Quote of the day, this one from Galileo: The sun, with all these planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the Universe to do. Well! When you put it that way, I have no excuse. So let me share a few of the things I’ve been up to lately.
For starters, I’ve read four books in the past three weeks. I was well into THE WOMEN (T.C. Boyle) when Hubby insisted I read all three books of THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy by Susanne Collins. We’d given our grandson, a voracious reader himself, book one for his birthday in July. He read it, and convinced his parents to get books two and three because he’d liked it so much. So his mother read it, his father read it, and in time all three books were passed on to Hubby. At the time it was hard to tear myself away from THE WOMEN (a novel about the four women in Frank Lloyd Wright’s life–a fascinating read by one of the most skilled authors I’ve ever read!) but the movie HUNGER GAMES will be released in March and we both wanted to read the book first. You know the drill. It’s marketed as a young adult novel, but our family’s experience proves that it worked–at different levels of course–for ages 9 through 69. It’s part psychological thriller and part science fiction, taking place sometime in the future after the destruction of North America, in a nation known as Panem. Panem consists of a wealthy Capitol and twelve surrounding, poorer districts. District 12, where the book begins, is located in the coal-rich region that was formerly Appalachia. As punishment for a previous rebellion against the Capitol, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 from each district are selected by annual lottery to participate in the Hunger Games, a televised event in which the participants, or “tributes,” must fight to the death in a dangerous, outdoor arena, controlled by the Capitol, until only one remains.
I did manage to finish THE WOMEN in between books two and three. T.C. Boyle now belongs at the top of my favorite author list now, along with Jeffrey Eugenides (MIDDLESEX) and Louise Erdrich (MASTER BUTCHERS SINGING CLUB). Both the trilogy and THE WOMEN are excellent reads if you’re looking for something good to read.
Besides reading, I’ve been so entertained by the circus-like atmosphere of the Republican debates and news bites that it sent me to yet another book from my own collection to see if I could find as much amusement in past elections, or is it just lately we’ve all gotten so funny about politics. Surely other political decades weren’t so ridiculous! Not until Kennedy ran against Nixon, in the ’60s, did I pay attention to politics. I happened to be part of a church youth group that were all very up on everything politic. It didn’t take political astuteness, however, to see that in debates and public demeanor, Kennedy outclassed Nixon hands down! I found just what I was looking for in HAIL TO THE CHIEFS by Barbara Holland, subtitled How to Tell Your Polks from Your Tylers, and showed me a hysterically different view of our Presidents than that our teachers taught in school.
I remember going to the polls with my parents to vote when I was little. It was a day to finish up the farm chores early and to drive over to the general store run by that peculiar family recently moved from Milwaukee. The family consisted of a (presumably–as kids we never would have thought to ask–thus we didn’t know) widowed father and his teenage daughter and younger son. The general consensus was that the son Jack wasn’t quite right in the head but nothing you could put a finger on. You just didn’t want to be alone in a room with him, especially if you were a girl. Looking back, I’m sure there was absolutely nothing wrong with the boy at all other than his being a Yankee. I suspect today we might have had a better term for a boy like that–Asperger syndrome comes to mind–or perhaps “nerd” if we’d known that word in those days. At any rate, the polling house was built on the store property. It was a small white building with a room big enough to hold a couple of wooden tables with a telephone and a radio, and enough chairs for the poll workers–usually 3 or 4 men–to sit in. Someone would hand you a paper ballot with the list of names to choose from, and send you to a smaller attached room with a taller table where you had to stand and use a marking pen to put an check mark in the proper boxes, sign your name on it and then stuff it into a box. I remember seeing one or two signed with a jagged X instead of a signature but it was okay because everybody knew everybody else anyway. So as far as I knew everything was on the up and up. Very simple and quick. Instead of going home, most people would stand around outside awhile and visit with the neighbors, maybe have an RC or coke and a moon pie from the store while you waited to see how the election was going. The new family ‘s business did okay on election days but eventually they gave it up and closed it.
