Wednesday, June 22, 2011


I have been thinking about Miss Marple lately and about evil and goodness for it’s own sake and a little about Professor Dumbledore and his whole love-is-powerful-magic-thingy (I don’t know if this will get as far as the Dumbledore part) and I’m also thinking about moisturizer (but that’s only because I just got out of the shower and my face is all pinchy).

Back to Miss Marple: Miss Marple believed that evil was very real. Not just evil deeds and evil doers but evil it’s ownself. Out there waiting to be tripped over, encountered, flirted with and embraced and that she was evil's Nemesis. Gray haired, sensibly shoed, elderly Nemesis armed with a sense of justice (and a carpet bag with knitting in it) and an unlikely visage. How cool is that? I want to live next door to her, I want know her. I want to have tea with this lady. (Okay, before you ask, I do know she’s not real < and, pssshhhah, she'd be like 160 years old by now> and that all that stuff was really Agatha Christie but it doesn’t seem like it does it? It seems like it belongs to Miss Marple.)

I wonder why Aggie assigned Nemesis and the pursuit of evil to the little old maiden lady. She gave Poirot the “little gray cells” and his powers of observation and massive ego and Tommy and Tuppence got the flip and devil may care “aren’t we too-too clever?” (Well, and they were! I really do love them and wish there were more stories which makes me thinks about the “classics” and why they are supposed to better and must reads. I read Canterbury Tales and Moby Dick and To Kill a Mockingbird <I’d say that’s a modern classic wouldn’t you?> and most of Shakespeare and I pretended to read The Iliad <here I have to pause to say “gack”, Does anybody really read The Iliad when it’s assigned??...okay, maybe you went back to it but COME ON as a sophomore? Again: “gack”.> and lots of other classics and they just stack up with all of the other stuff I read. Good, wonderful, GACK, spoke to me, loved it, beautiful, boring, thick, awful, transcendent (good word), entertaining. In a long lifetime of reading good writing is good writing. Maybe some are called classics because they have endured over time but that brings us back to Aggie. She certainly endures and is rarely counted among the 100 ‘must reads’. Perhaps a subject for another essay - Who would like to take it on? Volunteers?)

ALRIGHT! Now is the time to show patience an understanding not the time to scream “GET TO THE POINT! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD"* (*I always think that adds a little drama so good on you for using it appropriately here.) I’m heading right back there. I don’t wear contact lenses and am not so good at finding tiny, transparent things that have popped out of place.

So Nemesis and Christie: why Miss Marple as Nemesis? Why the elderly lady as the Avenging Angel?  (I wonder when Aggie decided that it would be Miss Marple and not any of her other characters? We know when she writing these stories but when did she think of it? At what point in her own life? Was she a young woman or did she come to this later? When did it make sense to give this to Jane Marple? Originally I thought this was going to be about evil and goodness and choices but now I think it might be about old women and their place in our world, our notions and our literature and our movies- Dumbledore will have to wait.)

We meet Jane Marple and see what she presents to the world and then we are surprised to find the steely inner core of resolve and the ruthless Avenging Angel. We are programmed to be surprised by her power. She doesn’t have the steely gray hair pulled back into the severe bun and the steady gaze and the harsh features that might make us believe that she is ‘man enough’ to take on evil. She’s fluffy, and pink and drinks tea and she knits for god’s sake(another good use of the deity to underscore a point don’t you think? I didn’t make it up so if you don’t like it you can say so.) and she’s frail! We are however not at all surprised to discover that Yoda (frail and bent as he is) is compellingly wise and extremely powerful. We are not surprised that Dumbledore (aww, he did get in here) turns out to be ruthless as well as powerful in spite of all of his maundering (I know – not really maunderings – I had a point to make here - apologies all ‘round) on about love and his extreme age - but the Jane Marples of the world – they surprise us.

The ‘wise ones’ of fiction are rarely the old women. They are more often the gossips, the couch bound and the busy bodies. They don’t save the world or fight for justice. They don’t summon up their waning power for one last crusade - they never had the power to begin with so it could hardly wane. They aren’t secret ninjas. They are rarely Nemesis.

What an unlikely thing Christie did here and how lovely.

