Thursday, February 12, 2015

Kindled Into Fire

“‎And yet I have had the weakness, and have still the weakness, to wish you to know with what a sudden mastery you kindled me, heap of ashes that I am, into fire.” ~~ A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Chapter Thirteen

This is just a beautiful, evocative sentence -- " kindled me, heap of ashes that I am, into fire."  Isn't it wonderful when you have or have had someone in your life who can help to make you more than what you feel you already are?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

"The echoes of its mountains threw back the laugh,...."

"Though the arts of peace were unknown to this fatal region, its forests were alive with men; its shades and glens rang with the sounds of martial music, and the echoes of its mountains threw back the laugh, or repeated the wanton cry, of many a gallant and reckless youth, as he hurried by them, in the noontide of his spirits, to slumber in a long night of forgetfulness." ~~ James Fenimore Cooper from The Last of the Mohicans (The Leatherstocking Tales Book 2), Chapter One

I haven't read The Last of the Mohicans in a long time, but it is full of sentences like this one that I particularly like. I don't, however, like all of those superfluous commas in the latter part of the sentence, but I will forgive him. I like the choice of words here and the imagery of "in the noontide of his spirits to slumber in a long night of forgetfulness." 

I really must read this book again soon.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

More On Chinaberry Trees

My previous post garnered some very nice comments. Paula commented that she grew up with chinaberry trees in her yard and that she played house under one. She pretended to can some of the chinaberries while playing house, and "boy did they stink when we opened them up a few days later."  I read the comment to Thomas and his immediate reaction was, "Oh no, you don't want to eat them. You can't eat chinaberries." I asked, "Are they bitter?" He said, "They are BEYOND bitter!" But he knew that she meant they had pretended to can them while playing house. He said, "Anybody from down South would know not to really can or eat them."

Worse than that, apparently they are toxic to humans if eaten in quantity. They are also an invasive species. 

Thomas says that after they've fallen off the tree and have lain on the ground for a while, they start turning a yellow-brown and look somewhat like the little sugar plums that they had down there. At least, to a five- or six-year-old Thomas they looked like sugar plums. But he said they taste horrible, bad enough to make you want to vomit, and the taste stays with you all day. He said it is better to bite into a green one than to bite into an over-ripe one. I'll take his word for it and not bite into any type.

When he was about 14, he, his brother Ricky, and several other young boys were playing "war" one afternoon, and Thomas climbed up into the chinaberry tree, sat on a limb, and shot chinaberries at the others with a blow pipe. They couldn't get back at him because if they tried to shoot or throw something up at him, the branches and leaves (thick branches, leaves that can be up to 20 inches long) were so thick that nothing could hit him. 

He was definitely winning the game, but suddenly he heard a loud crack, and the limb he was sitting on broke. He said he just sort of rode it down to the ground, with the limbs breaking his fall, so that he didn't hit the ground hard.

The picture above is one I got off Google. Thomas says that the tree they had in their yard was large and thick-leaved like that one.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Frostings of Sweat and Sweet Talcum

"Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o'clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum." ~~Harper Lee, from "To Kill A Mockingbird" (chapter one)

I love this description of hot summers in the South. When I read it I can actually smell the lightly scented, loose face powder my mother has always used. 

The first time I read To Kill A Mockingbird was long before I was married. When I read it years later with Eler Beth there were words and phrases that held new meanings for me. Thomas is originally from Alabama, and some of his stories about his childhood before moving up North included words and phrases I'd never heard before. So when I read this with Eler Beth, the first time I'd read it since being married, "teacakes," and, later in the same chapter, "chinaberry tree" meant something to me.

The first time I made Thomas my Mom's recipe for home made, from-scratch, cookies -- what we always just called "scratch" cookies -- Thomas saw me taking them off the cookie sheet and putting them on a plate and said, "Hey! Teacakes!" I thought that was charming. It evoked an image of ladies in Victorian lace, sipping tea, and choosing small sugared or iced "cakes" from a tray. 

