Grannies in the Wainscot

“In all their time as such close neighbors they never exchanged a word.”

Bring up the topic of neighbor, and one story comes to my mind.

Grannies in the Wainscot, as short story—an essay of remembrance—is included in the sublime collection Cider With Rosie, by Laurie Lee. If it seems strange to have written a memoir of one’s life at age 23, as did Lee, his tender recall of the story of two enemy grannies is even stranger.

The setting could not be more romantic, with or without Laurie Lee’s lush prose. An old seventeenth century Cotswold manor house, had, by the late nineteenth century become a sagging but picturesque relic, and subdivided into three living quarters for poorer, less exalted folk. In the pre-war years of his childhood, young Lee and his family inhabited one section, while the other two parts of the home were each dominated by an old crone.

‘Granny Trill and Granny Wallon were rival ancients and lived on each other’s nerves and their perpetual enmity was like mice in the walls and absorbed much of my early days. With their sickle bent bodies, pale pink eyes, and wild wisps of hedgerow hair, they looked to me the very images of witches and they were also much alike.’

There is nothing lovable in this description of the two old ladies, and yet, with Lee’s gift for nostalgic writing, you feel you recognize this pair, and a curious warble of affection begins to play.

Laurie Lee, poet

‘They communicated to each other by means of boots and brooms—jumping on floors and knocking on ceilings. They referred to each other as ‘Er-Down-Under’ and ‘Er-Up-Atop, the Varmint’.

Yes, a stranger pair of neighbors you never did ‘hear the like of’ as my grandmother would have said. And speaking of my grandma Josie, she knew how to wield a broom with a fair bit of precision. I can also remember her little ‘war’ going on for years with the old neighbor lady in the back of the property.

So perhaps such stories of neighbors resonates a bit with all our memories. Lee’s recounting of the old beech tree I found particularly beautiful.

‘“Me dad planted that tree,” [Granny Trill] said absently, pointing out through the old cracked window.

‘The great beech filled at least half the sky and shook shadows all over the house. Its roots clutched the slope like a giant hand, holding the hill in place. Its trunk writhed with power, threw off veils of green dust, rose towering into the air, branched into a thousand shaded alleys, became a city for owls and squirrels. I had thought such trees to be as old as the earth; I never dreamed that a man could make them. Yet it was Granny Trill’s dad who had planted this tree, who had thrust in the seed with his finger. How old must he have been to leave such a mark? Think of Granny’s age, and add his on top, and you were back at the beginning of the world.’

The poignant part of Lee’s recounting, comes, of course, at the end.

One day Granny Trill stumbled and broke her hip.

illustration by John Ward

“She went to bed then forever.”

Granny Wallon came a’crowing… “her’s going you mark my words.”

But Granny Trill’s death knell was Granny Wallon’s, too. In the oddest, most neighborly act between the two rival crones in the decades they had lived next to each other without speaking, Granny Wallon soon went, too.

‘Granny Wallon had triumphed, she had buried her rival, and now there was no more to do. From then on she faded and diminished daily, kept to her house and would not be seen. The wine fires sank and died in the kitchen, as did the sweet fires of obsession….there was nothing, in fact, to keep her alive. No cause, no bite, no fury. Er-Down-Under had joined Er-Up-Atop, having lived closer than anyone knew.’

Magnificent Fluff

Gossamer is fragile. Fluff–it would appear–is everywhere, as tenacious as lint on black polyester.

I only say this because I’m currently re-thinking my obsession with photography.

This is just a hobby for me, of course. An easy one. So easy, in fact, that I’m wondering (at least in my case) if it has begun to replace the ability to describe things in words. Everyday, awesome, extraordinary things. A quivering water droplet on a leaf is my siren song, the sight of which is sure to have me reaching for my “phone” aka camera. For such it has become….a camera as opposed to a phone. Or, perhaps it is more correct to call it a device?

I rarely talk on said device, and use actual words or human speech to express myself. From what I hear, I am not alone in this. Instead, I take pictures, and share them. Pictures are worth a thousand words, right?

