Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Rat and I




Mom and her rescue dogs, Barbados, 1962

Another memory, this one from the West Indies, back in the early sixties. Mom and I lived in an apartment in Bridgetown, Barbados, one that was near the race track. Who knows what it’s like now? In those days, this was a quiet pleasant residential area. We shared the house with the owners, a pair of elderly British ladies who lived beneath us on the first floor. All sorts of stories could be told about events that took place in this house, but one of the third-world variety recently came back to me.

Our kitchen was down a flight of stairs, an add-on affair at the back of the house. Outside the door, as was common, was a step over a gutter. Gutters ran along the sides of the streets everywhere and were to be avoided. When someone drained gray water, from a sink or whatever, it went down the gutter, right out in the open. You saw whether someone had washed their dishes, or their hair, or whatever and bits and pieces traveled along the gutter as well—bits of food etc. It was a common sight—and smell--here, but of a kind that I, as a middle class American kid, was not accustomed to.   There were chickens—they belonged to someone who lived along the street—wandering wherever they wished, looking for bugs and odds and ends, like the bits of garbage that ended in the dish water.
Island Inn, Barbados, 1959
Other critters found food there as well. Rats were common, especially outside at night, but I didn’t expect to see them inside the kitchen, which was where I met this one. I’m going to assign a sex and call it he, though I don’t know. He was quite tall and large, and seemed especially so because he was standing on his hind-legs, getting ready to leap up onto the table just as I came down the stairs.

The rat spun around and stared at me. I stood on the last step and stared back.  It was one of those frozen moments, a perfect picture left behind. He was rather pretty, actually, athletic, sinewy, and glossy brown. His beady eyes were bright, and not particularly anxious.  He’d apparently come in through a broken screen on the kitchen door; his home was probably beneath the gutter step just outside. We were neighbors, it seemed, although uneasy ones. Who knew how many times he'd come in that way? Fortunately, we kept all our dry goods and things like bread shut away in a cupboard.
I could almost hear him thinking about what to do next; I certainly was. When I reached around the corner to grab a broom—the only weapon within reach—he shot away through the ragged screen and vanished beneath the step.


~~Juliet Waldron 
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She served Anne Neville and loved her husband, Richard.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Moon and I




It’s hard to recreate a time when there were no words, only feelings.

Moon~~Tree~~Clouds.

These are the first things I remember. Crib slats casting black shadows on a summer smooth sheet. White face through spreading branches. Next, a perfect silver disc lending its sheen to arching branches. The sugar maple that grew behind Grandparents house was enormous. 
Perhaps, long ago, it had been brought west to Ohio by a homesick Yankee.

Of course, I knew nothing of that. All I knew was that the spreading maple was good to see, the harmony of black and white, the leafy patterns, a vision which sounded in my head like a clear note. I was here, entirely secure. Outside the broad leaves with their sharpened edges were barely moving against a velvet sky. Moon face gazed down serene; a cloud edged in rainbow and silver passes.

No wonder I am who I am.

Ghosts of Abbott Road, Ellington, CT

In the next room, women’s voices. They were the ones who cared for me, two young, one old, getting ready for bed next door in the spacious bathroom, big enough to accommodate one woman at the dressing table mirror, a bather in the claw foot tub, one at the sink running water--or perhaps even seated --the “watercloset” was one of the first improvements my Grandfather had made after purchasing this house. He had called his home “a girl’s dorm” for years, and now here I came, the newest addition, another little female--the one now wondering in the room full of moonlight.

Two Juliets, 1945

Sleep was impossible bathed in silver, danced over by mutable leaf shadow. There was nothing frustrating or lonely about it. I didn’t need to cry and call them to me, even though I knew they would come. After all, the women were happy. I was fed and dry and comfortable.

Besides, outside my window was the venerable breathing tree and a full moon.  

~~

Juliet Waldron


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Happy Birthday, Alexander Hamilton!





Sunday, December 25, 2016

Carol's Coat~~

Hoag Family reunion, 1971

My mother-in-law, Carol, was a strong New England woman, one who was born and died in her home state of Massachusetts. She was taller and broader than me, had a powerful presence, softened by short brown curls and a ready smile. Back in the early 1970's, in between a full time job and starting the first NOW chapter in Lexington, she bought a fine Woolrich coat, teal colored twill with a tan-and-white wool lining.

