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LILACS

May 27, 2018

          The lilac bush that shades the back porch is blossoming now and fragrant.
At this time of year I always remember a song I found in an old songbook and used to play on the piano (instead of practicing), “Jeanine, I Dream of Lilac Time.” And Don and I both think of two long poems that involve lilacs. For Don, it’s mainly Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” For me it’s Amy Lowell’s “Lilacs,” which begins:

       Lilacs,
      False blue,
       White,
      Purple,
      Colour of lilac,
      Your great puffs of flowers
       Are everywhere in my New England.

      The other day in an office I saw a vase full of wilted lilacs. A woman nearby also saw them, laughed, and said, “You can’t bring lilacs indoors.” How true. The receptionist said ruefully, “They were beautiful yesterday, and every time the door opened and the breeze came in, the fragrance—”  She gestured around the room. We nodded.
      In our front dooryard, the lilies-of-the-valley are blooming, and I do bring a little bouquet of them indoors to put in a white bud vase.
      The fragrances of spring! Including fly dope. And there are the funny sights. We saw again one that I’ve described before: a chipmunk climbing high high high up into the lilac bush, then running down to jump on the tiny birdbath underneath and slake his thirst after that adventure. A new one: Friday morning when I was looking out the kitchen window for activity around the beaver lodge, I was startled by a very comfortable woodchuck waddling past the lilac bush. Then I realized I didn’t have to panic. This is one of the good things about not planting a vegetable garden anymore! Undisturbed, the woodchuck proceeded across the lawn and under the shed as if Don had built it just for him.
      Amy Lowell writes,

        Lilacs in dooryards
        Holding quiet conversations with an early moon;
        Lilacs watching a deserted house
        Settling sideways into the grass of an old road;
        Lilacs, wind-beaten, staggering under a lopsided shock of bloom
        Above a cellar dug into a hill
        You are everywhere.

Note: Amazon does not yet have copies of the new printing of HENRIETTA SNOW. The new printing is available in the Bookshop section.

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GOING UP BROOK

May 20, 2018

                  Lately we’ve heard the sounds of logging farther along our road, and the other day one of the foresters involved stopped by our house to ask, curious and amused, about the pipes he’d seen in the brook when roaming around the neighborhood’s woods.
                  Don explained the pipes’ history and how they are no longer used by folks in the neighborhood, including us because we’ve stopped planting a large vegetable garden, while I remembered that I’d written a piece about the pipes for the “Ruth’s Neighborhood” section of my website, which Marney had created. I checked my files and found that the piece was dated May 17, 1999. Nineteen years ago this month! I didn’t yet have a computer; I wrote it on my typewriter and snail-mailed it to Marney in California!
                  I thought you might enjoy reading it, either again or for the first time.

GOING UP  BROOK

                  It’s become a rite of spring, getting the pipe in the brook functioning. When we moved here in 1976, I was horrified at the sight of pipes sullying the clear beauty of the brook that runs along our boundary up steeply into the woods behind our house, although I appreciated their history. Brass pipes had long ago supplied our neighborhood farms and houses with gravity-fed water; after a particularly energetic spring freshet had bashed them, they had been replaced with black plastic pipes. In the typical fashion of leaving old farm machinery to rust in barnyards, the brass pipes were left in the brook, and over the years any replaced pieces of the plastic pipes were junked along the banks.
                  As drilled wells superseded dug wells, our neighbors mostly stopped using the pipes. When we bought this house we had a well drilled (Did we ever! The experience is chronicled in A Lovely Time Was Had by All), so we assumed that the pipe for this property would be part of the past, too.
                  Then I planted the new vegetable garden and Don mused, “If there’s enough pressure, it could run a sprinkler.”                  
                  There was. I did not have to lug water all summer.
                  So every spring now we set forth early some morning carrying a bag loaded with tools and fly dope, walking up the brook to discover what winter storms, spring flooding, and beaver dams have done to our pipe. The woods are sunlit yellow-green, the birds are singing, water is splashing over rocks, Indian poke and trilliums have popped out of the forest duff.
                  And there’s Don in Wellingtons, balanced on stones in the middle of the brook, fixing a break in the pipe while like a surgical nurse I hand him implements: the propane torch, a hacksaw, duct tape. His work involves a lot of contented swearing.
                  Up we continue to the top of the waterfall, where the pipe starts, held down in a moss-ringed pool by rocks. Don clears the sieve. He opens a faucet to release air. We walk back down, looking and listening for any leaks we’ve missed.
                  Some years the weather has tossed the pipe like spaghetti. Beavers have created a new pond, burying it. Don fixes and tinkers. Each year when we get back down to our yard we hold our breath as Don turns on the faucet beside the garden. Sometimes nothing happens; back up the brook we go. This year was one of the lucky times, and water gushed forth. Success! Don hooked up the sprinkler.
                  Robert Frost’s poem about going out to clean the pasture spring can be considered a love poem. So is going up the brook.  

