Friday, May 29, 2020

Nelia Gardner White's The Merry Month of May

Whew! I'm barely squeezing this book review in before May ends. 

On the flyleaf of Nelia Gardner White's The Merry Month of May published in 1952, I wrote the following many years ago:

This book is the heart of women, or at least it's me. Scary how much it is me. Are many women thinking these same things? I thought I was alone but now know I'm not as odd (as I thought). 

Nelia Gardner White is my favorite woman United States writer of the 1940s and 50s. The Merry Month of May is actually three short novels, the first and last one hauntingly beautiful and masterfully written in the piercing and sometimes acerbic manner that White does so well without being the least depressing. 

The first novel in it, The Doctor's Wife, stunned me because I identified so completely with the main character that I realized for the first time that there were other women like me, had to be. Maybe sometime I'll find enough courage to review that novel, but today I'm writing about the novel the book takes its name from, The Merry Month of May.

I felt such compassion for Ann Bogan in this novel. Her days are spent trying to keep a nice house for her family, her penniless but brilliant artist husband Mort whose few paintings rarely sell, and her young adult daughter Hitty who is falling in love with a man not worthy of her--in her mother's eyes. 

Ann also takes care almost single-handedly of her bedridden father-in-law Hillary, an irascible and irreverent man who seems to delight in making her thankless job impossible. Ann has good intentions every morning not to let the old man ruin her day. 

One morning when she has finished changing his sheets and given him his breakfast on a tray while enduring his taunts, she escapes outside to take down the storm windows on a spring day when the sun finally shines. 

She came to the old man's bedroom...At the bottom of the storm windows were little round holes, three to a window, to let in air. She bent and peered through one, straight into the old man's good eye.

"Peekaboo!" she said.

It was a triumph of nonsense, of spring. The astonishment in Hilary Bogan's eye stayed with her all morning, making laughter run around under her skin, making the job of lugging the widows to the barn nothing at all, making everything shimmer with light, making her strong as a lion. Why, he was just a sick old man, just a sick old man--you couldn't think of him as accountable. Lots of women had to wash sheets and carry trays.

Ann desperately wants to be a better housekeeper, desperately wants to bring beauty into her house. Not that her artist husband would notice, lost in the imagination of his mind and his current large painting, never really present when in the middle of a painting.

He would be drunk on light, drunk at this hour of the morning..."If I knew how, I might get drunk on housekeeping," Ann said. "Some women know how."

That article--she had torn it into small bits, so angry that she was cold. It was all about women being the great artistic solvent that made humdrum tasks beautiful. Tripe. Pap to keep women contented with their lot.

Ann badly wants to be close to her daughter Hitty, as close as they had been when Hitty was a child. What had gone wrong? Only that morning Hitty had been cheerful but she couldn't respond in kind.
She heard Hitty moving about in her room above. She felt far away from Hitty, though a fraction less than yesterday. "I was horrible to you in the rain," she said to the sound of Hitty. "You wouldn't gray down to match. I'm as bad as Mort."

She wore raspberry-colored sweaters, tied ribbons around her hair, called out "Hi, Gramp!" as if she loved the hideous old man.

But Spring was here and again Ann determins to be better, even to once again invite a friend to supper as used to be her habit in days long past, to do her part to mend the strained relationship with her husband.

So she moved about the house, through birdsong and sun, through clean air, planning to rake away the leaves, fix the wire on which the wren house hung crookedly, planning to be sparing on eggs for a little and buy Hitty a really good round-necked blouse, planning to ask Mort about his pictures, to let him talk and talk till he was dry of talk instead of turning from him coldly when he started off, planning supper for Keturah Crumb, supper with candles and the best yellow mats and yellow sprigged dishes and Mort being lively and full of laughter as in the days before the old man had his stroke and fastened himself on them like a limpet. 

This novel is not a Pollyanna story and Ann struggles to the end, but Spring does bring new hope and better communication in the family. Ann even learns more about her father-in-law's story that brings some compassion towards him.

The end of the book is just right for this story.

She put the flowers into a bowl, walked with it through the rooms to that room, set the bowl down. "Hi," she said, "isn't it a wonderful morning?"
"What's wonderful about it?" said Hilary Bogan. 

Our merry month of May during the time of Pandemic ends soon. There have been good days and not-so-good days but they were all days--and I think that is a thought that has come to me from all the years I've read dear Gladys Taber's books. I still want to be Gladys when I grow up and hope to always let her mentor me. 

So I will remember the good things about May and the end of winter and give you a picture from yesterday when the sky here was as glorious as a van Gogh painting. 

Best wishes and a happy weekend from our house to yours,

View from Our Front Porch




Tuesday, May 19, 2020

May Is Galloping By

And I don't want it to!

I never do since May is a favorite month but even more so now when time has taken on new importance.

