?`s and ANNEswers

Ten minutes to write. Less time to read.

Book Club

I have two days to finish the current selection for my local book club. Written by Renee Rosen, What the Lady Wants is a fictionalized – and I mean highly fictionalized – account of retail magnate Marshall Field, his family, and the family of the woman who became his mistress for almost thirty years.

The subject seemed interesting. I frequented Field’s (as the store was called in the nineteen sixties) regularly during the various times Chicago was my home. There was absolutely nothing like the flagship location on State Street.

Reading this book has brought back many memories: the Walnut Room, the Christmas windows, the corner clocks, the gloved elevator attendants. Frango mints that were made in-house. Unfortunately, the work isn’t about any of this. It’s more soap-opera, portraying the families involved as self-centered and shallow. History marches through their lives in an equally shallow manner.

The Chicago Fire of 1871, the Haymarket Riots of 1876, and the Columbian Exposition of 1893, have all had their own biographies over the years. And perhaps they were not the real focal point of Rosen’s book. Still, such significant events in Chicago’s history don’t deserve to be merely a backdrop for the extravagant and selfish lifestyle portrayed by the main characters.

I’ll finish What the Lady Wants but prefer my own memories to anything in it.

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Winding Down

Last night Daylight Savings Time ended for this year. Well, at least in some parts of the United States and the world. Other parts have their own change dates, so nobody is on the same page about this. It’s a useless and confusing exercise that’s gone on in this country since 1918. People seem to be math-challenged these days, so I’ll explain. That is over one hundred years ago.

Growing up, I was told the change was for the farmers’ benefit. Something about cows wanting to be milked at a certain time of day according to the sun. When my children were growing up, the rationale was that children standing on corners waiting for the school bus in the dark of winter wasn’t a good thing. And now, I have no idea what the explanation is.

It doesn’t matter. They’re all full of Swiss cheese holes.

But to conform, twice a year I go around to our myriad of clocks and reset them. This year, I’m old enough NOT to stand on a stool and reach high above my kitchen cupboards to reset the Seth Thomas. My cleaning lady will do that for me tomorrow.

Which tells me of the real passage of time.

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Take a Hike

Armed with hiking boots, trekking poles, gloves, and wooly caps, the four of us ventured into the “wilderness” this morning for a hike at Grand Mere State Park in our own Berrien County. I’ve lived here almost twenty years and knew of the park’s existence.  But until this morning, I’d not seen its beauty up close and personal.

There is a mile of Lake Michigan beachfront, although November isn’t the time to enjoy it. Rather, we hiked what I would call God’s Cathedral: soaring trees, a leafy path, Autumn’s glory in full swing. In less prose-y terms, the Department of Natural Resources characterizes the park as having “magnificent sand dunes, deep blowouts, and three inland lakes behind the dunes.” We saw it all.

Rain was predicted, but it held off as we wandered for over an hour. Sometimes we chatted, although walking single file on a narrow path makes that difficult. Still, F and I compared our radiation experiences; and I heard P and A giggling behind us.

Sometimes we were lost in our own thoughts. Mine went back in time to when Earl and I did more physical activities together. With a nine year age difference between us, I’m grateful for the reminder of what fun we had. I hope to return long before the beach is open for swimming next year.

Maybe even as soon as next weekend.

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It’s Halloween, and it’s absolutely pouring rain. Noah would have felt at home. But children, who dress up as various characters to go Trick or Treating, are forced to wear winter leggings and coats over their one-night personae. Perhaps some children don’t go out at all.

Halloween has changed since I was a child. Back then we made our own costumes, and the treats were simple. Maybe some pennies, candy corn, a handful of Mary Janes. That was it. Today it seems to be all about the “stash.”

There are also greater concerns about the safety of the treats, which means all of them must be individually wrapped. No more healthy apples, no more homemade cookies in plastic wrap. No more of this or that. It seems many schools and churches are opting to have what might be called a fun fair on Halloween, so that the children can still enjoy the holiday without being subjected to the whim of weather. Or any other whim.

I assume these changes are for the better. But I’m saddened that today’s youth will never experience the creativity and spontaneity, and low keyed-ness, that Halloween once was.

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They did it! The Washington Nationals won the World Series against a formidable Houston Astros team expected to take the whole tamale. The Nationals also became the first team to win on the road. Meaning they won four out of seven in Houston’s home stadium.

I didn’t know the name of any player or manager seven games ago, but I studied the players as they came to bat. They didn’t have the silly humor of the Cubs when they were in the World Series. Nor did they have the assuredness that Houston displayed. What they had was determination. And when they won, the joy exploded.

I’m a fair-weather sports fan, meaning that if my team is winning I’m all in. But I’ll go do something exciting like ironing or vacuuming when my team is off the rails. And, believe me, Washington was never my team in the first place. Still, I love a come-from-behind Cinderella.

It reminded me of growing up with a mother who loved baseball in the days when the players road local transportation to the stadium. Many a summer’s night was spent listening to the tiny radio and Harry Carey. My own motherhood remembered Kevin, my older son, playing more than one season in park district baseball. He even made the local All-Star team. And then there were the Cubs, who recently ended a 108 year drought between winning World Series.

