Monthly Archives: May 2011

for my son, whose middle name is edward*

*(This was among the first posts I wrote in this blog. I wrote it in 2008, and I think it bears repeating. Hope you agree……) 

I called an old soldier for Memorial Day. Elgin, I said, how are you? Karleen, he replied, it’s so good to hear from you.

Tell me about the war, I said. Oh, baby, he answered, I don’t like to talk about that. War is ugly, you know. And so we talked about his vegetables. In his mid-80s, hale and hearty, he’d just come in from the garden, which is full of squash and zucchini and tomatoes and onions and bell peppers.

He was stationed in the Philippines for two years in World War II. Old sepia-colored photographs show a lean, slouching, hawk-faced young man standing with a rifle slung over a shoulder near a pile of dead Japanese. A recent PBS documentary reminded that the battle for the Philippines was hard fought, often hand to hand, against a formidable and determined enemy who almost beat us.

I asked about Edward, his brother-in-law, whose old high-school, senior-year portrait, gently watercolored as was the style in those days, I have on my altar. Edward is handsome and young and smiling, seventeen, I think, in the portrait. He wears a suit and tie. His hair is neatly parted on one side. He too had been in the Philippines, but he was part of the three-month Battle of Bataan, which was lost. And he walked the long, hard, harsh, killing miles of the Bataan Death March, prosecuted as a war crime after the war ended. He survived and was on a unmarked prison ship on its way to Japan, when it was bombed by American forces. So he survived combat and a death march to die at sea. I think he was nineteen when he died. The baby of the family.

The news came to a little town in East Texas called Troupe. His mother lost her sanity for a time when the news came, and when she recovered she was never the same. That’s family legend anyway. Edward was my son’s great uncle. And Elgin is his grandfather………

My note this 5/29/11. Elgin, at 90, soldiers on. He lives by himself, drives himself around the little town in east Texas near which he lives, and tends his garden. He still won’t talk about the war. War scars and maims. Men who live on the brink of death bond in a way that is immediate and soul wrenching. Is there a war story in your family? How have the men in your family been impacted? How has that impact reverberated down? And what about the women?

word power

Came across a word I hadn’t seen in a long time….fortitude. I was reading Emmet Fox: You must learn to bear failure and disappointment with fortitude, I read, and fortitude stopped me in my tracks. What a grand, old word. I never hear it any more. It seems like we’re told many things endlessly by the constant news/opinion feed that is our lives these days, but very little of it has meat on its bones. Who tells us life can’t be all roses, that it isn’t meant to be, that there are deep lessons for us to learn, and life will keep bringing back circumstances until the lessons are acknowledged, that sometimes disappointments seem overwhelming and all we can do is hunker down, survive, and display fortitude?Patience, endurance, sufferance, tolerance, forbearance, long-suggering, strength, courage, backbone, heart, grit, mettle, tenacity, perseverance, resoluteness….not popular words, but strong words, lots of something worthwhile and tough clinging to the letters. I’ve had to display fortitude in my life’s journey. What about you?

And the rest of Emmet Fox’s quotation: You must learn to bear failure and disappointment with fortitude and you must learn to stand success without allowing your heard to be turned. Our culture focuses on the success part, doesn’t it? Particularly advertizing. The right car, the right deodorant, the right beer will bring what you want. But where are the sages to tell us how to deal with the inevitable disappointments that are also there? Is it that life is too comfortable these days, so that we’re affronted when its other side appears? I don’t know. You tell me…..

Garden trivia: could not resist the raspberry shadings of a rose called Cinco de Mayo. Now I fret about where I shall I put her in my mostly shady yard.  The garden is turning into a palette of shaded green, white, lavender with blue underneath….

heyer

A dull week for me; most of it spent with me sick, something I seldom am. I kept myself occupied by opening Georgette Heyer, the originator of light little comedies of manner set often but not always in the Regency period in England. She has been widely copied, but too few write these little frothy escapes as well as she does because most lack her sense of humor and assured plotting. She makes fun of the pompous, the proper pleased with themselves, and the pious. She understands youthful folly and enthusiasm. She understands yearning. There’s always a handsome, unattainable hero; there’s often an older young woman (late twenties) who is quite happily unmarried. Or the heroine is young and impetuous. At their best, her stories are delightful to me. At their worst, they are contrived, but I don’t mind. I like the way she characterizes spoiled beauties, managing mamas, and lazy older men.

Only 2 of her romances have an ounce of reality…..one in which there is an arranged marriage and almost real heartbreak. Another in which the lady who takes the hero’s heart is unrestrained enough to break it over and over again in spite of his sterling qualities. The first time I read these 2 stories, so many years ago, I wasn’t certain I liked them. They were just outside the very neat boundaries of Heyer’s stories. But I notice that I’ve done the same, woven in a seasoning of reality into the fiction I write, so that in some ways, I’m quite unsafe to read.

