TWO AUDIOBOOKS AND A MAGAZINE
February 23, 2020
I’ve recently listened to the library’s audiobook of A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier who wrote, among other novels, Girl with a Pearl Earring. A Single Thread is about a “surplus woman,” a term I learned long ago in books about the First World War but had forgotten.
As the back of the CD set says, “1932. Since the Great War took both her beloved brother and her fiancé, Violet Speedwell has become a ‘surplus woman,’ one of a generation destined to remain unmarried after the war killed so many young men.” She is supposed to live with her tyrant of a mother, but she makes a break for freedom to Winchester, “home to one of England’s grandest cathedrals,” moves into a boarding house, and gets a job as a typist in an insurance office. She also “falls in with the broderers, a disparate group of women charged with embroidering cushions and kneelers for the cathedral.”
And she meets the group of men who are the bell-ringers at the cathedral. The detailed description of bell-ringing reminded me of Dorothy L. Sayers’s Nine Tailors, which I’ve read approximately a million times and now want to read again.
In A Single Thread the themes of embroidery and bell-ringing demonstrate that “hobbies” can become the most important part of a life.
The audiobook of Making Toast: A Family Story is read by the author, Roger Rosenblatt. It’s a triumph that he could get though reading it aloud as well as writing what E. L. Doctorow describes as “A painfully beautiful memoir . . . Written with such restraint as to be both heartbreaking and instructive.” After listening, I decided I must read it, too. The back cover explains the title: “When Roger’s daughter, Amy—a gifted doctor, mother, and wife—collapses and dies from an asymptomatic heart condition at age thirty-eight, Roger and his wife, Ginny, leave their home on the South Shore of Long Island to move in with their son-in-law, Harris, and their three young grandchildren ... As he marvels at the strength of his son-in-law and the tenacity and skill of his wife, Roger attends each day to ‘the one household duty I have mastered’—preparing the morning toast perfectly to each child’s liking.”
In addition to finding heartbreak and joy in these two books, I’ve also found them in a magazine. A “vintage” magazine. A friend has sent me this treasure: a March 1955 issue of Photoplay! I had never bought a copy of Photoplay, movie magazines being an unheard-of splurge with my allowance, but I eagerly read it when there was a copy at the hairdresser’s or someplace. And now here is this issue, with articles such as “Audrey Hepburn—the Girl, the Gamin and the Star” and “Most Promising Actress of 1955: Grace Kelly, the lass with the delicate air and the sturdy talent.” And the ads: Breck and White Rain shampoos, Mum deodorant, Ipana toothpaste, Midol, Playtex Living Bra, Evening in Paris cologne, Winston cigarettes! Don and I began dating in February 1955, so reading and rereading it is extra-poignant—and great fun.
BATHROBES OR ?
February 16, 2020
My sister and niece visited last week, and one of the subjects we had fun discussing was bathrobes. Thane, my niece, recently bought a new bathrobe, the cozy and soft type of polyester bathrobes that Penny and I have had for several years. Thane chose a white one; Penny’s is baby-sister blue; mine, a present from Thane and Penny, is lavender.
And I told them about this coincidence: my friend Winifred had just e-mailed me about bathrobes and the many names we call this type of clothing. When, Winifred asked, is a bathrobe a bathrobe and when is it a housecoat or a dressing gown or a peignoir or a negligee? Or?
I immediately remembered that our mother always called a bathrobe a “wrapper,” so that’s what Penny and I called it in our youth. Dan, our father, automatically used the word in the manuscript (typed by Ernie, (our mother) of his novel Amos Jackman—and the publisher’s copyeditor questioned it. When Dan told us we were all taken aback. He was amused; Penny and I pondered; Ernie was indignant.
