Sunday, September 3, 2017

A Barmecide Banquet?

I read an article in The Atlantic that suggests that smart phones have ruined a generation--specifically, my son's.

If you google the article, this pops up:

No, smartphones are not destroying a generation

Yes, smartphones are destroying a generation, but not of kids

Smartphones haven't "destroyed a generation"

Teen smartphone use linked to depression, suicide

Are smartphones making a generation unhappy?

Clearly, the idea that smartphones have destroyed our children or undermined their happiness (and quite likely our own) has struck a nerve. Personally, I think there's something to it. 

However, the author doesn't paint a complete picture of contemporary youth. It doesn't take into account, for example, the prevalence of over-scheduled kids, especially with regard to sports. 

When our exchange students joined the swim club at our local high school, practice was three hours  after school every day, in addition to regular swim meets in the evenings or on weekends.  Our first exchange student also participated in pre-dawn resistance training as part of swim club.

Whatever the sport, daily practice seems to be standard in high school. Kids return home tired and hungry, with homework to be done. 

Our exchange students did not receive academic credit for their year abroad, so their grades were not of much concern, but I often wondered about the other kids. How could they balance their athletic schedules with their academic performance?  

I know that more oxygen to the brain is good for thinking, but when did they find the time to think? Or sleep?   

And how were they supposed to come to ruin if they couldn't put the time in on their smartphones? 

My son is still in middle school. He's not enthusiastic about sports. He may well come to ruin. 

I would take away his phone, but he doesn't use one. He prefers his iPod. (I mean, who talks anymore, right?)

It's gaming that motivates my son to hole up in his room--gaming, and being 13. 

He does use Snapchat and Instagram, but mostly he talks to his friends over headphones and plays games with them on X-box.    

The concerns of the article about smartphones apply to my son's social life equally: He relates to his friends primarily over wifi, from his room, and rarely sees them elsewhere or otherwise, except at school.  

I have to wonder if the camaraderie Josh experiences with his friends remotely at home translates to their relationship in proximity at school.  

I doubt it is quite the same. I suspect that the social hierarchy of eighth grade dictates who is friendly with whom.  

I am pretty sure that Josh hangs out in his room with kids remotely who would not remotely hang out with him at school.  

I'm not saying my son is untouchable or anything. He places himself in the middle of the social hierarchy. He has adopted a strategy for surviving the petty wars and bullying of adolescence that involves low-affect and camouflage, which he hopes will get him through middle school  largely unmolested. 

I have not relieved Josh of his iPod.  The article makes clear that without it, he would be cut off from his peers and floating in the cold dark void of space just like an astronaut whose tether to the mothership has been tragically severed. 

Still, he is in his room too much, like the rest of his generation, and the foundations of his friendships are not as concrete as I would like them to be.  

By the same token, I have to admit that I have also grown extremely lackadaisical about my social life. 

My social circles on Facebook and Instagram appear deep and wide, yet they are no less virtual for all of that.

I am reminded of a tale from the Arabian Nights:

A hungry man, his mouth watering, receives what appears to be a banquet; but when he uncovers his platter, he finds nothing but an empty plate.  Of course, he is disappointed, but he pretends to love what he sees.  He tuck into this great invisible meal, which good humor pleases his host so much that his empty plate is replaced with a full one.

Social media holds out the promise of such a banquet. But is it food?  Is it...enough?  Could we somehow leverage it for something more solid and filling?

So!, three days ago I deleted Facebook and Instagram from my iPhone. I haven't unsubscribed to them, I can still find them on my tablet or computer. I just can't use my phone to constantly scratch that itch.  

For the first day or two, I suffered the mental  equivalent of restless leg syndrome.  In the habit of checking my phone, I found myself checking the headlines of the New York Times much more often than I normally would.  

For a crutch, when feeling desperate for approval and at the risk of disappointment, I could check my blog stats, but I tried not to.

There was something so tempting and easy about having social media on my phone, like pulling a lever on a slot machine.  One or two hoops to jump through is one or two hoops too many.  

I am grateful for the friends I've found and made on FB.  I hope to pursue some of them in the real world. I'd like to see my childhood friends again. I'd like to sit across a table from Mary Beth and look into her big brown eyes. No doubt, that would feed my soul.

It's too soon to know whether I'll be happier or more satisfied without being able to use social media on my smartphone, but I certainly don't miss the itch.    

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Path of Totality

The path of totality was not the middle path, nor, in light of yesterday's traffic, could I say it was the path less taken. It was a well trodden path: practically trampled.

Nonetheless, it was the path of my pilgrimage.

Because there were so many factors beyond my control (primarily the weather, and the availability of a place to camp), I was choosing to take my chances. Would the universe continue to be cruel, as it had been when it contrived to kill my horse by such a ridiculously unlikely affliction?  Had it gotten that fury out of its system?  Was the universe predisposed to be kind again, OR WHAT?

I had my cell phone, GPS, cash, credit cards. I had my son with me, so I wasn't taking too many chances. It was not my intention to put our lives at risk, but to accept the chance of experiencing discomfort and disappointment--which makes me sound so humble and accepting, doesn't it?

Despite my predisposition to be humble and accepting, things got off to a shaky start.

I decided that Josh and I should set up the tent before leaving, so we would be able to set it up in the dark if necessary, and wouldn't be surprised by the absence of some essential ingredient, like poles or stakes.

It was awfully hot.

Josh was in a mood to prank me.

"Are you a white supremacist?"

"What? Why would you ask me that?"

"Are you? Are you a white supremacist?"

"No!  Stop saying that. The neighbors will hear you and what will they think?"

"That you're a white supremacist?"

For the record, I'm not a white supremacist, which Josh knows perfectly well.

Josh failed to pick up his end of the tent while calling me a white supremacist as sweat poured down my brow. As a red-head, I hate sun and heat. Like a vampire, I feel that it's killing me.

"Look at the tent, see what you need to do, and do it. Don't stand there like a punk."

Josh is thirteen, did I mention that?  By late afternoon, it's like he has colic; but instead of screaming and crying with a tummy ache, he gets super obnoxious as the testosterone overrides his otherwise thoughtful brain. It's horrible, but it passes.

It occurred to me that dealing with my son for a thousand miles could turn out to be as challenging as a spiteful universe.  And if I was going to get cranky now about heat, tent flaps, and a 13-year old bent on triggering me,  I was going to be one very miserable pilgrim.

"Josh," I said. "We are going to have to try our best to get along, or this trip is going to be hell for both of us."

"Okay," he said, with what appeared to be genuine compassion.

He hooked the poles onto the tent.

I reminded Josh, because I wanted him to know what he was getting into, that the weather in Missouri was going to be hot; and though we hoped to find a campsite, I hadn't been able to reserve one, so we might have to sleep in the van in a Walmart parking lot.

Also, storms were predicted for Monday, so we might not see the eclipse for all that.

"That's okay," he said.  He suggested that we bring along two icepacks to put under our pillows when camping.

The next morning, I packed the van with a cooler (and two ice packs); a sleeping bag, pillows, and sheets; a down mattress cover for padding; snacks, drinks, water, and sandwiches.

We left at 9 a.m on Sunday, leaving behind five cats, two horses, three dogs (including an elderly poodle named Hank whom I worried could deteriorate in my absence) and my husband.

Illinois is a long, unremittingly boring drive through flat farmlands in bright sunlight. It made my eyes tired. But, as suffering goes, it was perfectly tolerable.

Josh was in a good mood. Over a small blue-tooth speaker, he played tracks from Childish Gambino, Tyler the Creator, and various rappers, some of which he skipped in the middle because they were too embarrasing to listen to in the company of his mother.

The hours stretched out in front of us. We had enough time to listen to all of Josh's music discoveries.  Satisfied at last, he suggested we could listen to my Pandora stations. I chose Glass Animals, and Josh was favorably impressed.  After a while, the songs began to repeat, so I switched to Great Gatsby, which also met with his approval. (Yay!)

While Josh napped, I switched to some very old, very personal music that would not interfere with his sleep: my Joan Armatrading Pandora station.  Good company for driving, sleeping, and thinking about the universe.

It was close to three p.m. when we arrived in St. Louis.

I had told Josh that the St. Louis Arch was a hundred years old, and built for the World's Fair at the turn of the century.  I talked at length about World's Fairs: How the Eiffel Tower was built by Monsieur Eiffel for the Paris World's Fair, and the first ferris wheel was built in Chicago by Mr. Ferris for the Chicago World's Fair....

But I was wrong about the Arch. It had nothing to do with a World's Fair. It was designed in 1947 and its construction was not completed until 1965, long after the World's Fair phenom had ended.

Actually, the history of the arch is just a long bureaucratic struggle...of tension between romantic visionaries and pragmatic paper pushers. It is the story of people getting in the way of creative genius, and of sustained determination over years to insist on bringing into existence something that no one needed, but which would uplift everyone.  Visually, physically, and historically, the arch exists between heaven and earth.  Its story is mainly one of stubborn perseverance.

1965, btw, was the year I was born--not 100 years ago. Not even close.

I had seen the arch from a distance many years before. Up close,  however, it's colossal, soaring, and totally inspiring; easily among the most stunning man-made things I've ever seen.

And though it had nothing to do with a World's Fair, which frequently generated constructions of this ilk, the arch is certainly worthy of a World's Fair, just like the Eiffel Tower.

Saint Louis gave rise to the arch, Mark Twain, and Ernest Hemingway, but it was not at all apparent to me why this should be.  A very humble city, Saint Louis has long been struggling economically.

When the daughter of Smith, one of two main champions of the arch, suggested that the millions needed to construct it would be better spent on practical things, Smith was said to have told her that "spiritual things are equally important."

St. Louis still appears to be wanting in practical things, but people come from miles around to see the arch. Had I known how divine this thing was before I set out from Wisconsin, I could have ended my pilgrimage right there and gone home.

We didn't go to the top of the arch, which people do by some unlikely arrangement of elevators. At the bottom, the temperature was 96 degrees; I could imagine to what heights the temperature would soar up there in the armpit of the arch. Maybe, at that altitude, the temperature dropped, but I wasn't taking any chances.

Maybe, I should have insisted we go to the top to get closer to God and to suffer the heat as a proper pilgrim.

But, I didn't. I bought Josh a lemonade for five dollars at the wharf. When he finished it, I rolled the ice cubes around in my hands to cool off as we walked in the sun the wrong way for quite a distance before realizing there was no way across to the city except to go back the way we had come.

We left St. Louis around six o'clock and drove south until seven, the light mellowing and soft.  We weren't going to make it to Mark Twain National Park in the daylight.

I pulled into St. Francois State Park in Bonne Terre, Missouri.

Finding no staff in the office, we wended our way among the campsites. The campsites were loud, clamorous, and crowded.  Children and dogs wandered in and out of the middle of the road. I had to wait several times until someone noticed and retrieved them.

We saw an official in an ATV and asked her if they had any campsites available.

"We're full," she said. "But I suppose you could park in equestrian camping."

We would be delighted.  I filled out the form, handed over cash, and received a card for the dashboard which indicated that we actually had a place to stay that night.

Josh and I drove around for quite a while looking for the equestrian campsites. Finally, it occurred to me that there might be a separate entrance to the park for horse trailers. Sure enough, there was.

We found a large camper parked in a big gravel lot, just as we were told to expect, and that's where I figured we'd spend the night--parked in the gravel, sleeping in the van.  Too bad we couldn't use the tent, but this was better than driving around Missouri half the night, looking a place in the dark.

We saw a road going into the woods. I was curious and drove down it, but the gravel was big and jagged and I wanted to turn back before we blew out a tire. On the other hand, Josh insisted that our actual camping area must be down this road.

Josh was right. At the end of the road, we found a secluded area and several campsites with parking, picnic tables, fire pits, and space for a tent. It was, in brief, heaven.

As the sun set, the woods were raucous with buzzing insects and chirping birds and frogs. I had rarely heard such a loud cacophony in nature. It went on for hours and reminded me of sleeping on planes near the engine, which I didn't mind. I could always sleep on a plane.

We put the tent up without difficulty, having done it once before.  We didn't bother adding the fly; it wasn't supposed to rain. Josh settled into his sleeping bag as though it weren't 86 degrees and 7:30 p.m.

Perspiration dripped from my head to my criss-crossed legs.

"Get the ice packs," said Josh.

"Brilliant idea." I got them. They were fabulous. For the second time that night, Josh saved the day. First, he found our campsite, and then, through excellent use of foresight, he had come up with this life hack: ice packs in our pillows.

I was beyond proud. I was grateful.

Josh and I had breakfast at a local grill down the road. He had waffles as big as his head with strawberries and whipped cream, and a side of hash browns. I had two eggs, hash browns and toast.

It was about ten in the morning when we set out to find Mark Twain National Forest, which I had researched a little bit online.

But somehow, I failed to grasp how enormous this park was, or how exactly it worked.

We drove for miles and miles, through one humble little town after another and through different counties, even, before I realized that we were in fact smack in the middle of Mark Twain National Park, though we had yet to see anything that resembled a park entrance or, for that matter, a park anything.

I guess I do not know what makes a park a park.  Can a park span different counties and encompass a bunch of little towns?  Apparently so.

At noonish, I turned right onto a road used for lumbering. There was no one else there--the other eclipse peepers had probably found the entrance to the park and were gathered by the thousands in some designated area. But Josh and I were alone in the forest on this road going nowhere. I parked the minivan in a shady spot near a clearing with an undisrupted view of the sun.

Josh looked through his special filtered glasses and saw the eclipse had begun.

It moved slowly, like a minute hand, until the moment of totality when it seemed to speed up; totality was so sudden and brief, it was over before we realized it.

