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Monday, December 31, 2007

Thoughts on Things: The New Year

New year. New moon. New life.

Everything old is new again.

High newn.

Johnny, we hardly knew ye.

New baby.

New hope.

No hope. No, for now let's stick with new hope.


I'm reminded of those Palmer Method penmanship exercises we did in grade school. You started with a circle, then made another circle just a fraction to the right of it, then another, another. And at the end of the row you had a tube of circles, like an optical illusion. Your two-dimensional Slinky ran in a long row across the page. It was usually decorated with smudges and bumps, enlivened with not-always-O-shaped circles. I remember that you were supposed to move the whole arm as you did this, not just your fingers or your hand. Did anyone ever do that? Did anyone, even our teachers, know how to relax the shoulder, let the forearm rest only lightly on the paper, and move the entire arm as they wrote? If anyone ever succeeded in doing this, please let me know.


That exercise reminds me of the way the Universe keeps swinging us back again and again to meet our hot spot, our wound, our challenge. You think you've dealt with the issue and, indeed, you have. On one plane. And then the circle turns again and again and you meet it over and over, in different guises. You nibble away at it. You solve this part or that part. The next time it comes around you ignore it, hoping it will go away. Then another time you tackle it head-on. And back and back it comes. And you keep learning.


At the end, a series of stop-motion photographs of our life and work might look like the Palmer Method exercise. Round and round and round again. Nothing new under the sun. We keep on until that circling loses its smudges and glitches and we've made it as smooth and whole as the full moon.


But for right now, the moon is new. The year is new. Our hopes are new. And the Light is returning. Already we can see a difference in the morning. In another month it will feel like Spring. Except for the temperature, of course.


New times. New goals. New ways of seeing.


Copyright 2007 Ann Tudor

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Thoughts on Things: Treasure Chest

I want to write diamonds. I want molten gold to flow from my pen like lava. I want rubies to drop onto the page as if from my own less-than-ruby lips. I want pearls (containers of wisdom, if you believe what you hear)--I want pearls to drop from my mouth like lustrous round teeth. I want my writing to be a Klimt painting filled with gold and jewels. But I write stories instead.


If I knew how, my writing would be a pirate's treasure chest. I would condense my thoughts so intensely that they would become diamond-words under the pressure of my eons of patient living. My experiences would no longer be mere stories but a presence on the page, a heap of golden links like a pile of leaves, begging readers to jump into them. Leaping in and entangling themselves in those golden links, readers would emerge with emeralds in their locks and pearls in their mouths. Readers would rush to jump in and would emerge richissimo for having done so.


Copyright 2007 Ann Tudor

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Thoughts on Things: The Tune the Bones Play

We are who our bones tell us to be. We dance to the tune they play. It takes years, sometimes, for us to hear the tune, so drowned out is it by the ambient noise of our families, schools, friends. The well-meaning people around us often seem determined to keep us from hearing that tune. They don't want us to dance to a tune that they didn't dictate.


So we muddle through for most of our lives, trying to dance to those loud tunes that come from others, because we simply can't hear the tune that our own bones play.


Until one day we do hear it, and suddenly everything makes sense. It's like a combination lock when you dial the right numbers and all the notches line up. Finally everything is aligned.


I wrote once about improvising on the piano—and how I've never been able to do it.  Writing it out let me see what my mind has been doing to me all my life. One compartment of my mind holds the term "improvise" and associates it exclusively with the piano. I play the piano. I am unable to improvise on the piano as I want to. Therefore, I cannot improvise.


That's one compartment.


In another compartment, however, is the knowledge that my strong suit is "making do." With no trouble I can prepare a three-course meal from the contents of my refrigerator. In fact, I used to imagine starting a personal-catering business in which I would create meals from the contents of my clients' refrigerators. I gave up this little dreamlet when I realized that most refrigerators contain a dried-up slice of commercial pizza, two cans of tonic water, one egg past its best-by date, and 17 jars of various store-bought salad dressings, each holding two tablespoons.


But the idea is still valid: I truly can make a meal from nothing.


When I sew, I don't mind making mistakes (which is a good thing, because I'm increasingly inattentive when I sew). Making what seems to be an irrevocable mistake simply means I have to find a creative way out of the mess. How can I cover it up? Disguise it? Make lemonade from it?


If you show me a blank room and ask me to decorate it, I'll not have any ideas at all. But show me a room with two or three mismatched items, one wall painted kelly green, and a pair of curtains that have seen better days, and then ask me to decorate it. I'm a whiz. I'm a whiz at making do. I'll recover this chair, make cushions from an old carpet, create patchwork curtains of lace and tatters, turn the kelly green wall into a meadow-mural.


So as I pondered these ramifications of my compartmentalized brain, I finally made the connection that I'm sure you made paragraphs ago: it's all a question of semantics! Joining, as I always have, the terms "improvise" and "piano," I had forgotten to look at the big picture.


My whole life is an improvisation! Everything I do involves improvising. If it doesn't intrinsically require improvising, then I throw in some improv any which way, because without improvisation I am bored stiff. I've got to play with things, in any area of my life, or I lose interest.


Looking back over my life, I can see how true this is. And yet, constrained by my narrow definition of "improvising," I was never able to acknowledge my gifts.


So who cares if I can't improvise at the piano? Not I. In a life as improvisational as mine, I obviously need one area where I just follow the written script. It gives me the grounding I need to counterbalance the trapeze act that is the rest of my life.


Improvisation is the tune my bones play.


Copyright 2007  Ann Tudor

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Thoughts on Things: Ms. Joy and Mr. Payne Eat from Eath Other's Plate

I'll have a bit more of that polenta, if you don't mind, Mr. Payne.


No problem, Ms. Joy. It's quite delicious. The menu described it as "Apache polenta," quite a mingling of cultures. You'll notice, as you take a bite, that to the polenta the cook has added both grilled onion and grilled poblanos, giving it a southwestern flavor. And, of course, polenta itself is Italian.


You do go on, Mr. Payne. Sometimes for longer than one wants to hear.


Just a bit longer, my dear, for I wanted to point out that the corn used for polenta is actually itself a New World product, thus this form of polenta is not really traditionally Italian. The original Italian polenta was made from chestnut flour or buckwheat flour. There. Now I've finished my lecture. You help yourself to a bite of this interesting dish, which seems to be cross-cultural but is actually, as I have shown, mono-cultural—that is, completely New World. 


Ms. Joy takes a bite of the Apache Polenta from Mr. Payne's plate.


Um-m-m. Oh yes, it's quite good. I do like the poblano flavor here. But, Mr. Payne, must you always always elucidate? Do you feel you need to enlighten me with every single bite?


When you eat from my plate, Ms. Joy, you partake of more than just my food. By asking to dine with me and to share what I eat, you are in effect asking that I share with you a part of myself. So that's what I've been doing.


And I thank you for it, truly I do. It's just that sometimes (not always, of course) I find your explanations and enlightenings just a tiny bit long-winded. Appropriate for the classroom, perhaps, but hardly what I want to listen to as I eat.


And may I ask, Ms. Joy, what it is that you would like to listen to as you eat? But before we talk about that, what is it that you like to eat? What is that mixture on your plate, for example?


Ah. You've forgotten what I ordered, have you? I don't know whether it would be to your taste. But it suits me so well. It's a mixture of tropical fruits, and I ordered it because it felt just right for this hot day. Would you like to try a bite from my plate?


Thank you, my dear. I don't mind if I do. M-mm. Interesting. I never have much liked that silly star-fruit, myself. It makes up in appearance what it lacks in flavor, so I find it makes a better objet d'art than a food item. But here's a piece of mango. Oh yes indeed, that suits you. Ms. Joy. Mango is indeed a joyous taste. Of course, you know that in this country we see only two or three varieties of mango, while there are actually scores of varieties grown around the world. While this particular mango is quite good, one can't help but wonder whether another type of mango might actually be better suited to your tropical salad.


You know, Mr. Payne, I'm beginning to see just how well your name suits you. You do tend to be—well, yes, a pain. May I suggest that we enjoy our meal and not analyze it to death? Do you parse all of your life in such detail?


Indeed I do, Ms. Joy. Parsing life gives me great pleasure, if Mr. Payne can be said to enjoy pleasure. The more I can divide life up into tiny little compartments, minuscule shades of meaning, then the more likely it is that I will find the almost-hidden, nearly-forgotten shards of pain. It is important to reveal their pain to people so they can wallow in it. Without me, they might be able to overlook it.


And that's a most disgusting sentiment, Mr. Payne. As "Joy" incarnate, I feel it is my duty to expand experience for people. The more sensation they can bring to an experience, the more likely it is that they will be able to transcend or to forget their pain. I find this a loftier goal than yours.


Each to his own taste, Ms. Joy. You do your thing and I'll do mine. Whose approach will be more popular? I'm quite sure mine will be. No one is actually looking for "joy," no matter what they say. People want to feel their pain, dwell on it, hold it, bring it out and fondle it. Your happy-happy attitude is counter to what I have seen of human desire.


People change, Mr. Payne. Whole societies change. People need joy. And, whether or not you admit it, joy can obliterate pain. In fact, I'm sorely tempted to do that right now. But no, instead of obliterating you, I'll just have another bite of your Apache Polenta.


No hard feelings, m'dear, I hope. Help yourself. And if you don't mind, I'll try a bit more of your rather disappointing but still interesting tropical fruit salad.


Having realized that they will never come to agreement, Mr. Payne and Ms. Joy continue to eat from each other's plate.


Copyright 2007 Ann Tudor

Friday, December 7, 2007

Thoughts on Things: Frayed at the Edges

When linen frays at the edges, it frays with all its heart. In fact, if you don't clean-finish the seams of the linen shirt you're making, the seams will begin to unravel with the first washing. Run it through the washer a few more times, and you'll soon have not a shirt but a froth of linen threads.


Fraying at the edge is what happens as you get older. As life tosses us around and around in its washer and dryer, our edges get more and more frayed. Distinctions are less sharp. Precision eludes us. Clear and well-defined thoughts become foggy and vague. Things we once knew like the back of our hand are now black holes in the mind. Our very brains are frayed around the edges.


Our bodies are the same. Bits and pieces of us begin complaining. The left knee creaks. Calcium deposits build up on this finger joint or that one. It's Arthritis While-U-Wait. The hair thins. Old tooth fillings begin to crumble. And let's not even talk about eyesight and  hearing!


So here's the question: Fraying around the edge: good or bad? To a young person, the answer is clearly "bad." What could be worse than losing your sharpness, your cutting-edge mind, your clear sense of purpose in life? Clarity is who you are. Fraying is for others.


Yet, if you continue to live, you will fray at the edges. Your faculties will dim. Blurring may occur.


Imagine a piece of linen of a color you love to look at. Now imagine washing and tumble-drying it a dozen or more times. See that stiff linen melt into incredible softness. It becomes an entirely different fabric. Feel how soft it is, with a "hand" that dissolves gently into your own strong hand. Yes, the edges have loosened and have turned into that froth of threads mentioned above. Both the warp and the weft are floating now, finding their own new way, taking a path the weaver didn't anticipate. Anything can happen. Let it fray, let it fray, let it fray.


Copyright 2007 Ann Tudor

Monday, December 3, 2007

Thoughts on Things: Oh, Those Deadly Sins

There are seven of them, but we won't discuss all of them today. They are best assimilated if taken in small doses.


Sloth. When I was little my mother called me "Queenie" because she saw me as a slacker. It is true that I took every opportunity to hide myself away with a book. I much preferred reading to housework. In fact, I still do. One of my sisters told me years ago that when she was little she decided that she would never sit and read while someone else was working. She had seen me in action (in inaction, more precisely) and vowed to be different. Apparently it never bothered me to have other people vacuuming around my feet as long as I could still remain immersed in a book. My family certainly considered me lazy.


Was I? I suppose so. Who wants to work? But I think part of me (I can think this now; I couldn't think it then) simply had to get away from that noisy family. There was no place in the house where I could be alone. The only way I could justify slipping away into my private self was by reading, feeding my imagination with story after story. I wasn't so much looking to escape "work" as I was looking to escape. 


Gluttony. Oh yeah, I can do this one. It isn't that I overeat, really, though I've been known to do that. More precisely, my life revolves around food.


St. Thomas Aquinas would have something to say about me. He maintained that there are five ways to commit gluttony: by eating too much ('nuff said). By eating too soon (lunch at 11:10, anyone?). By eating too expensively. By eating too eagerly (mea culpa). And by eating too fastidiously (I'm sorry, I eat only organically grown foods. Oh, I'm not eating wheat these days. Are these organically grown bananas? Does that custard have milk in it?).