And after Winifred’s e-mail, I pondered again. I use two bathrobes, the lavender one for evening reading and TV, and, for after my morning shower, a shorter cotton lavender one (not terrycloth; I can’t seem to find good terrycloth bathrobes anymore). I call them both bathrobes, but are they, really? As I contemplated the cotton one, another word for bathrobes popped into my mind: duster. This post-shower bathrobe is a duster!
I also remembered that a friend used to call her housecoats, jokingly, Koffee Kasuals.
I reported these thoughts to Winifred. Meanwhile, her daughter Molly (my Facebook manager) had come up with two other terms for bathrobe, kimono and dressing sacque.
This was certainly a fascinating subject!
I asked Penny if she remembered our first wrappers, but, having been so young she didn’t recall what was a wisp of memory for me, the matching full-length plaid winter bathrobes made by our grandmother Ruth. Later came flannel wrappers.
By college I had something more sophisticated, a short bathrobe of heavy cotton, and I called that a duster.
I suddenly wondered if I’d ever had something I could’ve called (but didn’t) a dressing gown or peignoir or negligee. Aha, yes! When we were living in Dover, NH, and I was about thirty, at a nice dress shop I saw a lovely summer bathrobe that was so delicate I usually would have just paused to admire it and then dismissed it as impractical. But it was on sale—and so very lovely. I bought it. And despite its delicacy, it did last for years. I called it a bathrobe, but now I know it was the one dressing gown in my life.
Thank you, Winifred, for the bathrobes subject.
BOOKS SANDWICHED IN
February 9, 2020
Last Monday I went to the “Books Sandwiched In” get-together at the Sandwich library for the first time since Don died.
Other libraries across the country have these book-reviewing programs; ours began in the 1980s, when a Sandwich resident suggested it as one way to combat cabin fever during the winter. (The name of our town added to the fun.) A Sandwich person would choose a book to review or would be asked to review a book, once a month, a different person each time, and everybody would be invited to come to the library’s community room to listen and discuss. The programs would be held on a Monday at noon, and we—the public—would bring a sandwich for lunch afterward; the library would have beverages and dessert. And, because it was winter, if there was a snowstorm the program would be postponed until the following Monday.
Well! Who could resist? I was making mainly pita sandwiches in those days, so I packed a couple of pita sandwiches and Don and I went. I can’t remember who reviewed what book, but I do remember what I myself was reading; having recently discovered E. F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia novels while browsing in the stacks, I was deep in the adventures of Queen Lucia and Miss Mapp. And I was finishing up work on one of my own novels, The Flowers of the Forest.
Last Monday the book was Susan Orlean’s Library Book, which I’d read last year and liked a lot. It was reviewed by Lois Brady, who has been a librarian at the Sandwich and Laconia libraries. She was terrific! After her review and the discussion, card tables were set up. I sat at one with old friends and over our sandwiches (mine not pita bread but gluten-free bread, ye gods, another sign of how many years have passed since those first programs), with the library’s coffee and tea and cookies and brownies, we talked about libraries and local news and our families, the comfortable chitchat of longtime residents remembering.
I remembered the book reviewing that I had been doing back in the 1980s. I wrote here about this three years ago:
“At the outset I mostly reviewed books for the Christian Science Monitor. I had been asked to do a monthly column about first novels; the book editor wanted a novelist for this job. Eventually the newspaper needed the space for other things, and I went on to review for other newspapers, particularly Newsday. I had developed my little rules, such as reading a book twice. If I was choosing the book, I chose one I was pretty sure I’d enjoy. Why waste everybody’s time on a bad review? If I was sent a book by an editor and was disappointed by it, I tried to warn off readers from spending their money buying it but tried to find something positive to say. (“Workmanlike” was a handy adjective.) If I really hated it, I wrote a first draft ranting, and then, having got that out of my system, I wrote a second calmer—and, I hoped, fairer—draft. When Don and I started our caretaking business, I only had time for writing novels, not reviews too, and thus ended my reviewing career.”
And now I’ve rediscovered the pleasures of listening to reviews with friends at “Books Sandwiched In.”
