Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | December 29, 2019

I prefer things to make sense.

For instance, if you want to take a bus from one place in a city to another, the place to stand is in the close vicinity of a bus stop.  That makes sense.  Or if you want a built-in bookcase made of dark cherry wood,  hire a carpenter, not a brick layer. (I speak only to the not-handy, otherwise, by all means, make it yourself with wood.  Dark cherry, if you like.)

From twelve to nineteen, I played club football.  At twelve, I was one of the bigger players; my coach told me I was a tackle.  Back then we played both offense and defense so I learned how to block and how to tackle.  By fifteen, though, I was taller and much slimmer, no longer tackle size.  Nor was I suited to quarterback, nor was I fast enough for running back.  What was left?  End.  I didn’t need to learn blocking or tackling, but I did need to learn catching and patterns.  I could do that.  I didn’t think it was hard.

At fifteen, I was no longer on a club team.  Instead I played on the junior varsity team. We scored touch downs on offense and defense. We tackled quarterbacks and running backs in their own backfield. We were very good and lost no games.

The end of the fall sports season always included a morning athletic assembly.  Members of teams, junior varsity and varsity, were called to line up in alphabetical order to receive certificates, numerals (of one’s graduation year), or letters.  At that season’s assembly, our coach gave a brief recap of our season.  He was very brief. He asked us to stand, and then announced to the student body that ours had been an undefeated team.  The entire student body and faculty applauded us.  We were celebrated.  We were acutely embarrassed and very proud.  All day long we were congratulated by our peers, upperclassmen, those in lower  school (grades 7 through 9), and by many of the masters, which was what we called teachers.

I know for a fact that never, not once, in any of the games of that undefeated season, did any of us celebrate a good play: touchdown, tackle, a long run, or a skilled catch.  We patted each other on the back, said nice catch, or good running, or way to go, great tackle.  We never danced, we never pretended to pose for a picture, we took no stance or posture and looked at the bleachers (there were almost always at least two or three parents watching), and we never spiked the ball.  None of that ever occurred to us.  What we did do was play the game we had been taught and coached to play as well as we could.  That was fun and rewarding, which was the point, which made sense, which was why we were there on the field in the first place.

I stopped playing football after high school – not big or fast enough. I did watch our team play.  I cheered for them, glad when they won, sad when they lost.  That was the fall of 1964, and I never saw any of the kind of celebrating that is nowadays impossible not to see many times over whenever a football game is televised.  To me, it’s unseemly, unsportsman like, braggadocios.

Professional athletes are paid astonishing amounts of money.  Surely that is reward enough, not to mention, what else are they hired to do other than play football well which includes, as it always has, tackling, blocking, catching, running, and scoring points?  Does it not make sense that a young man who is paid multiple millions of dollars to catch footballs actually does catch footballs?  Is that not what he expects of himself?  Isn’t that what his coaches expect?  Is that not what his owner, he who pays the salaries, expects?  Certainly fans expect that.  Does it make sense that doing precisely what you have been hired to do is cause for celebration?

Then finally there’s this:  celebrating successful football play apparently has nothing to do with your team’s success.  Even when a team is clearly going to lose the game, say, behind thirty points or more at the final two minutes warning, first downs are accompanied by the exaggerated sword thrust, hand gesture.  What exactly is that celebration meant to celebrate.  Certainly not the team’s play.  What’s left if not that one particular player’s successful play, albeit in a losing effort?

Other sports are not exempt, but no others celebrations are so elaborate, so emphatic and extravagant.  I enjoy watching football games more than any other sport (except for the UCONN Women’s Basketball Team), but I do wish most players would take notice of the handful of players who do what they’ve been hired to do, like handing the ball to a ref, and jogging back to the huddle.  I appreciate that, not the other.

Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | May 25, 2020

Summer Friends – Part II

Summer Friends – Part II

Every once in a while, fishing moved up as our favorite thing to do. At any time I loved going fishing early in the morning with Jeff, but Jeff couldn’t always go, too much, it depended on whether or not he thought he was going to be too tired, and that depended on how many people Mimi invited for dinner at the Big House, or whether the day before (Thursday or Sunday) he and everyone else had the day off beginning after lunch or brunch which was earlier but only on Sundays, so never Friday morning or Monday morning.

William and I fished in the late afternoon (Ask anyone who knows about fishing, and they’ll tell you fish don’t bite in the middle of the day). Every once in a while we’d ride our bikes to Hatch’s Pond, but that wasn’t easy at all. Besides fishing poles, we needed our tackle boxes and something to bring the fish home in. Neither of us had a basket or anything like that on our bikes. When we rode to the Club, all we needed were our tennis rackets and those we could lay across the handlebars and hold with our thumbs. We could do that with our fishing rods, too, and use the rest of the fingers on your left hand to carry one of the tackleboxes – William put some of his lures and hooks and stuff into mine – and use the other fingers on your right hand to steer the bike and put on the brake. William carried the bucket or a regular creel for the fish, which was easy on the way there, but not on the way back if we’d caught a lot of fish. Most times, though, my mother would take us there and pick us up about 6:30 just before she went to the Big House for dinner. She’d park in the same place as in the morning, and blow the car horn. We’d hear it and row back. If I had rowed first, then William rowed us back, or the other way around. If Mother went to dinner early, or we wanted to stay later, she’d ask Leslie to pick us up. When we had a ride there, we always brought our BB guns in case the fish weren’t biting.

Fishing was usually fun because you could at least almost always find a couple of places where the Bluegills and Crappie were hanging out. They were suckers for worms, of course, but they also liked this little lure that was supposed to look like a minnow. It came in different colors and patterns, and it had a propeller on the front that spun around while you reeled it in. Sometimes one color worked, sometimes another. William and I each had about five different ones. I don’t know what the fish thought that lure was, but it must have been something that tasted pretty good. That kind of fish – people call them pan fish – are shaped like an egg, except they were flat. When you hook one, it turns sideways to your line which makes it seem like a much bigger, heavier fish. Sometimes, though, you’d get surprised when the fish you were reeling in turned out to be really a bigger and heavier fish, like a Large-mouth Bass or a big Yellow Perch. The largest Bass I ever caught, right up until it came up to the side of the boat, I’d thought it was a Bluegill. At Hatch’s, you never could be absolutely sure what you were going to catch when you were fishing underwater instead of on top.

Early in the summer, the pan fish mated. You’d be rowing along, and suddenly a whole school of them came right up to the top of the water. You could see their backs as they churned around in an area five or six feet square. We’d cast directly over the school and then reel the lure through then. You could be pretty sure one of them would bite, probably not because it was hungry, though. I think the lures we dragged through their school annoyed them. Every once and while, the lure’s hooks would snag a fish by the tail. That is a very interesting way to catch a fish. Later, toward the middle of August, the Bluegills and Crappie got bumps all over them. It was some infection or something that looked like chicken pox. Fish with the bumps, we didn’t want to touch which made taking them off the hook kind of tricky. We had to hold them down with a foot just hard enough so they couldn’t flap away. We weren’t sure whether or not we should put them back in the water because maybe they were contagious and other fish would get infected from them, so unless there were only a couple of bumps, we’d knock them on the head, keep them in one part of the boat, and then throw them away before we left.

Large-mouth Bass were the most fun to catch because of the way they go after a surface lure. They grab it and shake it, spraying water all over, and, boy, are they ever mad when they find out the thing they tried to munch on has hooks. Jeff taught me to fish, and one time when he was bring lunch to the pool and I was there, I asked him to tell Uncle John about the fish we’d caught that morning. So Jeff did, but he also said what a good fisherman I was getting to be. Then all of sudden in the mail Uncle John sent me a spinning rod, my first one. He got it at Abercrombie & Fitch which used to be a store that sold mostly hunting and fishing stuff, like hunting clothes, fishing vests, duck calls, and all kinds of guns and fishing rods and reels. (The store is still in the same place on Madison Avenue in New York, but now it sells fancy clothing. Makes me sad.)

