Poem: “The Funnies” — when cartoons brought laughter…

“THE FUNNIES”

 

each Sunday, my father

changed out of church clothes

kneeling on the living room carpet

along with my little sister and me

to read us what was then known as

“the funnies”

 

Marilyn and I could not always

laugh with Dagwood, Katzenjammer

I had been known to have nightmares

over the fate of Prince Valiant

 

once my newspaperman father

had to bring home next week’s

Valiant appearance

proving my hero

was safe from the rats

 

funnies were in color

unlike war news

splashed in oversized black/white

along more serious pages of “the papers”

 

some cartoonists

devoted

their entire week’s “strip”

to sagas of kittens and knitting

 

when the knitter

was elsewhere

tabbies and tigers scampered

to her basket of yarn and new work

 

detaching long needles

unwinding sweater or scarf

scattering yarn balls

across bright living room rugs

 

since this past November

— cartoons no longer laughing matters

an entire litter somehow invaded

the work room

where I left

myself

 

time itself four-footed

undoing all of my stitchery

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

Lathrup Village, near Detroit, Michigan

                                                                      

HEMINGWAY DREAM ~ Paris, in the 20s

Paris cafe life in 20s from internet

Paris Cafe Scene in the Twenties

NJWILDBEAUTY Readers know that, for all my deep enthusiasm for natural New Jersey, my heart belongs to France.  Sometimes, most of the time, to Provence.  Other times, Normandy and Brittany, especially Mt. St. Michel.  Before I lived in Provence, however, Paris was my heart’s home.

Tour Eiffel by Night from Internet

La Tour Eiffel par la Nuit, from Internet

The tragedy of Nice, of Slaughter on the Beach, alongside my sacred Boulevard des Anglais, haunts me, day and night.  This insult to, revenge upon, beloved France, –who bore the brunt of battles to save the free world in the 1940s–, repeatedly astounds me.  But even beyond that, –along with the Marathon Massacre in Boston, there has been a travesty against a  major ritual of a country — the Bastille Day that honors its transformation into a place of Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite.  What happened in Nice is the antithesis of everything for which Bastille Day and our Fourth of July have always stood.  This summer’s meaningless massacres stain beach and Bastille Day forever.

bastille-day-parisianist-Iconic Liberte Egalite Fraternite image from Internet

Iconic French Image Symbolizing their Historic Battle for Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite in the time of the Monarchy: Marianne Leading the Rebels

My inner response has been multiple — most recently a series of Hemingway dreams.  I am reading, [to relive the glory days of France and of American influence on Paris, on France and upon literature itself], “Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation.”  This tour-de-force is a moment-by-moment evocation of Princetonian, Sylvia Beach, and her remarkable Shakespeare & C0mpany lending library.

Shakespeare&Co Bookplate in 1920's from Internet

Boikplate, Shakespeare & Company, Paris in the Twenties

Within its few small rooms, not only poetry and prose, but also music, dance, theatre; little reviews and major publishing coups (think James Joyce, Ulysses) were catalyzed.  The beginnings of Hemingway; the expansion of Fitzgerald; the influence of doctor/poet William Carlos Williams; evenings involving T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and Ford Madox Ford and the reclusive/demanding James Joyce.  (Whom Hem dared to call Jim!)  This level of cross-pollination took place under the dynamic, ceaseless leadership of the little dynamo, daughter of a Princeton minister: Sylvia Beach.

sylvia_beach_and_hemingway at Shakespeare & Co from Internet

Sylvia Beach and Ernest Hemingway outside Shakespeare & Co. in the 20s

Really important in these pages is the power of women to forward all the arts in that daring time, described by another memoir as “Everybody Was So Young.” 

Paris Was Yesterday Janet Flanner

Paris Was Yesterday“, Janet Flanner: The New Yorker’s ‘Genet’

Every time I read my favorite Hemingways, he improves, somehow.  Paris, A Moveable Feast preceded Professor Noel Riley Fitch’s tome in my series of pilgrimages to France.  Subtitled, “A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties,” I have been re-reading forever, and am only about in 1925.

Sylvia Beach & the Lost Generation Cover

Cover – Sylvia Beach & the Lost Generation by Noel Riley Fitch

Even so, this book is having a deep impact upon my dream life.  Here are notes on Hemingway as I never, of course, actually experienced him.  Stroll (no one walks fast in France) with me into the Paris cafe and celebrate the impact of this amazing city and inoubliable (unforgettable) country on the world as we know it today.  Honor her glory, which no evil can erase, not even Hitler’s!

letters-o-hemingway from INternet

Hemingway Letters Cover from Internet

HEMINGWAY DREAM  Notes:

1920’s.  Hem’s earliest days in Paris.  Knows no one.  Seated at small hard white round table. Could be marble.  Cardboard beer advertising coasters, –much used–, echo its circular shape.  Although new to town, Hem is in rare form.  [usual form in those years].  Cocky yet subtle.  Looking all around.  Taking it all in.

