Literary Kindred Spirits

Five Photos, Five Stories #2

Challenge Rules: I am to post a photo each day for five consecutive days and attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction or non-fiction, a poem, or a short paragraph.

I am relentless when I desperately want a friend to read something terrific. Such was the case with my friend, Louise, and Margery Sharp’s  “The Innocents.” It’s a quiet little book which in its slow build-up to a most shocking (and satisfying) conclusion brilliantly exposes the human condition, for better and worse.

Margery Sharp, Nancy Mitford and many of the other great British authors one never finds in the Costco bins were quite the topic of animated conversation around the dinner table that evening. Sharp and Mitford have nothing in common, really, other than they share a confidence that their reader is at least as bright as they are. This is an irresistibly rare trait and one sorely lacking in much of what I read today. I despise being bludgeoned with the symbolism cudgel while reading. I get it already!, I want to shout.

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Eventually Louise found the Margery Sharp novel in a second-hand bookstore in Texas. And when she brought it home, to her immense surprise, out fell the obituary for the other author under discussion that bookish evening, Miss Nancy Mitford. Of course Louise sent her serendipitous find to me immediately. These moments when the universe whispers must be shared at once.

It warms my heart to imagine an unknown literary kindred spirit clipping the obituary of one favorite author and tucking it safely into the pages of another.

Tell me. What treasures might you have come across in the pages of a book?

I’m supposed to invite another blogger to join in on this challenge. If you want to, please do. 

Posted in Books, Challenges | Tagged , , , , , | 78 Comments

Five Photos, Five Stories #1

A fellow Virginia blogger, Suzi, has invited me to participate in the Five Photos, Five Stories challenge described thusly:  I am to post a photo each day for five consecutive days and attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction or non-fiction, a poem or a short paragraph and each day nominate another blogger for the challenge.

Five consecutive days of my blatherings. I apologize in advance. Here goes:

In preparation for yesterday’s big Westie Rescue fundraiser held in northern Virginia, I got my good ol’ country boy, Max, neatly groomed so he could hold his own next to all those canine Beau Brummells in their little plaid outfits.

Just as we were ready to leave, he made a final swirl around the yard and reappeared like this:

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Those little green thingies? We call them “hitchhikers.” Never let it be said, however, that regional terms are dead and gone. Here are the names I’ve heard for them since posting this on Facebook for the amusement of friends and family:

Jan calls them “beggar’s lice.” Sue says “tag-alongs.” David in Kansas calls them “stick-tights.” My uncle in Minnesota says they don’t have those there. Ha!

Turns out the actual name for these little green devils is Virginia Stickseed. Sounds rather like an Edwardian author, doesn’t it? “The Adventures of Max the Westie” by Virginia Stickseed. 

I’m supposed to invite another blogger to participate in this challenge. How about you, charming Woodland Gnome? Are you game?

Thanks for reading,

Barbara

Posted in Challenges, The Boys | Tagged , , , , | 108 Comments

Bookplates, Bats, and Bovines. Oh My.

When I spied this vintage bookplate, my frugal side reminded me I really don’t need another owl image.  The little bat in the corner, however, proved too much to resist and  I now have an addition to my owl collection.

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Are you afraid of bats? I hope not. Living in the country, we’ve come to admire the bat and to thank him for the mostly mosquito-free evenings we enjoy on the porch while he darts about industriously.

When I shared my excitement over the new picture with my friend, Pix, she pointed me to a video which reminds us that mothering can manifest itself in miraculous ways.

And on this Mother’s Day, may I share with you a favorite poem? Interesting to note the author is a man. So much for men not getting it, because of course they do as Wendell Berry shows us.

Poem: “Her First Calf,” by Wendell Berry, from Collected Poems (North Point Press).
Her fate seizes her and brings her
down. She is heavy with it. It
wrings her. The great weight
is heaved out of her. It eases.
She moves into what she has become,
sure in her fate now
as a fish free in the current.
She turns to the calf who has broken
out of the womb’s water and its veil.
He breathes. She licks his wet hair.
He gathers his legs under him
and rises. He stands, and his legs
wobble. After the months
of his pursuit of her, now
they meet face to face.
From the beginnings of the world
his arrival and her welcome
have been prepared. They have always
known each other.

And why not use the cow as a thinly veiled excuse to present Max, defeated again in his attempts to rile up the bovines-next-door. Their indifference to his antics serves as a source of great frustration to the little Westie-boy.

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Poor Max. We’ll take a walk and see if Prada the mule wants to play.

I hope all you mothers out there have exactly the day you most desire.

Barbara

Posted in Art, Random Ruminations | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 130 Comments

The Ecstatic Gesture

This is not a post about daffodils, I assure you, in spite of the quote I am about to share.

