The Green Satin Dress

June 11, 2015

After I retired I moved to the country. It was a dream come true, but I had a lot to learn about country living. In the big city strangers are strangers but in the country, at least in southern Arkansas, they are neighbors you have not yet met, but you will, and often that happens at the local Walmart. I quickly learned the art of striking up conversations in Walmart and I also adjusted to being asked, “Do you know Jesus?” by people I did not know at all.

I once helped a woman buy light bulbs and we both agreed that this was better done as a team effort and that nowadays it doesn’t hurt at all to have an engineering degree before attempting to buy light bulbs. There’s a solid wall of different kinds at Walmart. That’s a lot of labels to read.

I met any number of seriously pissed of women in the paper products aisle, infuriated by the constantly rising price of–toilet paper.

On one memorable day I was in the sewing section where I met a woman who abruptly asked, “Do you know where I can find a pattern for a dragon costume?” I said that there was a section on costumes in the pattern catalog and added that another possibility would be to find a dinosaur costume and make modifications. “That’s a good idea. My granddaughter wants a dragon costume for Halloween. She asked me to make it and she is convinced that her grandmother can do anything.”

“But grandmothers can do anything.” I said. “Everyone knows that.”

That encounter brought back a lot of memories. Believe me–a lot of memories.

When I was about ten years old my first cousin Shirley got married and I was invited to be in the wedding as a flower girl. That meant a trip for the family and a fancy floor length dress for me. My own Grandmother Alice said she would make the dress. And she did. It was iridescent blue taffeta that rustled delightfully. It had, in the style of that era, a scooped neckline, little puff sleeves, and a ruffle at the bottom. There was also a knot of taffeta flowers in contrasting colors that my grandmother constructed and sewed to the waistband.

That was not all. You won’t believe it to look at me now but at one time I had the most beautiful red hair you ever saw. It was naturally wavy, very thick, and it went almost to my waist. Ordinarily I wore it in two braids, but for the wedding I was allowed to wear it loose. For me that was a great treat. I felt very grown up and very glamorous.

So…..a great many years later my first cousin once removed, whose name is Teighlor Simon, was planning to be married in Shreveport, Louisiana. I thought that my granddaughter Emily would enjoy being in the wedding just as I had enjoyed being in my cousin’s wedding. I asked if she could participate.

Yes, Teighlor said, that would be lovely. Emily was very welcome to be in the wedding and could serve as a junior bridesmaid.

While my cousin Lucienne was busy planning a big wedding in Shreveport for her daughter a lot of things were also happening in my branch of the family. George retired and we decided to move from Fort Worth to Arkansas. I thought we were downsizing but George didn’t see it that way. He wanted to move every blessed thing we owned and that was way too much stuff. Trust me on that one. He is an only child and I am an only child and one consequence of this is that every single candlestick or piece of bric-a-brac that had ever belonged to his mother, my mother, or my aunt, had ended up in our house.

I gave up. I decided to pack everything rather than argue with George. The household was just about two-thirds packed when I received six yards of dark green satin from the mother of the bride with instructions that Emily’s dress was to be made out of this material. The dress could be in any suitable style but it had to have a handkerchief hem which was why she had sent so much fabric.

At about the same time I began to get some very worrying e-mails from my daughter who lived in Oregon with her husband and my two granddaughters. The entire country was going through hard times. Neither she nor her husband had a job. Next thing I knew she had been evicted from her apartment and was living in Portland, Oregon, in a tent behind a friend’s house with her husband Dan, my two granddaughters, and Kona the dog.

My daughter and I had an urgent telephone consultation. Did she want me to send the six yards of fabric? Would she be able to attend the wedding after all?

Yes, she said, send the fabric and she would get the dress made. Yes, she would be able to come for the wedding and bring the two kids because she had formerly had a very good corporate job that involved a lot of travel and she had a huge number of accumulated frequent flier miles. That covered the cost of the air fares.

I mailed the fabric to the address she provided. Now my daughter Dino does not sew at all, but my son-in-law, Dan is a very good seamstress. I’ve seen his work and I knew he was perfectly capable of making this dress.

The wedding was scheduled for a Saturday afternoon in October. We arranged that Dino, Emily, and little Miss Renee would fly from Portland to D-FW Airport the Thursday afternoon before the wedding. Then the five of us would travel by car from Fort Worth to Shreveport and arrive there on Friday in time for the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner which were planned for Friday evening. There was also to be a big reception after the wedding and also a very gala party on Saturday night. Those Cajuns do know how to have a good time and my cousin Lucienne had been planning this affair for a year.

