This post was a “sticky” feature for a week, and was first published last Monday. Scroll down for items posted since that time.
Winter Fundraiser 2020, Day Seven
Sunday’s Update: Snaps From the Family Album
This morning’s update will be brief, and will include just two final photos of kind faces from my memory. The first one is the above snapshot of Dymphna from 1987. I’ll tell you more about that in a minute, after I get the formalities out of the way.
We’re down to the wire here in the Winter Fundraiser of 2020: this is the final day. If you haven’t put a jingle into the tip cup (or this link), now is the time to do it.
Just think: this is a way to avoid all those noisome and obnoxious ads that you see on most sites. This blog relies entirely on modest donations by individual readers. I have no commercial sponsors. I’m not supported by any foundations or think tanks. The only sponsors are the people who read this site.
So if you appreciate what you find here, please drop a groat in the cup. A reminder: I send 10% of what I fundraise here to Vlad Tepes, whose video work is absolutely crucial to what I do. If you think he deserves more, please visit his site and click his own donate button.
The photo of Dymphna at the top of this update is one of my all-time favorites. It captures her essence: that is exactly Dymphna, my beloved wife, with whom I spent forty fortunate years.
The picture was taken at my annual art show in the fall of 1987. The venue was a restaurant on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville. I’ve racked my brains trying to figure out who Dymphna was talking to when I took the snap, but I can’t do it. However, I can identify all three paintings on the wall in the background, despite the blurriness. Funny about that.
The final set of kind faces for this fundraiser is a detail from a larger group photo that was taken in the mid-1980s when the future Baron was just a few months old. As far as I know, the fB and I are the only two people in the photo who are still alive, but just in case I’ve cropped the rest of them out:
That’s Dymphna at the top, and her mother seated in front of her. Boy, I sure had more hair in those days. And none of it was white yet.
These last two snaps from the Bodissey family album wrap up the 2020 Winter Fundraiser. I realize that I’ve been wallowing in nostalgia this past week, but then, wallowing is an emotional necessity for me in these our wintry days.
Saturday’s donors hailed from:
Stateside: Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Mexico, West Virginia, and Washington
Far Abroad: Lithuania and the UK
Australia: Western Australia
This concludes the 2020 Winter Fundraiser for Gates of Vienna. I’ll post a wrap-up with all the locations sometime in the next few days.
A hearty Bodisseyan “thank you” to all those people on four continents who chipped in. It looks like I’ll be set for another quarter.
Saturday’s Update: Miscellaneous Faces From History, Not All of Them Kind
I’ll switch gears this morning and post a series of faces from history, chosen by whim from my image library. The one above shows Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili (a.k.a. Joseph Stalin), Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Sir Winston Churchill at the Tehran Conference in late 1943. Sir Winston’s face might be characterized as “kind”, but FDR’s and Uncle Joe’s not so much.
I have more faces to post, but first a word about what I’ve been doing during this week that is rapidly drawing to a close.
For one week every quarter I beg for money from readers to help keep Gates of Vienna going. The tradition began while Dymphna was alive, and continues in her absence. We depended, and I still depend, on the kindness of strangers. Actually, not all of you are strangers, come to think of it…
So if you haven’t done so already, please click that funky tip cup on the sidebar (or use this link) and drop in a ha’penny or two to help keep this enterprise afloat.
What’s amazing to me is the large number of modest donations that have come in. They’re generally quite small, but there are so MANY of them — they really add up. I’m humbled by your generosity, and pleased to see so many first-time donors.
And now we can return to faces from history. Here’s Sir Winston and FDR again, in Quebec the year after the other photo was taken. Mr. Roosevelt was not in good shape that day, and Sir Winston’s body language attests to that fact:
An aside: In her book American Betrayal, Diana West provides a meticulously-sourced analysis of the severe damage done by Soviet agents of influence who held high positions in the Roosevelt administration before, during, and after the Second World War.
Dropping back a generation, here’s a photo of ANZAC troops in a trench during the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917:
Two generations before that saw the end of another war, when General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at the McLean House in Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865:
To close on a more cheerful note, this morning’s final photo shows children participating in a St. Lucy celebration in Sweden in 2006:
Friday’s gifts rolled in from:
Stateside: California, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and Virginia
Far Abroad: New Zealand, Sweden, and the UK
I’m profoundly grateful to all who have contributed. I’ll be back tomorrow for the final update in this week’s fundraiser.
