Monday, January 15, 2018

Stillmeadow - January

I think that for a lot of us, the days beginning after Christmas into the middle of January are pensive ones. We take stock of our lives. Some people make resolutions. It is usually a quiet time after the bustle of the holidays. We might feel let down, or we might feel that it is a restful time. I'm in the latter group. I love every single minute of the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I love the shopping, the planning, the decorations, the music. And then between the 25th and New Year's Eve, I love putting the house back to 'normal,' having that blessed silence that comes after commotion. Gladys says,
It is a good thing to curl up with a book for a little while before bedtime. I like James Russell Lowell, saying, "Solitude is as needful to the imagination as society is wholesome for the character." We all need to spend some time alone; people who cannot bear their own company for a time have thin souls.
The deep part of winter gives most of us a little more time alone. The natural rhythm of time has changed from that of summer. But instead of dreading the dark winter days, we ought to savor them for what they can give. Now there should be time to reread old books, to absorb some philosophy, to play a whole symphony without hurrying.
She begins her January entry with memories of her own childhood winter days, when "no one had ever heard of organized winter sports." Gladys and her friends would hop on a bobsled pulled by a horse, and ride all around town. "The boys fell off and scuffled in the snow and threw snowballs, and if a boy was really wild about you, he showed his ardor by putting snow down your neck."

Now, I've never made oyster stew or eaten it, but this is a recipe you would probably never read today.
Oyster stew was really oyster stew then. Mother made it by melting half a cup of butter in a big, heavy pan. She added a quart of oysters and let them just come to a boil, then poured over them three cups of milk and a cup of cream, a teaspoon of salt, a half teaspoon of pepper. This simmered until the oysters began to rise to the top; then it was served with parsley, paprika, and often more butter on top.
Nowadays people would cry, "too much butter and cream." But think about what is served in restaurants - french fries with gravy as a side to a huge hamburger. I can't help but think that is just as unhealthy, perhaps more so.

As is so often the case when I read Gladys Taber's words, I hear my own thoughts echoed. Thoughts I didn't know anyone else had.
Here is a strange thing. In summer I always make plans for those long winter nights. I say blithely, "Well, in the long winter evenings I am really going to learn to knit socks. There will be time, then, to reread all of Shakespeare and the Elizabethan poets." On a long winter evening we can refile the phonograph records, straighten the game cupboard, and really throw out those incomplete checker sets and nibbled [my words -by what, mice??!] game boards. A thousand small, niggling jobs we can dash off, I think, in winter. 
Every single year I go through this happy reasoning and every year, in surprise, I face the fact in January, that those long winter evenings are pure fiction. 
... What does become of those evenings? I often wonder. Because I find myself, in January, saying cheerfully, and with hope, "Now when the summer evenings come, and it stays light so long, I can really catch up with those odd jobs. I'll just wait for summer."
I suspect it is just a human weakness to look forward to a season with plenty of leisure, a tranquil space between regular jobs. Much the way we used to anticipate nice restful vacations. And then actually we wore ourselves out on those nice restful vacations.
Gladys Taber was a highly educated woman, especially for her time. She was born in 1899, got her Bachelor's Degree from Wellesley and a Master's Degree from Lawrence College. She later taught at Columbia, and this book sees her commuting from New York City to Stillmeadow. I read that in 1935 she began living in Connecticut full time.

Most (all?) of Gladys' books are illustrated by Edward Shenton. Here is January's.

 

24 comments:

  1. Happy New Year, Nan! I love this post. I've been meaning to read more of Gladys Taber's books. Thanks for the nice excerpts and the reminder to get on it. :)

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  2. I love her books and brought them with me in this temporary home. Thank you
    much for commenting on my safe home for the winter.

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  3. No one could be more comforting. I so wish I were closer so I could come and visit.

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  4. You know how much I enjoy reading bits of Gladys Taber's books through you, and the way you combine them with your own thoughts and your own life.
    I forgot to say it, but from the moment you put my favourite header picture up, I meant to comment on it :-)
    Yes, people did cook with a lot of butter and cream. But a) they did not do that every day, b) portions were a lot smaller usually and c) everybody got a lot more exercise in the course of an average day as few people had cars and a lot was done on foot. Therefore, there were much fewer overweight people around than now. Oh, and d) the constant availability of chocolaty snacks wasn't there yet - people ate at meals, full stop.

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    1. That's exactly right. And that is still me. I just can't "graze" or snack. Because there wasn't drinking in my house growing up, there were no cocktail parties where people ate and drank before supper. I just don't get it. Why eat when you're going to eat in half an hour? Even if I have just a plate of cookies and milk, I sit down to eat them. Most people I know eat standing up, grabbing a cookie here or there. I agree with your a, b, c, and d!

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  5. Gladys often writes what we think. I am glad I am not the only one that can't get things done on a winter day with nothing pressing to do. ha... Stay warm.

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    1. And now I'm finding myself thinking of all the things I 'can' do in the summer. And when summer comes, I won't do half of them!

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  6. Those were some great words and philosophy! Love it.

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    1. Gladys was a kind of philosopher, always thinking about life and people.

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  7. Thanks, Nan! Love it when you quote Gladys... I think the nibbled game boards were from the puppies.

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    1. But then again, old houses are full of mice. haha. We have a havahart trap and we catch one every time we set it. Then the little mousies get transported to areas where there are no houses.

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  8. Just what I needed to read on the frigid morning covered with new fallen snow.

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  9. She echos my thoughts in this post, too! I always have great plans to sort through and organize my photos during the long days of winter. Or reread some of my favorite books. Or write real letters to friends, rather than simply dash off a quick email. I have no idea where the hours go, but the days since retirement seem to fly by even faster than when we were working!

    I love the illustration and think it looks like your home!

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    1. It does a bit. Hers was much older than this place, though. Perhaps retirement is one of those dreams of "plenty of leisure, a tranquil space."

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  10. Oh my goodness, I love Gladys Taber! I did read Stillmeadow some years back, but I need to pick up one of her other books--right now, since it is zero degrees and I need some "butternut wisdom." My grandmother used to make oyster stew. And now I know what is in it!

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    1. There are so many of hers that I haven't read! I'm enjoying reading the monthly entries. Thanks for coming by and leaving a note.

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  11. My mother made oyster stew exactly as described - and only once a year for Christmas - and only for my father and me! So good. I haven't had it for over 40 years....

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    1. I absolutely love this! Thank you for telling me.

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  12. I have made oyster stew pretty much exactly like that. And butter or no, now I am really hungry for it. (Good oysters on the Pacific Northwest coast... I think I'll wait for those long summer evenings there.)

    Gladys's meditations on the seasons are so interesting. I think we all like to have a plan in the back of our minds ... I don't really have seasonal changes much nowadays, but I do the same kind of thing with my days.

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    1. I hope you will make it this summer! Happy that Gladys reminded you of it!

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  13. I somehow missed this lovely post... it seems to happen to me every now and then. I very much identified with Gladys planning to do this or that in the winter months and that 'this or that' just never gets done. How true. Now winter's here I'm longing for lighter evenings so that I can do my jigsaws later in proper light not doing the clearing out I should be doing. In truth, I love all the seasons... not mad about summer but I wouldn't want to be without it.

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    1. I loved reading your comment. Thanks so much!

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