Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Shape of a Song: Singing in Tull

As an unnamed cousin recently noted in the comments on my blog, the 123rd Old Folks' Singing was held in Tull on the third Sunday in May. I was in Lake Charles that weekend, so I wasn't able to be there, but, as always, it sounds as if a wonderful time was had by all.

Lynda Hollenbeck, an editor from the Benton Courier, attended the Singing this year, and she has a pretty amusing description of her experience. I suspect her "Friend DeAnne" also happens to be one of my cousins (how many DeAnnes can there be in such a small community?).

Here are a few excerpts from Lynda's write up, but for the best effect, you really should read the whole thing here.

We learned that there are sacred rules about Old Folks’ Singing. This isn’t the place where you do just what you want. There’s a plan, and sisters and brothers, you’d better follow it or you’ll get stomped. If you’re newcomers, as Ed and I were, you may find yourself confused. (EVERYONE else knew how to play the game.)

The afternoon session includes singing from the Cokesbury hymnal, which I grew up with at night services at the Cotton Plant Methodist Church, but the morning session includes no songs other than those included in the “Christian Harmony” songbook. That’s like looking at a foreign document to me. I’ve been playing the piano since I was 6 years old and have never stopped, so I do know a little bit about music, both instrumental and vocal. But don’t EVER put shaped notes in front of me. They’re scary.

Lynda describes her confusion over the shaped notes in the songbook until Janie Wilmoth tells her to "go to the third line to get the melody."

That makes absolutely no sense to me, but I started watching that line while listening to the voices and determined that, yes, that is what they’re singing, but for the life of me I don’t know why. If you ask anyone, they just tell you, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

The funniest part is when Wilson Duvall, this year's leader, calls on Lynda to lead a song. This means she has to CHOOSE a song on the spot, choose some people to help her lead it, and go up to the front and start singing.

That’s pretty much the setup for Old Folks’ Singing. Everything is done “the way we’ve always done it.” Once they get past a few introductory acts, they get serious about singing. There was no explanation as to how anyone is chosen to lead a song or what song he or she should lead. Wilson would call out the names of those who would be next in line to be the songleader.

I know this probably doesn't sound all that funny, but that's only because you cannot imagine the scenario. This tiny little church would have been packed to the rafters with people from all over the country (it's usually standing room only), and 99% of us are related by blood or by marriage. Lynda had friends in the audience, but she'd never attended before, she'd never seen a shaped note songbook in her life, and she was called to lead a song. LOL!

She did what we did last time we were there and asked to lead a song -- she chose Amazing Grace. You don't need a book for that. (There was no way I was going to put DH through a shaped-note-singing-test in front of my entire extended family and there was no way I was getting up there without him.)

In addition to Lynda Hollenbech's piece, the Benton Courier has a lovely photo of some of my cousins leading the final song of the day. If you're interested, you can see it here. I don't know the others as well, though I've met them all, but I would recognise Jean Carlisle anywhere, even though I probably haven't seen her in 15 or 20 years. I thought about visiting her last summer when I was staying with my mother -- Cousin Jean has lived next door for my whole life, but Mother was so sick, and then there was that little ... um ... difficulty with the snake ...

For shaped note aficionados, here is a scan of a page from the Christian Harmony songbook.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sluggish

If you are a garden lover then you will know the destruction that slugs and snails can do to your flowers. I have been having some success against the slugs by placing dishes of beer among the plants. The slugs head straight for the dishes, fall in, and apparently drink themselves to death -- but the snails appear to be cannier sorts. There are usually a few snail-lushes, but the majority of drowning victims are generally slugs. After my week in Houston, and then another week with the flu, I hadn't been paying attention to the slimy denizens of my garden until yesterday, when I glanced out the window and realized that the entire snail population of North American was racing toward the blue pot of pansies on my porch!

"Ack!" I shrieked at my startled spouse. "We have to DO something! NOW!"

"Tea?" He replied calmly -- obviously familiar, after twenty years, with my particular brand of insanity.

"Of course I can't have tea now. Are you crazy? Look out there! There are dozens of them. There are two right on the side of the POT! I have to go out there and get those snails right now. NOW."

"OK," he said, "but I assume you'll be getting dressed first..."

Ahem. He had a point; I probably ought not go outside wearing just a nightshirt.

I spent quite a long time on snail abatement yesterday, but this morning, I made the mistake of glancing out the window again as I was on my way to the kitchen.

