Saturday, June 27, 2009

I’m Sharon, and I’m a Bookaholic

Books at the bedside

Please, someone, stop me before I buy/borrow more.  Ever since I retired at the end of October, a disease I thought was fairly well controlled has gotten out of hand. 

I’ve never waited until I ran out of things to read before going to a bookstore and/or the library.  But now, I’m a glazed-eyed addict on a rampage.  I actually already own enough books to keep me busy for the rest of my days, assuming some re-reading here and there.  Furthermore, this house is significantly under 1400 square feet, and all of the bookshelf room is taken.  On my bedside table, books obscure the clock radio, and hang over the edge of the shelf underneath.    Other tables and large baskets on the floor throughout the house groan with books and magazines.  We recently bought a small side table for the screened porch, and it was covered with reading material in minutes. 

We really don’t have this kind of money.  Will I have to resort, in my arthritic old age, to mugging old(er) ladies on the street and stealing their purses?  Cat burgling is completely out of the question at this stage of life.   And speaking of this stage of life, my eyes won’t  allow me to read for hours as in days of yore.  Nevertheless, I press on, trying fruitlessly to keep the car from turning into the Barnes & Noble parking lot when I’m on Broad Street.  Hell, the car will start up and drive to Barnes & Noble if we’re sitting in our own driveway.

Here are just a handful of the books lying about on the top surfaces around the house:

The Best of Adair Lara:  Award-winning columns from the San Francisco Chronicle.   Haven’t gotten to this yet.  I used to love reading her columns when I lived in California.

Given Sugar, Given Salt:  Poems, by Jane Hirshfield.  (This is a re-read.  I got the book off the shelf to find the title poem, which I want to send to a friend.  Then I decided to refresh my memory on the whole collection.)

Southern Living magazine, July issue.  I plan to make the lemonade iced tea with bourbon.  Woohoo.

Evensong, a novel by Gail Godwin.  This is a re-read.  My new status as a reaffirmed Episcopalian drew me back to the book, because the main character is a married woman who is an Episcopal priest.   Also, I’m very fond of Gail Godwin.  Haven’t gotten very far into it yet.  I note that there is a “reading group discussion guide” at the back of this book.  I hate those.  I don’t think I would do well in a book club.  It reminds me of book reports in grade school.  We always had to answer the question “What was the author’s purpose?”  When I taught junior high school English, I made sure never to ask that question. 

Coop, by Michael Perry, author of  Population:  485, which I read and loved.  Michael Perry is a guy who grew up on a farm and spent a number of years as a volunteer EMT in the rural area where he grew up.  Population:  485 is about that experience.  Coop was written after he married, moved to a ramshackle farmhouse on 37 ramshackle acres, and had children.  I can’t wait to read this.  I would not like living in rural Wisconsin at all,  or rural Anywhere, but Perry is such a wonderful and evocative writer that I savor every vicarious moment spent there with him.

Martha Stewart's Encyclopedia of Crafts.  I could make soap.  I could make candles.  I could make jewelry.  I could make 100 different things at least from this book, if only I could pick one to start.

A Homemade Life:  Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen Table, by Molly Wizenberg.  I’ve been reading Molly’s blog “Orangette,” for awhile now.  I’ve even made her roasted broccoli with shrimp twice lately.  So of course I had to buy the book.  I read cookbooks as story anyway, but Molly is right up there with MFK Fischer.  Dare I say better? 

We haven’t even gotten to the teetering stack on my bedside table.  And on the floor next to the bed, where I flang it last night before my eyes slammed shut, is Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout.  This book is so good, I’m putting up with the teeny tiny typeface.  An excellent writer links short stories together with a recurring character who is uncomfortably a lot like the part of me that I try to keep hidden. 

Oh, and Sheila reads, too, with an addiction only slightly more controlled than mine.  We didn’t even know that when we met up.  If either one of us hadn’t been a reader, our 23 years together wouldn’t exist.  Shudder to think. 


If all commercials were this good, we wouldn't need the fast forward button on the remote.

Les nonnes

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Father’s Day

I have no one to buy a Father’s Day card for this year.   Last year, on the Saturday before Father’s Day, my dad went to the hospital and never came home again.  He died on August 26. 

