Saturday, December 30, 2017

No home to come home to

This was the year that my sister sold the family farm.

My great-great-grandfather, John Early, bought the property outside Elizaville, Kentucky, in 1862. My great-grandfather, Benjamin Given Early, built the farmhouse circa 1890. It was the home of my grandparents, Lucien Lundy Early and Clara Rhodes Early, during my childhood. It was in that farmhouse that my mother, Marian Early McIntyre, the last of the Earlys, felt her heart begin to fail on November 2, 2001.

My mother left the property to my older sister, Georgia, who found it increasingly burdensome to manage from her home in Cleveland. In conversations during recent years I encouraged her to consider selling it. Otherwise she was going to leave it to me, which I would have found  burdensome to manage from Baltimore. And I entertained no fantasies of retiring there.

This is the year that Georgia sold the property, house and land, to an Amish family moving to Kentucky from Pennsylvania. Their plan is to convert the property, which for generations was devoted to growing tobacco and corn, to an organic dairy operation. I wish them well. It is better for the land to be worked, and to be worked by people who live on it. It is better for the house to be lived in than to be allowed to deteriorate. She made the right decision, a good decision.

But it is still a wrench to sever the link to the land and the past. There were the fields I roamed and the creek I played in. There was the house where my grandmother watched her “stories” every afternoon. One of her favorites, The Brighter Day, had as its theme the slow movement from the Brahms Double Concerto, and every time I hear it I am for a moment back in the front room of the farmhouse, reading, with my grandparents in the next room, the world stable and secure as it was meant to be.

I effectively left Elizaville when I went off to graduate school in the fall of 1973, returning since only as a visitor, an expatriate Kentuckian. Today what remains for me to visit is a row of headstones on a hillside. Home, a construct of memories and metaphors, hasn't been my home for years, and now can't be.

On my desk there is a tobacco canister I filled with soil from the family farm years ago. In a small way, I am a landowner. And if I should succumb to sentimentality, I may ask my family to mingle that dirt with my ashes, to reestablish the connection at the end.

Friday, December 8, 2017

In memoriam Mr. Saunders

It is not quite a year since we lost Saunders, the abandoned stray who spotted us as easy marks.

Though we took him to a vet for his first shots and were assured of his good health, he developed feline leukemia anyhow and was with us for only two years.

I don't want to be mawkish, but he was a cat with a big personality. A boulevardier, he sauntered  along the streets of our neighborhood, paying calls at various houses. And he was affectionate. Every time he returned to grace us with his presence and I picked him up and slung him over my shoulder like a baby, he purred so loudly he could be heard in the next room.

My plan was that after I left the paragraph factory, Mr. Saunders would be the cat of my retirement. As I sat on the porch reading (don't tell Kathleen I was going to be sitting on the porch reading books instead of doing yard work), he would doze companionably on the chair across from me.

But he is gone into the realm of what would have been.

Miss Massie lives with us now, and she is an excellent cat, though perhaps not as enthusiastic for me as her predecessor. It is a good thing to have a cat in the window.

We suffer great griefs, major losses, and learn to bear up. But the little losses, too, leave a pang.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A risque story

My late mother, Marian Early McIntyre, was always fond of a mildly improper story. A conversation the other day called this one, one of her favorites, to mind.

It has been a wet spring, delaying planting, and a farmer has been out in his fields from sunup to sundown, hastening to get his crops in.

One day his little boy comes down to the field and says, "Daddy, Daddy, Mama says the 'Piscopal preacher has come to call."

His father says, "Son, I can't leave the field. Go back to the house and tell your mama to make him a cup of coffee and send him on his way."

The next day, his little boy comes down to the field and says, "Daddy, Daddy, Mama says the Presbyterian preacher has come to call."

His father says, "Son, I just can't leave the spring plowing. Go back to the house and tell your mama to fry him a chicken and send him on his way."

The day after that, his little boy comes down to the field and says, "Daddy, Daddy, Mama says the Baptist preacher has come to call."

His father says, "Son, you run back to the house as fast as you can and you sit on your mama's lap till I get there. I'll be right behind you."

