Ruth Doan MacDougall: "Ruth's Neighborhood"

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October - December, 2021


December 26, 2021

            The New Roaring Twenties is a title that caught my attention in a recent Publishers Weekly. The book is by Paul Zane Pilzer and will be published in June 2022. The description says, “In the 2020s, economist Pilzer sees a decade full of just as much upheaval as its last-century antecedent. New financial and societal opportunities will abound, he writes, based on 11 ‘pillars’ that include an energy revolution, the gig economy, and an expansion of the sharing economy. Buckle up.”
This got me thinking that I should refresh my memory of what F. Scott Fitzgerald had to say in his essay about the decade, “Echoes of the Jazz Age,” which he wrote in 1931 at age 35. I got out my beloved copy of The Crack-Up, Edmund Wilson’s collection of Fitzgerald’s “Uncollected Pieces, Note-Books and Unpublished Letters.” My paperback was published in 1956 and its yellowing pages feel like parchment. I bought it  in college after seeing a copy on my counselor’s desk and peeking into it whenever he was late to our weekly meetings in his office. (Fitzgerald’s “Note-Books” section influenced my routine of taking the “Gossip” notes I’ve written about here.)
Some excerpts from “Echoes of the Jazz Age”:
“The ten-year period that, as if reluctant to die outmoded in its bed, leaped to a spectacular death in October, 1929 [the stock-market crash], began about the time of the May Day riots in 1919. When the police rode down the demobilized country boys gaping at the orators in Madison Square, it was the sort of measure bound to alienate the more intelligent young men from the prevailing order. We didn’t remember anything about the Bill of Rights until Mencken began plugging it, but we did know that such tyranny belonged in the jittery little countries of South Europe . . .
“It was an age of miracles, it was an age of art, it was an age of excess, and it was an age of satire . . .
“The first social revelation created a sensation out of all proportion to its novelty. As far back as 1915 the unchaperoned young people of the smaller cities had discovered the mobile privacy of that automobile given to young Bill at sixteen to make him ‘self-reliant.’ At first petting was a desperate adventure even under such favorable conditions, but presently confidences were exchanged and the old commandment broke down . . .
“But petting in its more audacious manifestations was confined to the wealthier classes—among other young people the old standard prevailed until after the War, and a kiss meant that a proposal was expected, as young officers in strange cities sometimes discovered to their dismay. Only in 1920 did the veil finally fall—the Jazz Age was in flower . . .
“This was the generation whose girls dramatized themselves as flappers, the generation that corrupted its elders and eventually overreached itself less through lack of morals than through lack of taste. May one offer in exhibit the year 1922! That was the peak of the younger generation, for though the Jazz Age continued, it became less and less an affair of youth . . .
“It ended two years ago [1929 crash], because the utter confidence which was its essential prop received an enormous jolt, and it didn’t take long for the flimsy structure to settle earthward. And after two years the Jazz Age seems as far away as the days before the War . . .
“Now once more the belt is tight and we summon the proper expression of horror as we look back at our wasted youth. Sometimes, though, there is a ghostly rumble among the drums, an asthmatic whisper in the trombones that swings me back into the early twenties . . . and it seemed only a question of a few years before the older people would step aside and let the world be run by those who saw things as they were—and it all seems rosy and romantic to us who were young then, because we will never feel quite so intensely about our surroundings any more.”
Happy New Year, Happy 2022, everyone!

© 2021 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


December 19, 2021

              ’Tis the season for traditions, isn’t it, and I’ve been going through our box of Christmas decorations, choosing the ones that mean the most to put out this year.
These include the Christmas stocking I’ve had since childhood. Our Grandmother Ruth made one for Penny and one for me, red with white trim and jingly silver bells. We didn’t have a fireplace over which to hang them, so on Christmas Eve we arranged them at the foot of our beds—and in the morning they had fattened with presents. Penny and I have been remembering how she’d bring her stocking into my bedroom and in my bed we’d open them together, right down to the orange or tangerine in the toe.
Ernie, our mother, was not a happy early riser, but on Christmas she rallied. After graduating from Connecticut College for Women, she had gone to a business school in Boston to become a secretary; on Christmas morning she settled herself in a chair near the Christmas tree with pencil and paper in hand, ready to take dictation. A tradition: as we opened presents from Santa and from grandparents and other relatives, we’d tell her what they were and she’d jot down the information, sometimes in shorthand. (Dan, our father, once observed humorously, but in a rather stunned tone, that I was even more efficient than my mother; needless to say, when Don and I opened presents years later, I jotted down lists, too. Alas, I wasn’t capable of shorthand.)
Another tradition: later on Christmas Day, Dan made eggnog, plain for Penny and me, spiked for the grownups. What a festive nutmeg-y treat! When Don and I became grownups, we asked him for his recipe and we continued the tradition. Eventually I got nervous about drinking raw eggs and compromised by buying eggnog at the supermarket, but I’ve kept the recipe file card and I remember the tradition fondly. The card says:

Dan’s Eggnog

Separate 6 eggs.
Beat the 6 egg yolks until light.
Beat in gradually ½ cup sugar.
Add by beating slowly:
1 cup whiskey (bourbon)
4 cups milk
Whip the egg whites and 1/8 t. salt until stiff.
Fold whites gently into previous mix.
Serve with nutmeg sprinkled on top.