Note: Amazon has not yet listed the new printing of HENRIETTA SNOW. The new printing is available in the Bookshop section.

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           THE WEIRS DRIVE-IN THEATRE

May 13, 2018

                    In A Gunthwaite Girl, during a tour of their hometown Snowy and Bev and Puddles stop at the gate bar of the drive-in theater, closed at that time of day. As they sit in Bev’s car observing the scene, Puddles notes that there aren’t any speakers.

                    “Radio,” Bev said. “It’s done via radio nowadays. Roger explained how, but I tuned him out. I miss the speakers. Remember how people would forget they had a speaker in the window and they’d drive away, snapping the cord?”
Puddles said incredulously, “You mean you and Roger still go to this drive-in?”
                    “Once in a while,” Bev replied.
                    “I’ll be damned,” Puddles said. “Well, I’m betting that at your age, you two actually watch the movie.”                                        
                    Bev made her demure-maiden face in the rearview mirror at Puddles, then crossed her eyes. “Mostly. We miss the old cars’ bench seats, though.”

                    Last year Don and I thought that our hometown Weirs Drive-in was a goner. Although we haven’t been to it in decades, our memories are vivid and we mourned its passing. Prematurely. The sale that had been arranged fell through, and a recent headline the Laconia Daily Sun announced that the Weirs Drive-in “Opens for Another Season after Failed Sale.” The owner, who will be eighty in two months, has “mixed feelings about the start of a new season.” She says, “I love the drive-in and I love my customers, but I really kind of wanted to retire.” The drive-in, one of only three left in New Hampshire (I think), is still for sale, for $2.6 million; “the property could be used for a hotel, condominiums, or other mixed retail-commercial development.”
                    The first time my sister and I ever went to a drive-in, it wasn’t this drive-in but one in Alton, another town on Lake Winnipesaukee. Our parents weren’t moviegoers, so Penny and I were surprised and excited when a rerun of a moviethere made them decide to try this newfangled way of watching. The movie was My Little Chickadee with W. C. Fields and Mae West. Those old people? Penny and I fell asleep.
                    The next time I went to the drive-in with my parents, I was more sophisticated, had been to the drive-in on dates, and I had already seen the movie, On the Waterfront,  when it was shown at Laconia’s Colonial Theater. My father was curious about it because the screenplay had been written by Budd Schulberg, a classmate at Dartmouth. I don’t think I fell asleep this time, not with a young Marlon Brando on the screen.
                    Don and I hope the Weirs Drive-in’s owner can retire, but when the Weirs Drive-in does inevitably close we’ll go into mourning again.
                    The Passion Pit!

Note: Amazon has not yet listed the new printing of HENRIETTA SNOW. The new printing is available in the Bookshop section.