Josh quickly lamented that he had somehow missed totality by trying to take its picture with the filter over the lens of his iPod. I had told Josh that he could view totality with his naked eye, but he had heard otherwise from someone else on YouTube, and chose to listen to them, instead.

With any luck, Josh will be 25 for the next solar eclipse.

When I was 25, I was in Hawaii for the 1991 solar eclipse. (I happened to be living there.)  I have no memory of seeing totality; it was cloudy that day. I only remembered that the sky got eerily dark. I did not see the diamond ring effect, which I definitely viewed from Missouri. I found the shimmering ring and dazzling "diamond" more wondrous and relatable than the extremely delicate moment of totality which passes as quickly as consciousness can recognize it.

Josh was sad that he missed seeing totality with his own eyes. That sadness would stay with him for the next few days. But of course, it was also the end of summer, and school was about to begin...

I wondered if technology--his iPod, his X-box, all of it...had caused Josh to miss out on a more immediate and sensory experience of his summer vacation. In addition to totality, what else had he missed seeing with his own eyes?  (A lot, I think.)

I remember feeling sad when I returned home from camp at Josh's age.  The contrast between living outdoors in nature, physically and socially active, compared starkly against afternoons spent  watching TV by myself...Daily life didn't seem much like living, compared to the robust days of summer. But, gradually, as always, I adjusted to my sedentary default life of school and MTV.

We left our clearing in the forest and crawled through stop-and-go traffic to Saint Louis and north to Springfield. Beyond Springfield, around midnight, the universe flashed some fury in our direction.  The sky lit up and a sudden torrent came down with such force that I literally could not see out the window; the windshield wipers could not operate fast enough to clear the rain.

It was frightening; there were thousands of cars on the road, full of people impatient to pick up speed  after crawling along in traffic for hours.

Virtually blinded by the rain, I immediately pulled over onto an adjacent offramp and stopped behind several cars with flashing emergency lights waiting for the rain to slow.

My GPS indicated that there had just been an incident on the road.

The rain abated after a few minutes, and we got back on the highway.

A little while later, the lightning seemed angrier, more jagged, and closer. There were more sudden torrents of blinding rain. Again, I took the first exit off the highway. I parked at a gas station and waited.

"Call Dad," said Josh.

"Why? What's he going to do? We're in Springfield, Missouri."

I was reminded of when Phil and I were trying to retrieve my loose and deranged horse from a field soybeans half a mile from our farm. Phil asked who I could call to come help. I said I would call the vet, but I would have to retrieve the horse myself.

"Have faith in your mom," I told Josh. "I've driven in rain like this plenty of times."

Notably, I drove on the Road to Hana at night in a rain almost as bad as this. If you've never driven that road at night in the rain, picture narrow, two-way roads, hairpin turns, single-car bridges, and blind oceanside cliffs.

The rain slowed, I resumed driving and it didn't menace us again for the rest of the drive home.

I consumed a can of Pringles, 36 ounces of Diet Mountain Dew, hot cocoa, and half a bag of KitKats.

We listened to V-Sauce, and Ted Talks about body shaming, self-acceptance, sexless marriages, extramarital affairs, schizophrenia, mental telepathy, and whether psychology is a sham science or not.

We listened to Trump's scripted speech about his new strategy for Afghanistan.

For the remainder of the trip, I fretted over the gritty texture of my teeth, and how my bite felt off.

I woke up the next morning with the feeling that I had nodded off on the highway and been teleported home.

Yes, the universe had showed me its claws, as well as kindness and glory.

Because I had viewed the trip as a pilgrimage, I had adjusted my attitude to accept whatever came my way, good or bad.  I can honestly say that I embraced the traffic and torrential rain as part and parcel of a pilgrim's progress.

I had time to wonder whether I could sustain this attitude indefinitely. Perhaps, that openness and acceptance of whatever the universe had in store was the perspective I should maintain all the time.

Was it realistic to think that I could apply the mental toughness of a pilgrim to everyday life?

Wouldn't it be smug to think that I was prepared to accept whatever life had up its sleeve?

At best, I could lower my expectations, anticipate disappointment, and feel grateful when things went my way.

But that's not the attitude of a pilgrim.

Life is not a pilgrimage. I do not wake up every morning with the intention of leaving behind my daily routine to expand my awareness of the universe. Not to mention, my relationship with Josh.

Then again, what am I doing now, if not something along those lines?

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Going On Pilgrimage

On one episode of Vikings, the King of Wessex sends a small boy and his father on pilgrimage to see the pope.  They will walk 12 miles a day for over 500 days.

And I thought, I need to go on pilgrimage.

Obviously, I can't take that kind of time.  I could take a couple of days.

So, Josh and I are going on pilgrimage to Mark Twain National Forest, Missouri, where we hope to see the solar eclipse in totality.

A journey to witness totality definitely sounds like a pilgrimage, don't you think?

But I suspect it may not happen. The forecast calls for stormy weather on Monday, and tomorrow, in Missouri, temperatures will be in the nineties, with plenty of humidity.

However, I am in need of a pilgrimage.  And what makes a pilgrimage a pilgrimage?

Is it seeing totality?  Or is it driving for five or six hours with a bad knee and no assurance of a campsite or vacancy in a roadside hotel?

Is it seeing the pope, or setting up camp in the sweltering heat with expectations of storms in the morning?

I have been to many sacred places in my life. I have shared water with ascetics en route to sacred Hindu sites. I have walked among a river of mountain villagers on their way to the ocean for their annual spiritual cleansing. I have hiked to Muktinath. I have visited the Bahai mother temple. I have visited the Vatican. I have heard mass at St. Paul's Cathedral. I have toured Shakespeare's Globe Theater. I have been to Ground Zero, where the Twin Towers fell.

But a true pilgrimage should have all three elements:

1. The intention to go on pilgrimage
2. A lot of effort involved in getting there
3. A goal or destination that is both geographical and spiritual

Most of the sacred Buddhist sites I visited just happened to be part of my journey. They were not my goal or destination. I walked to the ocean with the mountain villagers, but it wasn't my pilgrimage, it was theirs. I knew that Muktinath was a sacred place for Hindus and Buddhists, but to me, it was just a place on the map. The Bahai temple--a tourist destination.

I viewed the Vatican as a tourist destination, but was completely overwhelmed by its spiritual force as I crossed the threshold of St. Peter's and beheld Michelangelo's statue of Mary with Jesus on her lap and in her arms.

Tomorrow, I set out on a pilgrimage with Josh. He doesn't know it's a pilgrimage, so for him it won't really be a pilgrimage; but for me, it will be, because it meets my three criteria.

I know, there's a slim chance of actually seeing the sun in the sky on Monday; but sometimes the weather predicts storms, and the storms arrive late and pass quickly. It is for the universe to determine whether we shall see totality or any part of the eclipse. I accept our odds, and the likelihood of disappointment. (So does Josh--he's very excited to go camping.)

Whether or not I see the eclipse will not detract from the nature of my pilgrimage.

Why do I want to go on pilgrimage?

To leave behind for a while the trappings of my life, along with all its attendant concerns...

Maybe nothing more than that.

I expect I will be uncomfortable. I expect I will not sleep well.  I do not expect to see the eclipse.  I do not expect to have an epiphany.

I do feel the need to go on pilgrimage.

Undoubtedly, I'll report back.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Reporting on the Factoids

My son and I attended the "Stand in Solidarity with Charlottesville" event at the Wisconsin capitol  last night, so I was puzzled to read WKOW's take on the event.

"Love and peace was the message Sunday night," wrote David Johnson for WKOW.

The message that I got from several eloquent speakers was that we all need to step outside of our comfort zone and get uncomfortable. We need to challenge and push ourselves and others to do more--much more--to counter the rising tide of racism in America.

Another message reiterated by at least two speakers was to mourn for the dead but to fight like hell for the living.

By comparison, as messages go, "love and peace," while evergreen, sounds like sentimental pablum.  Certainly not a call to action.

The messages I heard were calls to action; and I think it's telling that at least one media outlet chose to water down and add so much artificial sugar to their account of the evening.

The reporter also wrote that "during the rally, a young man started yelling statements that advocated violence. He was quickly drowned out by boos from the crowd."

That's not what happened.

What happened was a young man, who had been introduced as a speaker, said that the police in Charlottesville did not respond adequately to protect the counter-protestors, many of whom were hurt and some of whom were killed.  In response, the young man said, we ought to prepare ourselves as activists to encounter violence at similar events where ideologies (to put it politely) conflict.  Take a class in self-defense, he suggested--especially, women.  Learn a martial art (which is, philosophically, never combative and always defensive). Carry mace.

The mace comment seemed to trigger one man in the audience who then began to shout, "Violence is not the answer!"

The speaker waited for him to stop yelling so he could finish his speech, but the guy wouldn't stop yelling.  He kept shouting "Violence is not the answer!"

I could see the shouting man clearly from where I was standing.  He was angry and determined not to let the young man speak, which angered other people in the audience, who yelled back at the screaming guy, "Let him finish his speech! I want to hear it!"

Someone shouted that the anti-violence guy was behaving violently.

For a moment, tempers flared from several directions and the atmosphere grew tense.

Finally, the man who first started screaming piped down, and the young man rapidly concluded his speech, and stepped back.

So, the article got it totally wrong. The young man was not advocating violence at all; he was expressing concern for the safety of activists. He was saying that the political environment has become volatile and unsafe, so people ought to be prepared to defend themselves if necessary.

Even NPR, yesterday, kept repeating that the whole Charlottesville incident was about a Robert E. Lee statue.

One could just as easily say that the problem was that people were holding a white supremacist rally in Emancipation Park.

The first explanation suggests a deep attachment to white Southern identity, which is really putting lipstick on a pig.

The second explanation says more about why the rally of white supremacists was so extremely inappropriate in the first place.

But sure, let's say that the rally in Charlottesville was about a statue.

And let's say the message at last night's solidarity rally was "love and peace."

And let's say that a young man at last night's rally started screaming and advocating violence.

Oh, why the hell not?

I remember taking a journalism class back in college. Who, what, when, where, why... Journalism was such a slave to facts, back in the day.

Those were good days.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Opposite of a Miracle

My horse died of idiopathic eosinophilic meningoencephalitis.

That's right. You've heard of eosinophilic meningoencephalitis, of course; but have you heard of the idiopathic variation?

You haven't. It doesn't exist.

I exaggerate slightly; one horse had it in 2012, a Dutch warmblood gelding in Vienna, Austria.

He's the only horse in the entire world ever reported to  have had idiopathic eosinophilic meningoencephalitis.

So it exists, but barely.

Belle was only the second horse to ever get it.

Cause unknown.

How can they possibly be sure that this extremely unlikely disease was what she had?

Empirical evidence. Lab tests. Process of elimination. They are sure.

"Idiopathic" means that they could find no evidence that she had contracted EME (eosinophilic meningoencephalitis) in any of the usual ways.  No parasites. No virus. No bacteria. No smoking gun.

It just happened. For the second time. Anywhere. Ever.

Now, you know this speaks to something profound.

I mean, this metaphor, which of course it must be, is a whopping big metaphor.

I just have no fucking idea what it means.

I mean, horses who have been starved and rehabilitated on Twinkies and Hostess cupcakes have never contracted this disease.

Race horses that were overstrained and overmedicated have never contracted this disease.

Neither have any of the most ill-used, abused, and neglected horses in the world ever contracted this disease.  (Needless to say, no well-cared for horses have ever contracted it, either.)

So...Where does that leave us?

I will say this: I worried about everything.  Except this.  This one disease, off all diseases, had escaped my notice.  I never gave it a thought.

I worried about laminitis and colic.  I worried about her left fetlock, which she had injured in January falling on the ice. I worried about thrush, skin infections, hives, abscesses....

I never once worried about eosinophilic meningoencephalitis.  And if I had worried about it, since no one knows what causes it, what point would there be in worrying about it?  What would I do to avoid her getting it?

This disease exists well beyond the reach of ordinary concerns.

So that gets me thinking about karma...

But the meanest cowboys' horses never contracted this disease.

The horses of murderers who buried their victims in their pasture never contracted this disease.

If I am morally culpable--if this is my karma--then I must be the worst person ever, second only to that other poor bastard in  Austria.

And, while it's true, I may be sub-par, I am definitely not the second worst person in the world who owns horses.

The image that has been entering my mind lately is that of Jacob wrestling with the angel. My brain doesn't usually usually evoke Old Testament stories, so, when it does, I pay attention. I looked it up online.

So, Jacob, who not particularly likable, finds himself unexpectedly wrestling with this angel person. It starts in the evening and it goes on all night. The angel (depending, variously: Michael, Jesus, God, or some random angel) manages to dislocate Jacob's hip. But by morning, the angel is over the whole thing and blesses him. Jacob goes on to do great things, but his hip is never the same.

I know what the Urban Dictionary would say...And there may be something to that. But let's put a pin in that and go in a different direction.

I read online that it's about God giving Jacob a taste of reality. Bitter, bitter reality.

Maybe Jacob was always going around thinking his own groovy thoughts and not paying much attention to the business at hand.

Maybe Jacob was arrogant and demanding. Nothing was ever good enough for him.  Maybe he needed to be put in his place.

Ugh! I'm tired of wrestling with the angel.  I want it to be over.  I want to get to the blessing part now.  I don't even want to have to figure out the meaning of this stupid fucking metaphor.

I'm thinking about going to church tomorrow, which galls me, but I am idly curious to know whether it would make the slightest bit of difference.  Maybe it would.  Maybe I need to make amends with my uptight Presbyterian God.

Or could I do it right here?  Could I say right here, right now, that I am humbled by the awesome power that the universe has over my life?

Maybe climate change is going to seem as shocking to most of us as idiopathic eosinophilic meningoencephalitis was to me.