Happy holidays, everyone!

© 2021 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


December 12, 2021

              Last week on WMUR-TV’s “New Hampshire Chronicle” program, there was a segment about trail cameras and how they are “used by landowners to check out the furry visitors wandering in their backyards; they’re also used by state biologists to monitor wildlife.” We viewers saw some of the scenes, including one of a newborn moose and its mother that reminded me of a line in Robert Frost’s “Pasture” poem about a cow and her calf who is “so young/It totters when she licks it with her tongue.”
              I thought of all the scenes Don and I actually saw in our backyard, from moose and bears to chipmunks, and all the scenes we missed, which a trail camera would’ve caught. But the ones I saw are stored in my memory’s camera.
              And I thought of a scene in Our Last Backpack, my father’s memoir about a 1966 weeklong hike in New Hampshire and Maine along the Mahoosuc Range. Dan (my father) and Claud, best friends since their boyhood in Orford, NH, were fifty-two when they did this trek. On the hike, as they neared Dream Lake they realized that in the distance they were seeing a moose, a very rare sight back then, a first for them and one that should be photographed. Here’s the excerpt, which I find hilarious:

              Then I [Dan] noticed upturned roots of a tree far along the shore. It wasn’t right for a windfallen tangle of roots and dirt. It had to be a moose.
              At the same instant Claud mumbled, “That’s no stump.”
              “Damnation,” I whispered, so excited I had the silly fear I might scare the moose with loud words. “If only we’d gone down that trail near the end there.” I felt a terrible regret. I tried some lines of the poem by E. A. Robinson: “Futile as regret.” They didn’t help much.
              Claud silently unbuckled the strap on the cover of his Kodak Pony camera. I was trembling. The moose would plow water to the bank and vanish. I couldn’t see the details at this distance and felt robbed of a fair sighting of my first moose.
              The spreading, palmated horns—antlers—appeared only when he moved his head and confirmed our identification. I longed for my binoculars. I held my breath waiting for Claud to take the picture. This priceless chance could be gone in seconds. The fantastic scene of a moose in Dream Lake against a backdrop of Mount Washington might be lost forever .  . .
              Claud kept examining the camera. “Had I better set it for infinity?”
              I tried to speak calmly. “That’s what I’d do.”
              “How about the aperture? You know these new cameras better than I do.”
              “There’s a red dot, isn’t there? This Pony is different from my Bolsey, which I wish to hell I’d brought along and damn the weight. For God’s sake hurry up.”
[              More examining of the camera. Claud says,] “Tell me what exposure.”              
              “Use a figure from the list on the camera. Lemme see. Well, looks like f-eleven at a fiftieth. Better open up to f-eight for backlight—oh goddamn, take it—no, I’ll shade the lens with my hat.”
              “Wait till his head is up.” Claud pressed the camera against his face. “Hell, I can’t see anything in the finder like a moose—just a brown dot. Tell me when his head is up.”
              I held my green hat above the lens. I watched the moose. The massive head and antlers rose from the water. “Now!”
              The camera clicked

             Decades later, when I was about the same age as Dan and Claud were then, I climbed two of the mountains in the Mahoosuc Range, doing day hikes with my hiking group. Dream Lake wasn’t on our route, and we didn’t see a moose anywhere. But in my memory-camera was a picture I imagined: Dan and Claud themselves, old friends hiking the trail I was hiking with my friends.