Along with the spinning rod, Uncle John picked out a dozen different lures; half floated on top of the water, the other half for under, like that little minnow plug. One of the surface lures was a red and white popper called a Big Boy. It had a narrow white body, a red head and red open mouth; its tail was white and red feathers. The open mouth made a popping noise when you jerked the line.

The first time I cast that lure, almost as soon as it hit the water, a Bass grabbed it the way I just said. Guess what. The Bass in Hatch’s were crazy for that lure. I caught so many the first couple of weeks, the lure got scratched up and a couple of its feathers came off. I asked my father to get me another one because he also worked in New York and knew about Abercrombie and Fitch. His office was on 37th Street and Park Avenue, which is only maybe five blocks from where Abercrombie and Fitch is, so going there wasn’t much trouble. The beginning of the next summer, he got me two, but next summer after that, they stopped making Big Boys. The salesman at Abercrombie’s told my father that another lure called a Hula Popper came in many different colors, and one of those was red and white the same as the Big Boy. The problem was, the Hula Popper tried really hard to look like a frog, but the Big Boy was just a piece of wood, maybe a half-inch wide and two inches long. It didn’t pretend to be anything except what it was. The Hula Popper’s mouth was much wider and rounded and the head was whole different shape from the body. The tail was red and white, but it wasn’t made of feathers. It had rubber strips that looked like thin rubber bands someone had cut in two. Plus, the Hula Popper didn’t sit on the water the same way Big Boy did, and it never worked even a little bit as well.

Fishing was not fun when the fish weren’t biting, which happened. When it did, there was nothing you could do. If we’d ridden bikes, we’d just ride home, otherwise all we could do is wait there until my mother or Leslie came to get us. That’s why we brought our BB guns along, in case of the fish not biting.

Once a summer, William and I went to Walsh’s Drugstore for breakfast. Walsh’s is as far away from Great Elm as you can get and still be in the main part of Sharon, just to the left of the end of the Town Green, across the street from the Methodist Church and Community Service. Admiral Hart’s house is right across the street facing down the Green, and the Sharon Cemetery, where Admiral Hart is buried, is behind the house. One, I think, we had breakfast there twice, but the second time wasn’t as much fun.
Of course we got up a little earlier than usual when we decided to go there because we wanted to be first. We were always sitting on the drugstore’s steps before Mr. Walsh or Betty arrived. Betty was still at a teenager, I think, but an old one. She worked for Mr. Walsh, mostly taking care of the soda fountain. That meant Betty would cook our breakfast. Betty walked to work because her house wasn’t far away, but Mr. Walsh drove. He and Mrs. Walsh lived on Sharon Mountain. Year and years later, my sister Betsey married Mr. Walsh’s grandson, Rob. They had four children.

Walsh’s Drugstore didn’t sell much food because it really was a drugstore. People went there for prescriptions, cough medicine, calamine lotion, alcohol – not the kind you drink, the kind you clean cuts with – sun lotion, baby oil, band aids, cotton balls, cough drops, mercurochrome, iodine – also stuff for cuts – candy bars, that kind of thing. At the soda fountain, Mr. Walsh had ice cream which you could either have in a cone or small bowl, milk shakes, ice cream sodas, ice cream sundaes, Coca-Cola, root beer, root beer floats, and maybe ice cream sandwiches; but also hamburgers and Grote and Weigel hot dogs. That’s what William and I had for breakfast, one of each, plus a glass of orange juice first.

I don’t know why, but Mr. Walsh kept the hamburgers and hot dogs frozen overnight, so it took a while before they were cookable, which we didn’t really mind. The point was, we were having something for breakfast that no one else would even think about having. And having breakfast at the Drugstore was different not just because of the food. It was completely different. For instance, think about this: when you get up early enough, the grass is wet from the dew. When you walk uptown all the way, a lot of the walking is on grass because that’s what the Town Green is made of. You start across from the Episcopal Church and walk up to the four corners where the Town Clock is. You cross the road there, get back on the Green, and head up town. (If you went left, that would take you to Amenia, New York; right was the way to Sharon Mountain, Cornwall Bridge, Kent, or Goshen and Torrington.) Going straight on up the Green the whole way, you’d pass the Presbyterian Church, the Hotchkiss Library, the Sharon Clinic, the Sharon Post Office (which now is the Town Hall but it looks just the same), and the Bartrum Inn which is now the Bartram Apartments and doesn’t look the same at all. By the time we got to Walsh’s Drugstore, our sneakers were soggy. See? That is a completely different way to start a day off.
After our orange juice but before the hot dogs and hamburgers were thawed, we would go walk around the Sharon Cemetery. Since our sneakers were already soaked, a little more dew didn’t matter. We recognized lots of the names on the grave stones; they were same ones of people we knew or knew about: Warner, Hatch, Hart, Bartram, Barstow, Calkins, Wardwell. Some of the dates of when people died go back to the early 1700s, from when Sharon first became an official town. There were a lot of Herricks, Susie’s last name. But you know what name you wouldn’t find? Buckley, my grandparents’ name.

I thought it was because none of the Buckleys were dead yet. Obviously, that wasn’t the reason, but I didn’t find that out until I was older. Buckleys weren’t Protestant. We we’re Catholic. The Catholics had their cemetery in Sharon Valley which was back then the poor part of Sharon. They did let the church of the Catholics be in the real Sharon, but not on the main street like the Methodists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians. St. Bernard’s Roman Catholic Church is on Lower Road, the road that turns into the back way to Millerton, New York if you don’t turn right first to go to Mudge Pond, also another one of the names in the cemetery.

By the time we got back from the cemetery, the hot dogs were in their machine that kept them hot turning around on a skewer until somebody wanted one. We ate our hotdogs first while the hamburgers cooked. We both liked them with mustard and relish, but for the hamburgers, only ketchup. Then we’d go home and figure out what to do with the rest of the day.

Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | May 21, 2020

Summer Friends – Part I

My sister Pam, brother John, and I are the three eldest of the third generation of the William F. Buckley family.  They themselves, the first generation, my mother’s parents and nine of their ten children are gone. If my count is correct, there are forty-seven other members of my generation, all younger than my sister, brother, and I.  That, of course, includes our seven younger siblings.  Growing up, we three did not have friends among our cousins simply because of the age difference.  Today, of course, four or five years makes no difference, but among children, such a difference is meaningful.  For instance, when I was five, I had no cousins, and when I was ten, my only two cousins, twins, were only five.  Although Madame de Pompadour meant something else entirely, I can nevertheless accurately say, après nous, le deluge.

We three had particular non-cousin, Sharon friends, the same ones each Sharon summer through 1966. In 1967, our mother died  We never went back as a family again.

  I am as sure as I can be that beginning with my first summer, age five months, until my twenty-first, I was resident in Sharon for all or most of every summer, every year.  I cannot say I remember much of anything for my first, say, five years, but my memories do include no summer without my friend being the signal part.  I believe the same is true for Pam, and John. 

John’s friend, David, was the third son and youngest child of Eunice and Tom Trowbridge.  Pam’s was Susie Herrick, cousin of the Trowbridge children.  My friend, William, was the second son and third child of the Trowbridges.  His two older siblings, Tom and Emily, we were not much aware of; they had their own friends.