As we all know, the only way to plant daffodils is to pile them on to a tray, and then to run out into the orchard and hurl the tray into the air, planting them exactly where they fall. There may be other, less orthodox methods; if so they should be spurned. The tray, the ecstatic gesture — that is the only sure road to success. –Beverley Nichols

Excellent advice for planting daffodils, but what do you think about the three other words in this quote which have been niggling away at me for some time now? The Ecstatic Gesture. How I love the idea of it. It is the exuberant release of inhibition and the joyful expression of individuality which appeal to me so deeply. And leave me feeling vaguely inadequate somehow.

Why? Because I’m just not capable of the ecstatic gesture. Not really. I have my moments when I might burst into song to an indifferent audience of one Westie-boy, but that’s not exactly a daily occurrence. Am I some sort of dullard that I am not metaphorically hurling bulbs into the air? So steeped in introversion that I’m left pining away on the sidelines not experiencing life to its fullest, more an observer than participant?

I’ve asked friends the ecstatic gesture question. One described running outside after a drought into the pouring rain to dance and splash in the puddles. Marvelous! But I wouldn’t do that. Not because I don’t think it’s wonderful, but because it wouldn’t even occur to me.

Fortunately, there is a flip side to this gesture coin.

A dear friend lost her husband a few weeks ago, and there have been, among the tears, many warm and funny memories shared of this special man. He was an extrovert, I guess, a man capable of – if not ecstatic gestures – certainly memorable ones. He once gelled up his hair troll doll-style and came downstairs for breakfast with a perfectly straight face while his family collapsed in helpless laughter. How do you not love a man like that?

Of all the stories I’ve heard about him over the years, my favorite surfaced just a day or two after his death. It involved something quiet and intimate. It seems that occasionally before leaving for work in the morning, he would write a love note on an orange in the fruit bowl. “I Love You.” “You’re Beautiful.” Imagine the delight upon its discovery. Imagine the impact of this one small gesture in the life of his now grieving wife.

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This is what it’s all about, I suppose. It’s not so important that the gesture itself be an ecstatic one. What really matters is to leave behind a trail of gestures that have left others feeling ecstatic, loved or cherished.

Even introverts can do that.

How about you? Introvert or extrovert? Ecstatic gesture or no?

And I thank you for reading,

Barbara

Posted in Random Ruminations | Tagged , , , , , , , | 155 Comments

Monthly Photo Challenge: The Changing Seasons: April

Each month, those of us participating in this photo challenge return to our chosen location to note the passage of time through “The Changing Seasons.” I’ve chosen to document a year around my old house and gardens.


Phew. April has been one labor-intensive garden month, but I’d say the results have been worth it, wouldn’t you?

Okay, it’s too late for a true April Fool’s Day prank, so I’ll ‘fess up that this is Longwood Gardens in the Brandywine Valley of Pennsylvania. After all, who needs all that fussy upkeep of fountains in the home garden, anyway?

April is the month when Spring officially boots Old Man Winter out of the garden here in central Virginia. What better way to illustrate that point than with a series of before and after shots? The “befores” were all taken on April 7th give or take a day or two. And the “afters” on April 30th.

This is the before view of the big old oak in front of my bedroom window:

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And After:

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You could almost hear the leaves popping out!

Here is heuchera:

Peony:

Dicentra Bleeding Heart:

Contorted Redbud Tree “Lavender Twist”

April is the month we all wait for – the month in which the garden goes through its transformation from dormancy into abundant, vibrant life. And with it comes such a sense of satisfaction and joy to all of us who spend our waking hours performing deep knee-bends in flowerbeds. I always say “who needs a gym when they have a garden?”

I’ve been up and at ’em early each morning because it’s impossible to stay in bed past sunrise. The birds simply won’t allow it, especially a wren who has set up housekeeping in the boxwood under our bedroom windows. Her arias begin just as the sun rises, our little avian Maria Callas. So I thought I’d try my hand at a video to capture a bit of birdsong for you and let you see the scale of the biggest old oak on our land. I better stick to my day job.

And why did I not notice a plane is flying overhead until just this very second? My days as videographer are numbered and rightly so.

Westie Before and After:

Behold the splendors of a country dog doing what he does best. They say the terrier’s prey instinct is stronger than even the sex drive and although Max can’t exactly perform the latter, he more than makes up for it with the former:

And because I began this post with Longwood Gardens, I’ll end it that way too.

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How could I resist taking a picture of this little dumpling? You’re welcome!

And many thanks for reading and to Cardinal Guzman for hosting this challenge,

Barbara

Posted in Challenges, Garden, The Barn | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 96 Comments

War Stories: The Painting

I grew up listening to war stories told by my father, US Army Signal Corps, and my mother, a German child of WWII. This is the third in the series. The others are here and here. And maybe even here, now that I think about it.

The painting has been in my family since before I was born. You can see it behind my radiant mother in this photo:

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If you Google artist Wilhelm Schloz, the Wikipedia entry describes him as writer, painter and book illustrator.

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What it doesn’t tell you is that he had only one arm, courtesy of World War I. His two eldest sons, both WWII Luftwaffe pilots, were killed in action. And a third son, Oswald, would hurl himself in front of a train desperate to escape service in the Wehrmacht near the war’s end. During those last years of the war, Mr. Schloz and family lived next door to my mother’s family in a formerly prosperous little neighborhood near Stuttgart.

