For many years, my book-loving Mumsie used to tell me about stories she remembered but hadn't had in hand for several decades. She had an ongoing quest to find a copy of The Swish of the Curtain, which she'd adored as a child.
It was, she told me, about a group of theater-mad children who staged shows in their English village. She looked for it at every used bookstore, but when I told her I'd located a copy (ah! early days of the internet!), she shied away from actually getting it. She said she didn't want to find it like that. She admitted she'd rather not test her memory of its charms.
Naturally, in these internet days, there are online services that can help.
For a couple of bucks, Loganberry Books helps the hive mind focus on your need.
The Library of Congress has a page of suggestions for how to find lost books/lost lyrics and more. The LoC site links to a veritable warren of rabbit holes, by the way, if you are so inclined (declined?) to potter around chasing other people's trails.
Like this Reddit page, this specific one, and so. many. more. <shakes head vigorously>
Everyone knows someone who is irrationally (well, that's all in the perspective, right?) afraid of, say, legless reptiles or eight-legged wall-walkers.
Not just slightly averse to these creatures, but seriously, panicky, clawing-a-way-out-the-window fearful.
Each of my parents had one. For my father and his siblings, having survived a canoeing accident as children where they and their mother clung to an overturned boat while long strands of seaweed brushed their legs, the fear was snakes.
I never noticed Mumsie's issue until that first summer at the cottage. We'd gone to take a quick look at what they had purchased –– waterfront! as is! Bill Bailey blue! furnished with toys and musty furniture! –– on the shore of Lake Ontario. We ended up just staying all summer. Daddo went off to work downstate during the week while the three of us swam and read books and played with the neighbors (each according to her tastes. Mumsie was not much for running around pretending to be horses).
Naturally, given the body of fresh water, the long Northern summer days, and the untenanted nature of the cottage, there were spiders. But it was a summer cottage. When sweeping, you directed the little pile of debris down that knot-hole in the floor in the hallway. On Thursdays, before Daddo came up, we'd eat ice-cream for supper. It was a Platonic ideal of summer cottage life.
Except for the spiders. One morning, we all scooted out of the house while Mumsie sprayed some sort of aerosolized poison. We must have been gone all day. Or maybe it was stormy when we returned, because while my sister and I, diminutive then, walked into the shadowy cottage without incident, our mother entered to a suspended carpet of deceased arachnids. All hanging at about eye-height from the ceiling. The horror. The horror.
Eventually, she dredged up a memory for me. "It might be this," she said, draping her paperback over her knee. "When I was very little –– on the farm in Springville –– I was playing in the creek." [The word "creek" in the geography of rural northern Pennsylvania was pronounced "crick." A thing I miss from her.]
She turned her head in the same questing way as when she was trying to recall the details of a dream. "I was splashing the water with a stick and there was an enormous water-spider. I hit it and it burst open and dozens –– hundreds?–– of baby spiders spilled out."
Gulp. Okay then.
My sister shares the distaste for spiders. We've often agreed that should there be an unfortunate single-car accident in her life, it's a near certainty to have involved a spider emerging from under the dashboard and landing on exposed skin.
As for spiders? I understand they won't actually kill me, but I find it hard to casually look away once I've noticed one nearby. I find their globular bodies shudderingly distasteful.
Be that all as it may. I actually meant to write about weird phobias. There's no shortage of oddity in the world. And phobias are the most common of mental illnesses.
Mental illness. Huh.
I've felt claustrophobia. Couldn't get into an elevator for two years. It was a side-effect, I think, of a dreadful boyfriend and asthma.
Once I nearly fainted –– and me a farm kid! –– at the vision of a big splinter protruding from someone else's finger. All the blood and guts in the world, and I was about to keel over from a splinter. I couldn't even help her yank it out.
But that's pretty mundane stuff. What's more intriguing is the fringier fears.
One of our elders has what's known as "White Coat Anxiety." Whenever confronted with a doctor or medical professional in a clinical environment, her blood pressure goes sky-high.
I worked with a woman who couldn't stand scissors. We'll call her Peg. Another co-worker, Liz, a capricious but observant creature, had noticed that Peg invariably moved books and files so that a pair of shears on a colleague's desk would be hidden from her view
For those hoping for an overview of the 2020 Everglades Challenge...that story is still coming. The team is safe, which is the main thing, and engaged in their next adventure. I hope to post a report early next week.
