Tag Archives: family

Book Recommendations

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!

 

 

Ash-Scattering

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.

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Then we saw this lovely guy…

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…who apparently had something to say.

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And that something was “Kiss my backside, humans.”

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And then we met a skittish bunny.

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But he wasn’t so skittish that he couldn’t also manage a loud and clear message, similar to the duck’s.

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Mum would most definitely approve.

Winchester Cathedral

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.

 

Dreams

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.

I’m Still Here and I’m Callling all Yentes

As the song said.

I’m still here. Just been a combination of busy and dealing with a great upsurge of various emotions. My better half pointed out that we are coming up on the anniversary of my mother’s death, so I’m guessing that is a trigger. Will try to post more devotedly, but right now I direct your attention to My Uncle’s Letters from the War, a tumblr I started a while back (and which I have already linked to on this site). I have been so happy (though ’tis also rather bittersweet) to be in touch with people who either knew him or are the children of those who knew him and I’m hoping for more such feedback as I continue posting his letters.

Currently, I am calling all Yentes.

Leonard Nimoy: Of all the Souls I Have Encountered…

Sad about Mr. Spock’s death. I became a classic Trek fan thanks largely to one of my brothers. He used to watch it religiously in re-runs in the ’70s and I really had no option but to watch, as well. (We probably also watched the original together, though I don’t remember that far back.) My first thought when I heard Nimoy had passed was to that brother and to a dear friend in Ottawa who has always adored him. I also thought of Sheldon Cooper — speaking of, here is an article (in Italian) about Mr. Spock’s legacy and influence, including said influence on the Big Bang theory characters.

Of course, Nimoy was a fine actor in other roles, but he will always be Spock to most of us. And what was great about him was that he didn’t seem too ungrateful about that — he appeared in the Star Trek movies and had tremendous humour about the role that made him so famous. He was proud of his Jewish heritage, incorporating it into the “Live long and prosper” sign. He was also a vegetarian, I recently learned, and he loved cats! What is there not to admire here, people? As I tweeted yesterday, I have rarely seen the internets so united in grief. And no wonder.

Kitty Foyle

Kitty Foyle is one of my favourite schlocky movies from days of yore: it’s sort of an early rom-com, though short on comedy, more of a romance novel (and it actually was a novel) turned vehicle for Ginger Rogers (who was terrific in the role). One has to take it, though, as being “of its time,” so to speak. There is, for example, one particularly cringe-worthy moment where Kitty says that she is “free, white and 21.” Oy.

I watched it recently on Turner Classic, and I realized that for me, it represents  a connection to both of my parents. My dad told me once that in his youth, he had a big crush on Ginger Rogers, though he got over it when he discovered that she was, in his words, “a fascist.” Now, I did some reading on Rogers, and she was not a fascist. She was a Republican and not a fan of the New Deal or FDR. That said, when the war started, she abandoned the Republican isolationism of the era and became a full-on supporter of the war effort – she owned a ranch that donated milk to soldiers and she performed in numerous USO tours.

It connects to my mom, at least in my mind, because of her love of the word “pill” to describe a certain type of man. What type of man? Well, just watch Kitty Foyle and you’ll see that she is torn between two pills. In the end — spoiler alert — she chooses the pill who wants to marry her, rather than the pill who just wants her as a mistress. It’s a smart choice, I suppose, though one senses Kitty preferred the latter pill.

Here is the original trailer of the movie, in which you can see both pills, and Ginger rocking the role of a white-collar gal. (By the way, I like to think of myself as a “sassy mick,” just like Kitty!)