My great-grandmother’s poems

My great-grandmother, far right, with her children, 1944.  Left to right: Baxter (my grandfather); Walt; Bob; Helen; Carol Ann.

My great-grandmother (far right)  with her children, 1944. Left to right: Baxter (my grandfather); Walt; Bob; Helen; Carol Ann.

In her 1929 essay “Women and Fiction,” author Virginia Woolf observed that   “Often nothing tangible remains of a woman’s day.  The food that has been cooked is  eaten; the children that have been nursed have gone out into the world … [A woman's] life has an anonymous character which is baffling and puzzling in the extreme.”

It is certainly true that history tends to be written by and about men.  They have traditionally done the kinds of things that get written down for the ages … and the same, alas, has not always been true of women.

But some women leave behind written records of themselves.  I suppose blogging is that, for many of us; anyone trying to figure out the life of a modern woman needs only to visit her website or read her blog posts to have a glimpse into her interior life.  Many women keep diaries or journals that serve as a record of their inner lives.

And some women – like my great-grandmother — write poems.

My great-grandmother, Helen Cary Keyt Wolf, is someone I never had the pleasure to meet; she died in 1963.  But she was a prolific poet, and throughout her adult life she wrote poems by hand, all of which are collected in a little box she called her “Button Box” of poems.  Some are undated; the earliest dated ones are from the 1930s, the latest from the 1960s.

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My great-aunt Carol has transcribed them all, and my uncle Ken,  the family geneaologist, has compiled them on the family website.  They are a window into Great-Grandma Helen’s life: they focus on her five children, her struggles with money during the Great Depression, her optimism and the spirituality that guided her throughout her life.

This is one that really struck me:

Where God Is

by Helen Cary Keyt Wolf

Across the country far and wide
I see God on every side.
In mountain tops and cloudless skies
Or in another traveler’s eyes
In deserts vast and lovely place
Or cities’ myriads of faces.
I see God and feel Him near,
While winging high upon the land
Or on the beaches clean, white sand.
In deep blue lakes of mammoth size
And in a laughing baby’s eyes,
In forest green and peaks snow bound
Where e’er I look, he can be found.

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God can be found in all things, said St. Ignatius hundreds of years ago, and that idea is echoed here.   I love this poem.  And though I never knew my great-grandmother, reading this makes her feel that much more real to me.

I’ll share more of the poems in future posts.  I’m glad we have them.  There is a big something to be said for recording ourselves in writing for our great-grandchildren and beyond, so they can know something of who we are, and of where they came from.

Poldark, Episode Three: Oh yes they did

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I’d like to start off this week’s recap by saying that it almost did not happen.  At 8:58 last night I settled in happily with my cup of tea  and turned on PBS, only to be met with a sinister black screen and an even more sinister message from Tivo saying that it could not tune the channel.

I am not sure exactly what I said next, but I know it was panicked and incoherent, and my techie husband leapt into action. He did a few things with the remote and something to the back of the TV (I really need to learn what it was for future reference) and at 9:03, we had “Poldark.”  Scott is amazing.  Is it any wonder I married him thirteen years ago today, or that I write blog posts about his fabulousness?

So I got my “Poldark” fix for the week (I should say we got our “Poldark” fix –Scott is hooked on it now too).  And oh, it was an episode I would not have wanted to miss.  As always, spoilers ahead — if you DVR’d it, watch it first, then come back here.

Thoughts:

1) Biggest thing first: Ross and Demelza!  Did you see that coming?  Scott did.   I guess there were plenty of hints dropped in this episode in particular: the meaningful glances, the rumors other people were spreading about them, the fact that she had her hair pinned up for this episode when she never has before (an updo being hairdressing code for “no longer a kid/urchin” and “ready for romance.”)

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In the book, it’s very clear through the omniscient third-person narration that Demelza deliberately sets out to seduce Ross as a way of being able to stay with him.  She gets the idea, it terrifies her, but she goes for it anyway. The TV show made it look more like a sort of accident — she was tiptoeing around hoping he wouldn’t see her in the dress, while in the book she deliberately makes a big entrance.

I think I like the book’s version better.  That’s not to say that seducing your boss is a good idea, but I love how she is actively trying to decide her fate, and the narration makes it all so believable.   And in the book, her attempts at being seductive sort of fall apart and her natural charm and honesty come through, and those are the things that actually land her in Ross’s arms.  I think the show did a pretty decent job of conveying that as well, even though her initial approach to the whole thing was quite different.