© 2021 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


December 5, 2021

              WLast week I found myself sitting in an auto-body shop’s waiting room, listening to the owner, a very nice young man, gently explain my Subaru’s problem. Another first! I’ve got adjusted to taking the car to a local garage for its annual inspection and occasional ailments, something Don always did, but this was my first experience of going alone to an auto-body shop.
              And hooray, the problem was one I could understand: mice chewing the car’s innards—despite my blanketing the interior with Bounce dryer sheets! (Don used to set mouse traps throughout the car. Sometimes when we went around a corner, they snapped shut merrily.)
              Driving home after the diagnosis, I thought of the cavalcade of cars Don had taken care of in his lifetime, starting with a secondhand Oldsmobile he and his brother bought together. This was followed by a secondhand Chevy he bought with his mother, who loved convertibles. Yes, it was the 1949 cream-colored convertible I described in The Cheerleader. After its high-school career it went off to Keene Teachers’ College with him.
              In subsequent years he had many cars, including an Austin, a Volkswagen bug, a Jeep, an MG Midget, a Chevy Blazer, two Saabs, and three Subarus. He lusted after pickup trucks but didn’t acquire one until we went into the caretaking business. At last! He bought a secondhand Chevy pickup and later traded it in for a secondhand Ford Ranger.
              The September issue of Smithsonian magazine by Jeff MacGregorhad an article that he would’ve relished and I certainly enjoyed, too: “King of the Road: At first, it was all about hauling things we needed. Then the pickup truck itself became the thing we wanted.” It begins, “By sales and acclamation, history and mythology, the pickup truck is the most popular vehicle in America and has been for decades. We’re told electric pickups will be the next big thing: The Tesla Cybertruck, the Ford F-150 Lightning and the GMC Hummer EV are online and on their way. But recall that GMC offered a full line of electric trucks—‘operated by Edison current’—in 1913 . . . The first truck ever powered by internal combustion was designed and built in 1896 by Gottlieb Daimler of Germany. It looked like a rear-engine hay wagon. The first American pickup trucks were homemade and came on the scene at almost the same moment as the car.”
              MacGregor gives us a literary example when he writes, “For decades, a pickup was as simple as a shoe. Four wheels, an engine and a frame with a place to sit and a box to carry things. As humble as the folks who drove it. In John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, the Joads rode west out of the Dust Bowl looking for work in a homemade pickup truck, a cut-down 1926 Hudson Super Six sedan. ‘The house was dead, and the fields were dead; but this truck was the active thing, the living principle,’ Steinbeck wrote. ‘The ancient Hudson, with bent and scarred radiator screen, with grease in dusty globules at the worn edges of every moving part, with hub caps gone and caps of red dust in their places—this was the new hearth, the living center of the family; half passenger and half truck, high-sided and clumsy.’”
After World War II, the pickup began to get fancy and fancier. MacGregor concludes that now “in its skyrocketing expense and elaboration it embodies the tension between our humble pioneer ideals and our end-of-innocence decadence, our modesty and our vanity.”
              And driving home in the Subaru Forester for which we’d traded in our last pickup as well as our aging Subaru Outback, I remembered the glory of standing high in the pickup’s bed and with my pitchfork unloading the mulch hay I’d loaded.

© 2021 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


November 28, 2021

           When Penny and Thane (my sister and niece) were here last weekend, I mentioned to them that I was hoping beavers had returned to the pond but I wasn’t sure. After a heavy rain a couple of weeks earlier, I’d noticed a lot of branches in a sort of logjam near the abandoned beaver lodge. Was this just debris or had “nature’s engineers” returned to fix up the lodge? I hadn’t seen any beavers swimming here or any gnawed-off tree trunks, but the bigger part of the pond is to the right, hidden by woods that have grown up since the beavers departed, and . . .  Speculation.
           It’s deer season now, so Thane put on my blaze-orange cap before she walked across the backyard to study the scene. She came back laughing, saying she hadn’t seen the beavers but they had definitely been working on the lodge! Jubilation! A return!
Don and I thought they’d returned for good when I posted this in December 2017:

           We lived here twenty-five years with beavers who’d dammed up a big pond in our backyard. Six years ago they left, having eaten themselves out of house and home; that is, they cut down all the suitable trees within their traveling area. We missed them. The lodge was directly across the pond from our house, so we could watch them from windows, the porch, the lawn. Neighbors.
           Last Thursday, in the backyard Don noticed some saplings cut off in the angled beaver-style at beaver-height, with wood chips scattered on the ground. He hurried to the house to tell me, and I grabbed my jacket to go see. Yes, it had to be done by beavers. Are they back? But where are they living? I went closer to the pond, which was partly open and partly glazed with ice, and I studied the site of the old lodge across the way. During these empty years, the lodge had fallen apart and had sunk into the water. It was still gone; it hadn’t been rebuilt overnight. Then I looked to my left. And there was a great big lodge, over here on this side of the pond, hidden enough around a bend so that what had been visible from the house only looked like a pile of debris.
           They ARE back! I burst out laughing.
           We’re reminding ourselves of the complications of living with these busy neighbors. We’re saying, “Remember how they changed our landscape from woodsy to open? Remember how they even cut down the sunflowers in our garden? Remember the time a beaver dragged off a sapling, tangling it up in our clothesline, which ended up in the pond?”
           But I’m also remembering the time I was working in the garden, kneeling, and heard that grating noise. I slowly turned my head and saw a beaver sitting under a nearby apple tree eating an apple. Companionship.
            After I wrote this, the next spring a logging project began in the woods across the pond, right up to our property line on the other side of the pond, so we could watch the logging equipment roaring away as well as hear it. The project lasted into the autumn. Early on, the beavers fled from the new lodge. We didn’t see them go, but we never saw them again after springtime.
           Here’s hoping that this new beaver family is here to stay!

