Saturday, August 27, 2011

Batten Down the Hatches!!

We're always preparing for some upcoming storm, it seems.
Right now, hurricane Irene is on its way and after watching the news and talking to a few friends, I began to wonder if I should be preparing in some way.  Truth is, my only concern is how I'm going to make coffee if the power goes out.  Feeling a little restless, I decided to confront the worst part of the storm, visiting the grocery store.  People here have clearly lost their minds!  Racing through the aisles, carts overflowing with cases of water, toilet paper, and bread, the customers expressions were something like manic zombies.  I had a basket and tried to figure out what to buy, but I only ended up with a six-pack of water and the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies.  I'm from Maryland.  I don't know how to prepare for a hurricane!  I make cookies when we have a snow storm, so it seemed somewhat logical.
I've spent the summer preparing to remodel, preparing to move, preparing for vacation, and lately preparing to go back to school to teach fifty kids a day how to read and write. This week I faced my biggest challenge of them all and prepared to be very, very bored at an inservice for teachers.
Anyone who has suffered through days of professional development meetings understands how mind numbing they can be.  I'm bad at being bored.  I doodle cockamamie portraits, imagine outrageous scenarios, and get extremely silly with something like "church giggles" erupting uncontrollably.  It's embarrassing.  Yesterday, after hours of listening to Charlie Brown's teacher-types lecturing about six types of syllables, phonemes and graphemes, I couldn't take it anymore.  A few of the presenters had prepared to liven up the experience by having a raffle during the session where the lucky chosen one could win a pencil or pack of post-its. 
I never win anything, so I didn't see the harm in putting the name "Ethel Merman" on my raffle slip.  The thought of Ethel Merman rustling around in there with the other plain Jane tickets was entertainment enough for me for the next ninety minutes.  I tried to get one of my co-workers to put Marilyn Monroe or Phyllis Diller on her ticket, but she wouldn't give in to peer pressure. The presenter, a no-nonsense-sweater-set-lady, started the session by explaining the raffle, pulling a ticket out of the bucket and announcing the winner, "Eeeth-al Merman,".  Unprepared for that outcome, my coworker, a dramatic sort, grabbed my arm, gasped loudly and yelled, "OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD!  ETHEL MERMAN!" and burst into hysterical laughter.  No one moved.  No one changed their expression.  No one said, "Ethel  Merman?".  I turned bright red and started to sweat. 
The presenter, who had obviously never heard of Ethel Merman, looked confused at my delirious coworker, still gasping and shaking my arm, and said matter-of-factly, "It's only school supplies.  You can go to the back table and pick out your prize, Ethel."  That did it.  I imagined Ethel herself, clad in a feather boa, strutting past the desks, scooping up ALLLL the school supplies, while belting out, "Everything's Coming Up Roses".  I started to giggle.  Trying to suppress it only made it worse because I started shaking silently, tears streaming down my cheeks, smudging my mascara. My coworker caught my silly, and we took turns being tossed around in our own personal hurricanes of boredom and laughter.  We were caught in Hurricane Ethel for the rest of the meeting and, true to form, she was a Category 5.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Don't Call Me Ishmael

My husband and I are looking for a new place to live. 
After being in my hometown for 33 years, it is hard to imagine living anywhere else.  I've travelled quite a bit , and have had many opportunities to move elsewhere, but I've never felt the need for a long term adventure that would take me away from home.  Maybe I watched Gone with the Wind too many times as a girl, and the idea of the land I live on being like my mother was taken to heart. I do have a drop of Irish blood, so it is possible I get it honest.
Ishmael confessed that, “Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off--then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”  We all get "grim about the mouth" from time to time, but when it happens to me, I take a drive in the country.  I love the scenery here: rolling hills, dotted with quiet farms, blanketed with winter wheat, decorated with the bluest chicory, delicate Queen Anne's Lace and cheerful daisies.  I love the lonely gnarled trees in empty pastures and the air fragranced with sweet cornfields at night.  Driving down the winding curves of  Bloom Road, always hidden away by the cover of trees, warms the November in my soul right up.
Part of the comfort I find here is in the local traditions. We take pride in supporting local businesses.  There is an amazing local creamery, Hoffman's, that is the only place to respectably get your ice cream.  Breakfast at Baugher's, our favorite country restaurant, always includes freshly baked pie made from the fruit grown in their orchard.  The steaks bought from Bullock's, the local butcher, would put any New York City steakhouse to shame.  Rediciously enormous smoked holiday hams must come from Hann's, who also happens to roast their own coffee beans, creating an aroma in their little store that is intoxicating. These businesses are all named for the families who own and run them and most of us are on a first name basis with them, so to shop is to visit.  Another one of our traditions is organizing a parade for EVERYTHING!  Together, the whole town lines Main Street to celebrate whatever the occasion, eating cookies and drinking cocoa provided by one of the local churches, listening to the municipal band while the 4-H Pork Princess proudly waves from a fire truck, followed by miniature horses and familiar children, dressed like dancing books and crayons, encouraging us all to visit the local library.  These traditions form a web of close relationships that keep our kids out of trouble and our manners in check.  Everyone who grew up here has heard the words, "If I ever catch you doing/saying that again, I'll call your mother/father!" Everyone here has a story about choosing to be polite after being frustrated by a stranger's actions, only to find out later that the same person was their mortgage broker or their child's teacher.  Our community is our crew and when you live in close quarters and are bound to run into or need someone again, you learn to get along. 
While reading Moby Dick, I wondered if being surrounded by the open ocean ever became banal to the men aboard the Pequod, but I think they must have felt the same way about going out to sea as I feel about being home.  For those of us who have stayed long enough to know the land as well as our families, we know that the landscape, like the waves and sea creatures lovingly observed by Ishmael, is in a constant state of change. I've never gotten over the beauty of the land and the idea of leaving my home feels like being cast out to sea, bringing with it drizzly November.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The End of the Voyage

