Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Book in Hand

“It had been startling and disappointing to me to find out that story books had been written by people, that books were not natural wonders, coming up of themselves like grass. Yet regardless of where they come from, I cannot remember a time when I was not in love with them -- with the books themselves, cover and binding and the paper they were printed on, with their smell and their weight and with their possession in my arms, captured and carried off to myself. Still illiterate, I was ready for them, committed to all the reading I could give them ...”      - Eudora Welty 

I have always been in love with books. Luckily I was born into a family of book lovers that could not physically pass a book store without stopping in "for just a second." I remember my first bookstore in downtown Springfield, Mass. it was called Johnson's. Multi-floored with new books, art supplies and my favorite area the used books. Towers of bookshelves and stacks upon stacks of books. It was glorious! The smell of old paper and ink-unmistakable. I always preferred old books; the leather covers-the softness from years of human touch, the hand tied bindings, the thin ribbon built-in bookmark,  sometimes, if I was lucky,  a small "extra" was left from a previous owner. Some little item used as a page marker and forgotten.

Some of my fondest memories of childhood revolve around books; receiving a collection of original Nancy Drew mysteries from a family friend; re-enacting scenes from Cherry Ames-Army Nurse by Helen Wells. Where we got 1940's vintage books I don't remember but my girlfriend Suzanne and I would read them and be nurses caring for imagined patients. We frequented Laughing Brook in Hamden, Mass. when I was young. Thornton W. Burgess the author of  Old Mother West Wind Stories, published in 1910, had a studio there. It was a nature preserve and our school would go there on field trips and my family would go hiking on the weekends. I loved his stories of animals and nature - Bobby Raccoon, Billy Mink, and Grandfather Frog and of course the Merry Little Breezes.

Grandmother Signe was a great collector of books; art, history, literature...upon her death we inherited approximately 3,000 of which we went through painstakingly because she was known to tuck all sorts of things between the pages including photographs and money. I kept a number of her books including a first edition Oscar Wilde-The Harlot's House. We donated the majority to the library. My favorite portrait of my Grandfather Robert is of him sitting in his library with an edition of Audubon's Birds in his lap. There is something comforting now about holding a book in my hand that they too loved. Their names inscribed on the inside covers in neat cursive writing. I wonder how many pounds of books I have moved over my lifetime? Why do I collect two of the heaviest things; books and rocks!? Love makes you do crazy things!

I keep a journal of the titles and authors of books I read every year. It is a quick reference so I can look up an author I like and see if they have written anything new. It is also a way to keep track of how many books I read a year. It challenges me. Being the last week of December and of the year I am finishing books to include. I always seem to have a few books going at the same time. I thought it would be fun to include some of the titles by women authors that I have read this year that I found inspiring and enjoyable.

Antonia & Her Daughters  by Marlena De Blasi-  All of her books are a feast for the senses!

The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte
The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen              All by Syrie James- an author I just discovered this year.
The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen     I can't get enough- all stories that you can't put down.

One Writer's Garden Eudora Welty's Home Place   By Susan Haltom   Beautiful story and pictures.

Joie de Vivre By Harriet Welty Rochefort    Makes you want to jump on the next plane to Paris...

The St. Zita Society By Ruth Rendell         Quite an intricate mystery full of interesting characters.

Dreadnought By Cherie Priest                    A rousing Steam Punk adventure.

Peaches for Father Frances By Joanne Harris                Her books are always a detailed delight.

An Uncommon Education By Elizabeth Percer          Looking forward to future books by this author.

A Pace of Grace By Linda Kavelin                        A guide to living an authentic life, inspiring!

Faery Tale One Woman's Search for Enchantment in a Modern World   By Signe Pike  Magic!

The Healing Power of Reiki         By Raven Keyes     A moving book by a creative woman of healing.

Writing Jane Austen By Elizabeth Aston       Just a fun book that pokes a little fun!

Queen of the Flowers By Kerry Greenwood       Mystery's set in the 1920's in Australia with a strong
                                                                             independent, woman detective.

Ashenden: A Novel    By Elizabeth Wilhide         I fell in love with this book. Glorious!

This year I have read 75 books thus far this year. We'll see what the final tally is by Dec 31st. The stack of new books I have been collecting are beckoning as we speak. Happy Reading.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Objects of My Heart


In my jewelry box two pieces sit side by side in silent companionship. What stories could they share with each other? Conversations of family, adventures, and celebrations I imagine are whispered quietly within. Each piece could not be more different in style or design. One is of a classical nature and the other a bit more modern in form. Each speaks to me of the personality of two women I have never met though with both I share DNA. I am their Great Grand daughter. Elizabeth Christie Kindred my Fathers Grandmother of English descent and the other Emilia Olofsdotter Widestrand my Mothers Grandmother from Sweden.

This necklace belonged to Emilia. When I take the long strand of black beads in my hand I lace them through my fingers. The stones are silky soft, smooth and each is knotted in place. The pendant, a silver round of concentric circles, the outer circle a border of inlaid diamonds. In the center a star burst with eight points and a center diamond. Like a compass in a way, the directions of North, East, South and West marked with a diamond as well. Being the hopeless romantic that I am I imagine it as a gift from my Grandfather. A statement that in life, the circle round, their love was his center. I have a picture of the two of them later in life, perhaps on the occasion of an anniversary and she is wearing the necklace.  She wore it doubled, the pendant by her throat and the long beads hanging to her waist. She holds the beads in her hand. She is elegant, kind looking. She was the mother of ten, the eldest being my Grandmother Signe. 

