The Ashen Heart

The February 14, 1945 Lewiston Evening Journal’s headline read “Russians Crash Through Queis River Line.”  It was the second day of bombing raids on Dresden, Germany.

The Bill Davis Smoke Shop’s ad on page 10 simply offered four different brands of chocolates in “plain and heart-shaped boxes.”

The society page included both ration facts and a picture of the previous evening’s Valentine Formal given by the Junior Daughters of Isabella at the DeWitt Hotel.  A total of fifty couples attended and “the ballroom was decorated with red and white streamers and large red hearts.”

The last page of the paper featured a small item.  “Ash Wednesday Observed in Local Churches” and noted Episcopals, Lutherans, and Catholics had either services and/or the imposition of ashes.

There were no articles on spiritual ambivalence or the difficulty in choosing between chocolate perdition or religious devotion.

According to Monday’s New York Times, this year’s “confluence of events” (Ash Wednesday falling on Valentine’s Day) has “created a dilemma for Roman Catholics and followers of other Christian denominations who observe Ash Wednesday.”  The article’s author poses the question “How can one simultaneously mark a solemn day when foreheads are tapped with the symbol of mortality as a call to humility and repentance, while celebrating one that glorifies the kisses and champagne of romantic love?”

Apparently, the writer was hoping for a special dispensation from some Catholic authority and got one from Newark’s Cardinal Tobin.  Suggesting that “joy and religious obligation can, and in fact should, coexist” the writer quoted Tobin as saying “take your heartthrob to a small-plates place, because fasting in the Catholic Church doesn’t mean you go without, or just water.”

The New York Times article, appropriating its title from a popular novel, can be read here.  I hardly know what to make of it.

Well-fed and indulgent hypocrite that I am, I offer my “small plate” offering for Ash Wednesday, featuring carrots and winter radishes from the local winter farm share.   And yes, that’s a vintage Bates tablecloth, courtesy of my neighbor, Dot Galgovitch.

I eagerly await the media coverage of the Easter/April Fool’s Day confluence.

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The Patriocalypse

A few weeks ago, I heard a radio personality discuss advertising, public relations, and demographics.  Without descending into a long history of cigarette marketing dating back to Bernays, I’ll summarize in five words:

After 50, you’re demographically dead.

What a relief!  No one cares about me, my opinions, or my money.  Amen to that.

(Caveat:  Down East magazine continues to fill their pages with ads for “premier retirement living.”)

There is a certain liberty about being demographically dead.  I can blog on obscure topics and not worry if I’ll acquire more followers.  I don’t have to have a social media presence.  Instagram?  It doesn’t matter.  Twitter?  Not necessary.  I’m already dead.  I am free to rattle around my old house in black yoga pants day after day, like a 21st century Miss Havisham.

With today’s dour theme and Dickensian hat tip to Havisham, I’m pleased to be reading Dombey and Son.  In December, a “Brief” in the Sun Journal piqued my curiosity.  Pasted at the end of an announcement of an ectoplasm workshop at the Spiritualist Church and a meeting of the United New Auburn Association was this:

“The Pickwick Club, Maine’s Charles Dickens and other Victorians reading and discussion group, will meet from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, February 24 at the Auburn Library.  The group will discuss the second half of Dickens’ Dombey and Son.  Moderators will be Lincoln Ladd and Alexis DesRoches.”

I’ll be honest.  My interest in Victorian authors is lukewarm.  I studied them briefly in college and was turned off to the topic by a professor who inserted her own particular agenda into every novel, from Tom Jones to Adam Bede to Cranford.  Her lectures, to quote Dickens, “had a Gorgon-like intent to stare…youth and beauty into stone.”

Uninterested, I turned to stone.  I was young and alive then, I wanted to think critically about writing as writing, not as a motive force to propel a belief system.  The professor’s teaching style repelled me and it wasn’t until much later in life I again picked up a Victorian novel.

And so I read on, little by little, chipping away at the novel.

And what of the Patriocalypse?  Given that I’m demographically dead, I’m still fond of Bill Belichick.  After all, at 66 years old, the greatest coach of all time is dead like me.  He’s not tweeting or posting to Instagram, defending himself and seeking alliances.  Supposedly, he’s read all the Harry Potter books and is known to quote Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.  But who really knows.  He may be reading Dombey and Son right now.

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I Told a Whopper

A few weeks ago, I got a letter from a friend.  Not an e-mail; a letter delivered to my post office box.