I’m beginning to think I want my thousand words back.

Texting is a ‘thing’, of course, but there one abbreviates excessively to the nazi will of spell check which wants us to make diminished vocabulary choices. And it is easier to click on the substitution suggested than to thumb-wrestle a pre-set for dominance. Or perhaps I shall switch out an emoji for my increasingly brief expressions–? (this also helpfully suggested). Emojis—which are not actually pictures. They are representations of words, emotions, and thoughts.

The other day I was looking out the kitchen window feeling the typical response of amused annoyance that ensues when watching the busy squirrel population in our yard. They are all cheek-stuffed complacency and vigilant bossiness, making extreme self-absorption look almost lovable. They are so very photogenic, and so elusive. I began to wonder… why is it important that I get this ultimate picture of their cuteness? Are there not enough squirrel pictures in the world? Are we not fully informed via digital images of the adorable obnoxiousness that squirrels possess? Or, as at that moment, when one was silhouetted in bright autumn sunlight, his tail a quivering mass of fluffy radiance—why should I be tantalized with a picture I wanted to capture, knowing full well that as soon as I moved the screen door a fraction of an inch he would be gone? Showing absolutely no appreciation for the tubs of sunflower seed I have shoveled in his behalf?

More ephemeral than a water droplet.

The need for words at that moment almost took my breath away. A haiku came to mind. (feebly…but a start). There is no accompanying picture of a squirrel silhouetted beautifully in sunlight, I’m sorry to say. You will just have to imagine how lovely it was.

Magnificent fluff
Radiating sass and sun
Bright arc of query


A friend of mine has been reading the book by Susan G. Wooldridge, pictured here; she highly recommended it to me, and it will be joining my library soon. I love the idea of getting back to ‘naming things’. Identify it new, for yourself. Explain it. Describe it richly or simply. But savor it.

Turn fluff into gossamer.

“Poems arrive. They hide in feelings and images, in weeds and delivery vans, daring us to notice and give them form with our words. They take us to an invisible world where light and dark, inside and outside meet.”
Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge, Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words

Note: Daily Post today has fluff today as a word prompt; normally when I think of fluff I think of gossamer, today I was thinking of squirrels. But if you’re interested in these subjects as related to gossamer and autumn photography, or the literary aspect of gossamer–i.e. Virginia Woof, Selborne and Gilbert White, I’ve provided you with links below:

A Quest for Gossamer

Gossamer Abundant

October Farewell

It seems I have forgotten, again, what this form of poetry is called, but it is simple, thus appealing: one syllable building up to ten and back to one. It works for me when the small framework of a haiku feels too restrictive.

A personal note. This blog, since its beginning, has been about reading, writing, nature walks, and small moments of beauty. In all these little travels, via imagination and footstep, there has been a wet nose, an inquisitive, drippy beard, and a patient, loving gaze. My constant companion, our dog, Fitz. I just want to mark his passing. He was the sweetest dog ever, and a beloved family member. This last year we have been nursing him through some difficult challenges as he grew old, as his mobility decreased, and as any pet owner knows, the time to ease them out of their life, when it comes, looms as an impossibility. Yet it must happen, and happen… it did.

On
being
October
of drifty skies
and wayward breezes
Are these days of dying?
Yet celebrate it they will
Merriment grim, laced with despair
Said charms of rotting pumpkins, sightless
fail to capture the all-seeing purpose
this balance between changeless Time and
our frail life that is ever changed
And of what of love? she cried out
Beyond the reach of both
as sure as harvest
nestles to earth
enfolding
falling
hearts


Photographs taken by me: Glow

Paper Skies

“I … wondered irrelevantly if I was to be caught with a teapot in my hand on every dramatic occasion.” Barbara Pym, Excellent Women

Leave it to the insightful wit of Barbara Pym to describe, in a quirky way, how it feels to live, at times, in this chaotic world. For the following poem, I put down the teapot, as it were, and went for a long walk in a favorite place.