A few years passed. Carol grew wider as folks tend to do in these United States, and the coat was handed to her youngest daughter, Abby, now married. It probably never really fit Abby, except perhaps across the shoulders. Still, it was serviceable for a rough New Hampshire winter. The good twill broke the wind and the liner created an Indian blanket warmth. Like all coats of this period, it was unwieldy. After putting it on, you felt sort of lumbering and bear-like. 

There was a hood, too, but by the time I inherited the coat, the string was gone. In deep cold or high wind, the big hood could still be pulled over a scarf for a second line of defense. You might look like the Abominable Snowman, but in my now senior world, so what?

The coat is a keeper. It's worn weekly all through winter. Like any article of clothing that has been in use for so long, it shows it's age. For one thing, there's a dab of yellow house paint on one pocket, now hopelessly sunk into the twill. That, and a little hole on that same pocket, might suggest a thrift store source when viewed in cold, unforgiving daylight.

At Christmas time, an old coat probably seems like a weird topic, but there's a part of me that, though descended from a long line of upstate New York farmers, is pure Yankee at heart. In the midst of so much consumption--and so much compulsion to consume, pounding on the psyche from every side--there's a part of me that's stubbornly resistant. I remember my much loved and frugal Grandfather, and the rhyme he recited to me long ago.


"Use it up,
Wear it out,
Make Do
Or do without."

In later years, I'd hear it again, now repeated among my husband's New England relatives.

There is another narrative though, beyond the warts-and-all-virtue, but a memory of the two other bodies who have sheltered inside this old coat. One is a sister-in-law who has become a sister, and my formidable mother-in-law, now departed to the other side.  

This wool and twill bears memories. It's not just "an old coat."

Carol, HS Graduation, 1943
Valedictorian




~~Juliet Waldron

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Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Rosemary Tree




Well, here it is--the event no one was waiting for--a sprawling rosemary used as Christmas tree, Hanukkah Bush, or whatever. When autumn came, it seemed a shame to leave it outside to die. I can't just stick it in the garden and wait to see if it will winter over or not because after several years, I'm emotionally invested. We go back with one other for some years, this rosemary plant and I.

It would look nicer if I'd just keep it trimmed back into a sensible cone or something, but I'm from Yellow Springs, the land where the bushes and shrubberies and trees grow with perfect, radical self-expression.

Our weather where I now live might allow it to survive winter, but I haven't had a lot of luck with that strategy in this unforgiving clay soil, so I've been cosseting this one and bringing it in for the cold months. Now here it sits, taking up inordinate amounts of space on the round table between the printer, scanner and the two CPUs, so I decided to put it to seasonal use. 

I put on a few store bought decorations, but the little handmade ornaments have the most meaning. My Grandmother Liddle made a few of them for church bazaars--the little sewn hearts, nutcracker men, and clothespin soldiers. Friend Joy baked a couple, the pink pig lower left, made from cornstarch and then painted. She made a Christmas tree too, all trimmed with bows and ribbons. The cornhusk angels came from GMA L too, handmade at Ohio craft stores.  There are also a pair of long dangling "icicle" blown glass ornaments made long ago by Chris's Uncle John.



The rosemary is too supple to support much weight, so I couldn't use the bird for a topper. Set in the pot is a Navaho granny, holding grandbabies in her arms. I bought this ornament when I didn't get to hug my own grandkids enough because they lived too far away. The little clay granny makes  happy whenever I looked at her. Her presence always  helps me to send an imaginary hug to my dear grand-girls.





~~Juliet Waldron



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Sunday, December 11, 2016

God Speed, John Glenn


 The Right Stuff

It was on February 20, 1962 that John Glenn, a Marine pilot who'd flown 149 missions during World War Two and the Korean War, completed his historic three trips around Planet Earth--as "spam in a can."  It took a heck of a lot more nerve and balls out skill to survive those earlier military assignments, I'm sure, but it was for the orbital flight of the tiny Friendship 7 that he attained fame and a ticker tape parade. Such are the ways of popular culture, but he was the first American to orbit the Earth and the third American in space.