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 THE GREEN AND YELLOW TIME

May 6, 2018

                    One day last week when Don came indoors from doing yardwork, he was carrying a bouquet of daffodils.  Daffodils!
                    As I wrote in The Cheerleader, “It was the green and yellow time.” Now, after the false starts in April, spring is here, the lawns are emerald, the lilac buds are a bright crisp green, and yellow daffodils and forsythia are blooming.
                    And on Wednesday, spring leapt ahead to summer. The thermometer hit eighty-five degrees! We all went reeling around, stunned. Only a few days before I had been wearing long underwear (albeit lightweight, silk, not heavy-duty), and now I was wishing I had unpacked our summer clothes. Indeed, people were remarking, “I’ll be unpacking summer clothes this weekend.”
                    The weather has now cooled back down to springtime, but that’s my project this weekend, unpacking summer, putting away winter. While doing this I have reminded myself that it’s been known to snow in May. Some years ago in May, Don and I were en route to Hanover for a book signing at the Dartmouth Bookstore when we encountered a snowstorm on the turnpike. Mercifully, it was brief.
                    More signs of spring are the ferns popping up. By midsummer when they’re thickly lush I can never believe that they were ever this small and pale. But colors elsewhere! In addition to the green and yellow are all the colors of the pansies in gardens and window boxes. Back when the weather was still cold and raw, a friend remarked, “This afternoon I’m going to plant some pansies. Just because I have to.” I understood.
                    And the sounds of spring! Our brook is as loud as a river, pounding down the mountainside. Spring peepers—I’ve written and written about the joy of hearing spring peepers shrilling their little hearts out, so this year I’ll simply say that the pond in our backyard is LOUD.
                    I’ve mentioned the Stumper Questions on Maine Channel 6’s “Morning Report.” On May Day the question was something like “According to legend, what does May Day’s morning dew do?” The multiple-choice answers were (a) Beautify your skin (b) Bring good luck (c) Cure sickness. I guessed the last, but the correct answer is the first. Folklore says, I learned, that if you wash your face with May Day dew, you’ll have a flawless complexion for the entire year. Sharon, one of the show’s hosts, pretended to dash off-camera to roll around in dew.
                    And on these green-and-yellow mornings, I bet we all can feel immersed in springtime.

Note: Amazon has not yet listed the new printing of HENRIETTA SNOW. The new printing is available in the Bookshop section.

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 RECIPE BOX AND NOTEBOOK

April 29, 2018

       Thank you for your thoughts about family recipe boxes. This immediately caused me to revisit my family’s for the first time in a while. One is really a box, a brown wooden file box; the other is a loose-leaf notebook with RECIPES in red on the white (now yellowed) cover.
       My parents set up housekeeping in 1936. So the recipes in the box must date from then; they run through the 1940s, when the notebook took over in the 1950s. One of the divider tabs in the box gives a flavor (!) of the era: it says Chafing Dish. My mother wrote “Cheese” over it, not needing an entire section for chafing-dish recipes. Indeed, there’s nary a card for one in this section, but there’s a cheese soufflé in my grandmother Ruth’s handwriting and other cheese dishes.
       The familiar handwriting! My grandmother’s smooth longhand, my mother’s competent Palmer Method, my father’s scrawl. The familiar names of family—“Graham Bread, Aunt Edith”—and of friends and neighbors. In the notebook I rediscovered a portion of a letter from Emma Jean, my mother’s college roommate, with an explanation about a recipe she’d previously sent my mother: “Have been meaning to tell you re: chicken loaf, you don’t need to chill the broth to defat it. It all comes to the top of the gelatine and can be scraped off after it is set.”
       In addition to written-out recipes, there are recipes clipped out of magazines and newspapers and taped to file cards or loose-leaf pages, the tape now yellowed. I don’t remember my mother making most of these recipes, so they were either good intentions (“Humpty-Dumpty Tomatoes,” stacked slices with herbs in between, held together with toothpicks) or just plain daydreams (“Snow-topped Berry Cake,” the “Snow Jelly Icing” consisting of egg whites and “tart jelly” beaten over hot water to become “the color of the sunset glow on a snowfield”). I am extremely glad she never made “Tongue with Mushrooms.” In my early childhood we did have tongue sandwiches—until I suddenly realized it wasn’t a vague word like “bologna” and let out a scream.
       In the Frozen Desserts section of the recipe box my mother put a clipping with Hollywood glamour: “Claudette Colbert’s favorite dessert: Pour one cup of hot milk over twenty marshmallows that have been broken into small pieces. When cool, mix this into a half pint of stiffly whipped cream and a can of crushed pineapple. Place in ice cube compartment for three hours.” During her teens my sister, Penny, used to go through the box and notebook, and she actually made this dessert. Then she copied it out for her own recipe collection.
       While browsing in the notebook I came upon myself. Disconcerting! My mother saved the recipes I sent in my early-married years. I’d typed one (“Macaroni Saute”) on my proud new stationery printed with my “Mrs.” name and the street address of the Keene Teachers’ College married students’ barracks. I realized that over the years I’d forgotten the street number. It gave me a snug feeling to see this address again.
       And to visit again with family and friends through recipes.

