Friday, November 28, 2008

Clowning Around

The dh and I went out to eat at one of my favorite places Wednesday evening -- Wink's, that would be for any local folk reading the blog. This was immediate post-Christmas parade so the place was very crowded and a significant number of the crowd happened to be clowns. There were two big tables of them -- eight or ten I was certain were clowns (the fright wigs and grease paint kind of gave them away) and rest were mostly non-clown people. I think.

I mentioned their presence to the dh early on, which of course, he didn't pay any attention to. He was sitting with his back to them, but still. A bit later I said I wished I had my camera.

"Why?" he asked.

"Because we're surrounded by clowns," I said. "When was the last time you ate out with a big bunch of clowns?"

"Not as long as you might think," he said.

Anyway. I love dinner and a floor show.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving 2008

We're planning a gathering of the clan tomorrow -- all except our world traveler who is still abroad. But we'll be thinking of him and sending good thoughts his way. Speaking for myself and despite a number of things I confess are not to my liking, this is truly a year to be grateful.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mitz (Another Quiet Goodbye)

This is my favorite photograph of her -- my first cousin, once removed. It was taken in the 1940s just before World War II, on the Yadkin River bridge between Rowan and Davidson County. One had to primp when one got out of the car during these Sunday afternoon excursions, you see. (Summertime. No air conditioning. Car windows down.) And the traffic, you may notice, was...nonexistent. I -- who can't just look at a photograph and let it go -- always wondered what she was thinking about at this moment. Was she pleased with what she saw in her compact mirror? Was she thinking of the "younger man" who wanted to marry her?

I've been trying to decide if I actually remember her or if I only remember the family stories. From those, I know she was funny and kind, and she loved her brothers and loved to laugh. I think I remember her. There is one old photograph of the both of us together. I am very tiny and look as if I may have learned to walk only moments before the picture was snapped. I'm standing in a front yard; she is exiting the frame to the left.

But that particular photograph isn't the memory I have. I have a vague, shadowy mental image of her in someone's living room. Some special occasion, or perhaps no occasion at all other than her coming home to visit all the way from Washington DC. She moved there with her husband after the War, raised her family there, grew old there.

My favorite story about her is my mother's and my aunt's story as well. When they were still in their teens, influenced no doubt by Hollywood, they all three opted -- not to change their real names exactly -- but to be called "something else," something sassy and unique and all their own. Not only did they pick out new names for themselves, they also somehow persuaded everybody else in the family to abide by their decision. Everybody. The fact that my stern, no nonsense grandfather agreed to this still amazes me.

So. Mary Estelle became "Mitz," Norma Catherine became "Kitty," and Ruby Jeanette became "Jeanne." (Two syllables, if you please.) I personally never heard any of them called by their real names inside the family. Not ever. As I said. Amazing.

Sadly, our Mitz died last Friday, and I'm wondering about this as well. Can you miss someone you're not quite sure you ever knew?

Yes. I think you can.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Weather Report

View from the back doorstep. Winter is coming...

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Library Book Sale (Read: Heaven)

I made it with two and a half minutes to spare, just in time for one of the library volunteers to ask me if I had a record player. And she used those actual words. Record. Player. Which, to me, indicated that we were definitely of the same generation.

I told her I did. Two, actually.

"Do you want this box of record albums?" she asked, showing me a banker's box full of LPs.

"Free," she added before I could say anything. "But you have to take all of them. And you have to leave now. We're locking the door."

Oh. Free records -- but I couldn't browse any of the tables of very cheap books. (Clearly, she'd been a volunteer long enough to understand that rabid book lovers have to be "handled.")

Well, okay.

So the very heavy box of mystery tunes came home with me, and what a deal. There was a collection of American music -- church, folk, classical, etc. -- complete with a booklet showing how to do the Virginia Reel and square dance and an album of fairy tales.

And Bach. And Beethoven. And the music from Godspell. And the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, vintage 1960s Loretta Lynn and her contemporaries, Eddy Arnold, Hank Locklin, etc. -- you know, before country singers started looking and sounding alike. (I love Kellie Pickler -- she's a fellow Carolina Girl -- but I'm not sure I could pick her out of a Country Female Vocalist Lineup.)

There was a Brother Dave Gardner, and The Mooseheart Children's Choir (no, that's not a typo), and many Christmas albums, not the least of which was Handel's Messiah. And then there was The Mikado, something I always wanted to experience but never got around to beyond reading it in senior English Literature -- which I always suspected just wasn't the same. The whole set was there -- likewise with a booklet, one with notes in the margins.


So. I've been listening to Gilbert and Sullivan this evening -- with the dh rolling his eyes, of course -- his musical tastes run more toward ZZ Top. I've been trying to decide if I can persuade the grandsons to listen to it, too.

Maybe if I tell them it's Victorian Rap. And let them play with the record player.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Veteran's Day (Armistice Day, What Was)

I've been mucking out my office by bits and pieces for months, and I came across this handwritten interview transcript. It was done in 1979 as part of a local writer's club project, a kind of living history we set out to do for posterity. We would talk to as many elderly county residents as were willing to put up with us and compile their recollections -- memory keeping, as it were.

