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.