UD discovers, in her basement, a trove of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick letters…

… addressed to Sedgwick’s brother, David, and running from the ‘seventies through the early ‘nineties. UD has sent them off to UD‘s friend Hal Sedgwick, who maintains a memorial blog about his wife.

Long-term readers know that Eve’s brother, David, was UD‘s first boyfriend. (Details here.)

Here’s David as I knew him when

daviddiscovered 001

we were young, a fine observing
presence in the swirl of the world.

Several years ago he left some boxes in my basement; he and his wife and son were on their way to a new life in Louisiana, but they hadn’t settled on a place to live. He wanted me to hold on to what I thought were books and clothes.

At David’s memorial service, his wife told me to keep the boxes. I told myself I’d donate the clothes somewhere. The books would stay boxed until our shelves cleared enough to hold them.

Two nights ago I was in the basement, checking for water damage after the storms, and, expecting to see a pile of sweaters, I idly opened one of the boxes. Two black trash bags, tightly tied at the top, enclosed what felt like neither books nor clothes.

Upstairs, on the kitchen table, I cut through the bags and found – in this and three other identically packed boxes – stacks of photographs and letters. Also cassettes he’d made of his thoughts from places like Calcutta and Malacca.

David traveled and lived all over Asia for decades; he had a multinational love life; and he was, like his sister, a gifted writer who corresponded with other gifted writers. The boxes burst with passionate love letters to him (UD‘s high school love notes to David were mere foothills on the way to a vast groaning recriminating range); and they included files filled with correspondence from David’s sister, to whom he was very close.

Those three boxes, and a fourth box of objects (a luopan; a tallis bag), engrossed me for hours yesterday. I couldn’t bear to read my own stuff, which, like his exchanges with Eve, ran through the pre-email years and then vanished into online; and it felt wrong to read the other stuff. So I emailed Hal and packed off all the Eve letters and postcards I could find. I made a separate file of the many letters (manual typewriter, single-spaced, onionskin paper) from David’s parents, who – I saw as I scanned a few of them – elegantly combined descriptions of their cultural outings in ‘thesda with anxious inquiries as to his health and whereabouts. These I will give to David’s mother.

UD is gratified by Hal’s enthusiasm at the prospect of these new letters; she is gratified to think that some of the letters might be of interest to scholars. It is strange for her to think of having harbored unknowingly for so long David’s almost over-rich record (certainly much too rich for her to handle) of his short life. A life lived to the hilt.

July Fourth Instablogging.

I do this every year.

I am instablogging the Garrett Park Maryland July Fourth parade, which goes right by my house, and how could it not, given the Lake Wobegone size of Garrett Park. It is now ten in the morning; the parade leaves the Garrett Park Elementary School grounds at 10:30. Wee UD graduated from the school, but back then GPES was a dull low-ceilinged brick dealie with cinderblock rooms… Two years ago they tore it down (the population in madly sought-after ‘thesda has grown insanely) and an actual architect vastly enlarged and rebuilt it, so now it’s all way-high skylights and winsome curving hallways and rainscaped gardens.

I have swept my storm-tossed front steps and driveway, I have swept even the street in front of my house (don’t want the floats wobbling on the branches that came down last night), and I have placed one of my deck chairs at the end of my driveway. From this very chair I will blog the event (assuming internet connection’s okay – after the storm we lost it for a few hours).

After a typically grim July morning, things have picked up out there sun-wise, and it’s not even stifling. There’s even a breeze.

UD is hoping her elderly Latvian neighbors will also be out watching the parade, because Les UDs recently got a rather elaborate letter from, er, Latgales Regionala Nodala (stick a bunch of diacritical marks on some of those letters) about their Latvian snail farm. (Longtime readers know that Les UDs own a Latvian snail farm. Another way of looking at it is that Mr UD inherited property, post-communism, from Latvia, because it had been owned by his family. And it isn’t an active snail farm; it is simply full of snails that someone imported onto the property long ago in the thought that the family might want to farm snails. Something like that.) Said letter includes photographs of their property plus official-looking language and stampings… Is the paltry tax they pay on the thing about to climb to fifty million dollars a year? UD is hoping her neighbors are willing to translate this document for her.

Okay, I’m moving my operations to my driveway.

*************************

Internet connection so far fantastic. Cannot believe this is July and I am not sweating my guts out. A cool, breezy, sunny, morning.

Distant patriotic music!