I did it!  After months of looking up definitions, pictures of whales on the Internet and cross checking all biblical and classical references, I have done what Ahab could not and have conquered Moby Dick!  This novel has been a favorite of mine for years, but is now absolutely my favorite book.  What an amazing tale told by a brilliant, although sometimes long-winded, storyteller.  During the dry, but still interesting, non-fiction chapters, I imagined that Melville must have spent his whaling years, tirelessly researching the animals and industry.  His dark, long New England winters must have been passed doing the same, only I imagine him in front of a roaring fire, smoking a pipe, stacks of leather bound books surrounding his chair.
For me, the Pequod's meeting with The Bachelor and the Rachel are two of the most suspenseful moments in the story's conclusion because Ahab still had a chance for redemption.  I wanted to reach into the pages of the book, shake Ahab by his gnarly beard and shout, "Follow them you fool!!!  Turn back!!"  Imagine the helplessness felt by the Pequod's crew, knowingly being led to their destruction by an insane captain , when they met the Bachelor dressed to celebrate, homeward bound after a successful whaling voyage. 
"And jolly enough were the sights and the sounds that came bearing down before the wind, some few weeks after Ahab's harpoon had been welded.
It was a Nantucket ship, the Bachelor, which had just wedged in her last cask of oil, and bolted down her bursting hatches; and now, in glad holiday apparel, was joyously, though somewhat vain-gloriously, sailing round among the widely-separated ships on the ground, previous to pointing her prow for home.
The three men at her mast-head wore long streamers of narrow red bunting at their hats; from the stern, a whale-boat was suspended, bottom down; and hanging captive from the bowsprit was seen the long lower jaw of the last whale they had slain. Signals, ensigns, and jacks of all colors were flying from her rigging, on every side." 
To me, it seemed their hope sailed away with the brightly decorated Bachelor and crew.  Afterwards, meeting the Rachel provided Ahab with one last chance to save the Pequod.  If only he had done his duty as a fellow captain and good-willed human, he could have searched for the missing boys instead of Moby Dick, but his revenge obsessed mind wouldn't let him see that saving the lost crew members of the Rachel could be the salvation of himself and his men.  Like Jonah, he was taken down by the Leviathan and sacrificed his crew in the process.  Without a doubt, the most startling image for me was the last, Tashtego's hand reaching out of the churning sea, still hammering the flag to the uppermost mast, the only part of the sinking Pequod still visible while the entangled sea bird was taken down with the ship.  My heart sank with the last visible remnant of the ship.
My family has been encouraging me to finish the novel along the way, my supportive husband looking up unknown references with me and for me while I read.  (I wish we had written everything we learned in the margins!)  He and the World's Most Patient Kids listened to me drone on and on about profound passages or interesting (to me at least) facts, saying things like, "We never knew that's what unctuous meant.  Cool."  They must love me to say such things.
 We were on vacation in the mountains, spending our days floating and fishing in the Potomac and our evenings relaxing in the cabin, when I finally reached the last page of Moby Dick.  My beautiful, big hearted step-kids insisted that we get up and dance when I read the last word.  Closing the book, with that satisfying "thup" sound, we all jumped up and shook our booties and cheered, Moby Dick waving in my right hand high over my head.  My husband was taking a nap at the time, but I'm sure he dreamed about shaking his bootie and cheering, too. 
Basking in my accomplishment, I knew that I could never give up my beloved hard-backs for a Kindle.  There is no substitute for the weight of a great novel held in both hands gradually shifting from a heavy right to a heavy left until the last whispering page is reached and realized with a...