 

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   HENRIETTA SNOW, Second Printing
ALSO: FOOD & DRINK POEMS

APRIL 22, 2018

       Henrietta Snow is now back in print and available in the Bookshop section of our website. Copies will also be available on Amazon soon, and we’ll announce that here and on the website.
       National Poetry Month continues, and poems seem ever-present in our daily life even more than usual. One morning last week while I was writing Lazy Beds, Don came up to my garret carrying a treat, a mug of cocoa on a saucer with saltines. And immediately I remembered Christopher Morley’s “Animal Crackers,” which begins:

       Animal crackers, and cocoa to drink,
       That is the finest of suppers, I think.
       When I’m grown up and can have what I please
       I think I shall always insist upon these.

       This led to our remembering other food and drink in poems. First to spring to mind was the steak mentioned in T. S. Eliot’s “Preludes,” a line we’re apt to quote about food aromas:

       The winter evening settles down
       With smell of steak in passageways.
       Six o’clock.

       Next came Edward Fitzgerald’s “Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam”:

       A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
       A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou
          Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
       Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

       And so forth.

       How about a poem about cookbooks? Recently during this month’s posting of poems on our local bulletin board, there was “Pick Me” by Louise Taylor. The biographical note said that when she wrote this, she was renting a house in Sandwich.

       I own one cookbook. Here, the cookbooks
       on the kitchen shelves are lined up
       like friends waiting to be picked
       for the joy of cooking.

       Jacket covers scotch-taped and stained,
       others library-shiny clean. Bindings hang
       like dog’s tongues in the park,
       others are altogether missing.

       Someone has placed little pieces
       of paper between the pages. They signal
l       ike small hands waving in the air—
       Pick me! Pick me!

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   MINISKIRTS AND BELL-BOTTOMS

April 15, 2018

       Recently I was reminded of a scene in one of my early novels, The Cost of Living, set in the late 1960s. Sandra, the older sister of one of the two main characters, Polly, lives with her husband and children in England and comes home to New Hampshire for Christmas. Polly’s friend Jane, the narrator, observes that “[Sandra] was both Christmasy and Swinging London in a little red dress and green stockings, and Polly looked suddenly older in a sweater and culotte, and almost matronly and very tired.”
        The reminder was “Sixties Style,” a fine piece by Elizabeth Howard in the April 5th issue of the Laconia Daily Sun. She writes that that the death of the French couturier Givenchy made her think about “the elegant women he dressed . . . perhaps most notably, Audrey Hepburn.” She describes Hepburn’s clothes in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Two for the Road; in the latter Hepburn also wore a dress by Mary Quant, the British designer.
        Mary Quant means Sixties Style to me, because that’s what I saw when Don and I arrived in England in 1964.
        I remember doing a lot of hemming, shortening my skirts and dresses. I realized that it was a little-girl look, but it was fresh and rebellious. When we got home two years later, I was somewhat ahead of everyday fashion (at least in Laconia) and my short skirts were commented upon.
        After a year came the bell-bottoms challenge. I had dismissed this fashion as a possibility for me; I couldn’t wear them, I wasn’t tall enough, I’d look idiotic. We were living in Dover, NH, when I returned to our apartment from a clothing store’s sale with a pair of plain gray slacks and showed them to Don, who said astonishingly, “Aren’t they kind of ordinary?”
        I said, “You mean I should’ve bought bell-bottoms?”        
        “Why not?”
        Then I remembered that he himself had bravely worn bell-bottoms for two years in the Coast Guard!
        The next day I went back to the store and exchanged the slacks for a pair of bell-bottoms. Pink. And eventually he occasionally was wearing bell-bottoms, civilian-style.
        
