Daily Archives: May 15, 2012

Requiescat in Pace, Anne Murphy Raplee

Cinderella had a fairy for a godmother. While that sounds very exciting, I would not trade with her. My godmother is a wit, a craftswoman, a goat-keeper and a dear soul. Today, that dear soul departed, and I cannot say how much she will be missed.

I call her my godmother, but I think I always considered her a grandmother. My biological grandmothers both died before I was born, one step-grandmother died shortly after my birth. Of the other two step-grandmothers, one was kind but quiet and the other was so different from me in personality that it was difficult for us to relate. I loved them, but Anne was closer to me.

In her kitchen was a wall of what looked like ancient and cruel devices of torture. I remember playing the “what does that one do” game quite often. She would tell my brother and I “that one is a corn-sheller” or perhaps “it’s a corer,” when we asked, but she seemed endlessly amused by our more gruesome assumptions. I was obsessed with her collapsible egg-baskets for a while, and her doll-houses, and various other strange and wonderful things to be found in her house and in Doc’s shed.

Doc was her husband. I know he had a name, but I never can remember it! He was always Doc Raplee, originally our veterinarian, and always our friend. Like my father, he was a tinkerer, and unlike my father, he was a tough, gruff old country vet, a complex mix of harsh and tender. Doc died a few years ago, but tragically he was faded in mind before that. Even from the little I know, Anne’s life was not an easy one. She was often happy when I knew her, but her path was rocky.

Anne knew how to knit, and made afghans for my brother and I. She even knitted us a town and a train! I found, yesterday, a pillow she made for me with a horse on it. In my jewelry box is the white-gold heart with her tooth mark and mine in it (we were both curious children, apparently). Her corned beef and cabbage were heavenly, and her conversation was even better.

I could tell a hundred tales. I think I will make notes for myself, lest I forget them some day. For weeks I have been trying to remember the name of her old disgruntled Scottie dog. It is at the tip of my mind, but I cannot grasp it. I do remember Meg, the only collie I have ever really liked. I remember the cow… Sweet Thang, if I remember right. There were burros: Murphy’s Burro, which is funny to those of us who know Murfreesboro, and Daisy. There were also goats. Tons of goats. Anne’s Siamese cats never liked me, but then I was a small child at the time.

Anne’s home had a pond, usually overgrown with weeds, that held, for me, and endless fascination. I think it was on the hills behind that I first discovered the beauty of bones. I spent hours upon ours scouring that hill for the smooth, intricate treasures picked clean by coyotes and vultures and bleached by sun and rain. Anne never complained, at least to me, that my bone-collecting was morbid or unclean. I also loved the hills for themselves, with their old cedars and smooth limestone boulders.

I loved that place so much that, in college, years ago, I wrote this. I was assigned to write about a place.

Cedar of Lebanon

            Step lightly, and watch your feet.  The cows have been here and goat pellets cling to the crevices in the slope.  Climb carefully from ridge to ridge on the fossil-encrusted limestone that peeks through the grass.  Never walk straight. Weave. Pause and run your fingers over all that is left of this seabed.  If you are lucky you will find a bone or two, picked clean by the coyotes and bleached by sun and rain. As you walk you will come to an old juniper whose roots are nestled in the smooth curve of one of the great boulders.  Its shedding bark splinters off the twisting trunk like strips of peeling wallpaper until it reaches the branches, heavy with fragrant spiny leaves and dusty berries.  Brace yourself, back against the trunk, foot pressed in the dip of the smooth stone and suck the air deep into your chest until it hurts.  Then just sit, be silent, and let your senses bloom like dandelions. Let your hungry eyes search the cirrus clouds sweeping the sky, and dwell on the dove gray stones and the burning fall colors.  Feel the sharp, resin-sweet air and the heat of the sun-warmed boulder beneath you. Taste the sun and the wind, and drink the blues and golds as wine. Crush the leaves of the juniper between your fingers and smell the age of their parent tree.  Remember if they prick you, they mean no real harm. Open your ears and listen as the trees sing and the birds rustle and the limestone wears away.

