In a Moo Moo

Shanathan's actual wedding in Hawaii

Shanathan’s actual wedding in Hawaii

This will be a micro blog as we are leaving shortly for Langford, New York where daughter Shanah and her husband Jonathan (Shanathan, as they are known around our house) will reenact their wedding for the benefit of all those mainlanders who were unable to hop across the pond to Hawaii for their actual wedding last January.

The event’s theme is Blue Hawaii and my husband Ken, who, in addition to his many other talents, is a rocking ukulele player, will accompany the happy couple on their rendition of “Give Me Someone to Lava.”

It’s about these two volcanoes.

The past couple of weeks he has been rehearsing the song, with the result that, try as I might to dislodge it, the ear worm version of “Give Me Someone to Lava” has been squirming around in my brain and driving me half mad. Not only are its rhymes tortured, but, as continuity goes, “Give Me Someone to Lava,” is deeply flawed. To wit:

There’s a lonely boy volcano who sings about wanting someone to lava, not realizing that there’s another, girl volcano rising from the bottom of the sea, inspired by his song. Before she emerges from the deep, however, sad day for him, he becomes extinct. A tragic tale of star-crossed love? If only she had grown faster? If only he could have hung on a little longer?

But wait!

Up the female volcano finally rises above the surface of the ocean, causing the extinct volcano to suddenly become un-extinct and, aloha! Together they make a whole lot of lava, presumably wreaking widespread destruction and cataclysmic loss of life.


It would be as if Juliette, upon awakening from her drug-induced sleep, were to see Romeo, dead from the poison he has just imbibed  . . . and then he comes back to life and everybody lives happily ever after.

As my mother used to say, “Scenes that probably never happened.”


Site of the wedding in Langford, New York

Or maybe I’m just reading too much into what is. essentially, a sweet song about two people finally finding love.  D’you think?

In the meantime, what the Heck? I’m lobbying for a place on stage during the rendition of Give Me Someone to Lava. I could wield the Thunder Stick – thunder being an in-the-ballpark facsimile of the sound a a volcano makes erupting.   I figure it’s my one chance to be like one of those hippy dippy groupie chicks in the sixties, the ones in tie-dyed mini dresses. You know who I’m talking about — the ones who, because they could neither play an instrument nor sing, were handed a tambourine and instructed to go for it.

Only for the hippy dippy groupie chick, substitute a 63 year old soon- to-be grandmother.

In a moo moo.

Did I mention that I’m going to be a grandmother?

P.S. The wedding is now over and Give Me Someone to Lava was a huge hit, aided in no small part by You Know Who on the Thunder Stick.

Persona grata

The Agora in ancient Athens

The Agora in ancient Athens

Whenever anyone condemns Facebook as a waste of time, I find I must demur. Not for me. Not for a student of character. I may not be interested in what you had for breakfast or who your dash cam caught running the stop sign at Pine and Fifth, but I am profoundly interested in why you feel compelled to tell me these things, by what it is you hope to achieve.

We do things for a reason — not necessarily a good reason, but a reason none the less. When defending Facebook, I have likened the social networking site to a vast Agora, or marketplace,  filled with people from disparate and disconnected parts of my life, all milling about, bumping into one another, talking over each other, each with his  own agenda, each with her own axe to grind.  It’s like a Resurrection, where everyone I have known in all  my sixty three years suddenly reappears all in the same place, only nobody’s died. Well, actually, some of them have died, but that hasn’t stopped them from being on Facebook.  That’s the Zombie part of this Apocalypse.

As with any market place, there are those who use the site to hawk their wares – their business, their art, their service, their product line.  There, too, are the critics, whose self-imposed job it is to recommend or promote or deconstruct. In one corner, someone is treating whoever appears game to a slideshow of their recent trip to Istanbul. In another, a teenage acquaintance attempts to lure passersby into the dark alley of Askme in the perfervid hope that some male will ask her a titillating question, while another, forlorn, posts non-stop selfies of herself to elicit compliments that emanate largely from her girlfriends. Elsewhere someone is just itching for a fight or preaching the Gospel according to themselves or rousing a rabble or building a following, while others self soothe with memes or present as cats with captions or endlessly narrate their uneventful lives in minute detail . . . why? To impose upon it some kind of coherence. To give it meaning. Like Turkish carpet dealers who theatrically unroll  their wares for prospective buyers to inspect,  they lay bare their loneliness for all to like.

