dual personalities

Month: October, 2015

“Love is like ghosts…

Few have seen it but everybody talks”*

That’s about as close to Halloween that we are going to get today, since I’ve pretty much run out of pictures of cute children wearing costumes and I’m not even carving a pumpkin this year. That said, I am going to deal with both love and ghosts, at least in so far as they concern family history.

Last week as the DH moved things around in our overstuffed attic to make room for the roofers, he uncovered a file box full of my papers, including a large number of family letters that I had xeroxed from the originals when I visited my aunt Susanne many years ago. What a treasure trove! Among them I found this letter written by my great aunt Leila Cameron Kessler to my grandfather, Daniel (Bunker) Cameron:

Dear Bunker,

I was very glad to hear from you (as) I was beginning to think that my brother had forgotten me. Still I knew you were busy, of course, in school this winter and with studying and social affairs it keeps one on the go. You are taking dancing lessons too aren’t you? I guess you had a fine Christmas and I am so glad that you got a mandolin. Dan and I are both glad. Are you going to take lessons this winter or wait till when you haven’t so much school work? You must bring it when you come visiting us so we can (make) some music. Dan made my buy a volume of Mozart’s (sic) Sonatas – it is so big and heavy and each sonata is very long, but we can play them in a kind of a way – we just murdered Beethoven – that is, I did. They were so hard. You know that Dan belongs to the music club at the Bureau of Standards. He has to practice every Friday after work. It would be nice if you could learn to play real well and get in the mandolin club at High School wouldn’t it?

Yes, I enjoy the club, more because I get acquainted and the ladies are so nice than to play cards. It seems to be the only thing to do out here in the winter time. Dan and I play cribbage often in the evening, too. We go to the movies once a week at least, in the evening. They have fine pictures at the Columbia Theater and though we have to pay more, we like them better. They have the very best there.

Has there been much snow up there this winter and much skiing or snowshoeing, etc..? We’ve had only two snowstorms this year and it lasted only about one day. One morning I had to shovel off the walk all along our sidewalk and then by night it was all slush and by the next day it was virtually gone. There isn’t a bit now but it is awful cold and windy.

I hear that you go to see the girls. Well there is no harm in that if you do not let them know you care for them too much – and there is safety in numbers. There is no harm in being friends with any girl who is nice but where you are you cannot be too careful – we never seem to care for the same ones when we get older that we do when we are going to school and sometimes we hurt people’s feelings and never get good friends again just by going with one too much, and then maybe something changes and we stop going with them so much and then they are hurt and mad, maybe for always. It is a problem to know always what to do – but mama always knows best even though it doesn’t seem so at the time. I know.

Please write to me anytime you want — about anything. I like to hear about school and the parties and the girls. You didn’t tell me what her name is. Did she think I was a cross teacher?

I wish you could see Louise. She says such cute things. I bought her a set of blue enamel dishes and she was having afternoon tea today with cookies and water for tea. She pours it out of her tea pot just as cute as can be.

It is dinner time and Edna has it on, so I must close.

Write soon again. Dan will write to you soon. Your loving sister, Leila C. Kessler

Isn’t that a nice letter? I am guessing it was written in about 1916 because Leila got married in 1913, and, when she wrote the letter, her daughter was old enough to hold a pretend tea party. Bunker would have been sixteen, which sounds about right. I imagine that the sisterly advice was inspired by Leila’s parents’ concern over Bunker’s interest in the ladies. Incidentally, I believe my brother now has the mandolin mentioned in the letter.

Poor Leila died in 1917 shortly after giving birth to her son, Edwin. Family lore has it that she died in the influenza epidemic, but given the timing, I think it must have been from complications of the birth. Although she lived in Maryland, she was buried in Burlington, Vermont. I suspect her parents bought the family plot at that time. Her death must have been a terrible blow, coming as it did while Leila’s brother, Erskine, was away in France fighting in WWI.

So on this Halloween, while you’re handing out candy to tiny ghouls and ghosties and things that go bump in the night, remember your family ‘ghosts’.