© 2021 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


November 20, 2021

            I’m posting this on Saturday instead of Sunday because my family is having an early Thanksgiving get-together this weekend.
            In our dining room, because there wasn’t space for it elsewhere when I inherited it, is my mother’s dressing table with its big mirror. But I always see it in my parents’ bedroom. During my childhood I’d sit on their four-poster and watch, mesmerized, as my mother patted on face powder with a powder puff and applied a modest amount (by today’s standards) of makeup. At bedtime she’d take off this makeup with cold cream. I loved the words. Powder puff! Rouge! Lipstick! Cold cream! I yearned to be old enough to venture into cosmetics, to have my own array someday.
            And eventually I did, as well as my own dressing table. My first lipstick was small tube, some sort of sample—perhaps from Avon. My mother didn’t use mascara, but I got my first mascara the same way (no surprise!) that Snowy received her first in The Cheerleader, which she uses when she’s getting ready for her first date with Tom: “She applied . . . the mascara her parents [i.e., her mother] had given her in her Christmas stocking.” It came in a little flat plastic compact type of container with a little brush. It smeared often. Glamorous!
            I was reminded of all this by a September 27th review in Publishers Weekly that has stayed in my thoughts since then: The Red Menace: How Lipstick Changed the Face of American History by Ilise S. Carter. The review begins, “Carter, a journalist and beauty brand copywriter, debuts with a fascinating tour of lipstick trends in U.S. history. She notes that Martha Washington made her own ‘tinted lip balm’ from lard and alkanet root, and that lip rouge went ‘underground’ during the Victorian era, when ‘pallor’ was in style and fashionable women ‘endured a makeup process known as enameling for that just-went-to-her-great-reward glow.’ Prohibitionists briefly considered whether to ‘go to war against the scourge of makeup’ after succeeding in their campaign to ban alcohol, while American cosmetic makers began to cater to the buying power of teenage ‘bobby soxers’ when the European consumer market was slow to recover from WWII.”
            The review concludes, “Full of memorable tidbits, including a decade-by-decade breakdown of the most popular lipstick shades, this colorful survey will delight history and fashion buffs alike.”
            Thoughts about fashions in makeup reminded me of describing Snowy’s 1970s makeup in Snowy when she visits Dudley at his sign-painting business and begins to cry about her dying father. When the sobs are over, she goes into the bathroom (“plainly a men’s room, maintained by a man”), cleans her face, and makes repairs: “In her shoulder bag was the Ziploc bag containing her emergency cosmetics, and she tremblingly reapplied Revlon makeup, Cover Girl mascara and eyeliner pencil, Cover Girl lipstick.”
            At the start of the pandemic I heard a prediction that because of masks we’d be using more mascara than lipstick. So I was surprised to realize recently that my lipstick was almost a stub. Time for a new one! Off to Rite-Aid to the pleasures of the cosmetic aisle! There I browsed and finally chose a L’Oreal tube. The shade: Everbloom. This purchase was deeply comforting.
            Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

© 2021 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


November 12, 2021

          I’ve been thinking about the tricks of my trade—writing.
          I mentioned here before that when I was taking a writing course at Bennington my sophomore year, the teacher was literary critic Kenneth Burke, and in one class he made a suggestion that I’ve been following ever since: keep a notebook in which you jot down descriptions of gestures, etc., that you happen to see or think up. He called these notes “gossip.” So if, say, you’re writing a scene during which someone lights a cigarette (in those good old days, this was an excellent example), you don’t have to rack your brain to describe the lighting; you just turn to your Gossip Notebook.
          Over the years my notebook became so full and messy that finally, with the help of librarian Don, I got it under control by using a big file box and file cards instead, organizing various categories, including:
                    Animals, Birds, etc.
                    Gestures (of course!)
                     Traits and Characteristics
          In a couple of recent Publishers Weekly items, two writers mentioned their tricks of the trade. The review of George Saunders’s Swim in a Pond in the Rain says, “In this superb mix of instruction and literary criticism, Saunders, most recently the author of Booker Prize winner Lincoln in the Bardo, offers lessons from his graduate-level seminar on the Russian short story. In surveying seven pieces by Anton Chekhov, Nikolai Gogol, Leo Tolstoy, and Ivan Turgenev, Saunders concludes that the secret to crafting powerful fiction is, ‘Always be escalating. That’s all a story is, really: a continual system of escalation.’”
          In an interview with John Knox about his True Crime Story (a novel that “was a bestseller in the U.K.”), Knox says, “In writing, the great trick is to stop thinking and just fully inhabit whatever world you’re trying to create.”
          And that reminded me of a Victor Hugo quotation that my friend Dorothy sent me: “A writer is a world trapped in a person.”
          Speaking of quotations, in the “Quotes” section of my file box the first quotation is Kenneth Burke’s definition of “form,” which he gave us in class and I scribbled down: “Form is the creation of an appetite in the mind of the auditor, and the adequate satisfying of that appetite.”
          And in that “Quotes” section is one of my favorites about writing, from Flaubert, which I’ve also mentioned here before:
“It is a delightful thing to write, to no longer be oneself, but to circulate in the whole creation of which one is speaking. Today, for example, man and woman together, lover and mistress at the same time, I rode horseback in a forest, on an autumn afternoon, under yellow leaves, and I was the horses, the leaves, the wind.”

