Monthly Archives: November 2012

Nov. 16, 2012

There’s something mesmerizing about flickering candlelight reflected in old silver. It raises memories I can’t remember—long ago lives, long ago times. Other things that awaken those tantalizing, haunting, impossible almost-memories—

Sights: staring into flames (fireplace, candles, campfires), evergreens at Christmastime, lightning flashing, falling snow, autumn foliage, when the world is washed pink with dawn, a radiant, full moon, red-gold sunsets, old graveyards with inscriptions on stones that bring tears, antique book bindings, ancient stone castles and churches, lighthouses on a rocky shore, clouds over the moon

Sounds: beautiful music (especially in a minor key, and particularly violin and cello), the ocean crashing on the shore, burbling, flowing creeks, rain on the roof, wind in the treetops or moaning around the eaves, the crackle and snap of burning logs, deep baritone voices of men (either speaking or singing), church bells, the sound of taps played at a funeral, wolves howling, owls hooting, distant train whistles

Smells: rain mixed with dust, sagebrush in the desert, vanilla, roses, lilacs, honeysuckle, violets, jasmine, mint leaves, whatever that smell is in the deep woods—rotting leaves and wood, I guess, cloves embedded in oranges, baking bread, baking spice cookies, roasting turkey (even though I’m a vegetarian). (I love the smell of chocolate, but it makes me hungry, rather than bringing up the feeling I’m looking for.)

Don’t know what senses these are– the delicious light, shivery feeling of something mildly spooky, passages of scripture (especially Isaiah), some poetry (“The Listeners,” by Walter de la Mare, for example, or “God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manly Hopkins),

Almost a dream, almost a memory.


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November 20, 2012 · 3:27 am

Kids Sing

Nov. 13, 2012

Not long ago, the kids at church put on a musical program that I wrote and was in charge of. The three-year-olds, one at a time, recited the ten commandments, in their cute, lispy little voices—“Don’t lie,” “Don’t steal,” etc.—and the older kids mostly repeated scriptures. When they said their parts at the microphone, their parents leaned forward and were often mouthing the lines they’d heard so often, eager for their babies to do well.

I sat on my little chair next to the podium, where I could prompt them if they couldn’t remember their parts, and just looked at them and loved them. It all brought a tear to my eye. The kids had been sort of awful during practices, but for the actual performance,  they sat on the edge of their seats watching for when they had to stand, all tense with wanting to do their very best for their parents, and when they sang, they indeed did their very best.

I was reminded of the time an African American friend was listening to a children’s music cd I was playing. She said, “Why do white kids sound like that when they sing?” I said, “Sound like what?” And she said, “Like little mice.” I had to admit that when white kids sing, they do usually sound softer and squeakier than when black kids do. My kids claimed that their black friends were born able to sing in perfect harmony. I loved the musical school programs in Aberdeen, Mississippi. In our 95 percent African American schools, those kids REALLY got into the music. They danced and sang with so much gusto that it was catching, and all the audience would move with the beat.

But my darlings at church were amazingly sweet and warbled beautifully, if a tad more mousily. When the kids forgot their parts, I whispered the lines to them from my little chair, and I thought (tongue in cheek, of course), Am I like Satan, whispering into their ears? But I retorted to myself, No, instead I’m like the Holy Spirit. Church people have been accused of “brainwashing” children. The fact is that everything children hear is preaching in one way or another, whether good or bad, as their impressionable brains soak it up. We may not call the World’s agenda “preaching,” but that’s what it is. Every day of kids’ lives they are preached at from TV and at school and with their friends, telling them what they ought to want and do and say and believe. What’s important, what’s cool, what isn’t.

I once apologized and had to turn off the video that a friend had brought for my children to watch because of the profanity it contained. She said, “Jane, your kids hear that all the time at school.” In other words, they were used to it, so why not let them watch the video. “That’s why I don’t want them to hear it at home, presented like This is what’s good,” I told her. Maybe it’s my obsession with words, but bad language absolutely makes me cringe. And a recent BYU study showed that YA novels contain twice as much profanity as video games, and that the popular characters swear more than the unpopular. Again, this is what the World is presenting as what kids should strive for.

There—I’m preaching. Selah.

