Ruth Doan MacDougall: "Ruth's Neighborhood"
Archived Facebook Columns:October - December, 2020
Current entries are HERE.
December 27, 2020
As you’ve seen on Molly’s post, Lazy Beds has been published. In 2012 when the new edition of The Cheerleader was being readied for publication and again in 2016 when Site Fidelity was being readied, I wrote about our “three-ring-circus,” as Marney Wilde and Jennifer Davis-Kay and I called ourselves while we worked on these books. Now we’ve had another three-ring circus for Lazy Beds, with Marney (Web master, book designer, and ringmaster) in California, Jen (freelance copy editor) in Massachusetts, and me in New Hampshire. Marney and Jen have been my technical and emotional support throughout this circus.
My gratitude to them and to all the family and friends whom I thank on the book’s Acknowledgments page—and to you, my dear friends and readers.
Together, let’s welcome 2021! Thinking about the significance of this particular New Year, I heard the galloping rhythm—meter!—of Tennyson’s “Locksley Hall” charging into my mind, and I remembered Dudley Washburn’s quoting it about another important New Year, the millennium. In Henrietta Snow, at Ruhamah and D. J.’s New Year’s Eve party, Snowy hears Dudley declaiming:
“‘Comrades, leave me here a little, while as yet ’tis early morn,
Leave me here, and when you want me, sound upon the bugle horn . . .
For I dipped into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonders that would be;
Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,’
Dum dum dum dum dum dum dum . . .
‘ Heard the heavens fill with shouting and there rain’d a ghastly dew
From the nations’ airy navies grappling in the central blue,’
Dum dum—Hey, Snowy, help me out!”
. . Snowy recited,
“‘’Till the war drum throbbed no longer and the battle flags were furled
In the Parliament of Man, the Federation of the World—’”
Happy New Year, everyone!
CORNWALL AT CHRISTMASTIME
December 20, 2020
Last week I finished listening to an audiobook a friend lent me, The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson, whose earlier novel is Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, which I’d listened to some years ago. I liked them both. The setting for this one is England’s coastal town of Rye before the First World War. So I’ve been remembering a time in the past, but only back to the 1960s, when Don and I spent a night in Rye on our way to Cornwall at Christmastime.
I mentioned Rye when I wrote here in December 2017 about a Christmastime get-together at the Sandwich library:
On Friday morning Don and I went to the library’s meeting room for a new monthly program called C.H.A.T. Friday: Community, Hospitality, and Talk. Also Keurig offerings and homemade scones.
We all had been invited to share a holiday poem, story, or memory. Three of us Sandwich writers (me, Caroline Nesbitt, and Rick Carey) started things off, and then everybody joined in. There were poignant memories, but there was a lot of laughter too, over memories of holiday mishaps and Christmas-tree-decorating tortures.
I told about how, when I received the library’s invitation, I assumed that childhood memories would pop first into my mind, but what did pop were memories about the complications of holidays when you marry somebody from your hometown. This should simplify things, both families in one town, but it has its own problems. When you come home for the holidays, you’re expected by two sets of parents to be at these two homes on the same day. Christmas trees at both, Christmas dinner at one, supper at the other—well, it got to be a scramble, a hassle. It wasn’t really fun.
Then in 1964, when we went to live in England in our mid-twenties, we were on our own. For Don’s Christmas vacation from working at the U.S. Air Force high school in Suffolk, we drove down to Cornwall, a trip I later turned into fiction in A Lovely Time Was Had by All. We made the trip in the MG Midget we’d bought upon our arrival. Because we figured we’d eventually go back to America, we ordered one with American drive; that is, the steering wheel was on the left. It wasn’t the wisest decision we ever made. Don in the driver’s seat was unable to see around the car in front, so I had to hang out the passenger window and report. Luckily, being young, we mostly found this hilarious.
So off we went, spending a night in Rye, the next night in Salisbury, stopping at Stonehenge the next morning, continuing down to the seaside village of Mousehole. We got a room at the Ship Inn and had supper in the bar, where fried chicken was being served. It was delicious, but we wondered why they didn’t serve fish and chips. Then we heard one of the fishermen complaining over his beer about all the damn fish and crayfish and clams he had to eat when at sea. We understood.
After driving down to Land’s End the next day, we headed north, and as night fell we reached the town of Porlock and decided to stay there. During the evening I kept wondering why the name “Porlock” was reminding me of something. Then in the middle of the night I woke Don up out of a sound sleep, asking him, “Who interrupted Coleridge when he was writing ‘Kubla Khan’?”
Don said, “Huh?”
I said, “The anthologies always say it was a ‘person from Porlock’! The reason ‘Kubla Khan’ is an unfinished poem is because of a person from Porlock!”
For two English majors, this was the highlight of the trip.
The next day, December 23rd, we drove back to Suffolk. We spent Christmas in our apartment reliving the trip, relishing being on our own, no obligations. Christmas could be fun! But the distance across the Atlantic made memories seem clear and precious.
A year and a half later, we realized it was time to go home.
