This.

QUESTIONNAIRE

How much poison are you willing
to eat for the success of the free
market and global trade? Please
name your preferred poisons.

For the sake of goodness, how much
evil are you willing to do?
Fill in the following blanks
with the names of your favorite
evils and acts of hatred.

What sacrifices are you prepared
to make for culture and civilization?
Please list the monuments, shrines,
and works of art you would
most willingly destroy

In the name of patriotism and
the flag, how much of our beloved
land are you willing to desecrate?
List in the following spaces
the mountains, rivers, towns, farms
you could most readily do without.

State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
the energy sources, the kinds of security
for which you would kill a child.
Name, please, the children whom
you would be willing to kill.

–Wendell Berry

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Places to Sit

Ladder-back chair

The best single piece of advice I ever read about what to do when one moves from one abode to another: make sure you’ve got a chair to sit in before you start unpacking all those boxes!

Once one has recovered from the stress of moving house, I think chairs also play a key role in achieving Domestic Bliss. And the more chairs you have room for, the better.

Alas, my tiny (1100+ square foot) abode limits the number of places to sit and read or to work on different sorts of projects.

Still, I have managed over the 25 years I’ve lived here in Atlanta’s Candler Park to carve out several different perches to suit my various moods and purposes.

For many years, my Default Reading Nook was not actually a nook, just the end of one of my living room loveseats in front of the fireplace.

Living Room - sofa seat

With a book-storing tea trolley nearby and a flexible clip-on reading light that I discovered at IKEA (and which I subsequently installed at virtually all my reading perches, and often give as gifts to my aging friends and family members), this is where I’ve read most of the books I’ve enjoyed over the past two-and-a-half decades. Especially the books I read during the winter months, when I enjoy lighting a fire in the fireplace. So cozy!

Immediately behind that loveseat is a corner window where I keep a table and chair.

Living room window table

The table is a loaner from a former librarian colleague who was storing it for a friend of hers; since that colleague has moved out of Georgia, I might have become the table’s permanent owner. The Windsor-style chair (like most chairs I own) I found at a yard sale. I often eat lunch there, especially when the leaves have turned Candler Park into a wonderland of color.

Like most other surfaces I initially resolved to keep clear so I didn’t have to move anything to use them, this table, tends to fill up with Objects That Indeed Must Be Moved before I can sit down to, say, have lunch there in front of that window. At the moment, the top of this table is the home of a collection of man-made lizards that gets added to every year on March 9th. (A story for another blogpost someday.) At least I eventually figured out that storing all the lizards on a tray would make it easier to clear the table for lunch!

Tray of lizards

As soon as I had the screen porch adjoining the living room glassed in to create a sunroom for my indoor plants, I knew I’d want a place out there to sit down in and read (or, occasionally, meditate). For many years, I had a set of rattan furniture in this room. When a yard sale yielded a really comfortable wooden glider that I didn’t hate the look of and that I could wedge into a corner of the room, I transferred the rattan sofa and chairs to the garden shed and, voila! – an even more comfy reading nook in the sunroom – again, equipped with a trusty IKEA reading light.

sunporch chair #1

After Randy entered my life a couple years ago, I wanted to reconfigure the room so we could both sit out there together. Fortunately, I serendipitously scored, at yet another yard sale, a second wooden glider, also painted white. So – yay! – mission accomplished.

sunporch - chair #2

Thinking it would be useful to dedicate a light-filled sunroom surface to my calligraphy hobby, another trip to IKEA produced (after the obligatory ordeal of assembling it) a sleek, white glass-top desk that also (after exporting something else, of course) fit into the sunroom.

sunporch desk

Regrettably, not much calligraphy gets done at this table, especially since I moved into my study all my calligraphy paraphernalia.  So I decided to re-dedicate this surface as The Place Where I Handle My Mom’s Financial Affairs. (Underneath and directly to the right of the table are the basket and filing cabinets where I’ve been storing her files since my mom moved over two years ago to a senior living facility almost three years ago.)

Despite all these pleasant places to sit in the living room and on the sun porch, the room where I spend most of my waking hours is my study, where my computer is. (I’m one of the few Americans who hasn’t yet purchased a laptop; my computer screen-staring takes place in front of a decidedly non-portable desktop machine that I keep inside the large rolltop desk that I bought shortly after buying the house in 1993.)

For most of the 25 years that I’ve lived in Candler Park, I had kept that desk in my bedroom. When Larry moved out 20 years ago, I was able to move my bedroom furniture (including a rocking chair: every bedroom should have at least one chair!) into Larry’s former (and smaller) bedroom . . .

Former bedroom

. . . and to transform my former bedroom into a study:

Former study

Two months ago, however, I decided to switch these two rooms, so Randy and I could enjoy the light-filled larger room with its window overlooking the patio. That switch involved dragging into the small bedroom all my study furniture (except for the small rolltop desk, which I just couldn’t wedge into it). So here’s where I currently spend the majority of my time:

Study - rolltop desk

There are now two additional perches/workspaces in my study:

Study - drafting table

study - most recently purchased desk

The other rooms in my house also have places to sit down, including the guest room:

Guest room perch

. . . and even the kitchen:

kitchen chair

And of course there’s always the dining room table that I can convert to a working surface or a place to read. I’ve owned a series of dining room tables before finding the one I use now; it took many more years after buying the table to find comfortable chairs for it. This is where Randy and I eat our meals, where I play Scrabble with my friend Charles several times every week, and where friends occasionally gather for playing Wizards:

dining room table and chairs

Of course, one must have several outdoor perches as well as indoor ones. One of my favorite places to read (or eat) is inside the garden shed my brother Michael built for me five years ago. Here’s the current configuration of the garden shed seating (not shown is the aforementioned rattan sofa that’s also in the shed):

