Ruth Doan MacDougall: "Ruth's Neighborhood"
Facebook Columns: April - June, 2020
Current entries are HERE.
BEST OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
June 28, 2020
In May, the editor of New Hampshire Magazine sent his yearly e-mail to us “super advisers” about the July “Best of New Hampshire” issue. But, Rick wrote, “This year I’m asking you to BE the editors (honorary) of the Best of NH list.” He asked that instead of sending him a list of suggestions we send him one or two or three things “you would most want to give a Best of NH Award to” if we were the editor.
Well, I put on my thinking cap. And eventually into my mind came a sight in the White Mountains that’s astonishing, magnificent, and funny: an elephant profile. Out from a wooded mountainside in Crawford Notch, a cliff protrudes in the shape of a gigantic elephant head, complete with a wrinkly eye, the trunk disappearing into the woods below. The hike is brief but not the view from the top of the head. I titled my pick “Best Little Hike to a Great Big View.”
The July issue has arrived. I turned to the “Fun and Adventure” part of the “Best of NH” section and was tickled to see that the magazine had illustrated my pick with a spectacular photo of the Elephant Head.
After reading the other picks in “Fun and Adventure,” I turned to what I usually turn to first (of course): “Food and Drink.” This caused a sentimental journey to places Don and I have been or discussed going to, as well as the discovery of new places we might have sought out. In the places-we’ve-been category, chosen by honorary editors and the magazine’s readers:
Lou’s Restaurant & Bakery in Hanover. Don and I almost always stopped there whenever we were in Hanover. The first time was because I was amused by a first-name coincidence: my mother’s brother, my Uncle Lou, went to Dartmouth (and in Hanover he met and married my father’s sister Isabel, and that’s how my father and mother happened to meet!). We kept returning because of the food.
Lindy’s Diner in Keene. I’ve written here before about how Don, during his first two years at Keene Teachers’ College, would sometimes stop at Lindy’s for a supper of a “dropped” (poached) egg on toast and a “dimey” beer for a total of about fifty cents.
Polly’s Pancake Parlor in Sugar Hill. While we were living nearby in Lisbon, we celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary there in 1962.
Bishop’s Homemade Ice Cream in Littleton. We called this “the purple place,” its predominant color. Black Raspberry!
Jordan’s Ice Creamery in Belmont. We looked forward to stopping there on the way home from a shopping trip in Concord or after checking a southern New Hampshire hike in my father’s 50 More Hikes in New Hampshire.
In the category of places we didn’t get to but always planned to:
Pickity Place in Mason. A fairy-tale restaurant and garden. Its website tells its history: the 1786 red cottage “at the end of a winding dirt road . . . was chosen by Elizabeth Orton Jones as the model for her illustrations in Little Red Riding Hood (Little Golden Books, 1948).”
And a couple of the places we didn’t know:
Moose Alley Cones in Pittsburg (a town famous for its moose sightings). We did a lot of exploring up there while I was editing my father’s Indian Stream Republic in the 1990s, and we certainly would have stopped for a cone. I’ve Googled and learned that it opened fifteen years ago.
Also there’s Fresh Fish Daley in Exeter, where Fred Daley, the owner, “uses a hockey stick to snag lobsters from their tank”! That’s a destination and a sight to see!
June 21, 2020
Have you made the big decision about getting a haircut? I finally did. I had obeyed the rule I saw on a TV list of Things Not To Do In a Pandemic: Cut your own bangs. So my hairstyle had become what could only be called Old English Sheepdog, and when the village salon reopened I made an appointment. Such a major event; such anticipation! Laura, the owner, met me outside her house, in her pretty cottage garden, wearing a face shield and mask. She took my temperature. Indoors, in the chair, I removed my glasses as usual but kept my mask on. After the haircut, I rejoiced in feeling like myself again. Another pandemic experience.
Hasn’t it been fascinating to see on TV and elsewhere how people are coping with their hair. I’m most amused by the menfolk, particularly those whose cropped cuts have turned into curls, which obviously embarrasses some of them. I’m reminded of my surprised delight when Don, who had a crewcut in high school and a short “collegiate” style after, got into the spirit of the late 1960s by growing a beard—and letting his hair grow: ringlets! As Snowy says of Tom’s surprise curls, “He looks like Shirley Temple.”