(The MG Midget went with us.)
Happy holidays, everybody!
December 13, 2020
During the hiking season, Tuesdays are hiking days for the Over-the-Hill Hikers, the Sandwich hiking group. Even though I’m no longer hiking and even when it’s not hiking season, on Tuesdays I’m apt to wear one of my Over-the-Hill sweatshirts, either the lightweight one or the heavier. I was wearing the latter under my parka last Tuesday when I drove to the post office in the village center. And ahead I saw a group walking along the street in socially-distanced style. The Over-the-Hillers hadn’t hiked this year because of the pandemic, but could this be some of them taking a walk on a cold December morning? I couldn’t tell, but the idea warmed my heart, as the sweatshirt and parka (and T-shirt and undershirt!) were doing to my body.
I’d been thinking about hiking because a friend recently sent me a clipping from the Wall Street Journal’s travel section: “The Trip that Transformed My Life,” introduced by Daniela Hernandez, who wrote, “I asked a few readers to share a travel experience that changed their life in an enduring way. Here are five of their stories.” The story in the clipping was “The White Mountains: Finding a New Path” by Michelline Dufort.
She wrote that she’d “grown up hiking in the Adirondacks.” Later, many serious problems “left me feeling paralyzed. I couldn’t see a way out. I couldn’t see where I wanted to go.” Then an acquaintance reintroduced her to hiking, this time in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. She embarked on hiking all of the state’s 48 4,000-footers. While hiking Mount Tripyramid with her dog and a friend, Gus (the dog) got separated from them and didn’t return when they yelled and yelled. So they split up (eek, don’t!) and started down by different routes to look for him. And she encountered a bear. Very scared, she did more yelling, and the bear wandered off. She realized that in order to keep going, she had to “stop feeling sorry for myself and being hung up on what I couldn’t change . . . I would do what made sense to me.” She got down the mountain to the trailhead and there was her friend, who had found Gus. Since then, “hiking continues to fuel me and remind me that with hard work and determination I can take whatever comes my way, one beautiful step at a time.”
I too had a moment of self-discovery on Mount Tripyramid. After my father and I decided that I would begin updating his hiking books, I joined the Over-the-Hillers, who were a tremendous help. Tripyramid was one of the early hikes I did with them; it was known to be difficult, and I was scared. In 50 Hikes in the White Mountains Dan (my father) had written about this eleven-mile (round trip) hike, “The [mountain’s] name describes the three peaks; it says nothing about the two slides. For pure joy in climbing, the North Slide is hard to beat. You choose your own way over the angular ledges. There is little danger in dry weather. A wild and extensive view opens behind you.”
Well, I had grave (pun intended) doubts about that “joy.” Dan continued, “You hike a loop up the exciting North Slide, over the three peaks, down the treacherous South Slide, and back to the road. The slides tore out the woods and rocks on both North and South peaks in 1885. The slides are completely unlike, the North Slide being ledges, the South Slide rocks and gravel.”
Some of the Hillers decided to take a route that bypasses the North Slide. But to check the hike for Dan I had to go up that slide, so up it I went, even doing as Dan suggested, “Take time to turn and admire the view behind you.” However, I was even more scared about the descent; descending was always harder for me. We crossed the mountain and started down: “ . . . you come to the South Slide, and to forested views stretching away west . . . Watch for rolling gravel and loose rocks as you place your feet.”
And as I went down the South Slide, I suddenly realized I was having fun. Joy!
NEW HAMPSHIRE PIE
December 6, 2020
Pies are still on my mind after Thanksgiving. (By the way, I didn’t have that mince-pie dessert salad I’d hoped to invent; I couldn’t find mince-pie filling at the supermarket—a mile of cans of pumpkin-pie filling, yes, but no mince.) A friend has sent me an “On the Road” article about “Pies in the Sky: If you can’t see your family for Thanksgiving this year, you can still bring the pie: send one of these regional favorites.”
And these were the states and pies described (with the websites for places to buy them):
Maryland: Baltimore Bomb Pie
Florida: Key Lime Pie
Oregon: Marionberry Pie (I’d never heard of marionberries before—“It tastes like a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry.”)
Michigan: Cherry Pie
Kentucky: Derby Pie
Maine: Blueberry Pie (of course!)
Indiana: Hoosier Sugar Pie
Massachusetts: Boston Cream Pie (“Some argue it’s more cake than pie.” It certainly is.)
California: Roasted Pumpkin in Chocolate (“Pumpkin pie isn’t exactly regional, but California is one of the country’s largest grower of the gourd.”)
I wasn’t surprised that New Hampshire wasn’t included, but I began wondering what a New Hampshire regional pie could be—and I immediately thought: rhubarb! I’ve loved rhubarb pie since childhood, the first fresh pie after a Granite State winter, when the stalks push up out of the garden. I’d been told that it was nicknamed “pie plant” and the pioneers took a chunk of the beloved clump with them when they headed West. My mother made rhubarb pies; one in particular became a family legend because, not an early riser if she didn’t have to be, she had got up very early, gone out to the garden, picked rhubarb, and made the pie for breakfast!