My dad was not my natural father.  He married my mother when I was 10 years old, and adopted me when I was 15.  When I was younger, I always told him “I’m glad we married you.”  He loved me from day one.  He was the guy who taught me how to ride a bike, throw a ball, and play chess and checkers.  He found the special picnic spots on the river and brought the first dog home.  

When he moved to Virginia from California 5 years ago, when he was 84, I was terribly pleased but amazed that he would leave the State where he had been born and lived for over 80 years.  Then he got here, and I discovered that I did not really know the quiet man who had always been overshadowed, as was I, by my mother’s domineering personality.  He was almost a stranger to me.  It was hard to talk to him, and made even more difficult by his severe hearing loss.  He was good one-on-one and face to face, but the subtleties that we all depend on—the comments tossed over the shoulder and the quick one-twos, were lost on him.  When I picked him up for a visit to our house, our drives were silent.  That was his “bad” side; and the good side did not hear well at all. 

In his younger years, and even when he had just turned 80 and my mother was still alive, he was always the person who could fix anything and do anything.  At 80, he was still going up on their roof to sweep off the pine needles and clean out the gutters, and chopping wood.  It was hard to reconcile that person with the man who had given up his driver’s license before he moved out here and had trouble seeing to unlock his apartment door.  I was always tired from long days at work, and I was impatient with all kinds of things.  He was simply lonely, trying hard not to be a burden and not succeeding  in a number of small ways.  He complained a lot.  I didn’t smile very much.  We forged ahead, trying to be good to one another.  He tried harder than I did.  He blew up at me once; then called to apologize.

After his unexpectedly gangrenous, septic gallbladder was removed on Father’s Day weekend, he went into a decline that very quickly escalated into dementia.  We know now that it was caused by the overwhelming infection from which he never recovered.  Every night he was at an Air Force base or on the train to one.  “Which city are we in now?” he’d say.  “Maybe I’ll stay here  at this base for awhile.”  He dodged imaginary cars and other flying objects, and plucked imaginary bugs from his food tray.  His hospital roommate was trying to kill him.  The Hallmark channel on the TV was showing porn.  And yet he always knew my name and who I was.  “I’m sorry to be dying and leaving you behind,” he noted one day.  “You love me, and you’ve always loved me,” he said on another  It broke my heart.  And then, at the end of the summer, he died.

The other day, I saw the bus from the independent living apartment complex where he lived, parked outside my grocery store.  It was senior discount day.  When I went in the store, it was like I saw him in every other aisle.  “Did you know my father?” I wanted to ask an old man looking at soup.  He wore a baseball cap, like my dad always did.  What I really wanted was for that strange man to turn into my father, and I would throw my arms around his neck there in the canned soup aisle and sob and say that I was sorry for being so impatient and not spending more time with him and not being a much, much better daughter, and could I please have another chance?  Because now that it’s forever too late, of course I know exactly what to do. 

Driving home with the groceries, I thought about how I had wanted him to change:  to not be old, not be deaf, not be antisocial, not be slow, not be stubborn.  And it struck me hard that as far as I know, he had never wanted me to change in over half a century.  He said once about a not-so-bright dog that he had owned, “She did the best she could.”  He believed the same of me. He had only wanted me to be happy, always.  He was quite a dad.  I miss him so.

Father's Day

Saturday, June 13, 2009

This Moment


I sometimes ponder the fact that animals mostly live in the present, unburdened by thoughts of mortality;  never mind dwindling bank balances, what to cook for dinner, or how much they weigh.  Would we be happier if we were unaware of our mortality? Would we still cherish life?  I tend to think the answer is “Not so much.”  The Pets chez nous certainly give every evidence of enjoying their lives, often with every cell in their little bodies.  But cherish?  Dream a dream beyond nailing that chipmunk in the bush over there or hoping Mom will throw a piece of steak my way?  I don’t think so.  Nevertheless, they do know how to live in the moments of their lives.

A few posts ago (see “Dust” in May) I talked about how our neighbor Catherine was dying, and she did die on May 29.  She left behind to mourn her beloved cat, Coco.  I’ve been taking care of Coco off and on since the beginning of April, and most of that time she has been all alone in the house where she has lived for ten years, since the day she walked in the back door as a stray kitten and told Catherine they belonged to each other.  I knew her when Catherine was alive, of course, but we’ve forged a special bond in these last few months, and I became determined to find my kitty friend a good home when the time came.