In December 2016, after reading a piece in Reminisce magazine about bouffant and beehive hairstyles, I wrote here about hairdos:
I guess that we women can all look back in horror at the ways our hair has been tortured. In photos we see our tortures through the years. For me, I stop and look especially hard at a framed strip of childhood photographs of my sister and me taken during a session with a professional Laconia photographer. Before this big occasion, our mother made an appointment at Thelma’s Beauty Salon for us to have permanents. So there we are in our pretty little dresses sewn by our grandmother, our blonde locks wavy and frizzy.
By the time the bouffant came along with Jacqueline Kennedy, I was wearing my hair quite short. I let it grow out some for the bouffant, but mainly I concentrated on height on top, using rollers and that new (to me) trick of backcombing. I recently ran across my 1964 passport and stared at my photo in—you guessed it—horror. And amusement. Such labor-intensive bangs and crown!
That passport took me (and Don with his) to England for two years, during which time I was impressed enough by Twiggy to start aiming for her sleeker look. I never did try a beehive. Reminisce magazine points out that Marge Simpson’s blue hairdo may be the tallest beehive ever.
And now in the hair crisis of this pandemic, I’ve found myself humming a 1960s song, “Aquarius,” from the musical Hair.
June 14, 2020
Thane, my niece, sent me a quotation in April, one that has stayed in her mind since she first read it. It’s from T.H. White’s Once and Future King:
“Merlin to Young Arthur: ‘The best thing for being sad,’ replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world around you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.’”
When Thane came to visit last weekend, she brought her tent. The day before, driving past my neighbors’ house, I’d seen three small tents pitched in their yard and realized they had company. Usually the indicator of visits is cars in people’s driveways. Now, I learned, it’s tents in yards, too!
And as I watched Thane pitch her tent in the backyard I learned that her little Big Agnes tent was even more lightweight than the ones I’d slept in during the years of checking my father’s hiking books’ backpacks with my friend Amy. Thane set it up in a flash. It looked adorable in its site between the picnic table and the rosa rugosa.
I’d recently learned from a weather report that the June full moon is called the Strawberry Moon. It was full that night, bright enough to awaken Thane, she told me the next morning, and it had also awakened birds who had begun to sing, thinking they were welcoming dawn.
I’ve written here about the first tent in my experience and my sister’s, when our parents bought a “lot” in some woods on Lake Winnipesaukee’s Moultonborough Neck and we camped out there several summers: “Dan pitched a big tent that he had designed and Ernie had sewn. In it we spent the nights. Penny and I can still smell the inside of that tent, the pine boughs Dan cut for us to sleep on, the wool smell of our itchy blankets, the tent’s canvas smell mingled with the faint reek of whatever stuff Dan had used to waterproof it. Penny became the subject of a family tale about how she was so little that one night in her sleep she rolled out under the edge of the tent, where Dan discovered her the next morning, still sound asleep.”
Aside from the tents at the Girl Scout camp we stayed in during the famous trip to Washington, D. C., the only camping-out I did in the Girl Scouts was at a Girl Scout jamboree on Winnipesaukee’s Bear Island. We didn’t encounter bears, but my friend Gail and I had the adventure that I gave to Snowy and Bev and Puddles on fictional Blue Island where, as Bev tells the tale, “we practically got drummed out of the Girl Scouts” after boys invaded their tent. We certainly learned a lot from that!
RIDING AND “BROADING” AROUND
June 7, 2020
In The Cheerleader :
“Snowy passed her driver’s test, without any mistakes on the written test or eye exam. She did scrape the curb, parallel-parking in front of Woolworth’s, but she didn’t stall on Worm Hill. When her license came from Concord, she asked for the car and took her first drive alone, just downtown to the library to get another of Mrs. Moulton’s novels, yet it seemed a trip into a new life.”
Last week my friend Lynn suggested that I write here about the “riding—and ‘broading’—around” that the Gang did after reaching this driver’s-license milestone. During the pandemic, maybe we are remembering more clearly than ever the sense of utter freedom. An open road before us, in more ways than one!
