Thursday, December 1, 2011

November with Gladys and Rachel

To learn more about this yearlong adventure with Gladys Taber and Rachel Peden, you may scroll down to the 'letter topics' and click A Year with Gladys and Rachel.

As I finished Gladys' November entry, I sighed and thought how very thankful I am for her, and for the fact that she wrote down all these thoughts and feelings over the years. I think November is my favorite of her writings in Stillmeadow Daybook, so far, possibly because she writes a fair bit about books.
There are many wonderful books which are fine to read, but there are very few that are better reread, and still fewer that should be reread every year. … For me, the test is, can I bear not to read this again? A fine book is like a mine. You get down strata after strata until the very deep lode is reached. This takes time and thought and isn't a business of skipping through once. On the other hand, a book may be pleasant as a shallow running stream and still well worth reading. But the ones to keep, to carry with one wherever one goes - these are precious cargo.

And taste is such a highly individual matter - even near and dearly beloveds can absolutely despise some book you are passionate about.
After having all the children home again for Thanksgiving, she ponders
A family holiday, such as this, gives one a chance to estimate the changes in the children. … the conversation seems like a montage of their lives.
Sometimes one wishes they were little again, yet on the whole I think it is so rewarding to know them as equals that I would not really wish the romper days back.
With these words, she expressed my very thoughts on Thanksgiving a week ago today. We went down the hill and spent the day with our daughter Margaret and her boyfriend Matt, their housemate Dave, our son Michael, Matt's sister Sabrina and her boyfriend Connor. All in their twenties except for one who had recently turned thirty. And Tom had taught them all! Amazing. And in addition, there were five dogs who brought much delight and minor chaos to the day!

We all said afterward that we've not had a pleasanter, richer Thanksgiving since we celebrated here with the kids when they were little. Then they would choose their favorite dishes, and we often had a table filled with everything from lasagna to mozzarella sticks. And this year was the same. They requested my macaroni and cheese, and my Mexican beans and rice. I also made Matt's favorite, apple crisp, and Dave's favorite, brownies. And each of them made something special too, from bruschetta to deviled eggs.

But it wasn't only the food that offered the warm familiarity of past joyous Thanksgivings. It was these same kids only different, more somehow. It is quite a little miracle when you stop and think about it. They are a 'montage' as Gladys says. Margaret and Michael are nine and six at the same time they are twenty-nine and twenty-six. Big emotional stuff, this.



It was quite startling to read words published in 1955 that could have been written today.
Advice to women continues to be handed out largely by magazines and books. We seem to be in an orgy of confessions and case histories. Can my marriage be preserved?; what is wrong with my husband?; whom shall I marry?; I have a jealous husband; I have a stingy husband - my husband does not speak to me for weeks at a time, what shall I do?
I have a secret feeling we do too much of this kind of thing.
Marriage is a pretty individual affair and I doubt whether it can be push-buttoned sucessfully. Possibly I am just old-fashioned, but, I cannot care too much if Mrs. A and Mr. B are one way or another about each other. I would feel it their business, not mine.
I wonder whether this preoccupation with personal relations has spread into private lives from the Hollywood stars' on-again-off-again marriages? If so, it is a pity we do not let the Hollywood great have a little privacy in their lives off the screen. I am sure they would be grateful. They might even be more tranquil if people did not dodge after them every time they stepped from their front doors.
I wonder what Gladys would have made of the Kardashians?!!

She ends her November musings with
The air smells of frost. The house is making the soft breathing sounds very old houses make at night. Embers glow in the fireplace…
Wouldn't I love to be by that fireside.

And how remarkable, how serendipitous it was that Rachel began her November entry talking about the fireplace.
For the fireplace philosopher, it recalls memories of good friends in happy places, of long, satisfying thoughts drawn out before the glow of bright, burning-down embers. A fireplace doesn't warm a whole room, nor even a whole person, very well in deeply cold weather, but where it does warm, such as the skin over the cheeks, the backs of the legs, or the cockles of the heart, it warms generously.
As much as I love a fireplace, and envy every single Christmas picture of a living room which has one, I do know the reality of its heat. After my mother died, and we moved into my childhood home, we had a fireplace built in the living room. What Tom and I didn't know beforehand was that it did indeed heat only the fronts or the 'backs of the legs' - never both at once. And that if we moved away but a foot or two, we were cold. So when we moved here, we put in a wood stove which warms the whole of us. It does have a glass door so we can see the flames but it's not quite the same. There must be a philosophy of life in there somewhere - practical versus beautiful. Always striving for a balance between the two.

