May 10, 2020
In New Hampshire Magazine’s special edition, Best Places 2020, one of the articles is about “Cities—and Towns!—On the Rise,” by Barbara Coles. I was surprised and quite overcome to see that one of the cities is Laconia, my hometown.
Barbara Coles wrote: “As other New Hampshire cities and towns started to rebound in recent years, Laconia lagged behind. It was, in large measure, because of actions taken a half-century ago that, while well intentioned, hampered the city’s recovery.
“One of those was a major urban renewal project in the 1970s that, among other things, created a difficult traffic pattern that discouraged downtown development.” Difficult? Oh yes!In ensuing years, Don and I never got used to it. Don took a what-the-hell attitude and drove around and around the pattern if necessary. When I was doing errands alone in Laconia, I parked outside the pattern and walked.
Barbara Coles continued, “But, in 2017, an ambitious new master plan was formulated, one that would set the city on an upward trajectory for residential and commercial development.” Part of this “is the cultural activity that will be provided, starting late this year, by the Colonial Theater. The century-old Main Street performance venue, long closed, is now being restored to its former elegance; it’s one of the largest historic preservation projects in state history.” The dear old Colonial Theater! It was, of course, my inspiration for the movie theater in The Cheerleader.
Five years ago my friend Dorothy Duffy invited me to write a guest column for her column in the Laconia Citizen newspaper. I wrote “A Hometown, Real and Fictional,” in which I described how I could create, in fiction, my version of what happened to my hometown:
“ . . . The classic rule for writers is: Write about what you know. Thus, of course, Laconia has found its way into my novels in various guises. (So have lakes—there’s always at least one lake in them.) And here’s the fun of it for writers: we can rearrange, raze, resurrect; we can re-create a town!
“ . . . Thus on Gunthwaite’s Main Street there’s still a fictional version of the old O’Shea’s department store, because I couldn’t bear to tear it down. I still get heartsick when I think of the loss of the historic O’Shea’s building. Indeed, there is no urban renewal in Gunthwaite’s downtown. All of the old Main Street still exists. And the fictional dairy bar inspired by Weeks Dairy Bar is still flourishing. However, there have had to be changes over the years of the Snowy Series, so although the fictional O’Shea’s building still stands, it’s broken up into three businesses. The fictional restaurant where Snowy waitressed in the 1950s, as I did at Keller’s Restaurant, is gone, as are Woolworth’s and other stores lamented by Snowy and her friends. The fictional movie theater is for sale . . . ”
How will the pandemic affect Laconia’s restoration of the Colonial Theater? No matter what happens, I suspect that the plan for the real theater will inspire the restoration of the fictional one!
May 3, 2020
During a chat on the phone recently, Penny asked, “What was the name of Dan’s [our father’s] favorite philosopher?”
Off the top of my head I replied, “Marcus Aurelius.”
Penny agreed. But later, to refresh his daughters’ memories, I got out Dan’s copy of one of his favorite books, The Practical Cogitator or The Thinker’s Anthology, selected and edited by Charles P. Curtis, Jr. and Ferris Greenslet, copyright 1945. I did find Marcus Aurelius—and to my delight I rediscovered a piece of typing paper that I’d first found in the book when Marjorie, our stepmother, gave me the book. On it Dan had typed out aquotation from another favorite philosopher, heading it “ADVICE ON HOW TO COMPOSE YOUR LIFE (in one area) from William James”:
“I have been growing lately to feel that a great mistake of my past life—which has been prejudicial to my education, and by telling me which, and by making me understand it some years ago, someone might have conferred a great benefit on me—is an impatience of results. Inexperience of life is the cause of it, and I imagine it is generally an American characteristic. I think you suffer from it. Results should not be too voluntarily aimed at or too busily thought of. They are sure to float up of their own accord, from a long enough daily work at a given matter; and I think the work as a mere occupation ought to be the primary interest with us.”
Dan ended his typing with, “From The Practical Cogitator, Page 94, out of which I felt the need of this opinion on 28 November, 1990, on a day of no results.”
Amusement! During her daily phone call, I told Thane, my niece about the rediscovery. She agreed that Marcus had been Dan’s #1 favorite with James a close second, and we talked about the pressure for results in our to-do lists every day. Even in my simple days I’m in a tizzy over my deadlines (self-imposed or not) and household tasks to be accomplished before the day is done. I had thought that my schedule in my life alone would be the same, up at four a.m. to tackle the day: write first, everything else next. I hadn’t comprehended that the “everything else” would now include Don’s tasks and I would have less time, not more.
Penny and Thane and I concluded that we must remember Dan’s William James quotation.
Soon after, I read Healing After Loss’s daily entry, in which the editor, Martha W. Hickman, commented on a quotation from Robert Frost’s “Two Tramps in Mud Time” by comparing the changeable weather in the poem with “the weather of grieving. One moment we’ll be feeling good, moving on in some productive activity—or some nonproductive activity (one doesn’t always have to be productive!)—and something will happen to bring back the grief as though it were all fresh.” I enjoyed the coincidence of being reminded we don’t have to be productive or have results.