Can you have a life of the spirit if you're concerned mainly with the stomach? Would I rather eat than pray? Probably. So I try to do as the Buddhists do: when I eat, I eat. When I pray, I pray. That way, eating itself becomes a form of attention that verges on (is?) prayer. Attend to what you do.


Of course, I don't really do that, either. My favorite thing is to read while I eat. I keep trying to wean myself from it, but I love it so much. If I'm eating alone I always read. If I'm eating with my husband, we have a rule that we can't read at dinner, but we can read at breakfast and lunch.  Maybe I can assert that what I love is reading-while-eating, and I can attend to THAT: to reading-while-eating. I do that sometimes, taking my mind off the book and thinking how much I'm enjoying eating and reading at the same time.


My mother's "little friend" Irma was the 5-foot-tall dynamo who mothered the Crosby clan. Their five children matched our own five (until our beautiful Mary Eileen came along a little later, making us six). At our annual joint Christmas-Eve get-togethers, the Johnsons (us) and the Crosbys always feasted, though meatlessly, as required by Church rules. And at the end of the meal, Irma would always say, "I have committed the sin of gluttony."


There are five other deadly sins. Are they Grumpy, Happy, Dopey, Bashful, and Doc? No, nothing so benign. They're more like Anger, Avarice, and Lust—sins you can really get your teeth into. Like gluttony, in fact.   


Copyright 2007 Ann Tudor

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Thoughts on Things: Making Molehills

I wish I knew how to make molehills. It must be fun to work in miniature, creating a little bump where none was before. And then to smash it or kick it aside when you tire of it.


I make mountains, myself. Mountains R Us. Give me a grain of sand—from which an oyster might make a pearl, an ordinary person a molehill—and I'll manage to grow it into a mountain.


I water it with my tears and my fears. I give loving attention to it, never flagging in my devotion. That grain of sand grows. It's too big now for any oyster. In fact, it could itself swallow a dozen oysters or two.


Watch it grow as I pour my energy into it. I feed it. I roll it between my fingers like a worry bead. And the more it grows, the more there is to feed and the more energy I spend on it. Soon it's on its way to being a true mountain. A magic mountain. I am a magician.


Once it's a fully grown mountain, what do I do? I slide down it. I can go from high to low in the snap of a finger, the wink of an eye, two shakes of a lamb's tail.


But after my mountain is fully grown, I lose interest. It's time for a different mood. Up. Down. Up. Down. My astrologer says that's because my Moon is in Gemini. Or maybe it's the other way around. Either way, Mercury, who is apparently the only god with free access to the Underworld, goes leaping from the Underworld to the Other World at a thrilling pace. Do not pass go, Mercury. Just slide your way to the highest highs and the lowest lows. That's the way you are, the way I am.


After all these years, there's some comfort in knowing that the fault lies not with me but with my stars.


One night I was in the depths of despair. I hadn't really enjoyed the concert we attended, even though it was the Gryphon Trio, starring my favorite cellist, Roman Borys, who looks like Jerry Seinfeld and plays better than anyone. But even that concert failed to raise my spirits.


So I came home, still terribly depressed. Nothing was going right. I felt old. I was worried about health. And about what I am supposed to be doing with my life. Big mountain a-building.


I brushed my teeth, and then, from a new container the dentist had given me, I took a length of floss and put it between my lips to keep my hands free for a moment.


I was instantly happy. Instantly. Unexpectedly, the new floss was peppermint flavored. And I realized how happy I am to be in the physical world right now, where I can taste bright peppermint, hear the Gryphon Trio (yes, even in a bad mood), and enjoy all delights of the physical senses. If I were in a spirit manifestation (that is, for example, dead), I wouldn't be able to have physical experiences. No peppermint floss.


So peppermint floss made me happy. Not forever, of course. I'm writing this down, so that the next time I start to build a giant mountain perhaps I will remember to cut off a length of peppermint floss and put it in my mouth. Ah, the delights of the flesh.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Domesticity: Cleaning Out the Study

Clean the cobwebs from your brown study. Stop your navel-gazing. Wipe clean the desk where your writing takes place. Dust and fingerprints—evidence of the past—are all over you. You need a clean slate if you are to incorporate new ideas.


What can I throw out?


Well, you can start with old ideas. They may not be very heavy, but some of the really old ones take up a lot of room. So, old ideas out the window.


Wait a minute. I thought I already did this. I already threw out almost everything I absorbed in those early years.


You threw out some of it, yes.


Lordy, lordy. I have to drag out the files and weed them again?


That's the name of the game.


Hold your horses! I'm going back to the beginning. The topic was "clean out the study" and we've gone from that to some sort of existential housecleaning. I'm going to start cleaning in the study.


It's your funeral. Here's this heaven-sent opportunity to let a breath of fresh air into all the crannies of your mind, and you're already balking.


Well, that's the problem right there. I never did understand the balk rule. Sometimes I see the pitcher hesitate and I think, "Surely that's a balk!" but no one makes a peep. Another time the plate ump will just shout out "Balk!" and I won't have seen anything amiss. So I obviously don't understand balking.


You certainly do understand procrastination, though, don't you?




Copyright 2007 Ann Tudor

Friday, November 9, 2007

Domesticity: Plums

Let's talk about plums. Plum kuchen, for example. Or plum pudding, which has no plums at all. Or Little Jack Horner, sticking his hand into the pie and coming out with a plum on his thumb, the symbol of the corrupt politician.


My husband gets the ters "plum" and "prune" mixed up. We keep a jar of brandied prunes on the pantry shelf. When we're searching for a dessert course for an upcoming dinner party, he might say, "Can you use the brandied plums?" My answer depends on my mood. The gentle, patient wife once again quietly reminds husband of his deficiency by saying, "Prunes, dear, not plums. And yes, what a good idea to use them."


The impatient wife, however, masks her anger over this recurring lapse by asking, disingenuously, "What brandied plums, dear? Whatever could you mean? We have no brandied plums." I think the term is passive-aggressive.


Plum slice is what the German bakeries in our neighborhood make with plums. Myself, I make plum slice only in the fall, when those pretty little purple Italian prune-plums (ah-ha! No wonder my husband is confused!) are the featured fruit at our open-air greengrocer stands. Like the Concord grapes, the Italian prune-plums are always surrounded by the wasps of September.


Buy your prune-plums. Make a slightly sweet, slightly eggy, slightly buttery yeast dough, similar to the dough of a Sally Lunn cake. After it has risen once, spread it out flat onto a large buttered cookie sheet with a one-inch rim. While it's rising for the second time, deal with the plums.


With a sharp knife, cut a cross into one end of the plum and remove the stone. In bakeries, they clamp a hand-operated machine onto a counter and run the plums through. The machine, like magic, makes a cross-cut in one end of each plum and removes the stone. What's left is a partially opened plum, like an early tulip. Lacking a machine, you get to do this by hand. Then arrange the plums cut-side-up on your dough. Do not add sugar or butter. Bake.


After baking, sprinkle the plum slice with sugar and let it cool slightly. Then eat it all.


If you eat it all, you will be enacting one of the ways to commit gluttony, of which Thomas Aquinas says there are five: eating too much (that would be you eating the entire the plum slice). Eating too soon (it's 10:30 a.m.; does that count as lunch-time?). Eating too eagerly (slow down; chew each bite 27 times). Eating too expensively (but the plum slice is cheap to make). And eating too fastidiously (oh, I'm allergic to wheat! Is there any dairy in this plum slice? Are these plums organically grown? Did you add any sugar to this?)


Where was I? Plum slice. We once borrowed our baker friend's clamp-on plum-pitter to process a half-bushel of plums for the freezer. With my first attempt to use it, I cracked off a two-inch piece of the formica topping from our counter. It was years before we finally re-did the kitchen and replaced the whole counter. But while the blemish lasted, it was a constant reminder of plum slice (eating too eagerly? Thinking about eating instead of paying attention to what I was doing?).


All my good plum memories are of these purple Italian prune-plums. Other plums are 1) too messy to eat; 2) so tart they hurt my sensitive teeth; 3) inconsistently tart and sweet so I never know what to buy. I'll just plumb the depths of the plums I know.


 Copyright 2007 Ann Tudor

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Domesticity: Maintenance

Maintenance is one of those "middle" activities. It comes between the first flush of love (the excitement of having bought something new) and the relief of finally getting rid of something you no longer need (please dispose of items responsibly). Maintenance is hard slogging for some of us. It means shining shoes, darning socks, brushing coats, mending. Maintenance is not sexy.


We have a two-filter system for our kitchen tap. I'll leave aside the question of whether it actually does what it's supposed to do, whatever that is. We have it and it's my job to maintain it.


Sometimes I am slow to do my duty. Sometimes I let too many months go by without cleaning or changing the filters. And when I do that, the water flows ever more slowly from the tap. In fact, if I wait way too long, the water will no longer flow but will dribble at a fast drip. After several weeks of dealing with that, I finally gird my loins and prepare to deal with the water filter system.


For a long time now the water has been barely trickling. In the weeks between realizing that I have to do something and the moment when I actually take action, I devise ways to amuse myself while I wait for the water to fill my glass. I read the paper. I clean a cupboard. I write a poem or two.


But finally the day of loin-girding arrives. I absolutely must clean the ceramic filter and change the charcoal filter. TODAY.


I empty out the under-the-sink cupboard. I turn off the appropriate valve and open the faucet to "relieve the pressure," as the instructions tell me to. Then I twist off the first sump. That is, I try to twist off the first sump. It is stuck. In order to maintain the filter, you must kneel at an awkward angle in front of the cupboard under the sink. This is not a good posture for twisting a stuck object, and particularly not for twisting with all your might.


I try. I give up. I try again. I give up. For an hour I keep going back to the cupboard under the sink and exerting all my effort in an attempt to twist off the sump. No luck at all.


When my husband comes home several hours later I enlist his help. His reputation is that he can solve any household problem that needs brute force. But this time he doesn't even need to use force. The second sump, the farthermost one, which I haven't tried to detach, just falls off of its own accord. Once that has happened, the front one loosens up and is removable.


I clean the ceramic filter and put on a new charcoal filter. The job is done. We again have filtered water that fills a glass in a few seconds flat.


Timely maintenance is its own reward.


Copyright 2007 Ann Tudor

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Domesticity: More Organizing

My chest-style freezer is stuffed to the brim. The only thing I find when I look into it are plastic quart containers of half-baked plum tomatoes. I like those tomatoes, and I want them in the freezer, but I don't want them to cover the entire top layer so that I have to move fifteen containers of them before I can go any deeper.


And deeper is where the good stuff is. (Beware:  possible falling metaphors ahead!) In my freezer, deeper is the home of spare ribs and lamb shanks and big organically grown roasting chickens. Deeper is where I keep the romano beans and roasted red peppers that I put away by the bushel in mid-September.


The poblano chiles are deeper, for example. If I want to make rajas, with onions and poblanos and potatoes all cut in strips, first I have to struggle through those quarts of roasted plum tomatoes.


I need signposts in my freezer, for it's obvious that I don't know where I'm going. I need to organize it, with a place for everything and everything in its place. We all know how long that would last, even if I could pull myself together sufficiently to straighten it out. Twenty pounds of frozen cranberries or ten pounds of coffee beans would arrive one day from the supplier and in my haste to create space for them I would dislodge all those carefully laid-out signposts.


My husband prepares himself well for freezer-diving. He wears gardening gloves to avoid frostbite as he moves twenty packages of organic ground beef from the right side to the left—the better to find the 4-liter bag of milk that we know is "deeper." He definitely has more stamina than I do; he will doggedly continue the search for a missing package of lamb shanks long after I've given up and changed the menu to canned tuna.


Now this is not a question of labeling. I actually do label some of the things I put into the freezer. I write "tom sauce" and the date on a slip of paper and fasten a tip of the paper between the container and its lid (there's many a slip twixt the quart and the lid). Or I write "chick stock" and the date, or "ricotta whey" and the date. Or I write "D" on an index card and rubberband it to a package of dandelion greens, so I'm not surprised by their bitterness when I thought I was serving up kale. (Other greens remain unlabelled: I see no reason to distinguish between kale and mustard and chard and collards.)


If I could just arrange the freezer contents so that everything is on the top layer and nothing lurks mockingly at the bottom, I would feel successful, organizationally speaking. When will they invent a one-layer freezer for our convenience? It would need a dedicated room, of course. But perhaps the freezer could lie beneath the floorboards, which would be equipped with numerous trap doors to access the freezer contents. No, I think this is a non-starter.


Copyright 2007 Ann Tudor

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Domesticity: A Reason to Organize

I am not an organized being. Anyone who has been listening will recognize this as the truth. In some of my long-ago jobs, I used to be responsible for filing. Like my bosses, I thought I was good at it. It wasn't until my memory became less reliable that I realized that I wasn't a good filer at all. I simply had a good memory for where I had put things. My filing was not logical (well, it was alphabetical, but that was the given). I could relocate any needed item simply because my mind made connections—I just remembered where I'd filed it.

