April 18, 2012
A quick glance at my bookshelf in the left column reveals some that I have had going for quite a while and a couple recently added reads. I don't know if you know Wilkie Collins or The Moonstone. I didn't. First published in 1868, folks who more in the know than me identify The Moonstone as the first detective novel. It also has the quirk of telling the story through the eyes of several different characters, over time and in different countries.
I'm in the part told by the house steward, a seventy-something family servant named Betteredge, and given the pithy asides he adds to his storytelling, I would say that I'm not he first to notice that he is aptly named. He also has the habit of dipping into Robinson Crusoe when confronted with a problem, needing wisdom, or just looking for comfort. I found that funny and endearing enough to tell the Sunday school class about it on Sunday. Of course, some people do that with the Bible, which I guess is the point, and also why I brought it up in Sunday.
As soon as I set it up and delivered the part about about Betteredge consulting Robinson Crusoe for divine insight and had worn out eight copies over the years, my good friend Bill jumped in and said, "My mom did the same thing with The Count of Monte Cristo." I didn't believe him, but he insisted it was true. Do you think this is as funny as I do? I mean, it was funny for a made up eighteenth century servant with little education to consult a work of fiction for sustenance, but I have laughed every time I have thought of an actual 21st century woman dipping into The Count, just like Walter's grandmother relied on The Bible. I have also added Robinson Crusoe and The Count of Monte Cristo to my future reading list, just to see what the buzz is.
Speaking of grandmothers (that wasn't a very clever segue, was it?), Walter's grandmother not only consulted her Bible, she took it another step. Apparently, she got a new Bible every year, read it cover to cover, annotating heavily as she went. At the end of the year, she would put the Bible in a shoebox, tie it up with a ribbon, and stack it in the closet (never to be viewed again). When she died there were layers of boxes lined up on the shelf in the closet. His other grandmother (maybe great-grandmother, I will have to check) was a Freethinker (if you don't know what that is, you should look it up). When Walter's dad went to her to explore the idea that he wanted to be a minister, she listened carefully until he was done, then sent him on with the advice that went something like "Why don't you find honest work?"
My grandmothers were just as different. I grew up thinking of them as the "cooking" grandmother and the "playing" grandmother. I think that is a little one-dimensional of me, but I do think, like Walter's grandmothers they represented somewhat distinct points fairly distant from each other on the grandmother continuum.
I can remember my mother's mother loving to play canasta and bridge (I was taught bridge as a ten-year old so she and my mom and my aunt would always have a fourth). She could keep the conversational ball rolling with anyone. I have a fixed memory of her stretched out in front of the huge black and white console television, working out with Jack LaLane. She liked the horse races. The only thing she could cook that I remember enjoying was "Sock-It-To-Me" cake. Everything else was a disaster.
My father's mother was a cleaner, from cleanersville. When she visited, I had to sleep on sheets and pillowcases that she had starched and ironed. By the time she left my cheeks were rubbed raw. The upside to her lengthy visits was that she cooked a full hot lunch every day and we all came home from school and work to eat. She sewed me so many dresses that when I started first grade I didn't repeat an outfit until October.
When I was young I just thought of them as work v. play, but my "work" grandmother also taught me to play poker and honed my skills until I was pretty scrappy. She'd fly kites, fish, and work jigsaw puzzles with me--everything was very Vickie-centric. This was different from my other grandmother, who made no real effort to endear herself to me on my terms. I think she was much more adult-oreinted, and it pleased her to no end when I finally caught on to her bawdy jokes and her clever charm.
In hindsight they were a contrast, just not the contrast I grew up thinking I understood.