The Trowbridges lived within shouting distance of the Barn and the Big House. Their house was large and imposing, not as large as the Big House, but still more than enough for the Trowbridge family. William and I didn’t spend much time there.  The downstairs was dark and felt unfriendly. The floors were uncarpeted, a handful of area rugs scattered here and there. The rugs were never flat or centered.  They always appeared to have been flung by a sleeping dog that had been suddenly awakened. Not much of the house felt homey, even second-homey.  I thought it empty and hollow. Every sound echoed – music, conversation, footsteps, even the ticking of the grandfather clock set in a corner of the foyer.  Nothing looked comfy, no space inviting.

The formal front door of their house opened into the grandfather clock’s foyer.  As far as I know, the Trowbridges never used it. They didn’t have people for dinner or cocktails. They treated their house as you might a lake cabin. Basic needs were provided for, but nothing was particularly hospitable or inviting; nothing looked comfortable. A short, unpaved loop added on to the right side of the driveway allowed for a car or carriage’s passengers to debark at the bottom of a full flight of stairs leading to the porch and front door. I never entered William’s house that way.  On the few occasions when we met there, prior to starting our day,  I waited for him in the kitchen.  Most of the time, William came up to the Barn after breakfast, and we set out from there.  Today William’s older brother Tom keeps the house as his second home.  Having met Tom’s wife a few times, I’d bet anything the inside of the house no longer looks as it did.

I think the fair and polite way to put it is, Mr. and Mrs. Trowbridge were eccentric.  Mr. Trowbridge’s summer outfit was the same every day: baggy, knee-length, khaki shorts held up with a length of laundry line  (or maybe I’m just remembering the time he’d misplaced his belt) and an unironed, white button-down shirt, sleeves rolled up to the elbow. His hair was a gray steaked, dark, dark brown, and wavy stiff.  It looked a little different every day, depending on how he had slept. The Trowbridges lived with the tacit assumption that Great Elm’s pool was theirs to use whenever the spirit moved them.  I don’t count William and David in that simply because if I were there, William was there, and if David, then John.  In fact, that assumption was only noticeable when any of the other Trowbridges appeared.  Mr. Trowbridge’s preferred time was after five, sometimes Tom and Emily came with him. If I Mrs. Trowbridge came for a swim more than two or three times a summer, that would have been unusual.  Late in the afternoon she’d come, her bathing cap already in place, slide into the water from the baby pool, and then swim up and down a few times.  She’d slide back out the way she came, pick up her towel, wrap it around her shoulders and go home.

Mr. Trowbridge called his children home to supper by yodeling their name. No, I don’t mean his calling sounded like a yodel.  He could yodel. He knew how to yodel, and he had a different yodel for each of his children. Each call began the same – odel-odel-odel-odel – that part went on for a long time, but finally he’d get to the name:  odel-Willodel-odel-Yum or odel-Dayyy-odel-odel-Vid. Emily’s followed the same pattern, but Tom’s ended abruptly: odel-odel-odel-Tom.  I couldn’t tell the difference between one sibling yodel and another for the first couple of years so when Mr. Trowbridge yodeled at all,  I’d have to ask William if he had to go home. 

Mrs. Trowbridge was deeply tanned.  She apparently had a close relationship with the sun, but the odd thing was, I almost never saw her outside, except for maybe at the Country Club or maybe a cocktail party at Great Elm.  (Mimi had one very big cocktail party each summer.  Practically all the old Sharon families did.)  Oh, and whatever Mrs. Trowbridge said was stained with a vague whine.  I don’t mean she whined; it was her voice, it sounded whiny, but not, I think on purpose.  Also Mrs. Trowbridge was an artist.  I have in my home a drawing she did of me with a fishing rod, apparently reeling something in.  I recall the photo I think she used to draw that. I was standing on the side of the pool, practicing casting.  My father gave me that drawing a few years before he died.  It was hanging in his office, and I had no idea he had it.

In the summer, my family ate our big, meaning hot, meal in the middle of the day.  None of us children liked it much, but that made no difference to anyone who counted.  Our mother did not eat that or any other meal with us, but she did often sit at the table while we ate.  William and David ate with us, noon meal or supper or both, more than once a week.

Mother took all her meals at the Big House with Mimi and Father, our grandparents  until Father died in 1957.  Then only Mimi and Mother dined, except for when I managed to get myself invited.  Weekends were different because most of the uncles and aunts who worked in New York spent the weekends either in their own houses or Great Elm if they didn’t have a house of their own yet.  Also some aunts and uncles lived too far away.  When they came it was for longer visits like a week.  Our father was part of that group – we called him Daddy which he disliked but Father was already taken.  Daddy didn’t come straight from New York.  Instead he took a train to Hartford, and then drove to Sharon.  He could just as easily have driven with Uncle Jim or Uncle John or Aunt Priscilla. He worked with both uncles.  I guess it was because he wanted to have his own car.

Susie didn’t eat with us too much.  She didn’t live as close as William and David.  Sometimes, though, she’d come and spend the afternoon at the pool, or else Pam might go to her house. They liked to have sleep-overs, either at the Barn or at Susie’s house.

I sit now thinking what it was William and I did together.  You’d think our activities must have been unusual, intriguing, especially exciting, to maintain our friendship all those years.  I’m disappointed that nothing particular stands out.  On the other hand, I guess what we did was not remarkable except for we did it together. There, that must be the key. 

We were the same age.  The lessons our parents signed us up for – golf and tennis –started happening the same summer.  We’d ride our bicycles together to the Country Club, which was about a half mile beyond the turn off for Hatch’s Pond.  I’d have my golf lesson while William had tennis, then we’d switch.  After we’d play one or the other, but never both, I think. 

We roamed the grounds of Great Elm with our BB guns, terrorizing birds, chipmunks, and Japanese beetles.  Later in our lives, when we were older and traded our BB guns for .22 rifles, we terrorized woodchucks in the farm fields of Sharon Mountain.  All but one of the farmers were happy for our visits.  See, cows that stepped into the holes woodchucks dug in the fields would break a leg.  Cows aren’t really too careful about where they step.  You can tell because they always walk right through other cows’ patties.  How dumb would you have to be to do that without noticing?

On the Fourth of July, when everybody had fire crackers, we’d walk up to the Singing Hollow Shop next door to the Post Office.  Each of us bought ten balsa wood gliders  – they were ten cents apiece.  The movies we saw were mostly either Westerns or ones with US planes (good guys) having dog fights with Japanese, German, Russian, or Chinese planes (bad guys).  We used a magic marker to draw on the wings of our gliders a swastika, rising sun or hammer and sickle which worked for both Russia as well as China.  Then, scotch tape a fire cracker onto the fuselage of a glider, throw it into the air, and cheer at how perfectly the fire cracker blew up the plane in mid- air.  Once in a while, the fire cracker’s fuse burned too quickly, and the explosion would happen before the glider left your hand. That hurt about the same as having a mouse trap snapped closed on your finger when you’re trying to set it and put it down carefully so it won’t snap closed on your finger. Plus you couldn’t hear very well out of the ear on that side for a while. Another year, we used the gliders as clay pigeons and shot them with shotguns.  The job got done, but it wasn’t as dramatic or as much fun as using fire crackers.

I mentioned shooting beetles with our BB guns.  I better explain that.  You probably haven’t heard of that before.  We had decided the beetles were the enemy of the yellow roses that grew on the tennis court fence.  That made them Mimi’s enemy because she loved roses and liked to use the petals from one of those roses for her finger bowls, one petal per bowl, floating in the middle.  So the roses needed protection.

The tennis court was next to the pool.  The beetles took a bite or two from the leaves, but their favorite part were the roses themselves. To avoid shooting a rose, we had to hit the beetles while they were having a leaf hors d’oeuvre or were crawling on a stem with designs on a particular bud. We did give them a sporting chance.  We backed away fifteen feet or so which could have been too far except that Japanese beetles are so colorful. They shine bright green and copper when the sun hits them making them stand out. We could pick them off pretty well.

