It is difficult not to be sentimental about May. It is like Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “I am waylaid by beauty.” After a thunderstorm, it is an opalescent world. Lucent drops fall from the lilacs, the young leaves of the apples look polished. The wet grass smells sweet. Gladys Taber, The Stillmeadow Road
Archive for May, 2010
By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
From The Song of Hiawatha
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1855
As long as I was writing about Longfellow in yesterday’s post, I thought I would share a book I enjoy that illustrates a small section of Longfellow’s poem about the boyhood of Hiawatha. The actual poem is quite long, covering 141 pages in my collection of poems and writings of Longfellow. I need to sit down and read the entire poem, aloud. Poems, to me, are so lyrical and I like to read them aloud. How about you?
I always think of The Song of Hiawatha during the autumn months. I suppose this is because of the time of year I first heard about Hiawatha and the shores of Gitche Gumee as a young school girl.
Hiawatha is illustrated by a favorite children’s illustrator of mine, Susan Jeffers, who I wrote about here. It is a lovely book to introduce children to this wonderful, epic poem and Jeffers’s artwork captures the spirit of the words. The front and back end papers of the book evocatively captures the feeling of this long, narrative poem, as well as the dedication page.
I think that this would be a great book to sit and read to a young child or an aging parent or grandparent, perhaps around a campfire, after a long hike in the woods, while camping, or on a visit to a national park.
At the door on summer evenings
Sat the little Hiawatha
Heard the whispering of the pine-trees,
Heard the lapping of the waters,
Sounds of music, words of wonder:
Maybe I’ll just sit in my reading chair and enjoy Susan Jeffers’s Hiawatha myself for a while.
Did I ever tell you that I am a member of the Secret Drawer Society?
On a trip out east to Boston, we spent a few nights at the Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusettes. It is the very inn that Longfellow visited and was inspired to write his legendary Tales of a Wayside Inn, the most famous tale, The Landlord’s Tale, memorized for years by school children across the land.
Listen my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
The inn was on the post road travelled that historic night of the Landlord’s Tale. We entered the inn and found the main desk in the center, where we signed our names into a large guest book, were handed a door key – a real key, not a key card – and found our way through a warren of hallways to our historically appointed quarters.
We entered, pursued the furnishings, and freshened up before a stroll on the grounds and then dinner. The washroom, thankfully, was not mid-nineteenth century. My delight was complete when I chanced opening the desk to find it FULL of letters, books, and mementos, as were two of the desk’s drawers. Tom must have wondered what I was into while he was in the bathroom as I was exclaiming, like a child in a toy store, “oh, cool”, “how neat”, and “the letters really are here” !
More on the letters in a bit.
We walked the long drive out of our bones, strolling the wooded grounds and exploring the inn before being seated for dinner in a dimly lit room just off of the main desk. The ambiance of the inn and the history it held in its walls wrapped me in wonder and awe. I thought of Longfellow, stopping here for nourishment, seeking solace in his grief after his wife’s tragic death in a fire. I thought of the road, long travelled by early settlers, pioneers, militiamen, farmers and literati.
We ate and talked and then retired for the night. There was no television or radio in the room, so, being naturally nosey and thrilled to be in on a secret, I sat down to start reading the “secret” letters. Tom soon followed suit.
The fraternity of penmen and women is called the Secret Drawer Society (SDS) and was started in the 1950’s by someone leaving a clue in a secret drawer in one of the inn’s 10 rooms. The SDS eventually spread, like all infectious obsessions, to the remaining rooms, making for an intriguing way to wile the hours away at this historic retreat.
Long after Tom gave up and wisely went to bed, I read on, and on. It was well after midnight when I put the letters away and abated my SDS activities . . . at least for that night.
The letters went back as far as 1983. Staff had apparently cleaned through them from time to time, but, they were interesting finds none-the-less and quite the romantic adventure for someone with my imagination!
One letter was from a woman who was celebrating her 45th wedding anniversary with her husband. They had been married at the Wayside’s Mary and Martha Chapel. Her letter was quite beautiful and sweet. Another letter was written in lipstick – the chap who wrote it did not have a pen and so used his wife’s lipstick. I wondered what she must have thought when she went to freshen her lips! There was a letter from a mother, dated 1985, about her daughter’s wedding about to take place at the chapel and on top was written a note, dated 1995, from the same daughter saying she found her mother’s letter on her tenth anniversary! A few authors left notes, one even an autographed book. There were a few graduate students who came to the Inn to complete a thesis and, instead, spent the time rustling through the past. There were quite a few guests from England, one even from Sudbury, England, a note in another language, which I believe was Spanish, and several from Canada. There was even one from a woman who took the time to organize all of the letters by date (can you say obsessive compulsive?).
There were notes written on gloves, corks from wine bottles, napkins, matchbook covers, and even a long, lengthy tale on the back of two of the pictures in the room, a mystery of sorts, part one and part two.
I wrote my own “secret” note, on a page of the inn’s stationary, though I won’t tell you what I said. I folded it and placed it upon one of neat piles, slowly closed the desk, and smiled a smile of secretiveness as I bid farewell to the Wayside Inn in Sudbury town, a newly ordained member of the Secret Drawer Society.
One Autumn night, in Sudbury town,
Across the meadows bare and brown,
The windows of the wayside inn
Gleamed red with fire-light through the leaves
Of woodbine, hanging from the eaves
Their crimson curtains rent and thin.
Prelude, from Part First, The Wayside Inn
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
. . . or, when you care enough to send your very best!