I don't know what happened to the original cassette tape. I don't know what happened to the project itself, except that it must have died on the vine. The Rowan Writer's Club is long gone, but not the need for memory keeping. The transcript is important to me personally because the person I interviewed was my grandfather.

He's listed in the genealogical society's huge reference book of local family histories as "Gene," which is what his contemporaries called him. My grandmother, on the other hand, called him "Bill." Neither of these nicknames, as far as I can tell, has anything to do with his actual name -- Norman Brown Wagner. Unfortunately, there's no one left to ask where the nicknames came from or why, the lesson here being if you wonder about something, follow through.

He was a very complex man, and this is what he looked like. The round disk at the bottom of the photo is his "dog tag." The card is a ticket for the SS Walmer Castle, the troop ship that took him to France. "KEEP THIS CARD" it says. And he did. For all of his life.

Since the memory keeping project itself has been abandoned, I thought I'd post the transcript of the interview here. For posterity. For World War I researchers. For Veteran's Day. For me.

May 1, 1979

CR: How old were you when you went to France.

NBW: Twenty-three -- I was twenty-three years old. Seven hundred of us left from here. There was a man -- Kruger (?), I think it was. He lived in a big house where St. John's Church is now. He was a businessman -- wholesale business. He fed all seven hundred of us the day we left. And...Red Cross women handed out little sacks -- bags with sewing needles and thread. Some of them had sweaters in them -- you know, without sleeves.

Took ninety days to get from here to the trenches. I was in the Argonne when the armistice was signed. We went over the top that morning about daylight. It was so foggy and misty, rainy, you couldn't see nobody or nothing. You couldn't hear for the artillery. Anybody three feet in front of you, you had to holler at them. You had to go from one shell hole to another -- big shell holes about two could get in.

And barbed wire. We had a devil of a time. The bunch in front of us -- the Germans reenforced on them, and they started running, so we had to go in -- and we got in that barbed wire.

CR: Tell me about "going over the top."

NBW: That was when -- when you "go over the top," they give you orders to take their trenches. And you do it. Everybody crawls out and most of the time it's hand-to-hand fighting. Bayonets -- but we were lucky enough that morning not to have to do that.

And there was the gas. Sneezing gas. Vomiting gas. And mustard. If you got a whiff of that vomiting gas, you couldn't keep your gas mask on. Wasn't nothing to do but swallow it back -- or die from the mustard gas.

Oh, I was in it for hours -- lay in it. It was scattered all around, but it didn't affect me any -- at least not yet. (Laughs) If you got one whiff of it without your mask, you were about through.

And I tell you one of the hardest things that you ever went through with was hearing those boys lay out there -- way out there -- that the medics couldn't get to. And they lay out there and hollered all night. One or two would start up -- then there'd be another and another -- then they'd quieten down for a half hour, a hour, then..."Oh, lordy, come and get me." But you couldn't. You couldn't get them.

CR: Did you ever get a leave?

NBW: Two weeks in Paris! And then a week in Monte Carlo. Except I didn't have the money to go there. I didn't draw but...$6.50 a month, and that won't do you in Monte Carlo. Boy! That was one place I'd have loved to go. Paris? I stayed right where that big tower is, bunked for half a franc about every night I was there. Slept under the tower one night.

CR: You were twenty-three years old when you went to war. Tell me something you learned from it.

NBW: Well, you might not believe this thing, but every boy I knew of -- and I knew of about four in one company -- even here in the States, they had given up. They said, "If I ever get in a battle, I'll get killed." One of them was my corporal -- Doolan. And they did. Every one of them got killed. The ones that doubted themselves.

And Floyd (family member killed in World War II, NBW's nephew, my first cousin, once removed). You know about him. He told me right downtown when he was home on furlough -- in that old building where the dry cleaners used to be. He said, "If I ever get in any action, I'll get killed." And I said, "Why! Whatever gives you that idea!" It worried me, you know? He said, "I will." And...he did. He...never came back.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

World Traveler Update

I talked to our world traveler a little while ago. He's very happy about the presidential election results -- he stayed up until 5 AM (his time) in order to find out who had won. And he's physically well, I'm relieved to say, though a lot of people around him are catching colds. The weather there has been a bit of a challenge. It's been raining for days -- which is unusual. I don't believe the place where he's living was constructed with cold, continuous rain in mind. At one point he found himself stranded on a train that couldn't continue because the tracks had been flooded. The trip turned out to be much, much longer than expected, but fortunately, some of his fellow travelers graciously shared their food with him despite his being a foreigner.

It was a very satisfying conversation -- politics, food, anthropology (customs and cultures comparisons), his travel adventures, and family, especially the one he's acquired since he's been there. They take good care of him.

He sounded great -- and what a wonderful thing it is to be young and enthusiastic and in a place where you have the opportunity to learn all about the things you find absolutely fascinating. I'm so glad he found the time to call.