Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Snow Day

We woke up early on snowy days in the hopes that we would hear “No school, all schools Marlborough...” from the hi-fi radio in the living room. With bated breath and crossed fingers, we endured the lineup of closed schools in alphabetical order, “Acton...Berlin... Bolton... Grafton... Hopkinton... Hudson...and finally – at last, Marlborough! The snow had already left an eerie pale light in the rooms of our house, but the day suddenly opened up before us with endless possibilities that didn't include buses, teachers, and homework. In Marlborough in the 60's, there were only three major television channels and each one had to be turned by hand after getting up off the couch, and taking a long walk across the floor to the other end of the room. Sometimes, when the wind blew just right, our old black and white TV could pick up The Uncle Gus Show in distant Manchester. These were years long before texting, cable television, DVR's or for that matter, DVD's, and Marlborough children had to create their own entertainment and fun.

And we didn't suffer from lack of it. Marlborough had many skating ponds and bogs and ice skates and hockey sticks were annual Christmas gifts, along with “flying saucers”, sleds, mittens and helmets. Those helmets were not the hard hat type but scratchy knitted head gear made by our grandmother or bought at Golden's or Shopper's World. Helmets were probably the least favorite gift but they were welcome on the small hill and valley on our street which made for excellent sledding. Our mother gave us what was left of the Christmas dinner candles to scrape across the blades of our sleds with the idea that the wax would make them faster. Whether it worked or not is unclear but we did have a few fast rides with bumps that left us lying on the hard snow in hysterics only to climb yet again to the top, arriving breathless, our legs dragging as though we were walking through water. There was no leash law so our golden retriever chased us up and down those hills barking and panting, with frozen clumps of snow clinging to her fur. No one bothered about that because when we returned home, we just peeled off the wet layers in the basement, watched the dog shake off the ice and snow, and ran upstairs; there was hot chocolate to make and it didn't come from an envelope of powder but was made from milk and cocoa and stirred forever on top of the stove.

When the weather was too rough for skating or sledding, we spent time indoors reading books. There were long lazy hours with large fairy tale picture books, or the entire collection of the pictorial encyclopedia our grandparents bought for us one volume at a time. We read classics such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Hans Brinker, Black Beauty, or The Swiss Family Robinson. Invariably our reading would fuel our imaginations and we would find ourselves making forts and tunnels with old sheets and cushions from the couch. Sometimes Mom would let us have our lunch in a dark tunnel lit only by resting dueling flashlights. These were not just forts and lean-to's, they were Fort Ticonderoga or the hollows of Pompeii. We played endless card games; Monopoly, checkers and although tempers flared, we knew we were all we had so we recovered quickly and moved on to making scrapbooks from Christmas cards or painting-by-number. If Dad were home too, we had a fire and roasted marshmallows with long branches one of us was brave enough to head out to scavenge. We would watch our hero make deep halting footsteps in crusty snow to the grove of trees separating our house from the back neighbor and return triumphantly with long sticks clenched tightly in frozen mittens. Later, as the fire made us drowsy, we waited, staring out at the hushed white world. And we dreamed.

After an early supper, we gathered around the old black and white TV again and when it began to look like we wouldn't be getting two snow days in a row, we fought about which of the three channels to watch before bed. If we were very lucky, and the wind was blowing just right, we would catch the end of Uncle Gus up far away, in Manchester.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Garnet Week

I've loved garnets since reading the following passage in Willa Cather's A Lost Lady:

Niel liked to see the firelight sparkle on her earrings, long pendants of garnets and seed-pearls in the shape of  fleur-de-lys.  She was the only woman he knew who wore earrings; they hung naturally against her ...cheeks.  Captain Forrester, although he had given her handsomer ones, liked to see her wear these, because they had been his mother's.
After first discovering and adoring Cather's fine yet sad novel, I ran to my jewelry box and unearthed the bohemian garnet bracelet I inherited from my grandmother (below).  It's always been a tad tight but it graces my wrist every Valentine's Day week. Its crimson facets are perfect for winter and the festive week of love. I wear it every day leading up to February 14th.

In anticipation of my daughter's birth and knowing that the garnet would be her birthstone, I found a deep and teasing blood red garnet ring at an antique store.  Photographs of me holding my newborn show the ring as bright as my shining eyes.  It became my daughter's, as originally planned, on her eighteenth birthday.  I wore it only on loan and in the hopes that I would infuse it with eighteen years of my precious love.  When I dropped it in her palm, no words were needed.

Garnets continued to enchant me and a few years ago, after a time of illness, I found a beautiful pair of gold and garnet earrings.  They were not the lovely Mrs. Forrester's fleur-de-lys earrings, but they did have wee garnets and seed-pearls and they dangled becomingly.  I asked the owner of the jewel box of a shop if she would hold them for me on deposit.  I would return for them after I received my first back-to-work paycheck.  I kept my promise and two weeks later, on Valentine's Day, they became a present to myself, and remain a talisman for continued well-being.

Hearts may be the most universally loved motif for Valentine's Day, but I think garnets are a better emblem, to sparkle against a cheek during a candlelit dinner à deux, as a gift of hope to oneself, and to speak the words the heart cannot say.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Someone at a Distance

I loved this novel by Dorothy Whipple. Someone at a Distance kept me ruminating about the characters between readings, and it’s difficult for me to find literature (except for the classics) that keeps me engrossed for long. Like a delicious and irresistible meal, I knew that by racing through it I would reach the end all too soon. But I couldn’t help myself.

Dorothy Whipple is a terrific stylist, giving us a story as old as time about married love that falls apart when a single minded, ruthless female comes along. I found myself feeling deep affection for wife Ellen North when the French companion sets her cap for Ellen's husband, Avery. I could see the colors of the chintz chairs in this novel as well as Ellen's halo of soft brown hair. I even knew Avery very well until he surprised me down to my toes. And although paramour Louise was tasteless with her ambitious and cold one track mind, I enjoyed reading about all her French ways and thus, pondering anew the differences between the French and rest of the world.

Someone at a Distance is a Persephone Book selection, a wonderful British establishment that thankfully, has reprinted long forgotten yet marvelous books. If you haven't met Persephone yet, trawl around their website and select something good to read on these long cold winter nights:

Persephone Books are books to read tea with.