When we approached our first wedding anniversary, lo those many years ago, we made a pact to not do gifts. With the exception of those milestone years, and we have had a few, we have kept to this agreement. We have taken a few anniversary weekend trips, and marked a few with a piece of furniture or a tree, but, mostly, a card to open and a nice dinner out are enough to fill our hearts.
Today is our anniversary. I am happy to say that we have had 37 years.
Wherever did the time go and how blessed we are to have had them.
This morning, we shared our cards,
and, as we each opened our envelope, we started to chuckle.
Happy Anniversary, Tom!
The baby robins have flown the coop!
Our little nesters up and flew away before we had a chance to capture them in a good picture, or to even say goodbye. Suddenly, it was quiet, and they just weren’t there. Such is the way with nature and robins and growing up and leaving home. Mrs. Robin and her nestlings were very good tenants. I must admit, they were very clean and not too noisy. In fact, they made our lives here on the cutoff just a wee bit nicer. The screen door didn’t slam, we remembered to look up a little more, and we spent a considerable amount of time huddled at our door, hugging and watching.
How about you and your nests?
Anyone flown the coop lately?
I had forgotten the book Gardenias by Faith Sullivan. It had been sitting on upon shelf for some time. I do that. I have books that lounge about on shelves and piles, patiently, sitting in abeyance, waiting for me to call on them whenever I am ready. Several months ago, I wrote a post about a gardenia Sharon had given me. In the act of writing the post, I remembered the book, which is a sequel to another by Sullivan, The Cape Ann.
Perhaps I should begin at the beginning.
Some years ago, a wonderful woman I worked with recommended a book to me. Esther and I often talked about books. She loved anything about Abraham Lincoln, a good mystery, and a good “read” brought words of praise. The Cape Ann came with the highest regards from Esther. I read it and I loved it, later recommending it to our book discussion group, which engaged in a hearty conversation.
The Cape Ann stayed with me through the years, though I could not remember the ending as easily as the story in its telling. It is about a six year old girl, Lark, during the 30’s. Lark and her parents live in a makeshift room in the train depot in Harvester, MN. Though six years old, Lark still sleeps in a crib. Her father is the assistant station manager at the depot. He also gambles away their meager savings, making life difficult for all.
Lark and her mother, Arlene, dream of building a house someday. A charming model Lark keeps a a picture of called the Cape Ann.
The story has stayed with me all these years and I was excited when first I saw Gardenias in a book store. I located it, nestled in between some other books that caught my attention or came on good recommendation, and it soon filled my hands and my imagination.
I just finished Gardenias. I loved it!
The story picks up with Lark, her mother, and her Aunt Betty on a train leaving from Minnesota a month after Pearl Harbor, heading west for San Diego. Both women present themselves as widows at first, then settle in, employed in war jobs and renting a small house in the “project” where they eventually meet and make friends with neighbors. All have secrets and all are escaping from someone or something. Lark is the center of it all.
In fact, Lark is the narrator. Gardenias is enjoyable even if you haven’t read The Cape Ann (though I would suggest reading that one first). Sullivan takes you along and then, just when you are starting to feel comfortable, something profound happens. It made me laugh and it made me cry. It made me angry and it kept my attention until the very end. It also left me longing for another for more.
Have you read anything great lately?
The cover of The Cape Ann is a painting by Edward Hopper.
There is a wonderful garden center in our area called The Growing Place. It is nestled in among the trees so that if you don’t know exactly where it is you are apt to drive right by it, realizing the error of your ways as you see the long line of cars getting in and out. It is well worth the turnaround – and the long line.
Eager to start planting annuals and on a mission to select a tree, we headed out to The Growing Place Sunday afternoon. Going to the Growing Place is like going on a field trip. It was one of the first gardening establishments in the area to plant “learning gardens” where plants they sell are actually grown. Through any season, one can stroll through an English garden, a prairie garden, or a shade garden, all in the same trip, and get a feel for how and what to plant.
The Growing Place distributes a wonderful and free garden guide each year of close to 200 pages that lists everything in their inventory with a description and growing needs. For me, and many of my gardening friends, the guide is a gardening tool, kept in the trunk of the car along with the plastic sheets to protect the carpets and a few boxes to contain the purchases that, no matter how hard I try to be good, manage to find their way home.
I could go on and on, extolling the virtues of this garden center. In truth, it is one of many wonderful ones in the area that my car just seems to veer toward from May to September. It remains one of my favorites.
On Sunday, a new reason to visit blossomed before my very eyes!
I don’t know how the rose managed to elude me all these years. I suppose I was never around at its peak blooming time. Pulling in to the long, narrow drive leading to the grassy arena where overflow traffic parks at the height of the gardening season, this magnificent yellow rose was holding court. I couldn’t wait to get out of the car and pay homage to her.
There I was, getting up close and personal, oohing and aahing as slow moving cars filled with all sorts of horticultural delights were trying to avoid hitting me. I just couldn’t help myself. I bent down and carefully brought a blossom to my nose, slowly closing my eyes to better capture her scent.
By the time we wandered back to the rose section of The Growing Place, Harrison’s Yellow was sold out. It was for the best. I need to plan exactly where I want to plant it – and how to keep the deer at bay. It is good to wait for things, don’t you agree?
There is a great deal of history surrounding Harrison’s Yellow, how it got to Texas, and the song. I’ll leave it up to you to discover on your own. Me? I’m just going to sit here for a while, close my eyes, and remember the lovely scent.