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November 14, 2012 · 2:08 am

Autumn Leaves and Fairy Castles

Nov. 1, 2012

What is it that’s so satisfying about treading on fallen leaves and having them crunch in just the right way? Also walking on acorns and squishing them? Or stepping on rocks and having them click together in a perfect, rock-y clink?

Whenever I see acorns or spiky sweetgum balls or magnolia pods, I always want to make things out of them. They look as if they are specifically designed for crafts. Once, though, I made some lovely Christmas ornaments from sweetgum balls, and then all these bugs began crawling out of their holes. That’s how I learned it’s important to first bake natural, holey things in the oven in order to kill insects. So bug corpses fall out instead of living entities. I’ve helped kids create really cute, fuzzy owls from magnolia pods, and spiders from sweetgum balls. Turning acorns into heads with little hats and stick bodies is almost too obvious and cliché, but it’s irresistible. And, of course, the acorn caps also make useful rustic bowls for fairies and dolls. When I was a kid, I baked acorn cakes because I had read about them in a book. I gathered up the acorns, ground them with a rolling pin, washed them to flush out the acid, and then baked them. They weren’t exactly…bad…

Oh! Another wonderful nature craft we did at the Aberdeen library was inspired by the book, Fairie-ality by David Elwond, full of lovely, ethereal fashions formed by nature. (Speaking of “ethereal”–one of the nicest compliments I have ever received was when someone long ago described me that way. “Ethereal,” that is.  Of course I was much younger and thinner then. Age and weight makes you earth-bound.) For the craft, I collected feathers, leaves, seeds, seashells, and all that sort of thing and helped the kids hot glue them into fairy fashions. It was unbelievable how well they turned out and how much fun they were. I had oyster (I think) shells from the beach in Alabama, which were the perfect shape for Victorian bonnets and flowing skirts.

I just looked up fairies on Pinterest. Some of it is a bit on the kitschy side, but there are still lots of delightful, tasteful, otherworldly things to look at. It makes me once again believe in the Good Folk.

I remember having no doubt that fairies and elves existed when I was little; it was an amazing, magical thing. Once, I got proof. My older sister Paula gave me letters written on rose petals by the fairy queen herself. They were enclosed in envelopes made of leaves, fastened by thorns. I wonder if she remembers?

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November 3, 2012 · 1:37 am

Old School Halloween

Oct. 25, 2012

Oh, you better be wary of things that are scary! It’s time to carve the pumpkins and decide just how frightening to appear for the few pitiful little groups of trick-or-treaters who ring the doorbell. We live in a neighborhood that should attract hundreds of kids, but last year I think we only got about five or six small groups. And we were Too Scary in our Victorian ghost costumes.  I had no idea, but later, when I looked at the pictures we took, I realized how spooooky we were. I washed off my make-up when a little girl ran screaming back to her parents who waited on the sidewalk.

As an adult I understand that Halloween is a holiday with few redeeming features. There’s nothing uplifting about gruesome decorations, ghoulish costumes, and way too much candy. But oh! Halloween was FUN when I was a kid, and I can’t help but feel wistful about the steady demise of real, honest-to-goodness competitive trick-or-treating.

In the good old Halloween days, we would plan our costumes for weeks in advance, and nag our moms till they helped us put them together. Store-bought costumes in those days were not nearly as nice as the ones that can be purchased nowadays, so my mother usually sewed mine. The first costume I remember wearing was when I went as Pebbles Flintstone with a plastic bone in my hair. My older siblings took me around, and at one house a lady brought me inside to show her husband how cute I was. Nobody was worried about me entering a stranger’s house. I liked being shown off and my siblings were proud of me. Everything was cool.

In those days, no one that I knew thought that Halloween was evil. The churches even had spook alleys and Halloween carnivals. My friend’s vampire-clad father lay in a coffin and grabbed people who came too close at their church’s haunted house. We jumped and squealed and were not scarred for life. It was all in good fun, nothing was real, we were happy and safe. It was a delicious brand of scariness—kind of like fairy tales where you know everything ends happily and the bad guys won’t win.