Meanwhile, something completely different from that...
We spent a long weekend in Manhattan recently –– summary: a bunch of us were were going to Italy to celebrate Sarah's birthday. Along comes Covid19, and poof! Manhattan it is!
The gang took taxis and subways, saw shows and shoes, walked Times Square and wandered museums. It kind of felt like every activity was going to be retold with the preface, "Back before the Pandemic, you could..."
Anyhow, wandering at will through the chic-chiciest of boroughs, especially wandering with artistic types like my companions, made me look twice or three times.
A few highlights of what caught my eye...
It's a thing we've enjoyed every now and then now for decades: an afternoon slouch on the couch watching whatever dope crap Jeff selects.
Back in our early courting days, we were en couchant watching some Voyage of Sinbad or another. You remember the kind of movie: claymation, sparkly costumes, "exotic" locales somewhere in the hills east of Hollywood.
In any case, our heroes were bundled to the teeth, trudging across a featureless frozen sea when Jeff pipes up with, "Oh-oh, watch out for the giant walrus."
Jeff can flatten the affect right out of his voice so while it seems like a warning, the phrase comes out completely without urgency. He spoke to the television screen again, "Oh, no, look out for the giant walrus,"
Me: What in the world are you talk ––
And at that moment, on the little rounded screen of my apartment's television, an enormous walrus broke through the styrofoam ice and speared one of Sinbad's less fortunate companions with a long tusk.
My astonishment was complete. I said, "You've SEEN this before?!" Honestly, watching it for the first time seemed faintly ridiculous, but it did have novelty value going for it.
Little did I know that Jeff's tolerance for ridiculous movies was nearly as deep as my own ability to grouse about them while nestled next to him on the sofa.
It's kind of a match made in heaven.
After a considering moment, I came back with "I'll get fruity furniture, like chaise lounges, and I just don't want any lip about it."
We both found these demands reasonable. And so it has gone.
The boat is large enough for a single person, who sits inside the hull with not much more than a noggin showing above decks.
As if Paul Bunyan had taken to the high seas, or as if a person had inexplicably shrunk down into a shoe.
My childhood bestie, Care, reminds me from time to time about how it used to go down.
She'd come next-door at the cottage on a summer morning and ask if I wanted to do something: swimming, running around á la wild mustangs, making miniature ballrooms in the field, catching rabbits.
I remember spending those summers perpetually in motion, but evidently there were too many times when my answer was the dreaded, "Nah, I'm reading."
So far anyhow.
Some years I read less, but mostly I read a lot. Quickly.
I go heavy on novels, light on memoirs. I snack on essays and take sparse sips of poetry. I almost never read biographies. (That 5th-grade assignment on Betsy Ross <shudder>)
Generalized history gets a pass, but I do like specific topics (The Black Death in 1348, anyone? Rats in New York? ) and anything natural history-ish.
Stacks of books sprout wherever I perch: volumes I mean to read, books I have started, tomes I use for reference.
When Mr. Linton and I downsized, I culled about a third of my collection and still needed to rent a scissor-lift to get the rest of them up the stairs.
Sidebar Truth: While waiting for the delivery of the scissor-lift, and knowing the advantageous tide would wait for no book, Mr. Linton trotted the literal ton of books up stairs on tireless feet without a single complaint. Bless him.
I have reading recommendations the way pharmaceutical reps have sample packs and cronuts -- with roughly the same goal. Minus the commission.
Goodreads, which is connected in the cross-platform sales way of the modern world to Amazon.com (which is to say, Amazon owns the "social cataloguing" website), has become my preferred way to keep track of titles.
Instead of jotting down book recommendations on scraps of paper and then scotch-taping them someplace handy, a user can type in the name of the book (or a close approximation) or the name of the author and save it to the shelf of Books to Read.
Were I a slightly more nimble consumer, I could obtain any book with a few keystrokes, but my connections are not so tight.
Diversifying my stream: I read physical books that I buy. I read physical books that I borrow from the library. My sister (bless her!) gave me one of her extra Kindles, so I read on that, or on the iPad. We listen to books on CD or as podcasts or digital files.
