Sunday, January 29, 2012

January with Gladys and Rachel

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

I don't believe I've laughed as much in the other months as I did while reading Gladys' January entry. She has mentioned in other books that she isn't fond of the telephone, and indeed has a 'phobia.' I know people all these years later who have much the same thing. Her descriptions of the phone service in her area, and her experiences were so funny. They were rather like a literary slapstick comedy.
Well, much has been written about the country telephone. Ours rings apparently without reason, and with nobody on the other end. If we try to call anyone, we get five people in odd places who are justly annoyed at being summoned when we do not want to talk to them anyway. If I get called to the phone, I always hear another conversation going on, and I get so bemused listening to that that I never hear my own. …
After being on a nine-party line for years, we graduated to a two-party line. We felt elated, but it was a short-time elation. For now we only have a sort of dual conversation with the other party on at the same time. And if I get on, as I rarely do, I always hear this clear clipped voice saying, "is this the New York Medical Center?" …
My telephoning is hampered anyway by the fact that I can never understand anybody's name over it or what they want. I hear a dull glug glu and then I say brightly, "Oh yes?"
When her friend Faith Baldwin calls, Gladys is amazed by her telephoning abilities.
The phone is no hazard to her. She can chat over it. I am lost in admiration, in fact so lost that I often miss part of what she says.
She can do a whole novelette in five minutes and all I have to do is say OH. Or, in a great burst of inspiration, YES.
And apparently, the phone company in her area used to change the phone numbers 'every little while'
and our former number invariably goes to some week-end shack by the river. Any misguided soul who tries to call us gets an empty shack. … The phone rings a great deal, but of course it isn't our number but the number of someone else who has now another number!

In writing about getting sick in January, she reminisces about her parents' ways of dealing with illness.
I can well remember how Father always diagnosed his own and told the doctor what it was and what kind of medicine he needed. That settled that. Then he would add some of his own medicines from the big black case he had carried in the Mexican mountains in the early days. He believed if one pill was good, five were bound to work quicker.
Also, he mixed the pills. First he would take what he had ordered the doctor to give him, then add some Rhinitis or aconite or a spoonful of some early remedy of mine. A glass of Bromo Seltzer helped out and a little later a raw onion sliced and placed between two slices of bread, well buttered, salted and peppered was a final sovereign remedy.
It may be, as well, that he was the healthiest man that ever lived, so he never got upset by any of his health measures. Mama on the other hand never took so much as an aspirin. She felt one should just keep a stiff upper lip and throw it off.

As she wrote about her Irish setter, Hollyberry's adventures in obedience training, this dog lover was smiling with delight.
when it comes to the Long Down, she is overcome with melancholy. The Irish almost never care about lying down. So she turns to jelly, rolls weakly on her back and holds sad paws up in the air.
Another Irish setter, Daphne, disrupts the Sit Stay, running off after a pheasant and it took all the other owners an hour to catch her.

Doesn't it seem like every generation remembers winters as longer, the snow deeper, the temperatures colder than now? Just this morning I emailed some friends saying I remembered walking to school in -20 weather. Did I really? It sure seems so to me, but am I suffering from that same memory lapse which afflicts all adults? Gladys says
We do not have as many terrible blizzards as we had twenty years ago. This makes me believe in the men who say our climate is getting milder.
This in a 1955 book!

Tom was loading wood onto the terrace this afternoon, and rushed in to get the camera so he could photograph the bird tracks he saw under the lilac bush. As I read along in Stillmeadow Daybook and Rural Free today, I was so hoping one of them would write about birds so I could include Tom's pictures (click for a better view). Gladys mentioned getting the bird feeders full by the end of the day so there would be food first thing in the morning, but nothing specifically about tracks. You may imagine my joy when the very last essay in Rachel's January entry was entitled Footprints in the Snow.
On the snowy path up to the barn this morning I read again the unintentional autographs of several small creatures that share this farm with us. In the thin snow on the back steps and below them were the scanty, scriptlike tracks of birds. They are shaped like a Y, with three prongs in front, one in the back.

Tom put his hand in the photo to give a sense of the size of the bird tracks.

After noting a few others like those of a rabbit and a mouse, she closes her month with
The birds' autographs were my favorites. With a pancake turner and great care, I managed to get up one whole unbroken autograph and put it in the freezer, to read again, I hope, next July.
Though we didn't do this, I just love it that Rachel Peden did so.

Many of her musings were really like prose poems, whether writing of a barn interior or an icy few days.
Unless a bitter wind is blowing, or rain is beating in through the empty windows, the barn is a snug place on a winter morning. When Dick called me up there this morning, the barn was full of a dusty atmosphere of abundance and content. The cattle are shaggy-coated and fat. The hay they were eating had a pleasant odor, reminiscent of summer. When they opened their mouths for a refill, their fragrant breath came out in a crooked, wafted column, like steam.

The ice show began on Friday, and for three days we lived in a glass world.
Early Friday morning sleet was fall in a rasping, hurried whisper against walks and windows and into treetops. By daylight you could already see what had been accomplished. The bent-over peach tree was a glass tree; the maple branches, dotted with reddish brown buds, were glass-dipped and sung softly as if about to break into tinkling music. The whole farmscape was a wonderland of glass, wet and shining. …
The next day the sun came out, making the ice dramatic. Now the stiff trees turned to silver. The still air had the shine of silver from earth to sky, and every little insignificant weed and bush had been silver-plated. …
On the third day there was no sun. The brilliance dimmed to a gleam. Trees glowed softly under a dull, blue-gray sky. Many were enclosed, separately by a strange pale-gray halo. In the garden, old weeds were transformed into lace, spun delicately like foam. …
That night the moonlight was clear and deep on the crusty snow. Trees stood white and silent, as if they knew what was to happen. Then rain came, melting the glass and silver burdens.