Here is Frost’s poem, National Poetry Month now over, May weather arriving:
The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.
April 26 2020
People seem to be singing a lot these days, to keep their spirits up, and I’ve been joining in.
I used to sing around the house, enthusiastically if not always on key. Then after Don died, the house became silent. I realized I must remedy this; I must start singing again, to hear a voice in the house and also to warm my voice up so it wouldn’t be a rusty squawk when my niece phoned each morning. Without thinking, I began singing the songs Don and I sang, including Showboat duets—“Make Believe,” “Why Do I Love You?” These did not lift my spirits.
Then I remembered that Garrison Keillor had once advised that if you’re feeling down, you should sing “Oklahoma” with ALL the yips in it. I began doing that, then adding in the songs I could recall from my days as a timid second soprano in the junior high glee club organized by Laconia High School’s wonderful music teacher, Mr. Williams, who included in our repertoire, together with “The Caissons Go Rolling Along” and “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” and such, Noel Coward’s beautiful “I’ll See You Again.”
The Lawrence Welk Show reruns are on Maine’s PBS channel on Saturday evenings, and I have supper with them, remembering how I only watched the shows with my grandparents at their house. Otherwise, I ignored or scorned it. Now I sing along, sometimes laughing (the hairdos!), sometimes weeping (the lyrics!), and I jot down song titles to add to my own repertoire in the shower and around the house. Most recently I’m warbling “April Showers.” And the New Hampshire channel’s New Hampshire Chronicle program recently reran an episode about the town of Gilmanton’s Dump Run Café in the Community Church, where local musicians get together and folks drop in for coffee after going to the dump and good old sing-along songs are sung; I sang along and jotted down “Side by Side,” “Ain’t She Sweet,” “You Are My Sunshine” . . .
It’s springtime, so every morning I step outdoors into the glorious racket of birds singing their heads off. The weather has been cold, but on a couple of warm afternoons I heard the first spring peepers, teeny-tiny frogs waking up in the beaver pond out back, the males ready for (I can’t resist) “Makin’ Whoopee.” Six years ago here I wrote this about the sound of spring peepers:
“How to describe the sound? ‘Sleigh bells’ is the comparison I’ve read most often, but it’s not quite right. In my youth, when people (including my father) put chains on their tires in the winter, a dreaded procedure that Don still grimly recalls (frozen fingers), I thought that spring peepers sounded like these chains on cars speeding along.
“In any case, it’s a sound that can be enjoyed even when the trilling is so deafening it should hurt the ears. It’s so physical, I’ve stood beside the pond in evenings and wondered that it didn’t knock me over. Nature’s rock concert!”
Here’s to all of us singing during a pandemic!
April 19 2020
Penny and I aren’t having our usual visits now, so she has mailed me a copy of Maine’s Working Waterfront newspaper, which she usually brings. As I’ve mentioned before, I always turn eagerly to the “Journal of an Island Kitchen” column by Sandy Oliver, who lives on Islesboro.
This island on Penobscot Bay is quite close to the mainland, just three miles off Lincolnville on the mid-coast. One time Don and I drove around it during a trip down east; the ferry carries vehicles as well as people and makes several twenty-minute trips a day, quite different from more remote Isle au Haut, where we used to spend a week or two. But still, it’s an island, and, as she writes in her latest column, “We live in plan-ahead land.” In the evening you can’t dash to the store on a spur-of-the-moment errand; it’ll be closed. And the places where you can dine out are limited or nonexistent.
She writes, “For 30-something years now, I’ve eaten three meals a day on-island,” and most of them she has cooked for herself. So when she goes to the mainland, she is struck by all the opportunities to dine out: “Food is ubiquitous; not just restaurants and donut shops, but in drugstores, gas stations, and even Reny’s [a renowned Maine bargain department-store chain] ...In settled areas, one passes an opportunity to eat every few seconds. Not so on island.”
I realized again that social-distancing is making us live on islands, complete with daydreaming about dining out spontaneously or with reservations
It was in England that we began to dine out regularly at a favorite restaurant, the Bell in the town of Thetford, to which we’d drive from our Brandon apartment in our MG Midget, scooting along on narrow roads between hedgerows. We were amused that one of their specialties had an American name, Chicken Maryland.
Back in America, living in a basement apartment on Beacon Street in Boston, we walked over to the Half Shell on Boylston Street for cherrystone clams on the half shell or, a big splurge, Scallops Poulette. Then we moved back to New Hampshire, to Dover near the seacoast, where our treat at Portsmouth’s Fishermen’s Pier restaurant was Baked Stuffed Shrimp but we also got acquainted with McDonald’s Quarter-Pounders.
I remember, too, how startled we were when more than coffee began to appear in surprising places. Take-out hot dogs at a convenience store? Feeling brave, we bought a paper dish of the deep-fried mushrooms that suddenly were available along with (another surprise) French fries at a local gas station—they weren’t great but they were good!
And so I go through our history, dining out in memory from the early years onward to dining at the nearby Village Kitchen I’ve mentioned often, planning what I’ll order there when, let us hope, this type of island-living is over.