         Update: The print run of Henrietta Snow has finished. We’ll announce here and on our website when the books have shipped and are in stock and orders are being accepted.
        
        For National Poetry Month there are postings of poems on our local online bulletin board. Here’s a poem that’s new to me, by Paul Scott Mowrer (1887-1971) who won the first Pulitzer Prize for foreign correspondence in 1928. He retired to New Hampshire and became the state’s poet laureate.

               From Two Songs for Music

            Robin, robin, back at last,
            Shall I tell you what has passed
            Out of doors and in my breast
            Robin, since you left your nest?

            Since you left us here alone,
            Winter wild has come and gone;
            But the blizzard had no smart
            Like the storm that shook my heart.

            Robin, dear, now you have come,
            All is gladness: welcome home!
            Now I know what makes you sing:
            You have brought both love and spring.

 

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   THE POOR MAN'S FERTILIZER

APRIL 7, 2018

      Last Wednesday at the dump, Don and I were complaining to a friend about the snow in the forecast and the friend remarked, “But the old farmers called snow ‘the poor man’s fertilizer.’”
         We remembered that we’d heard about this, farmers welcoming snow because of the nutrients it brought to the soil during melting. So, we three concluded, trying to look on the bright side, there was this positive aspect to the upcoming April snowstorm.
         Looking on the bright side! Necessary more than ever, with people getting testy after too much winter, even on our usually good-natured local online bulletin board. Recently, when a resident posted a warning about how bad the ruts were on one particular road, another resident scoffed something like, “Mud in the spring, that’s a surprise?” Other people chimed about the inevitability of mud in mud season, until another person asked if this wasn’t a purpose of the board, to alert people to road conditions or bears awake and raiding birdfeeders, etc.
         And right afterward came a post from two other people warning that ticks had arrived: “I found one on my dog!”
         On Friday the poor man’s fertilizer fell from the sky. I thought of farmers—and the chicken farm on which I spent my first three years. I remember long grasses taller than I was and the sound of a rooster crowing. I don’t remember snow, but as I wrote in The Lilting House, “there was the farm, and in the winter they say snow piled high around the house and Daddy tells of how on my birthday in March Mother took me into the big bed to keep warm and we stayed there all day and she read me stories.”
         By yesterday afternoon some of the snow had melted and a flock of robins had appeared in our backyard!
         Since this is National Poetry Month, here’s an excerpt from e.e. cummings’s  springtime poem with mud:
         In Just-
         spring       when  the  world  is  mud-
         luscious the little
         lame balloonman

         whistles     far     and      wee

 

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   THE GALLOPING GOURMET

April 1, 2018

      

