A New Home, the Kindness of Strangers

Monday Morning Musings:

“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

–Blanche,  A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

“Thank you, Mr. Rochester, for your great kindness. I am strangely glad to get back again to you: and wherever you are is my home—my only home.”

–Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

 

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After he had served his country,

had been a stranger in more than one strange land,

and was home, if not settled,

he joined a community of strangers

who became friends.

Theater brought the couple together,

in A Streetcar Named Desire,

they sparred with words and movement

(a subtext created)

my daughter said “He’s nothing like Stanley,”

reassuring me,

and she,

my practical dreamer, is nothing like Blanche,

the magic of theater,

bringing something of oneself in playing another,

finding empathy for strangers,

a valuable skill, I’d say.

Perhaps a community brought them together,

these two,

so different,

so similar,

they married,

the English teacher bride with her Jane Eyre message,

“Reader, I married him.”

Every year she meets new students,

strangers, whom she will guide.

The groom, studying to become a nurse,

will care for strangers, too.

And through the kindness of strangers,

they now have a house.

Home is where the heart is,

so the old proverb goes,

but it’s certainly pleasant to have four sturdy walls

and a roof—

with skylights.

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Months ago, the process began,

 I saw something online,

I entered to win a house.

Really? we laughed a bit–

because who wins the lottery?

But they did.

The kindness of strangers,

Operation Homefront,

gave this veteran and his wife a rare opportunity,

a home of their own.

 

They waited,

spring turned to summer, fall,

in winter, they finally saw their new home.

a magical day–

after all, we stood without coats in January

when a few days before snow lay on the ground.

the sun was shining,

a gentle breeze lifted and tangle the flag,

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the veteran lifted his bride

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It brought back memories–

when my husband and I bought our house,

I was pregnant with her sister,

our first child,

the house was dirty and needed work before we could move in,

old, musty carpets pulled out, floors refinished, and walls painted,

we relied, not on strangers, but on friends

who helped us with the tasks

(laboring before I labored)

Their house was renovated by strangers,

a little dream house with a yard for their dog,

 

 

sunny windows for their cat,

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a room for friends to stay in,

space to dream,

and a chocolate cake in the refrigerator.

 

We celebrated that night,

pizza and wine,

the servers, astounded by our tale,

thanked him for his service,

we ordered dessert–

it was a celebration,

and yes, that sopapilla cheesecake

(with butter rum sauce)

was delicious.

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It snowed once again,

briefly, white flakes touched the ground and melted,

then the sun returned for moving day,

a long day of packing, moving, unloading trucks and cars–

and doing it again,

family this time, not strangers.

 

We celebrated again

this time with delicious Pakistani food

from a newly discovered restaurant

in their new neighborhood

where the owner, a stranger,

gave them extra naan.

We ate in the kitchen

on paper plates

drank wine from plastic cups,

boxes still to be unpacked,

but they were home,

settled,

and their cat finally came out from hiding to explore,

and settled down in front of the fire.

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That’s the way life goes

days of sun and days of cold,

but they will be snug in their new home,

a dream house,

a house filled with dreams,

with a fire in their fireplace,

from their bed, they’ll watch the moon,

and maybe even hear it hum a lullaby

as the clouds go dancing by,

 

they’ll sleep and dream sweet dreams

and they will be strangely glad

to be home.

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Photo credit: Sheryl C. Smith, 2017

 

Here is a brief news segment about Sheryl and Eric on the day they received the key to their new home.

And an article

Eric and Sheryl received their house through Operation Homefront, Homes on the Homefront

We ate pizza at Holy Tomato

And delicious Pakistani food at Mera Khana

 

Crowns and Independence

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We got crowned! (Our youngest child was married.)

 

Monday Morning Musings:

 

 “Love is the crowning grace of humanity, the holiest right of the soul, the golden link which binds us to duty and truth, the redeeming principle that chiefly reconciles the heart to life, and is prophetic of eternal good.”

–Petrarch

“We need to help people to discover the true meaning of love. Love is generally confused with dependence. Those of us who have grown in true love know that we can love only in proportion to our capacity for independence.”

–Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember

 

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

–Nelson Mandela

 

It has been a mostly beautiful weekend to celebrate the birth of our nation,

colonies declaring independence from the crown

I think of how crown rhymes with clown,

and it amuses me–

I think of all the clowns who’ve worn crowns

and how often the jester or fool has been the wise man.

 

Last year on this day, the Fourth of July,

Independence Day,

My husband and I wore paper crowns,

parents of the bride

a nod to custom,

and an affectionate tribute to a family tradition

of the birthday crowns we construct.

Our daughter carried a fan she designed

with a quotation from Jane Eyre,

“Reader I married him.”*

 

She and our now son-in-law vowed to love and cherish

each other, to join together

forming “a more perfect union”

like colonies becoming states, and then a union,

it is a process that goes beyond the simple declaration of intent

of independence and dependence

a balancing act,

not dependence,

rather, respecting one another,

and enhancing the best in each.

Perhaps our nation could benefit

from a bit of marriage counseling.

 

We had planned to see a baseball game with them,

baseball, the great American pastime,

what could be more perfect?

But because it was raining with violent storms in the forecast

we went to dinner with them instead–

food, that like our nation, was a mixture of all types,

vegan entries, steak for my husband, salads,

Buffalo sauce and Sriracha

many flavors and textures

sharing space on the table.

 

The weather had improved by the next day,

glorious weather for celebrating,

though we stayed at home

listening to fireworks in the distance.

We watched a movie, Belgian, but in French

(Remember how France joined us in fighting

their English enemy though France was still

a monarchy with a King who wore a crown?)

Two Days, One Night,

Marion Cotillard, a wife and mother,

works in a solar-panel factory,

with the help of her husband and support from friends,

she spends the weekend asking her co-workers to vote for her to keep her job,

even though if they do so, they will lose their bonuses.

We make all sorts of negotiations in life,

When is it right give up something that will benefit ourselves

in order to help someone else?

It is a decision each must decide.

Dependence and independence.

 

The sun rises, a crown of pink and orange

beaming golden rays into the azure sky,

spokes like those of Lady Liberty’s crown

promising liberty, standing on a broken chain,

given to the United States by the people of France,

inscribed with the date, July 4, 1776,

a symbol,

not a reality for all

but something to strive for

Liberté, égalité, fraternité,

Emily Dickinson said,

“Hope is the thing with feathers,”

but hope is also the sun rising and setting

each day

and hope is the joining of two in marriage

and love is our shining crown.

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*This essay by Claire Fallon discusses the line “Reader, I married him,”

Books are a Bridge

Monday Morning Musings:

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Once again Jane Dougherty inspired me with a prompt—a muse for my musings.

“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading”.

–William Styron, Interview, Writers at Work (1958)

 Books are a bridge to the mind,

A link between author and reader.

Across it

Ideas slither stealthily—or—

Stride boldly,

Characters stroll, march, and dance,

And

Emotions gallop with the force

Of an army.

When I was younger

I fell asleep while reading a book

And I was there.

Astride a horse in the north of England,

Speaking in a voice and accent

That are not my own.

The air was cold,

The horses warm,

And it was so real

That I remember it now

Decades later.

When I awoke

I was sad and wanted to return to this

Foreign land that was not mine.

But that I knew. Somehow.

From a book.

Who hasn’t wanted a wardrobe

That leads to an enchanted land?

Or wondered what it would be like

To go back in time?

To live in another world?

I lived the teenage emotions

Of Anne, feeling first love

And fighting with parents,

The joy of being alive

Even while crowded in

A secret annex during WWII.

And I wanted to not know

Her fate.

I also wished another fate

For another Anne,

Whose head would be parted

From her slender neck.

They placed traitors’ heads

On London Bridge,

A bridge of the living

And the dead.

But not hers,

Which was buried with her body

In the Tower

Where she had been a prisoner.

I read Hilary Mantel’s

Books of Thomas Cromwell

And Wolf Hall.

Tudor England became alive.

I sat at the table with Thomas More,

I rode on the river barges

I saw Cromwell with his family

And pet dogs,

A different side of the man.