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~

I look on this passage now, and I know that it was not just the place itself that made me love it. It was the people there, who loved me. Anne, I am proud to have your name. I am glad to have known you so long, and to have been shaped by knowing you. I owe you much for the beauty, fascination, love and joy you brought to my life, though I know you would never call in the debt.

Goodbye, for now. We must all carry on in your absence. Know, however, that I intend to keep talking to you, when I need to, and I am determined to see you again, in time.


Verbage

Book Meme 2012

Question 7: Favorite words and phrases, or lines and literary allusions that would win your heart.

What a broad topic! If I get onto “favorite words” in literature I will never have done, so scratch that. The same goes for favorite phrases. In fact, I am determined to warp this question beyond all reason.  What follows aren’t really lines or allusions, but some of my favorite clips of prose. For your sake, I will categorize them a little. I will begin with faith, move on to humor, continue to awesome, shamefully admit romantic sentiment,  and end with a passage that is utterly dear to me. I have restrained my impulse to flood this post with quotes. It has been painful to leave out so many, so dear, but I must resist! As it is, this post is atrociously long.

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“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan-

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.'”

-Isaiah 9:1-2 N.I.V.

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“The truth is that even big collections of ordinary books distort space, as can readily be proved by anyone who has been around a really old-fashioned secondhand bookshop, one of those that look as though they were designed by M. Escher on a bad day and has more staircases than storeys and those rows of shelves which end in little doors that are surely too small for a full-sized human to enter.
The relevant equation is: Knowledge = power = energy = matter = mass;
A good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read.”

Guards! Guards! byTerry Pratchett

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“I never heard tell that it’s against the law for a citizen to do his utmost to prevent a crime from being committed, which is exactly what he did, but maybe you’ll say it’s my duty to tell the town all about it and not hush it up. Know what’d happen? All the ladies in Maycomb includin’ my wife’d be knocking on his door bringing angel food cakes. To my way of thinkin’, Mr. Finch, taking the one man who’s done you and this town a great service an’ draggin’ him with his shy ways into the limelight- to me, that’s a sin. It’s a sin and I’m not about to have it on my head. If it was any other man it’d be different. But not this man, Mr. Finch.”

Mr. Tate was trying to dig a hole in the floor with the toe of his boot. He pulled his nose, then massaged his left arm. “I may not be much, Mr. Finch, but I’m still sheriff of Maycomb County and Bob Ewell fell on his knife. Good night, sir.”

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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“Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death.  I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant.”

Persuasion by Jane Austen

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“The Mountain

Curdie was the son of Peter the miner. He lived with his father and mother in a cottage built on a mountain, and he worked with his father inside the mountain.

A mountain is a strange and awful thing. In old times, without knowing so much of their strangeness and awfulness as we do, people were yet more afraid of mountains. But then somehow they had not come to see how beautiful they are as well as awful, and they hated them — and what people hate, they must fear. Now that we have learned to look at them with admiration, perhaps we do not feel quite awe enough of them. To me, they are beautiful terrors.

I will try to tell you what they are. They are portions of the heart of the earth that have escaped from the dungeon down below, and rushed up and out. For the heart of the earth is a great wallowing mass, not of blood, as in the hearts of men and animals, but of glowing hot, melted metals and stones. And as our hearts keep us alive, so that great lump of heat keeps the earth alive: it is a huge power of buried sunlight–that is what it is.

Now think: out of that cauldron, where all the bubbles would be as big as the Alps if it could get room for its boiling, certain bubbles have bubbled out and escaped–up and away, and there they stand in the cool, cold sky–mountains. Think of the change, and you will no more wonder that there should be something awful about the very look of a mountain: from the darkness–for where the light has nothing to shine upon, much the same as darkness–from the heat, from the endless tumult of boiling unrest–up, with a sudden heavenward shoot, into the wind, and the cold, and the starshine, and a cloak of snow that lies like ermine above the blue-green mail of the glaciers; and the great sun, their grandfather, up there in the sky; and their little old cold aunt, the moon, that comes wandering about the house at night; and everlasting stillness, except for the wind that turns the rocks and caverns into a roaring organ for the young archangels that are studying how to let out the pent-up praises of their hearts, and the molten music of the streams, rushing ever from the bosoms of the glaciers fresh born.