Garden shed interior

Here’s what I see when I’m sitting in one of those chairs (which is why I put them there!):

patio-may-2016

I also wanted a place to rest when I’m out working in the garden, and this bench fits that bill perfectly:

garden shed exterior front

I also installed another bench for resting in a shadier spot in minuscule back yard. It’s so shady, in fact, that it’s impossible to photograph the bench itself. But here’s what I get to look at when I’m sitting on that bench:

garden bench view

This past spring I added a third outdoor bench, this time in the front yard, for sitting and/or reading when I don’t particularly need any privacy to do that. (There’s quite a bit of foot traffic on McLendon Avenue.)  I’d wanted such a perch in my front yard for years, and was thrilled to buy the third bench after my brother Michael, during his most recent visit to Atlanta, installed a small patio out front for me:

outdoor front patio

Before I bought my three benches, I spent plenty of time where so many other American homeowners sit when they want to be outside: on the steps of my front porch. I still sit there sometimes:

outdoor front porch

Have you identified or created your own favorite reading/sitting/eating/working perches – indoors or outside? I’d love to hear about them, and see some photos!

The Accidental Collector

Red transferware retake

One of the things I first noticed about my partner Randy’s house was how many different collections he’d accumulated over his lifetime. Not only collections of paintings by certain artists and books on certain subjects of perennial interest to him, but all sorts of other things as well. Wonderful things, too.

Although I’ve enjoyed sprucing up each of the numerous apartments and the two houses I’ve lived in, and trying to make my living quarters as comfortable and congenial and visually interesting as I could afford, I never really thought I “collected” anything in particular or on purpose (with a few exceptions, of which more anon). But Randy pointed out that I have in fact assembled quite a number of collections over the years. Certainly a lot more of them than I realized! My collections are not nearly as large or significant or valuable as Randy’s, but, still, the discovery that my admiration for certain types of things has led me to purchase (or for people to give me) several concentrations of specific items was a total surprise.

In my forays to flea markets, estate sales, yard sales, etc. (where, incidentally, most of the non-electronic items in my house came from), I am always on the lookout for several categories of things, so those things that I have purchased in those categories do, in fact, count as collections, modest though they are. Listed here in chronological order in terms of when I started collecting in these categories, those things are:

  • Pfaltzgraff crockery
  • cobalt blue glass
  • teapots and tea tins
  • wooden boxes
  • wicker baskets
  • red transferware
  • anything fashioned from wire
  • pottery made by my sister Lori

I long ago ran out of room for any more examples of any of these things, but I find I’m still bringing more of them home and somehow finding places for them in my tiny (1100+ square-foot) abode.

The Pfaltzgraff dishware (the company’s “Yorktowne” pattern) are the dishes Peg and I decided we’d buy when we got married, back in 1969. Reader, I still use those dishes – and only them – and for special occasions as well as for my everyday meals. (Unlike Randy, I don’t own multiple sets of dishes  for different occasions or different cuisines.)  My sister Gayle also uses this pattern of Pfaltzgraff crockery, as did, at one time, my brother and his wife. When Mike and Inice and moved to Oregon decades ago, they gave me their set of Pfaltzgraff Yorktowne, which instantly and exponentially expanded my stash of this amazingly durable crockery. Over the years I kept buying additional serving pieces and some of my friends began scouting on my behalf for additional pieces on their own thrift-store shopping excursions.  Eventually, I had a floor-to-ceiling corner cabinet built in my dining room to contain the Pfaltzgraff pieces that I rarely use, and now that cabinet is full:

I apparently harbor fantasies of at some point having twelve people to dinner! In any case, the size of my collection of Pfaltzgraff far exceeds my actual needs. Fortunately, my most recent acquisition – a Pfaltzgraff lamp I bought in a Murphy, North Carolina antique mall a few weeks ago – is something I can  – as soon as I locate a suitable lampshade – store outside the overflowing cabinets in my kitchen and dining room.

My modest collection of cobalt blue glass was spawned from an encounter that happened even earlier than my marriage: my high school days (late 1960s). I spent some time, then and later, in the living room of one of my high school teachers, George Lee. What I remember most vividly about the Lees’ living room was his wife Betty’s collection of colored bottles, which she displayed on their living room window sills. When, fifty years later, I bought the house I live in now, one of the first things I did after moving in was having some glass shelves cut to fit my dining room windows, so I could display some miscellaneous cobalt blue glass pieces I had accumulated by that point (1993):

House Interiors - Dining Room - June 2013 002.jpg

Dining Room 2018

(The glass shows up better whenever I haven’t allowed the creeping fig that covers the outside of my house to spread over the dining room window panes! Removing the vine from all those windows (among others) has been on my to-do list for months now, but I’ll be waiting for cooler weather to get this done . . . .)

Thanks to Blanche Flanders, my high school art teacher, tea-drinking has been a daily habit of mine since high school, and the collecting of teapots and tea tins began soon thereafter. Eventually I had collected enough teapots and tea tins to justify buying the oak cabinet in the dining room where I store them now:

teapot collection

The tea tins I store in a wire cabinet hanging on a wall in my kitchen:

Mostly Christmas 2014 073.JPG

Actually, there’s another cabinet full of tea, teapots, and tea tins at the cabin in Blue Ridge, Georgia that I co-own with some friends:

[Side note: Despite the variety of tea I have on hand, both at home and at the cabin, all teas are not – with me, anyway – equal. Although Constant Comment was (again, thanks to Blanche Flanders) my mainstay from high school years into my fifties, for many years now, what I usually drink – morning and afternoon – is not even pictured in the photo above. That’s because I keep my trusty stash of Typhoo in an even more convenient spot than the wire cabinet: on a turntable on top of my microwave.

[Side note to side note: Ever since my Britain-born friend Roger Park gifted me several years ago with an amazingly efficient electric tea kettle, I no longer use my microwave to boil water for my tea, but I still keep my stash of Typhoo and a sugar bowl on that nifty turntable, right beside Roger’s now-indispensable tea kettle.]

[Side note to side note to side note: Just how “indispensable” to my domestic bliss is that electric tea kettle? Reader, I eventually bought a second one to use at the cabin.]