Thinking of a friend today, beginning chemo, mastectomy, and a long, long road.

unquiet leaves
fall from paper skies
infinite confetti , shredded
she seeks to match
the restless day
breathe’d mist
her sole outcry

parchment paths
through forest gloom
softly walking, with no trace
of where one has been
some dry whisper
rends the air, to lie
amongst the lovely dead
unquiet leaves

Summer Wine and Word Savor

‘Words have personality.’

Or words to that effect. So said a famous wordsmith named Willard R. Espy, who wrote a great deal of delightful stuff about words, and remains highly unquoted.

51b1dqao1gl._sx361_bo1,204,203,200_One word that definitely has personality is caper, which is today’s word suggestion from the good folks at WP.

I wouldn’t call myself a word expert, by any means, (terms like uvular fricative make my brain hurt) but I do love to savor a word curiosity now and then. And just like a good wine, there are certain pairings that are immediately suggested by the palate. Like a good pinot and soft goat cheese, or a full-flavored port with a dark chocolate truffle.

So therefore, with caper (though it is also a pungent little berry that goes well with seafood and a crisp, chilled chardonnay) we have a word that suggests, inevitably, frolic.

You could even pair the two as frolicsome caper, and further suggest the word antics, and at the risk of sounding octogenarian, cavort.  This brings me to my red squirrels, which, quite unfortunately, were drunk this morning on summer wine, and doing all of the above.

IMG_2344

Summer wine not only goes well with capers, it causes them (the cavorting sort). The wine referred to here is what we like to call the Morello cherries from our tree that have fallen to the ground, now sweetly fermenting. They grow too high for us to actually make them useful for human consumption, but the squirrels and birds are having entirely too much fun up there in the back corner of the yard.

Gambol and tumble are good side dishes, as it were. If fact, if you look up ‘gambol’, you will find the following synonyms:

‘frolic, frisk, cavort, caper, skip, dance, romp, prance, leap, hop, jump, spring, bound, bounce; play; (dated, sport)’

To which I might add “see: tippling“.

All of those definitions sound quite athletic, even for a squirrel drunk on Morello cherries, so occasionally one tumbles down the rockery and causes concern.

So far I have witnessed no injuries, and the merriment continues.

IMG_2382

As you can see from the picture below, the lawn is slightly elevated from the patio, giving a stage-like appearance, which the squirrels use to good effect.

img_2326

(this beautiful quilt made by a dear friend)

Other than that, the garden is (usually) a peaceful place for reading. Perhaps even sipping a bit of Morello summer wine, if the squirrels will share.

 

Lucy Carmichael, Part Two

‘She is incautious and intrepid. She will go to several wrong places, and arrive at the right one, while I am still making up my mind to cross the road. She is my opposite in character. She is cheerful and confident and expects to be happy.’ Lucy Carmichael, by Margaret Kennedy

lucy-carmichaelIf this description makes you think of Elizabeth Bennet, then you will enjoy noting several such Pride and Prejudice references throughout this novel.

I enjoyed reading Lucy Carmichael. (This is Part Two of my review of Lucy Carmichael, Part One is here, and for more on the Margaret Kennedy reading event hosted by Jane at Beyond Eden Rock, click here)

I think, perhaps, that I enjoyed it more because of knowing the little tidbit given by Violet Powell, in her biography of Margaret Kennedy:

‘Margaret dedicated it to her daughter, Julia. Suitably, as it is a book about the troubles of young girls in coming to terms with life and love.’

This gave me insight into the overall tone of the novel—a loving mother wrote this, with her daughter in mind.

Lucy Carmichael is strong young woman–‘cheerful and confident’, as mentioned at the outset–with many winning character traits. She doesn’t really need a man, but doesn’t realize this until the end. In spite of the fact that she begins rather shockingly as the poor jilted bride, Lucy has a number of men who want to offer her consolation.

‘This,’ (mother might be saying to her daughter), ‘is not the kind of relationship you want. You’re better than that.’