My friend has been looking for a job.  She is not looking for anything fancy, just a part-time situation to supplement her family’s coffers.  She writes:

“Yesterday, my job search brought me to tears.  Honestly, it takes so much effort to find a job.  I don’t ever want to be in this situation again.  The barriers to getting a job in a job market with massive job availability are astounding.  It is as though the anarchy of this electronic world is creating a state of paralysis for everyone.  We are going back in time.  No wonder they have no workers for these jobs.”

I’m pleased to inform my readers that my friend did, indeed, find a part-time job that will meet her financial requirements.  After much electronic anarchy, she found a convenient situation close to home.

Her words are wise and true.  The electronic world, that world of binary digits, has made us anxious and fidgety.  I see it in my own personal and professional life.  Indeed, we are going back in time.

This regular Luddite lament gets me in trouble.  I’ve been scolded for not appreciating the progress of penicillin and shamed for not buying my groceries online.  Are my jitters and anxiety in the daily anarchy just a matter of coffee?  Or is it something more insidious?

Unfortunately, the bell has rung and it begins again.  We’ll not solve the problem today, short of an EMP blast.

Resume your digital posts.

Posted in Experiments and Challenges | Tagged ,

We Can Still Live Well

A few weeks ago, I shared a news report that the General Henry Knox Museum (also known as “Montpelier”) in Thomaston faced a financial crisis and possible closure.  A blog reader sent me an update on that story and you can read it here.  According to the Bangor Daily News, the last-minute funding campaign generated enough donations for the museum’s board of directors to comfortably keep the museum open for 2018 season.  The article said “the board asked its executive committee to devise a plan to restructure the financial operations of the museum in an attempt to make the museum more financially viable.”

I’m pleased to learn donors stepped into the financial gap for Montpelier.  It will be on my list of day trips this summer and it should be on yours, too.  If you’re within 100 miles of Thomaston, you can combine your trip with a visit to Linda Bean’s Wyeth Gallery in Port Clyde.

Not all things end well for museums, though.

In 2016, the American Textile History Museum (ATHM) in Lowell, Massachusetts closed.  After 50 years, they faced a financial deficit they could not overcome and a decision was made to shutter the museum.

I visited ATHM in 2002.  I lived in New Hampshire and the reasons for visiting Lowell are foggy in my mind.  It was an impressive archive in a grand space.  I was not a history hound like I am now and my superficial response to the visit disappoints me in retrospect.  I was displeased that the archive had a very unsatisfactory café; I found myself wondering why a museum dedicated to the preservation of textiles even needed a café.

The closure of the museum was handled with great skill and care.  The majority of ATHM’s Osborne Library was transferred to the Cornell University Library.  Various collections were disbursed to other relevant museums; a number of artifacts ended up at Museum L-A in Lewiston and the Androscoggin Historical Society in Auburn.  Sun Journal writer Mark LaFlamme interviewed Musuem L-A’s Executive Director Rachel Desgrosseilliers about the artifacts now housed in Lewiston; four truckloads, including working looms, spinning wheels, and even every-day things like shelving and mannequins.  The article also mentioned something else ATHM provided to Museum L-A, something as equally important as tangible materials.  According to the article, Museum L-A’s board of directors “also gained a lot of fresh knowledge from ATHM Executive Director Todd Smith, who agreed to speak…about the issues that ultimately doomed the museum in Lowell.”

I, too, wonder what ultimately doomed the museum in Lowell.  Kudos to Museum L-A’s executive director for being curious about the circumstances surrounding the demise of the ATHM.  And here’s hoping the board of directors at the General Henry Knox Museum seek out similar wisdom as they assess how to make the museum viable.

Let’s skate hopefully into February, courtesy of a Wrigley gum advertisement from the February, 1931 issue of the now-defunct Delineator magazine.  January is cold and depressing; the third rail of seasonal doom.  Resist the rail of doom and cozy up in a local museum, library, or historical society.  Truth, beauty, and warm notions of living well are everywhere, contrary to media caterwauling and cacophony to the contrary.

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Literally Cavemen

Last year, I spent time with a bored acquaintance.  We’d have breakfast occasionally, swap text messages, and we even had lunch once or twice.  This acquaintance often lamented about mind-numbing boredom; I will not share the circumstances of her life without work but “being bored” was a concept I could not understand.  I tried.  Really, I did.  I walked a few imaginary miles in her shoes.  I tried problem solving and made a few suggestions, taking into consideration all that I knew about her situation.

Sadly, boredom-relieving suggestions I made were tossed aside with a glance that intimated they “sounded boring.”  After several months of this amateur social work, I texted in my resignation.  It was a difficult decision, because I cared about the well-being of this acquaintance.  I’m a better than average listener, but I am not a social worker.