NATIONAL POETRY MONTH 2020
April 12 2020
Dudley shouted, “‘The sea that bares her bosom to the moon’!”
Snowy said, “Honestly, Dudley. That’s not the only line in the whole poem.”
In this scene in The Cheerleader, Gunthwaite High School seniors have memorized Wordsworth’s “World Is Too Much with Us” sonnet for their English class. I’m celebrating National Poetry Month by trying to remember which other poems our Laconia High School English teacher, Mr. McBride, had us memorize—and by also recalling those I memorized on my own.
My grandmother Ruth once remarked that she was glad she had to memorize poems in school because now, when she couldn’t sleep, she would put herself to sleep reciting them. I think in her day there was much Longfellow memorized, such as “The Song of Hiawatha” and “Paul Revere’s Ride.” And Felicia Dorothea Hemans’s “Casabianca”: “The boy stood on the burning deck...”
In our senior English class we memorized “Prologue to The Canterbury Tales,” as also chronicled in The Cheerleader. And there were Milton’s “On His Blindness,” Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” Housman’s “With Rue My Heart is Laden,” and Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar.” What ones have I forgotten?
And which poems did I memorize on my own? I chose funny poems, Dorothy Parker and Ogden Nash. I loved “Father William,” Lewis Carroll’s parody of a solemn, uplifting poem by Robert Southey; Lewis Carroll’s begins:
“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”
I also memorized exotic-lands poems, including Rudyard Kipling’s, “Love Song of Har Dyal.” And of course a lot of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Here, for an April month in a pandemic, is her “Goose-Girl” poem that I’m apt to quote:
Spring rides no horses down the hill,
But comes on foot, a goose-girl still.
And all the loveliest things there be
Come simply, so it seems to me.
If ever I said, in grief or pride,
I tired of honest things, I lied;
And should be cursed forevermore
With Love in laces, like a whore,
And neighbors cold, and friends unsteady,
And Spring on horseback, like a lady!
THE DOAN SISTERS GO TO A BRITISH SUPERMARKET
April 5, 2020
Last week I had run out of fresh vegetables and my fresh fruit was down to one Granny Smith apple, so for the first time in a month I went to the supermarket in nearby Center Harbor. Things tend to be quiet on a weekday morning in winter/early spring; this Wednesday the place seemed almost normal, in a subdued way. It was familiar, yet unfamiliar. The confused familiarity suddenly took me back to the first time my sister and I went grocery-shopping during our trip to England in 1990.
That evening I got out the journal I’d kept of our three-week stay, which I’d titled “The Doan Sisters Go to England.” When Penny and I went, I hadn’t been back to England since Don and I returned in 1966 from two years there; Penny had been there five years before, studying cottage gardens with garden designer John Brookes, author of several gardening books. Our goal on this trip was to visit gardens—but in my journal I also recorded lots of sightseeing in stores.
We spent our first week in “self-catering” Rose Cottage, on a farm in tiny Purton. When we asked our landlady about grocery shopping, she directed us to a supermarket in Lydney, the town down the road. We found it and, as I wrote, “in we went—and back out again to get a shopping cart—in again, and the first impression was of underwear. On the right were racks of women’s bras and underpants and teddies in various seductive hues! That was the Textiles section. Other section signs above aisles read:”—and I listed the ones I’d jotted down, which included “Market Garden; Clean Sweep; Butcher’s Shop; Biscuit Barrel; Pets Corner; Bread Basket, The Cellar (wine and beer); Tobacco.” Familiar but unfamiliar!
I continued, “We bought basics like paper towels, Kleenex, and toilet paper, and delights like ginger crisps, bramble jelly, shortbread, the orange-squash drink, Sharwood’s India Hot Vegetable Curry, Carr’s Table Water Biscuits, and Lyons teabags. The assortment of sweets and digestive biscuits (cookies) and little cakes, tarts, etc., was amazing. The English sweet tooth!
“When at last we pushed our cart up to a checkout counter, we both thought at first that the checkout cashier was handicapped, and then we realized all the other cashiers were also sitting down. Very sensible; why don’t our supermarkets allow this?
“At this supermarket and others we went to later you had to ask for a bag. The cashier, after ringing up each item (via scanner or old-fashioned method), just moves it down the counter into a shopping cart, out of which you grab it to put in your own shopping bags. Thank God for the string bags Marjorie [our stepmother] gave us! We loaded up. A couple of days later we figured out, watching, that the system here was to wheel your shopping cart after checkout to a long shelf near the door, where you unload it into your shopping bags more leisurely.
“Leaving, Penny and I realized that we hadn’t yet heard a ‘Have a nice day.’ And we never did. People instead said, ‘Thank you.’”
JANUARY - MARCH 2020
Audiobook Travels (January 5)
Catalogs (January 12)
The Cup & Crumb (January 19)
Ironing (January 26)
Mailboxes February 2)
Books Sandwiched In (February 9)
Bathrobes or ? (February 16)
Two Audiobooks and a Magazine(February 23)
Social Whirl in February (March 1)
Food for Hikes (March 8
Pandemic and Poetry (March 15)
An Island Kitchen (March 22)
Red Hill (March 29)
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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