Spring. April 30 at the Catawba River. The sun is warm, but there’s a coolness in the air. There is low humidity. Corn in the fields beyond is about an inch tall. Newly mown grass is quickly growing. There are masses of bright red and white azaleas with attending large and buzzing black and yellow bees and two kinds of brightly colored butterflies. I follow a young black snake as it rides across the grass and watch at a stand of pampas grass as he coils himself, sniffs the ground, finds a hole, and slithers from his coil into the ground. The sycamore trees are showing new bright leaves. The white trunks gleam in the sunlight. At the boat ramp, the surface of the water is covered with water spiders, and three dragonflies dart here and there. I want to throw something into the water, not here, but at the high bank. I find in the limbs of a sycamore tree a dead branch, and pull it away. I see that is is taller than I am. At the bank, I heave the branch behind me and hurl it over my head, feeling movement, spring, release. It flashes in a low white arch, and as it falls, I know movement and falling and happiness and spring, God! Yes! Whack-splash! New journey, new start. I stand on the bank so happy that I almost laugh aloud.
Two unusual people, maybe a third. (1) At a Ruby Tuesday restaurant. When the server brought the iced tea, he asked, “Are you going to put sugar or sweetener in that tea?” “No.” He looked puzzled. “You’re going to drink it like that?” “Yes.” “Are you from the North?” “No.” “You’re from here?” “Yes.” “And you drink tea unsweetened like that?” “Yes.” “That’s most unusual, sir. Most unusual.” (2) At a Great Clips. The operator asked, “Are you going into the office later?” “No, I’m retired.” “But you look so well dressed. You look like you’re going to work.” “No, I’m doing errands.” “What are errands?” “Things you have to do: like have the car serviced, get a haircut, buy gasoline, go to the grocery store. That’s errands.” “That’s what you’re doing this morning?” “Yes.” “You’re well-dressed just to do those things.” [The day was cool. I was wearing a long-sleeved dress shirt, long pants, and a pair of black dress shoes.]
A play at genealogy. A friend, who noticed that my grandmother’s maiden name was Kennedy, asked if I knew my ancestry. He asked if the Kennedys in my family emigrated from Ireland. In three hours, with the help of ancestry.com., I learned about the Kennedy side of my family back to the early 1820’s. In the meantime, I telephoned a cousin to see what she knew. She telephoned her sister, who emailed with the news that she had traced the Kennedy side of the family to 1690. I decided that she must have the information I needed. I enjoyed doing the work, especially seeing my great-grandfather’s name in Civil War records, but I wondered more than I found answers. It’s all right to know names and addresses and occupations and burial places, but I’m not so interested in these statistics as I am about lives. My great-grandfather, William H. Kennedy, farmed in eastern Duplin County. He joined the Cavalry during the Civil War. He and his wife had three children, and he died living with one of them. All of this is interesting, but it’s merely suggestive. What is the story of his courtship and marriage? How did he and his family live? How did he view farming? What did he believe? What were his favorite foods? What were his foibles? What brought him happiness? Was the family active in church? What did they do for fun? I will probably never know these things, the important things. As soon as I hear from my cousin, I plan to discontinue my account with ancestry.com.
And for me? Of course, the reflections about my ancestors brought the questions home to me. Where I have lived and worked are in records. But there’s no record of interests, beliefs, experiences, loves, aversions, foibles, relationships. I have scattered and random photographs, and from time to time I will write about a photograph and what I was doing and feeling and thinking at that time in my life–not for others–though I’ll leave it with my executor–but for me, seeking to trace and understand my participation in this expression of life with which I’ve been blessed.
Listening. I don’t spend much time listening to cast albums of musical plays. There have been so many high school and community productions of the popular plays of Rodgers and Hammerstein that when I have wanted to hear show music, I’ve enjoyed the less popular, less famous plays: Allegro (1947), Me and Juliet (1953), Pipe Dream (1955), and Flower Drum Song (1958). Of these shows, the only one which was a popular and financial failure was Pipe Dream, based on Steinbeck’s novel Sweet Thursday. When I saw that New York City Center Encores! Company had produced a concert staging of the show in March, 2012, with Will Chase, Laura Osnes, Tom Wopat, and Leslie Uggams, and produced a cast album, I ordered it. I knew the score from the original cast album, and I enjoyed the differences in this production. The sound is, of course, better engineered. And this cast brings new life to the excellent score. The ballad of the female lead (Susie), “Everybody’s Got a Home But Me,” enjoyed some popularity in the 1950’s, and the interpretation of Osnes brings out both the independence and the longing of the character. The two ballads of the male lead (Doc), “All At Once You Love Her,” and “The Man I Used to Be, both also popular in the 1950’s, prove Chase’s understanding of the character. The duet between Susie and Fauna (Uggams), “Susie Is a Good Thing,” is beautiful in its ascending harmonic changes. The reprise of “All At Once You Love Her” by Uggams is beautiful and moving and sexy. The pieces I most enjoyed are ensemble pieces, “A Lopsided Bus,” with its jaunty and rollicking rhythm, and the march-like and energetic “How Long?” are fun. Since this is a live recording, then enegy and enjoyment of the cast come across well in the recording. If I were still teaching drama, I would use these two pieces to present staging and movement. (In the choral asides of these numbers, I hear some roots of Sondheim’s writing.)
Sweet Thursday does not work well as a musical play, and the 1982 movie version (Steinbeck’s Cannery Row) starring Nick Nolte and Debra Winger, was not a great hit. The story is most appropriate as a novel. It’s brilliant. I taught it as a part of a humor unit in advanced placement English, and several students wrote about it to good success on the national exam. I keep copies to give to friends who are recovering from illness or undergoing rough times.
Reading. I’m enjoying Steinbeck’s story collection, The Long Valley (1938) and Shakespeare’s hilarious and engaging A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I will probably write about them next week.
In the meantime, I anticipate a festival, a possible reunion, three different visits with friends, a church breakfast to honor Sunday School teachers, the judging of an essay contest, and now that most of the pollen has fallen and my sinuses have cleared from infections, perhaps reumption of my daily walks.
Thank you for reading. I hope that things are going well for you and that you will enjoy a good week.