I next thought of squash pie. My mother made that more than pumpkin pie because my father grew winter squashes, not pumpkins.
Next I consulted my sister for her reaction about what our native state’s pie should be. Penny replied, “Apple pie!” Yes, that too.
Would a cookbook on my shelves have an answer? I took out The High Maples Farm Cookbook: Favorite Recipes and Reminiscences of Farm Life, by Edna Smith Berquist, published in 1971. She grew up on the family farm in Gilford, a town next-door to Laconia. (I grew up on Gilford Avenue, a Laconia road leading to Gilford.) I turned to the Pies section, and the first two pie recipes were apple: Green Apple Pie; Salt Pork Apple Pie. Then came a recipe for Mince Pie and three recipes for mincemeat. A little further on: Esther’s Old-Fashioned Rhubarb Pie and Rhubarb Custard Pie. And after some Pumpkin Pie recipes: Squash Pie, “an old New Hampshire ‘receipt’”!
Since this last is the only pie recipe in which a New Hampshire “receipt” is mentioned, I’m deciding that Squash Pie is the answer, the winner.
FROST, LONGFELLOW, AND LARKIN
November 29, 2020
In the December issue of New Hampshire Magazine, the monthly “Our Town” section by Barbara Radcliffe Rogers is about “Surprising Franconia,” a town amid mountains in the northern part of the state. When Don and I lived from 1962 to 1964 in the neighboring town of Lisbon, we got acquainted with it with the help of a resident, the daughter of one of my grandmother’s friends. We liked Franconia a lot.
Barbara Radcliffe Rogers writes about Franconia’s new sculpture trail, the Franconia ArtWalk. Then she adds, “The ArtWalk is not the first ambitious arts-related project Franconia has undertaken. In 1976, the town voted to purchase the farmhouse where Robert Frost had lived for five years and summered for 20 more . . . Visitors are welcome to tour the house, climbing to the second floor to see Frost’s writing desk by the window and enjoy the view that inspired him and prompted him to buy the house.” The poems he wrote here include “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”
Of course after reading this I couldn’t quit reciting the poem in my mind, while wondering why Don and I had never visited the house. Although it wasn’t open to the public when we lived in Lisbon, since its opening in 1976 we had driven past or through Franconia many times, and why hadn’t we stopped? I guess we were waiting until we could make it our destination.
Then the mention of another poet distracted me from Frost. In the November 19th issue of The Meredith News, John Harrigan’s weekly column, “North Country Notebook,” was about windy weather, “the only kind of weather I don’t like.” This led him circuitously to mentioning Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Wreck of the Hesperus,” which, “published in 1840, drew on an infamous winter storm that wrecked more than 20 ships off the New England coast . . . Longfellow kept a diary, as did most people of letters in that time, and he was bounced in and out of bed on the night ‘Hesperus’ came to his head. And it did not come in lines, he said, but in stanzas.” Imagine, in stanzas! I couldn’t remember any more of the poem than the title, so I was soon looking it up.
Next, Philip Larkin distracted me from reading Longfellow. One of the audiobooks my sister has sent me is Dick Cavett’s Brief Encounters, a 2014 collection of his columns on many subjects, and during my bedtime listening he mentioned the title of a Larkin poem I didn’t recognize, “Aubade,” and spelled the unfamiliar word. It was my turn to bounce out of bed, to jot down this word. In the morning I checked it in the dictionary: a morning song or poem. Then I looked in my copy of Larkin’s Collected Poems, and there “Aubade” was, so I must’ve read it, but it seemed new to me. Then I meandered on to some of the Larkin poems that Don and I had first read, lines of which we could remember and recite. One of my favorites is the last line of this excerpt from “Lines on a Young Lady’s Photograph Album”:
How overwhelmingly [photography] persuades
That this is a real girl in a real place,
In every sense empirically true!
Or is it just the past? Those flowers, that gate,
These misty parks and motors, lacerate
Simply by being over; you
Contract my heart by looking out of date.
November 22, 2020
Amongst the photographs on the blanket chest in our living room are two that include rocking chairs. In one photo, my grandmother Ruth is posing at one of her looms for a professional photographer in her front room; she is sitting in what the family always called the Windsor rocker. The other photograph, an early color one, was taken by my father in the living room at my family’s house. College years; I’m clowning in a cheerleader stance, fist on hip. Penny is sitting on the floor playing with Laurie, the family’s Sheltie. And Don is looking pensive in what we always called the Boston rocker.
When I’m dusting the blanket chest, I can turn and see where these chairs now live. The Windsor rocker is across the living room, and the Boston rocker is through the doorway in the bedroom, heaped with afghans knitted by my mother and Don’s mother.
Also in the house are two Shaker rocking chairs from a 1970s Shaker Workshop catalog. Don put them together and wove the tape seats, one green, one muted red. For a few years when all four rocking chairs were in the living room, I was reminded of that saying about “nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.”
