An Enchanted Evening

An Enchanted Evening

It was the fall of 1949. The college semester was well begun, and I was at a table in the University Commons with the usual group. The background music was from the then-popular musical, South Pacific.
The song was Some Enchanted Evening; I chanced to look up, and as the lyrics continued, I did “see a stranger, Across a crowded room”.
He saw me too, and “somehow we knew, we knew even then” that we would meet.
It was some weeks later, in fact, that we met, introduced by my then boyfriend. By Thanksgiving we were an item. He was from the Middle East and I was a dyed-in-the-wool Midwesterner; my parents weren’t thrilled that we were making future plans together. I was too young; they didn’t know his family, etc. He was meeting opposition from his distant family too, in that “Americans did not make good wives”, and anyway he was not to marry before his sister did.
We went blithely ahead, marrying the next summer. Happily both families became reconciled, no doubt partly because we produced four grandchildren for them. Now we have our own grandchildren, nine of them, and a great-grandchild.
We had just celebrated our 57th anniversary when he left this life. A poster for South Pacific graces the living room wall, and will always do so for all the memories it evokes.

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If Only I Had Known

IF ONLY I HAD KNOWN

It was 1948, and I was a very young, very green college student. I was attending Indiana University, five blocks up Woodlawn Avenue, as it was too costly to go anywhere else. Mother and Dad, however, may have felt that some sort of experience away from home would be good for me; and if they felt that they would have been right. A more naive and unworldly eighteen-year-old would have been hard to find even then, and probably would be impossible now. Dad had acquired a brochure listing inexpensive student tours abroad, under the auspices of Columbia University. He and Mother selected for me a month-long stay in a small town in France, with a family who would travel a little with the participants and acquaint them with other families in various walks of life. I was to travel on an unconverted Marine troop ship, and this turned out to be a delight even in rough weather. There was a day of rolling and pitching when I was one of only two passengers on deck having fun.
On my arrival in France, the rendezvous with the two other American students and with our French hosts took place. Monsieur was a tall, imposing figure who was the pastor of a Protestant church; Madame his wife’s origins were Italian and Russian. They had several children, only one of whom, their daughter of about our age, was to spend time with us, We all piled into their aging Citroen and headed for the parsonage where we were to live for four weeks.
As described in the brochure, we partook of their family life; we met French doctors, farmers and shoemakers; we toured Roman ruins and VanGogh scenery; and we brushed up our French language skills. All in all, the experience lived well up to expectations.
Their names had of course been known to us from our first reading of the brochure. What we did not know, and I at least was not to learn for some years, was this: Andre Trocme was the pastor under whose guidance the entire village of Le Chambon had saved hundreds of Jews during the Nazi era. How recent a memory this must have been to them when we were there, but not a word did they say to us about their heroism.
Through the book by Philip Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed; and the Pierre Sauvage film Weapons of the Spirit, the world now knows the Trocmes. What a privilege it would have been to hear their story as they would have told it.

A Little Boy, a Little Girl

It seems, at this distance of time, that we traveled to Long Beach Island often, so significant a place does it hold in my memory. In truth it could have been no more than three or four times in my life, as we came East only every other year, and the beginning of World War II with its gas rationing, ended these excursions.

They were, while they lasted, the happiest of times. Grandmother and Granddad Davis, who lived in New Jersey, regularly took the little blue-shuttered cottage every August. We, as I’ve said, could not make the trip from Indiana every summer, nor did we stay the full month–but oh, the joys of sand, sea and wide blue sky! It seemed to Kit and me that here we had complete freedom. We were allowed a lot of liberty back home, too, but people knew us, and this was inhibiting. Who knew what might be observed and reported by family friends, neighbors, campus colleagues of Dad’s, or shopkeepers enjoying Mother’s custom? No: true freedom lay beyond the dunes in Beach Haven, where the only watchful eye was the far distant Barnegat Light. Not that we looked for, or found, any real mischief. Freedom was a state of mind.
Two specific events stand out against a backdrop of sensory impressions. The first was a rare gathering at the little cottage, of relatives on both sides of the family. Equally rare was the six-day rainfall during their one-week visit. I can still see us, sitting in a huge circle on the floor of the cottage’s vast and otherwise empty attic, playing jacks to a tune by Grieg which had acquired the words, “A little boy, a little girl…”
The postscript to this episode was that on the last day of the relatives’ stay, the sun blazed forth and everyone spent that day making up for lost beach time. Uncle Harry got such a bad sunburn that he could not get his socks and shoes on, and had to borrow Dad’s rubber sandals for his drive home.
The other happening which has remained with me, and has become invested with nostalgic significance, took place on the last day of another visit to Beach Haven. It was allowance day, too, and Dad had taken Kit and me to the little novelty shop for the ceremony of spending it. Kit’s selection was quick and typical; he added some small metal soldiers to his ever-growing army. For some reason I could not settle, this time, on the usual box of bright new crayons, or the pristine paper doll book. I remember examining everything, and starting over again, before the elderly Japanese proprietor said, “How about two dolls in a box?” I wasn’t that much of a doll person, but I agreed to look at them. The proprietor drew from an upper shelf a little closed, painted basket, and opened it to reveal two exquisite Japanese dolls about four inches tall, with real hair and inlaid eyes, dressed in tiny, matching kimonos. I parted willingly with my twenty-five cents, and left the little shop with the “two dolls in a box” and the knowledge that they were the only right choice.
What I could not know then was how right this choice, or why. This was the summer of 1941. We were never to come back to Beach Haven, and the little shop with its patient old shopkeeper, would not survive the war years. These two little beings, a little boy and a little girl, have preserved for me the innocence of those summers before the war, and the kindliness of one old Japanese, before he became The Enemy.