This piece, a lovely cameo brooch and pendant came down through my Fathers maternal side. It belonged to my Great Grandmother Elizabeth Christie Kindred who emigrated from Canada to Massachusetts and who was of English descent. Oh how my Father loved her. She raised him for a time as a child when his mother was quite ill. Kind, loving and a wonderful cook...a cuddly Grandma. I have a couple of photographs of her sitting in a wicker chair on the lawn in front of the house. She wears a long black dress, her white hair piled on top of her head. The cameo was first passed to her daughter Alberta who then passed it to her daughter my cousin "Tottie". My fathers mother, also Elizabeth, died when he was just 17. Tot never had children so she passed it to me on the occasion of my high school graduation. I wore it proudly that day. It is a brooch but has a retractable arm so you can put it on a chain. I love the twisted gold border that is interwoven with the tiniest of seed pearls. The lovely profile with straight nose of the lady with rather a full face. Much like the women of my family. The graceful folds of her sleeve and bodice that just hint at an elegant gown.  She too wears a necklace. Held to the light the background glows milky coral-pink. Was it a gift or also a piece handed down?

I take both pieces out from time to time and visit with them. Just holding them in my hands connects me to them. Did Elizabeth hold the cameo in her hand and run her thumb over the portrait as I do? I wear the pieces on occasion usually special celebrations. I wonder at the years passed and that they should have even come to me at all. I am honored and blessed to enjoy them now. Someday I'll continue the tradition and pass them to my niece, the next in line. My hope is that my essence will be absorbed into the silver and gold too like luminous threads of love that will continue on and connect us, the women of my family, to each other.

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Flint and a Fire- Sara Teasdale

Sara Teasdale.

Some years ago now, at a library book sale, I came across two small volumes joined together with a rubber band. I was living in Carlsbad, CA and that particular library used to set up a section of antique was always the first stop for me. There is something special about an old book with it's usually worn cover, dog eared pages and sometimes if I'm lucky a little something extra will be tucked amongst the pages, something forgotten. You can always tell a book that has been loved as the energy of a past owner still lingers. In this case the slim volume was "Flame and Shadow" by Sara Teasdale, published in 1920  and the other, a newer volume of the collected works of Teasdale. Both had been owned by the same person as handwriting in both was the same and obviously this woman had loved the poetry of Sara. The borders full of notes and thoughts.  I had the feeling that I had found a treasure...and I was right. I fell in love with her words and her heart.

What do I care?

What do I care, in the dreams and the languor of spring,
That my songs do not show me at all?
For they are a fragrance, and I am a flint and a fire,
I am an answer, they are only a call.

But what do I care, for love will be over so soon,
Let my heart have its say and my mind stand idly by,
For my mind is proud and strong enough to be silent,
It is my heart that makes my songs, not I.

Sara ca.1918.

Born Sara Trevor Teasdale in St. Louis, Missouri in 1884 she was said to have suffered from poor health most of her life. She traveled to Chicago frequently and was involved in the poetry scene there with Harriet Monroe, the founder of Poetry Magazine (1912), and its distinguished circle of poets of the time. Her first book of verse was published in 1907 and another volume followed in 1911 and 1915. She married Ernst Filsinger, a wealthy businessman,  in 1914 though she had been courted by another famous poet of the time, Vachel Lindsay, for some time. She and her new husband moved to New York City in 1916 and in 1918 she won the first Columbia University Poetry Society Prize which later became known as the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

Gray Eyes

It was April when you came
The first time to me,
And my first look in your eyes
Was like my first look at the sea.

We have been together
Four Aprils now
Watching for the green
On the swaying willow bough;

Yet whenever I turn
To your gray eyes over me,
It is as though I looked
For the first time at the sea.
Sara was considered a lyrical poet, her poetry sings... has a rhythm. Her 1917 book of poetry was called "Love Songs". As she aged the critics praised her growing poetic refinement. A critic of the time stated that "Flame and Shadow" was a volume to read with "reverence of joy." I agree.

The Dreams of my Heart

The dreams of my heart and my mind pass,
Nothing stays with me long,
But I have had from a child
The deep solace of song;

If that should ever leave me,
Let me find death and stay
With things whose tunes are played out and forgotten
Like the rain of yesterday.

White Fog

Heaven invading hills are drowned
In wide moving waves of mist,
Phlox before my door are wound
In dripping wreaths of amethyst.
Ten feet away the solid earth
Changes into melting cloud,
There is a hush of pain and mirth,
No bird has heart to speak aloud.
Here in a world without a sky,
Without the ground, without the sea,
The one unchanging thing is I,
Myself remains to comfort me.
I feel like my heart connects with hers as I read these lines. She is trying to find herself, define herself, make sense of her life, love and her art. It is like she is trying to heal her Self by sharing her deepest emotions and feelings. Her images of nature shows a woman who is close to the Earth...finds comfort there. A woman who is struggling with something deep inside. As the poems continue in "Flame and Shadow" you can already sense her preoccupation with death. Other books followed in 1926 and 1930. She divorced Ernst in 1929 and they say he was surprised. She moved just a couple of blocks away. She was left an invalid after a serious battle with pneumonia. She committed suicide in 1933 by overdose. Two years earlier Vachel had committed suicide.  Her final volume "Strange Victory" was published posthumously.
The Treasure
When they see my songs
They will sigh and say,
"Poor soul, wistful soul,
Lonely night and day."
They will never know
All your love for me
Surer than the spring,
Stronger than the sea;
Hidden out of sight
Like a miser's gold
In forsaken fields
Where the wind is cold.
This poem "There will come soft rains" inspired famed science fiction writer Ray Bradbury to write a short story by the same name in 1950.
There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pools, singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,
Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

Sara's grave stone in Bellefontaine cemetery,  St Louis, Missouri.
If I am peaceful, I shall see
Beauty's face continually;
Feeding on her wine and bread
I shall be wholly comforted,
For she can make one day for me
Rich as my lost eternity.