One Saturday after lunch at the Barn, we went to the court to see if the roses needed help. On Saturdays Mimi arranged for lunch – hamburgers, cheeseburgers, salad, and melon balls for dessert – to be served at the pool because there were lots of grown-ups at Great Elm on weekends.  It was sort of  like a picnic.  If they wanted anything, they had to take a plate and put food on it themselves.  Except somebody always got Mimi what she wanted which was never very much.  Even though my Uncle John had his own house in Lakeville, a few miles north of Sharon, on Saturdays he ate lunch at Great Elm.  He and Uncle Jim had offices in of the downstairs of a small house almost exactly mid-way between the Barn and William’s house but a couple of hundred yards from the pool. It used to be owned by Carol Robinson. (You might remember her from a different chapter. Remember the pine tree that was just outside her bathroom window?  The one I set fire to, and then ran away?  I don’t know for sure, but maybe Mrs. Robinson thought living in that house anymore wasn’t a safe choice, so she sold it to Uncle John.)  Anyway, we called it the Office in those days, and Saturday mornings, both uncles worked there in the morning and came to the pool for lunch.  

William and I, as I said, were doing our best to save the roses.  That day Uncle John had been watching us.  Uncle John’s business was the same as my grandfather’s: oil, but after Father died, Uncle John took over as the leader of the business because he was the oldest.  What he liked a lot more than oil, though, was hunting and fishing. Everybody knew he would rather be shooting guns, hunting, or catching fish than anything else.  Anyway, he had been sitting on one of the chairs set up on a raised area of flagstones about the size of a living room, the whole thing shaded by an awning. 

He walked up behind us so quietly we didn’t hear him, and we didn’t know he even there until he said, “That’s some pretty good shooting you boys are doing.  May I try?”  I handed him my BB gun. He stepped even farther back  from where William and I had been, and began to pick off beetles one after another after another.  All my uncles and aunts knew how to shoot.  I have a photo of my mother when she was eighteen, standing next to a deer she’d shot, and Uncle Reid and Aunt Priscilla were hunters, but no one could shoot as well as Uncle John.  He wore glasses for everything except reading.  When he read something or needed to tie on a new fly for trout fishing, he pushed his glasses up onto his forehead.  I liked the way that looked, and I couldn’t wait until I needed to have glasses, too.

Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | April 25, 2020

Back to Memoir, But First

I know all seven of my blog readers prefer when I write memoir.  I am getting back to that.  In fact I’ve been writing about my best Sharon friend.  But something is bothering me about the clarion call for testing everyone for CORONA – 19, so I have to step away from Sharon in the summer in the 1950s for just a little bit.

Play along here. Imagine imaginary person Griselda who lives in the imaginary state of Adelachute.  In Adelachute, just shy of two thousand people have tested positive for you know what, and of those, 101 have died.  Of those who have died, ninety-one percent also had pre-existing conditions, and all but four were seventy-one or older.

 Griselda is, of course, worried about contracting COVID – 19, and she should be.  By all accounts, a bout of COVID  can be the ultimate hard time, or not.  She also worries about her parents who are, as the designation goes these days, elderly (as am I and almost everyone I know), thus at greater risk.  Her mom is in her late seventies, and other than aging, she has no disease, but her dad, older than his wife by four years, has a pacemaker and a history of high cholesterol.  Put another way, her mom is vulnerable, he dad is dangerously so.

Griselda lives alone. She was married once, but no longer, and she had no children of her own.  She hasn’t had much to distract her lately.  She’s been baking her heart out for the neighborhood children, she’s been reading classical literature at least one hour a day, without fail.  She had thought to take up crocheting again – something she hadn’t done hardly at all since joining the workforce – but could not find the yarn and crochet hook she was certain she had put away in the bottom drawer of the bureau in the guestroom. Neither her supermarket nor pharmacy carry such things.

Given her pervasive anxiety about everything COVID – 19, she naturally makes it a point to watch almost all of President Trump’s Daily Briefing which she calls,  Everything You Need To Know about the Novel CORONA – 19 Virus, and More.  Lately it seems to Griselda, a briefing doesn’t go by without all sorts of information and questions about testing.  Griselda is beginning to think that, indeed, testing might very well be the answer to the problem.

And that was what Griselda was thinking about when she turned off the light that evening.

Next morning, Griselda woke up with a headache, a pretty bad one.  By noon she was coughing and hacking, and exhausted.  She was forever falling asleep, but her cough kept waking her. Griselda was certain she had the novel CORONA – 19 virus.

Following protocol, she called her primary care physician, Dr. Cares, as it happens.  She told him her symptoms and her suspicions.  Dr. Cares said, “Well, Griselda, it sounds as if you may well have the COVID – 19.  Have you taken anything for the headache?”

“No,” Griselda said.  “Do you think I should.”

“I do.  Do you have Tylenol?”

“Yes, I do, almost a whole bottle of it.  Is that what I should take?”

“Yes, Griselda, you should.  You can take two every four hours.  And do you have anything for that cough.  It sounds very uncomfortable.”

“Nyquil, but it’s the kind you take in the day time.  How’s that?”

“Sure, that should help some, but check the ingredients to see how much acetaminophen the Nyquil has.  That’s what Tylenol is, you know.  You shouldn’t take too much of that at one time.  And cough drops.  You can have as many of those as you want.  Oh, Griselda, you’re not having any trouble breathing, catching your breath, are you?”

Griselda took a deep breath, and then another, but the second started her coughing again.  She hadn’t felt out of breath, though.  “No, I’ve got plenty of breath.”

“Well, fine Griselda.  Tell you what, I’ll call you first thing in the morning to see how you’re doing.  How will that be?”

Griselda had been thinking about testing all the while they talked, and she was a bit surprised, and not pleasantly so, that Dr. Cares hadn’t suggested it.  “What?” she said, and then remembered what he’d asked.  “Oh, that’s fine, but, Doctor, there is one more thing I wanted to ask, if I may?”

“Of course.”

“Shouldn’t I be getting a test?  To see if I have it or not?”

Dr. Cares was not as enthused about testing as most of the people Griselda heard talking on TV.  He thought to himself, well, I could authorize Griselda to get tested.  Then she’d have to pull herself together and drive to the nearest testing sight, not as near as all that.  Then she’d have to drive home and wait maybe a day or so to get the result. She’d probably test positive, not a false positive, but a true one.  What do we do about that?  Griselda says she doesn’t have a breathing problem.  She’s young enough so she is not “vulnerable.”  What is best practice for a patient with a positive COVID result but no life threatening condition requiring the attention only available at a hospital.  Tylenol for the headache, cough suppressant for the cough, hot tea, chicken soup, plenty of water, plenty of rest.  And what if she doesn’t test positive?  What if this is a normal flu, or even a bad cold?  Would my prescription be different?  No.  Would Griselda still be susceptible to CORONA – 19?  Yes.  Would she need another test to prove her CORONA free?  She would.  And another two days later?  Of course.

“No, Griselda.  Without breathing difficulty, you need have no concern about whether you have it or not.  I wouldn’t tell you to do anything different no matter what.”

“Really, Dr. Cares?  That doesn’t seem to be what they’re saying on the news.”

So, you see?  If a person is tested, that person is discovered to be infected or not.  Now what?  And if everyone in the United States is tested next Monday and the results are improbably reported to the nation in time for supper, does that mean anyone who tested negative is less vulnerable to COVID – 19 on Tuesday?  So on Tuesday, everyone in the nation who doesn’t have COVID- 19, is tested again.  On which of the next days is the testing stopped?  Has there been a report that testing for the virus is a cure for the virus? 