I had to smile when she comes to Ross and asks him to help her because the big fancy dress she is  wearing fastens in the back, and she can’t get it off by herself.  My husband, sitting on the couch next to me, said to the TV, “But you got it ON by yourself!”  I am now trying to recall if at any point in our lives together I have used that line on him?  He certainly caught onto it right away.

By the way, in the book, she immediately fesses up and tells Ross that the fastening thing was just a line, but he is so far into it he doesn’t care.  I wish they’d kept that in the script– it’s such a great example of her inability to lie and get anything under false pretenses.  That is one of her most lovable qualities.

Anyhow, it was all very romantic, and she is certainly a better choice for a lasting relationship than the prostitute from Episode Two (especially because she is now apparently getting chummy with his cousin Francis.  Ick.).  And props to Ross for recognizing that she’s quite a catch, and worth taking to the altar and not just to bed.

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2) I think this episode should be subtitled “Francis’ Downward Spiral.”   How exactly is everything falling apart for him so quickly? Is it all due to his core of insecurity where his wife is concerned?  It certainly seems responsible for the gambling and for the animosity toward Ross; one could even argue that his dumb dumb duel last week was more about asserting his ego than about concern for his sister.  So maybe he’s a good example of the importance of marrying someone who is crazy about you, not lukewarm, so you never have to worry about your much-better-looking cousin sitting next to her and talking about mining.  Part of me feels sympathy for him.

But golly, he’s sure getting unpleasant, isn’t he?  And Verity does NOT deserve your caustic words, Mister.  It’s not her fault you went out in a field with a pistol and now have to keep a scarf forever tied around your neck to hide a bullethole. She even tried to STOP you, but you wouldn’t listen.

3)  Add “mining” to the list of jobs I could never ever do.  Every time I see the characters in that dark, cramped mine, I feel slightly panicked.  I don’t even like being in parking garages, so how people actually descend into the bowels of the earth and stay there is beyond me.  Pay those men a good wage!  ( Of course, Poldark does.  That’s why he’s the hero.)

4) Did you notice that we have had a dancing scene two episodes in a row?  Last week’s was the Assembly Ball, where the upper classes danced very formal dances that are all about sharp angles and bypassing each other and coming together only to part again.  The miners’ wedding dance was a bunch of people in a ring with their arms around each other, a circle with no end.  Is there a symbolism to the contrast between these two dances? Methinks there is.

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5) One of my favorite bits of the episode is when Francis’ dad is schooling him about getting more involved in the mine.  He tells him that he needs to be more like Ross, and be there at the mine, working alongside the miners, getting to know them and their work from the ground up.

I’m not a huge fan of Francis’ dad, but he’s spot-on here.  Managers are more effective when they actually see what their employees are doing firsthand and when they gain their employees’ trust, not when they simply issue orders from on-high. I’ve worked with a whole lot of different administrators since I started teaching in 1997, and the best ones know this.  Whether it’s 1787 or  2015, some management principles never change.

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6) But luckily, childbirth does.  Did you catch the huge metal foreceps the doctor put rather ominously down next to Elizabeth’s bedside when she was in labor? Oh, ouch;   I can’t even think of it without wincing.   The doctor could at least hide that until it has to make an appearance.  (And do you think Elizabeth made a birth plan in advance? Did he honor it?)

What did you think of Episode Three?  

The man I thought I’d marry, and the man I actually did

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Once upon a time, I had an idea in mind of the perfect guy for me.  He would of course be kind, smart, funny, etc., but he would also fluent in at least one other language, preferably French.   He would have a reverence for Shakespeare and poetry.   He would choose sensitive art-house movies with subtitles over action-filled movies with explosions.  And — this part was crucial — he would be fully conversant with the works of Jane Austen.

That is not the man I married.

My husband knows programming languages, not French.  He’s not allergic to Shakespeare or poetry, but he doesn’t exactly seek them out either.  Give him the power to pick a movie, and it’ll be one where a rogue cop tries to stop a maniac from hacking military databases and blowing up the world.  And no, he is not even partially conversant with the works of Jane Austen, though he has watched  a few of the movies with me.