The same principles applied outside office work. I knew what was what because I remembered, not because I was naturally organized. Then I married a highly organized ex-librarian (opposites attract). Well, you can take the boy out of the library, but you can't take the library out of the boy. My husband makes notes of everything. He keeps a day-book that never fails him. His calendar of coming events is a model of foresight. He never mislays our subscription tickets. He never forgets to do anything because he always makes to-do lists and then acts on them.

Imagine his surprise when he discovered that his charming bride—old enough to know better when they married—was as slap-dash as a rebellious teenager.

Oh, it was hard. The first couple of years took considerable compromise. But gradually I acquired a few of his organizing skills. Not too many, of course, since it was important to preserve the unique charm of my spatterdash approach.

We have a lot of things in our kitchen. I have ceiling-high shelves lined with 2-quart jars, 1-quart jars, pint jars—all filled with grains, dried fruits, oils, and ingredients both exotic (dried Kaffir lime) and prosaic (barley). My impulse was always not to label the jars but to rely on my memory. Why should I label them? Can I not tell brown rice from basmati from Arborio? Don't I know couscous when I see it through glass? Aren't black turtle beans significantly different from Great Northerns or from pintos? Really. What overkill, what a waste of energy, to label all those jars.

On a winter day several years ago I decided to make oatmeal cookies. I'm a cookie monster. It was a cold winter day. Some fresh-from-the-oven oatmeal cookies? What a good way to spend the afternoon! Cookies and milk while I sat on the sofa and read a novel.

So I made them, complete with currants and walnuts. Don't you love that occasional tart-sweet hit of a currant or raisin in your oatmeal cookie? I do, so I put in currants.

As soon as they were out of the oven, I grabbed a warm cookie and ate it. H'm-m. This one did not have a tart-sweet hit. Maybe the currants were unevenly distributed through the dough and this particular cookie was lacking currants. It had a slightly different flavor, which I couldn't identify. I tried another. Still no currant hit. H'm-m. I ate four more cookies and found no taste of currants at all--just that strange, unidentifiable flavor.

I stopped eating the cookies and began to think, staring at the glass jars on the shelves and trying to retrace my movements as I had made the cookies.

It didn't take too long before I found it. Instead of currants I had grabbed the jar of Chinese salted and fermented black beans. Hey, they do look alike, especially if you're trying to pretend that your eyes are still young and you don't need to wear your glasses. Fermented black beans are salty and, well, fermented. Their resemblance to currants is strictly visual.

So I didn't eat cookies and milk as I read my novel.

When my husband came home I had to admit my mistake. Luckily, he prefers savoury to sweet. Also, he hates waste, particularly the waste of food. So over the next few days he ate every one of those misbegotten cookies.

After that, I reluctantly started labeling the jars on my shelves. Not all of them, of course. I still insist I can tell a pinto bean from a split pea. But if there's any ambiguity at all, I slap on a label. And I've never since made cookies with fermented black beans.

Copyright 2007 Ann Tudor

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Domesticity: The Mystery of the Red Dress

Well, with such a title this story could go any way at all, couldn't it? It could be a Monika Lewinsky kind of red dress. Or the red dress could be like the red shoes, compelling the wearer to go to a salsa club and dance the night away. Many exotic mysteries might cluster around the idea of a red dress.


But my mystery is prosaic and domestic. At my favourite store's January sale I bought a beautiful red dress of heavy cotton, with vaguely Japanese black marks sweeping over the fabric. The top is a simple sleeveless tank-top shape, loose-fitting, and the full, swinging skirt is attached just below the natural waistline. But the skirt is enlivened by numerous one-inch deep horizontal tucks about five or six inches wide. These tucks puff up the fabric and catch the observer's eye. The skirt is exciting to see and to wear.


No mystery yet.


I wear this dress in both winter and summer, adding black tights and a black turtleneck in cold weather. I wear it for special occasions at home, such as when I'm hosting a dinner party. At those times I always wear an apron over it, because cooking is messy and unpredictable.


I always wear an apron when I cook, except when I don't. And it was during one of those latter, apronless times that a big fat spatter of grease landed at the ribcage area of my beautiful red dress. The spot was as big as an egg and very noticeable.


The next day I pretreated the stain and washed the dress. I let it hang to dry, so as not to set the stain in the heat of the dryer. When it was dry, the stain was still there. I pretreated the stain and washed the dress again. Same result. I put the dress aside.


And then, serendipitously, I read in a magazine that the best way to treat a grease stain was to spray it with WD-40 before washing it. This sounded very strange, but what did I have to lose? The dress was useless as it was.


I sprayed the stain with WD-40 (which, despite its little straw nozzle, tends to spray an area larger than you expected). The WD-40 covered the egg-shaped stain and then some. It was now a four-by-six-inch oval spot. But I had faith. I washed the dress and hung it to dry.


Two days later, when the dress was dry, I couldn't see the grease spot, but that was because the WD-40 stain obscured it. Instead of a little egg-shaped stain, I now had a large dark oval in the middle of my beautiful red dress.


I took the dress upstairs to the sewing room, hoping to be inspired and to find a clever way to disguise the stain (it wouldn't be the first time I'd tried that sort of thing). But during two weeks of off-and-on mulling, no clever idea came to me. The dress was a write-off. I left it in the sewing room until I figured out the best way to dispose of it. Or maybe I'd cut off the unstained skirt and find a way to use it without the top.


Soon, however, I needed to clean the sewing room to turn it into its subsidiary role as guest room. The dress, along with several other half-finished projects awaiting decisions, went into a box that I tossed into the back of a closet.


That's the background to the mystery of the red dress. Or is this the miracle of the red dress?


Scoot ahead three months to summertime. The woolens in my closet have been replaced with linen and silk and cotton. One very hot day when I needed to look dressed-up for a trip to town, I remembered the red dress. (I belong to the out-of-sight, out-of-mind half of the population, so I'd totally forgotten the dress until that day.) I wanted to wear the red dress. I looked in all possible closet spaces and did not find it. But as I was looking I began to have a tiny memory of a stain, an ineradicable stain, on the red dress. Okay, I finally remembered that part of it. But what had I done with the dress?


I gave up on the dress that day, but the next day I had an hour to spare so I began searching again, and I found the box in the back of the closet and the dress at the bottom of the box. I took the dress to the light to refresh my memory of how bad the stain was.