Note to readers: If you find this offensive, please feel free to adjust the order or substitute denominations of your choice. This is not a canonical joke.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

It was so nice I read it twice

Yesterday I registered disappointment on Facebook and Twitter over a published list of twenty-five supposedly important and essential books that turned out to include Hermann Hesse's Steppenwolf and The Elements of Style. I looked once at a list of a hundred supposedly important books, only to discover a damned Dan Brown novel.

Lists of important or best or essential books are going to be so arbitrary, idiosyncratic, or boringly conventional that they are a waste of your time. I have a better idea for identifying important books: Tell me which ones you have read more than once.

I'll go first.

As winter approaches, I'm hoping for a snowed-in day, on which I can brew a pot of tea and settle down with Trollope's Barchester Towers, which I re-read with profound satisfaction every ten years or so. (Or perhaps I will pick up Eliot's Middlemarch, which I read forty years ago. I can't stand any of Eliot's other novels, but I loved every word of Middlemarch. And if it is more than one snow day in a row, I may pick up Boswell's Life of Johnson, one of the best books ever written.)

I have read Randall Jarrell's Pictures From an Institution three or four times since discovering as an undergraduate at Michigan State in Roger Meiners's class on the midcentury American poets. It's an academic novel, urbane and epigrammatic.

The other academic novel I've returned to repeatedly is Nabokov's Pnin. Lolita, Pale Fire, and Ada, splendid as they are, require some work from the reader, but Pnin is pure delight throughout.

All of Barbara Pym's novels, particularly Excellent Women. Very British, quiet and understated, like Jane Austen, and, also like Austen, merciless about her characters without being cruel.

I go back from time to time to John Cheever's collected short stories and Joan Didion's essays.

For the low tastes that every writer and editor should cultivate, since high school I periodically re-read my way through Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe murder mysteries. As I have said before on a number of occasions, at the end of a long day of working with professional journalists, nothing gives greater pleasure than a comfortable chair, a good light, a drink at your elbow, and a book in which disagreeable people meet violent death.

Your turn.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Fancy a pint with The Old Editor?

It's mid-August and nothing much is doing. It's too hot and muggy to be outside. So Sunday would be an excellent day to repair to a comfortable bar for a quiet ale with The Old Editor.

I plan to be at Ryan's Daughter at Belvedere Square on Sunday, approximately 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., for a restorative pint or two (I believe they also serve non-alcoholic beverages) and would welcome conversation with any reader of the blog who should happen by.

Some days there's live Irish music.

Friday, July 14, 2017

We are cat people

As you may have seen in a previous post, we lost Mr. Saunders to feline leukemia in early December and went into a period of mourning. He was a splendid cat, and we had his company for only two years.

As winter wore on, Kathleen found it increasingly bleak to come home to an empty house in the evenings while I was at work. So, though we had thought not to rush into finding another cat, she began researching.

And she found a notice of a rescue cat, a female ginger tabby who had been abandoned at a gas station in Winchester, Virginia, after the death of the woman in whose house she lived.

We applied to the rescue agency, we passed muster, we were granted an interview, and we met Massie.

The young woman who was fostering her  named the cat Massanutten for the mountain near Winchestewr, "Massie" for short, and the name stuck. She was very shy with us at the interview, and we wondered whether we would be congenial if we adopted her.

No worries. She is very much a lap cat. She dozes in the afternoons on the cat tree by the window in what was once our son's room. She will scramble up and down the hall for the red dot of the laser pointer, which she understands that we operate. She has quite an odd quirk: When in one's lap, being stroked and purring, she will lash about with her tail and thwack the human repeatedly.

We are, for good or ill, cat people. We knew that no other cat could be to us what the late Mr. Saunders was, but Miss Massie has made a place for herself in our home and in our affections.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Julian at home

Late last month I was able to announce the birth of my grandson, Julian Early McIntyre. Today I have another happy announcement.

Yesterday, after eighty-four days in the neonatal intensive care unit, Julian, having passed all the tests, was released from the hospital and is home with my son and daughter-in-law. He looks grand, and all is well.

Next week I will be in Chicago to assist his fledgling parents in meeting his demands.

It is possible that there may be some stray moments away from bottles and diapers, and if any of who in Chicago who read this blog would like to meet for a coffee, please let me know. It may be possible.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A belated announcement

A son, Julian Early McIntyre, born February 20, 2017, at Northwestern Hospital in Chicago to Alexandra Aaronson McIntyre and John Paul Lucien McIntyre. Grandparents are Paula and Scott Aaronson and Kathleen Capcara and John Early McIntyre, all of Baltimore.