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!

*Lord Huron, “Love like Ghosts”

“One more murder may be one too many.”*

 

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Every year at this time I wrack my brain for a good movie recommendation for Halloween. I usually come up with something, but what is there new to suggest? As I have said many times, I am no fan of horror and I do not like gratuitous violence and bloodshed. So what does that leave?

How about some good old-fashioned Sherlock Holmes?

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939) with Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson is hard to beat.

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Holmes and Watson investigate the legend of a supernatural hound, a beast that may be stalking a young heir on the fog-shrouded moor that makes up his estate. Yes, fog-shrouded moors are a good choice for Halloween, don’t you think?

I seem to remember that The Scarlet Claw (1944) is also pretty scary.

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When a gentlewoman is found dead with her throat torn out (!),  the villagers blame a supernatural monster, but Sherlock Holmes, who gets drawn into the case from nearby Quebec, suspects a human murderer.

Of course, there’s always Jane Marple–and by that I mean Margaret Rutherford.

There are four of these movies, but Murder Most Foul (1964)–when Miss Marple joins a theatrical company after a blackmailer is murdered, and then several members of the troupe are also dispatched by a mysterious killer–is my favorite.

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But come to think of it, Murder She Said (1961), Murder at the Gallop (1963) and Murder Ahoy (1964) are all wonderful and hilarious! One could have a wonderful night of binge-watching all four.

I have not seen it in a long time, but M (1931) with Peter Lorre, Fritz Lang’s haunting, German-language crime drama, in which the Berlin police are hunting a whistling killer of children, is a great film.

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The criminal underworld is after the killer as well, since the police manhunt has put a damper on their activities. And Lorre as the creepy killer is almost sympathetic in the famous confession speech where he describes with anguish his horrible compulsion. And who does creepy better than the Germans?

Another movie I have not seen for a long time, but liked when I first saw it, is From Hell (2001). Johnny Depp stars as an opium- and absinthe-addled Scotland Yard man assigned to the Jack the Ripper case, Robbie Coltrane is his stalwart partner and Ian Holm is the creepy royal surgeon who offers his advice. I’m sure I recall gratuitous violence and bloodshed, but nothing’s perfect. And it is scary.

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Well, these are just suggestions.

I may binge watch Supernatural…remember Garth from season seven?

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Happy Halloween!

*Miss Marple in Murder She Said (1961)

Running [a few] red lights on Memory Lane*

It almost being Halloween, I thought I’d share a picture of the costume that epitomized the zenith of our mother’s costume-making endeavors.

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In 1956 she made a Donald Duck costume for our older brother without a pattern and without all the add-ons that are readily available today. I think she even made the hat/mask. She poured all of her not negligible creative powers and seamstress-y talent into it. It was not easy to do and she was very proud of it.

I hope our brother was proud to wear it. Does he look proud? Somehow I think he would have preferred to have been armed and dangerous and Davey Crockett.

I hope our mother received lots of high-fives. Doubtful. This was mid-century California after all where I’m sure those newfangled rayon-taffeta store-bought costumes were all the rage.

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A few years later she made a pretty awesome black cat costume for my brother and a clown costume for  me.

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But after that, she was done (except for a witch costume which we used for-ever after.)

Well, Sic transit gloria mundi…

On another note–happy birthday and a toast to Dan Castellaneta, who has voiced the character of Homer Simpson on The Simpsons for 28 seasons. Zut alors. Or should I say:

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“Everyone knows rock n’ roll attained perfection in 1974; It’s a scientific fact.”

–Homer, aka the OM

*Dire Straights, Telegraph Road

As the French would say, “de trop”*

Fifty years ago today, the Gateway Arch was “topped off” when the final section was inserted on October 28, 1965.

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Hubert Humphrey, V.P. of the U.S., watched the proceedings from a helicopter which hovered nearby. The ceremony had been postponed, so I guess the President was busy.

Today there will be a celebration, but it seems to me, it is being downplayed. Cupcakes will be served.