Cafe pretty empty, it’s that early.  The Dome?  Place of smoke-filtered pale winter sunlight.  His hair is dark, unruly.  Suit rumpled.  Elbows on the table.  Glancing around, grinning, though expecting to know people there.  Waiters quietly scrub and wipe other tables, preparatory to lunch  Pretty quiet.

Hemingway’s gaze veiled yet intense.  Although he strives to look as though he knows someone there, I (standing in shadowy corner) realize he is looking around to see who HE is.

Hem’s right shoe rests upside-down upon his left knee,– audacious pose that would not have gone over in Oak Park or River Forest.  He maintains the backwoods air — though not large, a Paul Bunyan in a Paris suit.

In the dream, I boldly sit across from Hemingway, [as I once did at an Outward-Bound-like event, with Roy Scheider of Jaws], because Hem is alone.  He nods without words, orders me a biere.  I sip reluctantly, because it is warm and tastes soapy.  He doesn’t care if I like beer or not.

Hem wants me to know who he is, to ask “How did the writing go this morning?

What I say is, “Tell me about Michigan!  Speak of trout, of birch-studded forests.  Of the Indians who were there when YOU were, but not for me.  Why did you have to rearrange the setting of the Big Two-Hearted River?”

The beer I do not like acts like a tonic, a potion, opening doors.

 

BRILLIANT NOSTALGIA — UPON RE-READING E. B. WHITE: All for the Love of Books

Sometimes, when you order from Amazon, your request is archaic enough that it arrives as a library book.  Complete with faded cardboard sleeve in the front, intricate / cryptic numbers, handwritings of some vanished librarian.

In quest of excellence, I recently arranged to receive works on and by E. B. White, Ur-New Yorker writer of yesteryear.  This founding writer, in the days of Ross, lived and cavorted in the Village.  He would read seed and farm equipment catalogues for pleasure.  A man of such wit as to cause me to laugh right out loud, reading his essays in the middle of the night.

In The Second Tree from the Corner, I hoped to have purchased a collection that included the idyllic, profound, Return to the Lake.  I needed ‘to re-experience those indelible scenes of Elwyn pere and his young son, in the New England haven that mattered most to both.  Part of me desired a virtual trip to a lake, any lake.  The other part yearns always for the miracle of sharing important childhood places with one’s own offspring.

“Lake” wasn’t in “Tree”.  But, Farewell My Lovely is!  What a romp, this salutation to the Model T!

Out-loud laughter, and sometimes tears, accompanied each turning of a page.  EBW had named his seminal new vehicle, “My Lovely.”  [There may be extra layers of appreciation in this former resident of Detroit, then suburbs, suffused with Henry Ford from 2-years-old, on.] Ellwyn exults: “‘My Lovely’ is mechanically and uncannily like nothing that had come into the world before.”  He reveals, “The driver of the Model T was a man enthroned.”

He drove his purchase “directly to the blacksmith” for “appurtenances to support an army trunk.”  “A speedometer cost money, and was extra; like a windshield wiper.”

White carefully explains the cranking process, –its subtleties and dangers–, concluding, “Until you had learned to ‘Get Results!’, you may as well have been cranking up an awning.”

Catastrophes large and small were the norm, price of passage.  Everyone knows about the tires (did he spell it ‘tyres’?), those abrupt sudden stops necessitating patching by the driver.  But this comedic genius conveys the entire litany of ordeals, with a light touch suitable for a stand-up comic.  Because of the multiplicity of perils, White insists, “Model T drivers ride in a state of thoughtful catalepsy.”

He seems not to have been skilled at those incessant repairs.  “I have had a timer apart on an old Ford many times.  But I never knew what I was up to.  I was just showing off for God.”

Sometimes, White looks back with intensity and even longing.  He considers Thoreau’s Walden to be “a document of increasing pertinence.”

Sometimes, Ellwyn B. White is a prophet:  “Audio-visual devices require no mental discipline.”

Reading a writer so skilled, so rich in language, and so unafraid to be quirky, strengthens my spine.

From Charlotte’s Web to Is Sex Necessary, with Thurber, and the essential Elements of Style with the revered William Strunk, who equals White’s range?  Who is the E. B. White of our era?

But there was an added bonus to this book order — holding that old library volume of The Second Tree from the Corner in my two 21st-Century hands.  It triggered memory like Proust’s tea and madelene.

