Delights: October 14 to October 20

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.

In Falls Church at Halloween, our young people decorate the windows of local businesses. I just noticed the “thank you” sign in this hardware store window. You are most welcomed!

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.

On Sunday, my friend Kathy and I went for a walk along the Potomac River on the Virginia side.

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.

The mansion at Oatlands in Loudon County, Virginia. Built in 1804. Photo by Katharine Stewart

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.

Gettysburg National Military Park. Photo by Aileen Pisciotta

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.

Graves of unknown Union dead at the Battle of Gettysburg. “On fame’s eternal camping-ground / Their silent tents are spread / And Glory guards with solemn round / The bivouac of the dead.”

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.

Gettysburg National Military Park. Photo by Aileen Pisciotta

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If you’d like to browse my past delights, please consult the “word cloud” featured at the very bottom of this post. Find a theme or two that interests you and sift through the sands. Or learn a bit more about my Blog by visiting my Welcome page. You’ll also see links to four essays that were published in print magazines. I’m glad you’re here!

11 thoughts on “Delights: October 14 to October 20

  1. So many wonderful moments this week….history, hugs, going to the cinema…I so love your posts. They always make me smile and consider things around me. You are an inspiration for good living.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Barbara, I so appreciate your comment and your reassurance that this week’s post made you smile. I worried a bit that it emphasized the darker side of life a bit more than usual. But I guess authentic living means grappling with history and memory (and scary movies!)

      And you inspire me too!!


  2. You ranged far and wide this week, but it seems to me that except for the joyous meeting with students, the theme of horror was woven through your post: the horror of slavery; the horror of our civil war; horror movies; and even in Hamnet, the horror of the death of a child. Always enjoy your posts, but I especially liked this one and all the connections.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Beautifully said, Laurie. Like a true writer, you saw connections that Serendipity deposited on my doorstep. As I mentioned to Barbara above, I saw the dark threads winding through the posts. But your list weaves them together. Thank you for being my kind and observant partner in this enterprise!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi, Carole Ann – I could feel the wonderful autumn breezes as I read through your posts. Although Halloween Horror films are not for me, I absolutely LOVED Hamnet. I am delighted to read that your entire book club loved it too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sort of with you on the horror films, but my son’s Japanese films from the 1960s are more Expressionistic art pieces than horror. (We just watched another one!) I’m so glad you liked Hamnet. An extraordinary book. Let’s keep spreading the word; it lives up to its reputation!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I find myself inspired by the Oatlands project, the attempt to tell the whole story rather than to simply be seduced by magnificent architecture. We face similar challenges here: many (most?) of our grand country mansions were built with wealth that was generated – at least in part – from the hard labour of enslaved men, women and children in “the colonies”. It’s less obvious here: there are no slave quarters or graveyards to be seen, nothing to remind visitors that there is any connection between the glorious buildings they visit and the miseries endured by plantation slaves thousands of miles away and hundreds of years ago. The connection isn’t obvious, indeed it’s almost entirely invisible, but surely – as at Oatlands – needs to be recognised in some form.

    I shall watch out for Hamnet – sounds like fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Mr. P., not only for your appreciation of Oatlands’ efforts (and those of other historic houses here in the States), but also your acuity regarding the invisibility of slavery’s enrichment of so many people. A magnificent book called “The Half Has Never Been Told,” by Edward Baptist, describes how tightly woven American slavery was in the U.S. economy of the 18th and 19th centuries. We know about the famous sugar-rum-enslaved triangle. I appreciate you shining a light on England’s opportunities.

      And Hamnet was fabulous. Author Maggie O’Farrell is from your side of the pond. You’ll like the spellings: “colour,” etc.!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Proper English spellings! Oh yes, I’m liking Maggie O’Farrell already.

        I did a term studying US history at university and remember encountering Eugene Genovese’s landmark “Roll Jordan Roll: The World the Slaves Made.” I still have a copy, though I haven’t looked at it for many years. I can well believe Edward Baptist’s book would also have made it on to the reading list had it been around at the time.

        Liked by 1 person

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