I whittled a few titles off the "Books to Read" list recently and discovered one of my favorite bookchoices for the year. Some friends may be getting a copy of
The Fly Trap by Fredrik Sjöberg
Like all the best memoirs, the book –– slim, but promising to continue in another two volumes –– is not so much about Sjöberg's insects, but about what he has learned from his pursuit of them.
I should be more embarrassed at my giddy fan-girl response to Sjöberg's story, but as my companions will attest: I cheerfully read aloud whole pages for their enjoyment as well as my own.
My mumsie used to call it "burbling," the sort of cheerful, not-terribly-important chatter that doesn't –– strictly speaking –– require an audience. As nice a term as any, and onomatopoeic to boot.
A propensity to burble was perhaps one of the reasons she sent me to kindergarten a little early. I've always had a lot to say.
I've tacked away from sailing as a topic to burble about (about which to burble?) for the past couple of months here on the blog, but it doesn't mean that I haven't been writing about sailing.
So for those sweet readers who tell me they enjoy this sort of thing, here are a couple of links to the Flying Scot webpage.
I've been doing an occasional column about boat names there for my Bar Harbor buddy Ned Johnston (Hi Ned!), who edits the class newsletter.
"Sing a Song of Sixpence" Page 18 of https://www.fssa.com/files/scots_63_4.pdf
"From Another Shore" page 16 of https://www.fssa.com/files/scots_63_3_web.pdf
"THAT Name" page 12 of https://www.fssa.com/files/scots_63_2.pdf
"What's in a Name" tag 11 of https://www.fssa.com/files/scots_63_1.pdf
I recently re-discovered this tale I wrote in the early 2000's. This adventure pre-dates the Would-Be Farm (though I was dreaming about it back then!) and some of the principals are no longer with us, but here it is, a retread road-trip...
I'd been helping my sister Sarah fix up her first place up North –– after a long break away from the North Country –– when we decided to spend a day away from the project.
I was in the market for some land, imagining (perhaps foolishly) that I could purchase a chunk of attractive brush with some water feature that would keep Mr. Linton and me happily occupied for the next few decades of summertime vacation.
Turns out, of course, that there are many chunks of brush, some attractive, a few with water features, but almost none in my small price-range offered by anyone actually willing to close a deal.
Anyway, it gave me a nifty excuse for pottering around the back roads of rural Northern New York State.
A classmate from high school was a real-estate agent, and although she was out of town on vacation that week, she had provided me with a stack of property listings to look at. On our day off, my sister and I set a goal of checking out a couple of those places (disappointing: peaceful retreats are rarely located within ear-shot of Fort Drum’s gunnery range).
After the unproductive real estate perambulations, our thoughts turned to something more rewarding. For years, we had heard about the reputed natural bridge over Perch River outside of the village of Dexter.
I was driving down Middle Road. My sister was navigating and she said, "Hey, turn here."
A mailbox marked the turn, and I said, "Sis, come on, this is someone’s driveway."
Implacable, she repeated, "Turn in."
And we got out of the car with our water bottles and our hiking boots and all we heard was birdsong, wind in the treetops, and the whine of a distant chainsaw.
We consulted the map and oriented ourselves toward the river. We were preparing to trespass.
She’s like, "Okay, here’s our story: We are here looking for a friend from high school, and have gotten turned around somehow."
The sound of the chainsaw drew suddenly much closer. I though, gosh, maybe I should have availed myself of the facilities when we stopped at the library in Dexter.
Without even exchanging a look, my sister and I dropped the lie.
We explained that we grew up around here, and we heard that there is a natural bridge over the Perch River somewhere nearby, and we were really hoping to find it.
The woman said, "Why yes, there is. Do you have a half an hour or so?"
Next thing you know, the woman has collected her husband, who pilots a zippy ATV down the driveway to pick us up and they are taking us on a tour all over the 400 acres their son and his wife purchased a few years back.
There’s Perch river. There’s the bridge -- a smidge underwhelming, but aha! ––there’s the river emerging again from the other side of the natural bridge. There’s an old stone fence. Maybe the fence butts up to the Hall’s farm ––The Hall’s farm that was probably our Riggs family farm a hundred years ago. Maybe one of our great-great uncles stacked those very stones.
