Hectic Day and Books
A hectic day beginning at 4 am. I put a chicken in the
oven and then began making a French peach cake and a double
batch of chocolate chip cookies. I deboned the chicken
later in the morning to use the meat for sandwiches for
John's lunch and the rest to make a large batch of chicken
noodle soup. I finished it all by 9am and then headed to
the grocery store. By the time I'd unloaded the groceries
it was time to drive Hugh to his classes. While he was in
class I did more shopping, this time at the quilt shop,
chatted with Aimee on my cell phone, and then sat in the
parking lot and finished a short (fewer than 200 pages) but
very powerful novel about a magistrate and apple farmer in
Vancouver BC, Marsden, whose wife dies in the great flu
pandemic and then is told his only son was killed in battle
in Belgium (A Century of November by W.D. Wetherell) He
takes a train across Canada and goes to England with the
intention of crossing the channel and seeing where his son
died and while he's there the war ends. He also discovers
that his son had been seeing an English girl and that she,
now four months pregnant, is also heading to Belgium to see
where her lover and her child's father died. When Marsden
asks a soldier who's seen her what her mood was, he replied
"Like any girl would, losing her sweetheart. Like the clay
you see out there. Cold, hard, numb. You can see it happen
just standing there looking down the way the way they do.
Their edges start slipping away, there's no them anymore, if
you see what I mean. No defenses. That the worst thing to
be. Without defenses at all."
I had to stop several times while reading this book.
In those times when people wore black everyone knew they
were in mourning. It's not so easy to tell now when
someone's grieving. Sometimes one can see the grief in a
stranger's eyes if it's still fresh and raw but there's
usually no obvious outward sign which tells others,
strangers out in the world, that one is fragile and
vulnerable. Many of the other passengers on the ship were
widows and mothers, also going to see where their sons and
husbands died and the conversations during the daylight
hours are about how they will go about doing this. But at
night he hears strange sounds, sounds he can't place at
first, until finally he realizes that it is the sound of all
the women, behind closed and locked doors, crying.
After picking Hugh up we went to Corvallis where I paid
Owen's rent and then we brought Owen to the university
bookstore where I bought his books. Almost all were used
but the bill still totaled almost $300. I brought Owen the
last slice of apple pie, a container of chicken noodle soup,
homemade bread, a bag of oranges and a dozen chocolate chip
cookies. We also went to the bank to deposit our Christmas
checks and then a quick stop at the library to pick up my
holds. I made a fast-food type dinner as we only had a
half-hour before John had to leave for class.
The book led me to another, this one non-fiction, The Great
Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History
by John M. Barry. I don't have this book yet. It's checked
out to someone else but I have a hold on it and I'm next to
get it. I did find excerpts of it on-line which intrigued
me and I'm looking forward to reading it.
It begins with the founding of Johns Hopkins University
which my oldest son,Jack, graduated from a few years ago.
"On September 12, 1876, the crowd overflowing the auditorium
of Baltimore's Academy of Music was in a mood of hopeful
excitement, but excitement without frivolity. Indeed,
despite an unusual number of women in attendance, many of
them from the uppermost reaches of local society, a reporter
noted, "There was no display of dress or fashion." For this
occasion had serious purpose. It was to mark the launching
of the Johns Hopkins University, an institution whose
leaders intended not simply to found a new university but to
change all of American education; indeed, they sought
considerably more than that. They planned to change the way
in which Americans tried to understand and grapple with nature."
Later, in that same first chapter, there's some discussion
about the presidential election. I vaguely remembered this
when I was corresponding with someone who was insisting that
these past two elections have been the most divisive ones in
our history. I knew they were wrong.
"In the South a far more important but equally savage war
was being waged as white Democrats sought "redemption" from
Reconstruction in anticipation of the presidential election.
Throughout the South "rifle clubs," "saber clubs," and
"rifle teams" of former Confederates were being organized
into infantry and cavalry units. Already accounts of
intimidation, beatings, whippings, and murder directed
against Republicans and blacks had surfaced.
Voting returns had already begun to come in (there was no
single national election day) and two months later Democrat
Samuel Tilden would win the popular vote by a comfortable
margin. But he would never take office as president. Instead
the Republican secretary of war would threaten to "force a
reversal" of the vote, federal troops with fixed bayonets
would patrol Washington, and southerners would talk of
reigniting the Civil War. That crisis would ultimately be
resolved through an extraconstitutional special committee
and a political understanding: Republicans would discard the
voting returns of three states (Louisiana, Florida, South
Carolina) and seize a single disputed electoral vote in
Oregon to keep the presidency in the person of Rutherford B.
Hayes. But they also would withdraw all federal troops from
the South and cease intervening in southern affairs, leaving
the Negroes there to fend for themselves."