The library card is marked in faded ink:  Ashtabula, Ohio, Library, followed by Kent State University.

Site of our country’s great shame, –right up there with civil rights abuses beyond measure — where our own government officials turned clubs and weapons upon Kent State students, upon our own children, who dared to protest war.

Kent State, which refused George Segal’s arresting statue of Abraham and Isaac, –portraying in his unique human-generated mastery– father about to slit the throat of his own long-awaited son.  Only Segal’s figures are not garbed in biblical robes.  Rather t-shirts and jeans.  And it was no God who demanded this sacrifice, but bureaucrats, officials and politicians.  This masterpiece preside alongside our Princeton University Chapel. Lest we forget…

What an unexpected link, Ken State, fronting a work by E. B. White, so devoted to his own son, Joel, delightful centerpiece of the Lake essay that I do not possess.

Cradling this book of other times, I inhaled what was the most important scent in the world to me — a whiff of old volumes and old dark and yes dusty and yes sometimes even moldy libraries of childhood.

Suddenly, I am back in one of those venerable rooms.  Sun slants through tall windows with their wavy glass of yesteryear.  The light is alive with particles more alive than I feel.  It illumines towering ‘stacks’, –more essential, more priceless to the child Carolyn than all the gold in Fort Knox.  In this room, dark and light mingle with a kind of delicate power exemplified by dust dancing in sunbeams.  In this room, ignorance and knowledge meet and marry..

I feel very little, attempting to climb up into the heavy dark wood straight-backed chair.  A thick volume awaits upon the scuffed table.  I get tired here, stretching up to the thick wide table, my legs not touching the floor.  After awhile, I kneel to read.  I now see how appropriate is that reverent pose!  Nobody has to tell me to keep silent.

The aromas of this used book whoosh me back, suffusing me anew with my absolute craving for books and all that they held; craving for the places where books presided.

In Michigan, I knew no bookish people.

Teachers did not count.

Textbooks DEFINITELY did not count!

The neighbor mothers in Lathrup Village ganged up on my mother one afternoon.  They surrounded her, towered over her at our little kitchen table, ordering “Do not give our children any more books!”

There is a black and white 7th birthday picture of me, in the pine-paneled living room, clasping a huge (as a bible to the Child Carolyn) volume of Longfellow’s Evangeline to my skinny chest.  My face is all ecstasy.  The faces of all the neighbor boys and girls, ringing me, –“My Jolly Friends”, I called them, from the song, “Playmate–”  look completely baffled.

When I had to fly in wartime to Northern Michigan the following summer, because of bronchitis on top of winter’s rheumatic fever, I clutched that same volume to the smocked bodice of my traveling dress.  It would be at least a month before I saw Lathrup Village again.  One of the best things about the Leelanau Peninsula resort of Fountain Point, was an entire room, fronting the lake, lined with bookshelves, studded with books I’d never seen.

E. B. White is a distillation of books, for grown-ups, for children, all he’d absorbed, and all he wrote for others.

The Child Carolyn would be in her 20’s and living and working in Manhattan before she would be introduced by her upper West Side roommates to Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web.  She was clear that she’d’ve been enchanted, had she met them earlier.  That’s when she met the New Yorker, too.  Basically her life has never been the same.

In an aunt’s attic, on swift Toledo visits, she’d come across leathern volumes with silk-soft tissue pages edged with gold.  They all seem heavy in retrospect, for this little girl, –who knelt there, too, to read them.  What she never could understand was that these treasures were up in the, yes, dusty attic.  Sun-motes there, too.  But those books languished there, unread, except for Carolyn-visits.

I was supposed to want to go to Toledo for the relatives.  I went to Toledo for the books.

No matter how many biographical works on E. B. White I read and re-read, nothing REALLY explains his diversity, wit and wisdom.

As proof, I offer his response to the first space tests, which had gone off unsuccessfully and successfully, “leaving the earth’s people frightened and joyless.”

Childhood Summers — Michigan

The lovely weather of recent weeks allows me to keep windows and doors open, so that not only light, but also air, nature sounds, and fragrances waft into my ‘new’ Lawrenceville apartment.

This morning, the departure of a small plane, –purring like the aircraft of my Michigan childhood –, thrust me right back into the silken grass of our smoothly rounded ditch in front of our little red brick house.  It was newly built by my parents, in the tiny town of Lathrup, well outside Detroit.  Hardly anyone drove down ‘California Drive’ except neighbors, guests, and the bakery truck.