What will stop the virus?  A vaccine, sort of.

 According to a Feb. 21 CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report,( the current influenza vaccine has been 45% effective overall against 2019-2020 seasonal influenza A and B viruses. 

“Specifically, the flu vaccine has been 50% effective against influenza B/Victoria viruses and 37% effective against influenza A(H1N1)pdm09.”

When will a vaccine be available?  Eight months, a year, a year and a half, never?  All are possible answers, even never.  How do we know never? Look at MERS, which officially showed  up on the planet in September of 2012.  It is also a Corona Virus with a 34% fatality rate, far greater than CoV-19.  Well, the work on MERS is on-going and promising.  Scientists have achieved excellent results with mice, not as good with larger animals, and clinical trials are now being conducted, but no vaccine has yet to be approved for people. Then there’s AIDS. How’s the work on the HIV vaccine coming along? 

So I’m going out on a limb here and flatly saying, whether or not testing is widely and easily available will have no clinical effect on the eventual outcome of the epidemic of the novel CORONA – 19 Virus. 

I would be more than interested if any of you all can offer a reasoned argument that suggests I’m wrong.

Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | April 25, 2020

Frances Cha Looks Back on a Babymoon Trip to Nashville — Musing

Today’s post is written by Frances Cha, author of the new novel If I Had Your Face. Several years ago, when I was working out of CNN’s Asia headquarters in Hong Kong, I had the idea of pitching a story on beautiful bookstores around the world. This was inspired by Ann Patchett’s essay “The Bookstore […]

Frances Cha Looks Back on a Babymoon Trip to Nashville — Musing
Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | April 6, 2020

My Chipmunk Brain

Chipmunks are cute, undeniably cute, but they also work so hard.  And the difficulties they face!  I appreciate those difficulties these days.  I didn’t always, but I did always think they were cute.  In fact, I thought they were cute the very first time I saw one. Then I was a young child, and I wanted one. I bet every child in North American felt the exact same way with his first chipmunk.  

I say North America because on no other continent do they exist.  You can Google it if you want.  Go ahead, try African Chipmunk.

Ah.  You’re feeling smug, aren’t you?  You see page after page in response to your prompt, but now, look at the first entry.  Disappointed?  You can try the rest, but you’ll still be disappointed.  Same thing is going to happen with Australia, Asia, Antarctica, Europe, and South America.

If you are a non-North American, you’ll have to settle for other, wee cute rodents that are not chipmunks.  For instance, the Cape Ground Squirrel; I find them pretty darn cute.  And the Hazel Dormouse is not only cute as cute can be, it’s unique –  the only species of the genus Muscardinus, so there.  You can run into a Hazel D. in all sorts of places:  Northern Europe, Asia Minor, the British Isles, and in County Kildare in the Irish Free Republic.  (On the same page I found Dwarf Mongooses which are seriously adorable, and even very tame, but they only look like rodents.  If you’re thinking of one for a pet, you may be put off by their best friends, Hornbills.  They’ll poop all over your house.)

For all I know, you have visited India’s west coast.  So, tell me, did you, while you were there, catch a glimpse of what you would swear was a chipmunk?  Yes?  Now, do you want to know what you really saw?  A Jungle Palm Squirrel, superficially close in appearance to our chipmunk.  In fact, in that part of the world, you might also maybe have caught a glimpse of a Nilgiri Striped Squirrel, maybe even a Lariscus Three-striped Squirrel, although that would be unlikely. Depends a little on how you feel about Borneo.

South America. Now wouldn’t you think if any other continent was going to have a chipmunk or chipmunk-like rodent, it would be South America?  After all, it’s more or less connected to North America.  But nope.  Not even a look-alike.  In fact, except for one I’ll tell you about in a bit, South America’s rodents are not an attractive bunch.  The easiest on the eyes, so to speak, is the guinea pig.  South America has all sort of those, but they eat them, like regular food.  Try this thought experiment:  cuddle up to a chicken, headless, featherless, wrapped up and on display in the meat department of your local supermarket.  How’s that? I  know. I didn’t like it, either. 

As I suggested, there is one very cute South American rodent:  the Andean Squirrel.  It’s a reddish-brown and only six inches long, not counting the tail which is also about six inches.  Don’t get your hopes up, though, because you’re probably not going to run into one of those unless you happen to be a fan of the cloud forests of the Columbian Andes. 

And by the way, what goes for South America, goes double for Australia, but without an exception.  For Australia, though, I do have a theory about why there are no cute rodents.  Once upon a time, there actually were cute ones.  Probably the Sandy Inland Mouse, or even the Heath Mouse, used to be cute as anything, but they stopped being cute maybe a couple thousand or so years ago.  Why? Snakes.  Australia is the poisonous snake capital of the world.  Think of what it meant to be cute way back when.  You know how cute things stand out?  Think Ruby Throated Hummingbird, or Lilac Breasted Roller.  See what I mean?  Those rodents, the cute ones, they were the first ones the snakes went after because they were so easy to spot.  So the cute ones had a choice:  do the Darwin thing PDQ or just give up and go extinct. Next thing you know, everywhere you go in Australia, nothing but drab, ordinary looking rodents, ordinary by Australian standards, that is.  Plus all those hungry poisonous snakes.

Back to my appreciating chipmunks.  I’m going to explain that.  When I lived in Connecticut, I liked to plant flowers in the beds around our house. The house was pretty big, so there was much to take care of.  It was in this time of my life that I no longer saw chipmunks as cute because they dig holes.  Their favorite digging ground is garden soil; it’s loose and really easy to dig in.  If they were digging dens for the winter, I might have looked on this chipmunk activity with less annoyance. But they were not.  They were just digging holes either to find food they’d buried the previous fall, or to hide food during the late summer and fall.  Every once in a while, if they were feeling peckish, say, they would have a gnaw or two of a plant’s roots, doing that plant worlds of no-good, but most of this activity seemed to be about holes for holes’ sake. I had to find out, and when I did, I also found out that chipmunks spend most of the winter hibernating, or giving a very convincing imitation of hibernating.  Mammal experts do not agree on whether chipmunks are or are not to be included in a list of mammals that hibernate.  So, I thought, what’s going on with the food holes?  Why do they need food if they’re going to sleep through the winter?

My problem with their holes was that those cute little buggers always chose to dig right next to a plant, most frequently an annual flowering plant, and that plant would die immediately, from the indignity, I figured.  Anyway, by the time I discovered the partially dug up plants, they were wilted dead. 

I tried all sorts of things to dissuade the chipmunks.  Fox urine, coyote urine – I might have even welcomed a poisonous Australian snake or two because the fabled Eastern Diamondback and the putatively shy Copperhead most certainly put not even the smallest dent in the chipmunk population.  So reluctantly I put out traps.

 In case you are wondering, mouse traps don’t bother chipmunks one bit.  Rat traps, on the other hand, worked pretty well.  They also work well on anything else at all that showed interest in the peanut butter I used for bait, specifically gray squirrels, red squirrels, blue jays, dogs, and cats. (I know, who ever heard of a cat that liked peanut butter?  Well, now you have.)  Happily I recognized how irresistible our pets found peanut butter, and stopped using rat traps before any damage was done, corporally or emotionally – I’m thinking of the cat with that last, my dog Emma would each day believe, today is the day the trap will not snap.  I moved on to electric traps. They’re like a little electric chair except it’s a box.  The makers of those execution chambers were thinking rats, but I can tell you they are perfect for chipmunks.  And field mice and the occasional vole.  Poor little things.  I gave all of them a nice burial, deep enough so the coyotes couldn’t get them even though coyotes have to eat, too, but leaving them out for the night crew would feel like insult to injury.

