What rhymes with Yoknapatawpha?
I love Bank Holiday Mondays. Even though I now work from home, so weekends and Bank Holidays are of little consequence to my timetable, I nevertheless get out of bed with a sense of anticipation, of mild excitement, at the thought that it's officially a non-working day. I feel very virtuous when I sit at my desk on Bank Holiday Monday, and only moderately guilty when I decide to take the day off.
Bank Holiday Mondays. Here in Britain, these three days are tacked on to the weekend. Why risk a holiday in the middle of the week, when people might also take the days in between off? Still, a long weekend is eminently practical for all concerned, I admit. Bank Holiday. I wish there were names for these days, rather than something decreed by the closure of cold and now not very popular institutions such as banks. It's always made me feel a tiny bit uncomfortable. A day when banks don't trade, when there is no financial speculation, instead of a day to celebrate something or someone – be it a saint, the First of May, or the anniversary of independence. I wonder if any other European country has nondescript, apparently random days off. When I first arrived in the UK, I asked where these Bank Holiday Mondays had originated. Were they former saints days? Pagan festivals? Historical anniversaries? No, people replied. They're just Bank Holidays. It seems that in this country we've been ruled by banks for some time now... I can't help but wonder if this is why Britain has among the lowest number of holidays in Europe. Economy in all things! Waste not, want not. A penny saved is a penny earned, etc.
My favourite Bank Holiday Monday is the August one. I can't really say why. Perhaps because it's the last Bank-sanctioned day off before Christmas Day, nearly four months later. In Catholic European countries, there's at least All Saints Day in the middle. But we, with our staunch Protestant work ethic, work valiantly till Christmas.
Perhaps, also because, having been brought up in Catholic countries (although I am not myself a Catholic), where 15th August, Assumption Day, is a major religious holiday, I feel cheated unless I have at least one day off in August, albeit at the very end of the month.
People change, I guess. When I was young, living in Italy, I would dread the approach of August. The month when, just because of that one Assumption Day, the country seemed to sink into officially-sanctioned torpor for a whole month – and still does. Ferragosto. Why do you stand in the crushing heat, waiting for a bus for forty-five minutes? Because it's Ferragosto. Why are so many shops closed? Because it's Ferragosto. Why are all your friends away, either at the sea or in the mountains, leaving you to be bored to tears in a ghost city? Ferragosto. My family could not afford holidays, so as a teenager, I hated the month of August with a purple passion. The intense heat, the lack of social life and entertainment, the nationally-approved inefficiency of the City of Rome. I couldn't wait for the traditional, violent thunderstorms in the second half of the month, that heralded the end of this unbearable inertia.
In a way, something similar happens in the UK, when the end of November signals the start of general laziness, inefficiency and incompetence because it's Christmas.
Now, nearly thirty years later, I find myself longing for Ferragosto in Rome. As a freelancer who, noblesse oblige, never turns down work, I yearn for a government-approved month of quiet, of sleep, of doing absolutely nothing. A whole month of lounging about, reading, writing, dozing in the sun. I remember with unexpected fondness the streets outside the tourist-infested city centre almost totally deserted, the blocks of flats with the blinds of almost every window shut tight, the bliss of not hearing the neighbours' TV because they're away. I long to have a lengthy afternoon nap, with the blinds half down, listening to the maracas of a dozen cicadas rhythmically lulling me to sleep. I have fond memories of lying on a reclining sun lounger on the balcony, until past midnight, staring up into the black, starry sky until I was no longer sure if I was falling into the stars or the stars falling on me. And counting shooting stars. Blink and you'll miss it.
I miss being in a climate hot enough to eat watermelon. Bright red, sweet as sugar, with large, black seeds I can then crunch – not the pathetic rubbery white ones of under-ripe fruit.
Above all – and especially in view of these three months of grey, wet, chilly transition between last spring and next autumn in Norwich, that you cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, call summer – I long for bright light in my eyes, and hot sun on my skin.
(Upon the occasion of a visit to
an old cow camp.)
These last few years I’ve grown right fond
of Cowboy poetry.
It’s sometimes rude and often crude
but it brings a smile to me.
These guys would live far from a town
and tell a tale or two
of chasin’ cows and birthin’ calves
while eatin’ Hector’s stew.
They’d speak of Stinky Pete for sure
and often Cactus Jack
and though they’d never seen it,
that tattoo on Juana’s back.
But when they found themselves alone
out on that dusty flat,
their horse and dog* just didn’t care
of Cowboy this and that.
They lived a life upon the range
or some lofty high plateau
for half a buck a day, and grub,
and a million-dollar view.
Raber Cow Camp is preserved on Grand Mesa as an example of what the old high-country cow camps were like. There’s a spring for fresh water and a couple cabins. This is out on Lands End Road far from civilization and was last occupied in 1966 though it dates to the 1940s. The other abandoned cow camps on Grand Mesa have been pulled down as hazardous.
*The cowboy’s dog reference was inserted simply so I could post the following poem by Cowboy Poet, Bud Storm…not typical but I like it…
I taught my good dog Maggie
“Lay down” when I commanded.
I also taught her “set”
Whenever I demanded.
“I’ll teach her now to speak,” said I.
She labored to comply.
And when she learned to speak, she said,
“You twit, it’s ‘sit’ and ‘lie.'”
* * *
The Home Place — 2017
Grand kids, cantaloupe, watermelon, tomatoes, okra, cataract eye drops, guests, eclipse, dirt dobbers, national softball championship! Our house and lives did not stay empty long after baby Caroline's departure—partly because of the continued sweet photos of her on Facebook, which Gerald prints out for us but also because of other summer events and endings.
Erin still has time for photos and videos for Josh in South Korea even though her school year has started in Texas. As much as she is going to miss full-time with Caroline, she will not be worried about her because her mother Vickie will be Caroline's week-day caregiver. I wish every working mother had it so good!
School starts early these times, so like Erin, the other grand kids and great grandsons are already back in school again after the end of their summer jobs and activities.Tara no longer teaches except softball there at the sports complex, but those three sons' school schedules are probably as difficult to keep up with as their summer ball games. Grandson Elijah is the only one whose school starts after Labor Day, but he is already working in his Chicago classroom preparing for his second year of teaching kids with vision impairment. He was down to catch up with other cousins, and I was able to hear a bit about his last eight weeks of teaching one mainstream class of writing to 8thgraders, which happened by accident and won't be part of this year's duties to my disappointment.
Sam was also at Woodsong briefly since he had finished his summer internship located at the University of Texas, where he too taught language arts with a junior high age group in a special program. He loved teaching and delighted his mother by having some of his students call her. He was able to go with his cousin Brianna and her brother Trent to the Saint Louis airport to meet Rachel, Trent's lovely red-headed girl friend from New Jersey. They managed to stick in a Cardinals baseball game before they came back to the Taylors. Next, after Elijah came down, they were off to visit Brianna in her apartment at Murray, where she has already started her senior classes. From there they were off to Nashville, where our granddaughter Leslie was featured as a soloist at a festival there. Then they were back to the Taylors in time for the eclipse mania here.
We did get a very brief visit from Geri Ann when she was here to be in a friend's wedding this summer, but she is already at work at her new job with autistic children out in Portland, Oregon. I have yet to have a summer-end visit from our youngest grandchild Cecelie who spent a month in India helping with children—so I still have something special to look forward to. She has started college already at the community college near Freeport. Rachel had to return home the day after the eclipse, so I was very glad Trent brought her over while we were watching Gerry's Scrap Yard Dogs in the finals of the National Professional Fast Pitch (NPF) softball final tournament. This was not televised, and we had to watch on Gerald's computer screen, so his office was crowded with us, Trent and Rachel, and our eclipse guests Bob and Sylvia Mountz from Arizona.
We had watched Thursday and Friday as the Dawgs won the semi-finals against Akron Racers. Then rain delay made the first game of the finals against Florida's Pride quite late, and sadly we lost 5-0. After church on Sunday, we were soon again glued to the computer watching Monica Abbot lead the Dawgs to a 2-0 victory in 125 degree heat. Although Monica Abbott is considered the best softball pitcher in the world, no one could imagine being able to pitch another complete game in that heat to win the final. Megan Wiggins' lead off home run certainly was not a good beginning. Yet the lead went back forth between these two great teams, and we won 5-2. There was much celebrating at Woodsong. Let me include a quote a sports writer used from Gerry about Monica Abbott:
"You can follow softball for the next 30, 40, 50 years, and I don't think you'll see another performance equal to her performance here this week," Scrap Yard coach Gerry Glasco said. "The heart and the guts she showed, the tenacity on the mound in the heat, in the humidity, weather delays. It's a phenomenal performance, and, I think, one of the greatest performances in the history of softball."
The next day was the much anticipated total eclipse, which our area experienced for the longest period of totality. Naturally there has been great ado about it here with Southern Illinois University Carbondale opening facilities to NASA. Visiting public were welcomed to their stadium and even to a large high-rise dorm that is due to be torn down. Other area towns and campgrounds were packed. Locals were warned that some grocery shelves might be empty and highways crowded. The first was true for me when I shopped before the crowds were supposed to come. Area folk had been stoking up. However, since people came to the area over a period of days, the roads stayed clear—until everyone left at the same time.
Our favorite thing about the eclipse was that we were going to have a visit from Bob and Sylvia. Sylvia had spent her early childhood at the State Forest Preserve west of Jonesboro where her father Ralph Fisher started the tree nursery there. The Fisher children went to the same country school that Gerald and siblings went to. Mrs. Fisher would volunteer in the classroom to identify trees in a wonderful project where the children brought in leaves and bark and nuts for a huge display. (That school was treated to teaching by a young woman, who later taught at SIUC, and was the object of much admiring email conversation by former students from little Miller Pond School and some from Anna Junior High.) The Fisher family lived in a big house on the hill by the park, and I vaguely remember Mabel Norris taking some of us down to play with the Fisher children one day. One of my few memories of the Fishers in Southern Illinois was a huge bill board with the painting of a beautiful stallion that Mr. Fisher owned. But Gerald's family were next door to the Forest Preserve, and the two fathers coon hunted together and worked together on many projects, often with kids along.
Soon after my mother-in-law died, we took Dad Glasco down to see Ralph and Catherine Fisher, who at that time were living in retirement village at Belle Vista, Arkansas. The first thing I saw when I walked into their living room was a very large photograph over their fireplace of the nine Fisher children. For a long time, we've enjoyed Christmas letters from Fenna Lee, the oldest of the daughters, as well as from Sylvia and Bob, and Mr. Fisher himself used to write long letters to Gerald telling of their children's educational and other achievements. With the great letters and two or so visits from Bob and Sylvia down through the years, we have felt close to them, so nothing could have pleased us more than to have them visit us to enjoy the eclipse together. And we did.
In preparation, I had found the chairs for the deck in the garage, and they were full of hardened dirt dobber nests and debris, so I was glad I did this job a couple of days earlier. My first plan was to have a picnic set up on the deck since this two-hour eclipse experience would be during the noon hour. Then as realism hit, I remembered why we have never eaten as many meals on the deck as I thought we would. It is hot out there at noon day! So we had our picnic on the air-conditioned side of the doors to the deck. We were going in and out with our eclipse glasses and watching the black area grow on the bright orb. It was fascinating to watch. We experimented with punching a pin hole in a piece of paper to watch the image on the paper below. And with a colander. I was amazed at how much bright light the sun gave even when almost covered. Then the temperature began to noticeably go down, and then things begin to be slightly less bright. Although at night the deer are often around our lake and even in the garden, usually during the day they stay far away from us. Gerald and Bob saw a buck cross the dam at tne end of the lake, and later a baby deer appeared going into our nearby woods where its mother must have been.
As the two minutes, forty-two seconds of totality was soon to arrive, it was now quite comfortable to sit on the deck. And then the predicted total eclipse came. Because of the word “totality,” I really expected it to be pitch dark. It was not. It was beautifully and eerily dusk. The lake and the clouds above the lake became a lovely soft gray and the frogs were singing to us. It was a couple of magical moments until the moon began to move on.
Bob and Sylvia went on to visit other friends in Union County, and Gerald went back to harvesting garden produce for us and others he gifted with it. He is celebrating that finally he now only has to put drops in his eyes twice a day. On Tuesday, students went back to their college classes that had been canceled for the eclipse. As the crowds left the area, life returned to normal except for the multitude of photographs appearing everywhere of the moon's trip past the sun. People in our area are excited, however, because in 2024, when the path is from the northeast to the south, our exact area will again be given a total eclipse.
Gerald is continuing to fight the dirt dobbers in our garage as Sylvia saw him doing. She was delighted when he gave her a ball cap with one of their dirt nests firmly attached on it. This was her souvenir to take back and wear to show off to her retirement coffee gang. “We need the laugh,” she proudly explained.