"Ack!"

I was out there at the crack of dawn with a Safeway bag and a plastic spoon.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The George W. Bush Commemorative EEE PC

My compatriots at Financial Softworks all have these. My best friend has one too. I am a shallow, covetous person. The president of this great nation has just deposited a useless "economic stimulus" payment in my bank account. Adding all of the aforementioned factors together has produced one result: my own "George W. Bush Commemorative" Asus EEE PC will be arriving on 4 June.



Nota Bene: The name will only be retained until entertainment purposes are exhausted or until 4 July 2008, whichever happens first.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Conehead

I came back from my trip with a to-do list that was a mile long and promptly got so sick with the flu that I couldn't even manage to turn on my computer for two days, much less knock off any items on my list. It's funny how the importance of things can suddenly become reduced when you're wondering whether or not you can make it into the bathroom without falling down and hitting your head!

I suspect I need to stock up on vitamins because this is the second time in less than a year that I've come down with a bad virus-like illness; I'm not usually susceptible to these things. Prior to this year, I've only had the flu maybe three or four times in my entire life. Twice in one year is not a good trend. About the only good that came of it, if you can call it good, was that it gave me an excuse to indulge in eating weird childhood comfort food that I don't normally go for. Cheese sandwiches and orange soda pop. Actually, I had a grilled cheese sandwich at a restaurant in Houston last week, because I was at place that didn't have anything I really wanted, but it gave me a taste for them that stayed with me, so I ate grilled cheese sandwiches nearly every day this week. Heaven only knows where the idea for the orange soda pop came from -- I think it may have been a kind of proxy for cough syrup because we were out and I kept having violent coughing fits, but that's all I wanted, and that's what I had. All week. I'm over that now, and I'll probably never want to see another cheese sandwich or orange soda again, but they were definitely a comfort during my miserable week. DH was kind enough to fetch them for me (and flowers; he's a sweet guy) and to put up with my moaning and hacking. I owe him big-time. I'm going to have to think of something nice to do for him one of these days.

Being ill like that is so disorienting to me -- I'm not connected to my normal life. It isn't that I don't want to be connected; it's just that I can't do it. For the past 15 years or so, I've had a weird eye disease that no one's ever heard of. It can cause blindness, but I've been fortunate in that, so far, it has not; it only left me with some residual damage to certain parts of my colour-vision (the cones in my retinas). It's been in remission for more than 10 years and it doesn't bother me much, with one notable exception: when I have a fever. When I get a fever, I don't get a new attack or anything, but what happens is that the damaged cones in my retinas sort of ... sparkle ... brighter than the undamaged ones.

Well, I had a fever this week, and my cones went to Disneyland! I'm not a drug-taking kind of person, but I doubt there are many hallucinogens that would produce stranger effects than a fever does on my vision! The most striking one is produced by a large round lesion in my left eye. It has a slightly irregular edge, not unlike the shape of the sun seen through mist. The damage to that particular group of cones is mostly the ones that perceive the green range and, seen against a clear blue sky, looks exactly like a bright green sun! I am not kidding!

I can assure you the novelty of the green sun (or the "baleful eye" as I think of it) wears off in about 15 minutes, and then it is just damned irritating because you cannot read through the green sun and its companions, and no amount of light or text size changes really help because the stupid things sparkle and distract you, so it takes immense work to keep your attention on what you're trying to look at, even if you can manage to bring yourself to work hard enough to do it. And last week, I was too sick to concentrate. So I was out of sorts in all the ways I could have been.

My fever is finally gone now, thank heavens, because today is a beautiful day, and though I don't feel well enough to do all that much yet, it would have been a pity to have missed such a beautiful day altogether. Here are some photos of our garden at its gorgeous green best. This is the sparkle that I WANT to see!















Monday, May 19, 2008

Toothless

I finally made it back to Washington last night. As always, it was an exhausting trip. It was sad leaving Lake Charles, but we had a great time. Our old neighbors met us at the bar in the casino. I lost eleven dollars in the slot machines and, even though I swore I'd never touch alcohol again, somehow a margarita made its way into my hand -- don't know how that happened. The band was excellent; we danced a lot. We watched others dance a lot too -- it's always an amazing sight to see a big group of people doing the two-step at the same time. Particularly when there are a bunch of men wearing cowboy hats.

