Sunday, November 25, 2018

black friday, mussy ball, and the story of the bookcase and the dictionary

On Black Friday I went to the Main Street Antique Mall in Ishpeming and came home with a bookcase and a dictionary.

The bookcase was exactly what I wanted, and the dictionary was, well, as the bookcase was being used to display items, it had to be cleared off before I could take it home and David, the proprietor, who is always good for a jaw, preferred to clear it himself which I understood as there were items of glass and china, and while he did the clearing we gabbed, and there are three shelves to the bookcase, and then the top, and it is three feet long and has a separate, curved end piece making it overall about four feet long, and it is very solid, dark wood with a polish, more than three feet tall, and there are a few little details that give it a kind of classic, library-ish look. Only on the bottom shelf, the last to be cleared, were books displayed, and by the time David got to them I figured I should look them over because now, of course, I had plenty of room for books, and the first book David removed and placed on a chair in front of me was a ratty, tattered 1924 dictionary. The last thing I needed. But what a find! I snatched it up. The deep reddish cover with gold lettering was creased and warped and coming unglued. It was frayed, splayed, well-played. I began flipping through it. It was marvelously pliable and surprisingly holding together, despite a torn, loose, missing page or two, and there were all the usual and unusual words,
“ … thoroughly up-to-date … hundreds of the new technical terms, new war words, and old military expressions revived by the Great War—”.
Of course, the last thing I needed was an old raggedy dictionary with new war words circa 1924, but I checked the price, written in pencil on the frontispiece, and it was $3, so maybe, and David was still piling books on the chair, saying something about books from our childhood, something about “Dragnet,” and flipping now toward the back of the dictionary I saw “Glossary of Base Ball Terms.”
Laced the ball, batted it very hard.
Lamps, eyes of the batter.
I told David that I had to have this dictionary, there are base ball terms from 1924, and it seems to be only $3, and he looked at the frontispiece and said yes, take it.

Perusing the dictionary now, I see there are many sections including one devoted to automobile terms, one with golf terms, “Christian Names of Men and Women,” “American Casualties in the World War”; and there is a section on grammar, and one on the history of the English language (and now I get mental flashes of words as immigrants, migrants, moving, flowing, traveling, intermingling, coming together from different lands, rolling off different tongues, traversing different times to become one language that is ever-changing, growing, shrinking), and, at last, I find the Table of Contents which includes “Language of Flowers,” “Language of Gems,” “Nicknames of Famous People” (quick—who was known as “The Wasp of Twickenham”?), “Famous Characters of Fiction”—it goes on and on, all
“Profusely Illustrated with 16 Full Page Color Plates, Four Pages of Drawings and 32 Pages of Half-tones from Photographs.”

The dictionary weighs at least a couple of pounds, is a few inches thick, measures something like five by seven, and obviously is so much more than words. Once owned by Anna Karlovic and Mary Karlovic, they, or someone, circled several words in pencil including “rosy,” “ring,” “rope,” “rear,” “romp,” “pray,” and “Fahrenheit.” Both “pear” and “peat” are underlined. And amid the “S”es they, or someone, tucked a clipping of a magazine photo of a woman in a snazzy outfit.

And then there are those base ball terms. As David cleared the last books from my new bookcase (which, he told me, as we were carrying it out, once belonged to a woman who never married, had a little dog, was a corporate secretary working downstate, came home to Ishpeming when she retired, lived a good long life, died, left some of her estate to UPAWS), I shared with him a 1924 base ball term that to me seemed particularly useful, that might come in handy on certain days, those days when, you know, nothing seems to go right, everything seems to go wrong, and it’s all just a big fat mess. The term is
Mussy ball, a game which is full of blunders.
(The answer: Alexander Pope, “The Wasp of Twickenham.”)

Sunday, November 18, 2018

newspaper delivery

As many know, I have a long history with that current enemy of the people, the newspaper, and in particular its home delivery. As a child, two newspapers arrived daily at the end of my parents’ driveway. In the morning it was the Chicago Tribune. I can still see my dad in his leather slippers and blue plaid robe, with some odd jacket completing the ensemble, strolling down the drive, stooping to get the paper, and, a bit later there he is again, tucked neatly into a suit and tie, sitting at the breakfast table, sipping coffee, perusing the sports pages. In the afternoon it was the Chicago Daily News. Then it folded.

As an adult, if in the appropriate circumstance, I too had the paper delivered. For a time I also delivered it—the Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, the Columbia Missourian. I enjoyed the job, did it well, and I cherish the memories of being about at 3 a.m., plowing through snowstorms, seeing the sunrise, gaining the ability to throw a rolled or bagged newspaper and hit my mark, playing a route against the clock, learning a new route, a new neighborhood, and the camaraderie of all sorts of us in the garage. And one morning there was that slight thrill of delivering a newspaper that contained a story I had written—in the sports pages—and in 1984, well, more than one paper I tossed up on a porch contained some jubilant or devastating story about the Cubs, and here I was, delivering it in the aftermath of my own jubilance or devastation.