Nowadays one Shaker rocker spends summers on the porch with the lawn chairs and the rest of the year in the living room. The other is in the kitchen. These past two years I read in it and watch TV—and dine!
One of my Penny’s friends gives her copies of Magnolia Journal. Penny has sent me the fall 2020 issue, which has an article about rocking chairs, “Steady Comfort,” by Bethany Douglass, who writes, “When I was pregnant with our firstborn, my husband and I inherited his grandmother’s rocking chair. His mother had unexpectedly passed away, and the rocking chair became the family heirloom passed to us, a mother’s gift of comfort. In any other circumstances, I might not have noticed the chair. It is not the sort to stand out in a room, and it almost seemed a little too old-fashioned—not something that was my style. But then my baby came, and in all hours of the day and night I found myself drawn to the chair. The motion was a comfort . . . The delicate wood craftsmanship has proved sturdy against the decades of family wear, but the wood stain has gently lightened or rubbed away in spots where parents before us have rocked their children on sleepless nights or read books in dimming light . . . Now I can’t imagine my home without the chair, even though I know I eventually will pass it on again.”
And of course I’ll be passing these chairs on to my niece and her husband and their son—and on and on. The tradition of rocking in them will continue. This Thanksgiving, especially, that’s a comforting thought.
My best Thanksgiving wishes to you.
THANKSGIVING SIDE DISHES
November 15, 2020
Last week on the Maine WCSH-TV “Early Morning Report” program there was an intriguing news item: in Maine, the most-searched Thanksgiving side-dish recipe on Google is for—side salads!
The program’s hosts were highly amused, as was I. We all speculated about the reasons for this. Mainers don’t know how to make a salad? Do people have favorite family recipes for Thanksgiving side dishes but not for salads? Maybe this year people are trying to serve something healthy on the Thanksgiving groaning board? One of the hosts (male) concluded, “It’s a nice idea but don’t act on it!”
Inspired by this news item, the program’s Daily Stumper was: what is the national most-searched Thanksgiving side-dish recipe on Google? The choice of answers:
My first instinct was sweet potatoes, but then I switched to cranberry sauce, figuring that because people are doing more cooking this year they want to make it from scratch, not dump it out of a can.
And I remembered how my mother and grandmother always made cranberry sauce from scratch at Thanksgiving, using canned the rest of the year. I loved the from-scratch version. Don’s mother, usually a from-scratch cook every day, surprised me by using canned year-round, and Don preferred this kind, so he and I had a difference of opinion. On one Thanksgiving episode of All in the Family, daughter Gloria made a fancy cranberry concoction, causing her father to bellow that he wanted “the realkind that slides out of a can!” Don and I laughed and laughed. This is the only time that Don and Archie Bunker ever agreed about anything.
But the correct answer to the Stumper was: mashed potatoes. Sharon, the woman host of the program, expressed the same astonishment I was feeling; she exclaimed, “Who needs a recipe for mashed potatoes?”
Pondering these important matters, I had a brainstorm. Since childhood, one of my favorite parts of a Thanksgiving feast has been mince pie (even when venison—Bambi!—was a mincemeat ingredient). But mince pies seem no longer popular and are hard to find, at least around here. And my pie-making days are over. However, I’ve sometimes noticed cans of mince-pie filling in supermarkets. This year our family has talked about the holiday season and decided to stay in our own homes on the actual holidays, but we might have a small social-distancing get-together in between. Thus, on the actual Thanksgiving Day I’ll try my brainstorm-experiment on myself and spare the others. In posts here, you and I have discussed dessert salads, so I’m going to have fun inventing a mince-pie-filling dessert side salad!
November 8, 2020
The first election in which Don and I were old enough to vote was the 1960 choice between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Back then, you had to be age twenty-one. We were living in the college’s married-students’ barracks. We voted for Kennedy and went to bed that night fearing the worst and quoting A. E. Housman:
Therefore, since the world has still
Much good, but much less good than ill,
And while the sun and moon endure
Luck’s a chance, but trouble’s sure,
I’d face it as a wise man would,
And train for ill and not for good.
We awoke to joy. John Kennedy had won!
A promising start to voting. But of course there were subsequent mornings-after-elections when we awoke to bad news, dashed hopes, despair. On these mornings I found myself tearfully reciting from Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach”:
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! For the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
And so I did last Wednesday. But this was beyond anything we’d been through before.
Eventually we decided that we should stick to our day’s routine, and I heard myself in the midst of another quote, this one from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movie in which Judi Dench says, “We get up in the morning. We do our best. Nothing else matters.”
So, still sick and dazed, we went to do errands. Was it my imagination or did some of the women shopping in stores seem subdued, withdrawn? Then we continued on to a doctor’s appointment. There in the waiting room a man was talking with the receptionist. She gave him the date for his next appointment. He said. “If there’s any world left then.”
The receptionist is brisk, efficient, and usually humorous. She replied gravely,
“Yes, scary times. And we’re all in it together.”
Now, four years later, joy!