One drunk, skeletal old cowboy was really taken with our friend Kris. He was particularly noteworthy because he didn't have any teeth. I don't mean that he was missing a tooth. I mean he didn't appear to have a tooth. Not a single one! He kept trying to get her to dance with him and he didn't want to take no for an answer. Her husband hadn't finished playing the slots so she was sitting with DH and me and I was afraid DH was going to have to stand up for her honour and I was going to have to experience some kind of tawdry casino bar-fight, and thinking how that would really cap off the week. Fortunately, however, he shambled off after a while.

Since drunk, skeletal, toothless cowboy was gone, it seemed safe enough to send DH off to dance with Kris because she clearly wanted to and her husband still wasn't back and I was done with dancing myself -- I cut my toe somehow -- don't know how I managed that; DH didn't step on my foot or anything. It must have been my natural clumsiness. As I was watching them, I saw the cowboy come up and try to cut in, but DH grabbed her hands and swung her around hard (he's a pretty good dancer) and they ended up on the other end of the floor. The song was over before the guy was able to make his way over to where they were.

When they sat back down, Kris said, "Did you see? Did you SEE? That cowboy with no teeth tried to cut in!"

I kept a straight face. "Which one?" I asked.

"The one with NO TEETH!!!" She was beside herself.

I tried to looked real concerned. "I heard you," I said. "Which one?"

"T--! The one with NO TEE--" Then she realised that I was just giving her a hard time.

She punched me in the arm. "You are so mean, girl."

I agreed with her. But it was fun.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Grace & Lagniappe: It's All Right

I woke up in Lake Charles, Louisiana this morning for the first time in three years, one month, and 14 days. Yes; I've been counting. This is the first time I've been back since we left, and it wasn't an easy trip to make because leaving here was the most difficult thing I've done in my life. I knew I needed to get here, though, because coming here in the first place was probably the best thing I've done in my life.

Isn't it funny? Lake Charles isn't much of anything – just another podunk Louisiana town off Highway 10. It's got a crappy mall, a couple of oil refineries, some chemical plants, an estuary that's been designated a superfund site by the US government, and some fair-to-middlin' casinos that cater to tour buses filled with elderly Texans. From that description, no one in their right mind would actually WANT to live in Lake Charles, and when I first saw it, I was still in my right mind and I didn't want to live here either. Paradise it is not!

It was probably brain damage from the superfund site chemical poisons, but after living here for a couple of years, something started to change. In the beginning, it was small things, like being able to remember what I loved about my childhood in the South – things I had completely forgotten. And then, after living in Lake Charles for about three years, I woke up one day and realized that I had passed a milestone in life. For the first time, I had lived in the same place – in the same house – for more than three years. Once that had happened, like a puzzle lock clicking into place, I had a little epiphany. I was home. I don't mean that in the sense that Lake Charles, the place, was suddenly the home I never had, I mean I suddenly knew what it felt like to feel home. I knew what it meant when people said they were “home sick.”

I was very taken up with my thoughts about “home” for a few days after my new awareness that I’d lived longer in Lake Charles than anywhere else – I went from a sort of happy buzz about it to horror at the realization of what I’d done. Oh my God, I thought. Was I really that bad? And a review of the last 40+ years told me that I was. I was really that awful. What did I do? It was more what I didn’t do. I didn’t give a damn.

You see, I was born in Arkansas and I lived there until my father was transferred to Illinois when I was eleven. I finished school in the suburbs of Chicago. My grandparents had moved to Florida when I was about seven, and I spent summers with them until I was fifteen. So, other than brief trips to visit my other grandmother, who stayed in Arkansas, there was a period in which I didn’t get back there often, and I rarely even thought about the South at all. My parents always considered themselves Southern, and frequently talked about moving “home,” but I was teased about my accent when I moved to Illinois, and I managed to get rid of it within a few weeks. I changed schools two years after moving to Illinois and no one had the slightest idea that I had ever lived anywhere else, and it rarely occurred to me to mention it to them.