© 2021 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


November 7, 2021

           I’m sure I was smiling when I wrote in The Cheerleader:

           And recently I was smiling over the TV reports that amongst the new words now added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “fluffernutter.” I Googled to get the list of words and found that in the food section some of the words were indeed new to me, including “horchata: a cold sweetened beverage, made from ground rice or almonds and usually flavorings such as cinnamon or vanilla.” But I was familiar with “fluffernutter,” although it’s a term I’ve never used. Back in the olden days we said the full name of a peanut-butter-and-Marshmallow-Fluff sandwich, and I can’t break this habit.
           My friend Sandy has sent me a Wall Street Journal article titled “Sweet Nostalgia: Marshmallow Fluff deserves another look. Exhibit A: this splendid sundae.” Its author, Forest Evashevski, asks, “Just what is the problem with Marshmallow Fluff?” He continues, “It gets zero respect these days. I suppose that brand name doesn’t help. ‘Fluff’ is, after all, the word we use for anything not to be taken seriously. So I’ll begin here by shifting to the generic term for this foodstuff that food snobs scorn: marshmallow crème. There. Does that sound French enough?” He concludes, “My own passion for marshmallow crème dates from—where else?—childhood. I first encountered the Jersey Mud, a sundae endowed with a billowy marshmallow layer, at the late, great Bon-Air soda fountain in Cedarville, Mich., and you can still order one at the Ice Cream Shoppe on the town’s waterfront. If you can’t get there, the recipe here produces a pretty faithful rendition. Go ahead. Enjoy it.”
I           ’ve never had a Jersey Mud sundae! This is his recipe, “Adapted from the Ice Cream Shoppe, Cedarville, Mich.”:

The Jersey Mud
Total time: 5 minutes
Serves 1
Vanilla ice cream
Chocolate sauce
Chocolate ice cream
Marshmallow crème
Malt powder
Maraschino cherry
Fill a sundae glass halfway with vanilla ice cream, lightly packed so the chocolate sauce can snake its way through. Add chocolate sauce. Add chocolate ice cream, lightly packed.
Add marshmallow crème surrounding chocolate ice cream, leaving just the rounded top of the scoop visible above.
Sprinkle on malt powder. Place a cherry on top. If you want to be strictly classical, stir the layers into a delicious mud.

           When I learned last Wednesday that November 3rd was National Sandwich Day, I thought of Bev and Snowy’s favorite sandwiches in their youth. My grownup favorite is a BLT but I got a nostalgic hankering for raspberry jam and (I’ll use the fancy term) marshmallow crème.

© 2021 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


October 31, 2021

            Last week while I was sorting through some papers, I came upon a booklet with a red-and-white cover titled Lakon 1957–2007. It was a mini-version of Laconia High School’s yearbook, the Lakon; it was the Class of 1957’s fiftieth reunion booklet! And this September, as I wrote about here, I’d attended our sixty-fourth!
            The fiftieth booklet was filled with messages from classmates describing what they’d been doing these past fifty years. I had been asked to write something for the  booklet’s introductory pages. So I wrote:

© 2021 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


October 23, 2021

            I’m posting this a day early. As always, my apologies for causing any confusion!
            With friends of my generation the conversation often turns to the frugal habits that were instilled in us by our parents, who belonged to the Greatest Generation. My nickname for us is “Children of the Great Depression.”
            Recently a friend and I got laughing over how difficult it is for us to throw anything away. I encounter this with clothing twice a year, when I put away winter clothes in the spring and when I put away summer in the autumn. Some clothes eventually do go to Goodwill. Others sort of work their way down a hierarchy, from “best” to “everyday” to “not in public” and finally, especially in the case of T-shirts and flannel shirts and such, are cut or torn up and added to the ragbag—in my case, that’s a drawer in a bureau in the bathroom where I keep these cleaning cloths. It took me forever to adjust to the idea of Swiffer dusters. Eek, how can I use something to dust and then throw it away, instead of washing and reusing it?! And I confess that although I’m now a Swiffer fan, I don’t always throw away a dusty, dirty Swiffer; I keep it in a Swiffer ragbag to use in really dusty places.
            That recent conversation reminded me of a piece I posted here on January 12, 2014. Here it is again for your amusement:

            In a “Note on the Text” for Barbara Pym’s unfinished “Home Front Novel” in the Pym book I gave myself for Christmas, Civil to Strangers and Other Writings, Barbara’s friend and editor, Hazel Holt, quotes from Barbara’s wartime diary entries. One of them is “Busy in the morning sewing sheets sides to middle.”
            I was so delighted to see this!
            A few years ago when I wrote a piece for “Ruth’s Neighborhood” about “Children of the Great Depression,” I heard from friends about other frugalities that I hadn’t mentioned or known about. My friend Lib, who is in her nineties, described a thrifty trick from her childhood, saying, “Did your mother tear a worn bed sheet in half and put the two worn edges as side edges and stitch up the original sides into a center seam? It made the sheet smaller but still usable for another few years. I still have some of them. We couldn’t buy anything new until the old fell apart!” She showed me the sheets she’d saved, soft old sheets stitched up the middle. A treasure.
           Then a year later, when I was rereading Barbara Pym’s Some Tame Gazelle, I stopped and stared at something that hadn’t made sense to me before so I’d dismissed it as one more mysterious British activity: a seamstress has come to the home of the main character and is being told what’s to be done that day—“ . . . there are the new bathroom curtains and some sheets to be put sides to middle.” Now I knew! Like Lib’s sheets!
           And now here it is again in the 1939 diary entry, Barbara Pym sewing sides to middle.

