Thursday, August 12, 2010

The New York Times and my mother

A few links to reviews I stumbled upon in The New York Times

The Life You Hide May Be Your Own, by Coral Lansbury, July 30, 1989. 
The review of the reprints of The Hottest Night of the Century and Games of the Strong gave me a new perspective on my mother's writing. But Lynne Sharon Schwartz takes the reviewer to task in her Letter to the Editor: Crushed by Australia?, August 27, 1989.

Unloved in Manly, by John Crowley, September 13, 1992. 
Not so glowing, but an interesting review of Longleg

And this is a fabulous exchange to read:  
1) The bad review of Dancing on Coral (the winner of the Miles Franklin Award): In Short - Fiction - Dancing on Coral, by Roger Freidman, May 24, 1987. 
2) The Letter to the Editor in reply: Dancing on Coral, Glenda Adams, June 28, 1987. My mother takes him down.

1978: last bit

The mother's helper is named here, A. (I'm sticking with initials except for my own name, which I retain since it is mine to share), and I am left with my mother's question at the end, with no personal memory of the story.  I have a question of my own: How did my mother, who did not have money to spare, hire a mother's helper? Maybe this was such a bad experience, she never hired one again.

Keep in mind this is more of a journal -- my mother trying to catch the moment for later use -- with some artistry but also with some things that one might omit from another draft, such as the continued use of "disgruntled."

1978 last bit

“T. and I were students together,“ I said lightly, to include [the mother’s helper], to make her feel like one of the family. “But we didn’t know each other then. It wasn’t till we started to teach that we got to know each other.”

The children had started to hit each other. T. and I got up. A. stayed with her cup of tea. It was her first day, I thought, she must have felt strange, in this exciting city.

T. cooked dinner. I set the table. R. came home. Now there was a head of beautiful curls. Brownish red Welsh curls. But cut wrong.

“He ought to see to it,” T. said, “Beautiful hair like that, massacred, because he won’t pay more than £1.50.”

We ate. T. and I cleared the table. I did the dishes. R. and A. sat drinking their coffee. Not talking to each other. R. probably didn’t know what to say to a young American [student turned] mother’s helper with a new BA in drama. And A. wasn’t interested in anyone. Just disgruntled.

The children were bickering again. I gave mine a bath, then she asked A. to read her a story.

“Sure,” I said.

“Sure,” A. said and read a bit of Charlotte’s Web followed by Paddington Plays Golf.

I went up to give my littley her goodnight hug and kiss. A. stood by. Disgruntled.

“Lovely room,” I said. “We’re lucky to get a place at all in London. A room each. I thought you and Cait would have to share.”

A.’s room was identical to Caity’s. Bed, desk, 6 X12 or so. Shower next door. Toilet. Sweet, really.

A. said nothing.

Uh, oh, I thought again. What the hell’s up with her?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

1978: mother's helper

This next part of the story from the little notebook focuses more on the mother's helper, who is finally named  (though I am again using only the first initial). I feel for the mother's helper -- even though she may have been a royal pain in the butt and not well-suited to her job. 

1978 continued

My mother’s helper [descended into/came downstairs to] the kitchen. Feet first. [Bead] sandals (in my day they were called [Roma] sandals and wound up the leg and tied), grey socks, Diane Keaton trousers, [Laura Ashley/Liberty] blouse, a five-year-old [Giddon’s] of London riding jacket, long straight brown hair, disgruntled face. My eyes took in the disgruntlement, my heart sank, my inner voice said, uh oh, what’s up with her? We’d been in London only two hours, ten minutes in the flat in Hampstead. Here we were, 20 feet from the beautiful heath, with the top floor of Victorian house to ourselves, a view of St. Paul’s dome and the radio tower to one side, trees and heath on the other. And already disgruntlement.

“Ha, ha, well, well,” I said.

“Let’s have tea, “ said T.

The mother’s helper asked where the nearest shops were. Just two minutes to little South End Green with [Rumfold’s] home made bread, delicatessen, patisserie. Everything, and I mean everything, three miles from the center of London.

“And a florist?” My mother’s helper asked.

“And a florist,” T. said.

And the mother’s helper said she’d be back in a moment. And she was, while our tea was still hot, with a bunch of flowers. For me? For T.?

“For my room, “ she announced. “There’s no color in it and I need color.” No color.  [I understood] why she was grumpy. And T. hauled out a vase from the back of a cupboard for the flowers for A.’s room, which, alas, had no color.

“But there are flowers  in the garden," T. said and pointed through the window to where her two and my one were fighting over the swing after only ten minutes. 

Tricky to have a room, I thought.

And when she came down, T. made a fresh pot of tea.

We sat, T., A. and I and drank tea. I asking T. for news, gossip, anything; A. looking disgruntled still even though she now had color in her room.

Friday, August 6, 2010

1978: curly hair

I am typing up a small book of notes my mother kept from a summer in 1978 while traveling around Western Europe. The 17 small pages are full of her handwriting, which is pretty but often hard to read. Anything in brackets are dual phrasings she hadn't chosen between or bits she crossed out. I've used only the first initial for the one name included. This is only the first two pages of notes in Lion Brand notepad:

They’re all wearing their hair curly in London. At least they were that particular summer. Quite remarkable. A nation of curly headed women, overnight so to speak.
I had seen T. just [the summer / twelve months] before. Blonde, straight hair, absolutely perfectly cut, swinging around as she yelled at her children, no different from fifteen years before when we were TAs sharing an office, sharing Rothman’s King Size, and giggling at the fact that we were teaching Sanskrit and old Javanese to Sydney undergraduates, who were practically our own age. My hair at the time, as always, was brown and straight, no swing, not even when I yelled at my child.
[This] particular summer, T. had a head of gorgeous little curls. Her children were a year older and things were more peaceful. The little curls wiggled as she smoked and made pots of tea.
“T.,” I shrieked, or maybe I just said it [when I saw her], “Your hair. [Curly.]” I was very impressed.
T. moved her Benson & Hedges around and put on the tea kettle. The little curls wiggled. She told me everyone had switched to [curly hair/permanents]. Soft, not like in our mothers’ day.
I grabbed the arm of my mother’s helper. “Look at that.” I said. “My old friend T., from way back. We were young together. Now she has curly hair.”
The mother’s helper, who seemed to know about these things, inspected the curls. She told T. that she shouldn’t comb it so much. The curls would stay rounder, curlier. T was making them drag out by combing her hair.

(To be continued... The next bit is more about the mother's helper, of whom I have no memory, but I was only 7 years old.)