Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Words for Wednesday

Lissa at The Memory of Rain blogspot is hosting January's Word for Wednesday. Please go visit her to read what others have done with the cues. Her sound cue is here: And I confess to nearly falling asleep listening to it, it's so soothing.

And/or: it's going to rain today; chasing storms; umbrellas; charmed; a long journey; trains.
She'd always loved trains. She loved the isolated world they represented. She particularly enjoyed riding them alone. Being free to look around at the other passengers, the tiny dramas, the tears sometimes, the drunkenness, even the loutish behavior of football lads going home from a game. She loved the sound of the wheels on the tracks, the occasional darkness of a tunnel, the announcements, the dining car, the bar, the screeching into small stations along the route. But today was different. the carriage was steaming up from all the wet umbrellas and coats and hats. The rain outside was unrelenting, coming down in vertical streams, bouncing off station platforms.

Everybody's mood on board was affected it seemed, including her own. She supposed it was finally her turn now, her life had been charmed until a short time ago. Her high school sweetheart still in her life, wearing his promise ring, class valedictorian, university scholarships graduating with honours. And now? This long journey ahead of her, leaving a storm behind her, facing a possible storm ahead. Was she chasing the storm or the storm chasing her?

She'd done it. She'd broken up with James after 7 years. His face would haunt her for all time. Then she'd told her parents. They had been horrified and disgusted with her. A guy she'd met at Trinity a couple of months ago? She was moving to Africa with him? She might be pregnant? She was throwing her life away. She'd tuned it all out. But now their words were riding in her brain to the rhythm of the rain and the rails.

Ashok would meet her off the train. He would of course. Though he hadn't answered his phone in 24 hours. But he was like that sometimes, he'd get involved and forget. She wished she wasn't so much head over heels in love with him. It sure was another storm. This intense storm of emotion and passion and god knows what else.

She looked out the darkening window and saw her reflection in the window.

The rain made her face look full of tears.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Remembrance on a Landscape of Snow and Fog

I took this picture yesterday at 4.14 p.m. Yes, the days are lengthening. This was just about outside my front door. I was struck by the light snow on the field and as I gazed upon it, the shape shifted and I was back to my childhood self, 10 or 11 years old.

Snow was rare in my Cork, Ireland childhood. Sunday afternoons we'd walk the hills around the city. My father's "job" on those afternoons was to form a small platoon of his more mobile children and frog march us off to faraway hills, thus giving my mother her only respite from household management and abandoning her to the current infant.

He barked instructions at us to keep our backs and shoulders straight and would become enraged if our feet weren't aligned perfectly on the road.

These walks seemed inordinately endless to me. And I had the burden of being the eldest - if I didn't adhere closely to the Rules of Walking with Father I was considered a Bad Example. Sniggering and giggling were considered a hanging offence. These promenades of a Father and his Perfectly Behaved Children were a grim business indeed. If we met anyone he knew, it was agony keeping still while he talked of politics or church.

So, to bring me to the above picture and the memory it evoked, which is still as clear as a bell to me.

There was a rare sighting of snow on a field behind a farmer's gate up on a sheltered hill. I remember being overwhelmed by the desire to slip through that gate and just play in it. It was a very light sprinkling but in my mind I could already see the enormous snowman if we gathered every scrap of it onto one spot on the field.

"Out of the question! Don't be ridiculous!" barked my father and marched off, trailed by my brothers. I didn't think twice. I squeezed through the bars of the gate and managed to make one tiny snowball before his enraged roar reached me.

No supper that night. I had to walk in front of him from now on where he could see me. No allowance for a month.

Worth it?

Hell, yeah.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Words for Wednesday

The month of January 2019 is hosted by Lissa and you can visit her and see what others have done with the prompts.

This week the prompts are two photographs rather than words.

The pain sliced through her like a knife still. She'd left her small flat after the cowardly text and her responses, what time was that exactly? She hauled her phone out of her pocket and checked, 8.45pm, the night before. She'd been waiting since 6.30 for him to show up. It was a year since they'd first met on Tinder. Their anniversary. She'd cooked Italian knowing how much he loved it. And bought him a little gift too. The candles were sputtering and dying in their holders by the time she knew he wasn't coming.

At first she'd been incredulous.He breaks up with her by text? She'd called him and called him, no answer. She'd texted and texted, each one using more expletives, more than she realized she knew, moving way beyond potty mouth. She'd finally thrown on her coat and walked and walked until she reached his door and she banged and banged until one of the neighbours shouted down he was calling the police. Then she walked and walked some more. Her head was swimming, she wasn't thinking straight. Those tracks could be an answer to all her shattered dreams. They'd even talked children, a house, a wedding. He'd met her parents, though admittedly her dad hadn't taken to him. Not that he suspected but she knew her dad. She heard a loud sob and realized it was coming from herself. She stopped and pulled out the phone again and stared at the screen, absorbing the words one at a time. "Hiya, not working out 4 me. Met new. Moving on. Ciao."