© 2021 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


October 17, 2021

            I grew up thinking that a pantry was a natural part of a kitchen. My grandparents’ kitchen had one. Even the apartment my parents rented had one, albeit a small one. And the house we moved to had a fine pantry, in which I learned to cook: cupboards galore; on countertops canisters of flour and sugar beside a breadboard where you could use a rolling pin and/or a cookie cutter.
            But there’s never been a pantry in anyplace Don and I lived. He remembered vividly his grandmother’s version, sort of a standing pantry, a tall cupboard with a workspace that included a big flour sifter. He later learned that this is called a Hoosier cabinet. And the first time we went into the kitchen on a tour of the Sandwich Historical Society’s old Cape, to his surprise and delight we saw one there. He yearned to build a Hoosier cabinet for us, but we didn’t have space. Instead he built shelves over the cellar stairs for a larder.
            So last month an item in Publishers Weekly certainly caught my eye, two books reviewed under the heading of “The pantry plays the star in these new cookbooks.”
            The first is The Modern Larder: From Anchovies to Yuzu, a Guide to Artful and Attainable Home Cooking. It’s written by Michelle McKenzie, a James Beard Award nominee who “delivers an eye-opening and highly practical guide for building and utilizing a well-stocked larder with recipes ‘meant to free you from monotony.’ Larders, otherwise known as pantries, are traditionally used as kitchen storage, but for McKenzie, hers allows her to maximize efficiency with minimal effort. Asserting that ‘one ingredient can change the nature of a dish, elevating it from flat to transcendent,’ she presents readers with useful tips for amping up meals using what is already on the shelf . . . including go-tos such as capers and sea salt, and some less familiar, including banyuls vinegar, Job’s tears (a grain that ‘looks a bit like a fat, ivory teardrop’), and ’nduja (a spreadable salumi).” Wow, I had to Google some of these ingredients!
            The other new cookbook is Ready, Set, Cook: How to Make Good Food with What’s on Hand (No Fancy Skills, Fancy Equipment, or Fancy Budget Required), by Dawn Perry who “offers home cooks an outstanding guide to quick, appetizing meals through clever utilization of one’s pantry . . . these are not gourmet meals but practical ones that nourish without requiring oodles of time.”
            Speaking of anchovies, as The Modern Larder’s subtitle did, I enjoyed “Small but Mighty: Chefs sing the praises of the tiny, tasty anchovy,” by Oset Babur, in a September 2020 issue of Food and Wine magazine that I chose from the library’s stack of free out-of-date magazines. My parents’ pantry almost always contained a tin of anchovies, and they’re a staple on our cellar shelves. He wrote, “It’s official: 2020 is the year of the anchovy. These fish have been showing up in all of the usual places, like Caesar dressing and tapenade, while also adding depth in less expected ways, as with masa-battered kelp served with pungent anchovies at Onda in Los Angeles. Their versatility is  key to their appeal: ‘Anchovies contain richness, sweetness, saltiness,’ says chef Kyo Pang of Kopitiam in New York City. ‘If you fry them, they give off more texture. If you boil them, you get a different flavor. We use anchovies in the broth for our pan mee as well as in our nasi lemak, deep-fried anchovies mixed with homemade sambal sauce and served on coconut rice.” Wow again, and again some Googling!
            On the Food Network’s Beat Bobby Flay show recently, I heard anchovies being called “the bacon of the sea.”