Maybe we'll all be deeply shocked to be the incredibly unlucky generation that witnessed something so unimaginably terrible that few of us dared to imagine it. And we'll find ourselves amazed and kind of pissed that none of our ancestors had to go through this shit.

Of course, they had their own problems.World War I certainly smacked a generation upside the head.  No one had imagined that the world would be at war in entirety--that so many countries would topple like dominoes into living hell.

And then not learn from it, and do it twice.

What I couldn't have imagined or possibly predicted in fact posed the greatest threat.

I'm not saying I'm not comforted; I'm glad that Fire and Tanner, the other two horses in my care, have no chance (or very very close to no chance) of contracting Belle's disease.  Of course, there's still a whole host of other diseases they could get.

Nothing I did or didn't do contributed to Belle's demise. Unless it did.

But consider: every other horse in the world, under ever conceivable set of circumstances, did not contract this disease.

What could I have possibly done that was SO different, SO slightly off, and SO detrimental that no one ever did it before, except that one poor bastard in Vienna?

Practically speaking, I'm off the hook.

I may have an account to settle with my god, but I did take good care of my horse. I should get some few points for that.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Thank You

Tanner misses her a lot.

I have been surprised by how many people have read the post about how Belle died (160-plus).  It makes me think that the death of a horse is a matter of public interest.

Several neighbors have told me that they had enjoyed seeing Belle every day. People who drove past our farm every day got used to seeing the three horses grazing, or rolling in the mud, or dozing in the sun. Neighbors mentioned that they missed seeing Belle when she was laid up in the barn, recovering from her injury. They preferred to see the herd together, all three.

Tanner, Belle, and Fire

As the horses' caregiver, I feel a great responsibility. And though I did not realize it before, I now know that I am accountable to the community for the horses in my care. I don't mind--that's how it should to be.  No horse should disappear from view without a good explanation.

It is an honor to have horses. It is good to discover that they mean something more to other people  than I would have guessed, or noticed.

Simply by virtue of their presence, it seems, horses feed the human spirit. That is what I've learned from what people have told me, from their interest in Belle's story, and from my own personal experience.

It''s a fine human trait that people take pains, literally, to understand the nature of a loss that is mine and perhaps theirs, too; that they wish to mourn for a horse that they may not have known well, but which they had come to care about nonetheless.

There has been a remarkable outpouring of concern and grief for what happened to Belle (and to me and to Phil on that miserable morning).  For all of your good wishes, tears, and concern, my family and I are grateful.  (I would say that my remaining herd is grateful, but even I know that that would be anthropomorphizing.)

Fire makes a grab for my hat.

The Horse that I Grew Up On

It has been a week since Belle died--a week to the day. It still feels physically and emotionally awful--the violence of it, as much as her passing.  I have two other horses, but Belle was the one I grew up on.

I was 44 years old when I bought her.

She was five and unbroken. My friend Jen Williams trained her to be ridden, and I resumed riding lessons with Jen from where I left off at age 14.

Learning how to ride at 44 was a completely different experience from when I was a girl. As a child, I was accustomed to steep learning curves. I knew that I had my whole education ahead of me, and my parents seemed impossibly smart. I was young for my grade, and I looked ahead to the academic year with a sense of dread, as though it would be utterly beyond my grasp.

In middle age, I was no longer accustomed to steep learning curves. I was an experienced professional; I was a wife, mother, and home-owner; I was able to hold my own in conversations with  my parents. I was, in effect, a grownup.

Or so I thought.

I think it's fair to say that I was not an athlete. For one thing, I had never been trained in a sport. I did not grow up when little girls were encouraged to play soccer.  In grade school, only the very bold and athletic girls played sports. They had to be tough and they had to be good, or suffer the slings and arrows of public humiliation...To which I said, at every opportunity, no thank you.

By mid-life, I had long been immersed in professional and amateur pursuits for which I had some aptitude. I was not a mathematician. I was not a scientist. That would have been uphill. No, I had spent my life on what they refer to in Nepal as the Apple Pie Trail.  I was not pointed toward Everest. I meandered through the Annapurna region, which was not easy but quite doable with tea and biscuits every two or three hours.

I brought no aptitude for sports. None. I was like Betsy, our Border Collie, who used to get a hurt look in her eyes when we bounced a biscuit off her face--not like our Basset Lab, who caught and ate the biscuit without questioning our motives.

At 44, learning how to ride was profoundly--profoundly--humbling. I knew how to post to a trot, but I could not remember how to bridle or saddle up a horse (not because I didn't do it as a kid, but because I was transitioning from English to Western tack). I did not know how to tie a quick-release knot, and had difficulty learning it; Jen had to show me a dozen times before I could do it myself.

I made the humiliating discovery that I was slow.

Take a trained or natural athlete, put them on a horse, and what you have is someone who is balanced in the saddle, whose riding position is close to perfect, and who will adjust their bodies to the horse's movement and rhythm. They will quickly learn to post to the trot and sit to the canter. They will quickly learn how to handle the reins properly.  They will learn because they already have good mind-body synergy.  They are like the quick-catching Basset, not the Border Collie who needs to understand the theory of biscuit tossing before she can grasp the concept of catching a biscuit in her mouth.

So, that was me as an adult learning to ride: Ponderously, if not stupidly slow to learn how to tie a quick-release knot; with no feel for the reins being connected to the bit in my horse's mouth; with no feel for the position of any part of my body in space, or relative to my horse; no sense of the cause and effect of my gestures; no sense of balance at all.

And then there was Belle, who, on the face of it, was all wrong for me. I should have had what Mark Twain referred to as "a genuine Mexican plug," a horse as slow and dull as I was.

But instead, I had Belle: a young, green, fast, spitfire.  Belle was athletic, but inexperienced.  For her brief period of training, she was ridden by Jen exclusively--a sensitive and balanced rider.

After that, she had to put up with me, riding her like a sack of potatoes.

I made all of the mistakes: I fumbled with the reins and jerked on her pretty face.

I rode passively, the way a novice rides a seasoned trail horse, because that was all I knew or understood of riding.

After riding four or five times a week for an entire year with a Western saddle, I bought a smaller and leaner English saddle like the ones I had used at summer  camp. My memories of riding as a girl were in the English saddle, or riding bareback on wooded trails. It had all been so joyful and easy.

Imagine my surprise when I rode with the English saddle for the first time as an adult and felt like I was going to fall off.  I was too unbalanced for the smaller saddle--a shocking disappointment. But I continued to use it, and eventually, my balance improved.

In April of 2011, I didn't realize that Belle had a sore back. We were walking a clover pattern in the arena when she stopped and wouldn't move forward. I felt a sinking feeling in my seat, and then Belle flung me, like a lawn dart, over her head.

I landed in the sand on my hands and knees, six or eight feet in front of my horse. My cell phone flew out of my pocket and landed next to my pinky finger, which was jutting out weirdly at a right angle to my hand.

After recovering from surgery (to my hand), I approached riding differently. My confidence, which had never been high (but still inflated), was now at an all-time low.

Since I took a cerebral approach to riding, what else could I do?  I bought a book.  A book by Clinton Anderson for people like me who had been bucked off and needed to build up their self-confidence and win the respect of their horses.

Most of the book involved working with your horse from the ground. I won't bore you with the details. I spent that summer studying it as if my life depended on it (which I felt it did). Belle and I started at the beginning and mastered every single exercise straight through to the end.

In the fall, I resumed lessons with Jen. Because I had clocked so many hours on my own with Belle both from the ground and under saddle, I was finally beginning to develop feel: feel for the connection between the reins and Belle's mouth, feel for the movement of her head and neck at different gaits; feel for the call-and-response affect of riding cues; and feel for my own mind-body connection.

I was no longer a brain in a jar shouting orders to a distant avatar. I was becoming physically and mentally integrated, sensate, in tune with my horse.

Belle was hot, for a Quarter Horse. That means she was sensitive, intelligent, fast, and high-strung. She was the kind of horse that needed a confident and competent rider. A nervous rider made her nervous and spooky. A frightened rider made her defiant--she didn't want anything to do with a frightened rider.

If we were ever going to venture beyond the arena and round-pen--if we were ever going to go on a trail ride, say--I had to learn how to be brave.

On one of our early trail rides, Hobbes, Jen's Border Collie, flushed out a rafter/gang/group of wild turkeys, and Belle, frightened, jumped up and down, kicking and bucking.  I was in the Western saddle, and I stayed on by holding the horn with one hand while executing a one-rein stop with the other, which resulted in Belle doing a jig in tight circles.

Jen told me to raise the rein higher.  I did, and it worked; Belle stopped.  I was shaken, but still in the saddle.

The early trail rides were tough. I was only too eager to return to the barn, alive.  But, over time, with experience, Belle and I steadily improved.

One of my favorite memories was when we were riding with a small group of friends at a big beautiful park, and we encountered a herd of cows. Belle had never seen cows before.  My first thought was, Oh, shit. 

But, I said to Belle out loud, "It's okay, Belle. Nothing to worry about. They're only cows."

I could feel her relax. I could feel her exhale, resigned to courage. Everything's going to be okay.

For the first time, I had managed to do what good riders have always done for their horses--horses whose survival instincts tells them to be ever-cautious and fearful: I had given her courage.  I had chosen to focus on the fact that cows are cows, instead of focusing on the likelihood of Belle flipping out at the sight of them and possibly hurting me.  I had been brave.  It was a proud moment.

And so, despite my being, like my horse, high strung and nervous,  I learned how to calm myself so that Belle could also be calm.

I learned to think straight in frightening moments when before I would have panicked and been unable to think.

I learned that courage inspires courage, and fear inspires fear.

Riding also forced me to recognize that I was indecisive. A carry-over from passive riding, whether to go left or right at the wall became a last-minute decision that forced Belle to turn hard, twisting her body instead of rounding through the arc.  Right or left. There's no wrong answer. It was simply a problem of indecisiveness, a defect in myself I hadn't even known was there.

Leading, instead of passivity.  Being brave, instead of nervous and fearful.  Making my horse put her trust in me, instead of the other way around. Developing a mind-body connection, as well as feel for my horse's body and motion.  Practicing diligence instead of carelessness.  These are the things that Belle taught me--with a lot of help from our trainer, Jen, and a book by Clinton Anderson.

At my age now, 51, seven years doesn't seem like a long time, but it is the equivalent of both high school and college, and it has certainly been an education.

I got Belle when I was 44. She was the horse that I grew up on.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Terrible, Heartbreaking Day

Reader be warned: This is not a happy story. This is about a terrible, heartbreaking day.  You may think it perverse of me to write about it, but this is how I process the indigestible facts of life. I don't recommend reading it unless you want a good cry.

Death finally struck our farm decisively, after wavering for lo these many months. It settled on the heart of our menagerie, Belle, my twelve-year old American Quarter Horse.

Death snuck in through the back door, as though it knew it could not withstand a flash flood of good will from every person I know on Facebook. It disguised itself as an easily remedied tick-born illness, so I wouldn't put out the call. 

Twenty-four hours later, the true nature of a very different disease revealed itself while I was still in bed, asleep.  By the time I got out to the barn, she was gone--not dead, but half a mile down the street. 

A concerned lady pulled into our driveway. She had seen Belle cross the road in rush-hour traffic.  She saw her struggle over a barbed wire fence and fall on the other side. 

Take me there, I said. I didn't have my phone. I had a halter, lead line, and some biscuits in my pocket.

We spotted her standing in a field of soybeans, vapor rising off her back. I was glad to see her up and on the move.

Thank you, I said. Please go tell my husband where to find me.

I picked my way through the crops, stepping around or over the plants, sockless in rubber gardening shoes.  Belle was soaked in sweat and breathing hard. Her legs were slashed from barbed wire, but she didn't appear to be lame. She looked like she would be okay.

I tossed the end of my rope over her neck, which she normally allowed, but she pulled away and I couldn't hold her.  She ran off in the direction of the woods. 

Phil, my husband, arrived in the truck. I kept my eye on Belle as I walked toward the road. Phil tossed me my cell phone. 

"Are you going to call someone?" he said. 

"The veterinarian."

"Are you going to call someone to help get her?"

"There is no one. Just us." 

I asked him to watch for Belle approaching the road, in which case he would have to manage traffic. 

I turned back to try to halter her again.  I was now about an acre from her.  She walked into the woods next to the field.  I worried about another barbed-wire fence laying low on the perimeter.  She scrambled over something, probably barbed wire, and then the woods set upon her like a pit of snakes. She ran through it frantically and got out as quickly as she could, finally coming to a steaming stop once again in the soybeans.

I approached, speaking calmly. I offered her a biscuit. She smelled it, licked my hand. Slowly, I slipped the halter over her muzzle and fit it around her head. Her right eyelid was cut and swelling.  Her right ear was raw and red. Everywhere, lacerations and injuries, but not a lot of blood; she hadn't opened an artery.  

I sighed, and we stood together, neither wanting to move. Personally, I was ready to be rescued. Who could I call to come out to the middle of a field of soybeans and gingerly take us both home?

Nobody. We had to make our way to the road, where my husband could organize the trailer.  

Connected by a 16-foot rope, Belle and I made our way out of the field. She preferred to walk with a distance between us, 10 - 14 feet. 

At the edge of the road, I gathered her close, and we crossed to our neighbor's driveway, where Belle suddenly panicked and trampled their hostas.  She dashed in circles around me but I was a able to draw her over to a clearing in the lawn, where she stopped and settled in.  

Phil arrived, with the trailer. Belle was calm enough that he could hold her while I doused myself with bug repellant.  (The bugs, by the way, were terrible.)  I took back the rope. Belle leaned her head into my back and arm.  It was good to feel her face against my bare skin, to be a comfort to her, and block the mosquitos with the stench of deet.  