Now I’m in Arizona.  All I have are potted plants, and I’m no longer on the warpath for chipmunks.  It’s not that they don’t dig in pots, they do.  The difference is I’m old, and, as I said, I’ve come to appreciate what they and I have in common.  I keep a bucket of garden soil handy to replace the dirt the chipmunks displace. They never seem to want to dig in that bucket.  I wonder why that is?

So, what we have in common: If I were to make a list of the items I’ve taken down or moved or otherwise gotten out of the way, which I then put somewhere really smart, a place where those things would be safe … well, that would be a long, long list.  The things is, when I get around to noticing that a particular thing is missing, like for instance the plaque that was hanging in the kitchen that my Aunt Carol gave to my wife, Edie, whose maiden name was Rubino – “The only thing wrong with Italian food is that seven days later, you’re hungry again.”  I’d moved that to make room for a Christmas decoration.  After de-decorating, I wanted to put it back.  All I knew was to look in really smart places, which I did.  I haven’t found it yet.  I think I won’t find it until I want to put something else in a really smart place where it will be safe.  It only bothers me a little to know there’s at least one really smart place in this small house I apparently don’t know about.

See?  The chipmunks can’t remember where they hide their food so they just keep digging in likely (think smart) – and unlikely for that matter – places.  Once in a while they find something, probably more often than  I do.

Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | April 23, 2019

A Street Photography Location Nonpareil

Not from me, but you will enjoy this post.

Tulip Frenzy

All images Leica M10 with 35mm Summilux FLE or 21mm Summilux

I saw a provocative headline recently that asked “Is Instagram Killing The Great Outdoors?” Of course, Betteridge’s Law of Headlines states, “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered no.”

Still, it’s a pretty good question. Ten years ago, Horseshoe Bend near Page, Arizona was a lovely place to stop and reflect high above the curvature of the Colorado. These days, hundreds of people arrive in busses in order to get selfies they post on Instagram.

There are people falling off of Yosemite cliffs, trying to get that Instagram post that will generate likes. One instinctively recoils from what we perceive to be a desecration of nature — going to the right place, but for the wrong reason.

But what of buildings, street corners, locations that seem made for photography? The Occulus is the Santiago Calatrava-designed…

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Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | December 5, 2017

On Reserving Judgement


“…the future becomes present, the present past, and the past turns into everlasting regret…”

Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams 


       The website has this to say about Alabama’s age of consent laws: “The age of consent is sixteen. With parental consent, parties can marry at age fourteen. However, this parental consent is not required if the minor has already been married… Common law marriage is recognized.” 

     Speaking of himself at the age of 32, candidate for the U.S. Senate from the state of Alabama Judge Roy Moore said, “I don’t remember dating any girl without the permission of her mother.”  The year was 1979.

     On November 4, 1979, 63 Americans were taken hostage in Teheran. I’m sure I didn’t notice, but I can’s say with certainty.  All I know is that I was likely in the morning or afternoon or evening, doing one teacherly supervisory duty or another.  On Saturday, August 9 of that year, in Brighton, England, the first nudist beach on the UK was established, and I wasn’t there.  Farrah Fawcet turned 32 on February 2nd.  Inflation was 11.2%.  The DOW ended the year at 838.  My red Ford Fiesta cost $4,400.00. I do remember I liked it.  None of that data did I recall; I found them all on the internet, of course.

     I think about me in 1979 and mostly I cringe.  Too much of that me I find shameful.  Had I been then as wise, sensible, empathetic, and rational as I am now, I think, or perhaps it should be, I hope I would see that me in a better light.

     The idea of a thirty-two-year-old dating a fourteen-year-old is repulsive.  I am mindful, however, that the year is 2017 and I am 72.  So, being today far wiser, more sensible, empathetic, and rational than I was then, I reserve my judgement.  I recommend that for those whose capacity for angst is at the bursting point.


Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | December 3, 2015

Jimmy the Geek

Today I have invited a guest to contribute to the Cornvillenutmeg.


     My name is Brian Lister. My sophomore year in high school was so far the hardest year of my life. Because of that, and maybe so I’d understand it all better, I wrote down everything that happened. For a long time, what I wrote sat in a drawer in a large manila envelope. Now the whole story is in a book, Jimmy the Geek.
     I read it again a couple of weeks ago. After all this time, it surprised me how many different subjects came up: friendship, loyalty, betrayal, homophobia, bullying, bigotry, and basically what’s fair and not fair. And everything that happened was the result one physically weak high school sophomore and the effect he had on both his friends and enemies.
     When Jimmy moved to town during the summer, he interrupted my friendship with Harry, who was my best friend and always had been. Pretty much from then on, Harry and I stopped doing what we used to do, like playing touch football or ultimate Frisbee with other kids, fishing, camping, going to the beach. That was because Jimmy wasn’t really strong enough to do things like that on account of he had a health issue. So instead, Harry and I spent the rest of the summer doing mostly what Jimmy preferred, like listening to opera, going to see a ballet, cooking, every once in a while a movie.
     By the time school started Harry and I were more or less used to Jimmy and had gotten to like him okay – well, Harry more than me, really. Most of the other kids, though? Not so much. That was the main problem which got to be a bigger and bigger deal as the year went on until everything more or less exploded into an epic mess that changed everything and pretty much everyone.
     What you’re going to see when you read this book, these kinds of things are happening all the time. In fact, I’ll bet you a dollar you won’t have to look very hard to see stuff a lot like them in your own school.

Brian Lister

Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | September 21, 2015



     Mother, Mimi, and I are standing on the train platform in Pennsylvania Station. A man called Porter has brought all our suitcases off the train, and a man called Redcap is putting them on a big cart. He will bring them to the street where Leslie is waiting for us.
     We follow Redcap up a ramp and into the station which is a big room. Redcap pushes the cart across the floor of the station to where there are six doors. Mother hurries up to get in front of him. She opens the door so Redcap can push the cart through. Then Mimi goes through the door with me, and then Mother.
     Mimi looks around for Leslie. A man dressed in an all-black suit and a black hat and very shiny black shoes steps up to Mimi and waits for her to turn around. He looks down at me and smiles, but not a big one, not the kind where you can see teeth.
     Mimi turns around and sees the man. “Oh, Carlos. There you are.” Mimi looks at me and says, “Jimmy, this is Leslie. He’s going to drive us all the way to the Big House.”
     If his name is Leslie, I wonder why Mimi called him Carlos? Mother, who was thanking Recap and shaking hands with him, steps up and says, “Hello, Leslie. Thank you so much for coming to get us.”
     Leslie says, “Yes, ma’am.” I decide his name must be Leslie.
     Mother looks at me. “Jimmy? Do you remember Leslie?” I move so I’m to the side of but also behind Mother. I nod.
“Can you say hello?” Mother says. That means I’m supposed to say hello so I do.
     Leslie and Redcap put the suitcases into the trunk of the car, which is very long, and also black and shiny. Leslie and the car look like they belong together.
     Mother opens the door to the back seat. Then she flips down a little seat that faces backwards. Mother calls it a jump seat. She and Mimi get in and sit in the back seat which is pretty far away from mine. I’ve never seen a backwards seat in a car before. Mimi says, “Now Jimmy, you have the best seat because you’ll be able to see all the skyscrapers.”
     Leslie closes the door and gets in the front. Mimi says, “We’re going to stop at the office to pick up Mr. Buckley before we head home.”
     Leslie says, “Yes, ma’am.”
     Mimi’s right. I am in the best seat. And there’s another one on the other side for the window over there. Mother says I can sit on both. There’s lots and lots of buildings, but also people and trucks and cars. Most of the cars are yellow. Mother says those are taxi cabs and that if you have enough money, they will take you wherever you want to go as long as it’s not too far away. The taxi cabs and trucks blow their horns all the time.
     We pick up my grandfather at 103 East 37th Street. That’s where his office is. That’s also where my father and my Uncle Jim and Uncle John have their offices, but only Father is riding to Sharon with us. I call my grandfather Father because I call my father Daddy. He says, “Well, Jimmy. It looks like you’ve grown another foot. Are you almost as tall as I am?” He always thinks I grow a lot when I see him.