As time went by, I began to feel completely rootless, and the list below is why. I’ve lived in these towns (sometimes in different houses in the same town):

Tull, Arkansas
Arkadelphia, Arkansas
Mountain Home, Arkansas
Round Lake, Illinois
Palatine, Illinois
Barrington, Illinois
Arlington Heights, Illinois
Ronceverte, West Virginia
Muncie, Indiana
Lombard, Illinois
Bellevue, Washington,
Redmond, Washington,
Bellevue, Washington
West University Place, Texas
Houston, Texas
Lake Charles, Louisiana
Lake Jackson, Texas
Coupeville, Washington

Looking at that list now, I can see why, when someone would ask me where I was from, it was so easy for me to answer, “all over” or “everywhere,” rather than to say I was from Arkansas – it had been so long since I’d lived in Arkansas, or spent time anywhere near Arkansas that it didn’t even cross my mind to say it. The problem is that, of course, if you are not from somewhere, then you are from nowhere. If you are not something, then you are nothing. And what I had been doing until I woke up one day after living in Lake Charles, Louisiana for three years was to reduce the very essence of my history and my culture – of who I am – to nothing more than a collection of the strip malls I’ve been to in the suburbs I’ve lived in these various places across the US.

Don’t get me wrong. These are all nice places. They have nice strip malls. They have pretty houses. I’m sure they have their own cultures and I’m sure they are wonderful ones. But they’re not mine, and somewhere along the line, I came to the realization that I don’t want them to be!

And what has Lake Charles to do with all that? It’s not in Arkansas, after all. Well, the funny thing about Lake Charles is that, while it’s not Arkansas, I think I had my little epiphany there, not just because I lived there longer than anywhere else, but because the culture is so similar to the one I remember from Arkansas. We lived in the Ozarks for my dad’s job, but where I am from, my real home, is southern Arkansas, and that has far more in common with Louisiana than it does with northern Arkansas. And so, the time I spent in Lake Charles was like being offered a path. A path back to the girl I was when I moved to Illinois – when I moved onto the “traveled” road, which also happened to be the easy road.

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.


And so that is what Lake Charles gave me: the gift of myself. I lived there two more years, and during that time, I drank in the culture and I learned to take pride in my heritage again. I learned to code switch so that I can at least reclaim my Southern accent among those who also have one, although I can rarely do it with those who don’t (I try). I learned that places have very little to do with the strip malls or the houses, or even what the land looks like; it’s all about the people. The people of Louisiana, the people of Arkansas, heck, even the people of Texas – these people rock!

When we had to leave, I thought my heart would break. And then, of course, it did break when Hurricane Rita came in here and wrecked poor ugly little Lake Charles and hurt all the beautiful people who live here so badly. They, hardy souls that they are, have done a wonderful job of restoring the town, without a lot of help from the outside. Our old house, which received some heavy damage, looks marvelous now, like a brand new house – which is great as long as you like brand new houses. I’m mainly sad that the handmade door with the leaded glass is no longer. Oh well; such is life. It lives on in my mind’s eye, so that’s OK.

The best thing of all about my life in Lake Charles is that, even though I didn’t get to stay forever, I got to stay long enough. If I’d left before reconnecting to my past, then I’d have remained forever traveling the shallow easy road, with its pretty houses and its strip malls, and its interchangeable suburbs where little matters beyond the price of real estate and the scratch on the door of the BMW. If I’d left after becoming aware of what an idiot I’d been, but before coming to terms with it, then I’d have been left mired in guilt for not valuing important things, but not really understanding what I could do to make it right. But because I was able to stay long enough to absorb not just the guilt, but also the remedy, Lake Charles gave me the ultimate gift: it gave me grace. And I can take it with me; hence, the quote at the top of this blog.

I will never cease to be thankful for receiving the rare opportunity to move from the easy road to the one less traveled – in mid-stream. Not many people get that chance, but I did, and Lake Charles gave it to me. I call that Lagniappe!

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Bad Dobby -- Hits Head -- Baaaad Dobby

I am in Houston. I really like it here. I always have a lot of fun. This time, I seem to have ... um ... instigated ... a bit of trouble. We went out to lunch on Monday. At noon. I called DH to come get me. At 8 pm. This is the first time I've ever had a hangover that lasted more than 24 hours. I totally deserve it.


For the record, the hangover may even be persisting beyond 24 hours because, for the life of me, I CANNOT figure out what the heck the blogger word verification letters are at all!

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Grammar Cop Wishes You a Good Weekend

This isn't a mistake, but you know, I just really couldn't pass up the great tits. I have no defense. I'm a vile person. Have a great weekend, though.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

From the Weirdness Files

I get a lot of emails. Most of them are Viagra spam, a few are from people I actually want to hear from, and the rest are queries. The queries come even though I posted a notice on our website that we're not accepting them. Apparently nothing stops them. I don't generally enjoy being a jerk so I try to answer the queries politely, even though it's just going to be a rejection without considering the content. The one exception is the query I get every six weeks from the same guy. I responded to him politely the first three times, but now I just delete his emails.