I went back to packing boxes.

Let me tell you a little bit about my granddaughter Emily, the girl who was to be in the wedding. From the get-go this was one very serious little kid. Before she started the first grade she told her father that she did not feel at all ready for school. He asked her why. She replied that she did not yet fully understand all of the causes of World War II. To put it mildly, she has more than her fair share of performance anxiety. She is now a student in the film program at the University of Texas and she is the most hard working, conscientious, and over prepared student you will ever meet.

Plus you must remember that her family was going through a very bad time. Neither of these girls had ever flown before. Emily was the quintessential white knuckled flier while her baby sister, Renee, was bouncing up and down in the seat going “Wheeeee-o.”

When the three of them disembarked at D-FW George and I were waiting for them. We had hugs all around and then I said, “What about the dress? Is it ready?” “Well, not exactly.” said Dino.

“Maybe we had better all sit down.” I said. “Come clean. I’d better know what is going on and what needs to be done.”

What I learned in the next quarter of an hour, from my very reluctant and embarrassed daughter, was that the dress was still six yards of dark green satin. I learned that Renee didn’t have anything suitable to wear to a wedding. I learned that neither of the two girls had any shoes other than play sandals and very well worn sneakers. Dino did bring a suit and heels for herself.

On the other hand, Dino did have a dress pattern in hand in Emily’s size. She had not been able to find a suitable pattern with the required “handkerchief hem,” but Dan had figured out how to insert godets–that’s a fancy word for skirt insertions to increase the circumference of the bottom of a skirt–and he had made the pattern for these insertions. These were a diamond shape and gave the illusion of a handkerchief hem.

Dino had never done any sewing but she did have considerable experience helping Dan with cutting and pinning, although he had always insisted upon doing the sewing himself.

“I think I can do this.” said Dino.

“Baby,” I said, “it’s commendable that you want to learn how to sew, but I don’t advise you to use satin for your first project. It’s slippery and it’s mean stuff to work with. For one thing, if you have to rip out a seam the needle marks will always show. Suppose you let me do the sewing and you do the support work that you have always done for Dan and that you already know how to do because we don’t have much time to get this done.”

Before we left the airport I told George to drive to the nearest shopping mall. There I pulled out a credit card and spent money I absolutely positively could not afford to spend. I bought dress shoes for Emily and for Renee. I let Renee pick out a dress to wear to the wedding and the other festivities. I knew that if she didn’t have a dress that she had chosen herself and just loved she was not going to have a good time.

Then we went home. Dino and the kids were exhausted. I fed them and sent them off to bed. After that, George turned to me and said, “What can I do to help?”

“Go to bed and get some sleep because you are going to have to drive to Shreveport tomorrow. I am going to sew all night and the only sleep I am going to get will be in the car tomorrow. Get some rest. I don’t want you fuzzy and trying to drive.”

He went to bed and I went to work. By the following morning I had the dress completely cut out and some seams sewn. I had also packed my own clothes. Next I packed all the sewing pieces, my sewing kit, and my sewing machine, which is a vintage Singer portable that my mother gave me–well, by now it’s fifty years ago. Those old Singers are indestructible–like Volkswagen bugs. George loaded the car. We set off. I went to sleep.

When we arrived in Shreveport we went to the hotel where we were to stay along with all the other out of town wedding guests. The room was not ready. I was very polite. I was very ladylike. In this instance that was a complete waste of time. Dino had worked in the corporate world and she knew exactly what to do. She threw a pie-eyed fit. That got us a room very fast.

We settled into the room. I set up the sewing machine. Dino and I went to work on the dress. Emily and Renee put on their swimsuits and headed to the pool. I sent George with them to sit by the pool and keep an eye on the kids.

I sewed until we had to stop and get ready for the wedding rehearsal and the dinner afterwards.

It was a lengthy evening. Afterwards we went back to our room and everyone went to bed and to sleep except for me. I sat up and sewed. When I just could not keep going any longer I woke Dino, gave her some sewing work to do while I slept for two hours. That was four in the morning on Saturday. I told Dino to get me up in two hours no matter what.

