Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Three New Year Celebration Traditions.

Eating collards and black-eyed peas.    Invariably on New Year’s Day my parents served black-eyed peas and collards.  When I asked why, they said that eating collards and black-eyed peas was good luck for finances in the New Year.  The collards represented green-backs and the peas represented coins.  We should eat good portions of each on New Year’s Day.

I like both collards and black-eyed peas, but I will not eat them on New Year’s Day, especially for the reason of having money.  As  my family and neighbors celebrated the beginning of the New Year with a celebration of lucre, I remembered the Bible, with its warnings about the love of money, displayed ironically and beautifully in the front hall.  And Wordsworth, “Getting and spending we lay waste our powers.”

Resolutions.  Once I made them for the New Year.  But inevitably my noble list of goals and disciplines was abandoned due to circumstance and habit.  I will not soul-search this year.  I will start the year with a kind of tabula rasa.  Any goals and plans I have will develop as inclination and situations occur.

When I was on five-day silent retreat, my spiritual adviser, a Jesuit priest, urged me not to make plans.  He discouraged list-of-things-to-accomplish during retreat or during a day in regular life.  He stressed being open to inspiration and Spirit.  I am a goal-oriented person, and things will happen, he said, without constricting myself.

Partying to bring in the New Year.  In the past I have enjoyed doing so, but this year I will call it an early evening and awaken to the New Year rested and as healthy as I can be, no hangover!

A Walk on Christmas Day.  

It had poured rain for two days and nights before Christmas Day.  Temperatures were in the mid-to-high 70’s.  The ground and air were saturated.  Ditches were full; yards were sodden.  Even though my walk was leisurely, soon I was covered with moisture.  It was uncomfortably warm.  Daffodils were up, and a fruit tree was blooming.  Inflatable yard decorated were deflated and lying on wet ground.  A Santa on a roof by a chimney lay deflated.  At a residence with many cars, a man sat alone on the front porch, reading.  Downtown was deserted.  A single police car drove past me as I walked though the main business districts.  At home, I found the temperature inside was cooler than the war wet air outside.  I turned on ceiling fans, took a shower, and relaxed before driving to Christmas dinner with friends in the country.  We enjoyed Christmas feast in air-conditioned comfort.

Notes on Reading.  Fiction.  Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind (1936).  Scribner, 2011.

Early in the novel the author presents characters who exemplify traditional stereotypes  of antebellum Southerners of the plantation class: dislike of Yankees because of their poor manners, distrust of education and intellectual pursuits, awareness of social classes, the important matriarch who teaches and models propriety and virtue, their owning devoted slaves. Mitchell is not sentimental in presentation; she presents the culture as shallow and pretentious, the people arrogant and proud.  Describing the plantation class, from which the main characters are presented, she writes, “Men and women, they were beautiful and wild, a little violent under their pleasant ways and only a little tamed.”

Mitchell uses the cynical, self-serving Rhett Butler to voice reality and reason.  He sees through the pretension and myths of civility and calls out those who glorify them.

It is interesting to view Reconstruction from the point of view of the defeated Southerner.  I was interested that their view of the freed slaves paralleled the views of my parents and grandparents and neighbors of African-Americans in the 1950’s and 1960’s: as ignorant, arrogant, shiftless, lazy, violent.  The Klan was positively presented in the novel.  The virtues of the Klan were preached to me in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Flat characters interest me.  They serve a good function in fiction.  Mitchell, though, fails in the character of Melanie, who represents the best of womanhood.  She is presented so flatly that her character becomes insipid.

There are grand descriptions:  of the land, of Atlanta burning, of Civil War hospitals, of antebellum parties.  Characters are generally well-drawn, and I particularly enjoyed the minor characters of Will, who arrives at the plantation on retreat from war and recovers his health there and stays to help the family, and Archie, the woman-hating convict who helps the family in Atlanta.

I am puzzled by the use of children.  For long sections of the narrative we have no idea what is going on with the main character’s two children; then in some sections they are brought back briefly and then recede again out of the plot.

I was prepared not to like the book.  I did not like the movie because of its sentimentality.  The novel, however, is an intriguing and absorbing, generally well-written novel.  At 418,053 words (commonplacebook.com), it provided good holiday reading.

Thanks for reading.  Have a Happy New Year.

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About billwednesdayblog

Retired high school English and French teacher.
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3 Responses to Wednesday, December 30, 2015

  1. MargaretMcNeely says:

    I remember being surprised at how different the book is from the movie. AND, your family spoke of the virtues of the KKK? I just threw a big fit after finding a KKK pamphlet in a sealed baggie in my yard. I was always taught the horrors of the KKK. Interesting.

  2. David Abell says:

    ​​ Bill,

    Here in the Abell household, black eyed peas, yes; collard greens, no. Many years ago, a TX-born USAF colleague and his wife (also a Texan) introduced us to black eyed peas when Christine and I were at their marriage on New Year’s Day. Collard greens were not on the table, though.

    I suppose I should add “Gone With the Wind” to my reading list, but I’m not much into that genre. As I note in next week’s blog, I am currently reading about Elizabeth Hawley, a traveler/adventuress, keeper of the unofficial data base for Mt. Everest climbing expeditions. I’ve always enjoyed travel stories, from Bill Bryson to Lowell Thomas (in Tibet) to Rebeca West’s “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon” (re her Balkan travels written on the brink of WW II).

    Wishing you a safe and dry New Year’s eve and day. Dave

  3. Sallt says:

    Bill I will carry your blog with me as I move to NY. We have decided to go home. Despite the snow we are happy about the move. I will be closer to ALL my children and Grandchildren. Busy getting house ready to sell. Miss seeing you.. God keep you in your endeavors—. love your person.
    Sally

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