And then there are the lurkers.

Masks of Comedy and Tragedy

Masks of Comedy and Tragedy

One post is a fleeting thing, but many, many posts over time accrete into a very real persona; the face the poster has chosen, wittingly or not, to present to the world.  Indeed, the word “persona” derives from the Latin word for a theatrical mask. Often, the persona a frequent poster creates for him or herself bears little resemblance to the person as they present in the “Real World”. No matter. Both are fabrications and, as such, equally real, equally false, and never not revealing.

I have always been fascinated in motivation – it is what interests me most: not what people do, or how, but why. Inside my own head, I have always tried to be honest about the not infrequently pissy reasons I do the things I do. Jealousy, envy,  vanity, self-pity, vengeance, snobbishness, self-righteousness, noblesse oblige, schadenfreuden . . . . I am guilty, daily, of them all. Is there any wonder I find Facebook a virtual smorgersbord of unintentional delights?

Harpy from Greek mythology

Harpy from Greek mythology

I am what I would describe as a kamikaze Facebooker, a sub species of lurker who, for the most part, floats beneficently along, buoyed by thermals, taking in the view, liking all things Democratic, Pope Francis, dogs and Tiny Houses, but who, upon spotting anything pro-guns or Republican, becomes utterly consumed with rage and proceeds to rain down fiery poop on their parade.  And that’s my Facebook persona in a nutshell: half Harpy, half Old Hippy Dog Woman in a Tiny House. Who really likes Pope Francis.  And Elizabeth Warren.  Did I mention Elizabeth Warren?

And now I really must pay a visit to the Agora and see what everybody is up to.  There’s undoubtedly some loathsome Teabagger I can excoriate and a video of a golden retriever who, to the delight of all who behold it, expertly executes the merengue.

The magic in names: slavery and my family

noni mike_NEW

Michael and Noni

My brother Michael remembers Noni,  our paternal grandmother, asking him, “Don’t you think it would be just terrible if you had to go to school with little colored boys and girls?” This would have been in 1954, just after Brown vs. the Board of Education; Mike would have been nine at the time. He remembered thinking about the black boys he played with at the swimming hole and in the park — about Dave and Frank and Harry — and said no, he wouldn’t mind.   He thought it would be kind of fun.

By the time I knew Noni, she was slip-sliding down into the slough of senility, thanks to a decades-long drug habit. I didn’t dislike her, but I didn’t exactly love her either. Dementia is never endearing and perhaps I sensed the hostility between her and my mother, although I was not to understand the considerable animus between those two until I was an adult. And then there was Noni’s every-Christmas-without-fail gift to me — a set of three gi-normous old lady panties. This was a gift to which I took considerable umbrage. Did my grandmother really think my ass was THAT big?

If my brain were an attic, in one part of that attic, tucked away down under the eaves, you’d find a mildewed hatbox full to bursting with mouldering confederate money, a battered steamer trunk stuffed with moth-eaten petticoats and tattered ball gowns and, a musty, dog-eared history of the Eastern North Carolina branch of the Hardy family published in 1964 by one David Hardee. Hardee, Hardie, Hardy – we’re all the same family; it was just that some of us could spell and others not. Lately, I’ve been poking around in that old corner of the attic, stirring up dust, sending up ragged clouds of moths, sifting through old mouse poop in an attempt to understand my family in the context of history and of race.