Fortunately, Catherine’s son was all too glad to relinquish that responsibility to me.  He’s not an animal person, and in fact he’s a rather unlikeable fellow except for one little unaccountably kind and loving thing he did for his mother.  The last two weeks his mother was alive,  he took Coco to visit her every day that he was in town, and she stayed on Catherine’s bed for hours at a time.  No one knows  for sure if Catherine was ever aware of Coco’s presence, but I like to think she was. 

Anyway.  After the funeral, Catherine’s son let me know that he was anxious to get rid of Coco and get on with his life and gave me permission to “find her a home” or “take her somewhere.”  With the help of a flyer, emails, calls, caring friends and caring strangers,  a home for Coco has been found, and it will be a wonderful one. A doctor from the hospital where I used to work will be taking Coco home with him.  I had never met him before now,  but he is a compassionate, tender, and funny man who will give this little lady cat a good life once again.  To make it all even better, Sheila and I took an instant liking to him, and I hope we will continue to know him and become real  friends.

Coco’s  new dad is waiting until Monday to pick her up, because he was visiting his own human father out of town this weekend, and didn’t want to leave her alone in a brand new place.  When I went next door to feed her this afternoon, I went through our usual cuddling ritual first, and I was holding her close to my chest and telling her all about how very soon she won’t be alone anymore, and she’ll have a new person to love who loves her back. 

I told her that just as we think we’ve had our last adventure, or the future is looking bleak, or we don’t believe we’ll ever love again, something wonderful like this happens, and we always have to remember that and believe it.  Coco listened, but she didn’t know what I was talking about.  She was living in the moment, snugged tight against my heart sounds, getting her eyebrows stroked and purring loudly.  Life doesn’t get any better, she might have said, than right now.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

I Feel Good

I Feel Good

I fly into a frenzied rage over bad grammar and punctuation.  Three other people in the world today feel exactly the same way I do.  The rest don’t seem to give a rat’s ass.  Before anyone horns in here, let me hasten to add that I know my own grammar and punctuation is not perfect.  But only the three other people and I know that, so it’s not high on my list of worries. 

My daughter is well aware of my low boiling point in this matter.  Nevertheless, she brazenly slaves away at a Ph.D. in English.  A couple of weeks ago, she informed me that the Chairman of the English Department at a University that shall remain anonymous insists  that it’s correct to “feel badly” about something.  I had been drowsy from an afternoon nap when she called, but this news drew me upright and I yelled “What?????!!!!” so loudly that the cat jumped off the bed and ran out of the room.  Compared to this, my past reactions to news from Tara about being rear-ended, having her identity stolen, being rear-ended again, being laid off, etc. have been practically disinterested.  I had a pleasurable rant over the entire issue and was feeling positively vibrant with energy by the time we hung up. 

Today, neighbor Glo let us paw through a few boxes of books that she picked up for $10.00 at a yard sale.  (I’m such a Californian; I almost said “garage sale.”)  One of the books is a real find:  A Manual of English, by George B. Woods and Clarence Stratton, published in 1926.  People who wrote such books in 1926 are the very people who taught my generation and my parents’ generation how to speak and write, and I highly approve of them.  Here’s what George and Clarence have to say about “I feel badly”:  After copulas—verbs like appear, be, become, feel, look, seem, shine, smell, sound, and taste—use an adjective if the word refers to the subject, an adverb if it describes the action of the verb.  [Note from Sharon:  “badly,” for those of you born after my generation, is an adverb, dammit.]  George and Clarence then proceed to list some examples of “right” and “wrong” (two other words that fewer and fewer people give a rat’s rear end about): 

Right:  I felt bad when I saw their great need.

Wrong:  He has looked badly for a week.

I was gnawing bitterly out loud on the whole “badly” bone yesterday on our way to the gym.  Sheila, who was not an English major but was educated properly a long time ago, was backing me up at every point.  However, she is well known for making authoritative pronouncements that don’t make any sense, and she got a bit carried away as she wheeled into our parking spot.  “Even James Brown knew how to say it right!” she proclaimed.  I’m still laughing.