A couple of weeks ago, carpe diem said, “Go. Soon aspens in Colorado high country will be turning. See them again. Hike up to Lake Beirstadt, walk through the aspen groves on the switch backs and look at them from the top of the trail and see those on the oppositive mountains, blazing gold, holding light. Stop. Smell the evergreens in the cold air. You deserve it. Drive over Kenosha Pass through the gold and admired them from the valley below. Visit Colorado friends and enjoy their company.” Another voice, more calm and more clear said, “Stay. There is September here, too. Stay and watch and enjoy.” The voice more calm and more clear was largely the voice of my travel budget.
Around town. (1) Leaving the bank, there is Clara! A beautiful name, Clara, and a beautiful person, a woman with a sweet and winsome smile. Say the name as she says it; it will be almost the same as you prounounce Claire. Give it a Southern accent, which makes Clara transform in sound to Claire. Say Cle (short e) and hold the syllable. Do not pronounce the r. Then to close the name, by giving a brief schwa almost like a breath. Beautiful. (2) A church sign (note the correct punctuation and the good pun): “If you are going in the wrong direction, God allows U-turns!” (3) Another church sign (spelling and punctuation not changed here): “Independant Christian Church. Fundamental in Doctrine. Missionary in Vision. Visitor’s welcomed.” That church is the only church which sent me a welcome letter when I moved to town. (4) One the web page of a teacher in an elementary school and on the page of a high school English teacher: “I am proud of my student’s progress.” No overcrowded classrooms there.
Non-fiction of the week: Paul Auster’s Winter Journal (2012). It’s a memoir, written in second person. It’s mostly catalogues. The list of things one can do with the hand is funny. The memories of his mother are poignant. The descriptions of winter in Minnesota are beautiful. Excellent book.
Fiction of the week: Joel Chandler Harris, Uncle Remus His Songs and His Sayings (1880). I am startled to disbelief at the portrayal of Remus and the white plantation boy. Some who read are offended, and that’s understandable. But the glory of the work is not the frame of the stories; it’s the brilliantly told African-American folk tales in spot-on dialect. The book is made of four parts with a good, if apologetic, opening essay by Robert Hemenway (Penguin Classics). There are thirty-four tales, a group of poems (songs), “A Story of the War” (short story), seventy proverbs, and twenty-one short character sketches (sayings). Hemenway writes that the sayings have little interest for today’s reader, and that’s right. He tells us that Harris said that “A Story of the War” is almost “literally true.” I will believe that when the almost means not true at all. A slave kills a Union soldier to protect his master? The proverbs are good. Here are a few: (1) Dem w’at eats kin say grace. (2) Ole man Know-All died las’ year. (3) Dogs don’t bite at the de front gate. (4) Youk’n hide de fier, but w’at you gwine do wid de smoke? (5) Ter-morrow may be de carridege-driver’s day for ploughin’. (6) Watch out w’en you’re gittin all you want. Fattenin’ hogs ain’t in luck.
Considering the tales, I’m intrigued at what must be encoded references to ideas that we will probably never know. For instance, the animals often visit Miss Meadows and the gals. Hemenway mentions that the women have been often discussed, but he doesn’t indicate specifics. My twenty-first century first reaction is that the women are prostitutes, and I found a source on the web site of the Wren’s Nest (Harris’s home in Atlanta) that supports that view. But I also feel that that’s not right, that something is encoded in having these women there in the tales. Remus tells the boy that they are just there. Also at the end of one tale is this little song: “Ingle-go-jang, my joy, my joy–/Ingle-go-jang, my joy!/I’m right at home, my joy, my joy,–/Ingle-go-jang, my joy!” “That’s a mighty funny song,” said the little boy. “Funny now, I speck,” said the old man. “But ’tweren’t funny in dem days, en ‘wouldn’t be funny now if folks know’d much ’bout the Bull-frog lagwidge ez dey uster. Dat’s w’at.” What is encoded here? According to Hemenway, Harris insisted that he functioned only as a transcriber for the tales. Folklorists appreciate his contribution, and I wonder what work is being done to plumb the depth of the meanings of the stories.
The thirty-first and thirty-second of the stories, “The Plantation Witch” and “Jacky-My-Lantern” are excellent stories to read at Halloween. In the 1970’s a peace corp worker home from west Africa told us a story, as a factual happening, of an incident similar to that in “The Plantation Witch.”
The article in the 2012 World Book Encyclopedia on Harris is objective. It doesn’t mention the controversy raised by the story frame. It tells of Harris’s life, the significance of the tales in American literature. Good, clear objective reference. Good, good.
Watching “The Best of Howdy Doody,” DVD set. Last week 10 of the 20 episodes. They were made in 1949 and 1950, when I was one and two years old. We did not have a television set until I was five years old, and so all my Doody viewing was after 1953. It is fun to see the low-tech set and ways of incorporating commericials into the script of the show–no break. Of my early childhoold television viewing, Howdy Dooody and Flash Gordon (with Buster Crabbe) were my favorite shows. I had no trouble thinking that inanimate things had life. Buffalo Bob, advertising the purchase of Snap, Crackle, Pop hand puppets by sending in a cereal box top and 25-cents per puppet said, “This is real magic. Puppets become little people.” That’s right! Much slap-stick, silly riddles, fun songs, zany characters. Low budget sets and costumes. Good stuff.
Thank you for reading. I hope you week will be good.