Since the advent of Randy into my daily routines almost two years ago, I’ve been drinking – especially when I’m at his place – more herbal teas. Even before Randy’s tea choice-influencing, I had discovered Yorkshire Gold, and, recently, I’ve often been ignoring Typhoo for various brands of Earl Grey. Feeling a bit guilty for at least temporarily abandoning Typhoo, I tell myself the Earl Grey thing is just a phase. In any case, I do confess that my large collection of tea (vs. tea tins) has proved a bit ironic. The original intention was to make sure my houseguests would have a lot of choices when they came for tea; what I never expected was that most people either have no deep-seated tea-drinking preferences (like I have), or they tell me they’ll have whatever I’m having. (The era of my presenting my guests with a printed list of all their tea options was very short-lived.) Oh well, perhaps I’ve managed to make a few additional converts to Typhoo . . . .]

Meanwhile, back in the Recollection of Collections Department, I reckon it’s not just tins for storing tea that I collect, as I just remembered that in my attic I’ve stashed away a collection of other tins that I haul down every Solstice to display atop my kitchen fridge:

Kitchen Solstice 2018

(Also in ye attic, by the way, are stored the various Solstice-themed ornaments and other paraphernalia that I festoon the house with each year . . . .)

The origin of my habit of buying wooden boxes is obscure. I was vaguely aware of how most things in most Americans’ houses are not made of wood, and collecting wooden boxes seemed somehow to be a symbolic consolation for how unfortunate I thought that fact was. The wooden boxes that I still buy at flea markets and yard sales are of all shapes and sizes, and the plainer they are, the more I am likely to buy them. I use many of the smaller and medium-sized boxes to display or to prop up the paraphernalia mixed in with the books in the living room bookcase that my friend Charles builtthe living room bookcase that my friend Charles built for that room.

Bookcase

Only once did I mass into a single display all the smaller and medium-sized boxes I’d accumulated, but I found I liked the boxes better scattered about . . . which may be why I forget that those myriad boxes (along with a few free-standing larger boxes) do form a sort of “dispersed” collection.

I’m also an inveterate collector of wooden frames. Although most of them are currently stored in my attic, I occasionally haul down the smaller ones to display all by themselves, sans anything in them, simply because I find beautiful what they’re made of (the aforementioned wood):

Photos uploaded April 26 2016 072.JPG

Incidentally, it’s not only wooden boxes and wooden frames that I seem smitten by: anything interesting made out of wood – pedestals, candlesticks, vases, shadow-boxes – seem to follow me home from those aforementioned yard sales and thrift stores. Like the boxes, these wooden objects tend to end up wedged among the books in the living room bookshelves. An exception is my collection of wooden eggs, which  (unless I am photographing it) I keep in the kitchen:

Another subset of the Objects Made Out of Wood That Cal Collects are two sets of miniature bowling pins – no doubt a nostalgic nod to the fact that my dad was an avid bowler, a fact that resulted in my spending hundreds of hours of my childhood in various bowling alley nurseries. Here’s the first set I bought (back when there was a gigantic flea market at Atlanta’s former Lakewood Fairgrounds):

miniature bowling pin collection 1

(Note to self: since The Collecting Authorities have decreed that any collection must consist of at least three of something, I suppose I need to stay on the lookout for one more set of miniature bowling pins.)

A photo I came across years ago in a home decor book made me instantly realize that one day I wanted to stack in a corner of one of my abodes a tower of wicker baskets. Well, I eventually got my tower of baskets constructed, and – like my collection of teapots, there is not an inch of room for any more of them!

Wicker baskets

My very modest red transferware collection (shown in the photo at the top of this blogpost) also has obscure origins. As I mentioned, I don’t own a set of china, but I do admire beautiful china dishes in other people’s houses. However, transferware is a lot more affordable than porcelain. And I am fairly certain that I decided on accumulating red transferware because it’s a little more unusual than the blue patterns. (If I had room to display more transferware, I would also collect brown and purple patterns.) As it is, my collection of the red stuff is small enough to fit atop the armoire that houses my television set and CD player.

Sred transferware sauceride note: I do own several additional red transferware saucers that I’d love to hang on one of my walls – perhaps around the mirror over my mantel, or maybe alongside the armoire. But I only have four of these saucers, and everyone knows that collections must feature an odd number of items, right? I am patiently waiting for Randy to decide he wants to give me several more plates that he happens to own in this identical pattern . . . .

As for collecting things made out of wire, I have no clue as to where my infatuation with such things came from, unless it was the Flanders-inspired love of Alexander Calder’s wire sculptures and mobiles. What I do know is that it’s virtually impossible for me to pass up an opportunity to purchase yet another wire basket, wire wall hanging, or wire do-dad. Most of the wire baskets ended up mounted above the three (!) doors in my kitchen:

wire collection 2

Others wire thingies are deposited elsewhere around the house:

Wire wall sculpture

wire collection example

Wire cow

Wire wall sculpture 2

…or are displayed among the tools, etc. that I store out in my garden shed.

Like most Americans, over the course of my life I’ve accumulated a miscellaneous assortment of ceramics. The most treasured of these are the few pieces of wonderful pottery my sister Lori created. Like my other ceramic pots, vases, and bowls, Lori’s are scattered around the house. But for the purposes of this blogpost, I’ve hunted down the items Lori made to take these photos:

Lori's pottery 1

Lori's pottery 2

Also in the ceramics category is a tiny collection of raku pots that were either given to me or that I found at various yard sales. There are so few of these that I managed to find a single spot for all of them (under the grandmother clock in the living room):

raku pottery 2

So much for the things I have deliberately been collecting over the years.

Other collections I wasn’t aware of until I started poking around after Randy mentioned that I collected quite a number of other things.