Yesterday I received a query that I suspect is going to join the queries from the every-six-weeks-query-guy. The only way I knew it was a query was because it said "query" in the subject line. The first line of the email started with "Chapter One." It then proceeded into – you guessed it – chapter one. A quick scroll down showed chapters two and three, in which I caught glimpses of "Hitler" and "Jewess" and, at the very bottom, an email address. And that was it. There was no actual question or information about the rest of the book – so it appears someone sent me the first three chapters of their manuscript, accompanied by their email address. They didn't ask me to publish it, nor did they even give me their name. The person sent me three chapters of something I don't want to read, without addressing me directly; I don't really feel compelled to reply. Does that make me a jerk? Maybe. I guess I'll just have to live with it.

I wonder why someone would think it's enough to send three chapters of their novel and nothing else. I mean sending just that, without even prefacing it with some kind of greeting or explanation of what they're doing. Do they really think anyone would have the time or inclination to read such a long email (this thing was thousands of words long) and then email them to ask about it? There was no synopsis, so you'd have no idea of the remainder of the story – where it was going. Even if I wasn't already working on two long over-due manuscripts, I wouldn't be interested in this one. It just confuses the hell out of me as to why someone would think I would be interested in reading the first three chapters of their novel, and then tracking them down to find out the synopsis of the book, and who they are, etc. It just seems bizarre.

As to the two manuscripts I am working on, well, I am working on them. Office Max ought to give me a frequent customer discount – one of them is looooooooong (Louise!) and it takes more than a whole ream of paper just to print one copy of it. Gillian's manuscript is very nearly done. Once she sobers up from testing all those Prohibition Banquet drinks recipes and finishes the new opening (told you I'd get you back for being mean the other day, Gillian), then I will be ready to start tinkering with getting rid of all the strange numbers she put in it (don't ask). After that, it will be a piece of cake until we get to the part where she wants to strangle me. That always happens near the end. Then it will be ready for the world. And it will, of course, be wonderful at that point!

For some reason, with Louise's book, it's the title that's the difficult part, and I don't know why; the book is excellent. But I have a plan. I'm going to Houston next week. That means I have a long plane flight. I am, to put it mildly, a nervous flyer. To deal with that, I normally take a minimum of three books when I get on a plane. The reason I do that is because it increases the odds that I'll have at least one decent book in which to absorb myself when one of the plane engines dies, or when the wing of the plane appears to be hanging drunkenly perpendicular to the ground, or the as-yet un-thought of disaster is announced by the pilot. This time, however, I'm only going to take one book in addition to Louise's manuscript and I will stick strictly to thinking about the manuscript until the disaster strikes. Then I will turn to the book because I wouldn't want to taint the memory of the manuscript with my feelings about the disaster. But until the disaster occurs, and I have no doubt that it will because it always does, then I will be a captive audience to thinking about the perfect title for the manuscript. Note that I have a positive mental attitude about all this. I am positive that there will be some sort of disaster. I am also positive that I will survive it. And that I will come up with a good title for that manuscript by the time I get off that plane. They don't call me Pollyanna for nothing. Actually, they don't call me Pollyanna, but what the hell!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Book Review: Shades of Gray by Jessica James

As I indicated yesterday, I'm going to review a book by an independent press today. I'm also cross-posting this review at Indie Market Place.

Shades of Gray is a romance, but it is not a category romance. It is, instead, the sort of sweeping romantic fiction that asks the reader to look back to days gone by. Set in the American Civil War, it is the story of Andrea, a Union Army scout and sometime spy, and Alexander Hunter, a Confederate officer who is modeled on real life Confederate hero Colonel John S. Mosby, leader of Mosby's Rangers.

I am not typically a fan of Civil War novels, and I admit that I was not really looking forward to reading this one. However, I am glad I changed my mind. The author, Jessica James, clearly took the time to understand the complexities involved in the conflict and she was able to convey that in the narrative without interfering with the story itself. In particular, she was able to capture the sense of inevitability of the conflict for those who were involved because of their location – in this case, the Virginians.

