This will take a few seconds to come on. Hope you can work it all out.
Who was your favorite?
This will take a few seconds to come on. Hope you can work it all out.
Who was your favorite?
You may have read Willa Cather’s My Antonia or Death Comes for the Archbishop in high school. O Pioneers! , a classic about the harshness, and the beauty, of the Nebraskan prairie, was made popular by Hallmark a few years ago. It was through the blogosphere and the wonderful book reviews found posted there that I became more familiar with Willa Cather and her wonderful body of work, especially in reviews by Rachel on Lucy Gayheart and A Lost Lady. It was these well written synopses from “across the pond” in Britain that reawakened my interest in Cather and I vowed to myself to pick one of her books up and read it soon.
Soon, it seems, came earlier than I thought. A few days after reading the reviews, I happened into Cornerstone Books in Villa Park. Cornerstone is a well stocked used bookstore. They moved from a smaller, corner location just a door or two down to their current location. The move allowed for more room in book arranging and browsing. There are thousands of books at Cornerstone, neatly arranged by genre and author. There is a great children’s section from early readers to young adults, fiction and war, history and mystery. The books are gently used, 1/2 price off the cover of paperbacks, reasonable prices on hardbound copies and store credits toward future purchases.
After about an hour, and twenty some dollars later, with eight “good reads” toppling in my arms, I left with everything from Gladys Taber and Miss Read to Strawberry Girl, which I recently posted about, and two Willa Cather novels, one of which was Lucy Gayheart, a paperback in good condition, who were just sitting there, waiting for me.
Though a sad book in many ways, Cather’s ability to set the tone and the scene with well-placed words and trim sentences, Lucy Gayheart wasn’t sad through the reading so much as in its ending. It is set in the small town of Haverford, Nebraska on the South Platte river and in Chicago, along Michigan Avenue and its Great Lake, during the early 1900′s, ending in 1927.
Lucy’s father, the eccentric town watchmaker and band leader, is determined that his younger daughter Lucy will be a pianist and sends her off to Chicago to be trained. She teaches as well, living over a bakery, and soon becomes an accompanist to an aging singer, whom she falls in love with. She longs to remain in Chicago and with Sebastian, and it all seems possible, until tragedy strikes and Lucy returns home, a shell of the town darling she once was.
I love the pictures that Willa Cather paints with her sparse language. I love her tone and how she carries us along as Lucy skates with Harry and Lucy rides the train east and Lucy braves the brisk Chicago winds with fortitude. I feel the time, the early 20th century, when things are raw and new in Chicago and simple with a grounded grace in Haverford. I am stunned with the tragedy, though there is so much foreboding I shouldn’t be. I am even more stunned with what happens to Lucy and Harry’s reactions and I am touched by how the people of her town love her. It is a simple story of loving and longing, dreaming and disillusionment and in its simplicity it illustrates the complexities of life.
Lucy Gayheart takes place mostly in Chicago. Being from Chicago and its environs, it was interesting for me to see the city and its artistic scene at the turn of the 20th century; the art museum with the lions, our own Art Institute of Chicago; the Arts Building across the street, carriage rides throughout town, a stop at Marshall Field’s, and walks along the lake. The book was originally written in the 1930′s with Willa Cather looking back to the century’s turning. I found it fascinating from that perspective, as I found the little town of Haverford inviting in its quaint and lovely feel – though, of course, Lucy Gayheart did not.
After reading Lucy Gayheart, I found myself looking for more information about the author and discovered this wonderful website from Nebraska, The Willa Cather Foundation in Red Cloud. The site is filled with all sorts of information about Cather as well as workshops for writers, teaching materials, tours, and, of course, books. There are some wonderful video presentations with quotes from one of my very favorite historians, David McCoullough. I urge you to take some time and visit the site. www.willacather.org/ Better yet, read one of her books this summer.
One of the first movies Jennifer saw as a little girl was Annie. Jennifer, my mom, and I took off on a Saturday afternoon, leaving baby Katy with her daddy, and headed to the Hillside Theater.