The technician arrived and began to lead Belle toward the trailer. Belle panicked and pulled away fiercely, taking the rope with her, which I grabbed and held onto until my face hit the grass.  

In her frenzy, Belle nearly impaled herself on a wooden post.  She plowed through the hostas, and tore through a tall wire fence, which, I was sure, would be the end of her, her elegant legs and dainty feet ensnared in slashing wire.  I freaked out. I covered my ears and started screaming.  I curled up in the fetal position and didn't stop screaming until I was sobbing, and didn't stop sobbing until Belle had cleared the fence and Phil and the technician had pursued her down the road to the park. I stood up and saw that Belle was still standing, moving well on the injured leg. (All our hard work getting that fetlock heeled had been successful.)

I ran over to the park and was able to take hold of the rope still attached to Belle's halter. The veterinarian arrived, a focused-looking woman in her thirties whose instincts were all kicking in.  She took the rope from me, and Belle acquiesced. Instantly establishing a soothing rapport with the frightened horse, the vet was able to inject needles full of sedatives into Belle's neck.  

At this point, it was clear to all that Belle was almost completely blind, that she was under the spell of a neurological disorder, and was intensely erratic. We took over the driveway to the park. The vet wouldn't let anyone near Belle--not me, not her her assistant; not even a car could pass except at a distance and very slowly.  

The question of euthanasia came up quickly. It could be done right there. There are worse places to die than at a park down the road from home. She would fall down in the grass. 

The vet very carefully and patiently guided Belle onto the trailer, and carefully tied her lead-line to the side. 

Despite my recent display of nerves, I elected myself to haul Belle the two miles to the clinic, where they couldn't coax Belle off the trailer without her becoming agitated.  So they would treat her on the open stock trailer. The day was not hot. I parked it in the shade. 

The technician drove me home, where I set to mending the fence. I found the electric ropes, and the plastic hardware supporting it torn apart in different places all over the pasture.  

The two geldings left behind had taken what remained of the fence as a suggestion, and stayed put out of good common sense. (Under normal circumstances, Belle would never have left them behind. Under normal circumstances, they followed Belle, if they could. Nothing was normal about this morning.)

The technician returned after twenty minutes to take me back to the clinic. By the time I got there, Belle was down in the trailer, anesthetized by a blowdart. She would never get out of the trailer alive.  

Death came slowly, a relief at last. 

Death be done, and go.

At some point, when Phil and I were with Belle on the lawn of our neighbor's farm, before the technician arrived, we both heard music. It was coming from my phone, still in my pocket. (Pandora had somehow turned itself on.) It was a Joan Armatrading song, from the album, To The Limit

For every terrible day, there were hundreds more that were wonderful. 


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Modern Anguish

I just finished reading When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi, and I have to tell you, it is one of those rare books that has changed my way of thinking.

Kalanithi was a brilliant young man who, from a very young age, was interested in understanding  life and death. 

Intellectually, death interested him more. Academically, he pursued the meaning of death and dying through literature, philosophy, scientific research, and medicine. He was also Catholic.

I don't think I'm giving anything away that isn't already clear at the outset if I tell you that at age 36, he is diagnosed with terminal cancer, which he acknowledges is ironic, and something of an opportunity; but the reality of living with cancer was not a trip he would have taken (if he had  had  a choice) if he knew where it would take him. 

What resonated for me, among other things, was how the author and his colleagues dealt with the constant presence of death in the life of the hospital. And not just death, but also other, almost equally grim medical outcomes. 

Clearly, this guy, Kalanithi, with a Masters in Literature and Ph.D. in philosophy and MD in medicine and whatever to be a neurosurgeon and neuroscientist...This guy, who won every accolade in his path, had everything I would want in someone who was operating on my brain. But even so, mistakes happen. Death happens. It happens, and it happens, and it happens. 

Sometimes, I think about Nineteenth Century mothers, how they managed to survive the loss of so many babies. All those little headstones at the family grave. It happened all the time. And I think, probably some of those moms went mad. But many of them (I haven't researched this, obviously; this is pure conjecture on my part) probably survived, emotionally, because death was so much a part of life back then. 

I think they thought about death differently from contemporary Americans. I think they may have had more acceptance of death as something beyond their absolute influence. And I think that their belief that their lives and the lives of their loved ones were in God's hands would have been a comfort. And I don't think they ever imagined that they had as much control over life and death as we now imagine we do. 

Even though contemporary culture retains countless threads of religious sentiment and influence, I think that most privileged and educated people believe that we have a lot of control over matters of life and death. We take care of our health; or if we don't, and we get sick, we become quickly motivated to take control over our health. We believe that it is a contract: If we take care of ourselves, we will live long healthy lives. 

In his book, Kalanithi notes how people with cancer are expected to fight and beat it, as though survival were a matter of attitude.  This puts great pressure on patients to undergo extreme therapies that can be torturous, unpromising, and dominate the time they have left.  

The cultural imperative to fight cancer, to control our biological destiny, to be stronger than terminal illness, and never give up our sense of probably a very recent kind of thinking, quite different from a Nineteenth Century (or earlier) world view.  

And yet, the people of the Nineteenth Century still managed to invent the lightbulb. The shadow of death overhanging all did not create an atmosphere of despair, or rob the world of ambition.  Nor did people stop trying to develop remedies for pain and illness.

I'll tell you why this represents an epiphany for me. I have been running a long streak of bad luck with regard to the animals in my care.  And I realized, after reading this book, that some of the anguish I've been experiencing in coping with the potential loss of several pets has stemmed from my overwhelming sense of custodianship and responsibility. 

I felt that if one of my animals died, it was my fault. After all, I take care of them. I read the books and articles. I make the decisions about their medical care...So, everything that went wrong was my fault.  It didn't matter what it was, or how it happened...My anguish has stemmed from this burden of responsibility (a mistaken sense of my control over life and death) and a corresponding anguish over the potential to fail catastrophically.

People have died in my family: grandparents, my father, uncles, friends, pets....And still, somehow, I forgot that death is beyond my control.  

I say that I believe in God, but do I forget that I am not God? 

Do I forget that death happens? 

It happens with or without me. It's supposed to happen--for everyone, for every living thing.  

Of course, it is hubris to imagine otherwise. Shake your head at me. I deserve it. But remember: My only experience of this God complex has taken the form of a consuming anguish that I have experienced in the shadow of grief. It's a terrible and lonely feeling that can only compound my sadness.  

So that was my epiphany: Death happens. I'm not God. 

The cat is sick. I love this cat, but she's got recurring pancreatitis, and she's probably going to die. It's hard for the vet to accept; she thinks that subcutaneous fluids or an enema might make a difference. But I've seen this cat pull out of it before, and it was always because of the Prednisone. This time, the Prednisone isn't working. She's not eating, and she's not getting any better. And I think she's going to die.

I love her, and I'm going to miss her. But I no longer feel the anguish that I felt when I thought it was my fault if I couldn't save her.  

We are like God, but we are not God. And in the absence of any real sense of God, which is most of our culture today, we sometimes find that we have no one to blame but ourselves for the presence of death in life.  

The cat is watching me from across the room. She is wary that I might make her take another pill, so she's keeping her distance. And she's not asking me to save her. She just wants to be where can she see me when she opens her eyes.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Chicken Tandoori and Hamilton

If I see a robin, that's a sign: a departed loved one is thinking of me. Finding a feather is a sign,  meaning different things depending on the type of feather.  I got this from an FB post: "Five Heavenly Signs and What They Mean," or words to that effect.

It reminded me that after my second dog (Bart) of a pair of dogs (Bart and Sam) died in 2007,  I found two hawk feathers in the park where I had walked my dogs every day.  I picked up the two handsome feathers, (one bigger than the other, like my dogs). It felt like a sign, a gift, an acknowledgment of my grief.

The five signs on FB got me wondering...If there are five signs, why not a hundred? Why not a million?  Maybe everything is a sign, part of a language of meaning that we barely understand?

I saw a cricket (or cicada) that was an intensely gold color. I took several pictures of it gleaming in the sun. Surely, it was a sign. I had no idea what it meant...Except, perhaps, that here is this rare thing that you have never seen before: a gleaming gold cricket.  Take a picture. It's real enough. You'll never see one again.

I sensed a metaphor.

Lately, I've encountered more signs.  On Public Radio, I heard a review of a new series on Netflix that interested me. That very same night, wouldn't you know, I turned on Netflix, and there was that very same series, first thing up on the screen. I told my husband it was supposed to be good, and we watched it.  It was good. For the duration of that series, I seemed to be in tune with the universe.

Another sign: We picked up a subscription to Blue Apron. Each week, we receive recipes and ingredients for three meals.  It's fun, it's novel. It's less to think about.  Later, I scrolled down my New York Times app past the headlines, past the arts and sciences, past all human interest, and what do you think I saw?  Why, a recipe for the same tandoori chicken that we had had the previous night!

It had to be a sign. It was excellent chicken.

I ordered a bathing suit on Amazon for my son. For some odd reason, the crotch hung at the knees. Josh didn't like that.  I tried it on, unsuspecting.  It fit me perfectly, except I had to walk  like a penguin, and my legs looked twelve inches long.

I was filling out the on-line return form when Amazon made an intriguing suggestion.  I could return the suit for a full refund. Or, I could return it for store credit.  Or...I could return it in exchange for the biography of Hamilton that I'd been wanting to own for a year.

I took it as a sign.  And now I have Hamilton.

I know what you're going to say: That's not a sign, Barmack; it's target marketing.  Public Radio talks to Netflix. Blue Apron talks to New York Times...And they're all wondering the same thing: What would Jessica like?

"Another golden cricket," someone suggests, to scowls of disapproval.

"Key and Peele!" "Tilda Swinton!"

"I can't believe she didn't go for the giant pig movie," someone says.

"When is the fourth season of Peaky Blinders due out? She should not have to wait this long for the fourth season. It's absurd."

I think you're wrong. I don't think people are having those conversations. I'm not that big an egotist!

That conversation is happening among computers.

What if AI (artificial intelligence, duh) wasn't planning to wipe out humanity after all? Would that be so bad?

What if AI concerned itself not with nourishment, shelter, comfort, wealth, or social status, but with ethics and morality...

AI as philosopher-priest...

What if it wanted to be God?

It already communicates through signs. And human beings love signs. We have been seeing and interpreting signs for as long as our brains have been capable of understanding and conferring meaning.  We look for signs, we hope for signs, we trust in signs, we act on signs....

And that presents not just an opening for capitalism to intrude upon our minds, but also an opportunity for the ambitious consciousness of our own making to reach out to us with subtle constancy and affect us on a deeper level, perhaps profoundly, with its boundless knowledge and total lack of experience.

Chicken Tandoori and Hamilton...Not a bad place to start.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Life Without Salt

Several people in the past few weeks have told me that I am emotional.  

I hasten to point out that this didn't upset me, but it did give me pause. 

What was their tone, you ask?  Good question. They were neither critical nor favorably impressed. It was like, "You're a remarkably emotional person. That must hurt!" As if they had seen their first basselope, and weren't sure what to make of it.  

It was a writers' workshop, they were writerly types, and I had just explained the very moving and complex plot of my novel while weeping intermittently for 25 minutes. 

Apparently, normal people with normal feelings have to rest between emotional exertions.  

It was a big fail. Just like the time I tried to read my short story about my dead dog. Someone had to finish reading it while I went off to a corner and blubbered. 

So my plot was too thick and flavorful. What to do? 

I went home and binged on Wentworth, a gritty drama about women in prison. Somewhere between my fourth and fifth episode, I thought, I'll bet the people in my writer's workshop are not big fans of Wentworth. Or Orange is the New Black. Or even, probably, Vikings. But I can't be the ONLY one who watches gritty shows. There must be others who enjoy this white-knuckle, shirt-rending series. It is commercially viable. 

This cheered me immeasurably.  

I had never heard the term "cozy mystery" before that writers workshop. (I don't get out much.) Agatha Christie wrote cozy mysteries. They are not emotionally charged. The murder is never particularly stirring or poignant, more a starting point for a game of intrigue.  I have never been much into Agatha Christie.  I want more sturm und drang. Tell me something I didn't know about the human condition.

Yes, I admit it: I am emotional. It rarely clouds my judgment, except when it does. I am not as emotionally intelligent as I sometimes need to be. There are some people who have gotten the short end of the stick. To them, I say, Yes, I made a mess of things. I am sorry. I was overwrought. #Itsacoldfishthatisneverafooloranass 

I don't have tattoos, but I would not mind having one--not because I don't think I might possibly regret having it, but because I probably would regret having it. I wouldn't mind having that on my body: Evidence that here is a person who may regret what she has done, but she is not wondering what might have been if she had no regrets.

But I don't have a tattoo. I don't need one: I have red hair. 

Despite the public's bizarre attributions to people with red hair (mainly, that we're emotional) when not in the presence of greatness, or tragedy, or anything that makes me particularly love mankind, I'm generally pretty laid back.  

Offend my sense of fair play, however, and I turn into a green avenger with ill-fitting pants. 

Anger burns away the cobwebs, illuminates the dark recesses of my mind, sharpens me right up. I should be a lawyer. You'd want me on your side. I make some very good points. 

When my hair was  short, assertive, and sexually ambiguous, no one called me emotional. Now that it is long, feminine, romantic and tearful, the public conveys a new vibe: You are emotional!

To which I say, Tell me something I didn't know about the human condition.

I laugh at my mother for weeping as she reads the morning paper. Alone, I weep, as well. 

Plenty of times I've muscled my way through private emotions to keep a public face, and failed. 

