A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Out of Town

Because people know I'm a book cataloger and a bibliophile, I'm occasionally given old books by friends and relatives. Books acquired for little or nothing, which the donor doesn't quite know what to do with, but thinks might have some value.

"Hmm, maybe Cicily would want this decrepit but kind of interesting old book."

That's how I came upon this copy of Out of Town by F. E. Weatherly. One of my cousins picked it up at the Goodwill and passed it on to me. "It's falling apart," she said, "but the pictures are nice, and maybe you could cut it up and frame them."

Her place is tiny, and she shares it with one of those guys who's really talented but not at all ambitious...one of those guys who'd rather be fishing or smoking weed than working. Every square inch of the place is covered with his aquariums and his marionettes, or has a cat draped over it. I, on the other hand, live with my two minimalist sons in a cavernous Victorian. Loads of 10-foot-high walls on which to hang framed prints from picture books.

Of course, I checked the value of the book when I got it home, and sure enough, it 's worth some bucks. The cheapest copy for sale on the net is $90, and they go up to almost $200. None seems to have the poor binding that my copy has, but that's not really a huge issue with old books, as many people don't realize. It's more important for the interior to be in good condition. Underlining, evidence of library ownership, bookworm damage, water damage and so on are more serious flaws--things that can't be rectified by rebinding.

Frederic Edward Weatherly was an Oxford-trained lawyer, but more famous as a songwriter. He was prolific, with over 3000 songs to his credit. The one everybody's heard of is "Danny Boy." Out of Town is a book of poems, lyrical, as one might imagine. It was published in 1880.

This book has not one but two illustrators. Linnie Watt, a painter who's not totally lost to history, did the lovely chromolithographs. Ernest Wilson did the monotints, which are charmingly integrated with the text. In the poem "Two O'Clock," which begins, "Sing a song of two o'clock, Tadpoles in a pool," the capital "S" is a tadpole. The "Y" which begins "Gentleman John" is a rake. Leaves and branches twine all around the text; a crab hangs by a pincer onto a poem about the seashore.

I haven't got the heart to cut the book to pieces, and of course now I know it's worth more money in one piece. Anyway I've got literally dozens of paintings, photographs, and mirrors yet to be hung--I don't need any more. Out of Town has come to the right place--a creaky old house where everything, including the owner, is vintage, and being old and a little worn out is just the way to be.

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Happy Sweater

Today I received a bit of good news, so I decided to put on my happy sweater.

This is an item that I bought a few years ago. I was working nights in the post office general mail facility, trying to make enough money to take care of myself and two kids while studying electrical engineering technology fulltime. I was also substitute teaching, so most of the time I was walking around like a zombie.

I used to work with a woman named Linda, who was my age, never married, funny, kind, and obese. Linda was so fat that when we stood up to pass the mail at the end of the shift, she would remain seated. On icy nights, she would command someone to walk her to her car, holding her arm. If she were ever to fall down, she'd never get up.

Linda owned her own home, and as a career USPS employee was well set for life. But perhaps because of her weight, resultant health and self-image issues, and loneliness, she had developed a sort of gruff manner. She was the self-appointed boss of the section, and everyone bowed to her. She liked me, and we were the same age, but since she was bossy and a career employee, while I was only a casual, she patronized me a bit.

"Smile! Cheer up!" she would order every time she passed me.

"Linda, I'm the happiest person I know," I would answer patiently. "I can't help it if the corners of my mouth turn down, or if I'm tired, or whatever. But honestly, I'm not in need of cheering up." My protests had exactly no effect on her.

So I went out and bought a red sweater. I wore it to work and I told Linda, "This is my Happy Sweater. Whenever I'm wearing it, it means I'm happy. So you don't have to tell me to cheer up. Red means Cicily is already very, very happy."

It took a little work, but eventually I trained her. I had to wear the sweater a lot. She would walk by, and I would point to my chest. She'd shake her head and roll her eyes, but she stopped ordering me to smile.

Not long afterward, I got hired by Intel, and I left the Post Office. I haven't seen Linda since. But I still think of her every time I pull out this sweater. And these days, I'm happy a whole lot.