© 2021 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


October 10, 2021

            Last Monday I was happy to see a post on the Sandwich Board about the upcoming Sandwich Fair’s baked-goods exhibit: “Baked Goods competition is ON! Your delicious submissions can be brought to the Baked Goods building on Friday from 4-8. Please make sure you complete the Exhibit Hall Entry form (attached) before you arrive.” Earlier, after an announcement that the Sandwich Fair would be held again this year after skipping last year, a problem arose: how could the baked-goods judges do their judging? Could they remove their masks for just as long as it took to do the sampling? The pandemic certainly does affect every aspect of our lives, doesn’t it! Well, evidently they solved that problem. (It has never occurred to me to compete in this exhibit, but one time a neighbor suggested I enter my cabbages in the vegetables exhibit! I was flattered but felt they weren’t worthy, so didn’t.)
            On October 12, 2014, I wrote here: “The Sandwich Fair was first held on Columbus Day in 1910. Nowadays it lasts through the entire long weekend, starting on Friday at 4 p.m. with free admission and bargain rates for the rides. That’s when we locals tend to go.”
            In the August 30th issue of The Laker newspaper, an article about autumn events in the Lakes Region was illustrated with an aerial photograph of a Sandwich Fair: a far-below huddle of buildings and trailers surrounding a Ferris wheel. I was reminded of the view of Sandwich from the Red Hill fire tower, which photographer Bob Kozlow got for the cover of Henrietta Snow.
            I’m not going to the fair this weekend, but I’ll go in my imagination. I also went in my imagination to Maine fairs and festivals described in the “Fest-Case Scenario” article by editor Brian Kevin in the October issue of Down East magazine. Don and I had always wanted to go to three of them, but the timing never was right.             Here they are:
            • The Common Ground Country Fair is held in Unity. As the Down East article says, the “agrarian carnival [is] hosted by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association . . . sheepdog demos wow throngs of spectators . . . Acres of exhibitors sell and demonstrate every imaginable tool of rural living: Maine-made axes, blacksmith tools, sugaring supplies, solar panels, and everything in between. Plus, the organic chow from the food vendors is a cut above typical festival food—it’s not truly autumn until you’ve devoured your first pie cone.”
            • The Whoopie Pie Festival in Dover-Foxcroft is listed in the article but alas, it was suddenly canceled in September. I daydreamed over the article’s description of past festivals: “the hungry throngs . . . hop from stand to stand, tasting whoopies by the tens of thousands from all over New England, then voting for their favorites.”
            • Don and I almost got to the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest & Regatta. My sister lives near Damariscotta and a couple of times we saw the preparations on Main Street, the carved and painted pumpkins so big they have to be brought in by forklifts, but we were never there for the actual festival. However, we enjoyed the scenes of the regatta on Maine TV news. As the article says, “costumed racers climb into hollowed-out gourds, propelled by kayak paddles, oars, or mounted outboards, then zip (and sometimes tip) around the harbor.”
            Happy October fairs and festivals, everyone!

© 2021 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


October 3, 2021

             On September 21st I was writing in my diary and glancing back through previous September 21st diary entries when I stopped at the one for 2015. In it I had mentioned that Don had been reading an article in the Laconia newspaper about high-school reunions—and to his astonishment saw himself quoted! His young self. He was the editor of his class’s yearbook, the Lakon, so he had had to write an editorial message. And there it was being quoted sixty years later:
          "We now turn to look back upon our high school days as we shall do many times in the future. I hope this book will serve as a stimulant for your memory and a symbol of your many happy days at LHS.
   "On behalf of the LAKON staff I present to you, the Class of nineteen hundred and fifty-five, your yearbook.”

             Reunions! In July I received an e-mail announcing the Class of 1957’s first formal one since our 50th. Planned for September 25th, it wasn’t really an official reunion; it was billed as a get-together but it would be held in the Laconia convention center owned by Ray, one of our classmates, where our 50th had been. Our 64th would start at 3 p.m. so that dinner would be early and we senior citizens wouldn’t have to drive after dark.
             Before this reunion, a little group of us had had an informal mini-reunion, as we try to do each year. Six of us met for lunch at the Village Kitchen in Moultonborough and we had a good time, but the restaurant was full of people dining enthusiastically and we agreed it’d also be fun to have a quieter time. So we decided to have another mini-reunion at “Doanie’s house”—mine!—soon afterward, the guests bringing the lunch. And thus we gathered at my dining-room table. Heart-to-heart talk. And, of course, much laughter as always.
             The convention center was built in the Lakeport section of Laconia on the site of one of the two buildings of Scott & Williams, which had made knitting machinery. My father worked at the main building in Laconia but he’d worked in Lakeport, too. He became the foreman of the heat-treating department. On this September 25th, outside the center a sign in our school colors (red and white) welcomed us: “Laconia High School Class of 1957 64th Reunion.” As I entered I was reminded of the scene in Henrietta Snow when Snowy and Bev enter the former Trask’s building for their 40th reunion: “Snowy looked around, trying to imagine her father working here, day after day, week after week, year after year.”
             Out of our class of approximately 120, about twenty-five of us arrived. Part of the center is an auto museum, and the menfolk (a minority) did a tour of it while we womenfolk sat at the tables and talked or table-hopped and talked. And laughed. When the guys rejoined us, more talk and laughter and table-hopping. Ray distributed a mini-yearbook he’d had made up in our school colors, with photocopies of some our Lakon photos of clubs; there was even a quiz to test our aging memories, fifteen yearbook photos: “Can you name your classmates? Give it a try!” (I knew all but one.)
             The buffet supper featured barbecued salmon, hamburgers, hot dogs. (I chose salmon.) And big platters of cookies. We had a moment of silence for classmates not with us. And Ray asked if we’d like to have another reunion here next year. We shouted, “Yes!” and there was rueful joking about time being short.
             I thought of a scene in A Gunthwaite Girl. Snowy is at Hooper’s; she looks at the friends sitting with her in a booth and looks out the window at her hometown. “...a great fondness for it all welled up in her. More than fondness. Yes, love.”