     Leslie, whose last name was Carlos, was married to Elizabeth who was my grandmother’s maid. Sometimes, though, if my grandparents were having a cocktail party or big dinner party, Elizabeth would help serve.
Leslie and Elizabeth had three children: Alma who was my Aunt Carol’s age, Wayne, whom Elizabeth called Rodney, and Kathy. Wayne was about my brother John’s age, Kathy was my sister Priscilla’s age. In South Carolina they lived in their own house just across a sandy road from my grandparent’s home, Kamchatka.
     Their house is gone now, of course, as is most of what I recall about my grandmother’s home there in Camden. Elizabeth’s house was small and cozy and smelled of burning coal because it was heated by a coal stove that sat between the kitchen and another room which I never saw. I would go to visit Elizabeth and her children in the afternoons when my family was in Camden. Alma taught me to play hop-scotch in the sand in front of the front porch of their house. Leslie was never there when I visited.
      In Sharon, Elizabeth and her family lived in an apartment that was created in one end of the hayloft above the horse stalls in the stables. Below their apartment was the laundry room where Hester did all the laundry for everyone who lived at Great Elm, except for Bristol and his family. They lived in a house all year-long so they had their own washing machine.
Hester was busy almost every day. An outside staircase was built onto that end of the stables so Elizabeth and her family wouldn’t have to go through the stables when they wanted to go home.
Elizabeth arrived each morning at my grandmother’s room after Mimi had had her breakfast. If any of us were visiting, Elizabeth would say, “I’ll come back later, Miz Buckley.”
     And Mimi would say, “Oh, thank you Elizabeth. We’re just finishing up a story.”
As she left, Elizabeth would say, “Take your time.” Then she might add, “Nowhere to be till lunch time.” But if Mimi had an appointment, then Elizabeth would remind her that she had to be at the hairdresser at such and such a time. Or perhaps it was the day Mimi had promised to have lunch with Mrs. Bogardus. Elizabeth would remind her of that. Mimi already knew what she was going to do, but that way she could tell the children who were visiting she was going to have to make this one the last story, but she hoped they would come back tomorrow.

     I believe the occasion of meeting Leslie was also the first time I had been to New York City. I was enchanted, and from my perch on first one and then the other of the two jump seats, I peered at the buildings, taxi cabs, trucks, and occasionally another limousine.
     From the office, Leslie drove us to the West Side Highway which he followed until it became the Henry Hudson Parkway. Back then, that highway emptied into a large traffic circle which Leslie drove around half-way to the beginning of the Saw Mill River Parkway. By that time there was no more to see. My mother saw I was tired, and told me I could curl up on the floor. She covered me with a blanket, and I fell asleep listening to her and Mimi talking. My grandfather had already put his head back and was asleep.
     While Father and I slept, Leslie drove. He left the Saw Mill in Millbrook, New York, and then took Route 44 to Amenia, New York. From there, Sharon is only a few miles on Route 343, then only a minute more to Great Elm.

I didn’t know Leslie did anything other than drive the limousine until one summer when the gardener wasn’t there. He, the gardener, was not one of the group who traveled from South Carolina each year to take care of Great Elm. He lived in Sharon (I presume) and perhaps he worked on the place year round. He was an older white man, gray-haired, who always wore a hat, an old and stained fedora. Sometimes I would be in the patio alone or with my friend William. We would hear the outside door sigh open and then close. It was the gardener slipping in with his watering can. He made very little sound. He didn’t sing to himself or whistle. His did not let his can clatter even though it was made of metal and had a very long spout, nor did he over-water for I cannot recall hearing the sound of water splashing on the tile floor. A half-hour or so later, the door would open again and close, and he was gone without out our ever having really seen him. On days when plants didn’t need watering, he drove one of the ganged riding mowers.
     The summer the gardener vanished coincided with my seeing Leslie for the first time dressed in clothing other than his chauffeur’s attire. He took over the watering of the plants and mowing the lawn and wore khaki pants and shirt. That may also have been the summer when Leslie became the person who would drive me and my older siblings and William to the movies once or twice a week, not in the limousine but in the station wagon Jeff drove when we went fishing.

     Leslie was short, almost a foot shorter than Jeff, so the Friday morning he and Jeff showed up at my mother’s bedroom door in the Barn, they made an incongruous looking pair. Jeff was in his gray jacket, Leslie was dressed for the outdoors. They did not look well or happy. They had come to receive harsh words and to deliver an apology.
On their days off, the servants would often all squeeze into the station wagon and drive to Poughkeepsie, New York. Poughkeepsie is west of Millbrook where we had left the Saw Mill and headed east. The city is about an hour’s distance from Sharon. I had it in my mind that they all had friends there, but I think now the attraction was of a different sort, one where the clientele was black, the music unrestrained, and the liquor plentiful. On one such occasion, the night preceding their appearance, Jeff and Leslie began an argument that continued during the drive back to Sharon in the wee hours of the morning. Once out of the car, fisticuffs ensued with the result that Leslie scored a technical knockout which is to say Jeff went down. Neither had further appetite for another round.
     I do not know the facts pertaining to how or why my mother learned of this incident. With Mimi away for the height of hay fever season, my mother as senior Buckley lady in residence, was the designated arbiter of their breech of conduct.
Mother was still in bed. She, like Mimi, took her breakfast in bed every morning – coffee and a piece of dry toast which she never ate all of.

For us children, sleeping in Mother’s room was a special treat although as we reached adolescence, not one we often sought to enjoy. My guess is that sleeping in her room was something she initiated when we were croupy as she used to say. An aspect of mothering she was truly gifted at was making a sick or otherwise unhappy child feel better, even good. She personally would prepare for the patient strips of white, crust-less bread, buttered and sprinkled with sugar, or cinnamon toast – whichever you preferred – and sweet tea with milk. When she wasn’t running errands or driving other children to or from school, piano lessons, dancing school, dentist, and catechism classes, she spent her time with her invalid child. So sleeping in our father’s bed – generally unoccupied more than two hundred nights a year – was associated with feelings of being cosseted.
     I can’t at this remove begin to know why I was in need of pampering the night before. As like as not, the previous night I was feeling lonely, bored, and sorry for myself; or perhaps the night before had been very hot and sticky; Mother’s room was the only one with an air conditioner. My being still asleep when Jeff and Leslie arrived was no more than an unfortunate coincidence.

     I am not a child of the South, but my mother was and her parents were and their parents were. I haven’t any idea when the Steiner family (Mimi’s maiden name) grew wealthy enough to have servants, but by Mimi’s childhood, they were and they did. Her great-grandfather emigrated from Switzerland to New Orleans in 1845 with his wife and seven children. He was a shoemaker by trade. His son Louis, Mimi’s father, died in the early days of the Civil War, probably of wounds received in service to the Confederacy. His widow with four children, married one George Kraus of whom I know no more. Louis’ son, Aloysius had four children with his first wife. None of the children survived. The oldest lived only until she was five. It was believed she perished from grief over her mother’s death. Aloysius married a second time to Marie Wassem. The first of their four children was Mimi. By the time of his death, Aloysius had risen to Secretary-Treasurer of A. Baldwin & Co. As far as Mimi knew, her family always had servants.
     My grandfather’s family did not. He was one of five children whose father John was the sheriff of San Diego, Texas. John was well-respected by the citizens of San Diego, but not well paid.
     My parents had servants although not the way Mimi did. My grandparents employed more than twelve people to take care of them, their homes, and their estates.

