Monday, October 17, 2011

The Fall of the Year

So, as I begin to write, very late on a Sunday night, having just remembered that this posting is to appear quite early tomorrow morning – dang! – I'll note, by way of limbering up, as it were, that 218 years ago today (16 Oct.), Queen Marie Antoinette got it in the neck, had her head separated from her body, exited the ornate and filthy building, just a couple weeks short of her 38th birthday. And tomorrow (17 Oct.) which is your today, marks 162 years since the music died. Or at least Frédéric Chopin did and after a little over 39 years of life. The poor fellow is said to have said, when he had one slender foot in the grave, the other on a banana peel, "Comme cette terre m'etouffera, je vous conjure de faire ouvrir mon corps pour [que] je ne sois pas enterré vif." ("As this earth will suffocate me, I implore you to have my body opened so that I will not be buried alive.")
Pretty apt, all in all, considering the public squares are alive these days, protesting the heedless greed of oligarchs, comfortable and sneering; Halloween being right around the corner. A fine time for the pondering of downfalls, of being interred whilst breathing, albeit labored, white fingers moving in the dark, playing silently on remembered keys.
In any case, I'm just back in town from talking to one, two, three, four groups of school children at the Children's Literature Festival of the Ozarks, held at Missouri's university at Springfield.
Kid: "How come you're not a comedian?"
Snappy comeback: "What makes you think I'm not?" I mean, the little squirts laughed, God bless 'em; I plied them with history, implored them to revise whatever they wrote, "if you have any self-respect whatsoever," and I got paid for the gig.
I love America.
Then I drove the forty miles or so over to Mansfield, once the home of short-in-stature, long-in-legacy Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose books probably sit untouched by legions of school children, fearful of being bored out of their minds by an old-fashioned volume or, if they're boys, fearful of being thought gay if they should be seen by their lumpish peers, reading a book containing girls, girls wearing bonnets & petticoats, for crying out loud. It's all so dispiriting, but oh well. Anyway, I stood in the very room just yesterday (Saturday), where that stubborn little country woman wrote this about her slow-footed, horse-loving old husband, when he was an almost unbelievably sturdy 'farmer boy:'

"In the cold dawn, before breakfast, Almanzo helped Royal set up the big iron caldron near the barn. They set it on stones, and filled it with water, and lighted a bonfire under it. It held three barrels of water.
Before they had finished, Lazy John and French Joe had come, and there was time to snatch only a bite of breakfast. Five hogs and a yearling beef were to be killed that day.
As soon as one was killed, Father and Joe and John dipped the carcass into the boiling caldron..."

Happily for me, the book is all the richer now, because I walked about the little red house, the yard, the reconstructed barns, where the Wilders lived and worked. Happily for me, a lover of books with food in them, young Almanzo Wilder had a very healthy appetite. Speaking of which, do visit this link and go buy a little pumpkin. And happily for me, I had the chance to tell a bunch of kids [and will again on Wednesday], how rich history really, truly is – if, that is, it's souped up with some imagination & empathy, turbocharged by visits to the places where it happened; after all, a pan of pigment's bright and pretty, but it's flat worthless until you hit it with water & a paintbrush.
So yes, the fall of the year's a far out time to be considering the bloody, awful, inconvenient, battle-strewn, un-airconditioned past, all smelly with sweat, manure and wood smoke. What's good about it? It's gone - that was my grandmother's opinion of it. But what place is more seductive than one to which you can never, ever go? Filled with people, none of whom you can ever see? Knowing that they were every bit as alive, as fearful, as hopeful as we are, knowing that, for better or worse, their stories, their music, all their screwed up lives led us here.

1 comment:

sheila said...

What a great post! I have a soft, almost cavernous spot for the Little House books, having read the entire series to my kids over the course of a year. We were ALL enthralled, even my then 11 year old son. I still remember those cold winter mornings when we'd read The Long Winter: I'd close the book and we'd all sit and sigh heavily, thinking about how hard it must have been. There was an unusual lack of complaining that month, too, lol, with all those possible alternatives out there to consider, even in the light of modern days.

Thanks for reminding me of those days.