There's a whimsical section which arises from her daughter's school work.
Carol read the health lesson aloud while I washed the dishes in the kitchen, and thus we both learned that the human body is 90 per cent water. To me this sounded like understatement. There are times when a farmwife's body can believe that she is 90 per cent dishwater alone. Add another 5 per cent for laundry, some for washing potatoes and fruits before cooking, and a panful for scrubbing the linoleums in muddy winter weather, and it wouldn't be surprising if the total came out somewhere nearer 135 per cent.

When I finished the monthly readings of Gladys Taber and Rachel Peden, I told Tom that these are some of the most enjoyable times of my month. I look forward to them, I enjoy them completely as I read, and then I have the added pleasure of sharing the words of these two wonderful women with my readers.


  1. I just completed Rural Free. (Our public library must have dug deep into the archives to come up with it for me!) It truly is one of the most fascinating books I've read. Her writing is incredibly picturesque. I couldn't speed-read the book. There was just to much to see and savor...

    I'm pretty sure I learned of it from you and thank you profusely for introducing me to Rachel. I shall be diligently looking for my own copy, I assure you!

  2. I absolutely love these visits with Gladys and Rachel too!! Thank you so much for showcasing them and also adding your own experiences!!

  3. I can tell you that I look forward to hearing about the ladies and all that goes on in their lives too. I have looked for these books but havne't found them yet. It is just as well as you choose the best to share with us. Thank you. I can just see you out there picking up a favorite imprint in the snow to keep until July. Sounds like a good idea to me.

  4. Rebecca, how wonderful that you enjoyed it so much! I agree with what you said about her writing.

    All three of her books are available at amazon, and probably other places too.

  5. Staci, I'm so pleased to hear this.

    Lisa, as I told Rebecca, all of RP's books are for sale new at amazon. And used copies of GT books are there, and ebay.
    Honestly, I don't offer the 'best' - every word is wonderful. I have to stop myself from quoting the whole month's entry!!

  6. Like yourself, and I guess many of your regular readers, I look forward to these monthly instalments as well, and this one really was particularly enchanting.
    Love the bird footprints, they look so delicate! And as for cold and snowy winters - well, we did have one in 2010/2011, and weather records show that it had been exceptional. It certainly felt like it!

  7. These books sound delightful. I wonder if they are available in England? I love the quotes about the telephone - when I was a child we had a party line, and when things went wrong we used to get'crossed lines' as well, which resulted in very odd conversations with unknown people. And the winters were colder....!

  8. I'm trying to "throw ... off" some winter illness or the other but I don't think I'll try "the raw onion sliced and placed between two slices of bread"! Reading this entry is just the medicine I need, so, thank you Nan for sharing these nuggets of life - yours and theirs!

  9. Librarian, I'm so pleased you like these monthly reports. They are both such wonderful writers.

    Chris Cross, all of RP's books are at Book Depository. Gladys' tend to be on ebay or used at amazon or other sellers of older books. I never had a party line, but there must be many funny stories about them!

    Wonderful, Deirdre!!

  10. I can only repeat what some of your other readers say about these wonderful books. My local,very small library, was able to get Rural Free through an loan from a college library. It turned out that it was my alma mater- good old Stevenson Library in Lock Haven,Pa.
    I have Stillmeadow Daybook, a treasure inherited from my dear mother.
    Thanks so much for your thoughtful posts.

  11. Mary, thank you for coming by and leaving such kind words.
    'littlemancat' - we had a cat named Little Man years ago.

  12. We do not have as many terrible blizzards as we had twenty years ago. This makes me believe in the men who say our climate is getting milder.

    It sure feels that way this winter! Today it was a balmy 69 degrees--in Lincoln, Nebraska! It's January 30th. Absolutely incredible.

    As always, I thoroughly enjoyed this post. Such a treat to read the passages you choose to share. Thanks ever so much, Nan.

  13. Oh, I love the idea of lifting up the bird tracks to freeze and read another time. I love tracks in the snow; the deer, the squirrels, but, especially the birds. They are like tatting or lace to me.

    I do think we had more snow as I grew up, Nan, but, that is after this mild winter we've had here (today was 50 degrees!), and I think as I child I was out in it more, walking to and from school four times in a day, walking to friends' houses or the little corner store.

    Another lovely time with Gladys and Rachel.

  14. That's exactly it, Les. And they were saying that twenty years ago, and fifty years ago, and a hundred years ago. Our weather memory seems to be the worst of all memories. We see it even in literature. Dylan Thomas begins A Child's Christmas in Wales with: 'I can never remember if it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve, or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.'

    Penny, I think that is an excellent point. We were out in it when we were kids. Now, as adults our concern is mostly with 'how are the roads' and 'will I lose electricity' - something, incidentally, I have no memory of when I was a kid. Did the power ever go out? I just don't know. But I remember the look of the chimneys in town on a frosty morning. As I was saying to Les, memories are funny, especially when it comes to weather. That's why weather journals are so important.

  15. I laughed so hard at the description of her phone calls with her friend Faith Baldwin! Except for the fact that neither of us could write a book, that would be a perfect description of a certain friend of mine and me (me taking the Gladys role).

  16. Sallie, I love your story!! Thank you.


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