Friday’s Update: Rug Rats, Parents, and Hippies
This morning’s post will feature odds and ends of photos from the family album here at Schloss Bodissey. I’ll begin with the photo above from the mid-1980s, which features the future Baron when he was a rug rat. It was taken during the summer, which means he was probably about fifteen months old. I’ll have more about that after I explain my mission for the rest of the week.
If you’ve been reading Gates of Vienna this week, and still haven’t clinked the tip cup on the sidebar (or clicked this link), now is the time. Somebody has to pay for all this Islamophobia and Deplorability, and my application for an NEA grant just got turned down yet again. I pitched my idea for a Sobieski sneaker to Nike, but for some reason they weren’t interested. Next will be a meeting with Stanley Hand Tools to push my proposal for a line of Charles Martel Claw Hammers, but I’m not all that optimistic about my prospects…
So it’s really up to you, Mr. and Mrs. Islamophobe, the readers of this site. It’s your nickels and dimes that keep the lights on here, and (to borrow a trope from Garrison Keillor) give a shy boy like me the strength to get up and do what needs to be done.
That delightful photo of the future Baron as a wee bairn was taken by one of his much older brothers, who was (and is) a skilled photographer. His mother commissioned him to take a series of black and white shots of his little brother, and he did a commendable job.
After he had taken as many as she wanted, he finished up the roll of film by pointing the camera at his mother where she sat at the kitchen table. Dymphna did not allow herself to be photographed, but that was of no concern to Big Brother, who never minded annoying his mother. He just kept taking shot after shot from different angles, slowly, leaving long gaps between each click of the shutter.
Eventually she got used to what he was doing, and relaxed a little bit. Some of the photos from that group were superb, and the one below is my favorite. She’s staring straight into the camera, and seems to be saying, “When will this be over?”
The next photo is from a few years earlier. It shows Dymphna and me in front of the gallery at one of my openings in Georgetown:
It was a beautiful October day, if I remember rightly.
Finally, for your amusement, here’s a close-up of my very badly damaged William and Mary student ID from my senior year:
Pulling it out of the old trunk and scanning it reminded me of a story. At the time that card was made I was already 21, but most of my friends were younger. On the day photos were taken and student IDs laminated, two of them pranked the system by standing in line twice, using a different name and a later birthdate the second time. They never thought it would work — they figured they’d be sussed and kicked out immediately — so one of them gave his name as Francois Truffaut and the other as Friedrich Engels.
Much to their surprise, the bored functionary making the IDs simply put the names on the cards and had them sign in the line. For the rest of that year, whenever they went to buy beer, they used their directorial or commie ID cards.
Thursday’s donors came in from:
Stateside: Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Virginia
Far Abroad: Hungary, Norway, Thailand, and the UK
Canada: Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario
Australia: Australian Capital Territory, and New South Wales
My deep appreciation to all who have contributed. I’ll be back tomorrow for the Saturday update.
Thursday’s Update: The Recent Unpleasantness, Again
Continuing with the theme of Faces From the Past: the above photos feature some of my mother’s ancestors. I’ll give more details about them in a minute, but first I need to take care of the formalities, in case any newcomers have wandered into Gates of Vienna this morning.
Back in April 2008 we got kicked out of Pajamas Media, thereby losing revenue from the ads that were displayed on the site. They didn’t generate all that much money; we were hoping that our traffic would increase so that we could get the higher rates. Just think what I’d be pulling in now if they were still up — this blog probably has ten times as many readers as it did then. Oh, well…
Dymphna and I polled our readers to determine which they would prefer: more paid ads from a different source, or periodic fundraisers. Readers voted against more ads, so we eventually settled into a quarterly routine: We (and now I) took one week per quarter and put up posts every day that wheedled and importuned members of our audience into chipping in a small amount to keep this blog alive without having to resort to ads.
That’s what I’m doing now. We’re past the middle of the week, so if you haven’t done so already, it’s time to visit the tip cup on the sidebar and make it clank (or use this link).
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, one of my projects since Dymphna’s death has been to go through the various boxes and trunks of stuff that has accumulated in this house for more than forty years. Among the items I’m curating are numerous photographs, some of which have been scanned and posted here.
The two at the top of tonight’s update were taken in the early 1920s at my great-great-grandfather’s modest retirement home on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge. Not long ago I ran across an envelope of photos of the place, but unfortunately none of them had any information written on the back. I’m 90% certain that the old man with the droopy white mustache is my great-great-grandfather, at that time in his mid-90s. And I’m equally certain that little girl with the pageboy haircut on the left in the first photo and the right in the second is my mother.