Anyway, the Gateway Arch (630-foot, 192 m) in Saint Louis is the nation’s tallest monument and has welcomed visitors for fifty years with its iconic, awe-inspiring shape. As envisioned by renowned architect Eero Saarinen, the Arch represents the westward expansion of the United States and typifies “the pioneer spirit of the men and women who won the West, and those of a latter day to strive on other frontiers.”

Pretty cool.

I was in the fourth grade at the time and I honestly have very little memory of the proceedings. Now a project to renovate the arch grounds is underway and will, we hope, be completed by 2017. Stay tuned.

*Cole Porter, You’re the Top

“Ramrod, wreckage and ruin”*

R.I.P. Maureen O’Hara. She was 95 and had quite a life.

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She made five movies with John Wayne (lucky lady!),

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but she made a lot of other good ones too, like Oscar-winner How Green Was My Valley (1941),  The Parent Trap (1961) with Brian Keith and Hayley Mills and Miracle on 34th Street (1947) with Natalie Wood. In fact she was in quite a few of my favorites! She even made a movie with John Candy–she played his mother!–Only the Lonely (1991).

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In 2014, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences selected Maureen to receive the Academy’s Honorary Oscar. She was only the second actress, after Myrna Loy in 1991, to receive an Honorary Oscar without having previously been nominated for an Oscar in a competitive category.

Maybe I’ll watch Rio Grande (1950) tonight…

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and toast Maureen O’Hara!

Into paradise may the angels lead you. At your coming may the martyrs receive you, and bring you into the holy city Jerusalem. (BCP, 500)

*Kathleen York in Rio Grande (1950)

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My oh my what a wonderful time in flyover land we’ve had while daughter #1 has been in town!

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Here she is wearing a vintage ensemble put together from items unearthed from the back of her childhood closet.

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We went to an estate sale, ate out, checked out the new IKEA store (where I bought some more stemless wine glasses), blew a fuse when simultaneously blow-drying our hair, went to church, took multiple walks, went to Ted Drewes, shopped,  updated my iPhone and synched it with my laptop, bar-b-qued with the boy and daughter #3 and watched more old home movies, and generally displaced the OM who didn’t grumble too much.

Sadly, she heads back to NYC tomorrow on the 5:55 a.m. flight, because all good things, as they say, must come to an end.

Sigh.

“A conflict of rich dark reds and Lincoln greens against fishscale greys and arctic blues”*

Tomorrow is the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, at which the English king, Henry V, and his small army trounced the flower of French knighthood.

a 16th century miniature of the battle

a 16th century miniature depicting the battle

Naturally, the occasion has garnered a fair amount of attention, especially in England. The National Archives in London has a good online exhibit as does Agincourt 600, a “Registered Charity to promote international friendship and understanding and advance knowledge and commemoration of the battle.” The former has posted a number of documents, including what appears to be an excerpt from Holinshed describing the battle:

King Hen(ry) Vth Battaill of Agencourt

The English Battail and the French

Being both sett in a redines to fight ye battail

The constable of France encouraged

his Frenchmen with an eloquent oratie

valliantly to fight for ye honor of France

King Henry yr fifte likewise did sooe

Now King Henry had placed 200 arch-

ers privilely in a lon medow neer

unto ye forward of the French army

but yet separate wth a great dich: and

they whar commanded to keep close till

they had a token given them to shoote.

For those of us who can’t get to the battlefield, don’t find online exhibits particularly edifying, and don’t feel like reading Shakespeare, why not watch a movie? The three best known film versions are, in reverse chronological order, Tom Hiddleston’s Henry V in “The Hollow Crown” 2012 TV series, Kenneth Brannagh’s 1989 film, and Sir Laurence Olivier’s 1944 classic. Here are their respective “St. Crispian’s Day” speeches.

I haven’t actually seen the whole performance, so my comments are provisional. But much as I like Tom Hiddleston, I thought the speech (and particularly the camera work) a bit on the anemic side. It’s still better than Kenneth Brannagh’s movie, though. At least The Hollow Crown made TH look suitably heroic.