I got up when Dino woke me and immediately started sewing. I think George may have brought me a cup of coffee. It was six in the morning and the wedding was to take place at two. Emily woke up, looked at all the sewing activity, and asked if there would still be pins in the dress when she walked down the aisle.

I didn’t even look up. I said, “Honey, you will have a dress and there will not be one pin in it. It will be finished.”

George asked, “Are we going to tell Lucienne and Teighlor about all of this?”

“Absolutely, positively, no.” I said. Then I read all of them the Riot Act on the importance of keeping all mouths firmly shut about all of the last minute sewing.

“I don’t know Teighlor very well, but I do know my cousin Lucienne. If she knew that her daughter’s junior bridesmaid didn’t have a finished dress four hours before the wedding she would have to be carried screaming to the nearest madhouse and put into a strait jacket and a padded cell.”

Lucienne had told us to be dressed and at the church by one o’clock. At 12:15 I put the last stitch in the dress. Dino pressed it. By 12f:30 I had taken a shower, thrown on some clothes, slapped a hat on my head, and I was ready to go. I certainly did not take the time to fool with makeup.

At one o’clock we were at the church. George, who worked as a photographer before he retired, took some pictures.

It was a beautiful wedding and Emily looked very, very pretty. She did her part perfectly.

My Louisiana relatives really do know how to party. Altogether there was the wedding rehearsal, the rehearsal dinner, the wedding, the reception, and another grand party at a different location later that evening. Cousin Guy wanted us to come by his house for a visit. Cousin Jon wanted us to come to the RV park and admire his new travel trailer. After all that there was a very late night party at the hotel that went on and on into the wee small hours. That was Saturday night.

We did all of it. The excitement kept the kids going. Renee quickly learned how to hold up her wine glass and make a toast. No, she didn’t have wine; she had fruit punch. The food was plentiful and wonderful. Emily and Renee got a lot of attention. After a few hours of sleep between Saturday night and Sunday morning we went to Cousin Lucienne’s house for a buffet breakfast for all the guests still in town at that time. The kids played with her new puppy and climbed into the big magnolia tree in her front yard. Lucienne had a huge quantity of cheese left over. She gave it to George. He loves cheese and was perfectly delighted.

I drank quite a lot of wine and somehow I just kept going. I told George, “If I live through this and get back to Texas I am going to sleep for a week. I am much too old to pull two all-nighters back to back.”

Every story needs a hero and a bad guy. I’m the hero in this tale; I claim the bragging rights. But who was the bad guy? Obviously my daughter and my son-in-law should not have procrastinated getting this sewing project done. But there were mitigating circumstances. They were out of work. They were broke. They were, at least momentarily, homeless. And they were scared spitless, although they would never admit it. They had a lot more serious matters to worry about at that time than a family wedding.

I think the bad guy was Father Time. This one was a straight up race against the clock. I won but only by a whisker. I’m now an old lady. I’m not always going to win against Father Time. He will win the last race.

On the way back to Texas I made George take a detour so that Emily could see Caddo Lake which is a beautiful spot with big old cypress trees and much Spanish moss. After that I went to sleep and I slept all the way back to Fort Worth.

We never told. And unless by some unlikely accident my first cousin Lucienne and my first cousin once removed Teighlor see this they will never ever know.

Dino’s Dragon Story

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February 24, 2015

I did not write this. It was written a number of years ago by my younger daughter Geraldine Mongold. I can guarantee that any fiction written by Dino will feature a female protagonist who Goes. Out. And. Gets. Things. Done.

Once upon a time, in a little village near the mountains, lived a girl named Calida. Calida was ten years old. She had orange-red hair and lots of freckles.

Calida had a very normal family. Her father was a clockmaker. He carved beautiful wooden clocks in his workshop on the ground floor of their house. Calida’s mother helped sometimes in the clock shop when she wasn’t cooking or chasing after Calida’s little brother Clovis. Clovis, being two years old, was always into everything he shouldn’t be, but his adorable brown curls and big blue eyes made it impossible for anyone to be mad at him for longer than a minute. Calida also had an older sister named Candace. Candace had golden hair, blue eyes, and was considered by many, including herself, to be very pretty.

It was a Monday morning in October. Calida put on her blue school dress and buttoned up her brown shoes. She brushed out her red hair and braided it in two long braids with blue ribbons tied at the ends. She didn’t feel like going to school. It was her eleventh birthday, but somehow having to go to school made it feel like an ordinary day.