So no surprise that one of the joys of being back in a city is having a paper delivered right to my door. It has been placed every day inside the storm door, so, yes—right to my door. That the person doing this seems to enjoy the work, well, what more?

newspaper delivery
Neither Josie nor I drew the smiley face in the snow.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

three snippets of moving

Among my dad’s stuff, which I was going through several years ago after he died, I found this snippet.

I pinned the snippet to a scrap of bulletin board, adorned it with my first-made beeswax ornaments, and hung it by the door of my home in Sand River. I put it by the door again when I moved out to Pelkie. The other day, when the movers had just about finished packing their truck, I wandered around my old empty cabin snapping photos of what remained, just so’s I’d know what was still there, and there it was.

There are four small bookcases simply made, of wood with a dark stain, easy to move, exceedingly functional. Each is about 26 inches wide, two feet tall and a foot deep. They line up nicely side-by-side and can also be stacked. They have been in the family for years. My earliest memory of them is when they were side-by-side, stacked four-square, in the basement of the house I grew up in. The basement was small but finished with different rooms and areas. My dad had an office and a bathroom; the washer and dryer and a utility sink were tucked around a corner back by the furnace; there was a long narrow room with a workbench, a freezer, storage for stuff like paint and hammers and rags (and sometimes hamsters, gerbils and mice), and also in that room was a funny little door that led to a crawlspace. A short hall divided these rooms and areas—the hall ended at a door that led outside to where our garbage cans were kept—and it was in this hall that the bookcases held court, holding some old books, flotsam and jetsam, and old newspapers bound for recycling. It must have been when my parents moved to a co-op apartment, in the mid-1990s, that I inherited them. At the cabin, I lined up three at the edge of the loft to keep me from catapulting into the living room (though this did not stop Elliott), and now here, one night, I saw that they could go many places, they could go anywhere, they could go everywhere—indeed, they should be everywhere; there are not enough of them. I have always called them the “Artist Bookcases,” because I thought that was their name. But then I checked the sticker on the back of one. It says “Aristo-Bilt.” So I guess I was close. And I guess Mid-century is my style. I always thought it was just My Parents’ Old Stuff.

Three of the four bookcases Formerly Known as Artist.

I was pretty tired one night and kind of wondering why-o-why I had done this whole moving thing. I was missing the deer. I was watching the nightly news—my one free station! one more than before!—and California was in flames, again, and people were mourning the latest mass shooting, again (also in California), and I was willing my Aristo-Bilt Artist Bookcases to miraculously multiply so I could just finish arranging things, get things unpacked, when my sister called. From California. (Hey! My cell phone works here! A proverbial blessing! Or curse?) At some point she asked if I had a good book to read, something to sit down and relax with, to obliterate everything for a while, and I said no, I haven’t been to the library yet. But later, heading up to bed, I looked at a shelf of books I had unpacked and thought what a dope I am. I am surrounded by good books. This shelf held mostly books my father had, or that his father had had. They are in a bookcase which once was in my childhood bedroom. As far as I know, it is not an Aristo-Bilt bookcase, but I should check.

My sister made the fish vase, my nephew made the other vase, I made the candle, and the elephant was Grandpappy’s.

This bookcase, too, has been hauled around many places. I pulled out a book at random, a slim volume, “Leaves of Grass,” published 1921. I took it upstairs. Once abed, I opened it at random, read a bit, skipped ahead, read some more, Josie sawed bones, the world slipped away, and soon I was reading “Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun.” I lingered over this line—
Give me solitude, give me Nature, give me again O Nature your primal sanities!
—and I thought about that line. Then I continued and arrived here—
Keep your splendid silent sun,
Keep your woods, O Nature, and the quiet places by the woods.
Keep your fields of clover and timothy, and your corn-fields and orchards,
Keep the blossoming buckwheat fields where the Ninth-month bees hum;
Give me faces and streets—give me these phantoms incessant and endless along the trottoirs!
The next morning walking Josie, we saw people out shoveling those trottoirs. Later, when a neighbor took it upon theirself to snowblow the walk in front of our house, Josie had a good bark.

View from a deck, today, just before dawn.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

change of address

If you had told me at the start of the farmers market season that right after the end of the season, meaning the traditional season, for the market these days continues each Saturday right up until the Saturday before Christmas rather than ending the last Saturday of October; if you had told me then that I would be packing up now to move to Marquette, well, I might have said, “Wow. How did that happen?”

At times it seems as if it happened without my even thinking about it, even though I can tell you I thought about it—a lot—and can retrace the process, the careful steps, I took to get here as well as all the mind-numbing, number-crunching, age-gnashing angst that accompanied the calm. Plus, I am very aware of the background, the various things over the past few years that now look suspiciously like: indicators.

“Yes,” the people in white lab coats in front of their dials and screens say as they watch, take notes, purse their lips, “Hmmmm.” A slight smile. A “tsk” here, a “tsk” there. These people know which way the wind blows, how the sand shifts, how the plot develops, and they now lean back in their swivel chairs, rocking, saying: “Phew. At last. There she goes.”

