Archive for the ‘memoir’ Category

On reading

The Ghost of Blackwood Hall

A warm spring day—April school vacation, bright sunshine and not yet enough leaves on the trees to supply much shade—and my mother is taking all four of us for a long walk. My brother and baby sister are riding in the stroller while my younger sister Mary Anne and I tag along. My mother is taking us to Toytown, a narrow strip of a shop with shelves of cars, trucks, dolls, and stuffed animals stretching all the way to the ceiling. My parents must have received their income tax refund and, in typical fashion, my mother is lavishing some of it on treats for us.

While she picks out toys for the babies, Mom tells me to help Mary Anne find a toy. I immediately let my four-year-old sister wander away while I concentrate on my own selection. A Barbie outfit seems like a natural choice; I could never have too many. But on my way to the Barbie aisle, I’m sidetracked by a shelf filled with books: the yellow and green spines of the Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames series, the Bobbsey Twins (both the classics and the mysteries), Heidi, Louisa May Alcott, anthologies like American Heroines (Dorothea Dix, Ida Lewis) and To Dance, To Dream (Isabella Duncan, Maria Tallchief).

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Country life

I have a favorite story about living in the country—not the country of daisied meadows, white picket fences, and sturdy red barns, but the country of manure and ripe silage, barns gradually collapsing into themselves, and cows bellowing deep into the night.

We’d been at our house on Horseneck Road for about a year and half. New house, new baby, they say, and we had one of each. We also had cats. Lots of cats, and because it was spring, lots of kittens. Only one of the cats was officially ours, but cats don’t care about property lines, so they’d worn a cat’s-paw-wide path across our big field, from our nearest neighbor’s yard to ours. Something I learned about cats in the country: they like to tuck themselves away from nighttime nuisances like frosts and coyotes by crawling up under a car. You have to remember to bang the car’s hood in the morning to rouse them.

Our baby’s first few months were a challenge—a succession of health problems that eventually faded, but that left me, an inexperienced new mother, frazzled. One morning—long after my husband Tom had left for work—Meggie was sick again, and we needed to get to the doctor’s. I hurriedly got us both ready and bundled her out to the car in the driveway. And started it up. Without banging the hood.

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