Don't we know just the moonlight Rachel is describing here?
By bedtime the moonlight was almost a violence, as if at any minute it might break out into the sound of a mighty rushing. Under the maple trees, shadows lay black and heavy; if they could have been dragged into the woodshed, they could have been chopped up for firewood. On the red cattle beyond the fence, white markings stood out like snow; and looking through the window I counted five dry leaves on the back walk.
As in Gladys' writings I am surprised at how much things are still the same. I thought these words of Rachel's from fifty years ago could have been written today:
Traditionally, farming is a good way of life in America. A farmer hears himself congratulated often and in glowing words: "It's the independent life. You're your own boss on the farm." He accepts this with a smile and some reserve.
It is true. On the farm you are your own boss and can do exactly what you please, as long as that also pleases God and the weather; the government; the neighbors; your children and the neighbors' children and their 4-H clubs; the farm dog; the cattle and hogs; the insects; crop surpluses; the farm tractor, money inflation, and income tax blanks ...
She waxes both poetical and philosophical when she writes of the neighbor's cows coming in from the pasture in the rain
walking slowly, single file. They could have shortened the walk by going straight uphill, but they had plenty of time, and good judgment beside, so they were winding around on an easy level, making a gradual ascent.
The cattle were not being driven in by bad weather; this was their customary time to come in and this was their customary gait, rhythmic and placid. A paired lifting up, putting forward, and setting down of their feet; a rocking forward of their bodies, causing their blocky heads to swing loosely, chins bobbing, as if the heads were mechanically suspended, well-balanced, and effortlessly held at that level.
Fascinated by their appearance of content and leisure, I watched them several minutes and when I returned to my own rainy-day routine, discovered I had absorbed some of their relaxed mood. This is a profit you can take, without investment, from your neighbor's cattle.
I find the deep truths of these two women, often drawn from an observance of both physical and human nature, to offer much the same relaxation to me, their reader so many years later.


  1. Thank you for yet another wonderful post - with wonderful pictures taken in your daughter's wonderful house! Do the chairs on the 1991 and the current pictures just look very similar, or are they indeed the same chairs?

  2. And I thank you for your interest, Librarian. They are sorta the same. Mine are plain wood and Margaret's are painted white. It's the funky light taking a photo of a photo that made them look kind of white, I think.

  3. Love your Currier & Ives print at the top of the page.

    And love your posts about Gladys Taber. She truly was a great Lady -- and I use the capital "L" deliberately. I once wrote her a fan letter, and she actually replied! The letter was personally typed and signed -- one of my treasures, with which I'll never part.

    Hope the winter and weather are treating you well, Take care and God bless, Carol

  4. Lucky you, Carol! She had died before I started reading her.
    By the way, if you click the 'banner picture' tab, it will tell who did the painting. It does have the feel of a C&I, but is by someone I hadn't heard of before, George Durrie.
    We have no snow. It has been quite warm, though this evening it is in the thirties.

  5. How interesting about the artist of the painting at the top. It's very similar to one which was on a calendar I saved from my mother's things. A local insurance company used to give out lovely C&I calendars every year at Christmas.

    It has a lovely feel to it. I've always daydreamed about New England and have read dozens of books about the places and the history. But so far, haven't managed to make the trip. Maybe one day.

    By the way, the word verification for this post is: OUTCH!

    Have a great day, Carol

  6. What a wonderful post and such a nice Thanksgiving gathering and pictures. I love the energy and newness that young adults, just starting out in life, bring to the table.

    Of course, Gladys and Rachel are full of the wisdom and observations of their time, and, it seems, much of ours.