She walked to the edge of the platform and considered the rails just as the sun started to come up. It must be dawn. What? Where had the night gone? That punch in the gut was still there but easing, was it easing? She looked up as the birds began to sing. Funny that, once the traffic started up and the trains began to run you'd never hear them at all. But now? In the silence? They were singing as if their hearts and souls could reach the sky and beyond. Look, three of the them on that street lamp over there.

She yanked the phone from her pocket once more.

"Sorry to call so early Dad but I'd like to take the first train down, is that okay?"

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Nollaig na mBan - Women's Christmas - a re-post.

Of all the posts or articles I have ever written, this is the one that has gotten the most attention and the most links from other blogs and publications. I reprint it here in its entirety and I am so, so happy this beautiful custom is now being held all over the world and not just in Ireland. Emails from New York, Australia, New Zealand, Scotland and even Germany tell me it is being revitalized. Long may it continue!

The following is a copy of a column I wrote several years ago. I realize that not many of you may have heard of this beautiful old Irish tradition and thought it deserved another audience.
Nollaig Na Mban - "Little Christmas" - or "Women's Christmas" as my mother used to call it - always fell on January 6 and was a tradition unto itself. Maybe it was just a peculiarity of the time and place in which I grew up - Cork, Ireland in the fifties and sixties in the last century. (And I don't think I ever thought I would write "last century" with such cheerful abandon!)

I was remembering Women's Christmas and wondering whatever happened to it and if anyone in Ireland is carrying on its charm and wonder anymore, or are we all swept up permanently in the Big Day, December 25 itself. I've talked to some Ukrainian friends here and they celebrate their traditional Christmas on that day - Twelfth Night as it is known in England - but I believe that Women's Christmas was unique to a time and place in Ireland now gone forever. But I hope not.

The day of the Women's Christmas women were supposed to take it completely easy after all the hustle, bustle and hard work of the prior months, with the men now taking care of them and cooking and cleaning all day. I can assure you that this never happened in my house as, like many men of his era, my father didn't know one end of a broom from the other and boiling a kettle was the peak of his culinary skill.

However, my mother was the eldest female of her family so consequently her sisters, sisters-in-law, aunts and mother came around on that day and a smaller, daintier version of the Christmas meal was served. On the menu were: a bird (usually a fine roast chicken), a smaller lighter plum pudding and a lovely cake, usually dressed up in the fanciest of pink wrappers with silver sprinkles everywhere on the pink and white icing. The most delicate of my mother's tea sets was brought out, my own favourite, the lavender and pale green set. I would love to hold one of these little saucers up to the light and put my hand behind it, as it was so fragile you would see all your fingers through it.

Gifts were exchanged, usually the most feminine of presents, perfume or talc, bottles of Harvey's Bristol Cream were lined up on the sideboard and the fun would begin. I was encouraged by the grandmothers and great-aunts to always give my mother a little gift on that day for the woman that she was and I did, from a very early age. I would buy something small in Woolworth's on Patrick Street, a little comb or my personal favourite, those fiercely aromatic bath cubes, which were a whole three pence each. I would wrap it up in layers and layers of newspaper and it was always exclaimed over with the phrase, "Well now, I can hardly wait to use this"!

The coal fire would be stacked up high and already lit in the front room before anyone arrived, with Bord na Mona briquettes piled on the fender around it, and any male showing his face would be banished to some other spot in the house.

I remember the women gabbing all day and in the heel of the evening getting into the stories and songs of which I never, ever tired. My female cousins and I would sense the privilege of being included in all of this, there was a respect in us and never did we exemplify more the ideal of children being seen and not heard than on that day. Unasked, we poured the drinks and ran outside to boil another kettle to make a fresh pot or brought in the sandwiches and the fairy cakes and the chocolates and exotic biscuits in the later part of the day.

I remember the hoots of laughter as my aunts dipped their ladyfinger biscuits into their sherries, letting us have a small sample of the incredible taste. This was the one day in the year that I could get a sense of how the older women in my family were when they were young girls themselves. Full of fun and music and stories. I learned about their old boyfriends and who courted them, how one of my uncles had dated all four sisters before settling on my aunt. How wild he was and how she tamed him.

I'd learn of the sad miscarriages and the stillbirths, the neighbours who went peculiar from the change or the drink, the priests who got spoiled in Africa and became pagan; or who had the failing, the old great grandaunt who took on fierce odd after her son married. I didn't know what a lot of it meant then but I stored it all away to ponder on in later years.

They would dredge up old musical numbers from their single days and sing a few bars while one or two got up and showed off their dancing legs. Sweet Afton cigarettes were lit and my grandmother would puff on her dudeen and we all could hardly see each other for the clouds of smoke.