February 2 ,2020
A friend has sent me an Avanti card that has on its front an old photograph of thirty-seven (I counted!) rural mailboxes on three long shelves, trees behind them and a glimpse of a house. The back of the card has the caption: “A Letter Home 1950s.”
It reminded me immediately of the groups of mailboxes Don and I saw when we took boat trips on Lake Winnipesaukee, once on the mail boat, the Sophie C, when I was doing research for A Woman Who Loved Lindbergh (a great excuse for a boat trip). There’s something both businesslike and personal and also hopeful about a mailbox. When there’s a group of mailboxes gathered at a main dock awaiting the mail boat, they seem to be chatting.
One of the new experiences about buying our first house was buying a rural mailbox; the previous owner had got his mail at his store. Our mailbox had to be one of the large ones, in order to hold returned manuscripts (alas), and it had to be set up on the main road because we were the only house on our little dirt road. So jogging or walking for the mail became my daily exercise, weather permitting. I turned this into fiction in Wife and Mother, as Carolyn tries to adjust to life in the boondocks:
She walked for the mail every afternoon except during downpours. The walk to and from the mailbox took half an hour. Sometimes it was a chore but she went anyway because of the exercise. She bought a big canvas shoulderbag in which to carry the mail home—and the litter. The four-wheel drivers who used the road were evidently beer drinkers; she picked up beer cans and six-hole plastic carriers and beer tabs and, cursing the bastards, carried the litter home and put it in the garbage can for John and Alex to take to the dump. One Monday she found an entire Sunday newspaper.
She learned the walk. In the woods on either side, stone walls curved with the land. The stone walls were full of chipmunks who set up a chipmunk chorus as she passed. The halfway point was where a brook had spilled over into a swamp that was covered with scum like green lace. On the way home, there was a flat rock in the road and she always paused on it to look back and get her breath before she climbed the last hill.
Here in Sandwich, our mailbox is near, at the end of the driveway. For extra convenience, Don attached a metal stick to it, one that swings up when the mailbox is opened, so you can tell from the house when the mail has been delivered and thus you don’t trudge through a snowstorm to check in vain.
January 26, 2020
Recently I did some ironing for the first time since—well, so long ago I can’t remember, but it’s been quite a few years.
I was still ironing regularly ten years ago when I wrote about it in “Ruth’s Neighborhood”; indeed, I ended up writing three pieces about laundry, a chore that, I realized, is part of women’s history.
Here are some excerpts:
My mother grew up in Lexington, Mass., so of course she was a Red Sox fan, but she had never really paid attention to the games until she found herself married, listening to the radio while doing the ironing. Baseball games were her favorite distraction from the chore. A predominant sound of summer in my memory and my sister’s is a radio sports-announcer’s voice and the whoop of the crowds . . .
I learned to iron in the bathroom. My mother kept the ironing board set up in the downstairs bathroom off the kitchen, where the washing machine resided (most people didn’t have dryers then) so there was some logic to the location. I later realized how convenient it was, for never afterward did I live anyplace where there was room to leave the ironing board open . . .
. . . as Penny and I progressed into junior high and high school, we did lots of extra work on our clothes, starching our blouses, rolling them up in towels and stowing them in the refrigerator, every Sunday ironing five blouses each for the school week ahead. We stiffened our crinolines with gelatin or starch. A friend later told me, “In Illinois we used starch or sugar, ironed them wide and stored them in a cone-shaped stack in the corner.”
. . . Don’s mother had a mangle, and during his high-school years she pressed his khakis in it as well as sheets and other linens, so his crisp-pressed pants were added to the charms that we girls noticed—and no doubt they helped him be voted Best Dressed in his yearbook, an honor that delighted his mother, who by implication was also honored along with her mangle.
