Last week my Zoom book club met and discussed “Our Souls At Night,” the 2015 last novel by Kent Haruf of eastern Colorado. While John Denver has made Colorado famous for its “rocky mountain high,” only the western half of the state has such peaks. The eastern half is part of the nation’s Great Plains, flat and agricultural. Here Haruf sets his five novels in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado.
Haruf uses a spare style, appropriate for the straight talking inhabitants of our central states. His characters have lived in or near Holt their entire lives and farm or supply the services such as teaching needed in such a place. They live without pretension and with a settled, though not resigned, sense of their lives. In each of his novels something unexpected happens to jar them into a new purpose or connection with their neighbors. In this case, a widow makes a proposition to a widower to meet and talk each night. In bed. Just to talk. Needless to say this causes great concern in the town and in each of their families. It just isn’t done. But they do it.
Unbelievably to me, a book about an ordinary elderly man and woman in a small farming town has been made into a film starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. I won’t watch it, not daring to ruin my own images of Addie and Louis formed as I read the novel. If you have managed to avoid the film, I highly recommend the book. If you have seen the film, I suggest you take a good look around until you find spot two unassuming neighbors. Imagine it’s them instead!
I just finished “The Equivalents” by Maggie Doherty which explores the beginnings of the Radcliffe Institute in the mid 1960’s. There the poets Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin, the artists Barbara Swan and Marianna Pineda, and writer Tillie Olsen all met in this special atmosphere for a year. Each had a stipend and a place to work and they met with the other participants for weekly seminars where each shared their work. The artists were called “equivalents” since they didn’t fit the requirement of advanced scholarly work demanded of other members of the Institute.
I read the book a chapter a night, savoring it totally and loathe to finish it at all, much less quickly. But when I was done the only person I wanted to talk to about it was “J” my close college friend and fellow English major. We had attended the American poetry class together, talked poetry frequently and went to poet readings, including one given by Anne Sexton.
But “J” is in the euphemistically named “memory unit” in Cambridge, so called for those who have lost their memory. She inherited the early onset Alheimer’s that ran through her maternal line, with the first symptoms beginning in her 50’s. Twenty years later there is just her lovely form wandering the halls of the safe and caring atmosphere. She is not available to talk poetry.
The book allowed me to revisit our years at Radcliffe and Cambridge in the 1960’s. It explored the vast changes that took place in those years for many women. I could visualize our dorm rooms, our walks, our talks. Much joy came as I read. But in the end I was left just truly missing “J.”
I rarely reread fiction, and when I do it is usually classics such as Jane Austen or Henry James. But recently I saw a reference to Rosamunde Pilcher and her Cornwall settings in a blog. Since I want to visit Cornwall, I follow several Cornwall blogs and thoroughly enjoy my correspondence with their authors. I decided to reread “The Shell Seekers,” a novel I last read in 1987 when it was published.
I hadn’t remembered much of the plot, read when I had just turned 40. It turns out to not matter at all. In the intervening years I had turned 73, and it was as if I was discovering the novel for the first time. Centering on a mother in her 60’s and her three adult children, the novel uses the mother’s reflections to explore her life and her children. Clearly I had paid no attention to the mother as I read it the first time, and had only focused on the adult sibling interactions, so reminiscent of my own.
I find it increasingly difficult to find contemporary fiction engaging. Ennui, broken marriages, gender confusion and fast paced urban life no longer interest me much. I similarly have no patience with dystopian writing, nor with authors trying to wow me with their “new” and “cutting edge” techniques. I assure you that cuts the selections down very rapidly.
In my reading experience, depictions of elders written by young adults often fail to capture the genuine complexity of old age . The nuances, bittersweet realities, mild regrets and loss of important companions which fill my life are perfect topics for fiction, but not for the young writer. Pilcher, who wrote “The Shell Seekers” in her 60’s brings a depth of experience both of life and of writing to the novel. I have felt known and described countless times in the book. I am grateful for the return to the novel. I look forward to finding other fiction I may have overlooked in the past. Recommendations are welcome.
I was laughing in the shower this morning thinking it is time that we made a play list of songs that fit the pandemic. Maybe if they were played at the grocery store, some would remind people about appropriate behavior. First I thought of The Police with their song “Don’t Stand So” close to me.
Please add to the list. There are no rules beyond saying why you think the song would be a good addition. They don’t have to encourage good behavior, they just need to fit somehow with the times.
Finally everything is assembled, a place found for all the items, and a debut use this morning to try the “gym” out. Not visible are three important additions. New yesterday was a dehumidifier purchased after I experienced the working conditions in the basement. A large fan blows now comfortable air my direction. Most important is my Apple Home Pod which lets me tell it what music to play, stop, repeat, make louder or softer without my having to quit exercising. ( I get NO kickbacks for endorsing things. I just love the device.) For the curious, the large door shaped cardboard carton holds a large storm door slated to replace our current one. The little cupboard behind the weights hides our water meter.
A few things might need explanations for the visitors to my gym. The floor has a large padded mat, suitable for much core body work. The orange handle is a nifty invention that allows me to make a barbell into a kettle ball, thus saving me the expense of buying one. The large cylinders are foam rollers, a device unknown to me before the gym. Foam rolling loosens muscles and feels good too. The large white ball allows me to lean it against the wall and do wall squats. The flat black object is a step, using for ….stepping.
Of course the centerpiece is the incline bench. After failing to easily assemble it, I recruited Charlie’s help. After another hour, and after learning that of course one of the holes was slightly off center making attaching the seat a challenge, and after me getting frustrated and going upstairs, and after Charlie persevered, the bench was put together.
I would like to lie on the mat in the cool dry air and listen to music. Isn’t that why I built the gym?
The one thing I hadn’t figured into my timeline for gym construction was the assembly of the incline bench. I spent half an hour on it so far, then realized that I would need Charlie’s help to fasten one large piece to another. He is working at home, so he wasn’t immediately available.
Unlike many things I have put together, this one actually taped the various hardware to a piece of cardboard and labeled each piece. Sadly I misunderstood that the label referred to the piece over, not under the label. I figured that out when a set of bolts was clearly too small to hold the pieces together. Fortunately I realized as I started to pull the tape off the parts that the labels were coming off also. So now I am just poking little holes to pull out the necessary items. The instructions are clear, just very lengthy.
I went back to read the description of the bench on the website. Frequently buyers touted the “ease of assembly.” Perhaps they were speaking comparatively. It is easier than IKEA projects, but that isn’t saying much! When the bench is ready, the weights await. Of course they came in a 50 pound package, and I had to carry the plates downstairs to the “gym” a few at a time.
At least I am getting a workout preparing a space to have a workout.
This morning I listened to the liturgical readings and heard about the prophet Elisha who stayed over at a couple’s house so often that they built him his own little house on their roof. It reminded me of “Harry’s Room,” a cherished place in my childhood home pictured above.
The house had been built in 1909 for a family of three, parents and one child, and several servants. The parents had a suite, the child had a suite and the servants lived in two rooms on the third floor. There were front stairs and back stairs, a full pantry and a small room off the kitchen by the back stairs. We never determined the intended use for this room since by the time we moved in the house had been used as a group home. Perhaps it was a cloak room, perhaps the cook slept there. At any rate it was always called “Harry’s Room.” It held a twin bed, a lamp, a desk and a chair and had a pocket door installed for privacy.
Harry was the district attorney for a rural Oregon county and had to come into Portland regularly. He always stayed at our home. Even after he moved to a position in Washington, D.C., he still came West fairly regularly and stayed in “his” room.
I smiled this morning when I realized that giving him his own room connected me with ancient readings. Harry wasn’t a prophet, but we welcomed him all the same.
While my gym has reopened, it is in a very limited manner with everyone wearing masks, maintaining social distances, wiping equipment regularly and doing other safety measures. I finally acknowledged to myself that I would not be going back to the gym for a long time, if ever. Faced with a choice of continuing to work out in my office or stopping altogether, I came up with a third choice. We have a large area in our basement which is carpeted and basically empty. I decided to build my own home gym.
Buying exercise equipment during the pandemic has been challenging since every gym user stuck at home was doing the same. But eventually everything has arrived and is ready to be set up. I thought I would share a photo of all the items in the heap on the floor where they presently rest. I hope that by tomorrow or Monday I will have a working gym to photograph.
I will continue to work with my personal trainer, receiving new workouts every four to six weeks as I have done in the past. He can check out my form by viewing any videos Charlie takes of me doing the exercises I am new to. Eventually he may be able to do live sessions over the computer. I would enjoy seeing him and interacting in a way text messaging and phone calls don’t allow.
I didn’t buy any fancy machines. My goal is to maintain functional fitness for everyday life. Weights, resistance bands, and a step will ensure that I can do just that.
In late winter it was increasingly difficult, because of the disruptions of the virus, to buy fresh produce. I was concerned that it might remain challenging and decided to buy a share of a farm down the road from us. CSA(consumer supported agriculture), lets you buy a share before planting thus allowing a farm to use the capital to purchase seeds, hire necessary workers, and share the potential loss from unpredictable weather or crop yield. I bought a full share of Killam and Bassette and picked up our first bag last Thursday. Now every Thursday until late November, I will return to the farm stand and exchange my empty canvas bag for a full one.
Above is a picture of yesterday’s haul, although we didn’t get jam and our beets were exchanged for kohlrabi. Fortunately the owners supply a recipe card for people like me who previously couldn’t have told a kohlrabi from a rutabaga. Each day’s bag is filled with vegetables and fruits picked that morning. Nothing could compete this week with the strawberries, pesticide and herbicide free, and perfect right out of the box.
They also have chickens running around the farm now tagged “free range.” I once had “free range” chickens of my own, but they ranged so far afield I never found their eggs! Fortunately the farm houses the hens overnight, collects their eggs and gives us a dozen with our share. In the winter they will butcher the chickens and the pigs who are currently getting fat on extra crops and roughage. Then the frozen meats will be for sale. The owners will make jam and jelly from extra fruit and sell that at their “honor system” farm stand all winter.
While much of the lush farmland to our south has been replaced with huge houses, fortunately some family farms remain. I am grateful that I can help one of them continue to prosper by buying a share of their bounty.
Our church requested that we not live together before we got married. Our church community also pledged(as part of the ceremony) to support our marriage. So while we had talked through everything under the sun, we had not learned how to live with one another. In retrospect, I think the church was wise to ensure that we had made a solemn commitment to one another before we cohabited. The first year of marriage, it turned out, and every available couple in our church family concurred, was challenging.(Challenging is a polite word!)
Snoring was really the least of it. It was getting used to living with another adult after each of us had only been living with children. Who does what? I started out with my ocd list of chores to divide. Agh! I am astonished at my cluelessness about negotiating. But as time went on we found a way to share the newspaper, the bathroom, the kitchen, the yard and the television. We even found ways to be alone, though it sometimes meant leaving the house!
The only thing worse than figuring everything out would have been to be simultaneously deciding if we were in it for the long haul. Thanks to our fairly conservative church, that question had been settled. For better or worse. And better has always far outweighed the worse.