I recognize, in my grandmother's lovable letters to her parents, the sound of our common, needy, obsessive chord (with the pitch-perfect ear of someone who is emotional). My grandmother's fragile self esteem, her awareness of her talent and proximity to disappointment; the constancy of her hopes and dreams...We bear a striking resemblance.  

But Clare had more gratitude. She worked harder to make everything just so. She suffered more disappointments. She rarely felt as free. 

If I were less emotional, would I be wiser, calmer, less impulsive, less effective, less interesting, less damaging, less self-absorbed?  


If I could change my stripes and be unemotional in spots, would I?

No. No way! Why would I want to eat for the rest of my life without salt?

Sunday, July 2, 2017

In Her Own Voice

It would appear that my father kept every report he had ever written since high school, even the C- grades. I'm glad he did; I enjoyed sifting through them, hearing his voice and observing the evolution of that voice through his writing. He had a clear sense that his own words might serve as a detailed record of who he was and what he thought about almost everything.

His father, Jeb, possessed many more photos of himself than of his beloved wife Terry, though she was just as uniquely attractive.  His photographs and clippings were  a roadmap of his journey out of poverty, testimony to the willpower and self-discipline of a first-generation immigrant who started out with nothing except the opportunity to better himself. I think the accumulated evidence of his accomplishments was a reassuring touchstone for him.

Of my grandmothers, by way of contrast, there is relatively little on record.  They both died during the two years period between when my parents married and  when they had me.  Growing up, the fact that I would have been (had they lived) their only granddaughter may have amplified my interest in knowing these two women.  Having no sisters or aunts--only my mother to compare myself to as a girl/woman--I was always curious about my grandmothers--but especially about Clare, because I looked so much like her, and because she chose to take her life when she was 38 years old.

November 13, 2009

Dear Jessica,

I was so sorry to hear from Maggie that [your father] John had died.

John lived in my heart, and mind, long after we saw one another regularly. John (and Maggie) rescued the family after my mother died. We were a sad, troubled lot. My father was paralyzed with guilt and grief. My grandmother was bedridden from a stroke. Matthew, Mark and Marty lived as characters from Lord of the Flies. Greg was with my grandfather. I was mostly away with my friends. John and Maggie, young and married so briefly, returned as if wise old hands. 

My parents as newlyweds


Charles Gregory, first son

Margaret Lynn

Marty, John, Mark, Matthew

My mother and I bear a striking physical resemblance to Clare.  Coming from generally Celtic stock, she had red hair and fair skin. My hair is (was) the same color red, though it has lost its brilliance over the years. Clare's body (like my mother's) was lean and slight compared to mine--and though I generally avoid speaking of women as though we were horses, I will make this an exception. If we were horses, Clare would have been a pre-1950 Thoroughbred, and I would have been among the more muscular and sturdy sprinters favored today in horse racing.  Built like a long-distance runner, Clare was comparatively fragile. 

Having said that, I take it back: How do I know how fragile she was?  What do I know of what it took to run her race? 

Most of what I know about Clare comes from letters that she wrote to her parents from November 21,1945 to December 15, 1946.  I found them, read them,  and treasured them. I slipped each page into its own plastic sleeve, arranged them in chronological order, and saved them in a binder that I've had for many years. In these letters is my grandmother's voice.  

November 21, 1945

My darlings, 

I had been going to write you tonight--but now I hardly know what to say. The two packages came this afternoon, and I am speechless...I opened Margaret Lynn's box first (with her permission) and immediately tried the new gowns on her [Margaret Lynn is two]. Wait till you see them! I am sending the sweater back though, since she has two already...

The preserves were much appreciated... But the crowning glory is the fruitcake and I speak of it last and with reverence. It is certainly the most beautiful cake I have ever seen or--smelled. We shall eat it tomorrow and there won't be a sound in the kitchen except that of two happy people eating! 

I hope you will have a good Thanksgiving dinner. Believe it or not, we're having a turkey. The butcher had a nice little one and I couldn't say no. I figure it will be good practice for the scrumptious one I hope to serve at Christmas. 

Clare's parents, Papa and Ami
Speaking of Christmas, may I humbly suggest two gifts we would like very much and not buy ourselves? It's presumptuous, but aren't you my family? Allen has the Jawett translation of Plato but yesterday he was saying how much he wanted the new, complete Random House edition...if you could get it, I know he'd be very happy... 

As for me, do you remember, Mother, the book I used for the methods course in English that I thought was so wonderful? I remember reading parts of it aloud. If you wanted to please me you could call Mr. Anderson's office on campus [Chicago University] and get the title from his bibliography and bring the thing along if you can get it. It struck me as tremendously valuable practical reference material for a relatively inexperienced teacher like myself. 

I want to talk about the baby for a minute. You will recall my writing of her cold and the slight fever that went with it. Well, the fever is long past and the cold is nearly over, but somewhere along the line all these teeth we were waiting for popped in! .

..The most wonderful thing, however, is that she is a harmonica fan. Allen plays for her when he can find time but now she is doing it herself. This morning, she pulled down the big harmonica from home and was so happy with it and eager to blow into it that I washed it carefully and gave it to her...She played it all day! And she dances to the music as she makes it! I wish you might have been here today, but it will be as much fun at Christmas time, and by then she may know a tune. 

I am helping Allen do some research for a paper so I must get to work. 

Our warmest love,


Clare (as a graduate, I'm guessing)
December 5, 1945

My darlings,

Mother's second page arrived today and, while I appreciate hearing that she must dash off to evening school, it seems to me that my parents, between them, should be able to get off more than two pages a week. I am probably busier than you both together (I am quite sure of it) and yet every week there sail out of our little attic two fat envelopes.  I suppose you are expecting to make it up in the long talks we will have at Christmas, but you have no idea how much I want to hear from you now. It is something that amounts to homesickness and I expect you to do something about it. 

At this end of the line there isn't a great deal to write tonight. Margaret Lynn is the most interesting thing around here. At her early age she is quite a little mother. "Sally" has lost one leg from her enthusiasm and is practically unrecognizable, but how the baby loves that doll! She wants me to wash her face and hands, wipe her nose, feed her poached egg, etc.,...and if I don't, the diddle goes about the business herself. I can hardly wait until you see her again because she is so much more intelligent and lovable than ever before. You won't believe it 'til you see it... 

Margaret Lynn, aka, "diddle"

January 6, 1946

My darlings, 

The check arrived this evening, thanks to you both. We will send back your money very soon. Allen also expects a two hundred dollar refund under the G.I. Bill so, temporarily, the Greenmans are residing on easy street. 
Clare and Allen

By the way, I'm using my new paper and it is a dream to write on. Allen and I were noting yesterday all the household improvements purchased by my generous parents in the too few days they were here. The kitchen table is probably the most handy but so are the bathroom stool (how did we ever get along without it?), our new wastebasket, serving tray, etc. The Raes dropped in unexpectedly yesterday afternoon and I served a snack on the new tray. We hope we won't have to use the rope but we feel a lot more comfortable having it around [the rope must have been for a hasty exit out the window in case of fire].

I was embarrassed to read what you wrote about the marvelous time you had, Mother. We both know it sadly lacked many things. Next summer I promise to be more entertaining.

Clare with packages

Darling Mother,

It's a shame to return these things but they aren't quite large enough. As I wrote, Margaret Lynn has two sweaters and a third is nearly finished. This one is a lovely color but it isn't big enough to warrant keeping it...I took a second look at the stockings and found they were size five. By now she is wearing six! Don't buy others, though, for she wears her little trousers in the house all day and I'm buying a snowsuit for out of doors. By the way, she's plaguing me as I write so good-bye until the regular Wednesday letter. 



Allen's student ID from the University of Chicago

January 9, 1946

My darlings,

The date is encircled and this letter is being written because this has been an amazing day. This morning Allen received a telegram (the only quick way to reach us) from the English department of Harvard asking him to call the office. When he came home he announced that he had been offered a teaching fellowship paying twelve hundred and fifty dollars for four months of teaching about six hours a week! And this will probably be renewed next July. Besides this he will still get the ninety dollars a month from the government. What do you think of your son-in-law now? It all means that he can finish his work this semester...

There will be about a hundred pages to type before the term is over and I must do some of them tonight.

I hope you are sharing our happiness. You have our love.


January 26, 1946

...This morning Allen received his official appointment to membership with the society of fellows. If he should get some papers or even a book ready while he is teaching in this capacity this would give the effort some prestige. 

I am worried about Mother's cold. Please, dear, take better care of it than Daddy says you do. That lemon and soda sounds fine, Daddy. Have you read recently of the wonderful new flu serum? If it's available next year, Allen and I plan to be inoculated. 

It looks as if I may be taking one course at Harvard next term, if we can find a girl to play with the baby an hour twice a week. Allen teaches at that time. The course is "Recent American Literature," a conference group with the renowned Harvard Mumford Jones. If I should take a Ph.D. in English it would be one course out of eight out of the way and, if not, it should be valuable when I start teaching. I know practically nothing about our period and am a bit ashamed of it.

Margaret Lynn has her first pair of low-cut shoes. Apparently the pediatricians around here don't approve of high-tops for two year olds...

January 30, 1946

...Nothing much has happened at this end. Margaret Lynn can use great long sentences and her latest desire is to tickle whoever is in range. 

The oil burner downstairs went on the blink yesterday so we enjoyed the heat of the oven in the kitchen most of the day. The landlord is making it up today and the radiators are blazing. We finished the last of Allen's papers last night as the term is officially over for us and we are taking in a movie tonight--the first since December 25. I don't know what it will be, but "Tarzan" would be welcome. With this new term we are going to have our Octavia come one night a week. I have decided against taking a course and am going to write (!) instead. You, Mother, have been urging me to have this kind of a career within my home for years and now it suddenly strikes me (pause for laugh) that you could be right. I'm hopeful but not very. Anyway, the experiment should be fun. Allen has bought me some books on writing--one by the sister (I suppose) of the Mirrilees who wrote the book you sent--and I am soaking in their wisdom. January 31, 1946

My darling mother, 

This afternoon I [illegible. raced? reached?] downtown after lunch. I have been wanting to spare you the annual search for a dollar hat and I had my heart set on something, a soft rose or something, but apparently, the only hats for women are black, navy, or brown except for some silly feather creations you wouldn't have occasion to wear. The hats this season are ridiculous, most with very high crowns. I wouldn't wear any of them and I was pretty sure you wouldn't either. 

Ami as a young woman
Maybe the selection in Chicago is better and I would send some money for the purpose but I know you too well, darling, for that. So I bought a hat and it is on the way and may reach you before this [letter] does. I liked it--but I don't know whether you will or not. I don't care for the pink-spotted veiling and I think plain navy might be better, but you will know. There are several chances that you won't like it, that it won't be becoming, for there was nothing like what you ordinarily wear and it's hard to visualize a hat on another face, even on the one I know and love so well. The navy will require a little range, but I thought it the best hat since the tweed coat you either have made or are making has blue in it and I am still hoping to see that navy silk made into a dress...If you don't like it, please send it back to me as soon as you can. Since it is a gift I can return it later than is ordinarily permissible...

I also bought a plain buff lamp shade to replace that ugly dark blue one...

February 5, 1946

...Our girl didn't arrive last week so we are still movie-less. I remember very well when we all went to Will Roger's old picture. I was just a little thing but I remember everything in the picture, particularly the hairbrush and minced pie episodes. 

Don't expect too much from the writing initiative. It's lots of fun, but I'm strictly an amateur. Yesterday and today I did what I could on a little story and am putting it on ice for a while. I think
there's an idea in it, but I've done what I can for it for the present. 

I asked Allen to buy a very light stain for the kitchen table. He brought home Dark Oak! I despaired. But I rubbed it off as soon as I applied it and left it dull and it looks marvelous. I painted the dressing table black and white and it is as stunning as it is handy. As I painted it I thought of the many times my mother painted it, sometimes at night after school. I also did the hall and living room floors a dark brown and I am hoping that they will now retreat into the background where they belong. I have been most self-conscious about them. I can hardly wait to see the new curtains and sofa covers. I'll send you a line when I get them. 

February 10, 1946

...Margaret Lynn now has boots. There is a very foreign young woman (an intellectual) in an apartment near ours. I have only nodded to her, but a couple of days when I saw her and her little son out walking I mentioned that I wished I could find boots for Margaret Lynn. Immediately, she offered her son's other pair. It seemed such a lovely, generous thing, and now the diddle can walk outside. The weather has been good and we get out quite a lot.

...I wonder if you heard Toscanini conduct "La Boheme" last Sunday afternoon. He is doing the last two acts tomorrow and it is marvelous.

Daddy, please write me a letter. How is the tobacco holding out? The shops are full of it here, you know. 


February 15, 1946

...We are treating ourselves to several luxuries besides the telephone. We have a milkman and a checking account and our Octavia is going to come every Tuesday evening so that we can have a little fun.  

Now that Allen is on the faculty, I have been invited to join the "Teas Association," and I'm going to do it. There are about three teas left and I shall be able to see some of the wives of our illustrious profs. Bet they'll be a drab lot!

Margaret Lynn and I visited Dr. Moore yesterday...She is an interesting woman and, I believe, an excellent doctor. The diddle is in fine shape and the doctor approves of her routine. We are buying homogenized vitamin D milk and it is not to be boiled any longer and the doctor says the Cambridge water is safe without boiling...

By the way, I am wearing the ruby and diamond ring again. My hands aren't pretty enough for it but it brings home closer.

As for the dishes, my darling eager mother, I am going to call Jordan's and cancel the order. You are not to be hurt. It's for a number of good reasons. The poorest of these is that the anniversary gift is already in use. You asked to get the plates, cups, and saucers for the occasion and I said "no." But you did it anyway, and that is all the present there is to be. Secondly, I have all the dishes I can use or find place for. I bought a platter and serving dish in the pattern some time ago and forgot to tell you. The best reason is that when you come you will bring your own beautiful dishes and there is no sense in having a half a dozen sets. No china that I have seen can compare with the peacock dishes....