[After reading that, a friend asked, “What’s a mangle?” and in another website piece I replied that the dictionary just defines it as “a machine for ironing laundry by passing it between heated rollers,” so I’d asked Don to explain it.] He said, “It’s a rotating cylinder controlled by the operator, rather like a sewing machine. The iron is a crescent-shaped press brought down upon the material being fed over the rotating cylinder. Wherever the name came from, the items often were mangled.”
[About my introduction to married-life ironing in our married-students’ barracks apartment I wrote:]
On Sundays I tackled this part of domestic bliss, ironing the week’s worth of clothes for Don and me, his shirts and khakis, my blouses and cotton dresses and skirts. To keep from going mad, I listened to LP record albums and even found a radio station that played old programs I’d listened to in my childhood, “The Lone Ranger” and such.
. . . Days of yore. From my grandmother’s house I still have a couple of the old iron flatirons that women had to heat on stoves. One I use as a doorstop, and the other is a bookend on my desk. My gaze falls upon the latter more often than the former, but I’m usually not really seeing either, and then suddenly at my desk I realize with a jolt what the bookend is, its history, and I see women through the ages working at this chore.
THE CUP & CRUMB
January 19, 2020
Earlier this month, inthe Laconia Daily Sun and the Meredith News two headlines grabbed my attention: “Baking show finale a real cliff-hanger” and “Local baker applauded at ‘Holiday Baking Championship’ viewing party.”
I read on and in Adam Drapcho’s article in the Laconia newspaper I learned that Jennifer Clifford, the head baker at Moultonborough’s coffee-shop and bakery with the delightful name of the Cup & Crumb, had been a contestant in the Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship and in the final episode “came up just short of winning the grand prize. She succeeded, however, in representing her hometown with distinction and proved that a self-taught baker from a small town in New Hampshire can hang with professionals who have far more impressive resumes.”
He added, “Clifford never sought fame. A Food Network representative reached out to her, after taking notice of her work on Instagram, to invite her to take part in the show.”
The viewing party for the final episode was held December 30th at the Moultonborough Community Auditorium. Erin Plummer in the Meredith newspaper wrote that “Even though she didn’t win the finale, Clifford was the star of the Moultonbough viewing party. Members of the audience were holding signs saying ‘We love Jen’ . . . As the show was already filmed [in July], Clifford was required to keep strict secrecy . . . She said keeping the secret of who won was difficult.”
Also difficult was the last challenge of the competition. As Drapcho wrote, the finalists had to “bake a cake that was plaid, both inside and out,” and it had to match the colors of the blankets that were distributed. Jennifer Clifford accomplished this but in her last maneuvers the cake began to break apart. “Clifford, who in previous episodes had proven her ability to improvise under pressure, made a chocolate ganache she could use as a kind of cement to hold the cake together.”
Wow! I was particularly impressed because I have trouble concentrating in the kitchen even doing everyday meals if even a family member is present. (Early on in our marriage, Don realized he didn’t have to offer to help.) Cooking on national television, Jennifer Clifford kept her concentration!
Jennifer Clifford’s courage and achievement made me resolve to be brave and finally go to the Cup & Crumb in its new home. Don and I had enjoyed stopping in at its previous home, a tiny place with only a couple of tables, armchairs, barstools—and a serious coffee selection and a beautiful array of goodies. Since it moved down the road to a larger place, I haven’t dared go in for fear I’d get weepy.
Last Tuesday I pulled into the new parking lot and started laughing. A sign beside the Cup & Crumb’s door said: “Congratulations, You Made It Out of Bed!”
Indoors, the place was indeed somewhat larger but had the same snug feeling and dark-brown aroma of coffee. And the delicious display. I wasn’t up to brunching alone there yet, I’ll wait to go with Penny during one of her visits, but to take home I chose an almond croissant and an oatmeal-cherry bar.
January 12, 2020
I expect that you too were inundated with catalogs during the holiday season. (I do still prefer the look of the old “catalogue” spelling, but I’ve yielded to the trimmed version.) Their arrivals kept reminding me of catalogs that have been or still are part of my life.