Spam in a Can

John Glenn went on to serve his country in the Senate for many terms, as a Democrat from Ohio 1974-1999. No "come here" politician, Ohio was his home state. He'd been born in Cambridge, Ohio in 1921 and attended Muskingham College, where he studied mathematics. When the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the US into World War II, he dropped out of college and enlisted, first in the army and then, after not being called up, as a Navy aviation cadet. He was an old style gentleman, married to his childhood sweetheart for 70+ years, a staunch supporter of the social safety nets for aged and less fortunate Americans, as well as a lifelong advocate of NASA and of first class science education in the kind of well-funded public schools that kick-started his own career.  (Contrast this with the politicians we elect nowadays -- lying, self-dealing confidence artists -- and feel sorry for yourselves.)

I was in boarding school in England when all this happened, so wasn't stateside for the hoopla, although I soon learned about it, from the teachers (mistresses) at tea time when we all sat down together. (Don't get any big ideas about "tea" at 1960's boarding schools. In those days it was brown bread and a single pat of butter, and several cups of hot tea--and that, dear readers, was all there was to eat until morning, where we received the same tea and bread all over again.) At any rate, the news made me happy. It was about time our power house country caught up with those "Ruskies!"


In the '60's, kids like me were called "children of broken homes," and mine certainly had been, with violence and betrayal, via a divorce granted by some southern state which deemed child support unnecessary. Nevertheless, I remained proud of my nation, though my classmates, whose parents remembered the great days of the British Empire, often scoffed. When I heard the news about that orbital flight--me, the solitary "Yank" walking the 45 degree halls of the grand old buildings where we boarders  housed--I experienced a chest puffing moment of national pride!

One evening soon after, I stood, wrapped in my robe, in the top floor hall where three flights of stairs ended. I sang "America the Beautiful" as perfectly as I was able. My voice, of which I was proud, reverberated nicely inside the space. Though I was far away from home, alone, with no support on any side, I was, on that long ago day, proud to be an American and not afraid for anyone to know it.

So, with the passing of John Glenn, another chapter in my own old memory "copybook" closes, one of a more hopeful time. As Scott Carpenter -- now the sole survivor of the Mercury Missions  -- radioed on that day in 1962 -- "God Speed, John Glenn."  

Oldest man to fly in space, John Glenn, October 29, 1998


~ Juliet Waldron

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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Doctor Strange -- and me


  A headline that remains topical

I wasn't allowed to read comics when I was a kid. I could read the newspaper funny pages, where I predictably followed "Prince Valiant." And because these were parental favorites, I also read "Pogo" and "Lil Abner."

When I was sent to camp for most of several summers (scorched-earth divorce in the works at home), I met NYC kids who refused to leave the bunkhouse and just lay around and read the zillions of comics--DC, mostly--that they'd brought in boxes from home.  I've always wondered why, if their parents sent them to camp to get some sunlight and air, they allowed for the transport of all those comics. Maybe they only wanted the kids to read this stuff elsewhere. Anyway, no one could forbid my reading here, so, among this motherlode of graphic fiction,*  I soon found a superhero to fit my (then) off-beat personal taste for history and myth, this time "The Mighty Thor."

It wasn't until college, as a young married student, that I met up with comics once more. This time the forbidden fruit was found in the rooms of Boston friends, many of whom were early psychonauts. It was in such rooms, hung with black light posters and India print bedspreads, that I was introduced to Doctor Strange and the rest of the Marvel© World.  It was "Make Mine Marvel" from then on.

As does this one

I had kids young. My husband I used to read all kinds of things while seated on the floor or on the bed before lights out. As the little ones passed beyond the "Wild Things" and "When We Were Very Young," they were naturally attracted to the vivid panels of our stash of old comics. Cheap, bright, colorful, and full of drama, those old books found new readers. Eventually, every one, (which, if preserved in a plastic sleeve might be worth something 40 years later), was all read to rags. The coolest psychedelic drawings were silly-puttied to death.

The kids got older and so did their parents. Comics disappeared, only to return with Hollywood's decision to make lots of blockbuster teen/YA movies--a natural home for such stories of derring-do. For years, as CG progressed towards the astonishing flowering that marked Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings, I've muttered, "Why don't they resurrect Doctor Strange? At last they've got the tech to really do him up proper."