There was no stain. There was no stain at all, neither an egg-sized grease stain nor a paperback-book-sized WD-40 stain. The dress, though wrinkled, was spotless; it was ready to be ironed and worn.


So I ironed it and wore it. It felt wonderful. I felt beautiful in it, swinging the skirt like a five-year-old.


I think the WD-40 evaporated over time. That's the only explanation.


Lessons learned? (1) Wear an apron when you cook. (2) Don't ever panic; things will work out. (3) Use WD-40 on a grease stain, but allow a LONG time for the WD-40 itself to disappear. (4) Have patience. (5) Procrastinate. It always pays off in the end.



Copyright 2007 Ann Tudor

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Domestic Scene: Can she mop a kitchen floor, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?

I mopped the kitchen floor yesterday. I'd like to say it was the floor's weekly, regularly scheduled mopping, but anyone who knows me would recognize this as a lie. I mopped the floor yesterday and I won't tell you how long it had been (bless me, Father Murphy's Oil, for I have sinned. It has been X months since my last mopping). The interval between moppings will not be revealed here.


At several points during that interval, however, I read, by chance, comments on floor-washing. And each author said something like "stand-up mopping just doesn't get the floor clean. You have to get down on your hands and knees . . ." A sentence like that sticks in your head if you have a propensity for guilt.


I used to garden a lot, and with great pleasure. I'd crawl around, kneel, get up, dig up plants and move them to someplace else in my little garden. But as my body has aged a little, getting up and down has become less of a pleasure, and I have found that I do less and less gardening. Now, if I won't get down on all fours to garden—which I love—do you think I would do it to mop my kitchen floor? Do you know how to spell "fat chance"?


But I did mop my kitchen floor yesterday, as I've said, and the recommendation for hands-and-knees scrubbing was strong in my mind. So here's what I did. I got myself a virgin green nylon scrubby and a small bowl of water to which I added some Murphy's oil soap and a little vinegar. And whenever I passed a corner or an edge—you know what I mean: those grimy, never-cleaned places that the sponge mop can't even get close to, let alone scrub—I put my mop aside and bent down (briefly, each time) with my little scrubby and I actually scrubbed those corners and edges clean!


This was a perfect compromise: I didn't have to do the whole floor on my hands and knees, but I did clean some of those areas that the mop can never touch.


I can hear you saying "big deal." Most women have clean houses because they know how to clean or they hire someone who does. I don't know how (and it wouldn't make a lot of difference if I did, for I don't want to do it). Nor have I hired anyone to help me. I'd be too embarrassed for her to see my filthy kitchen floor.


So it may seem like no big deal to you, but I am thrilled that I have made my kitchen floor cleaner than it usually is--even though I know it's only temporary.


Copyright 2007 Ann Tudor

Friday, October 12, 2007

Scenes from Childhood: Stepping Stones, Skipping Stones

Kids lined up for a picture are often arranged as stepping stones, from the shortest to the tallest (or the other way around, depending on your point of view).


Skipping stones are something else. They're flat and thinnish, and the right people can skim them over a body of still water. Standing on the shore, some talented people can deliver a flat stone with a practiced sidearm throw and that stone will skip on the surface of the water once, twice—even ten times or more!


I can't do that at all, and I wish I could. If I could do that and could also do two kinds of whistling, I'd die happy. I want to be able to do the two-fingers-in-the-mouth shrill whistle that will tell the Gryphon Trio or the St. Lawrence String Quartet how much I love them—AND I want to be able to whistle a Sousa march with verve, panache, and a few trills of the piccolo part.


Copyright 2007 Ann Tudor

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Scenes from Childhood: The Trip to the Ballpark

When I was no older than 13, we drove to Chicago for an All-Star baseball game. Uncharacteristically, my father had bought a clutch of tickets for the All-Star game at Comiskey Park. In the station wagon were my father and his brother, their two wives (my mother Eileen and our aunt Jeannette), and a pile of kids: me, a boy cousin or two, and a couple of my brothers. That's a lot for one station wagon, but those were pre-seat-belt days, and we just scrunched tightly for the two-and-a-half-hour drive.


Here was the plan. We would drive to Comiskey, on Chicago's South Side, and everyone except Eileen and Jeannette would get out of the car and go to the game. The two women would drive across town (these two very rural, small-town women would drive across Chicago) to see a distant third cousin. Then they would drive back to pick us up after the game.


Baseball is a game without a clock, which is one reason I love it. A game can be any length at all. But that made it difficult to know in advance just when the women should leave their visiting and start driving across town to pick us up.


The game ended. The thousands of fans tumbled out of the stadium, found their cars or their public transit, and left. We stood, our little band of men, boys, and a girl, and we watched for our green station wagon with the Indiana plates. We certainly didn't expect them to be "on time", since no actual time had been set for the pick-up. They couldn't have known when the game would end, although I think Daddy expected them (perhaps had even told them) to listen to the game with one ear as they chatted, so they could begin the cross-town drive at the bottom of the eighth.


We waited, watching stragglers leave the stadium. We saw the hot-dog and beer vendors leave the stadium. We saw the umpires leave and the uniformed guards leave. We watched the players leave, their slicked-back still wet, their crisp short-sleeved shirts making them look almost ordinary, much diminished from the god-like status we had accorded them earlier in the afternoon.


And then there was no one else around. We waited. We paced. We sat on the pavement and pouted (only the children). We had been there completely alone for some 30 minutes when a police car drove up to us.


"What are you folks doing here?"


To them we must have looked like a bunch of dangerously innocent rubes on their beat, a violent incident waiting to happen.


"Don't you know this is not a good neighborhood?"


Well, actually, we might have known that. But to a small-town person, what does "not a good neighborhood" mean? That this is where the mean old lady lives who yells at kids? I think the Chicago definition was somewhat different. We explained why we were waiting, and the policemen left, warning us to "be careful" (and what did THAT mean?) but otherwise abandoning us to the South Side. I think we felt a little less safe having heard their concern.


My father and his brother were responsible for the lives of all of us, weren't they?  I never gave a thought to danger because I was with my Daddy, who would protect us all. He knew everyone, surely. He could just say, "I'm Myron Johnson, publisher of the Delphi Citizen," and everyone would respect him. So I wasn't worried. Perhaps I should have been a little smarter by the age of 13, but I was a late bloomer.


How long was it? Two hours, I think. Two hours of standing alone in front of the stadium as afternoon turned to evening, sunlight turned to dusk and then to dark.