Which was how I stumbled upon an inventory of the Bertie County, North Carolina estate of  my forebear William Hardy. According to a will drawn up in 1793, the estate included:

  • Farm equipment — saws, fire tongs, shovels, hoes;
  • Produce – corn, potatoes, salt, flour, flax, cotton;
  • Livestock – 5 horses, 34 cattle, 15 sheep, 14 sows, 65 pigs and 47 other hogs, 22 chickens, 25 turkeys and 47 other fowls, 4 stocks of bees, a yoke of oxen;
  • Books – a Bible, Prayer Book, 3 volumes of Mares arithmetic, Harvey’s Meditations;
  • Furniture – tables, table cloths, chests, 4 beds, 2 pillows, 12 chairs, pots, pans, candles, candle snuffers, candlesticks, glasses, plates, knives, forks;
  • Tools and supplies– one file, one surveyor chair, money scales, 5 spinning wheels, 5 pairs of cards, carpenter tools, 1 cart, 67 weight of pewter, 2 saddles, 2 bridles, 2 grindstones, tailor shears, looking glasses, mill picks, writing paper, 40 barrels of turpentine, 1 bag, 2 wallets, 2 towels, guns

It also included, “Negroes as follows: Dave, Frank, Harry, Tom, Abram, Ben Rofe, Wink Bett,  Brutus, Andrew, Daniel,  Simon, Peter, Matt, Abram, Woman Bell, Woman Penn, Girl Rose, Girl Easter, Girl Polly.”

According to the will, the slaves were to be divided between William’s wife Sarah and his children. Only the sons got land, but everybody “received” one or two in slaves in formulations that read like this:

“Sarah Sutton received Matt and Simon and other sundries worth 118 pounds, 8 shillings and 8 pence.”

“Lamb Hardy received his 1/6 part of the land, negro boy Daniel, and other sundries worth 118 pounds, 8 shillings and 12 pence.”

It was their names that got me. You don’t think of a slave being named Dave, for example, or Frank or Harry and yet Dave and Frank and Harry they were and Penn and Rose and Easter and negro boy Daniel . . . and they were passed down from father to child in the same breath as forty barrels of turpentine (William was a cooper by trade) or a yoke of oxen. According to a Census of Bertie County taken some 67 years later in 1860, Ellinor Hardy, Humphrey Hardy and Jason Hardy all owned slaves — 79, 33 and 39 respectively — but these were merely enumerated; they were not named. The fact that I know the names of William Hardy’s slaves makes them more real for me.   Whereas Noni lamented a future in which her precious grandson might have to go to school with nameless “little colored boys and girls,”  Michael knew the names of his playmates and did not find the prospect of associating with them in any way problematic.  There is a kind of magic in names.

family crestIf I believed in God, I would ask Him for forgiveness — for generations of my family going back three centuries, for my demented. racist grandmother, and for myself.   But I don’t believe in God, so, instead, I’m sending this out across the arc of history, across the span of 220 years that separates us in time: Dave, Frank, Harry, Tom, Abram, Ben Rofe, Wink Bett,  Brutus, Andrew,  Frank, Simon, Peter, Matt, Abram, Bell, Penn, Rose, Easter, and Polly,  I am sorry and I’m ashamed.

And now it’s high time I clean out that bloody attic.



Not on my watch

Buddy and me.  I might have been a little overprotective of Buddy.

Buddy and me. I might have been a little overprotective of Buddy. Just a little.

Last night my husband and I had an argument.

Well, a nano spat.

We were about to watch an episode of Borgen, when, remote in hand, he suddenly closed his eyes, leaned back in his chair and pressed the fingers of one hand to his forehead, looking stricken. It occurred to me that he might be having a stroke. After all, it’s not as if fifty-nine year old Type-A men don’t ever have strokes and Ken’s life is not entirely without stress.   For example, he is married to someone who, by her own admission, can occasionally be a teensy bit of a demando-guts.  Also, a decade ago, he had a bout of Central Serous Retinopathy, a condition brought on by stress — in CSR, fluid buildup under the retinal pigment epithelium of the eye results, temporarily in his case, in vision distortion. As disconcerting as this was, it did come in handy one Christmas, when two of our semi-adult children were going at each other, hammer and tongs. Finally, unable to stand their bickering and recriminations a second longer, I leaped to my feet, pointed dramatically in Ken’s direction and cried, “If you don’t stop this immediately, your father’s eye is going to explode!” Whereupon they took it outside. (They get along fine now.)