Downstairs, Calida sat down at he round kitchen table to eat her usual breakfast porridge when she saw a small brown leather box next to her spoon. She forgot all about porridge and picked up the box excitedly.

“Happy Birthday, Ladybug,” her father laughed. “Go ahead, open the box!”

Calida took the lid off the little box. The inside was lined with purple velvet. Nestled in the velvet was a narrow golden ring. Etched all around the gold of the ring was the figure of a dragon, with a tiny sparkling green jewel for an eye. Calida held her breath and took the ring out of the box. She slid it onto her middle finger. It fit perfectly.

“Wow. It’s absolutely amazing.” Calida whispered at last.

Jewelry of any sort was unusual in their small village. Her mother had a gold pin that she wore on her dress for very special occasions. The mayor’s wife wore a necklace of amber beads on feast days. Most of the farmers in their town did not have extra money for such fancy things.

“It belonged to your Grandpa Rufio,” Calida’s father explained. “It’s very old. It’s sort of a family heirloom that gets passed down to each redhead.”

“But Grandpa Rufio didn’t have red hair!” exclaimed Calida.

“Do you think his hair was always gray?” laughed Calida’s father. “When I was a boy, my father’s hair was bright red. His beard too. Like a carrot. That’s what my mother called him, Carrot.”

“Hurry up and eat,” said Candace. “We’ll be late to school.”

After breakfast, the girls grabbed their school books and their lunch bucket and hurried out the door. Their teacher, Mr. Frobnitz, was rather strict, and they did not want to be late and get a scolding from him.

At school, the morning seemed to drag on and on. Calida sat at her desk and worked division problems on her slate. Now and then she looked out of the window and sighed. The weather was perfect and sunny. A few yellow leaves clung to the trees in the schoolyard. It was a wonderful day to be anywhere except school.

Suddenly, the breeze that was fluttering the maple leaves turned into a wind, and gray clouds slid across the sky. From the distant mountains thunder rumbled. One of the window shutters banged against the outside wall of the school. All of the children looked up from their work. Mr. Frobnitz tapped his wooden ruler on his desk to get their attention.

“Robert,” he directed the oldest boy, “Please go bring in some firewood for the stove. Candace, you will kindly secure the flapping shutter. The rest of you, continue with your lessons.”

Calida bent her head over her slate and tried to concentrate on math, but the storm outside was much more exciting. She glanced at the ring, which still felt strange and new on her finger, and sighed again. It would have been bad manners to show off, but she had hoped one of her friends might have mentioned it.

The rain came like a silver sheet across the red tile roofs of the village. Calida saw and smelled the rain a few seconds before it pelted down on the schoolhouse roof. Thankfully, at that moment Mr. Frobnitz rang the little brass bell on his desk. That meant morning lessons were over. It was time for lunch. The children slid their books and slates into their desks and got their lunch buckets from the shelf under the windows. Candace and Calida sat together at Calida’s desk to share their bread and butter, apples, and soft white cheese.

Lunchtime was half over when Calida heard a shout and thumping on the school house door. Mr. Frobnitz put down his ham sandwich and opened the door in his usual unhurried way. The shoemaker, whose shop was next door to the school, stood dripping wet in the doorway. In one hand he held a large wooden pitchfork.

“The trolls are coming!” the shoemaker shouted. “They’re crossing the river at Harrison’s Ford! Get these children to the Hidden Caves! Hurry!”

Without waiting for Mr. Frobnitz to answer, the shoemaker dashed across the street to join a group of men in the church yard who were gathering with all the weapons that could be found in the village. Mr. Frobnitz turned towards his students, who had dropped their lunches and were staring at him with wide eyes.

“All right, everyone, let’s not panic,” he said in his calm way. For once the children paid no attention to his words. They began to scramble for the door, grabbing jackets and cloaks from the pegs on the wall and running as fast as they could towards their homes. When they were all gone, Mr. Frobnitz locked the school house door and joined the others in the church yard.

Candace and Calida held hands and ran silently for home. Calida’s heart was fluttering with fear and her feet were slipping on the wet cobblestones of the street. They ran past the baker’s, turned the corner, and saw their mother waiting for them in front of the house. She was holding Clovis on her hip and had a canvas bag next to her. Just seeing her made Calida feel calmer and braver.

“There’s not a minute to lose! Run!” their mother ordered.