  7. Nan, you are such an interesting blogger. I have been thinking a lot about the 'voice' that attracts me in the various blogs that I follow. Sometimes it is the humour of the blogger that grabs my attention and keeps me reading and other times it is seems to be the ability of the blogger to move beyond blogging to writing. I am not sure if that makes sense to you but let me just say, you have it...the voice of a writer that is.

  8. Nice post Nan! I will check out Gladys Tabor!

  9. I wonder why you don't see Currier & Ives as much now, Carol.
    Hope you get to make it here someday. Hey do you know of Susan Branch? Wonderful artist and writer. You will love her blog:

    Penny, I so enjoy the company of those 'kids' - they are fun and very interesting and really wonderful people to be with.
    I have been surprised by how the words of these two women echo in these days. It gives me reassurance and hope.

    An anglo in quebec, wow! What a thing to say. I thank you so much.

    Peggy, you will love her, I'm quite sure!

  10. I love the way that you write these...inserting from the author's and giving us your personal reflections...your kids are their funny faces and yes, I can see how that would be an emotional post to write. Once again, lovely!

  11. Staci, thank you for your nice words. I so enjoy both these writers.

  12. I'm still following along with you on your year-long journey with Gladys Taber. (Just the one.) I found her November comments so be very "homey." By that I mean that she seemed to be relaxed and cozy and happy to be settled into her old house more than the outdoors. It felt like I imagine November to be in New England.

    I also agreed with Gladys about all the public confessions of private information. I think she would be horrified at all the talk shows and obsession with celebrities.

  13. It so pleases me that you are doing this, Margot. Yes, she does have NE down; even all these years later there is much which is the same.

  14. This was a wonderful post indeed, so much to enjoy. Your recipes for Thanksgiving sounded up my street. The bookish part was a joy.
    Happy young faces....

  15. These two women observed and captured the eternal verities of living in the country--demanding physically at times, emotionally also when one waits on the mercy of the weather and seasons. But, would we long-time country dwellers want to be anywhere else?

  16. great photos, Nan :) They grow up sooo fast (too fast!) Yours thanksgiving sounds wonderful, we are both blessed to have kids close by. As for Gladys, I just bought a used copy of the Stillmeadow Treasury, which I am so pleased to have found.

    Have a great week ahead,

  17. What a lovely post! Your family Thanksgiving sounds wonderful and just as it should be :) And the two books you talked about sound delightful!

  18. Oh, thank you, Cait. It was a wonderful, really perfect, day.

    Beautifully said, Morning's Minion.

    Niki, I'm so happy for your new purchase!

    Becca, thank you.

  19. I do so love to read your book reports on these two authors' works.

    "The air smells of frost. The house is making the soft breathing sounds very old houses make at night."

    Sounds like my house.

    Great "now & then" photos of your Thanksgiving dinners. Looks you had great fun at M&M's this year. I love to see a houseful of dogs!

    "As much as I love a fireplace, and envy every single Christmas picture of a living room which has one, I do know the reality of its heat."

    Oh, yes. This is why I rarely ever light a fire in our fireplace. If I do, I have to turn the thermostat up in order to heat the rest of the house. Seems a bit silly (and decadent) just for the atmosphere.

    I think I've said this before, but I prefer Taber to Peden, although I enjoy the latter quite well. When I know I can devote a full year to reading one book, I'll have to seek out a copy of Gladys' daybook.

  20. Catching up - how lovely to read about your wonderful family and how they have grown - blessed you!

  21. A wonderful post that I am reading weeks later.
    I can relate to so much that has been shared.
    Live in an old farm house built during the Civil War and I kept a fire going all during cold weather.
    Now in a new cottage on that property and miss a fire. But no longer can do this kind of work.
    Love all of Glady's Tabers words.
    Thank you for letting me visit..

  22. Les, I loved this. Thank you for your thoughtful responses.
    Have you ever considered putting a wood stove insert in the fireplace? I've seen a lot of people do that.
    You can always read Gladys or Rachel all at once. They both touch on so many other things than just the particular month.

    Susan, thank you.

    Ernestine, part of this house was built in the 1860s and part in the 1880s. It must be fun to have lived in both old and new houses.
    Have you ever thought about getting a wood pellet stove? Wood heat without the work, I think.


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