Stories were told and they would get caught up on all the doings they might have missed in their conversations all year, obscure marriages and births, sometimes in Australia or other far flung and exotic outposts of the Irish Diaspora. But most of all I remember the peals of laughter which resounded throughout the house all day and evening.

A moment would come in the midst of all the hilarity when the time for a spot of prayer came. Out of the big black handbags that never left their sides would come the rosaries. These would be threaded through their fingers and all the heads would bow in unison. I never knew the prayer and haven't heard it since but it was to St Brigid, the women's saint of Ireland, and it involved her taking all the troubles of the year before and parking them somewhere in heaven and thus they were never to be seen again. This was followed by a minute of silence (while St Brigid did what she was asked, I have no doubt), then a fervent "Thanks be to God and all His saints" and a reverent kiss on the cross of the various rosaries which were all tucked away carefully into the handbags again. Then the glasses of sherry or the cups of tea were refilled and the whooping and carrying on would begin afresh, the bothers and griefs of the past year now permanently banished and forever.

And I wish this for all of you out there - both at home and abroad.

Friday, January 04, 2019

The Books of 2018

I must say I had a stellar year for reading. I do believe the best since I started this annual list of all books read in the previous year. I attribute that to less responsibilities and more retirement. Moving to a 1 bedroom apartment has been a boon for this reader, assisted by a fabulous library close by and the ease of on line library book reservations. A tossing of books policy has strengthened due to (a) my advancing years and (b) impatience with poor writing, editing, construction and characterization. This rule is broken for book club selections as I feel honourbound to complete those reads, no matter how agonizing. I do try and file a wee book report on Good Reads where I can be found at: GOODREADS WWW REVIEWS
And my ten years of books read and rated can be found at Ten Years of Books Read and Rated

Here be the list:

(1)The Years Flew By - Sidney Gifford ("John Brennan")
(2)Books Art Life - Kyo MacLear***** review on Goodreads
(3)Suite Francaise - Irine Nemirovsky** {BC}
(4)Miss Emily - Nuala O'Connor***** review on Goodreads
(5)The End of Music - Jamie Fitzpatrick****1/2 review on Goodreads
(6)Mercury - Margot Livesy**** GR
(7)The Woman in Cabin 10 - Ruth Ware 0 GR
(8)The Unseen World - Liz Moore ***** - best of the year so far. Review on GR
(10)Too Close to the Falls - Catherine Gildiner ****
(11)A Labrador Woman - Elizabeth Goudie ***** {BC}
(12)The Woman Upstairs - Claire Messud*****
(13)The Widow - Fiona Barton****
(14)The Child - Fiona Barton*****
(15)Remarkable Creatures - Tracy Chevalier***** {BC}
(16)The Lying Game - Ruth Ware*
(17)A Splendid Boy - Melanie Martin**
(18)The Ninth Hour - Alice McDermott****
(19)In the Land of Birdfishes - Rebecca Silver Slayer* Tossed
(20)The Burning Girl - Claire Messud*****
(21)Most Anything You Please - Trudy Morgan Cole *****
(22)The Alice Network - Kate Quinn **** (far, far too long)
(23)When Breath Becomes Air - Paul Kalanithi *****
(24)Priestdaddy - Patricia Lockwood
(25)Bellevue Square - Michael Redhill - *Review on GR Winner of the Giller? Don't understand.
(26)The Nightingale - Kristin Hannah {BC} - savouring every page.***** Mind.Blown. GR
(27)The Ice Princess - Camilla Lackberg 0 worst of the year so far GR
(28)The Emperor's Children - Claire Messud *****
(29) I let you go - Claire Mackintosh **** Oops, read before years ago caught 1/2 way thru :(
(30)Ledger of the Open Hand - Leslie Vryenhoek {BC}** A slog, would have dropped only {BC}
(31)Mind's Eye - Hakan Nesser - 0 dropped at Page 65 when main character brags about slapping his wife around.
(32)The Body and Other Parties - Carmen Maria Machado ** Different, pornish, Dropped 1/2 way through when it became a riff on Law and Order.
(33)Little Deaths - Emma Flint ***
(34)The Good House - Ann Leary *****
(35)The Woman in the Window - A.J. Finn 0 truly awful
(36)Felicity - Mary Oliver ***
(37)After Her - Joyce Maynard*****
(38)Sleep No More - P.D. James****
(39)The Housekeeper and the Professor - Yoko Agawa****
(40)Too Unspeakable for Words - Rosalind Gill****
(41)Orphan Train - Christine Baker Kline*****
(42)From a Good House - Trudi Johnson {BC}***
(43)the Life we Bury - Allen Askens*****
(44)Labor Day - Joyce Maynard *****
(45)Under the Influence - Joyce Maynard*****
(46)Baby Love - Joyce Maynard*****
(47)Faithful - Alice Hoffman **
(48)The Great Alone - Kristin Hannah ***
(49)The Glass Character - Margaret Gunning**
(50)The Perfection of the Morning - Sharon Butala****
(51)The Children - Ann Leary***
(52)Delta Wedding - Eudora Welty****
(53)The Museum of Extraordinary Things - Alice Hoffman****
(54)Before We Were Yours - Lisa Wingate*****
(55)Anger - May Sarton*****
(56)The Education of Harriet Hatfield - May Sarton*****
(57)Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel****
(58)The Chilbury Ladies' Choir - Jennifer Ryan****
(59)The Montreal Massacre - Louise Malette, Marie Chalouh
(60)The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion****
(61)The Wife - Meg Wolitzer***
(62)Christmas in Paris - Hazel Gaymore, Heather Webb*****
(63)The Marrow Thieves - Cherie Dimoline 0 not in mood, dropped.
(64)Encore - May Sarton****
(65)Sing, Unburied Sing - Jesmyn Ward 0 Tired of theme, dropped
(66)Being Mary Roe - Ida Linehan Young, won't rate but finished.
(67)Educated - Tara Westover*****
(68)Women Talking - Miriam Toews***
(69)When the Lights Go Out - Mary Kubica 0
(70)The Home for Unwanted Girls - Joanna Goodman*****
(71)Burning Bright - Tracy Chevalier{BC}*
(72)Wildlife - Richard Ford*****
(73)The Girl from the Savoy - Hazel Gaynor 0
(74)The Rosie Effect - Graeme Simson****
(75)A History of Loneliness - John Boyne*****
(76)Asking for It - Louise O'Neill*****
(77)All My Puny Sorrows - Miriam Toews {BC} a re-read from 2014
(78)Women with Men - Richard Ford****
(79)The Finishing School - Joanna Goodman*
(80)Reading in Bed - Sue Gee****
(81)From a Low and Quiet Sea - Donal Ryan*****
(82)The Perfect Nanny - Leila Slimani****
(83)The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - John Boyne*****
(84)Shadow of a Man - May Sarton****
(85)The House of All Sorts - Emily Carr****
(86)Days Without End - Sebastian Barry*****