She handed Candace the canvas bag and lifted Clovis, who was crying quietly, ont her shoulders. They jogged across the road, through the blacksmith’s yard, and straight up into the rolling green hills toward the Hidden Caves.

Calida had heard stories about the trolls, but it had been so long since they had come down from the mountains and across the river that some people said they must be extinct. In the old days, the trolls had raided villages during the winter months, taking sheep, cows, and goats. They would set fire to villages just for the fun of watching them burn, and bash anyone who tried to stop them with their enormous wooden clubs.

Even though she was used to running and playing ball at recess, Calida’s breath was burning in her chest from the uphill run. Through the rain she could see the other villagers struggling up the steep slopes, mothers and children and grandmothers and grandfathers all scrambling over rocks and tall grass toward the caves. Just then Calida jammed her toes hard against a sharp rock hidden under the grass.

Maybe it was the pain in her toes, or maybe it was the sound of her baby brother whimpering in fear, or maybe it was the thought of her father, back in the village, trying to defend their home with Grandpa Rufio’s old sword. Maybe it was just the way the cold air burned her chest as she ran. Whatever caused it, Calida’s fear began to change. It began to turn into anger. Anger is hot, and it spread through her like fire, until even her fingertips felt hot and angry.

They reached the entrance to the caves, which was a narrow opening in the rocky hillside. Only one or two people could enter at a time. A small group was gathered right outside the entrance and Calida’s family hurried into line. Old Mrs. Redhawk, who was twice as wide as anyone else in the village, squeezed in, and then Candace with her bulky canvas bag. Instead of following her sister, Calida turned and began running back down the hill.

“Calida, stop!” her mother shouted. “Get back here!”

Calida didn’t slow down. She was running into the wind and rain now. The rain slapped her face and blurred her eyes. She spread out her arms, running so fast it felt as though she were flying. She glanced down at her feet and gasped in surprise. Her feet were no longer touching the ground. She was flying! Her arms had become huge blue wings. She flapped them up and down. She swished her tail back and forth. Her tail? She glanced quickly over her right shoulder. Sure enough, a long blue tail with a little tuft of orange fur seemed to be following her. How remarkable.

She didn’t have time to wonder about it though. She could see the trolls now. There were about thirty of them and they had almost reached the houses at the edge of the village. Calida pointed her nose downwards and began to glide lower. Below her the village defenders were shouting but the storm was so loud she couldn’t understand their words.

Calida was getting closer to the trolls. They were about twice as tall as adult humans, with green-gray skin, short hairy legs, and huge muscular arms. Long mossy hair grew on their heads, falling in tangled locks over their lumpy shoulders. They wore animal skins and carried wooden clubs and burning torches. Calida wondered how their torches could burn in such rain and decided that maybe they were magical.

Now the trolls looked up and noticed her. She was close enough to see the fear in their ugly faces. With fierce delight she opened her mouth to roar at them, and a blast of flame shot out of her mouth. She was so startled that she almost fell out of the sky! Quickly she flapped her wings and regained her balance. Swooping low over the trolls’ heads, she turned in a wide circle to pass over them again. They had stopped moving towards the village and were clustered together nervously.

Calida flew even lower, sucked in a deep breath and blew out a long stream of fire. The trolls shouted and began to run back towards the river on their stumpy legs, dropping their torches on the soggy grass. Calida circled again, flying as low as she dared, blowing another ball of fire at the shrieking trolls. They plunged into the cold river, pushing and shoving each other in their panic. Calida wrinkled her nose in disgust. Even flying overhead she could smell the awful scent of wet troll–a combination of moldy cheese and dirty goats.

The rainstorm was beginning to taper off. Calida shook the raindrops out of her eyelashes. She flapped her great wings slowly, following the trolls and shooting a few blasts of orange flames at their backs to keep them running. They were well into the mountains when she decided they weren’t going to try returning to the village. She turned and flew back towards the Hidden Caves. Her wings were tired and the fiery anger inside was fading. She glided over the river and the shining wet roofs of the village.

The village men were waving their swords and pitchforks in excitement and shouting, “Hooray for the dragon! The dragon has returned!”

Calida flapped her tail happily but she did not slow down. She kept flying into the hills. She glided to a bumpy landing on the same grassy hillside where she had leaped into the air. She was behind a pile of rocks where she couldn’t be seen by anyone in or near the Hidden Caves. She folded her giant wings and took a deep breath of damp air. It felt good to sit still for a moment and rest her trembling muscles. The sky above the valley was beginning to clear. A sun beam broke through the tattered clouds and shone on her face. She closed her eyes contentedly.