Then came 2016 Dragon Con. I'd heard about the upcoming Doctor Strange movie with real excitement, especially as I'd heard about the talented cast. On the first day of Dragon Con, we were bumbling through the crowd, admiring the amazing costumes dreamed up by attendees of this yearly blow-out festival of cosplay. I had just been grousing "So, where's Doctor Strange?" when he walked through the door of the hotel. I rushed the guy, crying "Why, it's Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts and Wearer of the Eye of Agomoto! Can we get a picture???"



 

And there, bumped and blurry with excitement, we are! This was just the first of the excellent versions of Doctor Strange that I met over the next three days. They were all pretty great, all dressed in costumes that were copies of one or another of the character's long and varied sartorial existence. (Different artists favored different get-ups.)

Next, the movie came out. I went with a contemporary who uses a cane because she needs a knee operation. We two old girls helped each other to seats in the already darkened theater, then showing the first of 10,000 DC/Marvel trailers. We'd snuck in apple slices and water bottles and settled down, after a quick glance up at a bunch of teens hiding out in the back, wondering if they wondered about why the heck we were there. We hoped for the best.

Long story short, I really enjoyed the heck out of this movie. Although there was a little too much 21st Century snark, those classy actors gave their all to such dialogue as they were offered. The knock-out visuals accomplished the rest. Suddenly, I was back in that long-ago black light lit room.

Someone in authority, I believe, really studied the originals of those old graphics, the ones I remember so well, and they were sufficiently respectful to elder fans like us to make sure these vignettes were included. At the end, I was rewarded by a vision of the same sorcerer I remember so well, gazing from the window of his Greenwich Village Sanctum Sanctorum!

Some fantastically lucky fan took this at a NYC Comic book store...

And who could be more perfect for the character than Benedict Cumberbatch who has been giving us his BBC Sherlock Holmes with such panache--Star Trek villains, etc.? The few changes--such as making the Ancient One's gender ambiguous by casting the chameleon actress Tilda Swinton--or giving Chiwetel Ejiofor, as a strong Baron Mordo, a backstory, seemed an improvement, even to such a grumpy traditionalist as me.

I hope the residuals from some Marvel jobs will enable these talented actors to get some meatier, and far less lucrative, roles later on.


~~Juliet Waldron

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*As currently styled

Sunday, November 20, 2016

APPLES




A bit late with this rumination, but – apples!

Stopped at Z’s Country Market today on my way back from Lebanon. It's a grocery owned by Mennonites, with bonneted girls in their homemade dresses and gym shoes working the registers. Local produce here, from local fruits and veggies to backyard honey and stone ground, non-GMO flours. 

Happiness—for me, anyhow—can be found hanging over a big wooden bin of apples. Different kinds, different bins, from the newish Crispin, Macoun  and Cameo, to the elder apple statesmen, Cortlands, Macintosh, Staymans, Ida Red, and Winesaps. (You will notice that I haven’t mentioned “Delicious.” Poor things, they’ve been bred to be perfect for shipping, which has made them bland and dry. They  have a bin, too, but I don’t bother.)



The fact that I’m leaning over the side and searching means that these apples have been off the trees for a few weeks now. Still, they are local, and haven’t traveled across the universe.  I’m trying hand to nose and gentle touch to discover how long they’ve been store-bound, and hoping I can find the tastiest ones.   

Every season I attempt to eat as many varieties of local apples as I can, hoping to refresh my personal sensory image of each kind. I’ve noticed that year to year, the taste changes a little. I’ll find some, miss others, depending on bloom time or if there was a killing late frost. This year, a freeze got the apricots and most peaches in our area, much to everyone’s sorrow.


I wish someone would plant Goldrush in this area, for this is my latest favorite. I’m told they are not new, but a recently revived heritage breed, one which doesn’t need a lot of pesticide to fight off the various plagues. I find I can keep Goldrush into March. Yes, they do wither, but they can still sock it to your taste buds and to their last moment make a spicy, tangy sauce.






~~Juliet Waldron

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~~~
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