A New Beginning

If you have seen this blog before, you will recognize that it is different. The stories and verses have gone.  Some of them will gradually reappear, along with some new ones, but this time in the post itself.  I will start here, with FAMILY  TREASURES.

FAMILY TREASURES

When you hear the phrase “family treasures”, you may think of old, heavily embossed silver, or of Grandma’s gold and pearl earrings.  Maybe your first thought is of an ivory satin wedding gown, a set of damask napkins worn through at the fold, or a faded photograph of Great-Grandpa with handlebar mustache and funny, long-outdated clothes.
Whether any of these, or other such relics, lie carefully tended on a shelf, or in a trunk in the attic, we must not neglect the richest treasures of all.  They are our family stories.  These unique anecdotes, whether handed down the generations or recounting a funny or touching incident of yesterday, entertain us, to be sure, but they do more.  They reflect us and define us both in themselves and in our conscious or unconscious choice of what to remember and retell.
In my family, the tale is often told of Great-Grandma’s stern insistence that her husband enlist in the Confederate Army.  “But, Sarah,” he is reported to have said, “I don’t believe in secession”; to which she replied, “Now, Elijah, no man in my family ever refused to fight for his home!”  He went, and she ran their farm singlehanded for the duration of the war.    She, and by extension all the women of the family, are thus portrayed as stubborn and independent.  Many of us are just that!
And that we are not religiously observant the story of our own four-year-old daughter’s first day in Sunday school exemplifies: upon her return from that first session we asked her what she had learned.  She answered, “There is somebody up there who takes care of us, and I forget his name but I think it’s Bob.”  A generation later we still speak of Bob at times.
What we find funny, poignant, or valuable in some other way, is and should be preserved.  Unlike the earrings, the gown or the photograph, which incidentally carry stories themselves, we don’t do this by packing away in cotton, mothballs or acid-free paper.  We tell the stories, and tell them again, and they bind us securely to one another over space and through time.

Bestiary

It has been some time, to say the least, since I have posted here. My blogger self has been hibernating–and there is a word we take from animal behavior!

Animal words as metaphor, simile or idiom pop up everywhere. Here are a few I’ve noted lately.

White elephant; cat o’nine tails; loan shark; horse sense.

The lion’s share; a feather in your cap; dog in the manger.

Birdbrain; no more sense than God gave a goose.

Snake in the grass; busy as a bee; stubborn as a mule.

Calf (broken-off piece of an iceberg); Frog (design in braid on a jacket, often a buttonhole); Horsefeathers.

Chicken with its head cut off.

Derived from German: easel (Esel, donkey)

So many more, and often we are wrongly attributing a characteristic to the animal. Birds have the brains they need. Snakes are not mean or treacherous, but just going about their lives.

Food similes and metaphors

Ever since Homer’s “wine-dark sea”, and probably before, we have compared and described with food words.  Making a list of them was a “piece of cake”.  On the other hand, if we are in trouble we may say we are “in the soup”, “in a pickle” or “in a jam”.

Someone worried or fretting is “in a stew”.  People may be said to be “apple-cheeked” or “prune-faced”, and Santa has a nose “like a cherry”.

Cars are sometimes “lemons”.  At this time of year we try to keep as “warm as toast”.  Good to know  “which side our bread is buttered on”.

What was the “meat” of the discussion? Was there a comparison of “apples and oranges”?

If you have “too much on your plate” it may “drive you nuts”.   Money is “dough” or “bread”.  We do savor a “juicy bit of gossip” but if it’s nonsense we’ll say “Baloney!”  Or gossip may not be “our cup of tea”.

Affectionate names are”Honey” and “Sugar”.

I hope  your “cup runneth over” with good things in the coming year.

 

Named For Us

One morning, awake too early to get up, I began to think of the many words we use which derive from the words for body or clothing parts.

Clocks have hands and faces.  Jars have mouths, as do rivers.  We go from the foot of a hill to its brow, and pull onto the shoulder of the road.  Shoes have tongues.  Thread goes through the eye of a needle.

A bed has a head and a foot; so does a table.  These, and chairs, have legs.  Pliers have noses, hammers have heads and saws have teeth.  Plumbers may replace an elbow in a pipe.  Not quite so specific are the male and female connections in that pipe.

On a map we may see a head or neck of land.

Clothing gives us a car’s hood –or if we are British, a bonnet and a boot.  When we had records we put them in sleeves.  A beltway encircles a city.  Bottles have caps while books have jackets.  We may read of a pocket of resistance; we coat candy with chocolate.

I leave you with these, guessing that you’ll think of more!