Sunday, April 29, 2012

Remembering June This May

Who’s your favorite mother? Well, besides your own, of course. Or maybe you always wished you had the mom down the street instead of the one God gave you—the one that let her kids come and go as they pleased, never issued all those pesky rules and ultimatums, and was SO much cooler.

While I greatly admire the wise and wonderful Marmee from Little Women , I must confess that my favorite mom is June Cleaver. A fellow mother of sons, June offered the perfect blend of intelligence, humor, assertiveness, skepticism, modesty, graciousness and spunk. During all those years when I watched faithfully every week as Mrs. Cleaver capably dealt with crisis after crisis, I had no idea I’d have a Beaver and Theodore of my own someday. Thankfully, my days as a mom never brought forth an Eddie Haskell or a baby alligator to deal with; even so, I feel certain my sons benefited from lessons my subconscious surely retained as I watched June carry out her role as Arbiter of Domestic Harmony without ever breaking a sweat.

In contrast, my own mother sweated a lot to keep me on the appropriate path to adulthood. Working in the yard was always her favorite way to reduce stress; let’s just say our yard looked TERRIFIC during my teenage years! While our living room looked just like the Cleavers', our confrontations weren’t nearly as polite--and occasionally involved a ruler, flyswatter, or switch to help focus my attention. Because I loathe confrontations and learned early the power of words, my favorite battle tactic was to leave a note on Mother’s pillow detailing her horribly unfair assessment of my sin du jour, her ridiculous overreaction, and the depth to which her wrath had grievously wounded me. It’s too bad she didn’t save any of those notes; they would have made great reading all these years later.

I worry about the moms girls are watching on TV and movies today. Are they learning how to instill behavior such as honesty, compassion, and integrity? Do the Real Housewives of Wherever even know those words? And if Mom doesn’t teach basic values, who does? It’s scary to think of a society peopled by “Girls Gone Wild” rather than Girls Helping Girls, but sometimes, it sure seems that's where we're headed.

Be proactive this month: tell a good mom she’s worth a lot more than she realizes. And next time you vacuum, put on your pearls; maybe June knew something we don't.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Poem by Arabella Eugenia Smith (1844 - 1916)

If I should die to-night,
My friends would look upon my quiet face
Before they laid it in its resting-place,
And deem that death had left it almost fair;
And, laying snow-white flowers against my hair,
Would smooth it down with tearful tenderness,
And fold my hands with lingering caress, —
Poor hands, so empty and so cold to-night!

If I should die to-night,
My friends would call to mind with loving thought
Some kindly deed the icy hands had wrought,
Some gentle word the frozen lips had said,
Errands on which the willing feet had sped;
The memory of my selfishness and pride,
My hasty words would all be put aside,
And so I should be loved and mourned to-night.

If I should die to-night,
Even hearts estranged would turn once more to me,
Recalling other days remorsefully;
The eyes that chill me with averted glance
Would look upon me as of yore, perchance,
And soften in the old familiar way,
For who could war with dumb, unconscious clay?
So I might rest, forgiven of all to-night.

Oh, friends! I pray to-night,
Keep not your kisses for my dead, cold brow:
The way is lonely, let me feel them now.
Think gently of me; I am travelworn;
My faltering feet are pierced with many a thorn.
Forgive, oh, hearts estranged, forgive, I plead!
When dreamless rest is mine I shall not need
The tenderness for which I long to-night.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Ten for All and All for Ten--More or Less

A new poll reports writers' votes for the ten greatest books of the 19th and 20th centuries. It's worth reading the entire article here, but take a quick glimpse at the winners:

Top Ten Works of the 19th Century
1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
2. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
4. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
5. The Stories of Anton Chekhov
6. Middlemarch by George Eliot
7. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
8. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
9. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
10. Emma by Jane Austen

Top Ten Works of the 20th Century
1. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
2. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
3. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
4. Ulysses by James Joyce
5. Dubliners by James Joyce
6. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
7. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
8. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
9. The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor
10. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

Do you agree? Have you read all of these profound pieces of literature?

Aside from Middlemarch, I completely agree with the 19th century list. Despite my friend April's assertion that it's the best book she's ever read, I've never been able to get past the first chapter before thinking, "Nope, life's too short for this." Call me bourgeois; what can I say? In any case, I'd be hard pressed to choose a favorite from the rest of that list; all are wonderful stories whose popularity with generation after generation is certainly testament to their greatness. (My 21-year-old son is currently reading Anna Karenina and is completely captivated by it.)

The 20th century list is a little harder to cheer for. I've only read about half those titles (have tried to read Joyce but, genius or not, he's not my cup of tea) and, of those I have, neither Lolita nor The Great Gatsby would make my top ten list. I wouldn't have wanted to miss them but, frankly, my dear, Gone with the Wind and Little Women brought me a lot more pleasure. The stories of Flannery O'Conner, whom I discovered in high school, stay with me to this day, as do those of William Faulkner, who--admittedly--may be as much of an acquired taste as James Joyce, though I think Mr. Faulkner is infinitely easier to embrace.

Polls, as we are all too aware in this nasty political season, are often nothing more than polarizing tools of propaganda. I hope these will be, instead, a source of inspiration, conversation, and motivation for you or your book club. Most of us don't pluck War and Peace off the shelf for a quick read, and I'm afraid the few of us who still include libraries and bookstores on our list of hang-outs know a lot more about Stephanie Plum than Pip. But there's a deep satisfaction that comes with being "well read;" not only does it give us an advantage on Jeopardy and in Trivial Pursuit, it allows us to feel part of something bigger than ourselves--part of a giant mind meld, if you will, that transcends our differences and brings our disparate selves together temporarily, at least on a literary level.