In the Mist of a Memory

Early in January, I wrote a blog post about cultural confusion.  The post featured an image from the Maine Sunday Telegram, circa 1951; two college co-eds were whipping up some eggnog in a South Portland home.  The article said they lived in the Sylvan Site neighborhood.

I was in South Portland yesterday and motored through this neighborhood.  The houses are handsome and well-preserved, built in the 1920’s by Frederick Wheeler Hinckley.  He built them to stand the test of time and you can read more about the development here, on the Maine Historical Society’s website.  If you conduct an internet search on some of the properties noted, you can find a few of them on real estate listing services.  I found a listing for 6 Richards Street.  The pictures show oak throughout the house, original leaded doors, an interesting partial stone façade, and a detached 2 car garage.

After I finished my drive through that neighborhood, I parked my car near another neighborhood, Willard Beach, and walked around quiet streets.  In the mist of a memory, I found the very first house I ever toured as a prospective home buyer, closer to Meeting House Hill.

It was a beautiful almost-March afternoon.  The neighborhoods around Willard Beach and Meeting House Hill are lined with sidewalks and you can cover a lot of ground on foot.  Tuesday is trash collection day, evidenced by giant garbage cans arrayed like bowling pins after an unsteady frame at the lanes.  Green for rubbish and blue for recycling, these barrels are large enough for gangs of children to play in, although I didn’t see any young folks in my travels.

According to this Down East article, South Portland is a bit of a hipster enclave, with walkable neighborhoods, artisanal bakeries, and land-use planners.

The writer of the Down East article, Edgar Allen Beem, noted “it is that personal connection—the intimacy of neighborhoods where people get out of their homes and out of their cars and get to know one another—that lies at the heart of the new South Portland.”

I extend contrarian apologies to Beem, who has been writing about life in Maine since 1978.  The empty bins and the silent streets make a statement about the nature of South Portland’s “community.”  The camaraderie that exists on Saturdays and Sundays, when long lines converge over steaming paper cappuccino cups at the artisanal bakery and the barrels at Willard Beach are plumb full of wrapped waste from doggie play dates is a weekly event, not some organic mass.  South Portland has become a valuable commodity, a strip mall of mixed use real estate inventory.  What will develop in the neighborhoods over time is difficult to predict.  It’s pleasant now, for sure.  But true community, that place of regularly present people who watch and guard the streets and each other by living long days and years in one place?  If it ever existed, it developed over time, maybe generations.  We’re too busy for that now.  We’re happy, atomized disenfranchised consumers.

Now be a lamb and pass me my cynic’s smelling salts, would you?

Posted in Lady Alone Traveler | Tagged ,

Symbols in Stone

The main portal of the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston, Maine consists of two side by side doors.  Above is the tympanum, composed of a relief sculpture in limestone.  The sculpture represents a vision of Saint Dominic, accepting a book from Saint Paul and a staff from Saint Peter.  Above this is a panel of eight symbolic medallions, each one rich in theological meaning.

Over the weekend, I took a crash course in Christian symbolism in an attempt to identify the meaning of the eight medallions.  My studies began Friday at The Institute for Sacred Architecture and a telephone call to the firm of Duncan G. Stroik.  A kind soul answered the phone and listened to my “I’m a freelance writer” drill.

Could she recommend any literature on Christian symbolism?

She put me on hold for several minutes.  When she returned, she recommended two books written in the 1930’s, both available digitally.  I spent most of Saturday evening enlightening myself to the meaning of the Chi Rho, the bursting pomegranate, and the descending dove.

My research took me to the Basilica on Sunday morning, following an overnight drop of late winter snow.  With my binoculars handy, I spied a bounty of sculptured symbols.  Church goers leaving the Latin Mass looked at me curiously and I wondered if they knew such an abundance of artistic and Biblical richness was available to them.

Here is a picture taken within the main doorway, looking towards the sky and capturing two carved faces.  There are twelve of these carvings and I’m inclined to say to say it’s the Twelve Apostles, but I have not positively confirmed each face.

(That is snow coming off the building in the breeze.)

There are many flowers affixed to the building, in a multitude of patterns and arrangement.  I also found fish, roosters, daggers, feathers and scrolls.  Alpha and Omega, too.  On the Bartlett Street side of the building are flying creatures from the book of Revelation.  What an array it is.

These symbols are not unique to the Basilica or even to Christianity itself.  But in Christianity, they are an aid to devotion.  Christian’s don’t worship symbols; no, they shouldn’t.

I am always amazed at how much there is to know and learn and appreciate.  Even on the darkest days, when I think I am a stranger in a strange land, I notice a well-designed chimney or an architectural ornament on the humblest of houses here in Lisbon Falls and it brightens my spirits.  I wish everyone felt this way.

The time for writing of stone anchors of the soul comes to an end.  It’s time to think of spring and planting and sunflowers.  I will enjoy sunflowers more this summer because I now know they have a symbolic meaning.  Sister Justina Knapp, M.A., OSB, writes in Christian Symbols and How to Use Them, “The sunflower is suitable as a symbol of religious obedience.  In the morning at the first sign of dawn it raises its lovely head to greet the rising sun.  All day long it turns constantly facing the sun in the heavens.  At evening it bows its head and goes to rest thus the religious person raises his heart to God with the dawn, lives in His presence through the day, and at evening retires to rest in God.”

What a lovely devotion.

Posted in Just Writing | Tagged , ,

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.

Posted in Cooking and Food, Weather and Seasons | Tagged , , , ,

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.

Posted in Books and Reading | Tagged , ,

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.

Posted in Weather and Seasons | Tagged , ,

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.

Posted in Books and Reading, Cooking and Food | Tagged , , , , ,