And now, to my left, my down the street neighbor Peggy (I’ve known her for fifty years) puts out white folding chairs; and to my right – a big crowd of neighbors comes barreling down Rokeby Avenue… Looking for a prime viewing spot? Plenty of those, plenty of those… Like Lake Wobegone, we’re so small most of the townspeople are in the parade.

Hi Jack, says UD to her neighbor Jack.

I like the way you’re… [Jack mimics typing]

Someone’s got to blog the parade, says UD.

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Sounds of sirens!

Many dogs, mainly poodles.

Wind instrument: bugle?

Very loud siren – must be coming from the fire engine that heads the parade.

Bigger crowd than usual this year – good weather?

Flashing lights stage right. Here comes the fire engine.

Way loud sirens as the fire engine comes down Rokeby Avenue.

***************************

Hokay. Much later. I managed to miss a good deal of the parade because a bunch of neighbors gathered around my chair and we all got to talking. So no real instablogging possible as UD learned of her neighbors’ new jobs, visits to Mexico, etc. UD also learned that the song she wrote for Garrett Park’s spring concert (a fund-raiser for a music scholarship) was – or so the event’s organizer claims – “a hit.” The musicale’s theme was Recycling, and UD put Garrett Park-related lyrics to Second Hand Rose. But she was at the beach when the concert took place. She had wondered how the lyrics went over…

Anyway. A good year for my town’s parade. Lots of kids, lots of clever takes on the parade’s theme: Garrett Park Through the Ages. UD‘s favorite thing: A bright red VW beetle convertible full of hippies. On the sides of the car were big white flowing letters that read LOVE PEACE HAPPINESS LOVE PEACE etc.

*****************************

Here’s what it’s like at 9:30 on the evening of the Fourth.

UD is lying down on the grassy hill halfway up her half acre. She is gazing high into the branches of her high old trees at three thrushes who are all very loudly singing their eerie thrush song.

Imagine the sharp harsh sound of the first high notes; imagine the strange low-throttle trill after that; and, after that, the famous ee-oh-lay. You lie there listening to them cycle through the three parts again and again, with variations…

The air is thick with fireflies.

From every direction, little local fireworks displays are popping and booming in your ears.

Mr UD is somewhere in this…

… crowd.

He’s having a busy day. Picked up his renewed passport (which now says on its cover European Union/Poland), at the Polish embassy; is now wading through the soccer crowd; will in an hour or so meet an old friend for coffee on upper Connecticut Avenue…

Back from the Beach…

… where we – along with family and friends – floated along in the strange trance that close proximity to beach, water, wave, and firmament generates.

The silent-Prius trip back to ‘thesda, through Delaware’s immense, flat cornfields over which child’s-picture-book white clouds hovered, kept the trance going.

I’m beginning to shake out of it now; blogging resumes when I am fully functional.

‘[O]ne of my most favorite childhood books was and remains “The Story of Ferdinand” the bull.’

UD, as longtime readers know, lives in Munro Leaf’s house in Garrett Park, Maryland. She is honored to do so, and has two bull topiaries in the front yard, a little engraved sign near the front door that says FERDINAND HOUSE, and images of bulls inside her house.

A Jessye Norman fan, UD was delighted to read that she loves Ferdinand.

Les UDs load up their little Prius and leave in a couple of hours…

… for Rehoboth Beach, where they will spend the next two weeks in an apartment so close to the Atlantic that you can hear the waves.

This constant wave sound is very lulling, but UD can blog through it.

Which she will do with the same compulsive regularity as… the tides. Ne quittez pas.

Snapshots from Home

So here’s what it’s like right now, three twittering chicks with their necks outstretched and mouths hysterically open, gulping the worms galore their parents are finding all over UD‘s half acre. This nature story is taking place midway up a honeysuckle bush a few yards to my left as I sit in our office with one of the windows open. There’s also a hummingbird nest in the front azaleas, but I’m not observing that one. It’s so small – they’re so fragile – let them be.

Plus there’s a culture story taking place a few yards away and directly in front of me in our driveway: The installation of a new water heater for Les Soltans. Their old one stopped working after almost twenty years, a lifespan unheard of dans le monde chauffe-eau. (Les Soltans specialize in superannuated appliances – their washer/dryer was also Margaret and Munro Leaf’s washer/dryer, and Margaret died in 1988.)

Yikes. Even as I type this, one of the guys – Kevin? – is right behind me in my bathroom using the sink to make strange hissing sounds. I’m staying here! I don’t want to know! Just let me know when you want me to pull out the checkbook!