My mother remembers their house vividly. It contained a long gallery hall displaying pieces of armor and had walls hung with art. Tucked into a corner of the garden was a bronze statue memorializing the two dead aviators.

To the rear of their properties was the community bomb shelter.  Each family in the neighborhood had their own reserved area of the cave into which they could place their most cherished items in case of an air raid. Nothing was ever stolen.

Inevitably the bombs which were aimed at Stuttgart’s industrial heart would hit a residential area. After one air raid, the Schloz family emerged from the cave to find their house destroyed. It had taken a direct hit and was now a smoldering pile of rubble.

In my mother’s war stories, one person consistently emerges as hero. She is my grandmother, the Oma, who is pictured in my blog header as a young woman. And in this story, she once again saves the day.

Without a moment’s hesitation, she took the Schloz family in. It’s easy to be generous with a full larder, harder when hunger is a constant gnawing presence. Nothing tells the story quite like these “before and after photos” of my Opa, the first taken in 1938, the second in 1946. Whether you had money or not, there just wasn’t any food to buy.

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Oma was a skilled seamstress and began taking in sewing to barter for butter. To conserve the meager amount of coal they were able to scrounge, she stayed in bed all day under the goose down covers and sewed. She would light the stove only when the family came home in the evening.

The day of the bombing, my mother and her sister were evicted from their beds to make room for the extra adults. A pot of watery potato soup went on the stove, and life went on as normal.

Mr. Schloz began sifting through the rubble and within a few months had managed to make a reasonably comfortable dwelling for his family in the cellar and there they lived for the war’s duration. During the post-war occupation the families lost touch, my mother’s family evacuated to Austria.

We don’t know exactly how or when Mr. Schloz arrived at Oma’s door years after the war but so he did, with painting in hand. Embarrassed, he apologized for painting it on burlap, but canvas was one of the many things impossible to come by in post-war Germany. In those days, when money was fairly useless, people turned to their skills and talents as currency. And as tokens of gratitude.

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I’ve been spending a lot of time with my mother lately listening with renewed interest to the war stories so often told around my childhood dinner table. I’m keenly aware that with my mother go her stories unless I record them somehow. The memory of my Oma’s resilience and courage is not going to fade away on my watch. That much I can promise.

How about you? Do you know your family’s story?

Thanks for reading,

Barbara

Posted in History | Tagged , , , , , , , | 157 Comments

The Tyranny of Speed

I was walking Max and Berkley on a country road in Roanoke a few years ago when I came across an abandoned cemetery in which were growing, quite abundantly, clumps of iris. BH was dispatched to dig a few rhizomes out of the concrete-hard soil which he did with some MacGyver-like ingenuity –  a shovel not exactly handy at the time. (Really, I don’t know why the man doesn’t just give in and carry one at all times.)

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I brought the clump home and planted it with great care in just the right spot. It was late spring which meant I would have to wait another year to see just what I had. Patience is an attribute a gardener will do well to develop.

The clump doubled in size over that summer and autumn. The following spring, the anticipation was almost more than I could bear. What a gorgeous healthy stand of iris it was – what gardeners like to call a pride of iris.

Trouble was it didn’t bloom. Not one wretched flower stalk emerged from the wonderfully vigorous stand of iris. Oh, the agony. The disappointment.

I would have to wait another entire Y-E-A-R.

The truth is I’m as guilty of participating in the frenzied pace of modern life as the next one. I love being able to download a book two seconds after learning of it, but I’m having trouble making the time to read these instantly attainable tomes. I have a world of information at my fingertips and very little time for quiet reflection on the meaning of any of it. Heck, even my yeast is rapid-rise.

Which is why the garden is such a sanctuary to us. It encourages – no, it forces us to slow down to a more human pace, one in step with nature’s timeline. Refuge from life’s hubbub is critical to our peace of mind. How do we sort out life if we are hurdling through our days at such a maniacal pace there’s no time to catch our breath?

Beverley Nichols, my favorite garden writer, reflected on gardening’s therapeutic qualities long before our high-speed, rapid-rise age. One can’t help but wonder what he would think of us now:

One of the many reasons why gardens are increasingly precious to us in this day and age is that they help us to escape from the tyranny of speed. Our skies are streaked with jets, our roads have turned to race-tracks, and in the cities the crowds rush to and fro as though the devil were at their heels. But as soon as we open the garden gate, Time seems almost to stand still, slowing down to the gentle ticking of the Clock of the Universe.

I did wait another year for the Cemetery Iris to bloom. And I was rewarded with this.

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These same iris are putting up buds right now. I hope they will still be blooming for somebody else long after my days here have past. That’s the other miracle of the garden. It might move at its own speed, but it generously allows us to leave traces of ourselves behind. Tick. Tock.

Thanks for reading,

Barbara

Posted in Garden | Tagged , , , | 141 Comments