I am back posting at my tumblr, as well.
I wrote about my brother yesterday and said I would write more today. I think of him every day, of course, but when the anniversary of his death — Hallowe’en — approaches, I think of him more intensely. This week, I got my usual “grief migraine”, for example, and I also found myself thinking of a conversation he and I once had about a show we both loved, Mad Men.
He and I were both Mad Men addicts and had long conversations after each new episode. One episode by which we were both particularly touched was The Gypsy and the Hobo. It takes place over Hallowe’en, and as Don and Betty navigate an upheaval in their marriage, Sally and Bobby are unhappy that they can’t have store-bought costumes.
Don reminds them that the store-bought costumes are cheap. Betty makes them beautiful costumes — a gypsy and a hobo — which they wear but do not appreciate. As a kid, I was very jealous of my friends who had tacky store-bought costumes. My mom made me a beautiful Red Riding Hood outfit, which I wore but did not appreciate.
I shared that memory with Alan, who was very touched by it, as he and I both were by the episode’s ending: Don and Betty, standing behind their trick-or-treating gypsy and hobo; Betty holding their baby, Gene; the adults shaken by Betty’s earlier uncovering of Don’s secrets, trying to put on a happy front for the neighbours, for the children, for themselves.
Today is Reformation Day. It is also the third anniversary of my brother Alan’s death. I will post more about him tomorrow, but I wanted to make a reference to this day and to this hymn — in my opinion one of the most magnificent — because on the day he died, I had posted this same hymn and a reference to the Reformation on my Facebook page. This was before I knew Alan was gone and I remember clearly that the fact that he was not commenting on the post gave me a sick feeling. I knew something was wrong because it was the sort of topic upon which he would usually offer a witty or brilliant observation.
I don’t usually do book recommendations on my site but today I will. I read insane amounts — mostly non-fiction but some fiction — and the fact that I am taking time to write about these two books tells you what they meant to me.
The books are Bettyville, by George Hodgman, and The Hare with Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal. In a way, they are similar: both stories about family, about the past, about loss and love and about being grateful in the present. But they are different, of course.
The Hare with Amber Eyes is drawn against the painful backdrop of the relentless (and seemingly endless) persecution of Jews in Europe, the sickness of the Holocaust, and also has a strong art history focus (something I really appreciated).
De Waal is English, but a descendant of the (originally Russian) Ephrussi family, for a time on a par with the Rothschilds (even related by marriage to them) in terms of wealth and influence in parts of Europe. Proust’s Swann is said to have been based on Charles Ephrussi.
When de Waal inherits some “netsuke” from a favorite relative (he represents the fifth generation of his family to inherit them), he decides to trace their journey, which includes stops in Paris and Japan and Vienna. And it is truly something, particularly when you discover how the netsuke escaped being stolen by the Nazis, while pretty much all the rest of the Ephrussi art was taken.
In some ways, the book reminded me of the brilliant movie, “Woman in Gold”, though the former unfolds over a much longer period of time.
Bettyville is, on the surface, a memoir with less grandeur, but Hodgman’s portrait of his mother, Betty, is mighty grand. My own mom died, just short of her 93rd birthday, last year, and I saw so much of her in Betty. Same generation, same decency, work ethic, wit, and a similar stubborn dance with declining independence. The same good, strong people.
Hodgman is a successful editor and writer who, after growing up in Missouri in the ’60s and ’70s as a clever — though struggling and often bullied — gay kid, moved to New York. Along with an enviable career, he got into drugs, went into rehab, had some dysfunctional relationships, all of which he writes about with tremendous humor and no self-pity.
When his mother began fading, he moved back, initially to find someone else to care for her, but then decided to see her home, as he says, himself. In the process he finds “home”, in a manner. It is certainly touching to see him discover Missouri — fly-over country — as an adult, after having felt out of place so often as a kid and teenager. Honestly, I laughed, I laughed so hard I cried, and I just plain cried.
Read them both!
As regular readers know, my mother died last year. Most of her ashes were scattered in 2014, but for various reasons there were some left to scatter still. So last week that deed was done, and it turned into quite a lovely nature walk.
First, we met a super polite groundhog who held up his little paw when he coughed/burped.
Then we saw this lovely guy…
…who apparently had something to say.
And that something was “Kiss my backside, humans.”
And then we met a skittish bunny.
But he wasn’t so skittish that he couldn’t also manage a loud and clear message, similar to the duck’s.
Mum would most definitely approve.
I direct you to my latest post at My Uncle’s Letters from the War, wherein my uncle mentions a trip to Winchester and a visit to its cathedral.
Made me think of this song, in which hippies are nostalgic for the days of vaudeville. Rather like when we are nostalgic for hippies, though God knows why we would be. The 1960s, as my late brother used to say, have a lot for which to answer.
But this song is cute.
Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of my dad’s death. My dad died relatively young — at 73. His oldest brother, my uncle Alan, died last weekend at 96. I posted a pic of them together as little fellas on my Instagram account (please follow if you wish!) here. And here is my uncle’s obituary. Quite a life.
On this anniversary, please check out my tumblr: latest installment is a letter my uncle wrote after a brush with a buzz-bomb, shortly after D-Day.
Please visit my tumblr — “My Uncle’s Letters from the War.”
I finally had a nice dream about my mother! Very pleased. Right after she died, I had a couple of truly awful dreams about her that involved death camps. They were so awful that I still remember them. Both my sister and sister-in-law have had really nice dreams about her, and up until last night I hadn’t. But last night I dreamed that she was young(er than she had been at death) and healthy — in her 50s or 60s, I guess. I was having a hard time with something in the dream (as I am right now in life), I broke something and felt very foolish and angry and she hugged me and told me everything would be alright. I had been afraid in the dream that she would yell at me for what I did. But she didn’t.
So I’m taking it as a sign that everything will be alright. Here’s hoping, dear readers.