So many churches (at least in Mississippi) now shy away from any mention of Halloween. One first-grader told me that Halloween is the “Devil’s Birthday.” How could anyone even know that? One church did have a “Noah’s Ark Party,” where the kids were supposed to dress up as animals, trying to tame things down. Of course one enterprising church in Columbus, Mississippi had a “Glimpse of Hell” spook alley, in order to “scare you straight” and raise a little money for their youth group on the side. The people who grabbed you were dressed as demons and there were a lot of torture scenes going on. I found the whole concept highly disturbing, I’m afraid.

Back in elementary school they let us wear our costumes to class. There was real competition then. One kid couldn’t decide whether to go as a devil or Superman, so he wore his devil costume under his Superman one. Did this reveal something about his character?

I, meanwhile, no longer wanted to be “cute.” I wanted to be scary. My mother would ask me, “Don’t you want to be a hobo? You could wear your dad’s pants and plaid shirt?” (By the way, I hear now that hobos are no longer politically correct, because they are belittling the plight of the homeless. Back then, such a thing would never have occurred to us—it was simply an easy-to-put-together costume.) I never wanted to be hobo. I wanted to be something elaborate and spooky that would cause my mother as much work as possible. Luckily she was a mother who could sew witch’s gowns and vampire capes. I wore plastic vampire teeth no matter how they cut into my gums or mummy wrappings no matter how they unraveled. But then came my fourth grade Halloween, when Linda M. came to school dressed as a Southern Belle in hoop skirt and ringlets. I looked at myself with my ratted hair, green skin, and fake, warty nose, and wished I was also Southern and belle-like. From then on I went as a fairy or shepherdess or princess.

On the big night in our sprawling neighborhood, we would run from house to house, eager to cover as much territory as possible. There were no cute plastic pumpkins for us to carry; instead we toted big, bulging pillowcases. I remember the excited feeling in my stomach after we’d rung the bell, waiting for the door to open. Who would answer it? Finally we’d actually know who lived in these houses we passed daily. “Trick or treat!” we’d yell. And then there’d be the little old lady who would give us an apple, the stingy person who’d drop in one of those nasty, chewy black- or orange-wrapped candies that you only see in October, or the generous person who showered in a handful of the good stuff. I was proud of always remembering to say, “Thank you.” Once there was the rumor that someone the next street over was giving out full-sized Hershey bars. We searched for that house, but never found it. It was just a beautiful legend.

Some people in our neighborhood went all-out decorating. We would shiver up walkways lined with ghosts and push our way through cobwebs. Sometimes Things would jump out at us from behind bushes. Aaah! Now we knew what caused the screams we’d heard earlier. At Dr. Brown’s house there was a table by the door, and on the table sat a tray of slimy liver and other organs. “He’s a doctor, so it’s probably real person’s insides,” we whispered. Our mothers told us this couldn’t be so, but still…

When our bags were almost too heavy to carry, we headed to one of our houses to sort candy. Sweet Tarts, Dum-Dums, Tootsie Rolls, Sugar Babies, Junior Mints, and Milk Duds each in their respective piles. We counted and traded. My dad always demanded a tax of a couple candy bars. We were greedy little things, and it was so fun that it was allowed one day out of the year.

Sure, the next morning we felt sick. Sure there were broken eggs splattered on the sidewalk and tattered toilet paper hung from the trees. But it was just one day.

Then came the sad days when there began to be Rumors of poisoned candy and razor blades in apples. Why would those little old apple-giving ladies do such a thing? The police even came to our school to warn us to have our parents check our candy at home before eating. The innocence was lost and the fun dimmed.

Nowadays, in many places, Halloween has been watered down into “Harvest Festivals.” But once there was a thrill in those dark streets and shadowy costumed groups, in one night when we could dress up as something different from what we really were, and the stomach- fluttering wait in front of strangers’ doors. I miss it.

Oh well, at least I can still read ghost stories by candlelight on Halloween night.

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November 3, 2012 · 1:37 am

Mississippi Reminiscing

Oct. 15, 2012

I’ve been thinking about the things I miss about Mississippi. Not that I’m not fond of Ontario, Canada. I am. I love the glorious seasons and the fact that we have neighbors who are Irish, French, Italian, and Portuguese. I’ve always been an Anglophile, since so many books I read and many movies I enjoy come from there. Therefore I have fun with all the British spellings —cheque, centre, etc ., Queen Elizabeth’s picture on money, the Scottish, Irish, and British accents, and their ways of doing things.