As the books opens, Andrea, the heroine, dresses as a boy and acts as a scout in the Union army. She is headstrong, reckless, and at times, seemingly suicidal – for reasons alluded to, but not entirely explained. Her identity is known only to her commanding officer, who also happens to be her cousin's husband. He is uncomfortable with the situation and attempts to protect her, mostly to no avail. Andrea's actions repeatedly bring her into conflict with daring rebel commander Alexander Hunter, who vows to capture her. When Hunter finally does capture Andrea, after a complicated series of events, he brings her to his estate, Hawthorne, in Virginia.

It is at this point that the author's talent for writing dialogue really shines. The conversations between the two main characters are charming and at times, reminiscent of some highly entertaining regency romances. I was particularly impressed with James' ability to convey the fine nuances of Andrea. She was an educated woman of breeding and privilege, who, for reasons not made clear until well into the story, donned trousers, delivered messages, and drank whiskey with the Union army. She was also born in the South, and when necessary, was able to fulfill the role of the perfect Southern Belle.

Perhaps the above description sounds like a stereotype from a romance novel, but I found in Andrea rather more. In fact, I thought Andrea to be a good portrayal of a Southern woman because the Southern women I know have always been this way. They do what they need to do, regardless of what it entails. The Andrea created by Jessica James does just that.

All in all, I found Shades of Gray to be one of the best novels of the Civil War I've ever read. I highly recommend it.

Title: Shades of Gray
Author: Jessica James
ISBN: 978-0-9796000-0-5
$27.99
Patriot Press
2008

Monday, May 5, 2008

You Can Call Me Ma'am: Prelude to a Book Review

A few months ago, after I wrote about reading Rhett Butler's People, Jessica James, the author of another novel of the Civil War invited me to review her book as well. I was hesitant to do it for a whole bunch of reasons, some of which I am about to discuss, but I changed my mind for one reason alone: it was published by an independent press. Knowing that, it occurred to me that it would be the height of hypocrisy for me to sit here and rant about the unfair treatment that independent publishers so frequently receive while at the same time knowing that I had paid the cover price for Rhett Butler's People yet had declined to bother to even review another novel of possibly better caliber simply because I had already read the "popular" Civil War novel of the season. Therefore, I decided to not only do the honourable thing and review the book, I decided to buy it rather than accept a review copy.

I am posting this separately because I didn't want to gum up the review itself with my ridiculous reasoning. I also wanted to note a couple of things about my worldview and how it affects my reading of novels about the South and the American Civil War.

First and foremost, I am a Southerner, but I am not a racist and I am deeply ashamed of slavery and all of the things that accompanied it. To my knowledge, although I cannot be certain, most of my ancestors did not own slaves, but to a person, they were all Confederates, including the women. They were citizens of the Confederate States of America.

The problem for me is that I was born in a tiny little place in Arkansas, where no famous battles were fought, but where a lot of people died. And I mean this literally. They died right around where my great great grand parents (and I) were born. These small, unfamous battles and skirmishes took place in the fields right around the houses. My sixth great grandmother watched her uncle, who was home on furlough, get dragged out of the house and hung. She was sixteen years old. Her father had been killed less than two months before and her mother was dying of consumption. She had sisters and a little brother to take care of. Stories like these don't die. They get told. They get passed down along with the saved medals and the bullets and the land where the blood was spilled. It is not academic. It has nothing to do with history books. It stays in the family. And it stays in the heart.

When I read a book about the Civil War, no matter much how I want to disengage and be modern, no matter how much I know that I should condemn the Confederacy, well, I think of that terrified girl from whom I am descended, and how she watched her last male relative swinging from a rope, wondering how she and her sisters and brother were going to survive, and I cannot. I think of how she fought. To survive. And I think, "You go, girl. You go!"

But, you see, that's the thing. The people living on the land, not the big plantation owners, just the people – my ancestors – they didn't have slaves. For them, it was just about the place that they were. The war came to them, and they fought. Their houses were burnt. Their fields were burnt. Their goods were burnt. They were left with nothing. They starved. And they fought. The ones who survived. They had stories. And they told them.

When the men died, their children put iron crosses on their graves. And it's ironic in some ways, because it's really the women who deserved them in many cases because it was the women who fought the hardest for those of us Southerners who live today. I know for a fact that my many-great grandmothers fought much harder for subsequent generations to live because they were the ones who lived, literally, on the fields where the battles took place. Nearly all of Tull was destroyed during the retreat after the battle of Jenkins Ferry. No lionesses could have fought harder for their babies to survive. I am not here because of the lions; I am here because of the lionesses.