So, bearing in mind my husband’s advancing age and blood pressure issues and aware that, one day, one of us is going to not be OK and could that moment . . . that terrible moment possibly be this moment, the moment everything changes and all is lost? Bearing all that in mind, I asked, “Are you all right?”

To which he responded with a terse, “Quiet!”

I waited, leaning forward in my chair, my eyes fixed on him.  I waited some more. Then, because his demeanor had not altered and remembering that, in cases of stroke, it’s important to act quickly though in what precise way I can never remember, I tried a second time: “Ken,” I asked, enunciating carefully, “Are. You. All. Right. Question mark.”

Sabrina and me

Sabrina and me

Now, I admit I can be overly solicitous on occasion. When my daughter Sabrina was a baby, I was so terrified she would succumb to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome that I used to creep into her bedroom when she was sleeping and hold a mirror under her tiny  nose. If ever she seemed suspiciously still to me — and this was not infrequently — I would wake her up to make sure she was alive.  Neither of us got a lot of sleep that first year.

Once, in a sun-baked and utterly deserted park in Mt. Olive, the pickle capitol of North Carolina, I ignored cries for help from the same husband for whose health I was now so solicitous in order to save Buddy, our aged and very infirm golden retriever, from nothing at all.   This is what happened. At the same moment as a colony of fire ants was inexplicably swarming up Ken’s bare legs, I  spotted a lone car on the distant horizon. And I mean distant. Convinced that this same car was going to suddenly accelerate, cover the half mile or so that separated us in a matter of seconds and flatten Buddy, I left Ken to fend for himself while I  took off after the dog, flailing my arms and crying, “No! Buddy! Stop!”

Just the other day, I tried to get our current golden retriever, Nellie, up for her late afternoon pee. To no avail. This was beyond alarming, especially if you’re me, hence, easily alarmed; Nellie came into this world spring-loaded; she is the canine equivalent of Tigger.  The prospect of a walk, any walk, sends her into virtual paroxysms. What could possibly be the matter with her, I wondered?  Was she sick? Then I remembered the asphalt on her paws from an earlier outing with our dog walker.  Had she licked her paws and, in so doing, poisoned herself? Was she dying?  I consulted my iPad for an antidote to asphalt. Finding none, I gave her a bowl of milk, because, you know, milk. I then made an emergency vet appointment for an hour later and commenced pacing frantically back and forth, wringing my hands.  Was this it?  Was this how Nellie died?  Was I going to lose my baby?   Then  I offered her a dentabone. Turns out, a long-lasting oral care chew was all it took to reinvigorate her. Up she leaped, out we went; she peed. I wept with relief, then called the vet and cancelled the appointment. We went on with our day.

Nellie was born spring-loaded.


Meanwhile, here was my beloved husband, frozen in an attitude of pain, his expression that of someone who has just had an ice pick driven through his forehead.

“Are you all right?” I repeated for the third time.

“Damn it!” he said then, opening his eyes and glaring at me.  “I was thinking! Can’t a person think?”

Not if they look like they’re having a stroke, they can’t.  Not on my watch.

High time to retire the Stars and Bars

Alice in her racist bikini

Alice in her racist bikini.

Nine years ago, my daughter Alice neglected to bring a bathing suit on a beach vacation and was accordingly dispatched to the local Oak Island, North Carolina sand and surf shop to purchase same. She arrived back at the house with a confederate flag bikini which she proceeded to rock, in her inimitable fashion, the entire week. Later, when we were back in Canada and after she had shown photographs of her on vacation to her friends, she called me with a bone to pick. “Mom! Why didn’t you tell me I was wearing a racist bikini?” To which I replied, “I didn’t know it was racist. I thought it was just . . . I don’t know . . . Southern.”