And here be the best of the best. And on the whole it was a very rich reading year.

Books Art Life - Kyo MacLear*****
The Unseen World - Liz Moore *****
Miss Emily - Nuala O'Connor*****
The Nightingale - Kristin Hannah***** {BC}
Under the Influence - Joyce Maynard*****
Before We Were Yours - Lisa Wingate*****
Anger - May Sarton*****
Christmas in Paris - Hazel Gaymore, Heather Webb*****
The Home for Unwanted Girls - Joanna Goodman*****
Wildlife - Richard Ford*****
A History of Loneliness - John Boyne*****
From a Low and Quiet Sea - Donal Ryan*****
Days Without End - Sebastian Barry*****

The absolute very gripping best were The Nightingale, Days without End and The Unseen World.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Words for Wednesday

This month's Words for Wednesday is hosted by Lissa

Please visit her blog and participate if you get the urge.

1. beginning*
2. new year*
3. wonder*
4. ritual*
5. kiss*
6. faith*

1. seven*
2. remember*
3. adventure*
4. miles*
5. 88*
6. heart*
She, an old woman now, could still remember the wonder and adventure of it all as if it were yesterday. The start of the family new year began in July. The school year was over and Papa was an atheist along with being a mathematician and believed they should measure years in how long humans had been on planet earth. Two hundred thousand years. So New Year for their family, he and mama and all seven of their children, was 200,000 years plus the 42 he and Mama were alive. All these religions, he would state, have their own calendars based on births of their gods. We need a calendar that makes sense to our family.

In the beginning of the year 200,042 they set off on their first 88 mile trip to the heart of the Algonquins. Papa had bought a small cabin on a knoll overlooking the wonder of lakes and trees. They all set to work, even Derry, the youngest who was only 2 then. Chopping trees and digging foundations, fitting windows and doors, this ritual to continue year after year until by the year 200,060, it was all complete, a sprawling structure with a wraparound screened porch and steps going down to the lake where they swam and boated all summer long and where grandchildren would also eventually come to live permanently away from the New World Order.

It was now the year of 200,142, the centennial. Her youngest granddaughter was sitting beside her and leaned in to kiss her soft cheek.

Oh Granny, she said softly, looking out over the richly planted grounds and lake, great-grand papa had such vision and faith for his family and to keep us safe for ever and ever.

Well, for remaining life on this planet, said her grandmother, sighing inwardly, for she knew it was the eve of destruction and the promised rapture broadcast everywhere was just a myth.