After I got my license, I still mostly walked to destinations: the high school and downtown. But my best friend, Sally, lived in Gilford and hadn’t yet got her license, so now I could drive her home when it was simpler than having her parents pick her up, such as after our stint in the Ground Observer Corps tower when we supposedly guarded New Hampshire against bombs and invasion. As I wrote about Snowy and Bev’s arrangement:
“Afterward, unless Bev was sleeping over, Snowy would drive her home, and on the way back to town she always had to fight the temptation to see how fast she could get her folks’ 1951 green Ford going.”
Despite this temptation, I usually was a timid driver, and the thing I feared most was a dead animal in the road. While driving, how could I shut my eyes to avoid seeing the poor squashed chipmunk or squirrel or ? One time when my friend Gail suggested we go for a drive in my folks’ car, we encountered a dead cat in the middle of a bridge. Gail wasn’t bothered and found my squeamishness funny (she became a nurse; does this sound familiar?), but I insisted that we not go across that bridge on our return trip because I couldn’t bear to see—and try to avoid driving over—that poor kitty-cat again. I thought I could figure out a different way back, but my detour damn near took us to Canada.
I can’t remember where we got the term for that other aspect of the new freedom, “broading around.” It’s described in The Cheerleader thus:
Either Snowy or Puddles would borrow the family car “and pick up some of the Gang and drive to the lake and stroll around the penny arcades, bowl a few strings, play miniature golf, and flirt with the boys who were also on the prowl.”
In real life this took place in the Weirs Beach section of Laconia, and I can smell the fry-o-lators as I write this right now. How independent and worldly-wise we felt!
SUNDAY DRIVES, AGAIN
May 31, 2020
During the early days of staying-at-home and social-distancing, a friend mentioned that she and her husband found themselves going for drives to get out of the house. Soon I saw on TV news that other people were escaping in the same way. “Going for a drive”: childhood associations; more leisurely times. In my childhood, these were “Sunday drives” that began when World War II and gas rationing ended. In our family’s 1940-something Mercury, they seemed both luxurious and adventuresome.
The cover story of the June/July issue of Reminisce magazine is “Sunday Drives.” The magazine’s readers described their memories of these drives and provided nostalgic photos. And there’s an explanation of the “Sunday driver” term: “Entertaining the family with a ramble to parts unknown became a popular habit as more people acquired cars. With cheap gas and time to explore, aimless—or erratic—motorists sometimes slowed traffic to an annoying crawl, giving rise to the epithet ‘Sunday driver.’”
Four years ago in May, I wrote here about Sunday drives:
On a recent Sunday, Don and I went for a drive. Our ostensible purpose was to find the location of a place that sells cordwood, but mostly we simply had an urge to go for a drive after being cooped up all winter. So we drove some of the back roads of Sandwich, roads that we hadn’t been on in quite a while. Of course dirt roads in muddy springtime are always exciting, but we didn’t sink out of sight, and when we emerged onto a main road we drove to a little coffee-shop bakery, the Cup and Crumb, for a celebratory snack.
That’s when I realized that we had done a Sunday drive.
Do people still do this?
When my sister, Penny, and I were kids, we often found ourselves in the backseat of the family car as our parents went for a drive, often on Sundays. Aimless? No, there was usually some sort of purpose, such as seeing scenery or paying a visit or getting ice-cream cones. Aside from the ice-cream cones, I mainly remember the two farms we used to visit. One belonged to our father’s friend since boyhood who was now a veterinarian, Claud, and Claud’s wife, Louise. There I mainly remember cows. I was timid about cows; Penny wasn’t. The other farm belonged to Jack, who worked with our father at the knitting-machinery plant in Laconia (my inspiration for “Trask’s” in The Cheerleader), and Jack’s wife, Gwen. There, I liked the rabbit hutches. I wasn’t timid about bunnies! (But gradually I began to suspect that the “chicken” stews our mother made weren’t actually chicken.) These two farms were near a dairy bar, so these drives combined two purposes. And the dairy bar, called the Double-Decker, specialized in two scoops.
Last Sunday Don’s sister stopped by for a visit. She told us that she’d just got an urge to go for a drive. I said, “A Sunday drive!” She laughed; she knew what I meant.
THE PASSION PIT
May 24, 2020
On the refrigerator there’s a clipping that a friend sent us years ago because it reminded her of Snowy and Tom and his cream-colored convertible. It’s a black-and-white photograph, vintage 1950s, of a drive-in theater, taken from a back row. In the distance are the movie screen and rows and rows of cars and jalopies; up close, front and center, is a convertible, top down, with a young man and woman cuddled on the cozy bench-style front seat, his arm around her shoulders, her head on his shoulder. They seem to be intent on the movie, but we know otherwise, don’t we.
After all, the 1950s nickname for the drive-in theater was the Passion Pit.
A lot of drive-in theaters have closed over the years; isn’t it disconcerting that the remaining ones are suddenly popular again! According to the news, many are open, doing a booming business and attracting new customers as well as old, despite rules such as cars must be parked six feet apart and popcorn will be brought to cars by masked and gloved staff.
I wonder if people are getting gussied up to go to a movie at a drive-in, as they might for an indoor movie. I heard somebody on TV talking about getting dressed up for a remote broadcast, calling it “quarantine chic.” And on a news program I learned that some women may acquire—or already have acquired—fourteen masks, a week’s supply of two a day, and are coordinating them with their outfits. So I wasn’t alone when I automatically began choosing which of my two masks would go best with whatever sweatshirt I was wearing. And I had been pleased to realize (and then startled by the pleasure) that my pink mask happens to match my pink gardening gloves, which now are pandemic gloves, and my blue mask sort of coordinates with my blue rubber gloves. On the same program it was also predicted that women will be spending less on lipstick and more on mascara.
In A Gunthwaite Girl, when Snowy and Bev and Puddles are doing a nostalgic tour of their hometown in 2005, Bev at the wheel, they have a look at Gunthwaite’s Passion Pit:
The drive-in theater was one of a very few left in the state. Bev stopped at the gate bar. At this time of day with the ticket booth shuttered and the expanse of parking spaces empty, the screen blank, it felt like a ghost town.
Puddles said, “Same as everything else when you grow up, it’s got smaller. Hey, there aren’t any speakers.”
“Radio,” Bev said. “It’s done via radio nowadays, Roger explained how, but I tuned him out. I miss the speakers. Remember how people would forget they had a speaker in the window and they’d drive away, snapping the cord?”
Puddles said incredulously, “You mean you and Roger still go to this drive-in?”
“Once in a while,” Bev replied.
“I’ll be damned,” Puddles said. “Well, I’m betting that at your age, you two actually watch the movie.”
Bev made her demure-maiden face in the rearview mirror at Puddles, then crossed her eyes. “Mostly. We miss the old cars’ bench seats, though.”
© 2020 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved
SCHEDULES AND SUSTENANCE
May 17, 2020
Last weekend as I sat down at my big desk calendar on Don’s desk (during the last year and a half I’ve been using his “office” for this sort of deskwork and using the dining-room table for my downstairs “writing office” instead of my upstairs “office”), I started to fill in the upcoming week with my schedule. Then into my mind, for the first time in ages, came the old saying:
Wash on Monday,
Iron on Tuesday,
Mend on Wednesday,
Churn on Thursday,
Clean on Friday,
Bake on Saturday,
Rest on Sunday.
Amused by this recitation from childhood, I jotted down my own basic schedule (water all the plants on Sunday and some of them on Wednesday, etc.) and added the items I hoped to accomplish each day (reminding myself not to aim for RESULTS). That used to be it, but after Don died I found that the calendar’s week’s schedule didn’t include enough details. I needed the details to hold the day together, to remind me of the things (domestic and otherwise; the sump pump, the car!) that Don had taken care of, which now were part of my schedule. So each day on a small legal pad, I elaborated. This elaborate version of the old saying would have Monday include everything from the reminder that my niece would be phoning as she does early each morning to the reminder to bring in the bird feeder at the end of the day (before I reluctantly give up feeding them in the spring). Oh, and a reminder about laundry!
Speaking of things domestic, once again Sandy Oliver writes intriguingly about them in her “Journal of an Island Kitchen” column in the Maine Working Waterfront newspaper. The title of her May column is “Dinner in the Time of COVID: Turning back to Maine traditions is a good strategy.” She writes that because her parents lived through the hard times of the Depression and World War II, “our household oozed privation wisdom. Waste not, want not. Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” My sister and I remember our mother often saying to us, “Waste not, want not.”
Sandy Oliver goes on to recall that her mother talked about “the cracker and milk suppers . . . that sustained her family.” Penny and I loved these suppers, which often our mother resorted to on Sunday nights. I preferred saltines (and added even more salt); Penny was a Ritz girl. Sometimes we had pilot crackers, extra-hearty.
Sandy Oliver continues, about the pandemic, “Thank goodness I like to cook, and that my work in food history has put me into contact with survival strategies from a millennia of human difficulties . . . The foods that end up being hard to acquire are almost always meat, fat, dairy products, and wheat flour.”
To this, Snowy and Bev and Puddles and Dudley, remembering their French classes, would say, “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.”
© 2020 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved
May 10, 2020
In New Hampshire Magazine’s special edition, Best Places 2020, one of the articles is about “Cities—and Towns!—On the Rise,” by Barbara Coles. I was surprised and quite overcome to see that one of the cities is Laconia, my hometown.
Barbara Coles wrote: “As other New Hampshire cities and towns started to rebound in recent years, Laconia lagged behind. It was, in large measure, because of actions taken a half-century ago that, while well intentioned, hampered the city’s recovery.
“One of those was a major urban renewal project in the 1970s that, among other things, created a difficult traffic pattern that discouraged downtown development.” Difficult? Oh yes!In ensuing years, Don and I never got used to it. Don took a what-the-hell attitude and drove around and around the pattern if necessary. When I was doing errands alone in Laconia, I parked outside the pattern and walked.
Barbara Coles continued, “But, in 2017, an ambitious new master plan was formulated, one that would set the city on an upward trajectory for residential and commercial development.” Part of this “is the cultural activity that will be provided, starting late this year, by the Colonial Theater. The century-old Main Street performance venue, long closed, is now being restored to its former elegance; it’s one of the largest historic preservation projects in state history.” The dear old Colonial Theater! It was, of course, my inspiration for the movie theater in The Cheerleader.
Five years ago my friend Dorothy Duffy invited me to write a guest column for her column in the Laconia Citizen newspaper. I wrote “A Hometown, Real and Fictional,” in which I described how I could create, in fiction, my version of what happened to my hometown:
“ . . . The classic rule for writers is: Write about what you know. Thus, of course, Laconia has found its way into my novels in various guises. (So have lakes—there’s always at least one lake in them.) And here’s the fun of it for writers: we can rearrange, raze, resurrect; we can re-create a town!
“ . . . Thus on Gunthwaite’s Main Street there’s still a fictional version of the old O’Shea’s department store, because I couldn’t bear to tear it down. I still get heartsick when I think of the loss of the historic O’Shea’s building. Indeed, there is no urban renewal in Gunthwaite’s downtown. All of the old Main Street still exists. And the fictional dairy bar inspired by Weeks Dairy Bar is still flourishing. However, there have had to be changes over the years of the Snowy Series, so although the fictional O’Shea’s building still stands, it’s broken up into three businesses. The fictional restaurant where Snowy waitressed in the 1950s, as I did at Keller’s Restaurant, is gone, as are Woolworth’s and other stores lamented by Snowy and her friends. The fictional movie theater is for sale . . . ”
How will the pandemic affect Laconia’s restoration of the Colonial Theater? No matter what happens, I suspect that the plan for the real theater will inspire the restoration of the fictional one!
May 3, 2020
During a chat on the phone recently, Penny asked, “What was the name of Dan’s [our father’s] favorite philosopher?”
Off the top of my head I replied, “Marcus Aurelius.”
Penny agreed. But later, to refresh his daughters’ memories, I got out Dan’s copy of one of his favorite books, The Practical Cogitator or The Thinker’s Anthology, selected and edited by Charles P. Curtis, Jr. and Ferris Greenslet, copyright 1945. I did find Marcus Aurelius—and to my delight I rediscovered a piece of typing paper that I’d first found in the book when Marjorie, our stepmother, gave me the book. On it Dan had typed out aquotation from another favorite philosopher, heading it “ADVICE ON HOW TO COMPOSE YOUR LIFE (in one area) from William James”:
“I have been growing lately to feel that a great mistake of my past life—which has been prejudicial to my education, and by telling me which, and by making me understand it some years ago, someone might have conferred a great benefit on me—is an impatience of results. Inexperience of life is the cause of it, and I imagine it is generally an American characteristic. I think you suffer from it. Results should not be too voluntarily aimed at or too busily thought of. They are sure to float up of their own accord, from a long enough daily work at a given matter; and I think the work as a mere occupation ought to be the primary interest with us.”
Dan ended his typing with, “From The Practical Cogitator, Page 94, out of which I felt the need of this opinion on 28 November, 1990, on a day of no results.”
Amusement! During her daily phone call, I told Thane, my niece about the rediscovery. She agreed that Marcus had been Dan’s #1 favorite with James a close second, and we talked about the pressure for results in our to-do lists every day. Even in my simple days I’m in a tizzy over my deadlines (self-imposed or not) and household tasks to be accomplished before the day is done. I had thought that my schedule in my life alone would be the same, up at four a.m. to tackle the day: write first, everything else next. I hadn’t comprehended that the “everything else” would now include Don’s tasks and I would have less time, not more.
Penny and Thane and I concluded that we must remember Dan’s William James quotation.
Soon after, I read Healing After Loss’s daily entry, in which the editor, Martha W. Hickman, commented on a quotation from Robert Frost’s “Two Tramps in Mud Time” by comparing the changeable weather in the poem with “the weather of grieving. One moment we’ll be feeling good, moving on in some productive activity—or some nonproductive activity (one doesn’t always have to be productive!)—and something will happen to bring back the grief as though it were all fresh.” I enjoyed the coincidence of being reminded we don’t have to be productive or have results.
Here is Frost’s poem, National Poetry Month now over, May weather arriving:
The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.
April 26 2020
People seem to be singing a lot these days, to keep their spirits up, and I’ve been joining in.
I used to sing around the house, enthusiastically if not always on key. Then after Don died, the house became silent. I realized I must remedy this; I must start singing again, to hear a voice in the house and also to warm my voice up so it wouldn’t be a rusty squawk when my niece phoned each morning. Without thinking, I began singing the songs Don and I sang, including Showboat duets—“Make Believe,” “Why Do I Love You?” These did not lift my spirits.
Then I remembered that Garrison Keillor had once advised that if you’re feeling down, you should sing “Oklahoma” with ALL the yips in it. I began doing that, then adding in the songs I could recall from my days as a timid second soprano in the junior high glee club organized by Laconia High School’s wonderful music teacher, Mr. Williams, who included in our repertoire, together with “The Caissons Go Rolling Along” and “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” and such, Noel Coward’s beautiful “I’ll See You Again.”
The Lawrence Welk Show reruns are on Maine’s PBS channel on Saturday evenings, and I have supper with them, remembering how I only watched the shows with my grandparents at their house. Otherwise, I ignored or scorned it. Now I sing along, sometimes laughing (the hairdos!), sometimes weeping (the lyrics!), and I jot down song titles to add to my own repertoire in the shower and around the house. Most recently I’m warbling “April Showers.” And the New Hampshire channel’s New Hampshire Chronicle program recently reran an episode about the town of Gilmanton’s Dump Run Café in the Community Church, where local musicians get together and folks drop in for coffee after going to the dump and good old sing-along songs are sung; I sang along and jotted down “Side by Side,” “Ain’t She Sweet,” “You Are My Sunshine” . . .
It’s springtime, so every morning I step outdoors into the glorious racket of birds singing their heads off. The weather has been cold, but on a couple of warm afternoons I heard the first spring peepers, teeny-tiny frogs waking up in the beaver pond out back, the males ready for (I can’t resist) “Makin’ Whoopee.” Six years ago here I wrote this about the sound of spring peepers:
“How to describe the sound? ‘Sleigh bells’ is the comparison I’ve read most often, but it’s not quite right. In my youth, when people (including my father) put chains on their tires in the winter, a dreaded procedure that Don still grimly recalls (frozen fingers), I thought that spring peepers sounded like these chains on cars speeding along.
“In any case, it’s a sound that can be enjoyed even when the trilling is so deafening it should hurt the ears. It’s so physical, I’ve stood beside the pond in evenings and wondered that it didn’t knock me over. Nature’s rock concert!”
Here’s to all of us singing during a pandemic!
© 2020 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved
April 19 2020
Penny and I aren’t having our usual visits now, so she has mailed me a copy of Maine’s Working Waterfront newspaper, which she usually brings. As I’ve mentioned before, I always turn eagerly to the “Journal of an Island Kitchen” column by Sandy Oliver, who lives on Islesboro.
This island on Penobscot Bay is quite close to the mainland, just three miles off Lincolnville on the mid-coast. One time Don and I drove around it during a trip down east; the ferry carries vehicles as well as people and makes several twenty-minute trips a day, quite different from more remote Isle au Haut, where we used to spend a week or two. But still, it’s an island, and, as she writes in her latest column, “We live in plan-ahead land.” In the evening you can’t dash to the store on a spur-of-the-moment errand; it’ll be closed. And the places where you can dine out are limited or nonexistent.
She writes, “For 30-something years now, I’ve eaten three meals a day on-island,” and most of them she has cooked for herself. So when she goes to the mainland, she is struck by all the opportunities to dine out: “Food is ubiquitous; not just restaurants and donut shops, but in drugstores, gas stations, and even Reny’s [a renowned Maine bargain department-store chain] ...In settled areas, one passes an opportunity to eat every few seconds. Not so on island.”
I realized again that social-distancing is making us live on islands, complete with daydreaming about dining out spontaneously or with reservations
It was in England that we began to dine out regularly at a favorite restaurant, the Bell in the town of Thetford, to which we’d drive from our Brandon apartment in our MG Midget, scooting along on narrow roads between hedgerows. We were amused that one of their specialties had an American name, Chicken Maryland.
Back in America, living in a basement apartment on Beacon Street in Boston, we walked over to the Half Shell on Boylston Street for cherrystone clams on the half shell or, a big splurge, Scallops Poulette. Then we moved back to New Hampshire, to Dover near the seacoast, where our treat at Portsmouth’s Fishermen’s Pier restaurant was Baked Stuffed Shrimp but we also got acquainted with McDonald’s Quarter-Pounders.
I remember, too, how startled we were when more than coffee began to appear in surprising places. Take-out hot dogs at a convenience store? Feeling brave, we bought a paper dish of the deep-fried mushrooms that suddenly were available along with (another surprise) French fries at a local gas station—they weren’t great but they were good!
And so I go through our history, dining out in memory from the early years onward to dining at the nearby Village Kitchen I’ve mentioned often, planning what I’ll order there when, let us hope, this type of island-living is over.
© 2020 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved
NATIONAL POETRY MONTH 2020
April 12 2020
Dudley shouted, “‘The sea that bares her bosom to the moon’!”
Snowy said, “Honestly, Dudley. That’s not the only line in the whole poem.”
In this scene in The Cheerleader, Gunthwaite High School seniors have memorized Wordsworth’s “World Is Too Much with Us” sonnet for their English class. I’m celebrating National Poetry Month by trying to remember which other poems our Laconia High School English teacher, Mr. McBride, had us memorize—and by also recalling those I memorized on my own.
My grandmother Ruth once remarked that she was glad she had to memorize poems in school because now, when she couldn’t sleep, she would put herself to sleep reciting them. I think in her day there was much Longfellow memorized, such as “The Song of Hiawatha” and “Paul Revere’s Ride.” And Felicia Dorothea Hemans’s “Casabianca”: “The boy stood on the burning deck...”
In our senior English class we memorized “Prologue to The Canterbury Tales,” as also chronicled in The Cheerleader. And there were Milton’s “On His Blindness,” Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” Housman’s “With Rue My Heart is Laden,” and Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar.” What ones have I forgotten?
And which poems did I memorize on my own? I chose funny poems, Dorothy Parker and Ogden Nash. I loved “Father William,” Lewis Carroll’s parody of a solemn, uplifting poem by Robert Southey; Lewis Carroll’s begins:
“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”
I also memorized exotic-lands poems, including Rudyard Kipling’s, “Love Song of Har Dyal.” And of course a lot of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Here, for an April month in a pandemic, is her “Goose-Girl” poem that I’m apt to quote:
Spring rides no horses down the hill,
But comes on foot, a goose-girl still.
And all the loveliest things there be
Come simply, so it seems to me.
If ever I said, in grief or pride,
I tired of honest things, I lied;
And should be cursed forevermore
With Love in laces, like a whore,
And neighbors cold, and friends unsteady,
And Spring on horseback, like a lady!
THE DOAN SISTERS GO TO A BRITISH SUPERMARKET
April 5, 2020
Last week I had run out of fresh vegetables and my fresh fruit was down to one Granny Smith apple, so for the first time in a month I went to the supermarket in nearby Center Harbor. Things tend to be quiet on a weekday morning in winter/early spring; this Wednesday the place seemed almost normal, in a subdued way. It was familiar, yet unfamiliar. The confused familiarity suddenly took me back to the first time my sister and I went grocery-shopping during our trip to England in 1990.
That evening I got out the journal I’d kept of our three-week stay, which I’d titled “The Doan Sisters Go to England.” When Penny and I went, I hadn’t been back to England since Don and I returned in 1966 from two years there; Penny had been there five years before, studying cottage gardens with garden designer John Brookes, author of several gardening books. Our goal on this trip was to visit gardens—but in my journal I also recorded lots of sightseeing in stores.
We spent our first week in “self-catering” Rose Cottage, on a farm in tiny Purton. When we asked our landlady about grocery shopping, she directed us to a supermarket in Lydney, the town down the road. We found it and, as I wrote, “in we went—and back out again to get a shopping cart—in again, and the first impression was of underwear. On the right were racks of women’s bras and underpants and teddies in various seductive hues! That was the Textiles section. Other section signs above aisles read:”—and I listed the ones I’d jotted down, which included “Market Garden; Clean Sweep; Butcher’s Shop; Biscuit Barrel; Pets Corner; Bread Basket, The Cellar (wine and beer); Tobacco.” Familiar but unfamiliar!
I continued, “We bought basics like paper towels, Kleenex, and toilet paper, and delights like ginger crisps, bramble jelly, shortbread, the orange-squash drink, Sharwood’s India Hot Vegetable Curry, Carr’s Table Water Biscuits, and Lyons teabags. The assortment of sweets and digestive biscuits (cookies) and little cakes, tarts, etc., was amazing. The English sweet tooth!
“When at last we pushed our cart up to a checkout counter, we both thought at first that the checkout cashier was handicapped, and then we realized all the other cashiers were also sitting down. Very sensible; why don’t our supermarkets allow this?
“At this supermarket and others we went to later you had to ask for a bag. The cashier, after ringing up each item (via scanner or old-fashioned method), just moves it down the counter into a shopping cart, out of which you grab it to put in your own shopping bags. Thank God for the string bags Marjorie [our stepmother] gave us! We loaded up. A couple of days later we figured out, watching, that the system here was to wheel your shopping cart after checkout to a long shelf near the door, where you unload it into your shopping bags more leisurely.
“Leaving, Penny and I realized that we hadn’t yet heard a ‘Have a nice day.’ And we never did. People instead said, ‘Thank you.’”
Current entries are HERE.
Audiobooks (March 26)
The Cheeleader's 50th Anniversary (Mch 19)
The Lot, Revisited (March 12)
Parking and Other Subjects (February 26)
Concord (February 19)
Bird Food & 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)
2020Welcome, 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)
2019Christmas 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)