JELLO AND POLLYANNA
November 1, 2020
Television and newspapers and magazines have been trying to tell us how to cope with the stress of all the terrible things bombarding us. When a friend recently wrote me about the helpful distractions she has found, I thought of the subjects that have brought me some temporary relief from what feels like an ongoing panic attack.
Here are a couple of them, for fun:
Jell-O! Another friend has visited the Jell-O Museum in LeRoy, New York. I never knew such a museum existed! Sandy is the friend who sent me that Strawberry Pretzel Salad Recipe whose ingredients include Jell-O, and since then she has made a trip to LeRoy, the birthplace of Jell-O. On a postcard that she enclosed in her letter, there’s a photo of the Jell-O Gallery, which, the postcard says, “opened in 1997 during the 100th Anniversary of ‘America’s Most Famous Dessert.’”
I realized I didn’t know Jell-O’s history, so I Googled. In 1897 it was invented by a LeRoy carpenter, Pearle Wait, who two years later sold the trademark for $450. Jell-O eventually ended up at General Foods, and in “1934 General Foods, a pioneer in selling by radio, signed Jack Benny and the whole world came to know Jell-O.”
At the museum you can see Jell-O’s “original advertising art, molds, spoons, collectibles, recipe books.” Sandy enclosed the museum’s Strawberry Pretzel Salad recipe (this one features strawberry and raspberry Jell-O) and another postcard with a 1978 recipe for Poke Cake, a cake I’d never heard of before. I found it hilarious and I wish I’d tried making it in 1978:
“ 1 package white cake mix, 2 layer size
1 3-oz package of Jell-O (any flavor)
1 cup boiling water
1 cup cold water
Prepare cake mix as directed. Bake in well greased and floured 9” x 13” pan in 350-degree oven for 30-35 minutes. Cool in pan for 15 minutes. Poke with fork @ ½” intervals. Dissolve Jell-O in boiling water. Add cold water and stir. Pour over cake in pan. Chill 3-4 hours. Top with thawed Cool Whip. Enjoy! Enjoy!”
Another distraction: Pollyanna! I’ve mentioned octogenarian Fritz Wetherbee before, New Hampshire’s beloved curmudgeon, author, historian, with his bowties and wry observations. On our WMUR TV Channel 9’s “New Hampshire Chronicle” each weeknight, he does segments and a recent one was about the Pollyanna statue in Littleton. Pollyanna stands on the library lawn, flinging her arms open joyously. In the 1960s Don and I lived for two years in nearby Lisbon, where Don taught at the high school, but alas, the statue hadn’t yet been put up.
As a Littleton website says, Littleton was the “early residence” of Eleanor H. Porter (1868-1920), “best remembered as the creator of the world’s most optimistic character, Pollyanna, 1913.” There’s an official New Hampshire Pollyanna Glad Day; this year it was held in Littleton “without gathering together and eating cake but we made the most of it.”
Standing in front of the statue of Pollyanna, Fritz concluded his segment wryly: “I don’t think it would hurt the world a bit to become more like Pollyanna.”
PEYTON PLACE IN MAINE
October 25, 2020
In Henrietta Snow, when Snowy and Bev stop for lunch at Moody’s Diner in Waldoboro, Maine, on their way to meet Puddles in Camden, I wrote:
Bev said, “This is going to be fun. Why have I been so apprehensive about Puddles—and everything?” Then that “everything” sobered her, because it included the filming of the movie of Peyton Placein Camden the summer of 1957. Despite her success in the Gunthwaite High School Dramatics Club plays, she hadn’t dared go to the auditions for stand-ins and extras [while she was working at a Camden hotel that summer]. She had made up many excuses: She didn’t have time because of her waitressing schedule; she was also too busy having fun with wealthy summer boys; and anyway, she deplored the movie’s inaccuracy, Hollywood’s choice of beautiful seacoast Camden instead of the novel’s true setting, a New Hampshire inland town. But the real reason was the same as the reason she hadn’t tried out for cheerleading. If she didn’t try, she wouldn’t fail. Or so she’d thought back then. Now, facing Camden again, she knew that not trying could be failure.
I remembered this last week while watching, on Maine WCSH’s “207” program, an interview with Mac Smith, the author of a new book, Peyton Place Comes Home to Maine: The Making of the Iconic Film. He described how, instead of the real setting of Grace Metalious’s Gilmanton, NH (a town so close to Laconia that the kids went to Laconia High School in those years before they got their own), Camden was chosen. Camden and Rockport, he explained, had been promoting the area in the New York Times and wooing Hollywood. The towns spruced themselves up; indeed, the IGA supermarket gave away packets of flower seeds with every purchase in hopes that residents would plant pretty gardens.
And Hollywood came. “It changed the way of life in Camden,” Mac Smith said, with the movie stars arriving and a thousand extras being hired, but a mutual affection developed between Camden and the movie people.
Well, many years later New Hampshire got its revenge. The 1981 movie of On Golden Pond was filmed on Squam Lake in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region. As Bev says in Site Fidelty, “Funny, isn’t it. Peyton Place is set in New Hampshire and the movie was made in Maine, while On Golden Pond is set in Maine and was filmed in New Hampshire.”