So, my opinions of books about the Civil War are coloured by that. There is no getting around it. When someone from the South uses the euphemism, the War of Northern Aggression, it is often considered to be the affectation of a Southern partisan. It is looked at by some as another romanticisation of the Lost Cause myth. To people like my ancestors, however, it would have been a reality, however, as they were just small people who lived in a small place. They would not have been involved in the Great Doings of their day but for the fact that those doings came to their doorstep; the battles came to them.

I am writing about this now because the book I intend to review includes a strong female character who was caught up in the war in ways not unlike the ways in which my own ancestors were, albeit in a different location. This made the novel very believable to me. I like books that don't gloss over the roles of Southern women because they are hard to find, and I will write more on that when I review the book itself.

It's funny, not long ago, there was a letter to the editor in a local newspaper here in Washington in which the author complained about being addressed as "ma'am." It seemed the author felt insulted to be so addressed as "ma'am" or "Miss" by clerks in stores and others unknown to her because she thought it was sexist or ageist. I immediately thought of how different that is to my own feelings of being addressed that way.

As a Southerner, I am used to hearing and saying, "Thank you ma'am" to other women, and after living in Louisiana for a while, I even got used to hearing myself referred to as "Miss T." The lady across the street was "Miss Kris." Miss Claire lived next door. It felt strange at first, but it didn't take me long to understand that this is intended as a form of respect. Why would I not wish to treat others with respect? Why would I not wish to be respected? I am descended from a long line of ladies to whom I owe respect. If I wish to join them, then I need to be worthy of them. They would have said, "Thank you ma'am." And they would have said it in a particularly kindly manner if they were thanking you for sharing the coffee you had "liberated" from the federal supply train you had raided, perhaps knocking off a few Union troops along the way.

Book review to come…

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Backyard Darryl

It's hard to describe Washington state. It's got a lot of natural beauty. It's clean. There are nature trails. The people are mostly polite. They drink lattes. If the news is anything to go by, they worry a lot about trees, but they don't spend much time worrying about the homeless. They don't want you to move here. If you already have moved here, they hope you'll move away soon. They don't like the war; they like to protest it. One local lady, who enjoys quilting, went on a hunger strike last year – to protest the war. Apparently, it didn't work.

There are a lot of ex-hippies here too. Like the former dead-head who wallpapered my dining room two years ago. He was great. He told me he had moved up here from San Diego with his wife and grandchildren after selling his house for a killing. He also told me about forty years of amazing drug trips. That was a new one for me. I had never had a building contractor tell me about their drug trips before. It was pretty interesting. He seemed like a happy guy and he brought treats for my dogs. What's not to like?

I have some really great neighbors. They are competing in a contest to grow the world's largest pumpkins. Last year the largest ones they got were over six feet in diameter – and weighed over 800 pounds. This year, they say they'll be even bigger. I believe them. The other neighbors, however, are making me crazy. There is the bulldozer guy, who has continued to dig at his damn pile all this week. He refuses to quit.

And now there is back yard guy who reminds me of a character from the Bob Newhart show: "I'm Larry, and this is my brother Darryl and my other brother Darryl." My backyard neighbor is the other brother Darryl! He always wears a baseball cap turned around backwards. I see him all the time when I am out there pottering around with my dogs. He will catch my eye and look away. Sometimes he looks away and grunts. What is THAT?

Anyway, I let the dogs out this afternoon and my other brother Darryl was hanging around the fence between our yards. I have no idea what he was doing, but whatever it was, it apparently required the use of a pitchfork! It is really unnerving to have this peculiar guy who has never, in two years of seeing him repeatedly, done anything more than turn away and grunt, suddenly be lurking on the other side of my little picket fence with a pitchfork! He was not digging or forking or whatever it is you normally do with a pitchfork – and I know this because he had the forked end of the thing up in the air.

Of course my dogs ran over there and started barking furiously. I would have let him have Prissy, but there was no way I was not going to save Pippin, so I went to retrieve them. I'm not sure what I thought I'd do with it, but as I went out, I picked up a heavy crystal vase that was sitting on the table by the door and tried to be nonchalant as I walked toward him. That vase is big. Today was one of our rare sunny days, and it was REALLY sunny. The vase was clean. It sparkled like a diamond. There was NO way in hell Backyard Darryl didn't notice that I was carrying it when I went to get my dogs. I'll bet that guy thinks I'm a lunatic. That makes two of us.


I have a new nephew!

His name is Nicholas! I just saw the first photo. He's a cutie.