The crux of the matter is quickly given at the outset, so it’s not a spoiler to point out that Lucy is left at the altar. Thus we begin with a once-vibrant young woman, crushed and brought low.

It’s where Lucy Carmichael goes from here that makes the story interesting.

To some extent Kennedy distances the reader from Lucy’s extreme suffering. When Lucy moves away to get a fresh start, we learn of her new life via letters. In this, we are given more side helpings of insight and the notion that she is doing her best to put on a brave face. Still, we are kept at a distance. Some examples:

Oct. 4
‘This letter is so sour I think I had better finish it. I had meant it to be sparkling with wit and humor but it hasn’t turned out that way. I’m not sorry I came, and I think that Slane Forest looks most enticing. I mean to explore it.’

Nov. 1
‘On Sundays I explore Slane Forest on a bicycle or go to read to Mr. Meeker who is blind and has nobody to read to him. I am quite all right, only my hair is falling out. Do you know of a good tonic?’

‘A letter from you has just arrived. What on earth has my mother been saying? I have not been ill. But my hands and feet went numb. I couldn’t feel anything in them. So Emil said I had pernicious anaemia and would die. I pointed out that people don’t die nowadays; they take liver extract.’

Dec. 24
‘I can’t go home for Xmas. I have got shingles. What do you know about that? I didn’t know anybody my age could have them, but they can for I have, or something of the sort. It came on at a horrible party they have at the end of term, after a most depressing Nativity play.’

But we feel for Lucy, very keenly, with these little revelations. And the brilliant aspect of this method results in us wanting to know more of her thoughts and feelings. The reader welcomes the slow revealing of Lucy’s inner world, as the heartache begins to ease. She is a kind, dynamic, ‘can do’ sort of person. As she begins to heal and grow into her new life—indeed, to regain her former brilliant sparks of life—we enter more of her direct conscious thought, experience more of her life as it is happening, and are no longer at one remove by means of secondhand information or letters.

It was almost as though Kennedy (once again, in a kind motherly fashion) kept us at a polite distance from this strong-minded young woman and protected her while intensely vulnerable.

As mentioned, there are many delightful references to Jane Austen, particularly Pride and Prejudice, for we have none other than a brooding, supercilious Mr. Darcy character sketched for us, under the name of Charles Millwood. He is quite above Lucy in social station—a girl he barely notices at first and then describes as ‘unabashedly middle class’—but he cannot help but be moved by her fresh beauty and strength of character.

‘She lifted her eyes to Charles, who was asking her some question. He thought that he had never in his life seen such beautiful eyes, though he could not put a name to the light which shone in them. The turn of her head, her smile, and this luminous tenderness of her glance, made him feel quite giddy; they tingled through his nerves like a shock.’

I can only quote (as Margaret Kennedy actually did in the book), ‘Are the shades of Pemberley thus to be polluted?’

In her book Jane Austen, Margaret Kennedy gives high accolades to Jane Austen’s premier creation of fiction, Pride and Prejudice, while admitting:

‘Darcy exists only to play in scenes with Elizabeth….Nor can we believe that rude young men of good family, met at balls, turned out later to be as amiable as was Fitzwilliam Darcy.’

Kennedy does not make this mistake with her fictional Charles Millwood.

In the end, we know Lucy has found happiness with herself, that all-important inner self worth that no one can take away.

‘Her restlessness was all gone. A bliss, an ecstasy, came to her, which she had known constantly in childhood but which she had thought to be lost. It came again, the overpowering joy, from the fields in the yellow winter light it came, from the huge sky, from the hard ice beneath her singing skates.

‘She wanted nothing more of life than the moment held…’

Now would be a very good time for Mr. Right to show up, just when he’s not needed, and looks all the better for it. Does he?

‘To create an entirely charming girl is one of the rarest achievements in fiction.’ 

So wrote Margaret Kennedy, in her comments on Pride and Prejudice. In Lucy Carmichael, she created a very charming, very believable heroine. And gave her happiness. Which is always nice to have, in the end.