REMEMBER THE READER
October 18 2020
Back in the 1950s, Don and I became intrigued by Kingsley Amis after reading Lucky Jim, and we continued reading his novels for a while. Since then, I’ve read one novel by Martin Amis, his son, but I didn’t continue. However, a couple of months ago as I was skimming a Publishers Weekly “Author Profile” of Martin Amis on the occasion of publication of his latest novel, Inside Story, I was suddenly riveted by this:
“One of the best qualities of [Inside Story] is its regard for the reader. Amis acknowledges this . . . ‘You have to love the reader,” he says. ‘ . . . A book is nothing without a reader. The relationship between writer and reader is very mysterious and fascinating and not terribly well explained. There is an intimacy to reading a novel because you feel you know the writer embarrassingly well.’”
The reader! When I’m asked for advice about writing, one of the first things I’m apt to say is “Remember the reader!”
Thinking about this, last week I went through notes I made for talks I gave, and here are some of the other things I talked about:
• My father’s slogan was: “Apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair, and write.” That is, don’t wait for inspiration.
• Write every day, even if it’s only a sentence.Write first; do everything else second. Don’t say, “I’ll write when I get such-and-such finished.” Make it part of your daily schedule.
• My trick for jump-starting the act of writing, for inducing the trance in which you enter into your imagination—sometimes called “the artistic coma”; Stephen King calls it “being in the zone”—is just to start writing. Don’t dither or fret, searching for the perfect phrasing. The physical act of writing will set off the mental, and you’ll be on your way.
• Keep notepads and pens/pencils everywhere, around the house, in the car, etc.
• Before I start a novel, I sit down with accumulated scribbled notes and a legal pad and a pencil and work on a shape, an outline. This is the hardest part for me. As Trollope said, “To think of a story is much harder than writing it.” My sister, a landscape designer, has joked that she does the design after she puts in the garden. That’s what I do with an outline! Sort of. After I’ve finished the first draft of the book, I write a much better outline for the second.
And sometimes I ended my talks with an excerpt from “Fifty Thoughts from Fifty Years,” a piece that Dan, my father, wrote for his fiftieth Dartmouth reunion in 1986. He concluded it with an observation he’d made in the 1950s in the journal he kept all his life:
“This thought emerges: Successful or not, the years devoted to the art, craft, trade, or hobby of writing may be looked upon as having been spent in a great tradition and enterprise. What did you do with your life? I tried to learn to write.”
Thank you, dear readers.
SANDWICH FAIRS IN OUR PAST
October 11 2020
Like so many things this year, the Sandwich Fair has been canceled. I’ve written about it here several times, explaining that the fair was first held on Columbus Day in 1910 and that nowadays it lasts through the Columbus Day long weekend, starting on Friday at 4 p.m. with free admission and bargain rates. This is when we locals tend to go.
I haven’t been since Don died, but I’ve gone in memory, and I’m doing the same in pandemic-2020. Particularly, of course, I’m remembering the fair food we sampled, especially the new (to Sandwich) additions to the fair fare every year or so, such as fried pickles, fried onion blossoms—and funnel cakes (“Oh,” I said, disappointed, hoping for cake and frosting, “it’s the same as fried dough!” But delicious.).
Here’s the report I wrote after we went to the 2016 Sandwich Fair:
Since we moved to Sandwich in 1976, we’ve gone to almost every Sandwich Fair, in every variety of weather: heat waves and snow; last year, cold rain. This year, Friday was sunny, temperature in the seventies, perfect. The foliage has just about “peaked,” and the colors of the mountains surrounding us were pretty much as I described in a fair scene in Mutual Aid, in which a character’s sweater “almost matched the mountains’ blend of distant autumn colors, honey, rust, dark green.” Closer were bright reds, oranges, yellows.
As we sat on a bench eating French fries doused with vinegar, I thought of how I’d also been to the Sandwich Fair in my childhood. Dan, my father, liked Sandwich and brought my sister and me from Laconia to the fair [mainly to see the oxen “pulls”; he’d once owned oxen]. In fact, he and our mother had almost bought a farm in Sandwich in their early-married years when they were renting a farm in Orfordville and seeking a place to settle down. The problem was, Dan had chickens that needed to be housed and the Sandwich farm’s owner couldn’t clear out his barn in time. So Dan and Ernie (our mother) looked elsewhere and ended up in the Laconia area.
Dick Francis said that “What if?” is the beginning of fiction. It also causes us to ponder real life. What if, I thought on the bench, what if the Sandwich barn had been empty, the chickens could’ve been sheltered, and I’d been born in Sandwich? I’d’ve gone to the little Sandwich high school and never met Don . . . Et cetera, et cetera.
We finished our French fries. As we strolled around the fairground some more, what struck us most was how international the fair food has recently become. We saw food carts devoted to Greek, Japanese, Puerto Rican, and Mexican cuisine; they hadn’t yet opened or we’d have sampled. We marveled at the cart advertising Jumbo Turkey Legs. Then there were the usual temptations of fried dough and fudge and such. We wandered into a building where people were setting up displays of their eggs, honey, maple syrup.