© 2021 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved




Archive of Past Entries


Pete   (March 31)
Road Trip  (March 24)
Reviews and Remarks (March 10)
Girl Scouts  (March 3)
Board, Not Boring (February 25)
Postholing & Forest Bathing (Feb 18)
Chocolate (February11)
PW's Spring Previews (February 4)
From Pies to Frost (January 28)
An Island Garden (January 21)
More Sandwich Board (January 14) Nancy (January 7)



Spotted Dick (December 31)
Dashing Through the Cookies (December 24)
Chocorua (December 17)
Senior Christmas Dinner (December 10)
The Sandwich Board (December 3)
Nostalgia (November 26)
Socks, Relaxation, and Cakes (November 19)
Holiday Gift Books (November 12)
Maine (November 5)
Cafeteria Food; Fast Food (Oct 29)
Happy 100th Birthday, Dear LHS! (Oct. 22)
Giraffes, Etc. (October 15)
A Monday Trip (October 8)
Laconia High School, Etc. (October 1)

Christmas Romance (September 24)
National Potato Month (September 17)
Globe (September 10)
Preserving With Penny (Sept 3)
Psychogeography (August 27)
Bayswater Books (August 20)
"Wild Girls" (August 13)
Kitchens (August 6)
Old Home Week (July 30)
The Middle Miles (July 23)
Bears, Horses, and Pies
(July 16)
Fourth of July 2023
(July 9)
Lucy and Willa
(July 2)
Frappes, Etc. (June 25)
Still Springtime
(June 18)
Wildefires to Dougnnts
(June 11)
In the Bedroom
(June 4)
Dried Blueberries
(May 28)
More Items of Interest
(May 21)
F(ire Towers
(May 14)
Anne, Emily, and L.M.
(May 7)
Earthquake, Laughter, and Cookbooks (Apr30)
Springtime and Poems
(April 23)
Cookbooks and Poems
 (April 16)
 Items and Poems  (April 9)
Two Pies  (April 2)

Audiobooks (March 26)
The Cheeleader
's 50th Anniversary
(Mch 19)
The Lot, Revisited
(March 12)
(March 5)
Parking and Other Subjects (February 26)
Concord (February 19)
Bird Food and Superbowl Food (February 12)
The Cold Snap (February 5)
Laughter and Lorna (January 29)
Tea and Digestive Biscuits (January 22)
Ducks, Mornings, & Wonders (January 15)
Snowflakes (January 8)
A New Year's Resolution  (January 1)


Jingle Bells    (December 25)
Fruitcake, Ribbon Candy &Snowball
.(Dec. 18)
Christmas Pudding (December 11)
Amusements (December 4)
Weather and Woods  (November 27)
Gravy (November 20)
Brass Rubbing (November 13)
Moving Day (November 6)
Sandwiches and Beer (October 23)
Edna, Celia, and Charlotte (Octobert 16)
Sandwich Fair Weekend (October 9)
More Reuntions (October 2)

A Pie and a Sandwich (September 25)
Evesham (September 18)
Chawton (September 11)
Winter's Wisdom? (September 4)
Vanity Plates (August 28)
2022 Golden Circle Luncheon
(August 21)
Agatha and Annie (August 14)
National Dog Month (August 7)
The Chef's Triangle (July 31)
Librarians and Libraries (July 24)
Clothes and Cakes (July 17)
Porch Reading (July 10)
Cheesy! (July 3)

The Summer Book (June 23)
Bears & Goats & Motorcycles ...(June 19)
Tuna Fish (June 12)
Laconia (June 5)
More Publishers Weekly Reviews (May 22)
Shopping, Small and Big  (May 15)
Ponds  (May 8)
The Lakes Region (May 1)
TV for Early Birds; An April Poem    (April 24)
Family; Food; Fold-out Sofas (April 17)
Solitary Eaters (April 9)
National Poetry Month (April 3)
Special Places—Popular Cakes(March 27) Neighborhood Parks ( (March 20)
More About Potatoes—and Maine (March 13)
Potatoes (March 6)
Spring Tease (February 27)
Pillows (February 20)
Our Song (February 13)
Undies (February 6)
Laughter  (January 28/30)
A Burns Night  (January 23)
From Keats to Spaghetta Sauce (January 16)
Chowder Recipes  (January 9)
Cheeses and Chowders  (January 2)


The Roaring Twenties (December 26
Christmas Traditions (December 19)
Trail Cameras (December 12)
Cars and Trucks(December 5)
Return? (November 28)
Lipstick (November 20)
Tricks of the Trade (November 12)
A New Dictionary Word (November 7)
A 50th Reunion (October 31) "
Sides to Middle" Again
(October 23)
Pantries and Anchovies (October 1i7)
Fairs and Festivals (October 10)
Reunions  (October 3) A Lull  (September 26)
The Queen and Others (
Sept. 19)
Scones and Gardens (Sept.12)
Best Maine Diner (September 5)
Neighborhood Grocery Store; Neighborhood Café (August 28)
PW Picks of the Week (August 21)
A Goldilocks Morning_and More (August 15)
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 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, 2021December 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
Dessert Salads?! (September 6)
Agatha Christie's 100th Anniversary (August 3
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
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)  
(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)