For example, it’s not only cobalt blue glass that Cal collects. There are other assorted glass things in my bathroom window…

Colored glass collection 1

…in my guest room window:

colored glass collection 2

…and in the windows above the kitchen sink:

clear budvase collection part

Then there’s a small collection of Florentine trays that I’ve salvaged from various thrift stores and yard sales:

Florentine tray collection

Urns. I love garden urns for some reason. I’ve got several concrete urns out on my patio, but I’ve also accumulated some miniature ones more suited to the indoors:

miniature urns collection

Oil lamps. For most of my cabin co-owning years, I’ve kept them on the cabin mantel, but recently I brought them back to Atlanta for a while, where they are now in the dining room. Only five of these (and I’m determined not to buy any more!); one of them is currently missing a chimney that exploded when it apparently overheated during the most recent Winter Solstice celebration at my place:

oil lamp collection

Like most people, I pick up various souvenirs during my travels. For some reason,  my travel memorabilia often tend to be depictions of various gods and goddesses. They, too, are scattered around the house, although a few of them are concentrated on one shelf of the living room bookcase, mixed in with some Asian items my Asia-travelling friends have given me:

Pagan gods and goddesses collection

My longstanding interest in all things pertaining to Oscar Wilde led me to want to festoon my house with something he decorated his own houses with: blue and white things. Most of the ceramic blues-and-whites I’ve corralled onto my sun porch:

part of blue and white collection 2

Blue and white on sun porch

part of blue and white collection

An exception is some blue-and-white tinware, which I display in the dining room:

tinware collection

tinware 2

My kitchen, on the other hand, features – by design rather than by accident – A Lot of Red Things. Or, more accurately, red, black, and white things:

red stuff in kitchen 2

red stuff in kitchen 3

In my study, I also have a modest collection of rubber stamps:

Rubber Stamp Collection

Miscellaneous accidental collections not pictured here:  my six (indoor) concrete rabbits, my seven small mirrors, my eight (non-Florentine) trays, my growing collection of gourds, innumerable (non-wicker) baskets of all shapes and sizes . . . plus whatever’s out there in the yard (how many more ferns can I plant???)  or inside the garden shed that shares a particular theme or shape (a dozen birds nests harvested from the shrubberies in my yard, for example, various sunburst do-dahs, and a still-accumulating assortment of those things one uses in vases of cut flowers called “flower frogs”).

. . . So it turns out that Calvin collects a lot o’ things, not just the few I thought I did! Many would say Cal collects too many things – especially too many smallish things. In my defense, I want the record to show that, had I a bigger house (as large as Randy’s, say), it would doubtless contain even more collections, deliberately-assembled ones as well as the accidental ones.

Certainly I’ve been sorely tempted to collect a host of other things, but I simply don’t have room to store or display them. Chairs, for example: I am always running across yet another gorgeous chair, and even found a few of them I could actually afford to buy, had I the floor space for any more chairs. Ditto pitchers: no more shelf space for any of those (I had to stop at three). And I need to stop buying rugs! (My floors are already covered in them, and I have at least five surplus ones rolled up and stashed in various places that I’m not using, and won’t be able to.)

Who knew that this one-time postage stamp collector (we’re talking pre-high school era here) would dispose of that collection in his late twenties, only to end up years later accumulating so many things that, while visually appealing and/or laden with sentiment or personal significance of some sort, would take up so much more space than a few albums of stamps?

Having recently turned 71, I have naturally begun to wonder whether I should focus more of my energy on getting rid of some of this stuff instead of continuing to indulge in the collecting/accumulating habit that’s obviously part of what makes me happy.

If I ever do buckle down and start winnowing, I shall regard doing so as a significant personal accomplishment. Ideally, I should make the attempt before I become too feeble to undertake such a daunting project. (Not incidentally, my resolve to begin The Great Purge usually evaporates when I remember that what’s on display does not include all the stuff that’s in my attic!)

In any case – and just as daunting all by itself – is the matter of how to better cope with the number of books I own. Purging my bookshelves would be another major challenge.  And a project that should probably precede any nonbook object-winnowing, as my bookcases – despite the recent acquisition of two additional ones –  are now completely full. (Sadly, there is no room in my 1100+-square foot abode for a single additional bookcase, of any size.)

The fun part of downsizing my library (he writes optimistically) will be discovering how many deliberate and accidental collections it contains. As with my other stuff, only a few of theses collections are deliberate, with many more that sort of manifested accidentally. Another blogpost, another time . . . .

Thank you for reading. I’d be very interested to read any comments you’d be willing to post about what you collect, on purpose or otherwise, and why, or how they contribute to your own domestic bliss.

For Flanders: The Last Letter

“…Missing someone is not a thing that passes, not a stage that you go through and emerge from eventually, unscathed. Missing someone, you finally recognize, is permanent. You don’t get over it; you only learn how to live with it. You make a space in your life, and it is filled by an absence. Although there is nothing there, it feels like a boulder, a huge dark heavy object always by your side.” – Zoe Colvin, at the blog ZMKC (December 24, 2018)

June 28, 2019

Dear Flanders,

It was a year ago today that you vanished from the lives of the people who loved you. Even after all that time, I’m still finding it difficult to believe that our years of friendship are at an end.  We covered a lot of ground in our fifty years worth of letter-writing and visiting back and forth, but one of the few things we neglected to discuss was how whichever one of us survived the other was going to deal with that.

True, we sustained our long friendship primarily through our frequent letters with each other than with actual or prolonged visits. As those visits became more sporadic than when we both lived in Atlanta, we grew accustomed to what one of our favorite writers, Stevie Smith, called a pattern of “here I go, leaving again/here I am, here again.” What I haven’t yet accepted, however, is the fact of your final, irreversible departure.

Since that awful evening late last June when your living and breathing came to its end – something that happened so quickly and so differently and so much sooner than either of us had imagined it might – I have often wondered how I would ever come to terms with your going.

Writing you this final letter – a letter from me that you will never read – is the only thing I’ve written about you since the memorial service your daughter organized last September. I’m hoping it might help me with this paradoxically impossible but necessary task of learning to do without you in my life.

