October 14: Fifth grade girls shout my name across the school cafeteria and throw their arms around me in a hug. That, I remind myself, is why I do this.
p.s. My son Nate is a teacher, a wonderful talented caring teacher. And he said, “Mom, don’t — just don’t — touch the children.” He’s right, of course. And I will follow his advice. But he and Jeremiah will need to start hugging me more. I had forgotten how much I like it.
October 15: I powered through six hours of chores this morning, with pajamas and slippers as my only concession to Saturday. My reward: a walk to our local bookstore on this gorgeous fall day.
I strode out the door, devouring distance the way I had conquered my to-do list. Soon I spied a dad, a stroller and a little boy approaching me on the sidewalk. The entourage moved slowly, at the pace of a three year old.
Self-awareness glimmered in my overheated brain. I inhaled deeply and, by the time we passed each other, I too was walking as slowly as this beautiful day deserved.
October 16: I walked to church this morning and planned, from there, to linger at my coffeeshop over tea and a southern biscuit, with my new book open and leaning against the plate-glass window. Instead of my book, I was joined at the coffeeshop by my friend Katharine.
Katharine is a trustee of Oatlands Historic House & Gardens, a Virginia estate dating back to 1798. She is also a descendant of Oatlands’ founder, George Carter. Unlike his father, who had emancipated all of the enslaved African-Americans on his plantation, Carter and his family accumulated wealth from the toil and suffering of enslaved people.
While we nibbled our breakfasts, Katharine described Oatlands’ Descendants Day, which she attended yesterday. Together, descendants of the enslaved and enslavers shared their stories. The conversation, Katharine said, is just beginning.
To that end, Oatlands is assembling the names and stories of people enslaved (or, later, employed) there. And since 2018 Oatlands has offered an interactive database for people to explore the Oatlands part of their ancestors’ lives. Thanks to thoughtful, comprehensive and ongoing input from descendants, Oatlands also emphasizes the history of slavery on its grounds, as interpreted through artifacts, excavations, writings and the people’s stories.
Katharine said that Oatlands wants to stand for more than a magnificent house and lovely grounds; it wants to sieze and display its entire history, to shine light everywhere, to tell the half of the story too often willfully unspoken. I’m rooting for you, Katharine, and for us all.
October 17: On Friday night, as part of our commitment to watch one horror movie each week in October, Jeremiah and I absorbed Onibaba, a spooky erotic black & white 1964 Japanese film written and directed by Kaneto Shindo. Roughly translated as “Demon Woman” (I like that better than “Demon Hag”), Onibaba tells the story of two women who, during Japan’s 14th century civil war, survive by murdering samurai who stumble into their wild, reedy, impossibly claustrophobic countryside. Ultimately, what horrified me was not that treacherous pit (or the skeletons or the mask or the music or those terrifyingly dense twelve-foot tall reeds) but instead my sympathy for these two women.
The trailer tells the entire story. Good luck. (Actually, Onibaba earns 2 horror points on a scale of 10. The reeds were the scariest things…)
October 18: Beer, burgers and bicycles. Occasional sunshine and occasional hills. History and memory. The Gettysburg battlefield spread out before my friend Aileen and me — 5,700 acres of fields and fences looking much as it did on July 1-3, 1863, when Union and Confederate troops contested the future of the United States here.
Aileen and I hopscotched with our bicycles from memorial to memorial, reading about the Union infantrymen, chaplains, officers and artillery men who stood on that battlefield. From both sides, America sustained over 50,000 dead, wounded or missing in three terrible days of fighting. Fittingly, every Northern state had erected dozens of memorials at the innumerable places their citizens had fought and died. Many of the monuments presented the words of the soldiers who, ten or twenty or thirty years after the battle, had dedicated these monuments to the heroics of their dead.
Aileen and I also pedaled to the Gettysburg National Cemetery. There President Abraham Lincoln delivered his immortal 272-word address and there, in a light breeze and light sun, Aileen and I mournfully honored the buried remains of over 6,000 Union soldiers (with many hundreds never identified). Later, we viewed the enormous monuments erected over the last 50 years by the rebelling states of Virginia, North Carolina and others along the Confederate battle line.
As Lincoln said of the Union dead in his Gettysburg Address, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” Aileen and I will remember for a very long time.
October 19: Another Wednesday in October, another Hitchcock film, this time Dial M for Murder (1954) with Ray Milland and Grace Kelly. I actually preferred the taut, chilling Rope (I love Jimmy Stewart). But what we celebrated tonight was the large audience. The theatre was three-quarters full, and I saw a few “coming attractions” that will entice me back.
I rarely went to the movies in the years immediately before Covid. Now, I’m reminded how much fun it is to share gasps, chuckles and popcorn in a big space with big sound. Could our deprivation propel us into another golden age of moving-going?
October 20: That book I was supposed to start reading on Sunday at the coffeeshop? The scintillating tender gorgeous Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell.
Subtitled “A Novel of the Plague,” Hamnet imagines the life of William Shakespeare’s wife Anne (or Agnes) Hathaway, the death of their child Hamnet, and life after. To preserve its universality — really, this could be any 16th century family of merchants, healers, quarrelers, and young men destined for no good — Hamnet never mentions William Shakespeare by name. Although his character appears throughout the novel as the Latin Tutor, son, husband and father, our eyes are always on Agnes.
I hastily and happily finished the novel this afternoon, and our bookclub met tonight. We are rarely unanimous in praise. Tonight we practically shouted our appreciation. And you don’t need to know a thing about the play Hamlet (or Shakespeare) to cherish this book.
. . . Although the Hamnet does suggest, in passing, the reason Shakespeare bequeathed to his wife their “second-best bed.” O’Farrell convinces me that this bequest was loving indeed.
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