And so here I am, almost, today being the last day of packing, but soon, tomorrow: Blemhuber Avenue, Marquette, Michigan, a house called “The Marion.” So named by Sears, the once-maker of houses that arrived in kits by train from Chicago for buyers to put together piece by piece, this house in particular circa 1939, though whether this is truly the story of this house or not must yet be fully investigated as, so far, it is just what I think based on the bit I know. Still, I do not hesitate to write to my mom:
Dear Mom, I now live in a house that bears your name. Thank you.

It was either June or July when I noticed a house for sale in Marquette on one of those online real estate sites that I was looking at once in a while for fun, I thought, but also in contemplation of potential possibilities. I perceived the house as affordable, and it was just a block or so from Lake Superior, in a neighborhood I perceived as consisting of larger, more expensive homes. One day, after delivering candles to the co-op, Josie and I parked by the house, walked over to the lake, walked around the neighborhood. I saw interesting houses, small houses, medium-size houses, older houses, some new additions, front porches, a few people sitting out on front porches. Subsequent visits and walks showed me people of all ages and even more homes of various vintage, various character, and the truth of the matter was this: walking around this neighborhood I felt right at home, which can be a dangerous thing, for feelings are sometimes misleading, but, having lived out in the woods now for several years, one thing I was increasingly missing was this ability to walk around a neighborhood seeing, in a sense, other people’s lives and being, in a sense, part of it all.

And see there they are, those people in their lab coats, pushing a few buttons, pulling a few levers. How I wish they’d get off their butts and help me pack.

Soon I developed and preceded with a plan, and the plan came to fruition, albeit a bit sooner than I expected. For I did not buy that house I first saw online, and neither did I buy a house in that neighborhood. The house I did buy is a few blocks more from the lake, has neither a garage nor a fireplace, both of which I thought I wanted, and I have issues with the windows and the bathroom not to mention the walls, which are plaster and some of them “textured” and that just seems weird, but I took care of that with paint; But—

You can see the lake from the middle of the street and, I’ve just discovered, with the leaves off the trees from a spot on the back deck. There are big old trees: oak, maple, basswood. The neighborhood is close to downtown, has its own little commercial district with a store that, I’m told, has the best cookies and great popcorn, and the houses are interesting and varied and some, including mine, have front porches. Still –

It was shortly after the inspection, during which time the nervous potential home-owner-to-be perhaps comes to discover: Well, lady, I hate to tell ya but there’s this big hole in the roof and water in the basement and rats in the walls; but, also, potentially: Great little house. Looks like a Sears home. Simple design, well put together. Still –

You have this time to back out of the deal if you want. There is an Andy Griffith Show episode, the one where Barney tries his hand at real estate, and he comes up with this great scheme of putting the Tinkers in the Evers’ house, the Evers in the Chances’ house, the Chances in the Taylors’ house, and then the Taylors—Aunt Bee and Andy and Opie—can go to the Tinkers’ house, which Aunt Bee has always thought was so lovely. But—

In the end, despite Barney’s busting a gut, everyone stays put. What it comes down to is the fact that everyone is actually just fine where they are and moving seems nothing more than trading one set of problems for another. But—

You discover the house you’re moving to has your mother’s name on it. It’s The Marion. Your Marion may not have the fireplace, but it is, as the ad copy says, “ … like home—its lines are familiar and substantial. And good news!—expenses have been curbed by eliminating all unnecessary details. There’s nothing elaborate or fussy about this cozy, informal house—it’s just plain comfortable—and quite roomy, too … ” and, anyway, you’re moving, that’s it, and those people in the lab coats can just sit back and smile. Phew.

sears house

But—how will Josie adjust to city life? Well, we were there Halloween night and he didn’t much mind the trick-or-treaters, just seemed to want to figure out how to get in on this gambit of walking up to a house, getting treats tossed at you. How will I re-adjust? We’ll see. All I know right now is that Josie and I are moving into five rooms and a bath (such luxury!) with a basement and a shed and an old haunted homestead in a marvelous backyard that slopes down to what I can only call fenced-in, thoughtful wildness with a set of swings and a short bridge from nowhere to nowhere, more like a platform, really, perched up on a side slope where I can stand and look out over the lowlands, proclaim Hear ye! hear ye! all ye chippies and rabbits! I proclaim Josie, the best of all dogs, to be Lord of these Lowlands, and he shall you obey, from now through all eternity! and those scampering chippies and rabbits will giggle with glee.

A view over the backyard.

For better or worse, I have been longing to return to a community, to live in a neighborhood with sidewalks for walking, people for greeting, and, for Josie, dog butts to sniff. I have been longing to walk to a library, to stores, to shops, a bakery!; and then there’s the lake. And then there’s the lopping of 158 miles off my weekly commute to the farmers market. But—

We will miss the deer, the yips of coyotes, the murmur of the river, the fields of pristine snow.

Where the heck are the deer?


Meanwhile, new chapters have been added to the wax book:
A Candle’s Chemical History
Arsenic in Old Candles