Starting with Sears Roebuck. Basic household items were bought from Sears (as well as actual houses!), but I daydreamed over girls’ clothes, learning what was in style, and, when the Christmas catalog came, over dolls. As for Don, I wrote here a couple of years ago that he “vividly remembered how his grandmother 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 gifts resulted.”
By high school, my best friend and I had graduated from studying Sears clothes to those in the Lana Lobell catalog. I couldn’t resist putting it into The Cheerleader:
Julia said, “I guess we’d better mention Bev’s birthday. She wants that dress in the Lana Lobell catalog?”
[Snowy replied,] “Yes, the mattress-ticking dress.”
I’m recalling that my best friend did purchase that dress in high school. And I definitely remember that when Don and I were married by a justice of the peace in an apartment over a grocery store in Bennington, Vermont, I was wearing a Lana Lobell dress bought for more formal attire at college, light wool little-blue-green plaid.
There was the Montgomery Ward catalog occasionally, but it was like a stranger, not so familiar. However, I did buy our first dining table and chairs from it, blond “Danish Modern,” which Don assembled in our apartment in the Keene Teachers’ College married students’ barracks.
The Miles Kimball catalog had so many interesting things! I bought our first toothbrush holder. And wasn’t that where, for years, my whole family got boxes of stationery with our names and addresses printed in blue?
Later came the Tog Shop catalog; I bought a bath towel with an elasticized edge so you could wear it after a shower. The Lillian Vernon catalogs were packed so full of such a variety of stuff that I can’t remember what I did buy, but I know I must have. Also, the Walter Drake catalogs.
And throughout my life, the L.L.Bean catalogs. My first purchase involved saving up my twenty-five-cents-a-week allowance to send for, with my mother’s help, a birthday present for my father, a knife to cut open the fish he caught. (Price: $1.25.) My latest purchases were two T-shirts and a chamois shirt to refresh this winter’s wardrobe.
The Vermont Country Store catalogs have been around a long time, and nowadays I study them more thoroughly because they cater to—ahem—senior citizens. When the battery in my wristwatch gave out last fall, I said the hell with struggling with batteries again and found in their catalog just what I wanted: a wind-up watch from my past.
January 5, 2020
In recent audiobook-listening, I’ve been traveling near and far.
Richard Russo’s latest novel, Chances Are, is about three men who were best friends at their Connecticut college in the 1960s. They get together again all these years later for a weekend at the Martha’s Vineyard cottage that belongs to one of them, the cottage where they last were together for a weekend after graduation. There are shared memories, but also secrets and a mystery. As the back of the audiobook CD says, “Russo reveals how friendship—a tiny community within this insular island’s larger society—is as strong as any other tie that binds.”
So I traveled to that setting, Martha’s Vineyard, in the book and in my own memory. My mother’s best friend, Sally, and Sally’s husband lived year-round on Martha’s Vineyard, in Chilmark, where Russo’s fictional cottage is located. After my mother’s death, Sally stayed in touch with my father, and after he died, I took up the correspondence. She invited Don and me to come stay in their guest cottage. Thus we visited Martha’s Vineyard—a very different sort of island from the Maine islands we knew!
Rediscovering Travel: A Guide for the Globally Curious is written by Seth Kugel, who was the New York Times’s “Frugal Traveler” from 2010 to 2016. The back of the CD says, “Woven through with vivid tales of his perfectly imperfect adventures, Rediscovering Travel explains—often hilariously—how to make the most of new digital technologies without being shackled by them. For the tight-belted traveler and the first-class flyer, the eager student and the comfort-seeking retiree, Kugel shows how we too can rediscover the joy of discovery.”