Spending time with a bored person piqued my curiosity because boredom is so alien to me.  I am never bored.  My brain is filled with thoughts and questions.  And that’s in addition to my 40 hour a week job for pay, my part-time writing gigs, my volunteer work with the Moxie Festival and the Gendron Franco Heritage Center, and keeping my house and gardens from looking like BLEEP-holes.

This mental exercise suggested my tombstone epitaph:

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘being bored.’”

Over the weekend, I spent time organizing some books and magazines and came across a tattered May, 1943 issue of the Ladies Home Journal.  Skimming through the contents, my eyes settled on a general feature titled “Diary of Domesticity” by Gladys Taber.  Near the last pages of the magazine, Taber’s column began like this:

“May is just around the corner, and May in New England is so close to heaven that I wonder how the early preachers managed to keep the eyes of their people turned to the future life.  Nobody could help being dazzled by the beauty of this world if he rode down a Connecticut country highway in the soft sweet light of a May morning.  Heaven enough for me, at any rate; I wish everyone could see it.”

The column ran about 2,000 words and outlined domestic life at Taber’s Connecticut home.  She worked a recipe into her “diary of domesticity” and ended the article with a feel-good note about her cocker spaniels:

“The clean bright grass and the flower-sweet air and a bevy of cockers—this month in Connecticut is a fine season.”

(As a side note, Taber also contributed fiction to the May, 1943 issue, the first of a five-part story called “Navy Nurse”, illustrated by Jon Whitcomb.)

Gladys Taber.  Gladys Taber.  Why did her name stir up some “déjà vu?”

I clicked around the internet and found some basic information.  Here’s her Wikipedia page.  And here’s a longer piece written by artist and author Susan Branch.

Bingo!  That familiar feeling came from Taber quotes I’d read in my first edition of Branch’s Christmas from the Heart of the Home, published in 1990.  Branch has a lovely style of artfully nestling clever quotes in her books.

Branch’s article is interesting and includes a worthy mention of a club, Friends of Gladys Taber.  Another article on Branch’s website mentions that “Diary of Domesticity” was (in part) the inspiration for the 1945 film, Christmas in Connecticut.

The internet solved a lot of questions I had about Gladys Taber.  What did we do before the internet?  We must have been LITERALLY CAVEMEN!

Yet, my curious mind has so many other questions.  Gladys Taber’s life remains somewhat shrouded in mystery.  For instance, how much was she paid for writing her Ladies Home Journal articles?  What about her books?  She wrote a lot of them.  Did they generate enough income to pay the taxes at Stillmeadow, her Connecticut home?  Or was it some combination of breeding cocker spaniels, writing, and alimony?  Was she a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution?

So many questions.  If time and money were no objects, forensic research on a character like Gladys Taber would be fascinating and right in my wheelhouse.

Sadly, I have no time to do this particular research.  I am busy with other projects.  I’ll assuage my curiosity with a visit to the local library and a request for membership in Friends of Gladys Taber, a mere pittance at $20 per year.

Now you know why I’m never bored.  Frig, there’s the plow.  It’s snowing again.

Diary of domesticity, indeed.

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Ignore the Noise

Author and sports writer Mike Shalin wrote an interesting article about the New England Patriots recently.  The Lewiston Sun Journal carried it in the sports section today with the screaming headline “PATS IGNORING NOISE.”

Once again, at this late date in the Patriots’ victorious season, Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft, and Tom Brady have been spirited about in some kind of controversy.  It’s a gossipy tale of “he said, he said” and if I hadn’t been ignoring the noise all season myself, I might have more insight.  Controversy?  What controversy?

According to Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, the by-week practice fields are a peaceful playground of football intensity.  Belichick oversees a manly cocoon of gridiron peregrinations, devoid of rumors regarding Brady’s wheatgrass smoothies.  Gronkowski told Shalin “you just gotta ignore the noise and just focus on what we’ve been doing all year and that’s preparing hard, studying our opponent, getting ready, mentally and physically for the big game, so what’s going on on the outside, as a team, as an organization, just gotta keep grinding, keep going, keep doing our job.”

In my own life, I’ve often contemplated what it might be like to be a New England Patriot.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I have no desire to literally play football.  What I mean is how does one ascend to the place where there are no distractions and no noise?  How easy it would be to “do my jobs” if I could only transform myself into a Tom Brady-esque trance of focus.  How many assistants would I need to do that?