The calendar above is one my daughter Christy has given me for years, its easel refilled for the coming year as an annual Christmas gift. It is by Karen Adams and each month is an artistic jewel.

This month a white mouse is the jockey on a happy dog, standing in, I think, for the Kentucky Derby in May. 

Postponed: the race, the hats, mint juleps, My Old Kentucky Home.

Later on in my pretty calendar there is an illustration featuring the Olympics.


Just as so many other events are being postponed or greatly altered. Mother's Day dinners...

 Beautiful flowers and cards still came...

 And even a lovely and careful visit. 

But as I turn to other months in the calendar I see a month of mermaids, newly sharpened pencils, jack-o'-lanterns...

And so 2020 speeds by.

Do I want it to? In hopes that better news is ahead?

Or am I afraid for it to? 

Regardless, each month has a way of galloping by. 

What do I do with it, the time that is ahead in this month, in June, July, August?

Surely it ought to be different than it was in 2019... or 1961.

I can't just kill time until a better day comes. 

Whenever I hear people say "This will help pass the time away," I wonder at them. We all have just so much time and just "passing it away" is rather like throwing jewels down a well.
Gladys Taber
The Stillmeadow Road

What jewels will I not throw down the well, even in the months of a pandemic? And I confess I threw hours down mindlessly during the first fearful weeks.

Dear friends who visit here, what jewels are the most important to you now? Have they changed since our world slowed down (or is it speeding up)?

Are you anything like me, full of vim and vigor and determination one day, fed up to the ears another, bursting out sobbing when you least expect it? 

Do you ever get tired of hearing "we're all in this together"? Has it ceased to be comforting? Are you mad or sad or both, all within 20 minutes? 

That's all of my venting. I think.  


Friday, May 8, 2020

Exit Driveway; Turn Right

Does anyone take Sunday drives anymore?

I was a part of the generation that grew up taking Sunday afternoon drives. First church then home for either a fried chicken or roast beef Sunday dinner. Dishes done and Sunday paper read and maybe a short nap in their chairs for our parents, then there was often time for a drive.

Drives through the country were a big part of RH and my marriage--even when we moved to the country in 1990. And we explored the surrounding country roads when we moved here three years ago.

But we had never turned Right out our driveway since we moved here. Always it has been Left turn, towards the small suburb outside Nashville where we do all our shopping. 

After I had stayed home the first month of this time of pandemic, only taking walks around our 2 1/2 acres and down to the pond, I was desperate to Go somewhere and asked RH to turn Right out of our driveway to see some of our neighbors' houses.

Want to go along with us? Hop in the backseat!

Here are our neighbors.

Pretty soon we come to a house that catches my notice.

If you know me, you know that I love Red!
And I love quirkiness. This house has both and I feel they surely must be kindred spirits. Even their garage is red.

We're seeing many horse and cattle farms and lots of fencing on our long road.

 But it is always the touches of Red that I snap pictures of. 

Slow Down, RH!

 I would love to stop and visit these neighbors. Should we knock on the door?

Better not, they might be napping.

We have miles like this between houses so we are surely in the country now.

I always wanted donkeys but could never talk RH into them or llamas or sheep or the Toggenburg goats I badly wanted. Now that goat cheese is the only cheese he can eat, maybe he should have listened to me.

We're seeing miles and miles of fencing.

Aha! Now we know where our train sounds come from at night when we have windows open. Don't you love the sound of a 🚆 at night?

Another cattle farm. Black Angus?

Now our road circles around to the tiny hamlet near us, high in the hills, where Nashvillians built summer homes at the turn of the 20th century. We'll save that little village for another day and continue our drive on a country road that I often take when I'm coming home from shopping (in pre-Corona days) to avoid traffic on the state highway

This house is much older than it's style looks.

I dearly love this style of flat log house and the pale gray color with white.

Here's a rounded log cabin and more power to them if they still want Santa Claus and Frosty on their front porch. Maybe there's a story there, as Dolly Parton's character said in Steel Magnolias; I hope it's not a sad one.

 Okay, I have to show you a stone post that I would absolutely love to have in our yard. Don't you love this?

 Here's a nice old farmhouse that's been fixed up but it's the other building in their yard that I want to show you.

 How would you like to have your own personal Country Store? If we see someone out in the yard we should ask them if it's open to the public.

 Want to see where RH and I vote? It's in this sweet little country !

Now we have to pull back out on on the state highway our road runs off of. I wrote here about our new neighbor across the street from us who lives high on a hill in this gated neighborhood. 

It's much more charming than these first ones built, I think. 

This next one is way too imposing for our neck of the woods.

 I mean, do 50 people live there?

We turn Left by it onto our street and soon are home again, to where two people and two dachshunds fit very comfortably in a 1935 cottage that was the farmhouse for what was once only farmland.

 Our drive through the country did me so much good. I hope you enjoyed riding in the back seat!

When was the last time you took a Sunday afternoon drive?