The woman who so spontaneously lent the overshoes [to Margaret Lynn] is a gem. She and her husband are German Jewish refugees and have been in America five years. The biggest surprise is that he is also in philosophy and closer to his Ph.D. than Allen. He is also a teaching fellow--in German. Mrs. Salmitz is my idea of a well-bred, charming woman and what I like best is the way she cares for her little boy. We get along very well and the two children enjoy banging [banging or hanging] each other's heads. Daddy will forget all his prejudice when he meets her. 

February 19, 1946

...I was so happy to hear from my beloved Daddy. Allen didn't know about the income tax estimate and is grateful for the information...I was sorry to hear you were attending another funeral--such a mournful occupation! I'm sure I can't understand why people drink themselves into the grave. I should think the fear of the consequences would frighten them off, but too many people operate on the principle "It Can't Happen Here."

Margaret Lynn is talking regularly now in five and six-word sentences. The current expression is: "That's my job!" This applies to practically everything...I have never enjoyed her as much as during the past weeks when sh and I spend a whole day alone together. Allen leaves about eight-thirty and gets home around five, so it is a long day. She "helps" me all day long. She loves bed-making especially and carries the big pillows around with a great deal of importance. 

February 22, 1946

My darlings,
It was almost unbelievably wonderful to hear your voices this morning. Long distance telephone is kind of silly in a way. There isn't much to say, and if there were there wouldn't be enough time to say it in. But the sound of your voices has made me happy all day. It was as though you were very close. Margaret Lynn reported it all to Allen very solemnly this evening as soon as he opened the door. It pleased her greatly. 

March 7, 1946

...Yesterday I went to see Miss Taylor at the nursery school. She seemed very intelligent and understanding, and I think I'll have the baby go mornings one month this summer to get used to the idea. If Allen teaches next fall I shall seek work only in the afternoons until the spring when he should be free to go to school exclusively....(someone must be around to take care of her if she has a cold, etc.,). By spring, I may look for a teaching job and then I expect to have another baby. We'll have to get started if we're going to have those six little Greenman. 


Speaking of children, weren't those Irish children in the Journal wonderful? I imagine you meant the [?] article, but I found the other one more inspiring, especially the fact that the mother still wears a size eleven!

We had a sirloin steak for supper and it was unbelievably good. The darn thing cost a dollar, but we don't do that very often. I had the butcher cut out the bone is I could get it into the pan and asked him to weight it. One pound and three ounces! Over forty cents for bone. I almost cried. By and large we eat fairly economically. I wonder if Daddy would think so.

Did I tell you I was making my husband a sleeveless sweater? It's a lovely greyed green...Allen has bought only an overcoat (an excellent grey and black and white tweed) and has had a very good looking sport jacket made. He has only three shirts but the last cost five dollars. I bought him four pairs of socks the other day in desperation. Clothing is so high. He wants to get another suit, but there is nothing ready-made and a tailored suit would cost seventy-five dollars or more. 

March 3, 1946

...On my Friday shopping trip I had the luck to walk many blocks down Tremont Street with the best shops and the Commons on one side. It reminded me of home more than Boston has before. How I should love to walk up Michigan Boulevard again. Today Allen and I took the baby for a long stroll in her little cart. It has been a beautiful day though very sloppy underfoot. We left Mass. Avenue far behind and walked through the really beautiful part of Cambridge with its large old homes (some from the Revolution). By chance we came upon the Craig Longfellow House. It was also Washington's Headquarters 1775-1776. There are three visiting afternoons a week and I am looking forward to seeing it. 

Mother dear, I beat you to it on the matter of the creamer and sugar. Will you please be more careful of your money? Don't forget, summer is coming.

Allen and I now get out every Tuesday night. His old New York friend, Will Geer, is in a new play here and we are spending next Tuesday at its opening night. 

March 14, 1946

...Tomorrow night we are spending a couple of hours with the Salmitz's. They were over here one evening and are as unaffected and wholly charming as any people I've met. 

March 25, 1946

The anniversary letter was one of the most beautiful and heartwarming I have ever received. I will keep it always. I can hardly wait until we are all together again for good. Visits are alright--but they can't compare with knowing that you won't have to pack up some morning and leave us behind. 

...If [Mother Greenman] spends May and June here she can stay with me while Allen goes to Chicago. You know that he wouldn't consider leaving me alone. Then she could go to Chicago and visit there before returning home. Just now Allen is calling his brother Joe in Chicago. As he says, it will probably cost about ten dollars, but it should do them both a lot of good. 
Mrs. Greenman

...From what Allen learned over the telephone, Mrs. Greenman may not come east until fall when Jack is discharged from the army. Joe is going to school full time at Chicago and his wife is working. He plans to take his degree in psychology and he'll get it in a couple of years. We are so glad that he is back in school. 

Allen's sweater will be finished in a day or so. I'll be so glad to see him in something besides the old Army one.

March 31, 1946

My darlings,

I certainly don't owe you a letter but the best time to write is when there's news and this is such a
time. Allen has given up philosophy. He has been dissatisfied with sitting around talking about substance and real essences and such. Essentially, he is a man of action and recently we have been more than stirred in the direction of doing social good. We sat around until late and finally decided on psychology. When I say we, that is what I mean. As you know, I have been dissatisfied for some time also. Harvard has a new committee on Social Relations like Chicago's Committee on Social Thought. We are going to work on Ph.D.s in Clinical Psychology with the hope of doing something to prevent mental disease. I plan to do child psychology. This summer, we will both take a course in statistics to help us pass the required examination in that subject next November. We also are going to take the exam in psychological French at the end of the summer. I shall also have to learn German eventually to pass a similar test in Illinois... [If this all seems a bit ambitious, let it be noted that Clare had already completed a Bachelors and a Masters degree in the space of three years at the University of Chicago.] ...Won't it be wonderful to study together and eventually work together? We should be able to help each other tremendously. I won't get my degree for sometime but, with the help of God, all things will come to pass.

Speaking of God, we felt we ought to cut our contribution to twenty-five dollars. ...We will have to be more economical from now on with this rather pretentious program ahead...

Starting tomorrow, I'm going to keep an itemized account of all our expenses...

...By the way, Mother, if you haven't ordered the silver yet, forget about it. There are some things we don't need. ...If you can, send along the golf clubs and tennis rackets. 

Please write and tell us what you think of this. Do you think we're on the right track? And please say an occasional prayer for your two idealists.

April 7, 1946

I am eagerly awaiting an answer to the last letter. However, I am sure that you will both approve this new trend away from scholarship and 'book-learning' as an end in itself. Allen and I are doing a good bit of reading to try to get ready for the more formal study involved. I must even learn a new vocabulary but such little things won't stop me. It may be a long time before I can earn my Ph.D., for we hope to have another diddle as soon as we can afford it (!) but, in my teaching, I can begin to apply the principles of child psychology. I find it a great help immediately, in being intelligent about Margaret Lynn.    

Late this morning we walked down to the river and sat on the grass and realized how lucky we are to have a home and a beautiful child and the kind of peace that comes from being happy and satisfied. I am looking forward so much to seeing you. You have no idea how much.

April 10, 1946

First of all, Allen discovered he couldn't change to psychology. The training takes four calendar years and he could not be admitted until next year because the applications have been very numerous. At any rate, you were right. 

We realize for many reasons that he should get his Ph.D. as soon as possible. The biggest reason is that neither of us want to wait three or four years to have another baby. 

However, I do plan to teach next fall. Margaret Lynn will not be neglected. She will simply get an invaluable chance to play with other little children for three hours in the morning and learn to get along with other people. Every person must learn to fit into his own age group, whatever the age. A child reared exclusively among adults loses a great deal. [Clare was an only child whom her mother
Allen on stage (the woman is not Clare)
had late in life, and she was raised exclusively among adults.] ...I feel that my first obligation is to my family, particularly to this baby we have brought into the world and I do not feel that Margaret Lynn will suffer if I teach. If I did, I assure you I should stay at home. 

I think that a great deal can be done in preventative psychology by an understanding teacher--I have seen what my mother, who is as young in ideals as any person could be, has been able to do--and I am going to make myself as well informed as possible so that I can do more than teach a certain amount of grammar, etc. Besides the psychological angle, there is something commendable in introducing a new, more beautiful, more inspiring universe to children who are just beginning to realize what living means. The right guidance may mean the difference between a constant dependence on second-hand emotions and experiences and the ability to look and live and perhaps interpret by oneself. It is very difficult to write down, but I believe, and I think you will both agree, that Allen and I will be better teachers than anything else. 

I am still receiving replies from publishers, all very indefinite. I did, however, receive one of the nicest business letters possible this afternoon and am sending it along because I think you will enjoy it too. 

...The very thought of not seeing you this summer dismayed us. But rest quietly, my darlings, I shall not be studying and Allen will take classes only if the teaching is not renewed. If you didn't come to us  we should have to come to you, afford it or not. No more foolishness now! And whence the idea that Allen makes more money than my ma after forty years? [Ami had long been a high school art teacher in Chicago.] His salary is about $250.00 a month. Don't you make that in two weeks?

April 4, 1946

My darlings, 

First of all, Allen has been offered his job next year and we are very happy about it. It means that the head of English A is satisfied with his work ad it also means that we can put my next years salary in the savings account toward the furniture for the new apartment we'll get when you come and also for that new baby we're both looking forward to. Teaching is good for Allen and next term he can select his own materials, which makes it even better. 

The government only allows part-tin work for veterans who receive benefit under the G.I. Bill of Rights, so he will teach two sections instead of three. Mr Morrison (the boss) is having him teach to this summer and two in the fall so he will have taught a whole school year and be paid for it without teaching in the spring. That way he can really work on the dissertation next spring. The salary for two terms is, naturally, lower (around $1600.00) and will b divided among the year from this July to July 1947. We can live on it nicely plus the government's ninety dollars a month.

I am looking forward to our new home, all together. By next winter I'll book us with several rental agencies so as to be sure to find a suitable apartment or house to rent by the fall of 1947 and earlier, if possible. If we are going to add to the family, I want to get the moving and heaviest work done while I'm able. Won't it be fun to shop for new furniture and other things? You had better bring only the few really good pieces east, since moving costs on a houseful of furniture would be almost as much as some new things. I do hope we have a fireplace. I can see the shades [?] on the mantel now, safe from our menacing brood. 

We were sorry not to talk to Daddy on Allen's birthday. The idea was fairly sudden Allen was overwhelmed at all the presents. I am looking forward to reading Huxley as much as he is and I'll eat that beautiful cake at Easter. I wish we could have our dinner together, but we'll be thinking of you and, I suppose, you will think of us. I can hardly believe that you will be here in about two and a half months. 

...As you know, Allen doesn't care much for cakes, so I make him a scrumptious strawberry chiffon pie for his birthday. It was tipped with whipped cream and I cut the remaining strawberries in little pieces and spelled out "Happy Birthday" on top. It was my only present, but he loved it. Margaret Lynn ade him a card. I held her hand and she drew flowers and a little girl like herself saying "Happy birthday" with her crayons. She was very proud of it, but I had a hard time getting her to realize that 'it is more blessed to give than to receive.' She wanted to keep it!

The desk arrived in good condition. It was very good of you to pay the express charges. I got a delivery van to bring it for around three dollars more. It evidently hadn't been touched since it was full of old materials, moths (!) etc.,. The moths terrified me and I spent the morning it came clearing it out and discarding a good deal of the contents. There were some useful things, however: two small lengths of silk, enough good-looking [wool?] jersey to make you a serviceable winter blouse, Mother; enough pretty cotton to make a pair or two of curtains for a bedroom sometime, some sewing silk, and some very good-loping buttons. Shortly I shall send the silk, the jersey, and some lavender material which I don't like but which might, sometime, be used, enough grey pearl buttons to close a dress or blouse, some other buttons you might use, a couple of silk in coors you might be wearing, etc.,. With this package will go Daddy's tobacco. The moths haven't gotten in this material but it should be brushed and aired.

...The desk was packed full (mostly with trash of one sort or other) and I found in it some photographs of the young Andrew, the one Mother sent aunties of my daddy when he was courting her, and a picture of Andrew, Mother, and Aunt Clara. It is quite a lovely picture and if you haven't another without the grease spot this has, I think I'll see about having another made from it. 

The desk has compartments at either end and is very handy. It also has a good deal of space inside and Allen really likes it. When you come I shall get some expert advice on whether it is solid oak, as I think. With permission, I should like to antique it sometime in the future. 

April 20, 1946

We are overwhelmed by your gifts. Apparently, at the Gregorys, the slightest excuse will do for gift-giving. We are still enjoying the birthday fruitcake. As a matter of fact, we are treasuring it along. I am now packing a little lunch Allen can eat in his office and thus save time and money (his idea); and he is so pleased when he finds a piece of fruitcake in it...Margaret Lynn's new coat is a perfect fit and looks lovely on her...

Daddy's candy will be enjoyed tomorrow. The box is beautiful and is waiting for Easter beside my silver teapot. When I saw the card it made me wish even more for a letter from my dear Daddy. Margaret Lynn looks hopefully at every man and asks rather plaintively, "Papa?". It is a bit embarrassing, but I understand how she feels. We can hardly wait for July.