My mother loved reading the Orphan Annie comic strip in the “funnies” as a youngster and later listened to Annie’s adventures play out on the radio. She didn’t get to the movies often so jumped at the chance to see Annie with Jennifer and me. She and Jennifer were close. They were soul mates from the very beginning. Both quiet and comfortable just being with each other – no questions asked.
The Hillside Theater, though no longer in its prime, was still a good spot for seeing first run features. In its hey day, it was a premier movie house in the western suburbs. Just off of the Eisenhower Expressway, it’s neon marquee lights glowed down the Ike and could be seen from our house, miles away, when growing up in Maywood. The first movie I saw there was It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Many more followed over the years. Tom and I had an early date there. I don’t remember what we saw. What I do remember was the sing-a-long before the feature started with the words on the screen and a bouncing ball indicating what to sing and the ushers all encouraging us, running up and down the aisles, waving their arms in the air. This wasn’t a nickelodeon – a silent movie – it was the early 70′s and it was silly fun with coffee and cookies during the intermission.
By the time the three of us were seeing Annie, the Hillside Theater had seen better days and was starting to look a little worn. New theaters with multi features showing at the same time were taking over. It was still a good place to catch a movie, so, off we went, parked the car, and walked to the entrance with Jennifer holding hands between us. My mother loved it, but Jennifer, well, Jennifer wanted to be Annie; would I let her dye her hair red, could she have a locket, could she get a dog and name it Sandy?
She was Orphan Annie for Halloween that year, red wig and mary janes, and the soundtrack album was a Christmas gift. She memorized the words to “Tomorrow” and “It’s a Hard Knock Life” and begged to visit the Chrysler building. There were albums with stories of Annie and Sandy that were played over and over again. Jennifer has seen the stage play numerous times and I’m just guessing when it hits the stage again in a few years, we will be singing along with Annie and Daddy Warbucks.
All this to say, sadly, that “Annie ” will no longer be a syndicated comic strip. It is rather sad as Annie’s message of hope and optimism in the midst of “a hard knock life” should be a beacon of hope in the times we live in. Her spunky attitude and endearing spirit won the hearts of Americans 85 years ago when first she hit the funny pages. Technology and the internet, and 24 hour news coverage has changed the course of newspapers and animated cartoon features have replaced the daily comic strip. It makes me a little sad to see Annie/aka Orphan Annie put to rest. Leapin’ lizards, what’s this world coming to with no good comic strips?
We’ll see, there is always tomorrow . . .
One of our neighbors was mowing his lawn Sunday afternoon. He stopped and called Tom over, who rushed into the house for his camera, calling me to come out, me in eager pursuit seconds later with my camera. There, just feet away from the abruptly stopped riding mower, in the grass, barely hidden, well, see for yourself.
Sometimes all we need is just to find just one glistening raindrop caught in the end of a tree limb to turn a rainy day into the perfect ray of sunshine.
Click on the photo to really see the raindrop.
We were walking along the lower acre here along the cutoff. I was yapping away, as I am wont to do, talking a mile a minute about whatever was coming into my head; the gardens I was visiting for the garden walk, the trip I needed to make into town to buy some plants for the Walk-In-Ministry’s fundraiser, what to make for dinner, who knows? There I was, one second, my mouth filled only with my words, the next, a fly! It happened so fast. I just stopped and felt it go down. Tom ran into the barn to get a bottle of water, which helped, as it wiggled and wriggled and tickled inside me.
I don’t know why I swallowed that fly!
Did you ever swallow a fly?
(This video is rather long, but the artwork is fun. I need to go out and pull weeds. I think I’ll wear a mask.)
Do you ever feel like you are coming and going at the same time?
My days and nights have been a little like that. I think that summertime brings on more things to do just about when we are ready to sit back, sip on an iced tea, read that book that has been sitting on the nightstand all winter and wiggle our toes in the sunshine a bit. Instead, we get busy with weddings and graduations, gardening and vacation plans, and all those projects that were hiding in the closets and shelves all the long, long winter.
It has been like that around here. There are still pots to plant with flats sitting near them, waiting patiently to stretch their feet in roomier soil. All the rain has produced weeds, weeds and more weeds and that nest in the Christmas wreath has yet another family coming forth.