There was nothing in Lathrup, not even a post office — we were officially ‘Birmingham.’  If we needed food, my father would have to drive us to ‘the store’, in the NEXT town.  ‘Store’ meant grocer.  He stood behind a weathered counter, near a worn butcher’s block.  A huge wheel of real cheddar, which we called ‘store cheese’, rested under glass to the right of the cash register.  Which was shiny black and now we’d say, ‘had all the bells and whistles,’ especially bells.  I’d give him my Mother’s list, and he’d have to go all over the tiny store and up and down a rickety ladder, to bring provisions to us.  When my father moved us here, his German mother wept:  “You are moving to the wilderness.”

By no means was Lathrup wilderness.  But we did have woods nearby, a side yard (which turned into a skating rink in winter, thanks to my father), and a ‘vacant lot’ which became a Victory Garden during the war.  (WWII)  As I wrote in an early poem, “one year the fathers, gardens overrun, waged cucumber war.”

There wasn’t much privacy in our childhood.  One of the few places where I wasn’t pursued by the grown-ups, — not even the kindly ones–, was that silky ditch.  In summer, I’d lie back into its welcoming contours, and watch blue skies hatch clouds.  I pretended that God had a cloud pipe, puffed them into existence.  Then I would seriously study, trying to find out what creatures were billowing into existence overhead.

Planes were so rare then, although we were not far, as the crow flies, from Willow Run (where Lindbergh was running wartime plane production – so we’d’ve been prime Hitler targets, had he been able to turn out sufficient transatlantic planes).  Any time one of these little miracles (I remember especially biplanes) would come into view, I could not take my eyes nor my ears away from that phenomenon.

There were bees then.  One of the key memories of lying in the ditch was hearing bees, yes, busy, in all that short white clover.  It was ceaseless, seemed deafening.

My sister liked to be out in, even to run away into, the deep woods.  I preferred the vacant lot with its myriad of wildflowers.  The colors of summer in Michigan were white Queen Anne’s lace, spiky blue chicory, and the glare and blare of gold/orange brown-eyed Susans.  The dark centers of the ‘lace’ looked far more like insects to me than the only true flower of that weed.  It never did any good to bring the ‘lace’ inside for bouquets to set in Mother’s antique pewter — the little white parts shriveled, as though shocked, into something a little thicker than dust, tumbling all over the maple tables.

The chicory always seemed to be struggling.  Towering above me in the ditch, it seemed faded, as though just giving up in summer’s heat, always closing early.  Later I would learn that Indians could tell time by the opening and closing of chicory’s washed-out blue stiff blooms, even on cloudy days.

Our mother didn’t like to cook, really, and especially turned her back on gardening.  A few spring iris grew spikily behind the house, but turned hideous as soon as each bloom twirled shut.  A few raucous marigolds, and sometimes multicolored portulaca, made up the flowers of the yard.  Everything in the side yard, especially the minuscule ‘Chinese lanterns’,  was far more fascinating to me.

As August appeared, the wild weeds put forth a parched yet spicy fragrance.  That, along with almost deafening crickets of the Fourth of July, and locusts not long thereafter, meant summer was already rolling to a close.

We knew nothing of wilderness in those days.  My sister and I had never heard of preserves, where she in Illinois and I in New Jersey, spend key nature hours in all seasons.  Nobody gave us a bird book, let alone binoculars.  When we try to remember, we ‘see’ jays, robins everywhere (the Michigan state bird), hefty crows in and around our yards.  Mallards swam in cemetery ponds.  Gulls called loud and clear as we would reach first the ferry, then the BRIDGE, to the Upper Peninsula, our absolute favorite place to be.  Never was there a gull anywhere but Northern Michigan.  And, once, above the Tahquamenon River, an eagle coursed above us on the root-beer-hued waters.

There must have been butterflies.  If so, they ‘were all monarchs’.  No fireflies in Michigan.  Each summer, we’d poke holes in Mason jar lids, fill the jars with grass, catch fireflies in Ohio and bring them back home in the back seat of one of the Pontiacs, whose hood ornaments my father resembled.  As an adult, here in Princeton, someone revealed, re lightning bugs, “Carolyn, only one sex lights.”

We’d keep summer Crayolas in the refrigerator, so they would not melt when we used them on the screened-in back porch.  Totally lacking needlework skill, I nevertheless had crocheted long strands which my father attached on the outside of the screens.  I planted blue morning glory (his nickname for me) seeds, and they exuberantly twined all the way to the top of the screens.  We colored all summer in a blue haze.  As I would write in a much later poem, there were, of course, houseflies, “bumping, disgruntled, against the tall porch screens.”

Re-experiencing “ditch days” now, in the 21st Century, my clearest memory –beyond the small planes, the huge clouds– is the sound of all those bees, singing as they worked the clover.