Then back outdoors into the sunshine and the smell of animals and hay. A young girl led a large steer past us, and a woman with an armful of gladioluses hurried by.
DROUGHT AND DOUGHNUTS
October 4 2020
Our weather problems are minor compared with the terrible disasters elsewhere, but for months we’ve been coping with a drought that has reached the “severe” category. During this, I’ve kept remembering a childhood book that I’d loved, Thimble Summer. I Googled to refresh my memory; it was written by Elizabeth Enright and had won the Newbury Medal in 1939. It starts with a drought. The heroine, nine-year-old Garnet, finds a silver thimble in a dry riverbed, and right afterward the drought ends. Coincidence?
I didn’t find a silver thimble in our dry brook or mudpie-pond, but finally last Wednesday we got a spell of heavy rain. And this reminded me of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Renascence.” In one of Don’s classes during his sophomore year in college, students were asked to memorize parts of the poem, and ever afterward on rainy days he would recite his section. Thus in Wednesday’s rain I could hear him saying,
The rain, I said, is kind to come
And speak to me in my new home.
I would I were alive again
To kiss the fingers of the rain,
To drink into my eyes the shine,
Of every slanting silver line,
To catch the freshened, fragrant breeze
From drenched and dripping apple-trees.
And I thought of various times we’d been caught in the rain outdoors, especially the one we remembered the most, which I’ve probably mentioned before; it occurred in the summer of 1965 in Oxford when we stayed at a bed-and-breakfast and Don attended the summer school. I turned this rain experience into fiction in A Lovely Time Was Had by All: here is Isabel describing it:
“The crowds on the sidewalks were now woven with bus queues, and umbrellas bumped umbrellas. Streets had become rivers of rain that demanded white-water navigation. Under the railroad overpass cars and motorcycles were stalled; we waded along the flooded walkway up out of the slimy cave to join a crowd at the railing, everyone watching the struggling vehicles below and urging on a double-decker bus that had decided to charge the waters. It stalled ignominiously, a helpless cute red giant, but then a helmeted girl on a motorscooter somehow churned her way across and we all cheered her instead. Beyond the overpass there were magnificent traffic jams in both directions.
“When Jacob and I reached our bed-and-breakfast, Mrs. Wilkins tsk-tsked over our drowned-rat state and bore our raincoats and umbrella off to dry in the kitchen. Up in our room, we wrung out our clothes and poured out our shoes. Jacob said, ‘We need a hot toddy.’ Making do, stripped, in our bathrobes we sat on the bed in front of the glowing electric fire and drank tooth glasses of Base bourbon [which they’d prudently brought along from the inexpensive liquor store on the U.S. Air Force base where they worked] and Oxford tap water.”
I’ll now change the subject, not dollars to doughnuts but droughts to doughnuts: Last Tuesday on National Coffee Day the “Morning Report” Stumper question was: Other than glazed, what is the most popular doughnut flavor? Multiple-choice answers: a. Strawberry; b. Jelly-filled; c. Boston Cream; d. Powdered. I guessed my old favorite, jelly. I quizzed Penny and Thane and they guessed jelly too. But the correct answer is my new favorite, Boston Cream. Penny’s favorite is chocolate frosted; Thane’s is chocolate glazed.
And on a rainy day, any doughnut flavor can be a favorite.
A Goldilocks Morning—and More August 1)
Desks August 8)
Sports Bras and Pseudonyms August 1)
Storybook Foods (July 25)
Rachel Field (July 18)
The Bliss Point (July 11)
Items of Interest (July 3/4)
Motorcycle Week 2021 (June 27)
Seafood, Inland and Seaside (June 20)
Thrillers to Doughnuts (June 13)
National Trails Day June 6)
New Hampshire Language (May 30)
Books and Squares (May 23)
Gardening in May (May16)
The Familiar (May 9)
Synonyms (May 2)
"Bear!" (April 25)
Blossoms (April 18)
Lost Kitchen and Found Poetry (April 11)
More About Mud (April 4)
Gilbert and Sullivan (March 28)
St. Patrick's Day 2021 (March 21)
Spring Forward (March 14)
A Blank Page (March 7)
No-Recipe Recipes (February 28)
Libraries and Publishers Weekly (February 21)
Party; Also, Pizza (February 13)
Groundhog Day (February 6)
Jeeps (January 31)
Poems and Paper-Whites (January 24)