Before my memories fade too completely, I mainly want to record at least of few of my most cherished ones. and especially some of the earliest ones.

You of course know that I have always credited you with saving my sanity when I was a floundering, frustrated teenager.

I was 17 years old when you and I first crossed paths in 1965, when I was in my junior year at College Park’s Lakeshore High School. I was worried about how I could possibly endure two more years of high school before being allowed to flee the suburbs and begin a new and presumably more stimulating life at some college somewhere. I also felt trapped in a household whose parents were locked in an unhappy marriage.  Unfortunately in my case, my mom’s desperate attempts to keep her family together until all her children were grown included an ever-growing list of fear-based restrictions on an oldest son who needed more freedom and intellectual stimulation, not less of either.

You were the 28-year-old teacher whose art class my friend (and companion-in-high-school-misery) Becky had urged me to sign up for. For some reason, you took Becky and me (and Patti and Dee) under your wing, and you eventually figured out ways we could meet up outside of class to talk about things our other high school friends seemed completely disinterested in: art, literature,  theater, music.

When I learned that you and your roommate Frances (who taught English at another school) lived together in an apartment within walking distance of my house, I begged you to let me spend time there after school and on weekends, and you let me do that.  Soon you ended up often feeding me as well as letting me hang out at your apartment, serving marvelous things I’d never eaten before at home: asparagus! mushrooms! fresh broccoli! How many toasted pimento cheese sandwiches did we eat sitting around the coffee table in your living room, I wonder? (And guess what kind of sandwich I’m eating for lunch today as I type this letter???)

That year and especially the following year, as you patiently listened to Becky’s tales of woe about her honcho-ing of our high school senior yearbook, or my own whining about the challenges of my editing the school newspaper, you introduced us to all sorts of cultural marvels. And, earlier on, you had immediately and successfully recruited your little band of proteges into The Way of Tea-Drinking. If I had a nickel for every pot of hot tea you ever brewed for me, or, later, that I brewed for the both of us, I’d be a richer man today! As it is, I was to enjoy decades of tea drinking, and a steady stream of tea-themed poems, calendars, gifts, and Internet photos that we happily exchanged ever since you brewed that first pot for us in 1965.

Forty-something years later, after one of my trips to England (adventures which themselves were initially undertaken due to the idealization of All Things British that you infected me with back in high school), I discovered a brand of tea, Typhoo, that quickly became our tea of choice. (I just finished another cup this morning to commemorate my writing you this letter. What I can’t do now is serve you another cup of it ever again, or mail you a stash of Typhoo’s newest product, its “extra strong” flavor….)

Back during our earliest time together, you also let us tag along with you downtown to see plays by your favorite playwrights.  Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie and Summer and Smoke were the ones we subsequently most often quoted among ourselves.

You introduced us four high-schoolers to suitably bohemian restaurants that existed in Atlanta the late 1960s, like The Maid’s Quarters and a Greek restaurant in The Castle, both located in Victorian-era houses in the decidedly non-suburban precincts of midtown.

But most important of all was the art and poetry and music you introduced us to in your living room. This was the education I’d been hungering for.

An artist and art-lover yourself, you introduced us to the paintings of (among so many others) Andrew Wyeth, to the paintings – and letters –  of Vincent van Gogh, to the drawings of Kathie Kollwitz,  to the mobiles of Alexander Calder. These artists’ work – and the travels I later undertook to see the original – have enriched my life immeasurably.

We listened repeatedly to – and eventually memorized the lyrics to – the recordings you owned of Broadway musicals – My Fair Lady and Camelot and others, along with our favorite: The Fantastiks. You also owned all of Barbra Streisand’s early albums, and we wore them out listening to them as well.

To this day I can still hear in “my mind’s ear” your reading aloud to us – in that distinctive, lovely voice of yours – J.D. Salinger’s short story “For Esme, with Love and Squalor,” Eudora Welty’s “Why I Live at the P.O.” and those hilarious passages from Flannery O’Connor’s collected letters, The Habit of Being.

And the poetry! So much poetry! You read to us not only your own poems (we were of course in awe at your being a gifted poet as well as an artist), but you regaled us with readings from the works of your literary heroes and heroines:  Carl Sandberg and e.e. cummings and Edna St. Vincent Millay and Emily Dickinson are the ones I most vividly remember.  Fifty years later, I would still love those poets and their poems. And throughout our many years of friendship, I looked forward to reading each of your own latest poems, too. (I am going to continue to hope that your granddaughter Haley will one day collect  and print all of your poems so those of us who knew you can enjoy reading them again.)

In addition to being the person who first exposed me to the provocative folk music of Peter, Paul, and Mary, to the glittering universe of Broadway plays and musicals (and to movies based on some of those plays – Herb Gardner’s A Thousand Clowns and Robert Anderson’s Tea and Sympathy ranking among the most-discussed and the most alluded to), you introduced me to classical music – a type of music which had never once been played in my family’s house. That part of my extracurricular education started with your revelatory playing of the heart-rending “Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia” from Khachaturian’s Spartacus – one of the first albums I made sure I bought a copy of for myself, along with all of Streisand’s, once I got into college.

It wasn’t long after we met that you solemnly presented me with a copy of one of your favorite novels: Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel, which I immediately devoured. How different my life – especially my emotional life – would have been had you not given me that book when you did, nicknamed me “Eugene,” and indulged my complete identification over the next few years with that character’s story and his sensibilities. I still have the copy of Wolfe’s book that you gave me, and treasure your inscription in it.

Later would come your enthusiastic introductions to the works of a group of feminist writers whose work, so important to you, would also rock my world and color my perspective of how I viewed the world: Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Adrienne Rich, Grace Paley – as well as another feminist writer whose life and works and circle of lifelong friends (and their works) I would (like you) become obsessed with for the rest of my life: Virginia Woolf.