Remembering instances of this joy, I looked up one of them in the journal I kept when Penny and I went to England in 1990 and spent three weeks in the Cotswolds, mainly visiting famous gardens. We stayed in three “self-catering cottages” in three different towns, the last week in Chipping Campden, where I bought a walking guidebook, Campden Town Trail. We set off to the High Street and followed the trail and saw the historic sights, but then our attention was caught by a sign on a house saying that its garden was open, for Autistic Society donations. We looked at each other. A private garden! Bravely, we made a spontaneous decision to depart from the guidebook. We went in. Later that day I wrote, “We walked through a front room (doors to rooms off it closed—and locked?—but the staircase was open) out the back into an amazing garden about 150-feet to 200-feet long, Penny estimated, where other people strolled and admired too. Plants, apple trees, serenity behind the High Street hubbub.”
Then at the Old Bake House “we had tea and a ‘cream slice’ and a scone with strawberry jam. Paying, Penny glimpsed out back a sign she wished she could steal for Don:
It’s a Great Day.
Watch Some Bastard Spoil It.”
And, reading the journal entry, I burst out laughing over this sign, which was definitely so Don!
ARCHIVES INDEX 2020
January - (March) 2020
Audiobook Travels (January 5)
Catalogs (January 12)
The Cup & Crumb (January 19)
IIroning (January 26)
Mailboxes February 2)
Books Sandwiched In February 9)
Bathrobes or ? February 16)
Two Audiobooks and a Magazine February 23)
ARCHIVES INDEX 2019
OCTOBER -- DECEMBER) 2019
Pumpkin Spice (October 6)
Houseplants, New and Old (October 13)
Pumpkin Regatta (October 20)
An Over-the-Hill Celebration (October 27)
Joy of Cooking (November 3)
The First Snow (November 10)
Louisa and P.G. (November 17)
In the Dentist's Waiting Room, Again. (Nov. 24)
Portsmouth Thanksgiving. (December 1)
Phyliss McGinley and Mrs. York (December 8)
Marion's Christmas Snowball, Again (Dec. 15)
Christmas in the Village (Dec. 22)
Christmas Weather (Dec. 29 )
JULY -- SEPTEMBER 2019
The Lot (July 7)
This and That, Again (July 14)
Out of Reach (July 21)
Maine Foods (July 28)
Summer Scenes (August 4)
Old Home Week (August 11)
Sawyer's Dairy Bar (August 18)
Reunions (August 25)
Maine Woods and Matchmaking (Sept 1)
New Hampshire Apple Day (Sept 8)
Castles and Country Houses (Sept 15)
Shakespeare and George (Sept 22)
Wildlife (Sept 29)
APRIL - JUNE, 2019
National Poetry Month, 2019 (April 7)
National Library Week, 2019 (April 14)
Dorothy Parker Poem (April 21)
Spring Is Here! (April 28)
Department Stores (May 5)
Archie (May 12)
It's Radio! (May 19)
The Big Bear (May 26)
A Boyhood in the Weirs (June 2)
Pinkham Notch (June 9)
Latest Listening and Reading (June 16)
Setting Up Housekeeping (June 23)
Pizza, Past and Present (June 30)
Squirrels (January 6)
Mills & Factories (January 13)
Kingfisher (January 19)
A Rockland Restaurant (January 27)
Home Ec (February 3)
Ice Fishing Remembered (February 10)
Our First Date (February 17)
Sandwiches Past and Present (February 23)
Snowy Owls & Chicadees (March 3)
Car Inspection (March 10)
Latest Reading & Listening (March 17)
Frost Heaves, Again (March 24)
Signs of Spring, 2019 (March 31)
March, 2018 (first entry)
Earlier: See Ruth's Neighborhood
The Old Country Store (March 25)
The Galloping Gourmet (April 1)
The Poor Man's Fertilizer (April 7)
Miniskirts and Bell-Bottoms (041518)
Henrietta Snow, Second Printing;;
Food & Drink Poems (April 22)
Recipe Box and Notebook (April 29)
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