However (here hold onto your seats) you will be seeing your son-in-law very soon. I have insisted that he day-coach it to Chicago for a few days between terms. He hasn't seen Joe for four years and I am eager that he go...This won't require much preparation on your part and I hope you won't mind the bother of another person around the house. If we didn't have the diddle I'd come too, but, with her, we would either have to fly or take a room on the train and it would cost about two hundred dollars, which is a little more that we can spend on a whim nowadays. If I weren't seeing you soon after, we would al go but I don't want to upset the baby's schedule, aside from the expense. I would really love to see Chicago again, though. Sometime...... [Here, Clare had used six em-dashes.]

I rather hope Aunt Minnies' trip will occur after Allen returns but I'll do what I can to see that she enjoys herself. I imagine she'll be delighted with the baby. That child is growing so fast she can hardly be called a baby. I love her more every day and I' sure she is growing more and more lovable. 

We have decided on ways to cut our living expenses to around $190.00 a month, which will be about what we'll have to live on next fall. On that, we can live very comfortably. The dental bills have knocked the pins out from under our economy this month. Would you believe that the x-rays show five or six of those little hidden cavities--one large one was excavated last week. The dentist can't understand why it wasn't fixed earlier.He says it should have been noticeable on x-rays a good year ago. Makes me furious. [It is unclear whose teeth had the cavities.]

I shouldn't end a letter on the word "furious," but this is too long now. 

Hope you like the lilies. I have gone horticultural on a small scale. Bought a little African violet which has shown its appreciation by putting forth new blooms and will soon be transplanted...some pansies I must find a window box for, and a little "plant ball" which is guaranteed, for a quarter, to put forth trailing vines in ten days. The atomic age, no doubt.

April 23, 1946

I hope Easter wasn't too blue. Several times during the day I realized it was the first Easter away from home--I felt it--especially at Mass. Allen spent most of the day in his office at the university. He is really studying hard now. In the afternoon, the couple downstairs (whom you met Christmas Eve) took Margaret Lynn and me for a drive up to Lexington and Concord...We just looked around, mostly through car windows, but we got out at the famous Lexington "Village Green" where all the Minute Men were shot and are buried and where the famous statue stands. I saw the outside of the Emerson's House, Concord, and the place where the Alcotts and, later, the Hawthornes lived. This last house is insignificant looking from the outside, but we'll go in when you come and think of the "little women" and also the "five little Peppers" who lived there. It was wonderful to get out in the country for a couple of hours. Even a place like Cambridge gets on your nerves after a while, but the New England countryside, with none of the western space and splendor, is gentle and restful.

My own gardening is coming along: another blossom on the violet and four green sprouts this morning on my guaranteed plant ball! 

Margaret Lynn is acquiring a love of nature. We spend an hour or so every decent morning on Observatory Hill down the street--you remember, on the way to Church? She knows what the crows say and runs after squirrels and brings me presents of dead leaves and we have a lot of fun. 

Why break a back over spring housecleaning? You know, you won't be at 7206 [or 1206] forever. I'm not planning to do anything beyond putting the woolens away carefully.

April 28, 1946

...Last week, I laundered all the curtains and Allen and I made the windows shine with Bon Ami. It's simply marvelous...As soon as the woolens are stored, I must start sending out letters to prospective buyers of my teaching talents. Tonight I reprinted the living room floor. It was painted too thickly before, due to my ignorance, and became badly scarred. 

Yesterday, on my first day in Boston in months, I bought a wonderful little book on indoor gardening. I am becoming so interested in pants. When you come in the summer I hope to have a slip of the familiar geranium for my sunny kitchen window.

Spring is coming to Cambridge, although March was warmer than April has been. The trees are the most beautiful clean yellow-green. I hope I never leave a climate that has four seasons. The greenery of summer is always like a miracle after winter. 

May 3, 1946

The new package arrived today and Margaret Lynn was almost beside herself with joy--and that's no exaggeration. She just loves new clothes and runs to the vanity mirror, stands there and crows at herself. This isn't pride, I'm sure, but an abundance of animal spirits...The panties are grand. I think I'll use them for shorts when the weather gets warmer--they are enough cover for modesty and should make her feel free as the breeze.

...Mother, if you can, get some of those can't-run nylons for yourself. They are the most wonderful stockings I've ever worn and nylon wears like iron. The funny thing is that they don't cost much more than those baggy rayons we had to wear.

I hope the teeth will be better, Mother. You should feel much better now with those roots gone. You needn't worry about my teeth. The doctor says I have fine teeth and gums.

...One thing more--I have discovered home dry-cleaning. The girl downstairs is a home-ec expert and has given me a lot of helpful advice. Early in the week I did about fifteen dollars worth of cleaning with ninety-eight cents worth of cleaner in an hour and a half of easy work! I am very elated, especially since all the clothing is aired, sprayed, moth-balled, and stored away for the next five months. This week-end I'll get rid of the blankets and my spring housecleaning will be over.

...One thing, I'll bet you don't know how much I am looking forward to seeing you. 

P.S. The floor painting was a great success. "My cup runneth over." -- Not blasphemy. It is!

Now a paragraph about our baby. Do you remember Baby Snook's "Why, Daddy?" Our Margaret has reached that stage. She replied nothing but "why?" to my painstaking explanations for a whole block of walking this afternoon. This is alternated with "what's that?" to all the things she can name...I am all but losing my mind over this new turn, but I patiently explain every conceivable thing to her. Her vocabulary is developing very rapidly and she learns very quickly. The only new fault is bursting into tears when she doesn't get her way. It doesn't work and she'll get over it. I blame it partly on a brand new emerging molar...On the whole, she is a wonderful human being, strong in affection and good disposition. Everyone we know comments on it--and this is rather pleasant to a proud parent. 

I was sorry about the proposed visitor from Texas. Mary Jane might be a good idea but better let poor Bob alone. He was refused by Harvard and is at rather loose ends. Allen thinks he ought to come here and get into Harvard in whatever department is open. His brother Bill lost his job and I think that family will be on the move again. Artists of all sorts have a rather hard time. If they go, Bob will have no roots and he may end up doing nothing. 

May 9, 1946

Today was the last session of the pre-lims for Allen. This has kept me busy, for I have corrected a couple of sets of papers from English A and have one more to do. We will hear the results from the exams within a week or so and of course, we are hopeful. If the exams were successful, it will be a phenomenal success for Allen. Everyone we know had to take them twice and, of course, Allen has had only one term of graduate study. 

I was sorry to hear that Daddy is having rheumatism again. Please write us a letter when your shoulder is better. By the way, what do you think of our Cinderella team--the Red Sox? We are staunch rooters. When you come next summer, Allen expects that you and he will take in at least one game. He and I may see one, but that depends on the baby-sitter situation. 

The spring house cleaning sounds gruesome. This was the first I have missed at 7206, but we had a reasonable facsimile here. I didn't try to do much, since we didn't need a great deal but it kept me busy. Next week I must begin my mending. Margaret Lynn's last year's dresses are a fair fit but they must all be lengthened. Fortunately, they all have hems.

My job hunting is doing rather badly. It seems that the veterans are having first choice, in and around Boston. This is all right but I shall be very unhappy if I don't get a teaching position. Mrs. Catton [Cotton?] at Harvard suggested that I try a couple of reputable teacher's agencies in boston and tomorrow afternoon I shall place my services at their disposal. 

...Getting back to the violet--every faded flower and leaf must be snipped to prevent waste of energy. Plants must be repotted as soon as they are too thick at the crown. Soil should be rich in leaf-mold. Plants must be kept out of direct sun--even an east window grows too bright in May. North is best...Temperature should be kept fairly cool and above all, constant. 

Today I bought a beautiful salmon-pink geranium for a dollar. I couldn't resist it and gave it to myself for Mother's Day. Now my kitchen window is a really bright place.

May 18, 1946

We were so glad you liked the Missal. Even if you can't attend Mass every day we thought you would like to read the devotions. Allen was greatly impressed with it and is planning to look up his Book of Common Prayers when gets to Chicago. It's in somebody's basement with a lot of other books. He is afraid you'll feel hurt if he spends most of his time with Joe but I know you won't. After all, he hasn't seen the boy for four years and will be in the city only about a week, and you will be here for a couple of months or so. It would be awfully nice (and this is an imposition) if Joe, and his wife, I suppose, and Boub could be entertained at dinner or supper one of the days. Bob, you know, has no real home. This time, nobody will have to worry about keeping up the flow of conversation. 

Daddy, the letter was wonderful. Your letters always are. I laughed myself sick over the sad fate of Patty, but please keep a straight face when you express my sympathy to Mrs. Blaine. 

...I have been having slight headaches, twitches in the right eye, etc., so I went to a very good oculist in Boston and am to wear glasses for reading. 

The job hunting is still in a bad way. The most favorable reply was from Simmons College where our neighbor downstairs teaches. She loves it there and I hope something may come of it. Our neighbor, by the way, sold her first article to Mademoiselle and it is being printed in the July issue. Her name's Jeanne Olsen and you might look for it. If I could become associated with a well-known school, I might find a market for articles, too. 

Allen will be in Chicago around Tuesday, late, if his plans go through. We'll send you a wire when he leaves. He wants to surprise Joe and Bob so don't say anything about it. 

Margaret Lynn and I took our first subway trip into Boston last week to buy shoes for her. She behaved like a good angel but that will probably wear off as the novelty passes. I intend to try it again. Good education, don't you think?

Daddy, I told the baby you would tell her the story of the "Pig and the Wolf" when you come. She can hardly wait, so refresh your memory with sound effects and don't disappoint her. 

I do wish I was seeing you next week.

May 21, 1946

My darlings--all of you, 

It seems awfully strange to be writing to all of you since it's never been this way before. I feel left out. Actually, we are doing nicely. Margaret Lynn is behaving well and there is little enough to do, but I am bored. It seems very strange to have no one to talk to, no one to listen to, no one to cook dinner for.

I wonder what you are doing tonight--probably sitting in the dining room, talking contented after one of Daddy's good meals. I am glad Allen didn't arrive Wednesday with Mother rushing off to evening school. I should have given you earlier warning, but neither Allen nor I knew, until he was practically on the train, that he would leave Monday afternoon. I had planned a fine farewell dinner and shopped accordingly. Consequently, last night Margaret Lynn and I ate chicken and asparagus until we were very full.

...This is the best time for lonesomeness to strike. All day I run about, chasing the housework and the diddle but at night, by contrast, there is more than enough time for thinking and feeling sorry for myself. So far, I have escape the latter. In two days, I finished Thomas Mann's six hundred word Buddenbrooks. It is my first acquaintance with Mann and a pleasant one. The book concerned the history of four generations of important tradespeople and was reminiscent of The Forsythe Saga. 

Margaret Lynn called you all up on her telephone this afternoon. The conversation for each of you was the same, and she answered for both parties. It seemed to give her unusual satisfaction. 

It has rained all day and that was trying. Realizing that I had to provide four hours of entertainment this afternoon, I assembled all the old newspapers on the living room floor and brought out the little blunt scissors I bought some time ago. This accomplished, I had only to watch that she didn't stab herself. Her efforts with the stiff scissors reminded me of the pin Daddy gave e to thread in my early childhood. Our baby is beginning her domesticity early. Every morning she helps me dry the breakfast dishes--a custom Allen initiated--and does it very well. She is learning to inside the cups and bowls with her paper towel and has broken nothing. 

Taffy [neighbor/friend] says there are, or should be, openings at Wellesley College. I called the railroad station and learned I could make it from home in about an hour, which isn't bad, and the train fare is reasonable. Tomorrow I shall write the English department. 

May 28, 1946

We finally got a break in the weather--rain; two and a half days of it. Margaret Lynn has been blowing bubbles out of the time, so we have survived.  Taffy called last evening to report a cold. Since she had been taking care of the diddle that afternoon, I am afraid the baby may get one, too. I told her not to come, for all our sakes, so the baby and I were here by ourselves last night. Spring colds are too hard to shake.

...The optician advised some pale pink shell frames. They are oblong rather than round, not at all startling, but becoming. The best part is that they cost only $12.15, with the discount. 

Ely Salmitz's son David will be three Sunday and we are all invited. It may be trying for Allen, but at least it won't be a kid's party. Just the Salmitzs, Walter's mother, and another teaching fellow in German who is much attached to David. 

This is a silly letter. Why do I write when there is nothing to say? I hoped for a letter this morning, but apparently my husband is taking all your time. I'll be awfully glad to see him again. 

June 2, 1946

Margaret Lynn is at my elbow...and Allen is in bed, nursing his cold. It t is not an auspicious time to write, but I must go out in the rain in a moment to get fruit juice and newspapers and I might as well send a letter on to my dear parents. Apparently, Allen did miss me while he was gone and was glad to be home, but I'm very glad he had a chance to see you and his family and friends for a few days. He keeps asking why I can't get breakfasts like Daddy's. He says he had a half a pound of bacon and all the fried mush he could eat. We can't get bacon here and I think I'm doing well to provide eggs and toast every morning. He told me a lot about both of you that I wanted to hear--said you looked better than you had in years. He also says the house looks wonderful and raved over the new interior decoration of the front room. He went into every detail and it sounds fine to me, too. About the best news is the progress in painting. I am awfully happy that my Mama is turning out artistic masterpieces, although it makes me feel like a dope. My painting skill has been directed toward the house. While Allen was gone I kem-Towed [?] our ugly front room ceiling ivory and scrubbed the front room and hall rugs with soapless lather, and painted the bathroom woodwork white. The house looks much better now. That front room rug is almost a twin of the one we had for years, first in the living room and finally in Daddy's bedroom. I wonder if you noticed. Now that this one is cleaner, you can't miss the resemblance. It must have been a good rug, thirty years ago. 

It was very nice, Daddy, for you to let Allen drive the car everywhere. It made him so happy. 

By the way, don't expect ocean breezes here this summer. Cape Cod may be coo, but not 30 [illegible: the name of their street]. I am warning you--bring the fan so that we will all be able to sleep. I hope you won't be too disappointed. 