Without your indulgence and encouragement, along with the patience and good humor of George Lee, your colleague from Lakeshore’s English department, those final two years of high school would’ve been excruciating. Because of the attention you and George (and George’s wife Betty) showed me in the refuges that your homes provided, and because of the stories you’d tell us about your own college years and about the lifelong friends you met there (Terry Kay and Rose and all the others), the four of us you’d taken under your wing became convinced that high school could be survived and that we could look forward to an intellectually and emotionally rich adventures in the universities we eventually trotted off to. And, lo, those very positive and earth-shaking college experiences did come to pass.

You were the gateway to so much that became so important, and so permanently important.

Along with the writers and artists and musicians you introduced me to, the experiences we had together that first autumn we knew each other is the reason autumn itself suddenly became each year’s most enthusiastically-anticipated,  most-celebrated, most-remarked-upon, season. No autumn for the next 50 years arrived unheralded in our epistles to each other; no autumn since then (until your final one) dissolved into winter without our obligatory mutual expressions of delight about its having come around again, and about our regret about its passing.

Although I’ve been unable in the twelve months since you died to write about these and countless other memories, I have thought of you in various post-high school connections dozens  – probably hundreds – of times since June 28, 2018.  Little things, big things.

And there’ve been, as well, so many “post-Flanders ” things I’ve wanted to talk specifically with you about, but couldn’t. Aside from keeping each other abreast of what was going on in our personal lives (I’m so glad Randy got to meet you, and you him), we’ve not been able to commiserate about the little and big things we both cared about that have happened Out There In The Wide World.  Such as when the first-class U.S. postage rate went up again. Or when a record number of women got elected to Congress in the most recent election cycle. Or when the poet Mary Oliver died. Or when Diana Athill, one of the few female writers I introduced you to, died. Or each time you or I learned that Mr. Trump or one of his creepy family members or one of his disgusting henchpeople or supporters had said or done yet something else particularly heinous, or when our benighted fellow citizens voted into office Georgia’s current governor.

Or, say, that day last spring, when I rushed over to the moving sale at Sam Flax Art Supply that I’d heard about. You weren’t with me  – and would never shop with me again there, as you had before – but virtually everything I wanted to buy – or did buy – that day was something related to stationery or to letter-writing: materials and a longstanding and important activity I can no longer share with you. How I missed receiving from you my copy of last year’s installment of the annual Solstice newsletter you used to mail out, often illustrating it with one of your drawings.

The bigger predicament is, of course, that I no longer have you to write one or more letters (along with assorted emails) to every week, and that I won’t be getting any more letters from you ever again. (As you knew before you died, I’ve donated all your letters, and copies of many of mine to you, to the Women’s History Archives at Georgia State University. The archivist there was astonished that any two people had been writing each other for as long as we had, and realized what an interesting era, U.S. feminism-wise, you had come of age in and that you often referred to in your letters. I am hoping that others you wrote to so faithfully over so many decades – your daughter Susan, and the long-time friends who include RuthAnn, Joanne, Anne, Melissa, and Sarah – will also decide to preserve your letters to them by donating them to the collection of your letters already in GSU’s archive.)

In any case, besides being deprived since you died last summer of your companionship and our correspondence, I’ve not been able to forward to you any of the articles about Virginia Woolf (or about any of our other favorite writers) that I’ve read since then. You weren’t alive to comment on the list of books I read last year that I sent out to friends at the most recent Winter Solstice, and you weren’t on the planet to listen to a copy of the most recent Solstice music CD I compile every year and give to my friends who love music. When Netflix posted all of Streisand’s old television specials earlier this year, I couldn’t watch them with you. I’ve put away the presents I had been saving up to give you this past Christmas. I continue to stumble across things that I want to buy for your next birthday, or give to you for your annual Christmas-time stay at my house. I’ve long ago lost count of the number of essays and poems and images I’ve stumbled across on my daily Internet travels that I would have automatically forwarded to you if you were there to read or look at them.

So many places that I still frequent are closely associated with you,  and always will be – and not only places in Atlanta. My first trips to Asheville were primarily pilgrimages, with you, to see the restored childhood home, and the grave, of Thomas Wolfe.  Partly because of those early visits to Asheville with you, and my many subsequent ones without you, Asheville has long been the only other city in the South that I sometimes fantasize about moving to.

Here in Atlanta, where, like you, I’ve lived most of my life, I remember every apartment you lived in, including the Roanoke Apartments, where we both lived for several years, along with our friend Corky before he moved back to New York City, and whose friendship and letters from Manhattan –  before his untimely death eight years ago – we both treasured.

Later on, you moved to an apartment in Buckhead, near the Atlanta History Center where you eventually worked as a librarian in its gardening library, and close to where Kay Harrison, the psychic we both went to for many years eventually moved to (and died in – remember her memorial service, when so many of us who visited Kay periodically came together and met each other?)

I also fondly remember your apartment near Emory, where you lived later on. (You hated it when the company that owns those apartments cut down the ancient trees on the property: something I remember every time I scooter or drive past there).

And finally (for me, anyway), I remember both apartments you lived after you moved to Dublin, Georgia, where you lived for so many years (twelve, maybe?) taking care of your mom who had moved to an assisted living facility there. I always hoped you’d eventually return to Atlanta after your mom died (at age 99), and we talked about that a lot, not realizing that your Atlanta days were over: instead, you lingered in Dublin until Susan insisted, after your recuperation from that awful traffic accident, that you move to Tennessee to live with (and be taken care of there by) her.

I’m often reminded of the huge influence you’ve had on certain patterns or activities that characterize the way I live. To take a single example: my extensive armory of stationery and stationery-related paraphernalia  – the greeting cards, the stashes of colored paper and envelopes, the fountain pens, the sealing wax, the rubber stamps, the habit of using only commemorative postage stamps on my letters and cards, my taking up calligraphy as a lifelong hobby: these are all part of what I own or things I do because you gave me a love for each of these things.

These and countless other reminders and tokens of our long friendship will continue to spark more memories, and I am grateful for those reminders, and how many there are.