What about you? Who is your go-to when sick or in need of rescue from life? Why do we like what we like?

motherlode

Like many woman, I’ve had many jobs. I’ve been a local magazine editor. I’ve run a small department within a university. I’ve done freelance writing. I’m a novelist. But there’s one job that gave me a satisfaction that went soul deep, and that was being a mother. When I was in the midst of it, I was harried, behind schedule, and just trying to keep my head above water managing my household and, at times, my job. Now that it’s over–not that I’m no longer a mother, but rearing young is over–I look back on it with a different perspective. What a sense of loss I felt for a long time. And why? Because it was really, really hard. Why would I miss that? Because it was so rich, too.

I’ve decided the loss was about my sense of purpose (unexpressed or even realized when I was in it). It was so clear and so grand. I had these young beings to keep alive, from bringing them food to getting them to birthday parties. It was nonstop, and it was difficult, and it was, well, grand. A purpose bright and clear, like knights in quest of the holy grail. I felt useful. I felt needed……A good mother rears her young in such a way that they fly off without too many backward looks while she prays their little wings will hold. And if the wings are strong, then a good mother sits alone and begins to understand the complexity that was once hers and makes new purpose, yes, but nothing with such a scale to it…..What about you? What’s your experience in this?

Hit this link and then hit LISTEN and hear a bit of that complexity……….

On another note, I’m not quite over media whiplash. The froth and frill of the royal wedding. Love, marriage, the gown, the kisses. Oh, hopeful fairytale. Then to wake up to Bin Laden’s face huge on the front page and the same endless media over how he died. Seals. Helicopters. Bullets. Burial at sea. What a contrast. It felt like more than my psyche could take in. Once upon a time, information took time to get to you and came in the form of someone telling you or your reading it. Now, it pounds around you like huge drums 24 hours a day…….I don’t know what I think about that. Is it just that I knew a world in which TV only had 3 channels and there weren’t computers, much less phones and i-things? Don’t we need some kind of refuge from the noise? I guess we must make one or become the pinball in a giant machine that propels us from one point to another with no purpose other than making certain we’re listening……….And I’m reminded that death is part of the world we live it. Perhaps that’s what really bothered me……….

kissing the frog

Princess Diana was there, the sob sisters and brothers of the media said, as they gently dabbed at eyes with hankies. The ring. The abbey in which her funeral had been held. A hymn or two. Bah. Humbug. I’ll tell you how Princess Diana was there. She was there by the fact of Camilla sitting front and center as Duchess of Cornwall. If Princess Diana hadn’t put up the fuss she had, Camilla would be somewhere discreetly in the crowd, and a married Diana and Charles would be grimly watching their eldest son carry on. If Diana hadn’t put up the fuss she did,

her son wouldn’t be marrying an commoner, a real first and almost a Cinderella story, but rather an aristocrat, as Diana herself was, Diana, the sacrificial lamb to the mores of time and centuries of tradition, but a lamb who grew claws.

Before Diana, a married princess bore her lot. Until the 20th century, she married because of political alliance (in Diana’s case, purity was the thing), she had to be virgin, her role was brood mare bearing sons, never mind that the sex gene came from the father because for hundreds of years no one knew that, and she mostly endured a life that might have privileges but very little joy.

There are all these fairy tales about princesses, but the lot of a princess was seldom a pretty one. Most often her husband didn’t love her. Quite often, he didn’t respect her. Whether he did love her or not, women were throwing lures all the time, and most husbands eventually succumbed. The princess had kissed the prince, but too often he really was a frog.

Princess Diana (and no one young can realize her impact; she was movie star gorgeous with real charisma, and she attracted attention and fame) should have quietly allowed Charles his affair with Camilla. That’s what every princess and/or queen before her had done. (And I’m not even going to go into poor Charles, having to marry a virginal aristocrat when his heart was taken. Someone else play that violin.) She kicked. She screamed. She had affairs of her own (risky conduct until 20th century;  George IV wouldn’t crown his wife queen because of her scandals–not that his own was any better, but he was male, after all). Diana  got a divorce. Jesus God!!! Those young can’t imagine how radical that was.

Because of that divorce, Camilla could sit respectably by Charles as his wife. Because of that divorce and all its fallout, Charles could marry the woman he loved and some day be king. His great uncle, King Edward, gave up the throne for the woman he loved.  (Wallis Simpson, who needs a better PR agent).

Three cheers for Diana, gorgeous, bulimic, neurotic, stubborn and media savvy. She cleared a path through centuries of royal male privilege as wide as the tornados that just struck the south. And frankly, it was the awful shock of her dying that did the most wind damage to traditions that put royal women in an unbearable box.

Are we out of the box? Yes and no. Maureen Dowd has insightful comments in the Sunday NY Times about modern Cinderella stories, and Lara Logan, a media princess, was on this week’s 60 Minutes speaking of her horrendous sexual assault and near death.

Too often, there are shards in the glass slipper. And Camilla, well, she wore a very big hat………………..