Now what I'd made were just simple cookies. They were butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour, and milk, mixed into a thick dough, rolled out, and cut with a round cookie-cutter. They had no decorations, no frosting, nothing. They just tasted really, really good. But Thomas said that when he was a child, sweets that looked exactly like those cookies were always called "teacakes." Sometimes they were plain, and sometimes they were frosted, but they were "teacakes." And he still calls my cookies "teacakes" to this day. 

Before when I'd read this book I'd pictured "teacakes" as being actual cakes, but Thomas said no, cakes were cakes, but the small ones, like my cookies, were "teacakes." Anyway, when I read this with Eler Beth the words jumped out at me and made me smile; made me remember the circumstances of the conversation Thomas and I had had about "teacakes" that long-ago day.

And before when Scout mentioned a chinaberry tree it didn't make me wonder what kind of tree that was, but when I read it with Eler Beth I knew what a chinaberry tree was because there had been one in Thomas' yard when he was little.

So this is a favorite sentence for me because I think it is beautiful imagery and because it makes me smile and remember.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Keep On Nodding Terms

"I think we are all well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not." ~~~ Joan Didian in her essay  "On Keeping A Notebook"

This is from an essay by Joan Didian, a novelist and essayist whom I greatly admire. 

My favorite lines from this essay actually make up two sentences:

"I think we are all well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be whether we find them attractive company or not.  Otherwise, they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind's door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends."

"On Keeping A Notebook" (from the 1968 anthology Slouching Towards Bethlehem) is probably my favorite of her essays, and I love this sentence. I think it is true of most people that the older we get the more people we realize we have been. Sometimes we like to forget them, and sometimes we wish other people would remember them more often. Sometimes we have moved on to the next personification of ourselves and don't even realize it for a while. Sometimes there has been something in our past, perhaps tragic or emotionally debilitating, that we can't or don't want to remember, but that has shaped us into who we are. Sometimes it's the simple, happy child who existed in the past and who seems to be harder to conjure up as we go along.

I love the way she expresses her thought with the phrase "keep on nodding terms." We don't need to wallow in the despairs of the past. We don't need to yearn for the delights of the past. But it is probably healthy to at least be on nodding terms with it.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Beautiful Sentences, Favorite Sentences, Most Meangingful Sentences

I know what one of my literary projects for 2015 will be.

Jennifer Schaffer at BuzzFeed Books published an article called "51 of the Most Beautiful Sentences in Literature,"  a poll, pretty much, of BuzzFeed readers' favorite lines from literature. It's a subjective list, so I think I'll compile my own subjective list. 

I'll set myself the task of choosing one line for every week of the year. I know that it will be a very personal thing because some of my favorite lines that I can think of off the top of my head are from books that are not bestsellers or classics; many are from rather obscure novels -- just not obscure to me. They are favorites for their rhythm or for the way they made me feel when I first read them or because of something going on in my life when I first read them. I think this will be a nice thing to compile and leave for my kids to ponder on when I'm gone.

* Nope, didn't work. I tried to do this each week but only made it to week #6, so I quit. I even deleted all but two of the posts. I just didn't have the time to do it or, to be honest, the inclination. There is too much going on right now to do this kind of blogging, so I guess I'll stick with just updating and writing whenever the urge comes upon me and leave it at that.

Friday, November 14, 2014

"I Don't Know Anything About Football"

And she said it with a straight face!


We are not a sports family. Not really.

I don't have one of those husbands who watches sports all the time, (he's always said he'd rather be out there playing than watching), although he can enjoy watching the Super Bowl with me or the NCAA tournament. The rest of the year, he really doesn't care.

He played a bit of basketball and ran track in school, and he loved playing football with friends.  The high school football coach, seeing how fast he was, tried very hard to get him to play, but he held down a pretty good job all through high school and wouldn't give that up. Andrew ran track for a while, but really wasn't all that into it.  

I'll get to the main story of this post soon -- I really will, but some background first.