Thanks to your daughter’s sale of your paintings to raise money for a college scholarship in your name, my favorite painting of yours – the one hanging in your living room back in late 1960s when I first met you – is now hanging in my living room, and always will be.

flander's guitar man painting

Flanders, you are responsible, directly or indirectly, for so much else besides this painting that is here with me in my house – a house whose guest room Murphy Bed you slept in so many times over the years. Surely at least a third of the books in my personal library are books I first heard about from you. Especially the poetry there. And of course I treasure my copy of the book of poems and recipes that you co-authored, and the book you illustrated for me and our mutual friend Celeste (also, like you and me, a librarian).

Well, these random reminiscences have gone on long enough, and I think I’ll stop now and maybe make myself another cup of Typhoo before suppertime.

I am so glad to have met you, you wonderful woman, and to have known you and known you well, and enjoyed your company for most of my adult life. I know your family and your other friends miss you too. Sorely. We especially miss the lilt in your voice, your basic sweetness, your curiosity. your fierce feminism, and your gentle way of moving through the world.

With great affection. eternal gratitude, and a lifetime of precious memories,

Cal

Another Week on St. George

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For a sixth consecutive year, I recently joined eleven other men who rent a beach house each May on Florida’s St. George Island. We met each other at conferences sponsored by Gay Spirit Visions, some of us having met at GSV’s first conference in 1990. 

Last year my partner Randy joined us for the first time, and he and I went together again this year. There were three people there this year who hadn’t been before, so it was nice to have a week to get to know them a bit, as well as to reconnect with the folks who’d spent previous weeks together in past years.

The week we picked this year was one of almost perfect weather. That perfection included a single brief but dramatic-looking thunderstorm – which Calvin apparently napped through, as I only know about it from the others’ photos of it.

We spent our week doing a multitude of relaxing things: hanging out on the beach (for me, this was done only twice, and completely in the shade of a beach umbrella), cooking for each other each evening, making several excursions into the artsy fishing town across the bay, cooking, playing the card game Wizards, watching DVD movies, meditating together each morning, reading, piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, napping, etc.

Some of us (although not me) went bike-riding, drove to a state park about an hour away, hired a fishing boat, flew kites, paddled around in rented kayaks, took a spell in the hot-tub, crocheted. I managed to stay out of automobiles for most of the week,  and thoroughly enjoyed my attempts (all of them futile) at solving the multiple Sunday New York Times crossword puzzles I’d brought along. I also started – and finished – reading one of the many books I brought along, Gardening Through Your Golden Years.

Other than helping Randy prepare dinner for 12 when it was our turn to do that, and serving everyone an informal tea one afternoon, there were few chores to complete, so it was an almost totally care-free week spent in the company of a dozen lovely, intelligent, caring, interesting men. The group conversations, as well as the one-on-one conversations, were often stimulating and there was a lot of laughing throughout the week.

Sharing the week with Randy – and yammering about it on our journey home (via pit stops at a plant nursery and some antique malls that we also visited last year) was, of course, a special treat this year.

The photo at the top of this blogpost was one of the few I took myself. Most of the photos below were taken by my various beach companions, and I appreciate their sending them to me so I could include them here.

The setting:

Abijem exterior

The beach house we rented for the week

View of the beach from Abijem

Our view of the beach from the balcony of the rental house

The men:

Chase

Chase (from the Asheville area, and our trip organizer)

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Hugh (from Asheville, and one of the three newcomers)

Jay Pee in boat

Jay Pee (another first-time beach-goer, recently arrived from the Philipines)

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Jim (from Atlanta)

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John (from Asheville)

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Mike (from Asheville)

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Ralph (left) and Ted (from Atlanta)

Randall's photo of Randall

Randall (from Atlanta)

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Randy (from Atlanta)

Tom photo by Chase

Tom (from Atlanta)

Miscellaneous moments from the week:

guys at the beach photo by Chase

Early afternoon at ye beach

Two guys in kayaks rented by Chase

Paddling back to the shore

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At the dinner table one night, about to plow into our appetizers
John's photo of the fish they caught on the fishing trip

The harvest from John’s, Ralph’s, Randall’s, and Jay Pee’s fishing excursion

Randall holding a fish

Randall and one of the fishes he brought us back for dinner

John's photo of Randy walking on the state park beach.jpg

Randy strolling in a state park he and John drove to one day

Randy's and John's oysters
Randy and John stopped for oysters on their way back from the state park they visited.
Four of the group eating lunch in Appalalach photo by Randall

(L-R) Chase, Randall, Jay Pee, and Jim having lunch in Apalachicola

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One of the tourist shops in the nearby fishing town of Apalachicola

Storm clouds at SGI photo by Chase(L-R) John, Ralph, Tom, and Jim marveling at the passing storm

Randall's photo of him and Jay Pee

(L-R) Randall and Jay Pee, who got married the day before they drove down to the beach

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I’ll never understand how flowers can bloom in the middle of a sand dune!

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One of the tables set out for an afternoon tea (that’s a put-together jigsaw puzzle in the middle of the table under the sandwiches)

Mike's tea table photo second copy

Tea for twelve…

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Early morning from the rental house balcony. Could anything be more relaxation-inducing?
Randall's photo of sunrise

Sunrise at the beach

John's sunset photo

Sunset at the beach

Randy's moonlight ritual

On our final night together, and this year under an almost full moon, the twelve of us gathered on the beach for our gratitude ritual

Blessed with such luxurious accommodations and in such loving, interesting company, most of the week felt like I was floating through a mini-paradise. Plus our leisurely, harmonious week was punctuated with incredible home-made meals every single night! A Good Time Was Definitely Had By All. I’m glad to know these guys, and grateful they choose to spend time together every year in such a glorious setting.

John's photo of the mandala and the painted shells.jpg

The photo-laden accounts of my five previous adventures on St. George are here, here, here, here, and here.