But as I get ready to celebrate thirteen years of being married to this guy, I can only look back at my original list and smile.  It’s evident now that I had wanted to marry a male version of myself.  But knowing what I know now about what makes a marriage work, I thank the Lord that I didn’t.  I don’t need to be married to myself.  I need to be married to someone who complements me: with an “e,” not an “i” (though he compliments me too, which is also nice).

My world has grown thanks to him.  It’s better than it was before.  His logical, engineering-mind is the perfect foil to my at-times-anxious-and-angsty one.  He has skills I don’t, like an awareness of spatial relations and the ability to fit everything in a suitcase or a dishwasher.  He has introduced me to the amazing wonderfulness of home-roasted coffee, without which my mornings would be significantly less tasty.  And without his encouragement and his firm belief that writing is one of my charisms, my books and this blog might never have happened.

And he makes sacrifices for me, like watching my new favorite show (“Poldark”) with me, even though his own new favorite show (“Battle Bots”) airs at exactly the same time.   That is love.

So as we prepare to celebrate our wedding anniversary, I look back at all the things I thought were so important in a mate.  The core ones — kindness, intelligence, sense of humor, etc. — those endured.  The ones that didn’t matter fell by the wayside, and new qualities took their place.  Sometimes, as much as we think we know, love knows better.

I guess that is another way of saying God knows better.

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You’re a grand old flag

Happy Fourth of July!

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Poldark, Episode Two: Dumb things men do

Dancing is not one of the dumb things.

Dancing is not one of the dumb things.

So last night found me once again sitting raptly before the TV, immersed in the world of “Poldark” while warming my hands on my obligatory cup of tea.  (I always drink tea while watching “Masterpiece Theatre.” I’m such an Anglophile dork.)

Anyhow, Episode Two was just as good as Episode One, about which I blogged last week.   I am loving this series.  It’s as good as “Downton,” though so very different; it’s like comparing apples and oranges (or like comparing bowlers and tricornes?).

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Below are a few thoughts on Episode Two.  I will warn you that there  are mild spoilers coming up, so if you DVR’d it, watch it before proceeding.  (And if you haven’t watched any of the series yet, you’re only two episodes behind!  Go watch it!)

Episode Two musings:

1) Where “Downton” has the servants, “Poldark” has the miners.  Each series, in its own way, deals with the class differences.  Class has more fluid boundaries for Ross Poldark than for Lord Grantham; this is surely a function of time, setting, and personality, as we have already seen that Ross is a bit more of a rogue than Lord G. is.  I love how Ross cares about the welfare of his miners and eats and socializes with them and won’t let Demelza demean herself.  Maybe he brought more home from the Revolutionary War than just the scar?  Could it be that those “all men are created equal” ideas rubbed off on him? (yay America!). Anyhow, this lack of snobbishness is one of the nicest parts of his character.

2)It must have been quite a job for the makeup artist to put the scar on Aidan Turner every single day of filming.  Was there a “scar continuity” person to make sure it was always the same length, width, and color?  Viewers tend to notice if it isn’t, and then they write snarky blog posts about it.  (This is not one of those posts.  It looks pretty consistent to me.)

3) We had a ball scene!  A period drama is not a period drama without one.

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Every time I watch one of these balls, the dances look so enormously complicated.  They have all these intricate weaves and patterns and turns; you really have to know what you’re doing.  I try to imagine myself in there dancing and I see myself making a wrong turn and knocking a few bewigged gentlemen down like bowling pins.  Good thing I live when I do.  But still: such dancing is lovely to look at, and these scenes always serve to further the relationships between the characters in dramatic ways.

4)  George Warleggan = thoroughly bad guy.  And if you couldn’t tell from his actions, you could tell from his hair.  Am I right in thinking they would never give a romantic hero hair like this?

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5) The media has said that Ross Poldark is the new Mr. Darcy.  There is some truth to that.  I have to say, though, that Mr. Darcy would probably never pick up a prostitute in a tavern, a plot twist which was probably less surprising to me than to others because I’ve read the books and knew it was coming.   It is unfortunate that he unwittingly chose George’s girl, a fact that would probably make Ross lose his lunch in a hurry.  Maybe he should try a different stress release next time.

6)Kudos to Ross, though, for knowing how stupid it was for Francis and Verity’s boyfriend to fight a duel.  Honestly, the male ego has been responsible for some seriously idiotic things throughout human history, and the concept of a duel has to be right up there at the top.  Women would never do anything that stupid, right?  Right?

Did you watch?  What did you think?