I imagined it all

And so

I could hope while reading

That the story might be different

That history might change

And Queen Anne might live.

Still another Anne,

In another time and place,

That’s Anne with an “e,” please,

Delighted me with her love of big words

And the time she got her friend Diana drunk

And accidentally dyed her red hair green.

But I cried when Matthew died,

Didn’t you?

And when Beth, the third of the Little Women, died

I cried then, too.

I read the passage early in the morning

Lying in bed at my aunt’s house

Before anyone else was awake.

Books,  a refuge from the turmoil around me.

Jane Eyre, who became my friend,

Had a friend, Helen, who died in the horrid Lowood School,.

My school was nothing like that,

Although it had its horrors, too.

But that was long before she met Mr. Rochester

Or his mad wife in the attic.

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My daughter’s wedding fan.

I cried for the inhabitants of the plague village of Eyam

Brought alive by Geraldine Brooks,

This time reading late at night, an adult,

My husband already asleep,

But I could not stop turning the pages

Until I reached the end.

During graduate school,

Douglas Adams’s books brought some comic relief.

I laughed so much at his world of unwitting space travelers

That my husband had to read the books for himself.

Remember to bring a towel.

Good advice, always.

I’ve walked side-by-side with Wordsworth

And seen the host of golden daffodils

Beside the lake.

Haven’t you?

And haven’t you fallen down the hole with Alice

And learned to beware the Jabberwock

And not to drink or eat items

Simply because there are notes telling you to do so?

Recently I crossed a bridge with All the Light We Cannot See

To enter a new land

Where I felt the tiny houses that blind Marie-Laure

Could not see,

Smelled the salty air,

Felt the vibration of the bomb blasts,

Knew the wonder

Of an orphaned brother and sister

As they hear a voice and music

That traveled from Brittany

To Germany

As though by magic

To reach their ears.

And the book was magic, too.

Just last week, I closed the pages of Golden Age

The final book of Jane Smiley’s Last Hundred Years Trilogy

The saga of the Langdon family.

I experienced the history of the United States

Through their eyes

And experienced it with them—

Technology, wars, cults, births, and deaths

A farm in the Midwest,

A world in microcosm.

The final page was so brilliant and beautiful–

And perfect–

That I thought,

“I want to read this whole trilogy again.”

So many feelings and ideas

So many characters that I grow to love

All of these books–

And those yet to be discovered and read,

Old and new,

Crossing the bridge,

To new places

Entering my mind

And taking hold.

But the knowledge is sweet,

Minds, like hearts,

Can never be too full.

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Standing on the “Smoot Bridge” between Cambridge and Boston

Smoot Bridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Quotes 3 Days: Day 1

“Reader, I married him.”

–Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

Jane Dougherty, prolific writer of stories, poems, pets, and life in France nominated me for this challenge: to post a favorite quote for three successive days.

I don’t often do blog challenges, and I have a lot going on right now, but this one seems manageable. And I love quotes!

Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books. I probably first read it when I was about 12 or 13. I read it again in high school, college, and when I was in grad school—when I actually picked-up on some of the 19th century cultural ideas (such as phrenology) that are discussed in the book. I read it again when my girls were little, and then when they were a bit older. Jane Eyre—I guess she’s been a companion through my life. This particular quote has even more significance for me now because my younger daughter chose it to adorn the fan she made and carried as she walked down the aisle during her recent wedding. It is trimmed with lace from my wedding veil. (Pause for everyone to say “awwwww.”) Her bridesmaids also carried handmade fans with literary quotations–totally appropriate for a woman who met her love while acting opposite him in A Streetcar Named Desire and who now teaches English. Jane Eyre is one of her favorite books, too.

Wedding fan.

Wedding fan.

The passage from Jane Eyre continues:

“A quiet wedding we had: he and I, the parson and clerk, were alone present. When we got back from church, I went into the kitchen of the manor-house, where Mary was cooking the dinner and John cleaning the knives, and I said—‘Mary, I have been married to Mr. Rochester this morning.’”