Which was worse for my father and my uncle? Worrying about us in our precarious situation, or worrying about what indeed had happened to their wives as they wandered through the unfamiliar big city?


Well, Eileen and Jeannette finally arrived. They'd just got to talking and they couldn't get away. And then it took longer than they had expected to get back across town to the ballpark.


We piled in the car and went home to Carroll County, not worse off for our urban adventure, and not even smart enough to be grateful for the uneventfulness of our visit to Chicago.


Copyright 2007 Ann Tudor

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Scenes from Childhood: Dancing at the Nuns' House

The nuns' living quarters were in a tiny house beside the two-room school, which was attached to the church building itself. The three nuns (two teachers plus a housekeeping nun) lived on the upper floor of the tiny house. The main floor had an entrance hall, a largish room to the left, and, farther down the hall, the door to a small chapel. Although the chapel was just for the nuns, at some point during our eight-year attendance at the little school we students were allowed to visit the chapel. Perhaps it was only seventh and eighth graders.


I know we were allowed in there occasionally, because I remember one thing about that little chapel: it contained a Little Infant of Prague statue. Some day I'll look it up and discover the true story of the Little Infant of Prague. As a church artifact, it seems always to be a real doll dressed in sumptuous, hand-sewn garments. Ours wore a red velvet cloak trimmed in white fur and gold braid. He held an orb in his hands and wore a gold crown on his head. The Little Infant of Prague seems always to be clothed in real fabric. I don't know whether you could go to a Catholic outfitters' shop—the kind where you bought fancy rosaries and beautiful prayer books and plaster of Paris statues of the Black Madonna or Our Lady of Guadalupe—and buy ready-to-display Little Infants of Prague, or whether you bought a naked plaster doll (probably not anatomically correct) and took him home to dress in hand-sewn silks and velvets.


But I loved the Little Infant of Prague that was in the nuns' chapel, with its real clothes.


The year I was in the eighth grade, the front room of the nuns' house was made into a "rec room" for the eighth graders (the oldest kids in the two-room school). Being given our own, separate space was a big deal. I guess they'd noticed that we were too old for Red Rover. They (and who were "they"?) put a record player in the room and even seeded it with a few records. We were allowed to go into the rec room at recess time and during the noon hour (we all went home for lunch but would come back early to take advantage of this new, private space). The record I remember was a Glenn Miller recording of "Opus One." There may have been others. We danced to "Opus One" every day.


Now, why didn't I learn to dance in that room? The two Crosby girls, Carol and Mary, were in grade 8 with me. Their older brother, Tom, was the coolest dancer in high school, and I'm sure he was already teaching Carol and Mary how to do the "fast dance" that separated the sheep from the goats during the four years of high school.


So if the Crosby girls already knew, in grade 8, how to fast dance, then how's come I didn't learn it from them? Were they holding on to their precociously acquired skill in order to reveal it once they reached the social paradise of public high school? Or was I too bookish and standoffish and did I refuse to try to learn to fast dance?


Had I learned it, would my high school career have been more pleasant? Would it have made any difference at all? Would I have become a dancing fool and abandoned all my other interests in order to pursue ballroom dancing?


If Carol and Mary Crosby had taught me to fast dance to "Opus One" in the rec room in the nuns' house, who know what would have become of me? Whenever I hear "Opus One" now, I'm reminded of how my life did unfold, progressing along its path to end up in unlikely Toronto. My lifetime dancing career has consisted of two private lessons with Mr. Alexander, who has taught Dino and me to jitterbug happily in the privacy of our own dining room, with the table folded down and pushed against the wall.


Copyright 2007 Ann Tudor

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Scenes from Childhood: Spitballs

The "little room" of my two-room elementary school was home to the first four grades, its pupils ranging from six to ten years old—quite a handful of an age span. Sister Mary Cecilia was equal to the challenge. She could listen to the times tables, explain the theology of that man on the cross, and clean up the pee from a timid first grader afraid to ask permission to visit the outdoor toilet. She could do all of this with one hand behind her back or—more to the point—one hand fingering the huge black rosary that hung from her waist.


But she couldn't deal with little Jack Anderson's spitballs. How do boys learn to make spitballs? Does Popular Mechanics run a yearly spitball article? Or is the skill passed from older to younger brother ("You want to tee off the teacher? Here's how. You take a bit of paper, chew it up . . .").


I don't know how Jack Anderson learned to make and send a spitball, but he was durned good at it. You'd be sitting at your little desk, one six nailed to a pair of parallel 1x4s, minding your own business. You might be intent on deciphering the answer to 2 plus 3. Minding your own business, as I said, or thinking about who you would play with at recess. Or looking at Mary Crosby's long black braids in front of you and longing to tug on them. Minding your own business.


And suddenly your exposed little neck would be stung. You'd slap the spot, jumping from the shock. And there, on your neck, would be a tiny, sloppy-wet little ball of chewed-up paper.


Jack Anderson strikes again.


Copyright 2007 Ann Tudor

Monday, October 1, 2007

Scenes from Childhood: Fear

In the old house where I grew up, the bathroom was on the main floor. Upstairs was a little half-bath with a toilet and a tiny sink, and our family of eight appreciated that extra toilet!


The little bathroom was right at the top of the stairs, and within it, just opposite the toilet, was a small door that opened into an unused attic space. A tiger lived behind that door. And I knew that any time I went down the steps, the tiger could emerge from behind the door and leap, in a single bound, onto my back. The tiger never leaped at me when I was coming up the steps. He attacked only from behind.


None of my siblings ever mentioned the tiger. But then, I didn't mention him either. I think that we all knew that the tiger was there and that we were all afraid. But no one spoke of it for fear of being ridiculed. Ridicule was a big part of our family culture.


If I made it around the hairpin turn in the steps before he leaped on my back, I was safe. But there were fewer steps below the turn than above it, so the longest part of going down the steps was the part where the tiger could leap on my back.


I would be brave when I started down the steps, telling myself that it wasn't true that there was a tiger. But after the first two steps I started getting scared. I could feel the tiger crouching to leap onto my back. I would go faster and faster down those remaining steps with a flutter inside me that shook me all over and made my legs and feet clatter faster to get me around that bend in the steps, safely away from the threat of the tiger.


I must admit that the tiger never did leap on my back. But I knew he could at any time. He was very large and very real. And I was little and scared.