Peanut Butter (January 17)
Last Wednesday (January 10)
Hoodsies and Animal Crackers (January 3)
Welcome, 2021 ! ( December 27)
Cornwall at Christmastime ( December 20)
Mount Tripyramid ( December 13)
New Hampshire Pie ( December 6)
Frost, Longfellow, and Larkin ( November 29)
Rocking Chairs ( November 22)
Thanksgiving Side Dishes ( November 15)
Election 2000 ( November 8)
Jell-O and Pollyanna ( November 1)
Peyton Place in Maine (October 25)
Remember the Reader (October 18)
Sandwich Fairs In Our Past (October11)
Drought and Doughnuts (October 4)
Snacks (September 27)
Support Systems, Continuing (September 20)
The 85 Best Things to Do in New England (Sept 13)
Dessert Salads?! (September 6)
Agatha Christie's 100th Anniversary (August 30)
Poutine and A Postscript(August 23)
Pandemic Listening and Reading (August 16)
Mobile Businesses (August 9)
Backyard Wildlife (August 2)
Maine Books (July 26)
Garlic (July 19)
Birthday Cakes (July 12)
A Collection of Quotations (July 5)
Best of New Hampshire (June 28)
Hair (June 21)
Learning (June 14)
Riding and "Broading" Around (June 7)
Sunday Drives, Again (May 31)
The Passion Pit (May 24)
Schedules & Sustenance (May 17)
Doan Sisters Go to a British Supermarket (April 5)
National Poetry Month 2020 (April 12)
Laconia (May 10)
Results (May 3)
Singing (April 26 )
Dining Out (April 19 )
Red Hill (March 29)
An Island Kitchen (March 22)
Pandemic and Poetry (March 15)
Food for Hikes (March 8)
Social Whirl in February (March 1)
Two Audiobooks and a Magazine(February 23)
Books Sandwiched In (February 9)
Mailboxes February 2)
Ironing (January 26)
The Cup & Crumb (January 19)
Catalogs (January 12)
Audiobook Travels (January 5)
Christmas Weather (Dec. 29 )
Christmas in the Village (Dec. 22)
Marion's Christmas Snowball, Again (Dec. 15)
Phyliss McGinley and Mrs. York (December 8)
Portsmouth Thanksgiving. (December 1)
In the Dentist's Waiting Room, Again. (Nov. 24)
Louisa and P.G. (November 17)
The First Snow (November 10)
Joy of Cooking (November 3)
Over-the-Hill Celebration (October 27)
Pumpkin Regatta (October 20)
Houseplants, New and Old(October 13)
Pumpkin Spice (October 6)
Wildlife (Sept 29)
Shakespeare and George (Sept 22)
Castles and Country Houses (Sept 15)
New Hampshire Apple Day (Sept 8)
Maine Woods and Matchmaking (Sept 1)
Reunions (August 25)
Sawyer's Dairy Bar (August 18)
Old Home Week (August 11)
Summer Scenes (August 4)
Maine Foods (July 28)
Out of Reach (July 21)
This and That, Again (July 14)
The Lot (July 7)
Pizza, Past and Present (June 30)
Setting Up Housekeeping (June 23)
Latest Listening and Reading (June 16)
Pinkham Notch (June 9)
A Boyhood in the Weirs (June 2)
The Big Bear (May 26)
It's Radio! (May 19)
Archie (May 12)
Department Stores (May 5)
Spring Is Here! (April 28)
Dorothy Parker Poem (April 21)
National Library Week, 2019 (April 14)
National Poetry Month, 2019 (April 7)
Signs of Spring, 2019 (March 31)
Frost Heaves, Again (March 24)
Latest Reading & Listening (March 17)
Car Inspection (March 10)
Snowy Owls & Chicadees (March 3)
Sandwiches Past and Present (February 23)
Our First Date (February 17)
Ice Fishing Remembered (February 10)
Home Ec (February 3)
A Rockland Restaurant (January 27)
Kingfisher (January 19)
Mills & Factories (January 13)
Squirrels (January 6)
Clothesline Collapse (December 2)
Thanksgiving 2018 (November 25)
Bookmarks (November 18)
A Mouse Milestone (November 11)
Farewell to Our Magee (November 4)
Sistering (October 28)
Sears (October 21)
Love and Ruin (October 14)
A New Furnace (October 7)
Keene Cuisine September 30)
A Mini-Mini Reunion (September 23)
Support System (September 16)
Five & Ten (September 9)
Dining Out Again (September 2)
Summer Listening (August 26)
Donald K. MacDougall 1936-2018 (August 19)
Update--Don (August 12)
Telling Don (August 5)
Don's Health (July 29)
Seen and Overheard (July 22)
Donald Hall (July 15)
Fireworks (July 8)
Off Season (July 1)
A Clean, Well-Lighted Place (June 24)
2018 Motorcycle Week (June 17)
Springtime Sights (June 10)
Seafood at the Seacoast? (June 3)
Lilacs (May 27)
Going Up Brook, revisited (May 20)
The Weirs Drive-In Theater (May 13)
The Green and Yellow Time, (May 6 )
Recipe Box and Notebook (April 29)
Henrietta Snow, Second Printing (April 21)
Miniskirts and Bell-Bottoms (April 14)
The Poor Man's Fertilizer (April 7)
The Galloping Gourmet (April 1)
The Old Country Store (March 25; First FB entry)
Earlier: :Ruth's Neighborhood
(multiple entries, 2011 - 2017)