 

A St. Patrick’s Day Walk

Jennie's Garden and House

One of the glories of living in Atlanta’s Candler Park neighborhood is how ideal it is for walking in. Not only does Candler Park have sidewalks and contain several parks (and is within walking distance of several others), but the architecture of the neighborhood’s homes is lovely to look at, and almost every home, regardless of whether it’s something grand or cottage-sized, sports a beautiful or unusual garden.

As I am still healthy enough to take what I consider to be longish walks, the welcome return of decent – and drier – weather has spurred me on to taking several recent excursions through my neighborhood.

What I noticed this afternoon, besides the blue skies and the tolerable temperature was that Spring is already in full swing in these parts. What I mean by that is that not only are there the expected daffodils and tulips…

Single Tulip

..the earliest stands of thrift at the edge of people’s gardens…

Trhift

…the last, glorious gasps of the forsythia…

Forsythia

…the flowering of the Bradford Pear and the fruit trees that so richly punctuate the sidewalks of my neighborhood…

Peach tree

…the purple blossoming of the redbud trees (probably my very favorite harbinger of spring)…

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…but what I didn’t expect to see today was, here and there, azaleas! Azaleas in March!

Azaleas in March

One of the best parts of walking before spring actually arrives is that whole “Nature’s first green is gold” thing that Robert Frost wrote about:

Nature's First Green is Gold

Still ahead for me – I’m mostly waiting for that sneaky last frost that can show up around here as late as mid-April – are this year’s annual spring trips to my favorite nurseries and the mostly-delightful set of annual chores in my own (mercifully small) front and back yards.

For now, it’s enough to continue my recently-begun series of chore-free strolls looking at other people’s gardens and the burgeoning plants in the neighborhood parks. There are a lot of things I enjoy about being retired, but spending a few hours every week walking around one’s beautiful neighborhood is one of the best!

Incidentally, over this past winter I posted to this my Commonplace Book some four dozen memorable quotations about the pleasures of walking that I’ve gleaned from my reading about this activity. I hope you will read some of them, and are able to get out soon and do some walking of your own.

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Retirement Anniversary #6!

Hammock

It’s hard to believe that it’s been six full years (today) since I was reporting to work every weekday.

Why hard to believe? Because even though my retirement “schedule” – such as it is – has long been the new normal for me, I still find myself occasionally marveling at the extent of the freedom I have nowadays vs. the relatively tiny amount of time I had to myself and my own projects for all those decades when I was working full-time.

Many of my family members and friends and acquaintances are still working full-time – and some of them at jobs they don’t love as much as I (mostly) loved my jobs in libraries, so I mustn’t gloat. But perhaps I should hope that this posture of gratitude and wonder will never evaporate, no matter how long my retirement lasts.

I’m not sure I have anything new to add to my previous (twelve!) sets of observations of what it feels like to be retired. The most notable semi-recent change in my life – my unexpectedly embarking a few years ago on a relationship with Randy Taylor – could’ve conceivably happened before I retired, so the changes in my routines that have flowed from that relationship can’t really be linked up with retirement – although of course it’s been great that we can do things on weekdays instead of merely weekends, and the vacations we take together (such as our trip last fall to Spain) can be longer than if we were both still working full time.

Otherwise, however, the main thing I like about retirement remains the same as it’s always been: taking a lot more time to do everything than I was able to take before I dropped out of the labor force. It’s not that I do so much, or anything particularly significant or useful, with the extra time I have: what’s basically happened instead is that I have made “piddling around” (inside the house, or out in the yard, or the garden shed) to almost an art form! It’s been a long time since I’ve had to rush off to anything, or to give up doing something I want to do because it conflicted with something else. I’ve learned I’m a lot happier if I’m successful in limiting any obligatory tasks or errands to no more than one per day, and it’s very seldom when circumstances thwart me in that respect. That leaves plenty of time for naps, and, truth be told, some days I take more than one of them!

Most of my post-retirement frustrations or challenges are definitely First World Problems, so I’m having to learn to stop complaining as much as I used to, lest the arched eyebrows of my friends become too pronounced and/or frequent. As long as my good health holds out, I am really blessed in the relative number of burdens I’m bearing or the number of other people’s problems I feel obliged to help resolve.

As for finding ways to further minimizing whatever stress or angst has remained after retiring, I could be even more content than I already am if I were willing to cut back on (or abandon altogether) my screen-staring – and therefore sedentary – computer-using time in general, and in particular curtailing the frequency and duration of checking and reading (and occasionally writing) Facebook screeds. After all, it’s my choice whether or not I expose myself to the lurid tales of every single twist and turn and/or every infuriating statement of our current federal and state politicians. And, to my credit, starting with the turn of the new year, I have to some extent intentionally regulated my Facebook time, with the hoped-for result that I find myself less often angry and/or indignant in 2019 than I was in previous Facebook-checking years. 2018. So curtailing that one habit has been a slight but significant positive recent change in my daily post-retirement routine.

One other sort-of-retirement-related incident: last week Randy and I ran across an affordable largish house on two acres (!) of land just outside of Atlanta that for a few days we pondered putting in a bid for. Both of us have harbored long-dormant fantasies of quitting the city and setting up a semi-rural domicile somewhere, and this place, in many respects – especially considering the asking price – was very tempting. After much discussion, however, we both remembered that, even though I am fully retired and Randy is semi-retired, we are both around 70 years old! Taking care of our respective current abodes is challenging but doable, but coping with maintaining two acres and remodeling a large house? Not as appealing a prospect as if we were in, say, our mid-30s. Our multiple conversations about this potential radical change in our current circumstances were very clarifying, if somewhat sobering.

At any rate, I remain grateful for the resources available to me (and to Randy and me as a couple), and hope the next six years will be as (relatively) care-free as the past six ones have been. Odds are that some aspects of Being Retired will grow even more wonderful and/or precious, while other aspects might get worse – and perhaps even abruptly worse. Today (and thanks in large part, I think, to Randy’s influence), I’m more in the optimists’ camp than in the pessimists’ one when it comes to gazing into the crystal ball of wondering what the next few years of retirement will feel like.