(I had a bunch of other crap about stereotypes and flip-sides and waning powers and truth and fiction but I sent where it belonged coz, well it was crap. The Marple stuff, I’m pretty happy with that part so there y’all go)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sydney the Plucked Duck and Other Majiks

For my younger sister who asked me to write this stuff down with a guest blog excerpt from my old(er) sister
My (our) parents came of age during World War II. Their world ended and began again and was defined by the awful realities of a world at war. My mom once told me that she and her girlfriends would leave their jobs at noon and walk to the downtown post office to read the daily posting of the dead and the lost. My dad was a navigator in a B17 and after dropping his bombs in exactly enough missions to go home his plane was shot out of the sky. He finished his war in a German POW camp. They were young adults in a very real world- they all were.

When the war ended my dad came home to the old neighborhood (and to the girl we kids figured he must had his eye before he went away) and called my mom on the telephone and told her: “C’mon kid, get your dancing shoes on.”

Some time after that they got married and some time after that they started having us.

My dad suffered from terrible nightmares and some pretty severe PTSD (they didn’t call it that then but man, it was real the real deal). We had (as I have said before) some really tough times but we always had fun, we knew we were loved and there was always magic and today I am going to tell you about the magic.

When other children woke up November 1st to the heartbreak of Jack O Lanterns smashed by neighborhood kids we knew that ours had met with an accident while rolling their way to midnight Spooks and Ghouls and Pumpkins Ball.

My younger brother and I took a nighttime walk with my dad (it must have been Halloween coz it wasn’t cold or snowy) pursued by a toy train in stealth mode which stood stock still whenever we turned around to check it’s eerie progress (what do 5 year olds know from fishing line right?).

My dad once did a whole opera, playing all the parts, flinging himself around the living room, while singing only the digits from the automated time service telephone number to the music from Carmen. Our toys and dolls frequently starred in impromptu dramas and drawing room comedies but the most memorable performance was brought to us courtesy of Sydney the Plucked Duck.

Someone had given us a duck. I assume it was hunting season and it must have come from my uncle coz my dad didn’t hunt but I can’t say for sure. I do know that we kids were horrified by the duck. It didn’t have its head but it had a really long neck that flopped around and IT HAD ITS FEET and pinfeathers. Shiver!

My dad set about the process of not looking a gift horse in the mouth and cleaning the duck observed in mute silence by an audience of wide eyed, pale under their freckles, red headed children.

What to do? If you were my dad the answer was clear.

Name the duck Sydney and have it do burlesque.

It was ridiculous and inspired and hilarious. We were in stitches. I don’t remember if we ever cooked and ate Sydney but I can still see him with his wing on his hip telling bad jokes in a vampy falsetto.

Our toys moved, our parents played charades and softball, my dad was Frankenstein during Dr. Cadaverino’s House of Horror Late Night Movie and before I was old enough to know about it my dad found a really-truly Treasure map.

Guest Contribution:

Panhandle Hill

    When I was almost six years old and my brother almost seven, my folks built a small cape cod on the outskirts of town. In less than a year, tho', the town grew up around us in the post-war housing boom.
    But, for that first summer we were almost alone, save for two old farmhouses and a house being built nearby. Some of the roads were paved but many were still just covered with gravel. One such road was Cleveland Avenue, a fancy moniker for a two- lane gravel road of no great distinction - until our father discovered the Treasure Map.
    He came home one day with a blank piece of crumpled paper that he suspected was a secret treasure map. He called us into the kitchen and held the map above the gas flame on the stove. Slowly, gradually, a map began to appear on the old sheet of paper. My brother and I were mesmerized.
   It seems that years ago Cleveland Avenue was known as "Panhandle Hill", and some nefarious brigands had buried their treasure there, made an invisible map and ...
for some reason, lost to time, disappeared before they could reclaim their booty. Yay!
We were rich!
    My brother and I wanted to dig it up right away, but our Dad had timed his discovery well. It was dark out by then and he assured us we would go early the next morning to claim our riches, as it was too dark to see properly.
    The next morning we three set out with the map and followed it, for what would eventually be three or four blocks, to Panhandle Hill. Oh irony! Oh cruel fate! As we came to our destination, (X marked the spot), we were shocked to discover that, just that very morning, the road had been paved with fresh, wet concrete. Oh no! We were too late: Panhandle Hill had been tamed and paved into Cleveland Avenue.
    Dad took the news philosophically, and consoled us with the thought that at least we three would always know of the secret treasure buried under that brand new street.

Wishing you magic this and everyday we remain, ever,

Our Father’s Daughters.