And I did think that. I did. In my mental universe, it was possible to be both an American and a Southerner. I thought that the confederate flag bespoke another layer of identify, not an alternate one, that the two were not mutually exclusive. I thought that until June 17, 2015 when yet another twisted excuse of a loser gunman mowed down nine innocent people in a black church in Charleston, South Carolina and my mental universe shattered into pieces.

I grew up with the confederate flag. I was comfortable with it. To me it connoted mornings when nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina. It meant an actual Spring as opposed to the Canadian version of that season – i.e., that time when the snow retreats ever so slowly to reveal a winter’s accumulation of discarded cigarette butts and oddly mummified dog poop. It meant dogwoods and azaleas and blossoms blowing through the air and sun tanning in March. I’m talking principally, I realize now, about weather, specifically good weather. To me the confederate flag meant good weather, and good weather meant home.  As an ex pat who has spent the vast majority of her adult life in the True North Strong and Free, I retain considerable nostalgia for the mild climate of my native North Carolina.

My father, Bill Hardy, in the mid-sixties.  I'm not sure what he was doing in this photo.  Then again, he was an actor.

My father, Bill Hardy, mugs for the camera in Confederate regalia in the mid-sixties.

I was raised by liberal, educated parents in Chapel Hill,  a progressive college town in a deeply conservative state. I handed out fliers for LBJ in the predominantly black town of Carrboro and volunteered as a teacher’s assistant at a Head Start program held in the basement of a black church. I was that kid.

But the truth is, I was another kid as well – some screwball version of a Southern belle. I had no clue about the magnitude and pervasiveness of Jim Crow law. I had no clue about the history of slavery or, for that matter, of the United States. I bought hook, line and sinker the whole Romance of the South thing as perpetrated by Gone With the Wind. In fact, my knowledge of the Civil War and Reconstruction derived almost entirely from that novel, which I read not once, not twice, but five times. My favorite color is green not because I’m an environmentalist but because that was Scarlett O’Hara’s favorite color. In other words, I, like so many of my fellow Southerners, was capable of holding in my brain two dichotomies: I was a staunch supporter of civil rights and I was a true daughter of the South.

Hardy Family Home in Bertie County -- the before shot

Hardy Family Home in Bertie County, NC

The truth is that the Romance of the South was, at best, a tawdry one. There was nothing gentile about the institution of slavery. No beneficence was involved, nothing noble, or gracious, or fine. Slavers and the people who kept them in business – my ancestors among them – weren’t a whole heck of a lot different from Boko Haran, save for the fact that Boko Haran perpetrates its crimes in the name of religion and slavery was predicated on filthy lucre.

As the fallout from the Charleston massacre has demonstrated, the confederate flag is not all in good fun. Not by a long shot. As for that jumped up little cracker who took all those good peoples’ lives, I’m glad their loved ones can forgive him, because I sure as Hell can’t.  I’m having a hard enough time forgiving myself.

Cat Vigilantes

The We Hate Eddie's Cat Club

The We Hate Eddie’s Cat Club. Brother Peter Hardy brandishing a sword in front to the left.  I am the girl with the bangs  in the back on the left.

One halcyon summer, when I was a child roaming free range through the wilds of West Lafayette, Indiana, a bunch of us neighbourhood kids formed the We Hate Eddie’s Cat Club, essentially a group of cat vigilantes. Our mission was to disrupt and degrade the predations of Plato, a thuggish tabby belonging to a girl – Eddie, by name — who lived down the street.  Otherwise a member of our gang, Eddie declared a conflict of interest when it came to Plato and declined to join the We Hate Eddie’s Cat Club, although she bore us no ill will on this account. She lived with Plato; she had his number.

Plato was a serial killer. He roamed the neighbourhood and most especially the ravine behind our house, killing but never actually eating anything he could lay his big paws on. Offended by the ongoing slaughter of the innocents, the We Hate Eddie’s Cat Club spent whole days tracking Plato and, whenever he nabbed a bird or chipmunk, into action we would spring, rushing at him from all sides, yelling and whooping and waving our arms.