When she opened them she looked down at her feet. They were once again wearing her neat brown winter shoes. Above them was the hem of her plain blue school dress. She lifted her arms and looked at her hands. They were ordinary hands again. Ten freckled fingers with short fingernails and a golden ring. She smiled at her hands and stood up. She walked around the pile of mossy rocks toward the mouth of the cave.

Her mother ran out of the cave and grabbed her by the shoulders, hugging her and shaking her at the same time.

“Calida!” she scolded, “Don’t you ever disobey me like that again! I was worried to death! Where have you been? We thought that frightful dragon had eaten you!”

She pulled Calida into the cave without even pausing for breath. Clovis ran to Calida and grabbed a fistful of her skirt.

“We looked everywhere! I’ve never been so frightened in my life. What on earth were you thinking of?” Calida’s mother continued.

Calida couldn’t think of anything to say. She looked down at her feet and mumbled, “I’m sorry, Mother.”

She knelt down to hug her little brother. He stared at her with his bright blue eyes and grinned impishly.

“I saw,” he whispered.

“You did?” Calida whispered back.

“I was on Mother’s shoulders. I could see you. You turned into a dragon.”

Calida sat on the hard floor of the cave and pulled him onto her lap.

“I chased the trolls away. They’re all gone now.” she told him gently.

He snuggled against her chest. She put her arms around him protectively.

Just then the blacksmith trudged to the mouth of the cave and shouted, “The trolls are gone! The dragon came and chased them back to the mountains!”

Everyone began talking excitedly and hugging each other in relief.

“The dragon! No one’s seen the dragon for years!”

“I wonder if it ate the trolls.”

They all began the long walk back to the village. The young children laughed and chased each other through the grass, their fear already forgotten. Calida’s father met his family halfway up the hill. He kissed his wife on the cheek and then turned to Calida. He hugged her and ruffled her hair with his hands.

“Good job,” he told her with a wink. “Very impressive indeed.”

“Thank you Father,” Calida answered calmly.








A Word of Explanation


February 23, 2015

The picture above really is the view from my back fence, looking across Mr. Spurling’s cow pasture (not visible in the photo) and towards a small section of the Ouachita National Forest. My place is a tumble down shack in the country but I have an enormous backyard. Queen Elizabeth’s 40,000 acres at Balmoral is nothing in comparison.

There really is a Serendipity Trail. It is about two miles from where I live and it is a pretty mile and a half loop with a lovely view at the halfway point. It is only one of innumerable hiking/biking/horse trails in the forest.

I really do live between Ink and Mt. Ida. It just doesn’t get any more literary than that and no, I’m not making this up. My imagination is not that stupendous. By sheer chance I landed in this amazing place. Yes, it was my choice, but I also found more here to love than I expected. I am also very close to Pine Ridge (of the old Lum and Abner radio show fame) and not far from Hole in the Ground.

Yes, there really is a Little Hope Baptist Church and a very lively and friendly group they are.

Montgomery County (named for the general who died at the Siege of Quebec) is about two-thirds national forest. We have lots and lots of trees and about ten thousand people. We are far enough south to grow live oaks and magnolias, although they are not native here, and far enough north to grow maple trees.

From my house it is about a thirty minute drive to the far western fringes of Lake Ouachita, very large and very beautiful as there are no houses on the shoreline, only a few scattered marinas.

We have black bears. We have mountain lions. We have alligators. I see bald eagles every winter although for how much longer I do not know. We are losing the fireflies and the bird numbers are plummeting here as they are everywhere.

The last of the virgin forest in Montgomery County was logged in the 1950s. Greed, greed, greed. We are, as a species, such slow learners that I fear that fact will eventually do us in. Never mind. It will probably be better for the total biomass of the planet in the long run.

The Tale of My Chandelier


February 20, 2015

First the backstory: In 2005 I spent three months traveling and camping out in the northwest. I visited a number of national parks and a number of places associated with the Lewis and Clark Expedition. I had no RV; I slept in a tent. I was by myself and I had a grand time. But it was in Grand Teton that I met a young woman who had a very large impact on my life even though I only exchanged a a few words with her. On the edge of that park a family has a horseback riding concession that they have operated during the summer months for years. I wanted to ride and, after going down a few wrong trails, I found the place. They had no other customers but they greeted me and I explained what I wanted. The first person who spoke to me to inquire what I needed was a girl in her late teens. I wanted to ride, I said. Yes, I knew how to ride. I had experience owning horses. I was not a beginner. What she said next was, “Oh, you remind me of my grandmother. I lost her a year ago. I miss her so very much.” It was simple and it was commonplace but I was struck by the openness and intimacy with which she spoke to a complete stranger. I had lived in large cities all my life and that was not something one would often encounter in a chance meeting in an urban setting. Years later I realized how very frequent such a response is among country people who grow up in communities where everyone knows everyone, either personally or at least by sight, and where it is still quite safe to treat everyone as a potential friend. “My brother can take you out for an hour, if you like.” she said. Brother was delighted. He would much rather go for a ride than help other family members vet mules which was his assigned task that day; he did not much like mules. It was not a quiet ride as he was one of the most garrulous people I have ever met. I heard his life story and answered innumerable questions as to where I was from, what I was doing traveling alone, my family, and on and on.  Beautiful trail, gorgeous scenery, slow pace on one of the most placid horses I have ever bestrode, but that was okay. There was not much room for a gallop anyway on a steep and winding trail through the lower wooded slopes of the Tetons.

Fast forward a few years: George retired and we moved to the Ouachita Mountains in southern Arkansas. We bought a tumble down house on two acres in Montgomery County. At one point I wandered into a business in Mena that did repairs and remodeling simply to inquire as to prices and the availability of help. The woman in the office, who was, together with her husband, the owner of the business, offered coffee and coffeecake, and visited with me in a friendly manner. As it transpired their services were beyond my budget, but she clearly wanted to be helpful and offered the names and phone numbers of several local carpenters and handymen who might be able to serve me. In country communities one still meets with a strong tradition of helping one’s neighbor and this lady was obviously distressed that she could not do more on my behalf. Suddenly she asked, “Do you need a light fixture?” Now how on earth does one answer that one? The phrase “light fixture” covers a very broad territory and what one person thinks beautiful and another thinks hideous is nowhere more apparent than in the area of lighting. In addition there is the problem of what will fit the style of the interior and the space. However, as she so very much wanted to be useful, and I thought that if the offered piece didn’t suit I could always pass it on to someone who could use it, I said, politely, “Why, yes, that would be lovely.” She disappeared into a back room and presently re-emerged pushing a very large cardboard box along the floor, labeled “Schonbek.” Now those in the know will recognize that name. They make, and have for years, a very expensive line of light fixtures, chiefly chandeliers, most of them hung with cut glass. A bit startled I said, “Surely you aren’t offering me a Shonbek.” She beamed at me and said, “Oh, I knew you were the very person for this; you know the name and what it is.” She opened the top of the box and I was staggered to see a huge, solid brass, traditional chandelier, with a dozen lights. It was also brand new and would have carried a hefty price tag in any lighting showroom.Later I measured it. It is 23 inches wide and has a total drop of 33 inches. That’s huge and ridiculously oversized for any room in my house. Nonetheless I accepted happily and graciously. Together we wrestled the unwieldy and heavy box out to my car and got it loaded.

I couldn’t bear to give it away, firstly, because it is beautiful and, secondly, because it was such an incredible gesture from someone I only met once. Obviously it was not designed for a small country cottage with eight foot ceilings. I hung it over the table in the dining room, which is a misleading description of the small semi-enclosed area off my kitchen where we eat, simply to put it in a place where there would be no likelihood of anyone running into it. Bang your head on that thing and you will be laid out cold on the floor. It’s super heavy and we had the devil’s own time hanging it. George worked for hours reinforcing the supporting ceiling structure to take the weight and getting it up involved both of us, two ladders, and some strong language. It’s completely out of place in my tiny rustic house but it certainly is very elegant. It is partnered in elegance in the dining room by my mother’s gold framed mirror, also large, formal, and out of place in a farmhouse. She bought the frame for a song in NYC during WWII and I can’t remember a time it did not hang wherever we lived. Frame is in the Victorian High Renaissance style and when my Fort Worth framer repaired it he commented, “Looks like it should be holding an Alma Tadema, not a mirror.” Over the past seventy years the mirror has acquired some marvellous vertical streaking as the silvered backing has aged and begun to deteriorate adding to the entire decayed chateau ambiance. Present owner is likewise falling apart but we won’t go there.