Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Days.  Now we see for certain that we are in the dark half of the year.  Sunrises are later; I wake to darkness, prepare for the day by lamplight.  Days end earlier.  Flowering trees and shrubs have few new blooms.  Dogwood leaves are turning a dusty color.  It is quieter but for the sounds of a few insects, muted.  Grass has mostly stopped growing.  Intensity is over, though hot, humid weather may backlash yet.

What We Said, With a Hummingbird Emphasis.  I met with  cousins and their spouses to celebrate the upcoming marriage of a first cousin three-times removed.  I had never met the couple.  There was a feast in a church fellowship hall in a small town in the eastern part of the state.  There were barbecued pork, pork skins, baked beans, slaw, potato salad, hot dogs with chili, ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise.  There were desserts:  brownies, hummingbird cake, pound cake.  For drinks, sweetened and unsweetened iced tea and water.

I failed to meet relatives I didn’t know, choosing to sit with and talk with those I did.

Willard, who often talks about politics and the evils of Obama and the Democratic Party in general, told about his recent cataract surgery and what a miracle he thought it was.  He had made and brought pound cake and asked everyone to try and and assign it a grade and let him know.

Sylvia told about her new black kitten so quick that he can catch anything, including hummingbirds.

George, who usually talks about business and economics, told how once he drank a good amount of pear schnapps and didn’t feel any effects until he was driving home and suddenly couldn’t read the speedometer.

Jim, once stationed in Germany, said that Germany had all kinds of good schnapps, but no good sweet desserts.  He and his wife, my cousin Doris, went to France for that.  He went to a French bakery and said, as he pointed out things, “I want this and this and this and this and this.”

Cathy bragged about her beach house, where she lives all year long, and her good life there, and invited me to visit her any time.

Bill gave an incredible and incomprehensible  explanation of racial groups, with an Old Testament story about Noah, from whom we all descended, that proved that white people are the exception of most people of the world, who are not white.

LaVerne and Ruby were the gracious hostesses, busily interacting with everyone and tending the food tables.  LaVerne introduced me to the honored couple.  I talked with the groom-to-be, a fourth year math teacher in a nearby public high school.  I recommended retirement, and he understood, or pretended to.

I asked everyone at the table why the excellent cake was called hummingbird cake.  George said, “It’s walnut cake.”  “Without walnuts,” I said.  “These are peanuts.  Why not call it prairie dog cake?”  Sylvia laughed and asked LaVerne, “Why do you call it hummingbird cake?”  LaVerne answered,  “It’s Granny Sutton’s recipe.  I have no idea.”

As I left, I heard LaVerne tell Sylvia that she had planted a hummingbird vine.  Hummingbird yet again.  “A hummingbird vine?” I asked.  She said, “Well, give me a dog, and I might name it Hummingbird,” and laughed.

I took a patchwork quilt made by my grandmother for LaVerne to repair.  She showed it to Sylvia, who identified some of the patches:  “That was from Estelle’s dress; that was from a sun dress Agnes wore; that was from Granny Cora’s apron; that was from Lonie’s dress; the linings are from feed sacks.”

I’m glad there were no images of hummingbirds on the quilt.  I drove the two hours home, but not so fast as, well, you know.

Notes on Reading.  Fiction.  Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island (1883).  Bantam Classic Edition, 2004.

I was disappointed.  I have recently read the intriguing, suspenseful The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and two well-crafted short stories, “The Suicide Club,” and “The Merry Men,” and I looked forward to reading this most popular of his novels.

There are thrilling adventures at sea and on a tropical island, in which the main narrator, a boy named Jim Hawkins, is involved in mortal dangers and survives more to chance than by his wit and skills.

I was hoping to see Jim’s understanding of life more fully developed as a result of his experiences, as Huck Finn’s, but he is not much changed as a result of the ordeals.  Most of the characterizations remain static throughout the novel, with the possible exception of the infamous Long John Silver, who attains an unconvincing, because only partially developed, practical realization of mortality.  The change in narrators for three chapters of the book is not necessary and distracting.

Strengths;  Pirates are not romanticized.  The descriptions of the tropical island are concrete, emphasizing its unattractive qualities and dangers.

I can’t imagine, unless simplified and abridged, this novel as children’s literature.  The vocabulary is mature, and there is extensive specialized nautical vocabulary.

According to the contributor of  the “Treasure Island” entry in The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English (Cambridge University Press, 1966; Ian Ousby, ed.), Stevenson “did not take it [the work] seriously.”  I’m glad that Stevenson was not impressed with this work.

Thank you for reading.  I hope you are enjoying these last days of summer.


About billwednesdayblog

Retired high school English and French teacher.
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