So I’m thrilled for the Nationals. Not just because they were underdogs, but also because watching the players brought back so many other memories.

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I didn’t check what happened in history or on the world’s stage on the date, but here is what happened in my little neighborhood today.

It rained. I finished my laundry. Played piano with great interest. Saw a cute movie, “Calendar Girls,” in support of the eradication of polio. Toyed with a jigsaw puzzle that depicts a Halloween scene. Had a crummy Stouffers® for supper (although not all Stouffers® are crummy). And – the redeeming factor – saw the Washington Nationals win Game Six of the World Series against the Houston Astros. Score: 7 to 2.

The Nationals weren’t even supposed to be here; they’ve come from behind in every series since the start of the playoffs. So I salute the team whether it wins or not tomorrow night. It was a great addition to my daily activities.

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I am in two book clubs. One is local and we meet face-to-face; the other is anything but local, as our members live in such faraway places as Utah and New York. We Skype to discuss the month’s selection. Which do I like better?

It depends on the book and the month and my mood.

I’ve been in the local club fifteen years. It’s composed of women who are all my age and who have had professional careers. There are 18 of us and about 12-14 usually show up at the regular first Thursday of the month meeting. There’s history here, So when we meet there is half an hour of coffee and chatting before we get down to business. Still, since we’re all white, all women, all retired (except for one member), there’s a similarity to our responses to the chosen titles.

The Skype club is smaller and more diverse. Our ages range from late seventies to late forties. There are men and women. And, possibly because there are fewer of us, we all show up most of the time. Another characteristic of the Skype club is that we often recommend books nobody has read, so we’re all learning about the work together.

It’s a lot of assigned reading each month, but being in two groups means I’m reminded regularly that there are many interesting ways to accomplish something. It’s a good lesson, not only for book clubs but also for life in general.

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This afternoon Earl and I saw the musical “Beautiful,” about the life of composer and songstress Carole King. It truly was beautiful but not at all what I expected. I’d assumed it would be mostly about King, whose career spanned the early years of rock ‘n’ roll to today. She still tours.

It’s fair to say King was front and center in the musical, but it was really about the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll and how it changed over the years. It was important that composers and lyricists change with it, or their careers were over.

The musical portrays King’s relationship with Gerry Goffin (whom she married), Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, and others. It gives credence to her early abilities when, as a sixteen year old, she sells a song that makes the Top 200. And it gives equal credence to her move to LA after her divorce from Goffin and her commitment to record her own songs.

In between, the audience is treated to a retrospective of 1960s music. Earl leaned over to me after the intermission and said, “I like this better than ‘Jersey Boys,’ which we’ve seen three times. I suspect we’ll be back.

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Saying Goodbye

The sign was on display for weeks. It read “Big Bear Auction Saturday October 26, 10 AM.” Like many in the neighborhood, I must have driven by it umpteen times. The notice was in the local paper too, and Earl wanted to go. While I didn’t need anything a former country club turned public golf course turned closed had to offer, I was curious to see the place one more time.

Earl and I had gone to more than one event at the Berrien Hills Golf Course. By the time we came to town, the hoity-toity era was long gone. And the main buildings, as well as the grounds themselves, had seen their prime. Still, the dining room off the bar, as well as the gorgeous ballroom, clung to their earlier glories. One of them was the spectacular views from the wall of windows on the back side.

Today those rooms were filled with plates, saucers, and cups from the golden years; tables and chairs from the patio; chafing dishes and warming ovens from the kitchen. Outside golf carts and lawn mowers and garden tools stood ready to find new homes.

Peoples’ memories of wedding receptions, Sunday brunches, dinners with friends, business get-togethers, and that one drink at the bar had already vacated the premises. What remained was all business. Two auctioneers, hundreds of bidders, the parking lot filled with trucks and trailers to haul away the items, and the pall of rain. It felt as if crows had come to pick the bones.

Earl and I made one last tour of the ballroom and left.

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Garden Wind Down

I’m so glad I don’t live where you garden twelve months of the year. Although . . . one benefit might be that Fall clean-up would never occur. And quite possible Spring preparations wouldn’t be a special event either.

But I’m too much of a Midwesterner, where there are four seasons; and one of them requires total abstinence from gardening activities. With this in mind, I started closing flower beds today. Usually I start earlier, but this year has been extraordinary in that my pots and in-ground plants are still blooming. However, because I don’t want to be doing this exercise in the middle of November with falling temperatures and icy rain, today was the day. All annuals, blooming blindly or not, as well as perennials were subject to the wind down rule. Which is more about my comfort in the garden than theirs.

Once we removed the annuals, my trusty gardener friend, M, and I planted an additional 100 tulips. And moved some plants around. And made a mess of the sidewalks. It’s not finished, and my guess is we won’t finish by October’s end. Still great headway was made.

When it’s finished, I’ll turn inward. Will read more, maybe crochet, do house-y things (like polish the silver or re-stain the flagpole), and look forward to Spring.

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