I follow college basketball teams only when it's getting close to NCAA Tourney time. Well, I sort of have to. I'm from Kentucky.  In Kentucky, when I was in school, there were days scheduled into the school calendar to take off for the state's Sweet Sixteen Tournament. In Kentucky you had classroom discussions about the Sweet Sixteen Tournament. In Kentucky if you had any kind of basketball program at all, you knew what other schools were in your region, who the top rivalries were, and how many times your school had been to the semi-finals and the finals. You knew what years your school's team won the state championship and who the star players were from that year and where they went after high school. In Kentucky your gym teacher was likely to have been a member of one of those championship teams. I went to my school's basketball games. I even went to the football games (I actually prefer watching football in person, and basketball on TV), although football took a really way-back back-seat to basketball. And you don't go to school in rural Kentucky without learning to pledge your allegiance to one of Kentucky's top basketball colleges. I chose UK. I think it was as much because my Dad was a UK basketball fan as much as anything else, and I really enjoyed watching the games with him. Even after I was married, we would call up each other during tournament time and discuss how UK was doing. I was the only child he had that he could do that with, and even if I hadn't enjoyed it -- and I did -- I would have done it.

I'm getting there, I really am.

Not long after Thomas and I were married I watched with a small smile on my face as Dad led a rather in-depth conversation about how well UK was likely to do that year, including critiques of certain players, where they were likely to run up against problems, and so on. Thomas, ever respectful of my father, listened attentively and made appropriate comments. Dad was pleased with his audience and held forth on the subject for quite some time.  When the conversation was over and he had left the room, I leaned close to my husband and whispered, "Are you ever going to tell him that you have no idea what he was talking about?"  He never did.

And that brings me to my children. Andrew has never cared one way or the other which local college team is on top. When he was younger, he'd go to his school's basketball games once in a while, but it was more of a social thing than a sporting thing. I'd take Eler Beth to games, too, when she was still in public school.  And she became a partner to me in my ritual of taking an interest in college basketball during tournament time. I taught her well, and she is continuing the UK fan tradition. My father would be proud.


No one in the family likes professional basketball. I do not like to watch them play. There is too much grand-standing. There is no heart, in my opinion.  I am not emotionally invested. I know names of teams and names of famous athletes and which teams they play for because it's hard to escape that knowledge, but I don't follow them. And neither does Eler Beth.

But today she went to work wearing a Bulls stadium jacket.

She works early-morning, part-time hours at FedEx, and in the winter that can get a bit chilly if you're a package handler. The past few nights our lows have been in the 20s, and she realized that the jacket she'd been wearing to work, despite layering beneath it, wasn't keeping her warm enough. And she didn't want to wear one of her nice coats because she didn't want to take the chance of getting it messed up, which is entirely possible. So Thomas pulled a Chicago Bulls jacket out of his "tote of coats."

We used to take the kids and their friends sledding every year or on some other late winter, very cold outing, and there was always -- ALWAYS -- some kid who had not dressed warmly enough. So Thomas started picking up the odd coat, sweat shirt, hat, scarf, or pair of gloves cheaply at yard sales or thrift stores and stashing them for the stray, under dressed kid who might be going fishing or sledding or skating or whatever with us. He'd get various sizes and keep them in a large tote, and once at a yard sale he bought this really, really nice Bulls coat, that would probably be worth some money to someone. So this morning he pulled out that jacket for her, and it fit perfectly. It's an older Bulls jacket, with, I guess, an older version of their logo on it. We've had it forever. It won't matter if it gets messed up at work because it was just an extra coat anyway. As she walked out the door I said, "Someone's going to notice, and I bet she doesn't even know what the Bulls are."

Here are two conversations from her work morning, during the pre-sort meeting:

Co-worker: "Nice jacket! So you like the Bulls."
Eler Beth: "I don't really know anything about football."
Manager Mark, mouth dropping open, speechless for a full 30 seconds: "Hold on...hold on...wait a minute here. The Chicago Bulls are a basketball team."
Eler Beth shrugs apologetically.

Later, another co-worker: "Wow! Nice Jacket! Where'd you get it?"
Eler Beth: "It was my Dad's." (Why go through the "tote of coats" explanation?)
Co-worker, obviously impressed: "That's a really old coat!"
Eler Beth,not really impressed: "Yeah, my Dad has a lot of old coats."

No, we're not really a sports family.