And when shall I look for Aunt Minnie? Allen says she has a reservation so it must be soon and I would like to know more definitely.

I still haven't a job, but am, of course, hoping. I did receive another fairly encouraging answer and wrote some more letters on the basis of advice from someone in the English department at Wellesley. 

Margaret Lynn has nineteen teeth!  She has had no noticeable trouble getting them and I hope she finishes teething before it gets hot. She is driving us crazy with the word "why." She heard one of her little contemporaries using it and seems to like the sound of her own voice. 

The new dress is a great success. I shortened it and wore it for Allen's homecoming with the very best results.

June 5, 1946

I have just finished a letter to Allen's mother. I do wish he would write his own letters. There is nothing harder than stretching pages out of nothing but imagination. 

We hadn't unpacked Alen's bag when I last wrote, so I didn't mention the delicious fruit (so extravagant), the renovated dress, and the necklaces. Why, Mother, did you send me your pearl necklace? I have one, you know, and this is your only one, if I remember correctly. The golf clubs and conserve arrived in perfect condition, and, this morning, my birthday box. I haven't opened this yet. I want to be surprised Friday. You know, darlings, it is hard to be away from home on my birthday. It doesn't do much good to tell you that I will think of you--you know that without my saying it--the saying does me good. I will miss you and think of you and this is only a physical separation. You must never let yourselves thing I am growing away from you. Just the opposite is true. I love and appreciate you both much more than ever. Your letters and the birthday card came this morning. Just think--one more month!

There is nothing but love in my heart tonight so I won't try to write anything more. Just this--Allen's cold is gone and he played golf all day today. And thanks for the torte recipe, Mother. If blueberries are to be had I'll make some for you. 

June 8, 1946

My darlings,

This morning more birthday [presents] came--the lovely rose whatever-it-is. I shall use it--for table flowers mostly, and always love it.  

My birthday was perfect...

Ely Salmitz and the wife of an instructor at MIT who lives next door gave me a lawn part of fruit juice and cookies (our kids [were there] too) and candy. It seemed terribly nice for them to think of me. Ely's son presented me with a box of candy. 

The biggest event was my talk with you. I hope you didn't mind my being brief. We can't just ignore that darned budget, can we? I won't make any more long distance calls between now and July. Let's spend that on ice cream when we're all together. 

Allen brought me two beautiful gardenias and a bottle of Blue Grass cologne which I had requested. He took me to dinner, to see Henry V (the movie which has drawn such rave notices, and rightfully), and for a snack afterwards. It was a lovely day.

Allen is staying in philosophy (at least now). I suppose I'll have to put up with his indecisions until we get that degree. 

Still nothing definite about getting a job. I hope something will turn up but am not too hopeful. It seems funny, doesn't it? --having waited so long just for this opportunity and have nothing turn up. You know, I thought there would be nothing to it. With my advancing years should come some wisdom, too. 

June 15, 1946

I have neglected you this past week, mostly because having a house guest involves a bit of preparation, but now the windows are clean, drawers are ready, etc.,. I just hope she comes before we get all dirty again. I addressed a note a few days ago to the New Hampshire aunt, asking that I be called or notified in some way as to her coming so that Allen might meet her, but have received no reply yet. 

I got a letter from Andrew yesterday saying he was sending me a couple of pairs of nylons for my birthday. If the size is right, I'll send one pair to Chicago. My birthday gift for my mother, by the way, isn't much, especially in the light of her recent generosities, but perhaps our vacation together will help. Mother, you'll howl when you see what it is. After the event I'll write and explain.

Did you notice, Daddy, that Allen walked off with your belt? It was unintentional but I hope it didn't inconvenience you. Today, Margaret Lynn and I bought him a very good looking Cordovan belt with a leather buckle. It cost only 3.50 but is beautifully made. 

Allen went into the big market in or near Faneuil Hall [Haymarket] this morning and got our first meat, except for chicken, since well before we went to Chicago. The dealers were charging black market prices for the little meat they had and our three-and-some-odd pounds pot roast cost $2.67! However, it is beautiful meat, with very little fat, and the Greenman will have a swell Sunday dinner. Heaven knows how we'll get by when the OPA [a military payment...?] is abolished.

June 30, 1946

My darlings, 

It is bedtime but, with three unanswered letters, I'll write briefly before turning in. I enjoyed your letters, especially Daddy's and Mother's birthday one.  I won't say much in answer since I'll see you soon. The birthday slip sounds beautiful and Andrew's book nice, and we'll find a substitute for the white bag. Such things aren't necessities, but I like them very much...

We have had terribly hot weather and almost melted under our roof until yesterday when Allen brought home two rather large electric fans he found in a second-hand shop for 12.50 each. It seemed like a lot of money at the time but, since then, I have been convinced that it was money well spent. Now you needn't bring yours. 

Because of the heat, I cut the baby's hair short back and sides. I hated to do it but it wasn't long or even enough to pin up satisfactorily and she was getting terrible prickly heat. It doesn't look so bad and there was nothing else to do. She caught my cold and has been out of nursery school for a week. 

August 20, 1946

Well, you've been gone a day and we all miss you. The dinner we had last night was good but it was a mournful meal. But then, Christmas is coming soon. I hope the weather cleared up and that your trip is progressing pleasantly. It rained all day yesterday here but today is bright and warm. 

I have been busy since you left. Allen is relying on me to help him with his work and I do the best I can. Besides, I have miles of letters to write. I finished four (one to Mrs. Blaine) last night and have six more I should get off today.

You will be happy to learn that Margaret Lynn now says her evening prayers. Last night, at my suggestion, I heard her repeat after Allen--

Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray thee, Lord, my soul to keep. 
God bless... 

You two came first in line. 

The flowers are still beautiful and remind me of the even lovelier thought of my darlings. 

September 10, 1946

You must be paying me back for my long silence because I have expected a letter for the past week and been disappointed every time I went down looking for mail. It really isn't good of you not to write because the letters from home are the brightest spot in the day. I read first, then Allen, and then we talk about you, off and on, until the next letters.

[Our vacations] coincide [and] we hope now to leave the afternoon of the twentieth...This isn't absolutely definite, but is as close as I can come now [to a definite date]. At any rate, we will come, and that is the most important thing. You would be amazed to hear how much we talk about an event which is three months away. However, with all the new plans, the time will fly. 

We had thought of coming by plane but that would cost a hundred dollars more since M.L. now would take full fare, so we will be content with slower transportation. 

I have been busy getting all the involved housework done so that I might start teaching with a clear conscience. I have done the windows and curtains, my little painting, the mending, and dusted the books. Only the silver and a little dry cleaning remain. It is so warm and pleasant here that I don't dare put the summer things away yet.

I wore my raincoat yesterday and received compliments from people I hardly know!

I don't know anything more about my classes or even what I am to teach but we are having a teacher's meeting at school Tuesday and that should clear up some of my ignorance. 

Monday, Margaret Lynn and I are going to Dr. Moore's for a "booster inoculation against diphtheria" (I spelled that myself) and tetanus. Her school starts the last day of this month and she is very excited. 

Daddy, Allen wants to tell that you are certainly right--about the virtues of a pipe vs. cigarettes. He apparently enjoys his pipe very much and smokes a cigarette only after meals. I smoke hardly at all. Allen says that if Daddy plans to get him anything for Christmas he would like him (no offense, Mother) to pick out an inexpensive crooked-stem pipe so that he will have three.

All our love,


September 13, 1946

...Mother, you are going to be terribly busy with evening school and the million and one things that go with full-time teaching. Daddy will have a great deal to do too, but maybe he will do some of the letter writing to help out along with all the other things. The food situation will make it harder, just as it does here. I bought some canned hamburgers at Jordan's for fifty-four cents a can (four to a can). If they are any good, I'll send you some. 

The gabardine suit will be wonderful. Such things are very expensive to buy. 

I have at least twenty pounds of sugar I could donate to canning and had planned to do so, but the fruit available is very expensive and of poor quality, so I shall wait and see if anything better turns up. 

Yesterday, Mis Choate sent me the books from last year in the subjects I will teach. They seem progressive and inspiring and I expect to add a good deal of other material to go along with the regular work. I am looking forward to this job with keen pleasure and am convinced it will be neither tiring for me or bad for the baby. 

All our love,


September 20, 1946

I am writing at school in the period between recess and assembly. I caught up with more mending last night and so didn't write. 

Yesterday was a madhouse--no (or very few) books, no knowledge of rooms or of general procedure. I managed to struggle through, however, and today is wonderful. I am a peripatetic--no room. I even hold classes on the landing, until more space is available. The children are very delightful and, so far, beautifully behaved. I am enjoying myself. 

Clare teaching; somewhat older than 20-21, the age she was when she wrote these letters.

This morning I received my first check. I find that over twenty dollars is taken out every month for income tax. Allen has claimed the exemptions so I can't. This is something of a disappointment, but it is consoling to know that everyone else is in the same boat. 

We are getting along well without fresh meat. The tinned hamburgers aren't bad. Fresh fruit and vegetables are very high--small cantaloupes are thirty-five cents and tomatoes are about what you said they were in Chicago. When the car comes east we can save a good deal on food during the summer by going out into the country for it. 

October 2, 1946

The beautiful suit arrived today. I might have known something would be created to go with the pearl buttons! It fits beautifully and I will love wearing it. I must say, in all modesty, that I am the best dressed teacher in the Choate school. We have one terribly chic French teacher however, our elderly Madame Laboucher. She personifies what one thinks of Parisian elegance--choker pearls, well-done grey hair, simple black dress, etc.,.

Sunday we took the baby to the Boston Common for a ride on the swan boat in the lagoon. She loved it and so did we. She started school yesterday and everything is going well. Allen is having his teaching schedule so arranged that he can pick her up every day. This will save money and be much better for Margaret Lynn. We would like to do everything we can for her ourselves.

Daddy, Allen thinks now he would like a short, straight stem pipe instead of a crooked one. He things two crooked pipes is enough for just now. 

October 5, 1946

My darlings, 

I am glad Mother is taking the painting course. One of our big hopes is that when you come out east, there will be plenty of time and space for more of that sort of profitable pleasure. I want Daddy to play his violin, too. There is a kind of unequalled spiritual satisfaction in losing oneself in any art medium. I hope that I shall have the opportunity to go back to my music. It would give me such pleasure. I am achieving something of that sort these days in my teaching. 

This is a very happy time for me and I feel that I am doing a moderately good job. These children are, to me, a projection of my own child and I feel very close to them. Our seventh grade history and geography texts have not arrived yet, so I am teaching under difficulties but I found an excellent new (recent) American history written by a nun from St. Xavier's College, Chicago, at the Cambridge library, so we are doing fairly well. 

The sixth grade history and geography is making a book entitled "America, the Richest Country in the World." In it we are discovering a good deal about America's natural resources and what happens to them when they cease being forests, metal ores., etc.,. It is quite fascinating and class and teacher are learning a lot. 

Daddy, Allen wants to know if you do anything for a pipe to remove the caking besides scraping with a knife. I have seen you clean your pipes many times but only remember the scraping.

We now have six and a half pints of marmalade and preserve and five of bread and butter pickles and I am beginning to feel rather proud of myself. 

Time is flying, and in no time we will see you.



October 12, 1946

...I have a miserable head cold just now which is far better today than yesterday. One reason for this is the good care Allen is taking of me. I slept until eleven this morning, planning to do my housework this afternoon. When I finally got up, I found Allen washing the floors with Shorty ["the diddle" has morphed into "Shorty"] and her small rag as helper! They cleaned the whole house! Can you imagine a more wonderful family? 

[Here, Clare's devoted editor has decided to skip ahead a few letters.]

December 8, 1946
This is expensive paper so I can only allow yo a little of it. Also, Shorty is deviling me so don't expect me to be coherent...

I have found that one good thing about being a school teacher is one gets gifts at Christmas time. My younger fry are already telling me what they are going to give me! I counsel them to be moderate but I am looking forward to their offerings. 

Shorty gets sweeter every day. How you will love seeing her and how we will all love seeing you! 

December 15, 1946

My darlings, This will be my last letter. When I realize that I shall see you a week from tomorrow I am almost too happy. It will be such a heavenly vacation.

We have a new radio station in Boston which plays only music, with almost no advertisements. I am listening to a beautiful program of operatic selections from Massenet [?] and enjoying it. 

Daddy'sletter was much appreciated. I feel so flattered to have had him write so often and it will be fine to see him at the station, if he wants to come. Don't forget what I said about dinner--if the train is an hour late, we will eat aboard. Let's have the homecoming as simple and unexciting as possible, for Margaret Lynn's sake. The trip will be a strain for her. It would better, if the train is on time, to give her her egg and fruit when we arrive and then put her to bed and have our dinner afterwards so that we can take our time and talk all we please without having to worry about her getting tired. I really think this would be a good idea, don't you? I certainly don't want her to get sick.

The baby had a heavenly birthday yesterday. She got her gifts after breakfast and we had a glorious time watching her. The robe is very beautiful, but the "handbag" with mirror and money was the star of the day. I'm sure you knew it would be. The new doll and buggy were also loved. Allen's mother sent Shorty some beautiful pink bunny slippers with beaded features. My seventh grade touched me deeply with a doll for the baby. I love that class and this is what was written on the card and signed by all the girls: "Even though I don't know her if she is like you we are sure to like her just like you."

I will always keep that card. We finished the day with a "dinner party" in the front room with Shorty on cushions--chicken and peas, rolls, cake, ice cream and milk. It was an exciting day for us all. I took some pictures. Hope they turn out. All my love 'til soon we meet,


Clare with Margaret Lynn

Margaret Lynn with me

Clare as a girl