I’m truly looking forward to washing my hair.

Selfies from Home

La Kid and Ed Fitzgerald
(Irish boyfriend; La Kid
moves to Galway soon)

10363710_2959573988095_6644239954713546331_n

exhausted and sunburnt on the
New York City subway after a
long day showing Ed NYC.

Ooh baby baby it’s a wild world…

… when you live, as UD does, in the heavily wooded Washington suburbs, hard by Rock Creek. UD’s town, as longtime readers know, is Garrett Park, an arboretum, so all the birds hounded out of high trees by Bethesda development flock to our prolific, carefully tended, big old forest. Predators like owls love the birds, not to mention the rabbits and voles and snakes etc. The orange cat who shows up every afternoon and stands very still on a log alongside one of our woodland paths loves the birds too.

Spring means that all of this and much more (I just had to interrupt my writing to shoo a raccoon away from the trash container – I’m outside) is bursting. It’s Grand Central Nature on the acre around our little brown house, and I’ve spent today observing it.

At five AM we woke to the creaky song of the catbirds. They seem to have reproduced recently, and they and their offspring are buzzing the house big time. They were soon joined in song by the thrushes, whose voice is lovely and famous (one is supposed to feel privileged to have thrushes in the garden) but, as I’ve mentioned in seasons past on this blog, never-ending. Thrushes are loud and they don’t quit.

To my immediate right, in the upper branches of a honeysuckle, is a very active thrush nest, so we will be getting yet more thrush song.

All day rabbits have strewn the lawns front and back. I seldom see solitary rabbits anymore; it’s all coalitions.

Midday I was clearing one of the paths, and I heard a close-by and unfamiliar bird call. Suddenly a few feet away from me was a pileated woodpecker tapping a poplar.

Pleased to see a vine twining along one of our fences, I snipped a group of three leaflets to take them inside for identification. Good thing I was wearing gloves. Poison ivy.

Rotund bees press into the white azalea blossoms.

As I was cutting back the front yard azaleas this morning, one of my neighbors walked by. “Happy Mother’s Day, Margaret!” he called.

“Thanks, and the same to you!” trilled idiot UD. “I mean the same to your wife.”

UD finds deer radius and metacarpal in her woods.

Thanks to a Scottish kid named Jake, she has been able to identify these bones. (Read more Jake here.)

UD was just now clearing the winding paths she’s created through her woods, and from her first glance at the bones she thought deer (given that vast herds of them live atop her back hill), but she also ghoulishly played with the idea of human child for a moment.

This is exactly what the lower bone looks like. And who knew you needed it for – uh – boning your boots?

So where’s the rest of it? Jake always seems to score the whole skeleton. UD poked around, but has found nothing. She thinks maybe these bones washed forward in the recent very big rains.

Our last stop before we return to ‘thesda…

… is Havre de Grace. (It’s Number 12 on Smithsonian Magazine‘s list of best small towns.) UD remembers Sadie Rapoport telling her that she left Port Deposit for – she pronounced it Have Er Dee Grayce – on the occasional Saturday to play Bingo.

Today’s the Decoy Festival at Havre De Grace, so Les UDs are expecting some excitement.

Seven AM, Elk Forge Bed and …

… Breakfast. Elk Forge is one of those names that tells you in a small way about how the mind works. From the moment we reserved the Baltimore Suite here, I’ve had trouble remembering the name Elk Forge, while Longwood Gardens or Red Fox Inn or Seven Gables or Green Gables are all easy, though they’re a bit more complicated. Elk Forge’s two simple monosyllabic words have tended to elude me, and I think it’s because my mind fails to find a connection between an elk and a forge. Foxes come in red, and gardens may feature long woods, but what an elk and a forge are doing together I have no idea.

Plus I think I’m registering my uncertainty about the nature of those words as they’re put together. Two nouns (though forge also can be a verb). Is elk an adjective of some sort here? Are they two self-standing nouns? Nor have I ever before encountered those words together. So novelty, muddy usage, and lack of relationship, UD figures, are all scheming here to throw her off…

There’s a mild chill in the air, and a certain drippiness left over from last night’s storm, but the Elk Forge balcony is a pleasant place to watch the sun come up. There’s good tea in the “too Victorian” (Mr UD’s description) tearoom behind me (white woods and rattans, with ferny potted plants and – UD will agree – tchotchkes a mile a minute), but no one’s refilled the hot water canister yet, so UD will be patient… There’s a none too healthy oak center stage here. At its feet pond water purls over goldfish, and beside it three sort of pointless trellis arches lean toward the creek walk.