I’m going to nominate only one person on each day, and I’ve tried to pick people who also love quotes. There’s no pressure, and if you choose not to accept the challenge, that is absolutely fine with me. Feel free to pass it along, or not. On this first day, I nominate Marian Beaman: “Former Plain Girl” (turned college professor). Check out her blog.

She has a quotation for every occasion, so I hope she’ll accept the challenge.

Also—sorry, but I can’t seem to stop writing this post–readers may be interested in Malala Yousafzai’s campaign, #booksnotbullets. You can read about it here.

I’ve posted a photo of myself on Twitter holding a copy of Jane Eyre. Of course.

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On Books, Harper Lee, and Coincidence

By now most readers have probably heard that Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, will be publishing a sequel to the beloved novel. This sequel will be out this coming July. The new book is set in the 1950s, twenty years later than To Kill a Mockingbird, and it focuses on a now-grown Scout and her father, Atticus Finch. Lee, however, wrote this sequel before she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, which she wrote at the suggestion of her editor who wanted to see a novel told in the voice of a young Scout.

A few days ago, I was thinking about favorite books and what I read as a child and young adult. My younger daughter and I were discussing how much we both love the novel Jane Eyre. My niece mentioned that if she sees a movie version of a book, then she never reads the book, and if she reads a book, then she doesn’t want to see the movie version. I think movies and books are different forms of media and storytelling, and should be enjoyed on their own terms. (We were discussing The Hunger Games trilogy.) While we were talking, I thought of To Kill a Mockingbird, and how much I love both the book and the movie. I’m fairly certain I saw the movie first on network TV when I was a child, and then at some point, I found the book in my house, and recognizing the title, I decided to read it. Perhaps I was about 11? I’m certain I did not understand it all that first time, but I understood I was reading something wonderful. I’ve re-read the book several times (and I do picture Atticus looking exactly like Gregory Peck, not a bad thing). I don’t think I ever read the book as a school assignment, but I did re-read it when it was assigned to one of my daughters.

I’m sure I would have read To Kill a Mockingbird at some point in my life. After all, I did borrow it from the library when I was older, but I would not have read it that first time, if it hadn’t been in my house. I thought of all the books I read when I was young—simply because they were there. My mom took me to the library, I borrowed books from the school library, and I also bought Scholastic Books (including the copy of Wuthering Heights that I’ve mentioned in previous posts), but our house was always filled with books. I think that having so many books in the house–including the books of older siblings that I “borrowed”– influenced what and when I read. I wonder if mainly having books on e-readers and tablets limits that broader type of browsing? This is not a Luddite rant. I love my Kindle, but if I had a young child at home, he or she would probably not be reading the books on it. The fact that my girls grew up seeing my books on sex in history lying about the house is an entirely different conversation!

Education and reading are important themes in To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout would have been a very different character if Atticus had not read to her and taught her to read at an early age. How does coincidence and what we read affect what we do and what we think? There must be some connection. Things to ponder.

A friend said to me recently that she had read several novels set during WWII, but that it was a coincidence. I’ve had the same thing happen. Once many years ago, I read a novel set during WWII, then another one that had an important WWII back story that I didn’t know about until I started reading the book. While I was reading one of these books, my family and I watched an episode of Star Trek Voyager in which the some crew members were caught in WWII holodeck program. Isn’t coincidence strange?

My husband and I watched the second episode of the British TV show Grantchester last night, now airing on PBS. (And now that I think about it, the story is set in post-WWII England and the main character, the young Anglican vicar, has flashbacks to WWII battles. Hmmmm.) Coincidentally, as I was thinking about coincidence, the vicar and his inspector friend discussed coincidence. “I don’t believe in coincidences,” says our vicar, as he looks at the body of a woman who had been murdered. “That’s funny, I don’t believe in God,” says the inspector. They return to the idea of coincidence and belief later in the episode.

So did you think you’d read one of my posts that does not mention food? Let me reassure you that the To Kill a Mockingbird scene in which Walter Cunningham pours molasses all over his food is one that made a big impression on me, and that there are many food references in the book. In watching the episode of Grantchester last night, I noticed that a dinner party and fruitcake are important plot elements. Coincidence that I would remember these things? I think not.

“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.”

-Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird