Thursday, May 31, 2012

118th COG: Memories of Two Books


     Our Jasia picked a great  topic for this 118th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Reading!  My choice on this topic was easy, though possibly not quite as intended.  Thank you, Jasia, nudging me along this long remembered path.

Memories of Two Books
     Reading, curled up in a chair, or in a tree; nestled in my bed, under the blankets with a flashlight shining it's yellow glow. These images that are in my head, except for the last one, are more likely what I wanted to be --- a reader. In reality, I wasn't much of a reader when I was growing up. My mother, though she professed a love of books, felt that reading should only be done after all the chores were finished --- and in her world, chores were never finished. I don't remember very many books that I read, but what I do remember is wanting to read and fall into a world different that mine. And I did tumble into that world of words, images, lives, places and things that has marked my adult years.

     My earliest memories of holding a book with reverence comes from visits to my Grandmother Sigford, my mother's mother. She had a bookcase with glass doors that her son, my Uncle Clem, built for her and as a special treat she would sit with me and show me her treasures --- family bibles and albums, a book handed down from her grandmother, one of her books from her childhood, and then an odd collection of books about the Pacific northwest, particularly Seattle.

     Once in a while, she took out her most favorite book, her elocution book. In the late 1890s my grandmother, young Agnes Laura Keyes, yearned to go to school in “the Valley,” which meant Corvallis and Salem, to those living in the grass and sage covered hills of eastern Oregon. As I remember her story, she had a teacher, who boarded with their family, who convinced her father that she should go to high school in “the valley.” My grandmother held those years dear to her heart. I think she would have stayed in the more civilized Willamette Valley, but the young man who caught her fancy died just before graduation. My grandmother came back to the ranch in eastern Oregon where there were no theaters, literary groups, wonderful libraries. She came back to the life she knew as a child, and the dreams of living a city life of letters disappeared.

     My sister and I were the only grandchildren who spent much time with them, and my sis was five years younger and much happier picking strawberries in the garden and such. But, in me, my grandmother found an awed audience when she brought down the elocution book. She had me practice my enunciation, rounding vowels, crisp consonants, and then she would read from the book. I was enthralled.

She died just after I turned twelve and in time the elocution book found it's way to me, but that treasure wasn't meant to be kept. An early winter wind blew off the roof of the shed where my treasures were kept and the elocution was a sodden mass when we cleaned the debris left by the storm. The loss of the elocution book has haunted me to this day; however the memories of the days with my grandmother can be called up at my whim. An odd combination of memories of that elocution book.

      The second book, that had a powerful effect on me, also came from my grandmother, Agnes Laura. For my mother's birthday, August 14, 1945, she gave her a book of poetry, The Standard Book of British and American VERSE. I don't remember my mother reading poetry from the book, but she did give me a great gift. As the oldest, by five years, I was charged with doing the evening dishes. I moaned, groaned, groused, and was a most unpleasant dishwasher.

     One evening, my mother brought out the poetry book and placed the open book on the window sill above the sink. She had opened it to the poem “Old Ironsides” by Oliver Wendell Holmes; a poem that had special meaning to my mother, as her mother had made her memorize it when she was about my age and her presentation of “Old Ironsides” won the school speech contest. I recognized the poem as it was one my grandmother read from her elocution book. I was hooked. My grandmother passed the poem to my mother, and she to me --- and I gave it back to my mother on the day of her funeral, as it seems to be appropriate.

     For all the years that we lived in that house, I washed dishes, not rapidly mind you, but with great emotion as I read and memorized my favorites; Poe's “For Anna,” “Annabell Lee” and “The Raven;” Tennyson's “Lady of Shalott.” I emoted over Elizabeth Barrett Browning's “How Do I Love Thee?” and Alfred Noyes' “The Highwayman.” During that place between childhood and womanhood, my friends in the evening hours were Robbie Burns, Frost, Coleridge, Pope, Marvell,Herrick, Donne, Marlowe, Dickinson, Shelly, and the list, words, cadence goes on and on.

     My children and grandchildren often ask, “How do you know so many poems?” and I reply, “I did a lot of dishes when I was growing up.”

     And so my lifelong love of words, books, and images of places, people, and things I have never known were given to me, almost unknowingly, by my mother and my grandmother Agnes Laura in the form of an old fashioned elocution book and a book of poetry.

16 comments:

  1. What a lovely post Joan showing just how powerful memory can be and what a great influence your grandmother was. Like you my mother believed that reading was offset against chores which always won (and what's wrong with that, I ask?). I love that you had a way to satisfy your soul while doing those mundane dishes. And now your grandchildren benefit. Love the stories!

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    1. And even now, I can lapse into those old days with "I tear her tattered ensign down, Long it has waved on high,...." or "The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees, The Moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas ...".

      Rather strange, I say, but glad you enjoyed the post.

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  2. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. You have wonderful memories of your books. And, of course, I love the way you write. Always!

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    1. I always appreciate your kind words. Thanks.

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  3. What a wise approach your mother chose for you, Joan, and what a wonderful retelling of the experience! Unfortunately, I have lately been more like your mom--"reading should only be done after all the chores were finished"--and, sadly, my chores seem likewise to never be done. You remind me to return to that habit of setting aside regular time to indulge in that illuminating habit.

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    1. And happy reading to you. I received a Kindle for Christmas and I do love it. I am one of those who have an aversion to libraries (strange for a genealogist, I know), but now I can download from the library to my heart's content. Really enjoying the variety. Thanks for reading and glad you enjoyed this little bit of a memory.

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  4. This post brings back memories of my mother saying that when she was young that when they did the dishes, one child in the family would read stories and poems to the others who were cleaning the table, washing, and drying the dishes. It always sounded like an enjoyable time as they worked together.

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    1. Wow, not only did they get to read together, but your mom and aunts learned to work together. Wonderful!

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  5. Very touching. It brings to mind the one book I inherited from my mother, her Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. It introduced me to cooking the way the elocution book and book of poetry introduced you to annunciation and verse. I didn't write about the cookbook in my article for this COG because I know I've written about it before. But the sentiment is the same as yours, providing a connection to the written word and to the people at the same time. Thanks for sharing and contributing to the COG, Joan!

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    1. Jasia, Thanks for such great topics. I am really enjoying writing for the COG this year. Indeed there is something about those memories of times spent with grandmothers --- whether our age, grandmother's age, and the times --- whatever, it was made it so special. Glad you had that experience too.

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  6. Lovely post, lovelier memories. May you treasure them.

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    1. Thank you for reading and the nice comment. I appreciate it.

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  7. And the highwayman came riding,
    riding, riding.
    The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn door.

    I didn't learn poetry doing the dishes -although maybe my sister and I wouldn't have argued about doing the dishes if we'd thought of reading while we did them. I remember learning The Highwayman when it was the cover poem in Children's Digest long, long ago.
    I enjoyed your post.

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  8. Kristin,
    glad you enjoyed the post. It isn't often that someone comes back with the next lines. It really was one of my favorites in those early teen years. Made doing the dishes a bit better.
    thanks again.

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  9. Joan how awesome to read and do dishes, why didn't I ever think of that! I do have at least one book from my grandmother..Her Girl Scout hand book :D Wow is it different then mine! I also have a poem that my great grandmother published about her life. You can find it here, http://www.jayrays.com/Wandering_Roots/2011/09/12/amanuensis-mon…e-kaye-ogilvie/ ‎. I find it interesting that you have Keyes in Oregon and I have Kayes in Oregon :D Wonderful post !

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    1. Julie, I read your mom's poem and made a comment on your blog. thanks for reading and commenting on this COG entry -- my husband still has his boy scout book ---and it too looks far different from our sons.LOL How times change.

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