driveways, one of which leads to our ell door on the right of the front lawn, the other to the bulkhead on the left. Come Monday morning, I saw a pickup truck pull into the bulkhead driveway. Then a van and a truck arrived to fill up the ell driveway. Wow, I thought, the troops are here. But then I heard a heavier noise approaching, and what arrived next but a lengthy flatbed truck with a crane and a propane tank the size of a blimp. (Oh, I forgot to mention that we’d been advised to replace our oil furnace with a propane.) The pickup guy moved his vehicle onto the road, and the flatbed truck filled the bulkhead driveway. Wow, indeed!
             Soon there were five guys conferring. The guy with the pickup left, and the rest stayed to do the crane maneuver, replacing our smaller tank with the new one, and then the two crane guys left and the two remaining ones set to work.
And thus the project proceeded the following days, with lots of clanging and banging and very polite explanations to me about what was being done. I kept closing my laptop and moving from room to room out of their way. Throughout, I was remembering the only other time I’ve experienced a furnace installation. Without digging back into diaries, I’m recalling that it too happened in October.
When Don took the English-teaching job in the small town of Lisbon, NH, in 1962, we rented a little farmhouse Cape that had no heat except a potbellied woodstove. The woman who lived in the house had died, and her son had inherited it. He’d intended to put a furnace in before he rented it, but we wanted to move in at once, so he let us. By the time he got around to the furnace, school had started and we had settled in.
             And we had acquired a puppy, our border collie we named Heathcliff (ah, English majors!). Heathcliff was six weeks old and brimming with curiosity and vim. So my main memory of that furnace project is keeping him from falling down holes cut in the floor.
             Last week as I shifted my laptop from my office to the dining-room table and then into Don’s office and back again, I was also remembering my office in the Lisbon house, in the room that usually would have been a dining room. Don built the bookcases and my desk, one of those door-on-legs tables. I wrote The Lilting House on my Royal portable typewriter on that desk.

© 2018 Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved