Start Procrastinating Those Christmas Chores Right Now!

I am early this year procrastinating all my Christmas preparations. After I was felled by the flu or whatever it was, I was very late  purchasing my tree from Hilltop Christmas Tree Farm.  Mid-week after Thanksgiving my sister and I made our way out Hwy. 144.  We thought perhaps we had missed the trees altogether, but no, there were still some, but my, they were petite.  Perfectly shaped but small.  

Which suits me fine, especially this year for some reason.  In truth, I have been hankering for a tiny see-through tree like they have in the Czech Republic. Small and  so light and you can carry them home by grasping onto the top and walking it through the streets like a toddler. Inside Hilltop, workers were rocking and chatting and it was if they opened up just for us.  

They had been swamped right after Thanksgiving and were taking a breather. I am happy with my tree and it will mean less trips to the basement for ornaments and lights.  In a week or so, my niece, Hannah, will come and do my “install.”  This means my Christmas install, which is a thing now and something she is very good at.  I keep telling her, I really don’t think my house is install-worthy, but she has shown me I am wrong.

Last year she hung the wreaths in the window by the gorgeous bows she made.  She filled out the door swags with rosemary, magnolia and I don’t know what all.  Mostly, I just like having her in my house for a little while, like when she was little.  We chat and laugh, and if all she did was stick some holly around the candles on the mantel, I would be happy. 

I still avoid, whenever possible, Hallmark movies, although one was on mid-day last week. It crested a new high for improbable. My friends have encouraged me to write a parody of them, but really, you can all write your own parodies better than I.

On the other hand, there is this little Christmas gift.  My television, the actual TV, has been a source of bewilderment and embarrassment for my nieces and nephews for years.  It is neither smart nor dumb, but one of those average TVs that falls through the cracks. But then I was visiting friends, and their TV was a thing of beauty, an object of envy.  

So I bought one. 

It is gigantic. 

It is very smart. 

It will display art, my own or the Great Masters, if I want. 

And it is on, right this minute, on the YouTtube Channel, with a video called, “Christmas Coffee.”  A steaming mug of coffee on close-up, pinecones and holiday scene all blurry and bokeh. Piano music is playing, mellow, with jazzy undertones, but happy and inane in the way you can enjoy it without thinking about it. I am my own Starbucks.

I was once accused of pulling pages out of magazines on how to “live a beautiful, singular life.” Pages on “creating new traditions when the old ones fade,”  All that.  I will cop to this, in part.  I would not say my life is “beautiful,” in the way Condé Nast means.  But it is comfortable, and kind.  Nor is it “singular.”  I need a couple of sheets of paper to list all the people who I care about, love, even. 

As for new traditions, it is interesting the way we abandoned so many things during the pandemic, or when parents die, or our lives move in directions we had not seen coming.  It is difficult and fraught with bad feeling and upset to spend all your energies trying to please Granny, especially when she has been gone for fifteen years.  Stop it. 

Unless Granny’s traditions still make you happy and warm inside.  Then, by all means, continue. That Christmas afternoon hike in the woods?  Of course!  Unless you would rather flip through those old pictures you never seem to get to. 

Me?  I am going to start baking next week or so. I’m re-reading “A Christmas Carol,” which I haven’t done in a couple of years. I might get Truman Capote out, too. But mostly, I am gonna watch that big ole mug of Joe steam on my TV.  Gonna enjoy all that Christmas Coffee on YouTube.

Winter Comforts, Inside and Out

The nights grow long and with them my level of boredom.  I am between series and I find myself  on Youtube as often as not, telling myself I am looking up a thing, but really, I am cruising the latest news on the Harkles — I didn’t make that up, someone else did —and then I want snow, so I visit weather sites, which leads to snow camping, which leads to camping inside your car, which leads to doing so in winterscapes, which leads to Walmart and Cracker Barrel overnight stays, and then I am in a camping gear review jungle, which leads to survival camping, which leads back to the snow, bringing us to fire starters and survival and bushcraft knives. 

You can’t imagine how many knives. 

Hand-made knives, Scandi blades, some with bow drill divots in the handle, stainless steel blades, high carbon steel blades, four inch long blades, eight inch, ten.  Hand-made leather sheaths, plastic sheaths, other kinds of sheaths that ride high, ride low, can be clipped sideways behind your back, which gives off a serious stealthy self-defense vibe. 

And ferro rods.  All of the videos I watch feature individuals with enough pockets to house  several small lighters, but they all build fires by striking sparks into a little nest of wood shavings with a ferro rod.  Now, the ferro rod is a slender rod crafted of ferrocerium, an alloy of materials that make lots of sparks when struck. 

The are small and will work when wet, cold, hot, you name it, and affordable as all get out.  Mine arrived last week and I spent a good half hour outside in the dark thrilling myself with all the mighty sparks I was throwing.  This afternoon I plan to set alight something combustable to see if I can start a fire in earnest.  I have loads of lighters around here, but honestly, it is just so tough to be able harness fire in this sparkly way.  

The ferro rods come with a small metal striker, but, really, you want one of the survival knives for that, one with a flat spine.  Again, because it is just so tough.  My choices in survival/camp/bushcraft knives are so extensive, I will need a few more hours in front of the TV to decide.

These videos lead to other videos, especially of the prepper persuasion, and I can now heat a corner of my house for several weeks with a match, a long taper and a can of Crisco.  

Warmth is a big theme in wilderness survival as well as with the doomsday crowd.  Toward that end, I have also purchased a stack of those survival blankets, the shiny ones that look like you are wrapping up in party balloon material.  Well, actually, you are.  But they can save your life. 

As t the small packs of hand-warmers I have sitting in a box in my vestibule might save your life. They aren’t just for your hands while sitting at the football game or up in the deer blind.  You can throw them into your sleeping bag, your socks, lots of places to keep you warm.

A canteen filled with hot water can be taken into that same sleeping bag or under the mylar blanket, and clutched in desperation against your chest—it, too, can keep you warm. 

Which led me to some web pages for plain old garden variety hot water bottles.  Our cousins across the pond love them, use them almost every night, and I have friends who set their houseguests up with them, too. 

And they are the most wonderful things.  Why don’t we use them more often?

If you come visit me overnight, I can fix you a hot water bottle.  I have several.  And when I fix you that hot water bottle, it will be cute, too, because it will be wearing a sweet little cable knit sweater, a turtleneck sweater, to be exact. When I ordered my hot water bottles, I was led to Etsy, and an artisan in Latvia knit these for me. 

So, lots of old and new going on over here.  All the algorithms advancing my horizons in new ways, taking me to sites that embrace and celebrate starting fires with sparks, sleeping in the snow under a tarp, warming the family around a can of Crisco, a hot water bottle at your feet, which will surely hasten every sweet dream.

What Room There May Be

The last white Christmas I remember was many years ago, at a time when I was entertaining on the regular, and I was getting ready for my annual Solstice party.  The idea of celebrating the Solstice horrified my mother, even when I explained it was the most benign of parties,  merely a symbolic awaiting for the return of the light, but she was having none of it. 

Early on the day of the party I began receiving calls from guests who were traveling for the holiday.  They had decided to leave town early to beat the weather and so had to send regrets.  Because I was busy cooking and cleaning I hadn’t watched the news for a couple of days and assumed my pals were worried about the weather where they were headed. 

As I saw off the last of my guests that night,  it began to rain a little, maybe a flake or two thrown in.  I awoke the next morning to a foot of snow, as unexpected and as magical as I remember snow when I was a child.  We were snowbound for several days, with only the most trepidatious sorties out for family gatherings, or supplies. 

Again, we look to the skies for signs of snowfall.  We are assured the temperatures will be frigid, dangerously and life-threatening cold, with or without the white stuff.  The eight-year old kid in me hopes for snow, the running to the front door at night, checking for the shimmery swirl of flakes in the lamplight.  Peeking through the blinds in the middle of the night, the way the room is brighter in the morning after a snow, even with the shades drawn, the thrill of untouched drifts in the backyard. 

But another part of me has already been on the phone minding other people’s business as it pertains to their Friday appointments in Nashville.  Already I have offered my car to make a late-in-the-week airport run because I have all-wheel drive, and I think those are magic words this time of year. I have helped to crash the weather website I like best, checking every half hour or so for updates, even though the updates are still just speculation, at least for snowfall.

I have the luxury of sitting in my warm little house with no travel plans and dreaming of snow.  And I also have the grown-up worry of traveling loved ones, icy steps and pregnant nieces. I have become my worry-wart grandmother. I am not just concerned about my family, either, but yours, and anyone who will travel, or have their travel plans derailed because of the bitter cold, the snow that will fall somewhere this Christmas weekend. The disappointment of that.

To be on the road, and cold, and worried—pregnant, perhaps, and stranded.  This is how the Christmas story begins. An ordinary, “story of my life” kind of tale that seems to hit hardest those with the least. 

The innkeeper often comes off badly in Nativity plays.  We think he’s mean.  Yet, he didn’t turn them away.  He sent them around back, to the only sheltered place he had left.  Might he have brought them blankets?  We don’t know, but, surely if he had one to spare he would have.  Some bread, an oil lamp for the long night ahead. 

I chatted today with my friend, Kveta, by email, sending her Christmas greetings and remembering our time together in Ukraine. War-town, cold and cast into darkness now, and what can we do?  The suffering in so many places.  It is enough to make us hide in our beds and view the world through the same blinds we peek through, waiting for snow.  

We only have so much room. 

But might we still be a blanket for others, that manger of hay?  Might we look for and keep some small corner swept out and tidy, somewhere warm and safe for anyone who needs it?

The gift of that. Small perhaps, but loving.  Just enough, and therefore, perfect. 

When the People you Love Make You Sick

I rise from my sickbed to send you post-Thanksgiving greetings. My illness has been impressive, with high temperature and aches, and a couple of times there, I may have hallucinated.  This is not hyperbola.  This is fact, and had it persisted I would have been in the ER, along with some of you, I hear.

I just partied too much, I guess. Not the partying of my youth, with late nights and smokey places, but with so many family gatherings, beginning on Wednesday and carrying over to Saturday evening.  I was already run down before the festivities began.  For all my gathering up celery and day old bread, for the all the bags of sugar and brown sugar and pecans, I failed to check my vanilla. 

Vanilla. Another trip to the store.

But the idea of being spotted in public looking as I did, all streaked with flour and blobs of butter was more than even I could bear.  I decided instead to use bourbon, which mostly went unnoticed by everyone except for one super-taster nephew.. 

I cooked, baked, stirred, folded dough, and brined the turkey in a Gott cooler. My nights were late, my mornings early.  But really, things pulled together pretty well, better than last year when I set the oven on fire. We had fourteen for dinner, but mercifully not here, and it was all so pleasant we stayed until evening.  On Friday my niece, Alex, thought it would be fun for the two new toddler cousins to gather at my house to make cinnamon ornaments, as she and her grown cousins had done at Sutton Elementary.  

She showed up with supplies and all the toys her little one, Arthur, had outgrown, bringing them  for Cy, the younger cuz. I decided why not ask all the adult nieces and nephews, and their parents to join us, not to make ornaments, but to visit—my grandmother’s favorite word—and to spend an nice afternoon before they all take off for evening plans.  

We never got to the ornaments, as you would imagine, but the boys, who hardly know each other, thank you Covid, played well and sweetly, with only little bitty grabs for toys.  Cy, who was born smack dab in the middle of Covid, couldn’t get over his cousin, the little person just like him, and he spend a good deal of time squatting down and getting in Arthur’s face, saying. “Baby?  Baby?”  

It’s his new word, and everyone is a baby now. 

Then Saturday and dinner with the newlyweds, Brad and Hannah.  I think there was a game on, too, and part of the point of the party, but by then I was beginning to fade.  It was still nice to get to know Brad’s parents a bit better, to spend time with his kids, who are great. But mostly I wanted to go home and cough my head off in peace. 

By Sunday, I could hardly move. I crawled to the medicine cabinet for a  thermometer, and after a time, as I faded in and out, it began to beep in a frantic way to signal I was in the danger zone.  I lay on the couch with my barking cough, my fever-addled dreams, and moaned a lot.

My sister, ahem, was unwell, too. So I am inclined to blame her. Of course, I was out and about in an intense way getting ready for Thanksgiving.  I spent time with more people in a three day period than I have seen in the last three months. And the little ones.  Who knows where those hands have been?

I did my due diligence and took one, then two, Covid tests.  Both negative. I rallied a bit, my temperature went down, slowly, but still.  I had a doctor’s appointment already on the books, so with luck she can help me to a full recovery when I see her later today. 

And yet, the time with my dear hearts couldn’t have been better, unless a few more of them had been able to join us. I don’t know about the others, but I loved every minute of our being together.  So, let’s face it.  Sometimes your family makes you sick.  But then, sometimes, like this past weekend, it is worth the risk.

The Morning After…

I wish I could tell you who said it, but last week I read someone—someone famous—said he thought having a favorite football team was one of the best life lessons there is.  It was a Brit who said it, so when I write football, I mean soccer. 

Loving a football team is a large life lesson in losing. It teaches us about disappointment. 

And, oh, the exuberance when they win.  The clan celebration, boisterous cheering, the singing. 

I’ve been in pubs when the game is on and one can only say that the place is heaving.  The walls swell when the local’s team scores a goal. They constrict and suck all the air from the room when the opponents do. 

Once, in a nursing home I was touring with my Czech colleagues and the nuns of St. Elizabeth, we lost Martin, their boss and and my friend. We were chatting with residents about relatives in America, admiring the sweaters still on the needles they were knitting for grandchildren. Later on we found Martin sitting beside one of the few elderly men there, both of them glued to the soccer game playing on the small TV at the foot of the bed. 

Teams are patriotic.  The night we were with the nuns the Czech Republic soccer team was playing another country in some big match up.  But teams are familial, too.  Loyalties are passed down from father to son, generations worth, and grown men strut down the pub in garish scarves, not caring they look about twelve years old.  

In fact, it’s charming.

I think about this as the day after Election Day dawns. Some mornings in the past I have awakened early, happy in the results.  Some mornings I have awakened disappointed.  There was a time when we allowed ourselves a few days to mope, but then Thanksgiving is on its way, Christmas, and we commiserated with each other, but only briefly.  And privately. We coped.

My mother loved politics, had grown up spending every Saturday night with her parents as guests of my great-aunt Georgie and Uncle Jim.   Dinner conversation was a back and forth politician argument between my grandfather and his sister—she a capital D Democrat, he of the GOP persuasion. Politics was served up along side the mashed potatoes, and Mother remembered it was lively, heated at times.

And yet, at the end of the evening cheeks were kissed, hugs passed around, thanks given for the meal and plans made for next Saturday night. 

Imagine that.  

Perhaps the stakes are higher now.  This is what we have been told.  This past election has been touted as “The Most Important Election of Our Time.”  Well, aren’t they all?  I mean, really, don’t we hear that almost every election cycle?  

I get it. Maybe this election was the most important.  But I think how we react to it is equally important.  How we move forward is critical. I don’t see much hope for civility, so I try to channel my Aunt Georgie ginning around all Saturday afternoon so everything is perfect and inviting when she and Small, my grandfather, go hammer and tongs. 

In fact, a good debate helps clarify our own views, exposes the chinks in our own logic, and opens up a path for mutual agreement and consensus. I can’t imagine it in this environment.

But I wish it were so. My grandfather and his sister surely loved a good match of mental fisticuffs. And each surely held their beliefs and political leanings quite firmly, and weren’t afraid to say so.  I think, also, they surely must have respected each other, knew that people are different, want the same things—or don’t—and compromise is almost always the only path forward. 

It may be too much to ask for; civility and thoughtful debate, when civility seems almost nonexistent and nuance seems lost and beside the point. But surely we can try. Spitting into the wind, perhaps, but how else will we fix things, all the messes we have made?

All the Dark Places

(Image by Alice Hale Adams)

My pal, Alice, is in Wales to bury her cousin, Katherine Anne, in a country churchyard.  Her cousin loved Wales, loved her Welsh ancestors, and so did her sister, Beverly, who made it to the small churchyard first. Their ashes now lie side by side, and they chat, I like to think, about the summer trips they took each year, the stone abbeys and churches they explored, the archives and libraries they busied themselves in, those long summer days while the sun shone until late in the evening. 

It is a pilgrimage, of course, and Alice does not travel alone.  What pilgrim does? Her grown children are there, and Neffra, who, from her very beginnings, has been more baby sister than first cousin to Alice. 

It is as if Alice is far away and like she is right here.  We have texted and chatted on the phone, although the calls drop in and out.  This first week of their travels they are in a cottage, and it is perfect, right down to the wobbly wi-fi and phone service.  In a place such as this, the south of Wales, so quiet and bucolic, one can be tenderhearted and tolerant about such things. 

Last night Alice sent a message from one of the designated dark places. She said the dark places are for star-gazing, and the street lamps, if there are any, don’t come on all at the same time.  Wales has hundreds of such places it turns out, including parks and reserves set aside just for the sky at night.  The stars.  The wonder of it.

The first time I saw the stars, more than just Orion’s Belt or the faint and blurry dippers, I was sat on a bench in the high desert of New Mexico.  I was visiting family and as the window glowed orange then pink, we trooped outside for the nightly show. The temperature cooled and the stars appeared overhead at just the same speed as the horizon changed from pink to purple to ink. 

I had never seen such stars. Had never felt such coolness on my skin in the middle of summer. We sat without speaking, such a rarity, and some of us smoked our pipes, and some of us sipped our drinks, and some of us did nothing at all but breathe.

As much as I love light, love to think about it, admire it, capture it in pictures—for that is all photography is, capturing light—I long to experience that kind of darkness, too.  Even now, I am afraid of the dark, just a little, and I once had a claustrophobic meltdown in a pitch black cave, but there is something about total darkness, with only the moon and stars for light, that compels me in what must be a primitive impulse.

Light pollution is all around us, and it is hard to find a spot we can get to where it doesn’t exist. The app, Light Pollution Map, will show you everywhere in the world where artificial light brightens the night sky. A quick look and we can identify urban areas, name the cities by the sprawl of illumination radiating from the hub.  

There are some patches of pure dark, too;  over the Atlantic, Greenland, central Africa, Uzbekistan. And I want to see it, total darkness. Turns out, we have such a spot close to us.  Head to the Falls of Rough and find the raggedy shaped diamond of land between Fordsville, Short Creek, Olaton and Horse Branch and there you will find no discernible light pollution. 

For some time I have fancied traveling to dark places and writing about what it is like there. A daytime trip to reconnoiter that little island of dark a couple of counties over might be a good start. Then, when I am feeling brave, a night trip.  Maybe when the time changes. Maybe I’ll bring along provisions.  And a friend, just in case.  Someone to hold my hand in the dark.

HAUNTING OUR FAMILIARS

Tucked up in my living room I sit in a big chair I had no need for, but purchased anyway, and it has become my writing place.  My living room is odd, spanning the entire front of my house and it doesn’t make sense in any objective way.  I am told the family that built the house, back when my little street was the end of town, had a grand piano and where I sit now the piano sat when the house was new, sometime in the mid-1920s. 

A grand piano, baby or otherwise, is the only way to make sense of the room. 

But now this chair fills an odd corner. 

Early morning writing is the only way to make use of this corner and this chair. There is a bench here, too, but it only has company when I entertain, and that hasn’t happened in a very long time.  In fact, it was the favorite spot of my pal, Otis, who came to my get-togethers, dragged, I think, by his wife.  He anchored this end of my living room with another put-upon husband, Vance, and over our antics and silliness I think they bonded. 

Otis told me once he finally had a good time at one of my parties and then I quit having them. So, now when I sit here, trying to think of something to write, I channel Otis and Vance, and think about how much I miss them.  Those parties, though, they about killed me getting everything ready, but now I wish I had thrown a few more, because you never know when your pals may leave you for good. 

I wouldn’t think of them nearly so often if I were sitting in the writing place I prepared upstairs.  If the living room is odd, running the length of the house, the large bedroom upstairs is equally odd, running the width.  It makes for a nice, sunny room, but somehow too big for a bedroom, although it has some nice features like a window seat and a nook. I am turning it into a sitting room and office, but really, it just sits there wondering when I will get in gear and do something, anything with the space.  

I have an antique table I bought solely because of the brass feet shaped like dolphins.  When I sit  at the table with the dolphins I look out over the backyard.  This is pleasant but the view rarely changes and it isn’t as inspiring as I thought it would be.  So, to chat with you each week, I sit in a chair I didn’t need but have come to love, look at all my familiars from a different angle, laptop, sitting squarely when it was designed to be.

Virginia Woolf talks of a street haunting, walking out around nightfall, some insignificant errand excuse enough to explore her surroundings.  How different it seems. The street cloaked in fog. Furtive figures hunkered down in coats, hurrying…home? Or some secret meeting of the business or personal kind  But she begins the essay in her sitting room.  Noticing the clock.  The hole in the hearth rug, burnt by a rolling log, an ember, a careless guest. 

Sitting where I never sit is a bit like a street haunting. It turns my attention in a different way, through other windows, the half-shadow I never notice hanging about my front door. The leaded glass as resolute as the fir door it sits in, the way it throws rainbows on the wall as the sun sets, all fairy lights and dancing color. It lasts but a minute.

The refracted light I see every afternoon. From this chair in the morning I see the prisms.

Interesting how we can haunt our own houses, our own familiars.  Important, too, perhaps. My unnecessary chair has become my favorite perch.  Not for very long and not every day, but it lets me look out different windows, lets me see the backs of things, reminds me of old friends and the ghost of  parties.  The reflected and dancing light of place, from this angle and that.

Farewell, Ma’am

The Queen is dead.  Long live the King.  

Words from movies, books, evocative of palace intrigue, skullduggery, warring nations on horseback, battles fought with lances and arrows.  A time of scourges and plagues. Poison in rings, monarchs laid low by the most common of illnesses.  Dramatic times.  Romantic times. 

Our time, as it turns out.  

A peaceful death in the fullness of old age, sad but dignified. 

The morning her doctors “expressed concern” for her heath,  I woke to dings on my phone, friends announcing the news.  We are all Anglophiles to some degree. It has become one of our things, sending each other post cards from the Royal family when we find them.  Writing messages and signing them “Charles and Camilla,”  or the more more familiar, “Chuck and Cammie.”  The Queen writes sometimes.  She especially missed me at Balmoral a few summers ago.  

The Cambridges missed me at sweet Charlotte’s christening.  This one sent from London,  dated, “10  May 2016.”

I have given my friend Jason a tea cozy in the shape and likeness of the first Queen Elizabeth.  Another friend gave him a life-sized head of a smiling Queen Elizabeth II to place in the  passenger window of his car. It looks for all the world like he is driving her out to Costco to pick up chew toys for the Corgis.  I think she is even waving. 

It was no surprise, then, to learn our most devoted lover of the English, Jason, made reservations in London the moment he heard she was unwell.  A few days later, he is on a flight, determined to pay homage, to soak it all in, the ending of a true historic era.  To bear witness.

And he took us with him. 

He dropped pins to show us where he was so we might snake along the Thames with him as he moved in the queue, an eight hour slow walk to Westminster Hall.  He send a selfie with his new friends, his mates, who were standing in line with him.  A close-up image of his wide yellow wrist band, the thing that allowed him to step out of line for a moment to get something to eat or drink. 

He arrived in London, dropped his bags  and headed for the line on the first day of the Queen’s Lying In State. He waited in line making friends while we sat in front of laptops and TVs, trying to catch a glimpse of him.  After six hours or more he had arrived at the top of the steps leading down to catafalque, and he texted us, but none of us saw him just then. 

We see him later in the evening, a grainy copy of a TV shot, as he bows his head, walks  away, looks back, moves on. Later he spent a quiet day walking around London with his good friend, looking at flowers and mementoes.  He found a good spot at Horse Guards Road to watch the funeral procession and sent a video of the Queen as she passed him. 

For all the pageantry, and no one does it better than the British, we were also watching a much beloved mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother mourned by her family. Publicly, on display, and the state and personal impact of her passing kept me riveted to the coverage. Sorrow etched deep on the faces of those who loved her most.  Charles, Anne, Sophie Wessex, often the pure images of grief.  

And why are we moved so, by it?  My friend, Marianne, was moved by the organ music, setting her off to weeping.  She, too, is an organist, and the majestic pipe organs served to open her heart and make it tender. The pipers and the laments fading away did it for me. The tear-rimmed eyes of her children and grandchildren, too. 

A woman in line, overcome with tears, told an interviewer she didn’t know why she was so upset, really, but that this loss reminded her of her own losses.  Maybe that is where the wellspring of emotion comes from. Maybe this is the thing that connects us, finally in death, a queen or a commoner or a Yank, the way we can have it, that fellow feeling, the focus on something bigger than ourselves, but in refection, about ourselves, too.

Of course, the Royal Family, like all families, has troubles.  Deep ones with tensions and upset, and that, too, is on display and out there for public consumption.  But this is not about that. Nor is it about the viability and correctness of the Monarchy.  Kirstie Young, in her moving remarks at the close of coverage on BBC said of the Queen, “She made history.  She was history.”  

Queen Elizabeth’s story is compelling, even though, or perhaps because, it has an anachronistic aspect to it.  But as she aged, she moved with the times, too, and we saw her more frequently.  Saw her playful in her role. Ask Paddington bear, or James Bond. We saw her in those big bright hats, her perfect skin, that smile. 

Farewell, then, to a steady presence I did not know, but one for whom I felt real affection. I will miss her.

Oh, We Got Talent, Right Here in River City

Well. 

Once again I am impressed with isaand amazed at the talent that lurks about in Owensboro.  These seemingly regular people going about their ordinary lives, and then, one night, they light up the stage.  Maybe it is the stage in the Old Trinity Church.  Maybe it is the stage of the Empress Theatre.  Maybe the stage at OHS, home of the Rose Curtain Players. 

But last week, it was the Trinity Center, on a Saturday night, for a production of Lisa Kron’s play, “well.”  There was a great write up about it I am told.  I hesitate to say I missed that article in the Messenger-Inquirer when it ran, but my friends didn’t, and they asked if wanted to go with them, season ticket holders as they are. 

With the promise of a downtown dinner beforehand, I was in.  They tried to explain to me the premise, the staging, but really, they weren’t very good at it.  Something about only two characters — which is wrong.  They were right in saying the play centers on a grown daughter and her ailing mother. The mother, by the way, has been unwell for years. 

The set design is minimal, but before the play started I leaned against the apron and took photos of the recliner and the paraphernalia on the small table to its right.  I have been in homes where illness has come, and I was drawn to the tabletop, counted the objects, marveled at the perfection of them. Tissues, a notepad and pen, the remote, a bottle of pills, a large drinking glass and straw.  There was ice in the glass.  Ice.  Hard candies scattered about. A large bottle of generic antacids, hand sanitizer, a coffee cup full of pens.  

The requisite zig-zag afghan across the back of the recliner. A tote bag hanging off a corner of the table. That’s just about it for props.  The stage is divided in two, sort of,  The recliner, with the mother firmly planted in it, anchors one part of the stage and provides the audience with a visual and emotional warmth, while the minimalist other half becomes whatever the playwright needs it to b, allergy clinic, meeting room, I can’t remember what all. 

What I will not forget for a good while, though, are the performances of the central characters.  Lisa, portrayed by Nicol Maurer to energetic, comedic and heartbreaking effect.  The mother, Ann, played by Debbie Reynolds, in a subtle, nuanced performance that offers a space of calm in this mother-daughter reckoning. 

It is a classic genre, the mother-daughter thing, but the playwright, Lisa Kron, lets us know right off the bat it isn’t about her or her mother.  Oh, no.  Never that.  And of course, it is.  What marks this play as different from some others is the unconventional way the story is told. It is a comedy, but also a play within a play, with a memoir feel to it, but lots of breaking the fourth wall, so I don’t know.  All I know is, it works and I am so glad TWO has offered it for us.

The action is quick-paced and funny, laugh out loud funny, and the “swingers” not quite Greek chorus, not quite fully fleshed out characters, are all superb and perfectly cast.  I have met every one of them in real life.  You know what I mean. 

Here is the part where I say, I have seen plays in Chicago, London, New York.  One summer I walked in the evening half-light to Dublin’s Abbey Theatre where Fiona Shaw was starring in “Medea.” 

The plays in those places were wonderful.  Stunning, some of them, like “Medea.”

But so was the performance last Saturday. So well done.  So easy to suspend disbelief as if, we, too, were struggling to make sense of our earliest influences—our mothers—and our necessary separations from them. We want to let go, but then we don’t, exactly, either. 

Wes Bartlett and Mary-Katherine Maddox direct, and they must be pretty adept at it because we don’t see their guiding hand in any obvious way and that’s hard to pull off. 

Theatre Workshop of Owensboro will have more performances this coming weekend.  I was so impressed by the experience I want as many of you who can, to have it, too.  Contact TWO for ticket price and times.  You’ll almost think you are at the Abbey.

Reading, and Re-Reading the Best Books

My book group has chosen for our first book this fall,  “Rules of Civility,” by Amor Towles. You may know him as the author of  “A Gentleman in Moscow,” but “Rules of Civility” was his debut novel. I have read it already, read it shortly after I read “A Gentleman in Moscow” and here’s the deal. 

I didn’t like it. 

It is set in the late 1930s in New York City, and not my favorite setting for a novel, especially as I was able to spend so much time with the Count in the Metropol Hotel, gazing at the Kremlin across the way when we got bored. So, “Rules of Civility” just fell flat. But here’s another deal. 

This time, I love it. 

It is as if I never read it the first time.  Nothing is familiar to me and I am underlining and highlighted passages like I am to be tested on it, and it a great read.  How is this so?  Well, it just is. 

I enjoy re-reading my favorite books.  “The Great Gatsby”  for example.  I suspect teachers require it because, as classics go, it isn’t too big.  I’ve read it three times, at different phases of my life, and it was a different book each time.  If you haven’t read it in a while, return to it, and you will see what I mean. 

My grandmother was an avid reader.  She brought home stacks of novels and history books, always returning them before they were due.  She didn’t want a blemish on her permanent record. In her 80s she began checking out books she had read years before.  She had forgotten most of the book, forgotten, even, that she had read it, and as far as she was concerned this was such a good thing.  She got to enjoy it all over again. 

I have read, and re-read, Joan Didion’s “Slouching Towards Bethlehem.” Her “White Album,” too.  Both are collections of essays set in the 1960s, an era I was influenced by, but too young to take an active part in. I will remember an image, a snippet of a well-turned phrase, and off I go to find the book.

It then lies about for a month or more, and before I return it to its home, I have read everything in it.

My pal, Alice, rereads books all the time.  If you could see her collection, you would know what a thing this is.  When she finishes a book, she writes in pencil on the last page, her name, the date and time.  I love this but would never be consistent enough to do it. 

She re-reads Michener.  Michener, I say.  She recently purchased “The Drifters” and sent it to my Kindle—did you know you can do this?  Also a Michener, but one I would actually read. It took place in the 60s and followed a band of disenchanted youth across continents. I loved every page I didn’t actually turn.

I am already looking forward to a week at the beach, maybe two, when I have forgotten enough to enjoy it again. 

I read “The Miniaturist” on a long flight home from Europe, and then finished it off at home. I loved it so much, I would like to read it again before I start the sequel, “The House of Fortune.”  It arrived last week from Waterstones, and is one of the prettiest books I have ever seen.  I can’t re-read my copy of “The Miniaturist”, though. Alice has it, read it, and can’t give it back.  She says she can’t explain it, but once she reads a book, it is as if they have bonded, Alice and the book, and to my face she said, you will not be seeing this again. 

I have to admire her honesty, and I have offered to get her own copy, but no, it isn’t the same, apparently.  She has probably already penciled in her name, the date and time.  I get it, sort of, but no, not really. 

About the only book I loved but could not read again was “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”  I tried, but as I read the first few pages the intricate and intriguing plot twists spooled out in front of me and there was no going back to a fresh beginning. 

Maybe in my eighties I will see it at the library.  Pull it down from the shelf, as my grandmother did, and think, oh, this looks interesting. Get a nice young person to help me carry it to my car.  It’s a big old book.  But not as big as a Michener.

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