******************

Sun went in and it got a bit too cold out there, so I’m now in the tearoom, where naturally Pachelbel’s Canon in D is being piped in… It’s version 12,491, with recurrent piano “in imbecile symbiosis” with a violin. Water falls from an interior lovebird fountain directly to UD’s left and… You get the picture… Calming to the point of valium… And who’s complaining? Not I.

So here’s my grandfather’s store …

today. For ten years it’s been an upscale seafood restaurant, Backfin Blues. They were closed when we walked by this afternoon, but UD noticed people in there, preparing for the dinner crowd, and asked if she could look around. They were glad to oblige. The manager said he knew that the place, fifty years ago, was a department store, but didn’t know it was called Rapoport’s.

This YouTube includes a shot of the front of the building – unchanged since my grandfather’s day.

UD instantly recalled the place – long, dark, narrow, with low ceilings… It hadn’t changed. Hadn’t been allowed (Historic Register) to change. An outside seating area with views of the train tracks and the river had been added, but that was the only truly new thing. The first floor balcony on which wee UD sat chatting with her grandfather was exactly the same, but with outdoor seating.

We had lunch outside at a place directly across the street from my grandfather’s old store, so I was able to gaze at the place at my leisure, recalling its massive sunny kitchen and dining room on the third floor. The manager said the floors above the place remain private apartments.

The broad beautiful Susquehanna shimmered in the background of all of this.

Loud obnoxious bikers stormed through town in groups of five and six every few minutes, reminding me what misery they brought to Key West when I lived there.

We had encounters with old-timers and new. I pushed open the door of an old Methodist church and was greeted by its groundskeeper, who showed us its unusual windows. He gave me the phone number of his aunt Audrey for more history of the town. A well-heeled character who recently bought one of the pricey riverside condos in town told me about his amazing views, but also about the frustration of living in a town that “should be like Ellicott City, but is just going nowhere.” It’s true that the endless nothingness of the Tome School/Bainbridge Naval Training Center ruins, plus the bad condition of many of the town’s historic buildings (lots of them empty and long on the market), gives Port Deposit a town that time forgot air. But the sheer trippiness of its location – one long architecturally distinguished street with massive cliffs instead of backyards on one side, and the Susquehanna River on the other – makes you excited to be there. Mr UD loved it.

Absurd, immense, bed and breakfast breakfast…

… eaten at a sunny table overlooking a koi pond in Elk Mills Maryland. Over breakfast, UD tried to remember as much as she could about her grandfather’s store in Port Deposit, her visits there… She knows more about her mother’s side of the family, the Wassermans and Kirsons, than she does the Rapoports and Snyders. She knows that her father had a Dickensian childhood, his parents’ marriage a disaster, his mother eventually institutionalized with depression (she died institutionalized), no money. After her death, Joe Rapoport married Sadie Glass, a down to earth hard-working woman, and they ran Rapoport’s department store in Port Deposit together. The store thrived because of the naval training base established in town soon after they moved in. (They lived above the store.)

It must have been in the early ‘sixties that they sold the store and moved back to Baltimore, where they retired to an apartment in a part of town full of people just like them – old observant Jews. I remember visiting them there and always leaving the apartment with pickled lettuce and tomatoes that my grandfather made. He died in 1974, in his eighties.

Off to Port Deposit.

Phase One of Our Port Deposit Weekend…

… has been successfully accomplished. We drove from ‘thesda to Longwood Gardens, PA (questions under consideration during the drive: Why are people so upset about the Duke undergraduate who pays her tuition by appearing in pornographic movies? Is UD shocked by Russia’s vile aggression in Ukraine because she was born after World War Two, or is she just naive by nature? Should we use the GPS on our new Prius to get to the gardens, just because we can? Will we get over 51 miles to the gallon on this trip? Where’s a good place for dinner in Newark Delaware?), and we tromped all over the place. Our favorite location was a simple woodland garden through which a modest waterfall fell, but most of Longwood was of course far flashier than this – an orangery with massive palms and ferns, and bright blue hydrangea flowers interspersed with bright yellow lilies; smartly symmetrical European water gardens with toad sculptures… We also liked very much the not there yet wisteria-on-pergolas garden. It didn’t interest anyone else – most people were oohing at the just-opened tulips – but we found the dark, about to green trees moodily pretty.

We’re at our bed and breakfast now, resting up before dinner in Newark. We go to Port Deposit tomorrow morning.

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