      “What’s Old Is New: Retro Cookbooks on the Rise”: That’s the title of a recent Publishers Weekly article, which says that there’s now a “strong nostalgic trend in many parts of our culture” including food. Dishes such as Baked Alaska, Oysters Rockefeller, and Steak Diane are making a comeback.
      And so are the Galloping Gourmet’s recipes. In May The Graham Kerr Cookbook, published in 1966, will be reissued as “part of a larger project, the Lee Bros. Classic Library, a curation of vintage cookbook reissues by Matt and Ted Lee.” The brothers say that his recipes seem “ahead of their time.”
      The Galloping Gourmet! I learned more about cooking from Graham Kerr than from Julia Child because of our TV reception. In our Dover, NH, apartment, I could hardly get the PBS channel clearly enough to see Julia; I can’t remember which channel Graham’s Galloping Gourmet show was on from 1969 to 1971, but it came in much clearer—and there he was dashing, onto the screen, being so British and funny. I was charmed. I watched the show faithfully. My sister, Penny, and I exchanged gifts of his favorite kitchen utensils, a scooper scraper and a spurtle. We still use them.
      His dishes came from around the world, but particularly from England. I thought I knew about British dishes with intriguing names (Toad-in-the-Hole) from reading novels, but he introduced me to others such as Cornish and Devon pasties called Priddy Oggy and Tiddy Oggy. And what fun he had with Spotted Dick!
      The dish I made most often was one he created for New Zealand, Scallops Whakatane. In clarified butter (he used a lot of that), you sauté spring onions, green pepper, mushrooms, chopped tomatoes. In another skillet with more clarified butter you sauté the scallops and add lemon juice. Then make it pretty, arranging the vegetables around a serving dish and putting the scallops in the middle.
      Penny preferred one of his chicken dishes, the name of which we can’t remember. As Penny said, “It takes three pans and is a bit of work, but it is divine.” Bone the chicken breasts (the GG, as we called him, pounded them with his Chinese chopper; Penny used a rolling pin) and skin them. Roll them in flour, then in an egg mixed with oil, and then in breadcrumbs mixed with Parmesan cheese. Saute in clarified butter. In another pan, sauté sliced mushrooms in clarified butter. In the third pan, saute spinach in clarified butter with nutmeg. On a serving dish place the spinach. On the spinach put the chicken. On the chicken spread the mushrooms.
      At the end of each show, when the GG set out the finished dish, he always said, “Just for you.”

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  THE OLD COUNTRY STORE

March 25, 2018

      The inspirations for Snowy’s Woodcombe General Store are many, going back to my childhood, when on our way to visit my grandmother Nana (my father’s mother) across the state in Orford, New Hampshire, we’d often stop at a little store in the village of Rumney. My father was fond of it as part of his history, his trips to and from Orford—and speaking of history, I’ve Googled and learned that it’s been a general store since 1865. Penny (my sister) and I are trying to recall what we were treated to during these stops. A Hershey bar? I do remember that I wrote a little story about the store but I can’t remember the details.
      All this came to mind last week when a yen for real old-fashioned cheese made Don and me stop at the Old Country Store in nearby Moultonborough. This store is even older than Rumney’s; indeed, having been a store since 1781, it’s one of the oldest in America and maybe the oldest. The crooked floors lead you meandering from room to room, starting with penny candy and ending—well, do they ever end? T-shirts, pajama bottoms, guidebooks, jams and jellies, kitchen gadgets, millions of things to browse amongst. Snowy’s store of course is much smaller and isn’t just for tourists, it’s there for the everyday needs of the town, but she does have the pickle barrel and the wheel of Cheddar.
      Back in the 1950s, one section of the Old Country Store was turned into an ice-cream parlor (with sandwiches, etc.), and I got a job waitressing there. I think I only lasted a week but it seemed longer. The car-pooling travel from Laconia to Moultonborough was a problem—and then came the final straw, which I’ve written about before. One evening when the short-order cook and I were working alone and the parlor had emptied and we were about to start closing, in came a group of happy-go-lucky summer people and they all ordered banana splits. I quit the next day and found a job as a hostess at a Laconia restaurant.
      My imagination blended these and many other general stores and country stores into Snowy’s. In the new sequel, Lazy Beds, we’ll learn more about the history of the Woodcombe General Store.

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INDEX

March, 2018

The Old Country Store

April, 2018

The Galloping Gourmet
The Poor Man's Fertilizer
Miniskirts and Bell-Bottoms
Henrietta Snow, Second Printing; Food & Drink Poems
Recipe Box and Notebook

May, 2018

Lilacs
Going Up Brook, revisited
The Weirs Drive-In Theater
The Green and Yellow Time,