The Maine State Library in Augusta has a wonderful collection of microfilm readers.  On occasional Saturdays, I sneak away to the library and spend a few hours ignoring the noise of the world.  I generally find myself reading Cold War-era Portland Press Heralds and Maine Sunday Telegrams.  I occasionally have that moment of Belichick-induced nirvana Gronk raved about; like when I zeroed in on this quaint, December 30, 1951 picture in the Maine Sunday Telegram.  The two college co-eds were right in the middle of the page, alongside Marjorie Standish’s “Cooking Down East” column.

My scan of a scan of a scan lacks in clarity, but the caption read:

“Holiday time is party time—the two just seem to belong together.  We’ve passed the big event, Christmas, but the New Year promises to bring its share of pleasure too.  School folks of all ages are the particularly lucky ones for they have extended time away from the books and school chores to relax and enjoy themselves. 

Many of the college students find that in addition to the more formal dances and parties, a spur-of-the-moment party for neighborhood groups can be lots of fun and not too difficult in preparation. 

Alicia Daniels of Tufts College, left, and Nancy Merry, of Georgian Court, Lakewood, N.J., are planning just such a get together.  Luckily there is a congenial group of fellows and girls in their Sylvan Site, South Portland neighborhood all home for the holidays so a party seemed to be the order of the day.  Here they are readying the traditional New Year’s eggnog for the gang who will be pressed into service a bit later for sandwich making, record selecting and other party necessities.  Share the fun and the work’s the idea. 

Theirs will be a happy new year for sure and we hope that all our readers will be too—and many more the same.”

We live in a strange time of isolation and fragmentation.  I would bore readers with my itemized list of cultural atrocities.  Egg nog?  It’s probably not even politically correct to talk about, let alone make.  Senator Susan Collins is probably writing up a bill right now to make it illegal for minors to whisk eggs without a permit and God forbid they do such things as make their own sandwiches.

What’s to be done amidst the cultural noise and confusion?  These wars and rumors of wars?  For me, I’m taking my cue from the Patriots:

Ignore the noise.

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Trends for 2018

Late December and early January are boring times in media outlets.  Newspapers (both print and digital) catalog the “best” stories of the previous year and list them by dominance, popularity, and virtue signaling “oomph.”  After draining this well of material, the quest is on for new trends.  Tired writers and bloggers across the techno-topia hungrily search for something new to report.  Lists abound.

It’s dependable content, if not boring and ridiculous.  Somehow, the planet never dies in the fortnight between Christmas and Twelfth Night and intellectually curious men and women learn what 10 things they must do in the new year to live forever, save the planet, and end world hunger.   Or at least live colorfully.

Pantone, Inc. is a New Jersey-based company that created and systematized the colors reproduced in printing, fabric production, and plastics.  Since 2000, they have announced a “Color of the Year” and according to Wikipedia, “the color purportedly connects with the zeitgeist.”  Considered by many as the global authority on color, Pantone’s announcement is met with giddy glee in fashion and home interior realms; nourishment for many post-prandial soliloquies and midnight musings among Gotham’s style kings and queens.

On Pearl Harbor Day this year, Pantone announced their 2018 “Color of the Year.”  Ultra Violet.  Laurie Pressman, vice president of the Pantone Color Institute, told The New York Times “it’s truly a reflection of what’s needed in our world today.”

In a December 5, 2014 press release, Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, announced “Radiant Orchid.”  This purplish color, was “an invitation to innovation,” according to Eiseman.  “Radiant Orchid encourages expanded creativity and originality, which is increasingly valued in today’s society.”

I confess…I’ve been reading “lifestyle blogs” over the holidays.  With a December painted sparkling white (Pantone 11-0601 TCX) by Maine’s ice and snow, I needed some inspiration.  Briefly hot, carb-laden breakfast bowls of Cream of Wheat could easily have been called “Cream of Beige” as they did little to excite me and raise the sub-arctic temperatures that chilled my own personal winter wonderland.  Even the thawed summer blueberries, looking somewhat “Ultra Violet” in these bland bowls did little to show me what was needed in our world today.

I turned to “The Glam Pad,” a lifestyle blog written by “Amy” in the Sunshine State.

Yesterday, she published a post that essentially said what I wanted to say about trends, quoting the ever-interesting Karl Lagerfeld and also noting that trend watching sets “in motion a very expensive cycle for the consumer that can be avoided simply by following timeless, classic design principles that will last a lifetime.”

Bravo, Amy, bravo!

Looking brightly forward, I offer to you my readers ten beautiful and not trendy minutes in Vienna, with Strauss’s Kaiserwalzer.

Happy New Year!

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