However, last week I called the Monroe County Courthouse in Aberdeen, Mississippi in order to get them to send us our absentee voting ballots. The sound of the lady’s accent on the phone made me suddenly homesick. Also, I’ve been watching “Hometown Renovation” which is an HGTV show they taped in Aberdeen a couple years ago and which I’ve only now been able to get on Youtube. Anyway, seeing those people and places was jarring; when I go outside right after watching it, I feel as if I should be walking out the door onto good ol’ Matubba street.

Of course my experiences were in small town Mississippi, populated mainly by people whose families had lived there for generations. I’m sure the way of life would have been different in a big city like Atlanta, full of transplants. Also, some of these things are more American small town, rather than Southern per se. Anyway, here are a few of the things I miss:

The accents, both the gentile white accent, the country white accent, and the black accents, some of which sound like a whole different language, if they’re talking fast. Also words they use that I had read in books but never actually heard in real life—kin, yonder, pone.

Hearing children say “Ma’am” and “Sir.” So much more polite and respectful. Also being called “Miss Jane.” It’s more familiar than Ms. Or Mrs., but still more respectful than first names from kids to adults.

Dressing up for everything. It took me a few times when we first moved there, of wearing jeans to baby showers, plays, fashions shows, etc., before I learned that this was not a casual society. The girls wear dresses and high heels to Ole Miss football games. (Not to mention pre-game parties in The Grove at Ole Miss, where awnings are lit with chandeliers and the food is served on silver.) I loved seeing china and crystal at dinners among friends. Life is made more gracious.

Cheese straws and real Southern Red Velvet Cake (neither of which I seem to be able to make myself)

The history. Hearing people say, “We had that before The War,” meaning the Civil War, and it’s just understood that that’s what is meant. The Pilgrimage old home tours where the hostesses wear period clothing. In Aberdeen it always happens in the spring, when the azaleas and dogwood are blooming. The beautiful, grand old houses.

I miss everyone going to church, whichever church they happen to belong to. And all the kids going to each other’s Summer Bible Schools.

I miss everyone turning out for Dixie Youth baseball games on the weekends and high school football games in the fall.

Nicknames like “Budy Rabbit,” “Tater Bug,” “Too’ Pick,” “Lil Man,” “Preacher,” “Possum,” “Peachy,” “Baby Sis.” Given names like St. Elmo, Minnie Bird, and Buna Vista.

Grocery stores called Jitney Jungle and Piggly Wiggly

Christmases—even without snow, nothing was more Christmassy than Aberdeen, Mississippi in December. We had the Christmas lights driving tours where neighborhoods competed for their lights, and Commerce Street was all lined with luminaries.

Town productions put on at the Elkin Theater.

Parades—so fun to watch people you know, the cubscouts, the homecoming royalty riding on the back of a borrowed convertible, the football players and cheerleaders riding on a fire engine

The newspaper—at least once a month someone in our family would be pictured in the Aberdeen Examiner

I miss going into the Jitney Jungle and knowing who everyone is in the whole store. I miss the kids at the library and my friends.

These are just a few of the things—I could keep adding to the list. I think I need a visit down South.

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November 3, 2012 · 1:36 am

Oct. 8, 2012. The weather for our trip to Blue Mountain was truly nasty, and, foolishly, we were unprepared for it. We brought only hoodies for outerwear, and we got rained, snowed, and hailed upon. Hail is a very shocking form of precipitation. It was so nice that our hotel room had a fireplace in it. The weather we came in from made the coziness all the more intense.

We are reveling, wallowing in Autumn here in Ontario. I think maybe the fall is my favorite thing about living here. Everything is brilliant orange and yellow and crimson (“crimson” sounds so much more explosive than “red,” doesn’t it?). Even the remaining green has a more translucent look than the deep, rich summer green.  As we were walking by a skinny little tree, a sudden breeze sent tiny golden leaves glittering down. A sunbeam came down through the clouds in just the right way to make them literally twinkle. Lovely.

I am such a sucker for a good description, either to read or to write. As I work on the first MIRK revisions, I have to brutally chop them away. The only way I can do it without too much pain is to transfer them to a “left out” file. That way it doesn’t feel as if they’re lost forever.

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November 3, 2012 · 1:36 am