Copyright 2007 Ann Tudor

Friday, September 28, 2007

Scenes from Childhood: Johnson Bones

People who have bones that float, that are filled with air, can swim easily. Buoyed by their bones, they stay afloat with little effort and their swimming energy can be devoted to the business of propelling themselves forward.


My Johnson bones are dense. Oh, I know, that's the goal established by today's medical gurus. And I don't know whether the lifelong density of my bone structure is the same kind of density that the doctors are exhorting us to achieve.


Let me put this a lot more simply: I am a terrible swimmer. The history of my body in water is not a pretty story.


We had no swimming pool (or Old Swimming Hole, either) where I grew up. But one summer when I was 13, our high school gym department organized swimming classes at a pool in Lafayette, twenty miles down the road. The classes were to be taught by our own Coach Miller, who coached all the Delphi High School sports teams.


Coach Miller was over six feet tall, young, and handsome by anyone's standards. He was the kind of teacher who inspires high school boys to great loyalty and high school girls to ardent crushes.


Here's what I remember about that first swimming class. We beginners were in the water, hanging on to the edge of the pool. On a signal from Coach Miller, we were to push off and float on our backs. Coach Miller described what this would be like, this floating. We would be able, he said, to extend our arms, relax our legs and torsos, and just float, breathing naturally.


On the signal, all ten of us little fledgling fish pushed off and floated. I relaxed. I kept my eyes closed so as to concentrate better on what I was doing, or to keep the chlorine out. But I was floating. I was relieved to know that I had passed the first test of the class. Look, ma! I'm floating on my back!


The next thing I knew Coach Miller had jumped into the water and was lifting me up. It seems I was doing everything exactly right. I was indeed floating. Unfortunately, I was floating a foot below the surface and thus in danger of drowning should I try to take a breath.


My body does not float.


This was the start of my ignominious relationship with water.


A one-term swimming class was compulsory for freshmen girls at my university. The teacher was Miss Somebody (her name is gone, but I can see her as clearly as if I'd seen her yesterday). She assigned me a position right next to the pool wall. And as I swam, pluckily attempting all the strokes she was teaching us, Miss Somebody walked along the edge of the pool. Right beside me.


I thought nothing of this. Someone had to be in that lane, after all.


It was only years later that I learned that my sister Sari, who entered that same university four years after me, also had Miss Somebody as her swimming teacher. And she also was assigned to the lane beside the wall. And Miss Somebody walked alongside her through every exercise.


These Johnson bones: long and lanky, and apparently as dense as cement blocks.


Copyright 2007 Ann Tudor

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Scenes from Childhood: Musical Genes

The cement that holds our family together is music. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? How many music stories can I fit into a little essay?


Baby Mary Eileen was the youngest of us all by far, and she is the only professional musician in my generation of Johnsons. Our father never tired of telling the story of Mary's first piano recital. She was six. Imagine beautiful, blue-eyed Mary, with her curly dark hair and classically pale Irish skin. Imagine little Mary timidly walking up to the big baby grand in the church, the pews filled with the relatives of all her fellow-recitalists as well as her own. She's been taking piano lessons for a year and she never has been too fond of practicing. Nonetheless, here she is at her first piano recital.


Mary approaches the keyboard, as they say, and she looks for middle C, the opening note for her little piece. She has been taught to find it by tracing her finger down from the first letter of the manufacturer's name on the upright board above the keys. Whoops! This is a different piano. There is a different placement of the manufacturer's name. Middle C is nowhere to be found.


Mary chooses a note that might be the right one and tries out her piece. Nope. Doesn't sound right. She stops and chooses another note. No luck. She tries three times in all, after which she simply chooses a note at random and plays the piece on whatever notes present themselves under her fingers. Relatively speaking, she plays the piece well: all the notes are in place relative to that first note. But the first note was not middle C, so the piece ends up being in an obscure Lydian or Mixolydian mode instead of in C major. Mary knows it's wrong, but what can she do? This piano obviously has no middle C. She finishes, bows to the applause, and takes her seat. She's done the best she could do.


In the meantime her father, Myron, and her sister Sara are in hysterics in the back pew. Myron has tears in his eyes from laughing so hard. Sara has nearly wet her pants from laughing.


And the story becomes legend, to be retold at every family feast, as regularly as a Scandinavian edda at the banquet of long-ago warriors.


Our father, the tease, never lets go of a good tale.


Lest you think he was all malice, however, here's my own piano recital story. I was an advanced pupil of Mrs. Eikenberry, whom I adored as a teacher. I was a senior in high school and the recital, held in Mrs. Eikenberry's house, was for her "advanced" students. I was to play a Beethoven theme and variations that I'd been working on forever.


We arrived—parents and nervous performer. Suddenly I realized I was not wearing "my ring." This was a "friendship ring" my father had given me several years previously for my birthday. I laver realized that my father never in his life bought a gift for any of his children or for his wife, so the ring purportedly from my father was actually from my mother. But at the time, when I still thought it was possible to be my father's beloved daughter, I believed that he had given me my friendship ring.


But where was it? I had left it at home! Oh no, my lucky ring!! My ring that I nervously twiddled between my fingers, using pinky and long-man to twirl the ring that was on my right-hand ringman. Oh, and I was SO nervous that day. I knew I'd never be able to play without my ring. It was my talisman.


I asked my father to go home and get it for me. I couldn't play without it. Please Daddy! He thought the request was ridiculous and pooh-poohed the whole idea. I pleaded, tears in my eyes. Finally my mother took my side and said, "Myron, just go home and get the ring!" And he did. (This was NOT across the city, you understand. This was a three-minute drive in our old station wagon.) So he brought me the ring and I put it on, feeling immediately more at ease, or so I said. When my turn came I played the Beethoven as well as could be expected. And certainly no better than I would have without the ring.


And in the generation after ours, do we have musicians? The "children"—now ranging from 30 to 50—are either totally musical or totally lacking in musical interest. (The latter circumstance is obviously what happens when we marry outside our musical gene-pool.)


We have drummers, keyboardists, an acoustic bass, a couple of singers. Some are part-time professionals (as in, "Don't quit your day job!"); some just do it for fun. But the music gene is still strong among at least half of them and goes into the next generation. All the young parents watch the new babies for extraordinary talent—although why they would is a mystery. Since they have seen the difficulties of the full-time musician's life, you'd think they would want to stomp out any musical talent, not encourage it.


I remember Coleman saying about baby Hannah (only a month or two old at the time): "I was singing the mockingbird song and she hummed it along with me!!"


Well, maybe.



Copyright 2007 Ann Tudor