As it happens, the husband is connected to parents of classmates of ours.
And their daughter-in-law? Turns out she is my vacationing real-estate agent/high-school classmate. We trespassed on her land.
Hours later, our unexpected hosts raid my real-estate agent’s fridge for beer and my sister gets them to take pictures of the two of us in the ATV, playing with my real-estate agent's dog, and lounging on the porch with our purloined beers.
Those photos of us having our disreputable way with other people's porches, off-road recreational vehicle, and beer might possibly have been taken on an early cell phone that was unable to resist water when it went swimming.
But maybe one of those images will resurface, possibly on the tee-shirt of one of the great-grand nephews or nieces, who will point to it while trespassing and say, "Perhaps you know these two characters? Our aunts?"
And here's hoping it will parlay into a free pass, a tour, an anecdote.
My miniature shingled cottage sits unfinished –– without him it wasn't much fun –– but Daddo and I used his power planer to make itty-bitty hardwood floors, and we constructed nifty little jigs and clamps scaled to handle the delicate woodwork of the house. He helped me fabricate plaster fieldstones for the chimney. We had a ball.
At one point, when I had decided to scoot the dormer windows of the cottage a fraction closer together, Daddo looked at me and said, "You're going to make a contractor tear out his hair."
Not exactly a life goal, but...
I like to think I know my mind, but the thing is, it's hard to visualize construction until it's up...
We returned to the Would-Be Farm in June and were not disappointed to see progress.
The trusty stone-quarry guy had installed a nice gravel driveway right up to the build, including culverts and a sweet level parking area that will be ideal for our friends with motorhomes.
And by the beard of mighty Hephaestus himself, the contractor and his gang were busily putting in trusses.
Ahhh. Trusses. With trusses, a girl can visualize what the place is going to look like...
The internet is one supersized overshare.
Along with the thousands of selfies and blogs about piffle, plus all those YouTube videos about optimal application of eyeliner, surviving the Apocalypse, cleaning scallops using a shop vac, and SO much more, sites beyond number offer deliciously random information to the careless researcher.
And by careless, I mean "easily distracted."
By which naturally, I refer to myself.
I was on the track of my namesake 3x gr-grandmother, Amy Cole Hall. She lived mostly in Pennsylvania, but also in Litchfield, Connecticut.
Somehow (and it's always a bit of a click-mystery) I ended up on someone else's compilation of documents pertaining to their ancestors, the Sturdevants of Luzerne, Pennsylvania. Naturally, I started reading. The Sturdevants connect to another branch of my family, but I didn't know that at the time.
Oh the eternal difficulty in resisting the temptation of other people's letters...
An exerpt from a letter 14 Oct 1842 from Dr. George Lane Keeney to Salmon Keeney, quoting from a letter from brother Seth: "My wife has been counting up while I notched a stick, and we find we have (9) nine living children, 4 girls and 5 boys."*
Does this seem –– um –– peculiar that a married couple needed to notch a stick to count their living children?
The internet link to the letters is here.
Also among the paper-trail of the Sturdevants is what might be some of my new favorite letters* of all time. Anyone who commits words to paper is aware that the record will live on; it's kind of the point of putting words on paper, right?
I made a sound recording of one letter –– both for the interest of clarity, as the grammar and spelling was irregular, but also because it was fun to voice those words.
*My previous all-time favorite letters? A series of wonderful schadenfreude-inducing Christmas newsletters from a certain childhood friend's unhappy wife (oh! how I looked forward to those each December! Even after their divorce, I kept getting these little masterpieces of misery bedecked with images of holly and jolly St. Nick! I should be more ashamed to enjoy them, but she had such a way with passive aggression!)
In any case, herewith the letter 7 June 1842 from Asahel Keeney to his brother Dr. George Keeney.
It's a brutal catalogue of local gossip. Burn baby, burn.
There's another letter to their sister, Amy Keeney Hall –– not my Amy, but of interest anyhow –– mentioning that poor pitiful Phebe Wilson, who "quit hur husband to keep from starving." Brother Seth writes "we callculated to have visited you this fall but my health prevented If I live untill another fall I will be sure to visit."
I hope he had the chance.
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