One of the seasonal garden centers around here, Clover’s, sent an email coupon yesterday that had me trotting out just before dinnertime to pick up a pot or two – okay, my trunk was filled – of bedding plants. The coupon happily said that in honor of our Chicago Blackhawks winning Sir Stanley’s Cup the night before with a 4-3 score, the bearer of the coupon would receive 43% of off an entire purchase. Who could pass that up? So off I went, around in a circle, to and fro, a cantaloupe rolling around in the trunk. I’d wondered where it went after my trip to the grocers until I went to stow my 43% haul of all things green and found it looking up at me, as if to say “What? I was just waiting for you to find me?” – a game of melon hide and seek, here I come, ready or not!
So, I’ll fill the pots and water them, have some sliced melon and cottage cheese, and then I’ll wander out front to see if the nodding onions have figured out how to untie their knots yet.
How about you? How are your days and nights going?
When I think of St. Francis of Assisi, this is the image that comes to mind for me. A happy, elfin sort of man. Not the tall, robed and proper one that often adorns garden paths. Don’t get me wrong. If that is your image that is great. Mine, however, is much earthier. I see St. Francis as a tad ruffled; his robes tattered and smudged, his face and hands soiled. His feet calloused and worn. I see him as a man of the soil, tending animals and crops with a childlike wonder of nature. A man prone to smile the smile of a man truly in commune with his Lord.
This statue, smallish and aging, sits on our deck, under the tendrils of trailing annuals. He used to sit underneath a rose arbor in Elmhurst, where a Seven Sisters Rose bloomed with wild abandon every June.
I bought St. Francis years ago at a nursery in Bensenville called The Greenhouse where I, and much of north Elmhurst, used to love to go. I could be found there often, especially late on a Sunday afternoon. There was almost always someone I knew there browsing as well and the employees would often give a shout out “Hi, Penny, how’s Tom?”.
I tend to think St. Francis had something to do with the success of my Seven Sisters. I’ve driven past the old house on trips to Elmhurst and the Seven Sisters are not as happy as they used to be.
I hunted for weeks and weeks in my search for a Seven Sisters Rose before I found one, only one, at the Growing Place. An old-fashioned rose, it is called Seven Sisters because of the little pink roses that form in a cluster of seven or so compact roses that slowly fade and create the most delightful of sprays upon the vine. I hope to someday put in another Seven Sisters, for I truly loved the one we used to have. It hung so delicately over the arch with a wooden bench underneath. Tom and I would sit there for a spell many evenings. It was there that we watched the neighbors go by and discovered, one summer’s eve, a cardinal’s nest in among the thorns. What fun it was to sit and watch, just overhead, the mother feeding her little ones.
The Seven Sisters are well known in the south and cuttings are taken as mothers hand down to daughters the rose they received from their own mothers. The rose just popped up a few weeks ago as I was reading Strawberry Girl, making me wonder if I had not been first intrigued by it as a young girl.
It came up again when we were out at the Growing Place. I was looking for the Yellow Rose of Texas as another woman, note paper in hand, was weaving in and out of the rose selections, trying to find something. I asked her what she was looking for. “A Seven Sisters rose” she replied “mine was dug out to make way for some remodeling and didn’t make it”.
We talked for about twenty minutes on the virtues of these sisters.
I’ll have to find another one someday, plant it, perhaps under Penny’s Arbor House. Maybe St. Francis will accompany the sisters then. For now, I’ll keep him on the deck where he can commune with the chipmunks and enjoy the flowers there.
Sometimes, when I get caught up in all the busyness of life, especially at this time of year where loose ends are tied up and projects and gardening and parties and such seem to fill our days and nights like the rains we have been having, I need to take some time to sit myself down and pause and reflect and be grateful.
I am grateful.
I am grateful, my friend, for you. You are with me in so many ways. Some hand cut flowers from your garden, a handmade tote from placemats, sewn on your new machine, some fresh baked cookies, a card or an email, a snapshot or a picture making their way into my days.
Whether we have been friends for many-a-year, or just met here on the screen in this new world of communication, you are the bookends of my life. I want you to know that I am grateful for you and appreciate your presence. You keep me grounded as you urge me forward and you make my life’s load lighter.
Thank you, my friend, for being here.