Sometimes this sufficed to make Plato drop his victim and sidle resentfully off, in which case, one for the We Hate Eddie’s Cat Club. At other times, our intervention was too little, too late and the woodland creature we wrestled from Plato’s jaws was either DOA or mortally wounded. These dearly departed we laid to rest in a shoebox and buried in a little graveyard we had carved out of the ravine. Joey Flynn, scion of the Catholic family I wrote about in Why I Became a Catholic, officiated over what he claimed was a full Catholic funerary service in what he purported to be Latin – in those days, the Church still conducted all its business in Latin. It sounded to us like he was just saying “Nabisco” over and over again, but what did we know? Anyone caught laughing during the service was banished, but not for good. If we were to have any impact on Plato’s one-cat crime wave, we needed all the vigilantes we could muster.

The Avian Way

The Avian Way

This Spring my husband and I turned our back yard, a narrow strip of land backing onto a precipitous ravine, into what we call the Avian Way, complete with five different bird feeders and a bird bath. This way, we figured, we can sit at our dining table or on our screened in porch and enjoy watching cardinals, blue jays, orioles, humming birds and the occasional bully bird.(This, children, is Old People Fun.)

As it turns out, squirrels, chipmunks and racoons failed to get the memo that these seeds and sugar water we set out were for birds only. Hence the Avian Way is regularly transformed from a pristine idyll, to a battleground strewn with toppled feeders and bent shepherd’s crooks, littered with peanut shells and scattered mulch and pocked by holes as we attempt – futilely — to enforce our Birds Only policy. At this point I’d have to say the critters are winning.

Rocky Racoon helps himself to the peanuts in Buddha's hands

Rocky Racoon helps himself to the peanuts in Buddha’s hands

A couple of nights ago the situation on the ground was put in a whole new light, when Midnight, a sleek black cat that prowls the neighbourhood in search of victims, suddenly lunged out from between the boxwoods and snagged a chipmunk that, its cheeks stuffed with peanuts, was shimmying down a pole from the Squirrel Buster.

It was like Syria: you think Assad is bad and then ISIS arrives on the scene.

Up Ken and I leaped, yelling and whooping and flailing our arms. “Bark! Bark!” we enjoined the golden retriever, pointing to the marauder.  “Cat! Cat!” She blinked at us, then glanced away. She appeared to be embarrassed for us.. The elderly, blind cockapoo, on the other hand,  sprang, bristling and harrumphing, to her feet, charged off in the wrong direction and ran headfirst into the wall.

Fortunately for the chipmunk and no thanks to our supposed allies in the war between cats and dogs, that is to say, our two dogs, sufficient commotion ensued that Midnight dropped her prey and disappeared over the lip of the ravine and into the foliage. Gone, but not, I fear, for long. Clearly vigilance will be required now and going forward.

And so, it seems,  my life has come full circle.

My Fifteen Minutes of Fame

The back cover of A Cry of Bees

The back cover of A Cry of Bees

When I was sixteen, I wrote a novel entitled A Cry of Bees, which was published, a year later, by no less a house than Viking Press.  I didn’t seek publication nor did I even consider it within the realm of possibility; my sole idea starting out had been to see how long a story I could manage to eke out. It was my father who, unbeknownst to me, sent the manuscript to his literary agent and Malcolm, in turn, who shopped it to Viking.

I’ve often wondered why Viking bit.  It was a good enough little bildungsroman, quirky and dark and possessed of a certain gawkish charm, but it broke no new ground and the talent it hinted at was, at best, nascent.   Perhaps they believed that the novelty of my youth would suffice to send it flying off the bookshelves; perhaps they thought that they were making an investment, as publishing houses did in those days, in a writer with a promising future. In both respects, it seems, they were mistaken.

Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox

The Atlanta Airport was decorated with illustrations from Uncle Remus’s Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox

When the novel came out, I was dispatched all over the Southeast to do readings and book signings — a heady experience for a seventeen year old. I remember landing in the Atlanta airport. At the time, it consisted of one large room decorated with illustrations from Uncle Remus’s Brer Rabbit Stories — not the Walt Disney ones, the original ones. It was 1970, after all, and Georgia.

All of the media regarding me . . . and there was a scrapbook full . . . focused on my youth and my looks. “She writes books and she’s pretty!” exclaimed one rapt journalist. Another remarked, “She has talent and a tiny waist.”   I can’t help but cringe when I re-read those articles – so unabashedly sexist – but I can’t pretend that I don’t feel the teensiest frisson of gratification as well. Forty six years have passed since then and much has changed. Today the Atlanta International Airport is the size of a small city. As for my waist, it disappeared from view several years ago, never, I fear, to be seen again.

The trouble with publishing a novel that young was that it set the bar very high – too high, as it turned out, for little me. It would be twenty one years until my next publication – a short story entitled Magical Thinking that appeared in the New Quarterly in 1991. And not for lack of trying. Oh, I wrote. And I wrote. I just could never attain what had once been given to me on a silver platter, what had seemed, at the time, so easy – publication.   I spent twenty plus years all washed up, a has-been, someone who had not lived up to her potential, a disappointment.

Thankfully, after a two decade long hiatus, I have been met, not with the overwhelming success I anticipated would be mine, but with a more modest success.   I’ve published three additional novels and two collections of short stories. My work has appeared in noted journals and magazines, it’s been anthologized, and, along the way, I have won a couple of significant awards.  Not bad.  Also far from stellar. There’s a reason I retain my day job.

The rabbit in the foreground had astraphobia.

The rabbit in the foreground had astraphobia.

The year A Cry of Bees was published, my father’s university department threw a little party for me and presented me with a sterling silver cup on which was engraved: Melissa Hardy. Congratulations on A Cry of Bees, 1970. I have it still, though the silver has become so tarnished  it’s hard to make out the words.  During the party, the Department Head, a sweet man named Wesley Wallace, seized my hand in both of his, squeezed it, and promised me, “The world is your oyster!”

He didn’t tell me that it would be my oyster for … oh, about fifteen minutes.  And that, after that, it would be somebody else’s.


TuesdayI have been advised that the best time to publish a blog post is Tuesday through Thursday and not Friday morning as I have been doing lo these many years. As Tuesday is, inexplicably, my favorite day of the week, I have decided that, from here on out, I will publish on a Tuesday rather than a Friday. For this last Friday, here’s an excerpt from my as yet unpublished novel, The Oracle of the Mountain, set in the early 1800’s in the Sibylline Mountains of Italywherein Padre Eusebio, an elderly priest, attempts to dissuade Prior Bacigalupo from exorcising a witch on a Tuesday:

“But, Prior, it’s Tuesday! Tuesday!” the old man pleaded.

And what in Heaven’s name is wrong with Tuesday?” Bacigalupo demanded.

“Every terrible thing that has ever happened to me personally happened on a Tuesday. It is my unlucky day.”

“It’s not just you, Padre,” Mama said. “Tuesday is everyone’s unlucky day. As my old Nonna used to say,’ De Venere e di Marte né si sposa né si parte’. Very unlucky to marry or embark upon a journey on a Tuesday . . . or a Friday, for that matter. That’s because Tuesday is named after Mars, the Roman god of war, and Friday is named after Venus, the goddess of love. Mars and Venus. Those two cause a lot of trouble!”

“See!” Padre Eusebio crowed. “Tuesdays are very bad luck. I’m not just making it up!”

“That’s ridiculous!” the Prior blustered. “We live in an age of reason . . . of science! There’s nothing wrong with Tuesdays! Tuesdays are a perfectly good sort of day.”

“They are a terrible, fearful sort of day,” the priest insisted. “Awful things always happen on a Tuesday!”

See you Tuesday!

My life’s work apparently

Me when I first began work on Sabra the Astonishing.

Me when I first began work on Sabra the Astonishing.

Well, I’ve finally finished Sabra the Astonishing, thirty seven years after I first put pen to legal pad in the carrels of the austere library of the Dumbarton Oaks Institute for Byzantine Studies, where I was, as it turns out, masquerading as a serious scholar. I was supposed to be writing my dissertation on the life of Athanasius, the fourth-century bishop of Alexandria. Put off by the need to stick to known facts, however, increasingly obsessed with Marian visions, in particular,  the case of Bernadette Soubirous, and, not to put too fine a point on it,  unraveling, I began instead to write a novel, which I described decades later in an application to the Ontario Arts Council thusly:

Sabra the Astonishing is the story of a teenage girl who sees an apparition which she takes to be the Virgin Mary . . . which it most definitely is not. Indeed, it is something far more sinister. Set in the sixties in the tobacco country of North Carolina, the novel explores the phenomenon of Marian visions and the steamier underside of Catholic excess.”

The novel went through a number of iterations, the most recent of which was completed twenty five years ago. My agent circulated it; no takers. My ex once described it less than kindly as, “bloated,” and, in retrospect, he was right. Sabra the Astonishing  erred on the side of excess; rather like the obese fellow traveler who sits next to you in coach, it had a propensity to ooze.  Nevertheless, I’ve always felt that the manuscript contained some of my best writing and the fact that it has languished in the bottom drawer of my file cabinet for so many years has been a source of  melancholy for me. Unpublished novels render one wistful. They are like dead babies; you can’t help but mourn them, to wonder what might have been had they been allowed to live.

This past year, I decided to have one more go at it, so I pulled out the manuscript and had a critical read.  This is what looking at a novel written by a young woman through an old woman’s eyes revealed:

  • Characters that don’t belong. I quickly realized that I had to kill off one of the lead characters; though darling, he was absolutely extraneous to the plot. (Those of you who follow this blog will have been privy to Lorenzo Da Silvio’s murder over several posts, each purporting to be the last.   I couldn’t help it; he was everywhere.)
  • Time and Place: Despite the fact that the novel takes place on Easter Monday, 1963, I had done nothing to set it in the period. I’ve now spent the last six months researching what training bra Sabra would have been wearing, what episode of Wagon Train might have played that night, and what brand of tranquilizers were vegetizing her mother. Thank God for the Internet. A related disconnect was the fact that, although Sabra’s family owns a big tobacco company and it’s the sixties, no one smokes! I addressed this problem by making everybody smoke all the time. One even dies of lung cancer.
  • Acknowledging the Zeitgeist: For a book set not forty miles from Greensboro, North Carolina where the lunch counter sit-ins had taken place just three years earlier . . . moreover, for a novel with several black characters, the fact that there was no acknowledgement of the Civil Rights Movement was, well, weird.
me at 60

Me when I finished The Virgin of Ararat.

The young woman was caught up in the story, in  action; the old woman, in context.

All these oversights have now been rectified and I will be sending the novel out again, but under a new title this time – The Virgin of Ararat. I’m doing this in the hopes that any editors who might have rejected it a quarter of a century ago will think it’s a different book altogether. Shhh! Let’s let that be our little secret.

A few thoughts about Noah

A micro blog.

NoahSurely Noah must have had his doubts. Surely he must have wondered as he sat atop that yellow mountain waiting for the dove to return, wondering if it would return, watching as the sky cleared and the water receded inch by inch: Am I mad? Was I hearing things? What are my senses that I should credit them?  And if it really was God’s  voice I heard, just supposing, then Who is He that I should trust Him? All powerful! An inducement to fear, yes, not trust. And what of my neighbors, whom I have, not forty days since, seen floating like pickles in a barrel, face-up in the brine, their locks streaming out to either side of them and their poor faces white and still in death? They were not all bad, nor I all good. I know my sins. Is this endless fending off the questions of querulous relatives and mounting piles of manure Grace? Or is it a trap? Is this a new beginning? Or the beginning of a new end?