     I am a fan of formality, ceremony, ritual, and routine. I am comforted by courtesy. All of those qualities I value were inextricably entwined in my experience with my grandmother’s servants in my growing up. I take pride in being an almost perfectly polite man.
     I recall the first time Mimi invited me for supper at Great Elm. I suspect it was on that visit which began at Penn Station. My mother told me everything I needed to know about how to behave.
Gentlemen, she told me, stand up when a lady enters or leaves the room. Children stand when anyone older than they enters.
     If a male who is older leaves his seat to use the powder room or to take a phone call, children do not need to rise, although they may choose to; however, if a lady leaves, children should rise unless the lady says specifically not to.
Gentlemen allow ladies to precede them out of and into a room. Children give the same courtesy to anyone older than they. If, however, a boy is asked to escort a lady into the dining room, he and she are to be shown the deference due the lady. If the lady is Mimi, then you and she go first.
     In the dining room, a gentleman helps the lady he is escorting into her seat by pulling out her chair, and then helping her to slide it back in. Then he remains standing behind his chair until all the ladies are seated and all other gentlemen older than he are also seated.
     Always thank Jeff and Ella when they bring you something.
     I remembered everything Mother told me. Mimi asked me to escort her, and even though Jeff had already pulled Mimi’s chair out, he stepped aside so I could be the one to push the chair in. But he helped me. All evening long, I received compliments on how good my manners were and what a gentleman I was.
     Mimi told everyone where to sit. The seats to her right and left were for honored male guests. Honored lady guests sat on either side of my grandfather at the other end of the table from Mimi. When I was included, I almost always sat on Mimi’s left. That seat was called Starvation Corner because it was the last one to be served. I never minded it though, and here’s why. When you had supper at the Big House, everyone waited until everyone else had been served, even though Mimi always said, “You all may go ahead. Don’t let your supper get cold.” So being the last one served meant I didn’t have to wait as long as everybody else.
      Jeff and Ella were in and out many, many times during supper – to take away the first plate that your napkin was on, to bring you your warm plate the food would go on, to serve bread – almost always half pieces of toast cut into triangles – to serve the meat, the vegetables, and the starch. To pour wine, to re-fill water goblets, to re-fill wine glasses, to pass all the food a second time, to take away the plates, to crumb the table around your place, to bring finger bowls, to take away the plate the finger bowl came on after you had twinkled your fingers in the lemony water, wiped them off on your napkin, and moved the bowl with its doily to your left where your butter plate had been before Jeff or Ella took it away. And finally to serve dessert. And every time Jeff or Ella offered me food, took away a plate, brought me a plate or finger bowl, re-filled my water, swept up my crumbs (of which I always had more than anyone else so there really was something to sweep around my place), I said, “Thank you,” and looked them in the eye and smiled, and they would whisper, “You’re welcome,” or “You’re welcome, Jam,” if it was Ella.
      What I noticed was that not everyone at the table said something to them. Mimi did, my mother and aunts who were Mimi’s children did, although, except for Mimi, nobody actually looked at the person who had served. And sometimes, when all the food was brought around a second time, many of the diners stared at the platter or bowl Ella or Jeff was holding for about six seconds, looking as though they weren’t sure what it was or why it was there. They would wave a hand, and the platter was withdrawn. Except for Mimi, and except for my mother. She did do the staring part, but she actually said the words.
     The dessert dishes were cleared after everyone left the dining table which everyone did after Jeff had carried the coffee tray into the sitting room where cocktails had been served. Once he put the tray down on the coffee table where Mimi would serve it, he would come back into the dining room, pause at the entry, and say, “Mz Buckley, the coffee is ready.”
     She would say, “Thank you, Boykin.” And we would all make out way back to the sitting room the same way we had come into supper.

     All of the foregoing is to make clear the point that the only way I knew of to treat any of the servants was to be both polite and friendly, and I just could not imagine how either of those was going to be a part of how Mother was going to handle Jeff and Leslie.
     As I said, I am polite. My dear wife Edie would say I am overly so, that I go out of my way to be polite even to the extent of inconveniencing myself. She once asked my cousin, Peter, also an oldest of a large family, what he had been brought up to be. At the time Edie was new to my family. She was curious about our upbringing. In answer Peter said, “Polite.”
Impoliteness on the part of anyone else could enrage my mother. She once took hold of a museum guard and physically shook him, saying, “Don’t you ever speak to me that way again!” I promise you, there was no chance he would repeat that to her or anyone else.
     Impoliteness on her own part was so disturbingly unthinkable she could become flustered even at the notion that she might inadvertently do or say something possibly indecorous.

Almost in unison, Jeff and Leslie said good morning to Miz Heath. My mother in her bed jacket, her tray of coffee and mostly uneaten toast in front of her bid them a curt good morning in return. Then there was silence. Leslie and Jeff probably thought she was being stern. I was fairly sure she simply had no idea what to say. The only humans she was good at castigating were her children and her husband.
     After almost too long, Mother cleared her throat. “Would either of you care to explain to me exactly what happened?”
Both Jeff and Leslie started to speak. Mother held up her hand. “One at a time, if you please. Jeff, you may go first..”
Jeff stumbled through an explanation which, when it wasn’t disjointed was all but incomprehensible. Mother did not interrupt him but let him go on and on until he simply ran out of words to speak. Leslie followed with an abbreviated version. He relied on many, “Like Jeff say” to make his way through to the end. Then, each apologized.
“Very well,” Mother said. “You may go. Let this be an end to this episode. We shall take this no further…” She did not end the sentence as much as leave it hanging.
     Jeff more quickly than Leslie saw that more would be forthcoming. He said, “Yes, ma’am?”
She graced him with a nod of the slightest approval. “Provided such a thing never happens again.”
“Yes, ma’am,” they both said. And, “Thank you, Miz Heath.” They backed their way through the open door. Jeff leaned back to close the door. He caught me looking at him. He winked and pulled the door shut.
     Mother waited until she knew they were well on their way. “I have no idea in the world what that was all about.”
     “How did you find out?” I asked. This had all happened late last night, and here it was no later than nine-thirty the following morning.
     “Elizabeth called me first thing this morning to let me know what had happened and to say that Leslie and Jeff wanted to come to apologize.”
     “What were they apologizing for?” While the idea of Jeff being drunk bothered me only slightly less than his having lost a fight to Leslie, it didn’t seem to me what they had done had hurt anyone other than they themselves.
Mother looked at me as though she couldn’t understand how she had raised such an ignoramus. “Conduct unbecoming of the family,” she said.
     “But they aren’t family, they just…”
      She cut me off. “They most certainly are. While there is no question of a consanguineous connection, the servants are just as much a part of the Buckley family as you or I. And they are treated as such. And they are expected to act as such.”

     I  don’t know when either Leslie or Elizabeth died. In searching for notices of their deaths or obituaries, I found notice of their son Roderick’s death in April of 2011, at the age of 59. The notice included the information that his parents had predeceased him. A few years before her own death, my aunt Priscilla on her annual visit to Camden over Christmas, visited Elizabeth in the cottage Mimi and Father had built for her on the grounds of what used to be part of Kamchatka. She had wanted to express her condolences to Elizabeth on having lost her husband.
Elizabeth looked surprised. “Oh, Miz Priscilla. Don’t you give that one second of thought. That Leslie, he was a bad, bad man. I am just so happy to be rid of that man before my time comes.”
     Aunt Priscilla was more tickled than anything else. It turns out that no one had ever much liked Leslie, but he was tolerated because of how much Mimi loved Elizabeth.

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