Think, too, of the change in their own substance–no longer molten and soft, heaving and glowing, but hard and shining and cold. Think of the creatures scampering over and burrowing in it, and the birds building their nests upon it, and the trees growing out of its sides, like hair to clothe it, and the lovely grass in the valleys, and the gracious flowers even at the very edge of its armour of ice, like the rich embroidery of the garment below, and the rivers galloping down the valleys in a tumult of white and green! And along with all these, think of the terrible precipices down which the traveler may fall and be lost, and the frightful gulfs of blue air cracked in the glaciers, and the dark profound lakes, covered like little arctic oceans with floating lumps of ice.

All this outside the mountain! But the inside, who shall tell what lies there? Caverns of awfullest solitude, their walls miles thick, sparkling with ores of gold or silver, copper or iron, tin or mercury, studded perhaps with precious stones–perhaps a brook, with eyeless fish in it, running, running ceaselessly, cold and babbling, through banks crusted with carbuncles and golden topazes, or over a gravel of which some of the stones are rubies and emeralds, perhaps diamonds and sapphires–who can tell?–and whoever can’t tell is free to think–all waiting to flash, waiting for millions of ages–ever since the earth flew off from the sun, a great blot of fire, and began to cool.

Then there are caverns full of water, numbingly cold, fiercely hot–hotter than any boiling water. From some of these the water cannot get out, and from others it runs in channels as the blood in the body: little veins bring it down from the ice above into the great caverns of the mountain’s heart, whence the arteries let it out again, gushing in pipes and clefts and ducts of all shapes and kinds, through and through its bulk, until it springs newborn to the light, and rushes down the Mountainside in torrents, and down the valleys in rivers–down, down, rejoicing, to the mighty lungs of the world, that is the sea, where it is tossed in storms and cyclones, heaved up in billows, twisted in waterspouts, dashed to mist upon rocks, beaten by millions of tails, and breathed by millions of gills, whence at last, melted into vapour by the sun, it is lifted up pure into the air, and borne by the servant winds back to the mountaintops and the snow, the solid ice, and the molten stream.

Well, when the heart of the earth has thus come rushing up among her children, bringing with it gifts of all that she possesses, then straightway into it rush her children to see what they can find there. With pickaxe and spade and crowbar, with boring chisel and blasting powder, they force their way back: is it to search for what toys they may have left in their long-forgotten nurseries? Hence the mountains that lift their heads into the clear air, and are dotted over with the dwellings of men, are tunneled and bored in the darkness of their bosoms by the dwellers in the houses which they hold up to the sun and air.

Curdie and his father were of these: their business was to bring to light hidden things; they sought silver in the rock and found it, and carried it out. Of the many other precious things in their mountain they knew little or nothing. Silver ore was what they were sent to find, and in darkness and danger they found it. But oh, how sweet was the air on the mountain face when they came out at sunset to go home to wife and mother! They did breathe deep then!”

The Princess and Curdie, by George MacDonald

On a personal note, the above chunk of MacDonald’s wandering is an example of what is often, if not always removed from his work when abridged. To many readers it might seem extraneous exposition, but to me this is the soul of MacDonald’s work. I am convinced that this is what a man writes when his heart is singing, and it echoes the songs in my heart.

I must quit now, while I am ahead. It is agony to leave so many quotes un-quoted! I may have to do a follow-up, or ten.

Here are the links to the rest of this series, in order:

1. Motley Crew

2. Cue Music/Shout Out

3. Villainy Most Vile

4. Very Ominous Endings

5. Shapes are Only Dressess… and Dresses are Only Names

6. Chridonalchett

7. Verbage

8. The Scent Test

9. Personal Question

10. Packing Lightly


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