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I have seen the entire Brannagh film — it didn’t do much for me.

I can’t really say anything positive about that movie. In trying to be “authentic”, Brannagh resorts to bad slow motion re-enactment fighting and lots of grime. And let’s face it, by emphasizing the “war is madness” angle, he misses all the nuance. Shakespeare deserves better.

As for the 1944 version, it’s easy to imagine how stirring it would have been to see, as the Allies prepared to invade France and WWII headed toward its inevitable crescendo.

Yes, the scenery is fake, the armor is tinny and awkward, and Sir Laurence whips through the lines in his own inimitable, velvety-voiced  style, but there’s a purpose and immediacy to his performance that the others lack. Clearly, contemporary events have an impact on actors’ performances and audience reception.

Whichever performance you prefer, take some time to remember “those few, those happy few” and good king Hal (aka Hank Cinq)

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Now I’m off to serve lunch at the church bazaar. Have a great weekend!

*John Keegan describing Agincourt in The Face of Battle

 

 

Home again, home again, jiggety-jig

Mary on horsie

Yesterday daughter #1 rode in from NYC for a little flyover R&R.

This time she will not be running in a half marathon but recovering from one she ran two weeks ago on Staten Island. ‘Taking it easy’ will be the byword for the weekend.

(Aren’t those white Keds the cutest things ever?)

I must also note that today is the birthday of my distant cousin, Dwight Yoakam!

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Old Dwight (who is my age) has had quite a career.  Fifteen-time Grammy nominee and three-time winner, his music career has been stellar indeed. But he must be congratulated for doing a great job of transitioning from country music heart-throb to “character actor.”

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Would that we could all do it as gracefully.

Happy birthday, Dwight! We’ll be toasting you big time tonight!

“It is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn’t touch.”*

Today is the birthday of Newell Convers Wyeth (October 22, 1882 – October 19, 1945), the great American illustrator and artist who was the patriarch of the Wyeth dynasty of artists.

Self-portrait, 1940

Self-portrait, 1940

Let’s enjoy some of his famous (and less famous) illustrations.

N.C. Wyeth, King Edward

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There are just so many great ones!

And here’s a place I’m adding to my bucket list: the Brandywine River Museum in Chadd’s Ford, PA. After all, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump from Maryland.

*Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

What it is

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“When Van Gogh was a young man in his early twenties, he was in London studying to be a clergyman. He had no thought of being an artist at all. he sat in his cheap little room writing a letter to his younger brother in Holland, whom he loved very much. He looked out his window at a watery twilight, a thin lampost, a star, and he said in his letter something like this: “it is so beautiful I must show you how it looks.” And then on his cheap ruled note paper, he made the most beautiful, tender, little drawing of it.

When I read this letter of Van Gogh’s it comforted me very much and seemed to throw a clear light on the whole road of Art. Before, I thought that to produce a work of painting or literature, you scowled and thought long and ponderously and weighed everything solemnly and learned everything that all artists had ever done aforetime, and what their influences and schools were, and you were extremely careful about “design” and “balance” and getting “interesting planes” into your painting, and avoided, with the most astringent severity, showing the faintest “a” tendency, and were strictly modern. And so on and so on.

But the moment I read Van Gogh’s letter I knew what art was, and the creative impulse. It is a feeling of love and enthusiasm for something, and in a direct, simple, passionate and true way, you try to show this beauty in things to others, by drawing it.

And Van Gogh’s little drawing on the cheap note paper was a work of art because he loved the sky and the frail lamppost against it so seriously that he made the drawing with the most exquisite conscientiousness and care. ”

―Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit 

It has been awhile since I shared Brenda Ueland with you. I think she is so great. I agree that Art is about Love and sharing what you love with others.

On another subject, but related–I drove a Subaru for years. It was totally against stereotype, but I loved that car . So I thought it was pretty great when the Subaru people worked “Love” into this ad campaign.

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Now they are even using a Gregory Alan Isakov song in an ad:

I hardly watch any television these days with commercials, but I saw this and was pleased. There are still some smart people out there working for the Man.