Julian’s delivery—at one pound, fourteen ounces in his twenty-seventh week—was precipitated by his mother’s preeclampsia. His fragility led to sentiment within the family to withhold mention of his birth on social media, lest it tempt Fate.

Now it can be told. He has been thriving in the neonatal intensive care ward, where he has grown to a staggering five and a half pounds. The latest tests, performed this week, have all been positive, and he has only a few more hurdles to surmount before he will be allowed to go home with his parents.

To those few of you who were permitted to be in the know, profound gratitude for your good wishes and prayers for my grandson and his family. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

On my mother's 100th birthday

My mother, Marian Early McIntyre, was born one hundred years ago today. She came into the world as the United States was about to enter the First World War and left it seven weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

For twenty-four years she was the postmaster of Elizaville, Kentucky 41037, a one-room, fourth-class office that was a local nexus. She saw nearly everyone in town every day and knew what everyone was doing. (To live in rural Kentucky in those days was to experience a level of surveillance unmatched by the Soviet Union at the height of its power.)

She had a quick wit and a sharp tongue, the latter of which I inherited from her, along with a regrettable tendency to indulge it.  Her  private smile appeared briefly when she was amused, as she regularly was by slightly improper stories, and my sisters and I called the glower when she was displeased “the camel look.”

On one occasion she heard that a local official had been using an official vehicle to ferry voters to the polls on behalf of candidates he favored, and she told other people. That official got wind of it, came to the post office, confronted her, and demanded that she disclose whom she had told. My mother, about five feet tall and slender, looked up at this beefy figure, six feet tall and well over two hundred pounds, towering over her and said, “Everybody I saw. And the ones I didn’t see I called and told.”

After Kathleen, the children, and I moved to Baltimore, we returned to visit every summer at the farm she had inherited from her parents, and there were the treats of my childhood: the country ham, the One True Fried Chicken, and green beans and potatoes cooked on the stove all morning, a transparent pie from Magee’s Bakery in Maysville. (She also made her powerful bourbon balls twice a year, in December and February, for Jesus’ birthday and mine.)

I recently came across a note from her, written on a Post Office memo sheet on my first day at Michigan State in 1969. It promises to write every day, encloses a check for laundry money and expenses, and wonders what I am doing at that moment in the afternoon. Blissfully, youthfully obtuse and preoccupied with new experiences, I did not recognize then and only now belatedly realize that she was telling me she missed me.

She did not, after all, write every day, but I have a box full of letters that I have not yet been able to put on the curb to be transformed into cardboard. The texts of the letters themselves, innocuous, quotidian, are not the message. The unstated meaning on every page is how much she cared for me, how proud she was of me.

After the death of my father, she remained at the family farmhouse. As her health got shakier, she had a companion in the evenings. But she stayed on. She had one gentleman friend with whom she enjoyed going out to restaurants, and I found at her funeral that she had most recently been dating a man whom she had known in childhood at school. She lived on her own terms to the end.

Her physical remains rest on a hillside in the Elizaville Cemetery. You can turn from her grave and see the family farmhouse on another hill in the distance, one look taking in the place where she spent her entre life.

The body is gone, but something of her survives in me.

      Marian Early McIntyre with her parents, Lucien Lundy Early and Clara Rhodes Early 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Overheard at the bar

I was having a quiet ale the other day when three young women at the bar were conducting an animated, and quite vocal, conversation. 

Their high standards were in evidence in their quick and decisive evaluations of men on a dating site one had called up on her cellphone, but that palled and the conversation turned to excursions at friends' weddings. 

There was a good bit of detail about getting hammered on the party bus and about staying awake for an entire night after multiple rounds of Red Bull and vodka. It was at that point that the bartender, who, like me, had been a silent listener, remarked that his bar didn't offer Red Bull. One of the young women commented, "At the bars in center city Philly, to keep the kids from Jersey out, they won't stock Red Bull."

I offer this bit of learning to friends and colleagues who also enjoy an occasional quiet pint: Your chances of avoiding the company of obnoxious drinkers will improve if you first ascertain that the bar does not stock Red Bull.