At that time north Florida was mostly Democrat, but that didn’t mean everybody always voted Democrat, at least not in my neck of the woods. I think they really liked Truman though, because he and his family were so unpretentious. he hadn’t ever been to college (colleges brainwashed you), and he used simple words when he talked, like poppycock, and after he won he put a sign on his First Desk that said “the buck stops here.” He called MacArthur a “dumb sonofabitch.” He also told a Washington Post music critic (who suggested his daughter Margaret should take up something more silent than public singing) that if he ever met him in person he (the critic) would need a new hose and perhaps a supporter to wear below.” I thought he looked like my Uncle Gonzalo who used to dig quarters out of my ear and give them to me, so he was fine by me. It was when Adlai Stevenson II ran against Eisenhower in 1952 that I first paid attention to the candidates. I was ten years old. That year my pick was based purely on looks, although looking back from this end I can see that even then I must have appreciated eloquent oratory and stylish demeanor that Stevenson was said to have exhibited. The Republicans and some working-class Democrats, which is what north Florida mostly was at the time, ridiculed what they perceived as his aristocratic air. It would have been impossible for an aristocrat (read that as this decade’s “elitist”) to win the Presidency unless he was crippled. That would explain Franklin Roosevelt. Besides Eisenhower grinned like a monkey all the time, was almost bald on top and what little hair he did have was white. I remember telling whoever wanted to know that Eisenhower looked like a pig with three hairs on the top of his bald head. It didn’t make any difference and Eisenhower won. Stevenson tried again unsuccessfully in 1956, was in the senate and had a governorship and never did get to be President, but finally he was made an Ambassador in the UN under President Kennedy. When I think on it now, the two of them against each other–Stevenson and Eisenhower–it reminds me of the 2008 election between Barrack Obama and John McCain. Same tune, different words.
Here’s a few interesting little tidbits I picked up from Holland’s book. It’s an old book published in the late 1980s and is probably in your library. If you like your politics in an undignified manner, then you’ll love this book. When Franklin D. Roosevelt was nominated for President in 1932, the New York Times put out a front-page article explaining the proper pronunciation of his name. I wonder how many of you knew this. They said it was Dutch and thus should be pronounced “Rose-velt,” in two syllables with a long “o.” But did people pay attention? No! Democrats still called called him “Rose-a-velt” and Republications called him “Rooze-uh-veld,” or sometimes “Rosenfeld.” While we’re on pronunciation, from Ms. Holland we learn that when he was President Jack Kennedy’s daughter Caroline called him “Silly Daddy,” son John John called him “Foo Foo Head” and Jackie called him “Bunny.” The first two I can see, but “Bunny,” not so much. Some of his friends called him Jack the Zipper–but they didn’t explain why. And while we’re on names, Richard Nixon’s wife Pat’s real name wasn’t Pat at all. It was Thelma Catherine. And don’t let southern accents suggest to you that southern equals stupid. I mean, did you know Lyndon Johnson could read the alphabet at age two, and that he was reading any and everything by four? His wife was Claudia Alta Taylor, but he was mighty proud of all things LBJ, so he started calling her Lady Bird. When their two daughters came along, they named them Lynda Bird and Luci Baines so they’d all have the same initials, then as Holland puts it “the girls grew up and married and ruined the whole thing.”
I could go on and on, but I won’t, but I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for reading. So many books. So little time! There was a time when I honestly couldn’t answer the question “if you had to choose between reading or writing, could do one and only one of the two, which would you choose. I love both as long as the motivation is there; lately it hasn’t been. Lately I’m finding that my unequivocal answer now would be–READ! Please don’t take away my books.
One last thing I’ve been doing–baking my own bread! But don’t be too impressed. It’s just that I got so tired of buying and eating the same old bread from the store over and over again, and the last artisan loaf I bought cost $5.99 for a pound loaf. So I pulled out my old bread machine, dusted it off, and have been baking a new loaf every few days. So far some plain white sandwich loaves, a date-cranberry (because I didn’t have raisins on hand), a delicious Brioche loaf, and a few minutes ago I turned out a fine Pumpernickel rye to cool. Yum yum. From now on I’ll try my best not to let that old sun up there outdo me. I may be down on motivation but I’m not out yet.