The thing is, if that is my mother, she can’t have been more than two years old, because that’s how old she was when her great-grandfather died. She told me that she met him there when she was too young to remember.
So I’ll throw it open to my readers: could that little girl possibly be as young as two years old? I’m not very good at guessing the ages of little kids, not anymore. But that’s definitely my grandfather with her in the left-hand picture, so I can’t think who else it might be.
I’ve told the story of my great-great-grandfather once or twice in the past, but I’ll recapitulate it here. Before the Recent Unpleasantness he owned a small plantation between Richmond and Petersburg. He served honorably in that conflict, and was wounded at (I think) Second Manassas. That’s the official story — but family lore says he fell off his horse and broke his leg. His servant (i.e. his slave) tied him to the horse and led him home.
While he was away at war the Yankees paid a visit to his plantation and torched the house, along with its outbuildings. According to the story, the Northern officer gave the family thirty minutes to save what they could. My elderly cousin (of my grandmother’s generation) told me that the women and the slaves hurriedly lowered furniture out of the upstairs windows.
After the war the family fell on hard times, as so many others did. My great-great-grandfather opened a boarding house in Richmond, and that’s how he made a living for a while. I don’t know if he did anything else, but when he retired he built a house up in the Blue Ridge, which is where my mother visited him. The house is still there — you can see it if you drive up a bumpy gravel road near Afton — but it’s not in the family anymore.
That’s the background to what you see. I don’t know who the other two people are in those photos. The other toddler can’t be my uncle, because even if his parents had let his blond locks grow so long and curly and allowed him to run around in just a shirt (not unheard of for small boys in those days), he wasn’t even a year old when his great-grandfather died. So that has to be someone else.
I figure the other child (whether boy or girl) must belong to the swank gent in the middle. There was a wealthy cousin on that side of the family; my mother used to tell stories about him, but I can’t remember the exact relationship. The guy in the boots and waistcoat may be Wealthy Cousin’s daddy. And, if the toddler is a boy, that could be Wealthy Cousin himself. Presumably the dapper fellow was the child of one of my great-great-grandfather’s five daughters (he had no sons).
That’s all that I can glean from those photos. They’re so tantalizing, and it’s frustrating not to have more information about them.
As Louis MacNeice wrote in an entirely different context:
And how one can imagine oneself among them
I do not know;
It was all so unimaginably different
And all so long ago.
Wednesday’s largesse arrived from:
Stateside: California, Federated States of Micronesia, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia
Far Abroad: The UK
A big thank-you to all the donors who came over from WRSA! I’ll be back tomorrow with another update.
Wednesday’s Update: A Flashback
This week’s theme is faces from the past, as they appear in our memories or in history.
The photo above was taken in Ireland ca. 1937. Dymphna’s mother, then in her early twenties, is second from the left. I don’t know anything more than that about it. I don’t know who the other people are, except that at least some of them are Dymphna’s kin.
For those of you who took a long weekend and snoozed through Presidents’ Day, here’s what I’m doing this week: I’m begging for money. Or, as it’s sometimes called in the blogging world, “blegging”. I believe the term was coined by John Derbyshire.
It’s kind of like a marathon fundraiser at an NPR station, except that I don’t have any merch to send out to the biggest donors. And it also has a fixed term: instead of cutting off when it reaches some predetermined target amount, it runs from Monday to Sunday. After that I resume normal programming, and we can all breathe a sigh of relief.
I count on y’all to click the tip cup (or this link) sometime this week. In the meantime, I’ll ramble on about something or other for each morning’s update. Or, in today’s edition, Dymphna will ramble on.
I’ll explain. As most of you know, one of my tactics for coping with grief has been to post installments of “Dymphna’s Greatest Hits” from time to time, selected from her fifteen years of posts at this and her other blog. She comes alive again for me as I read through her essays. I hear her voice in my head while her inimitable prose unfolds in front of me.
I sorely miss her contributions to Gates of Vienna, and never more than at fundraising time. Her fundraising essays were always more entertaining than mine — witty, whimsical, erudite, thoughtful, and flamboyant by turns as she danced around our need to ask our readers for money.
So it seems appropriate to pull up one of her old bleg posts today. Strictly speaking, I should have waited until tomorrow to publish this, since that would be exactly eight years after the day she wrote and posted it. But I found it this morning, so I’ll go ahead and include it now. It’s a meditation on frugality, and served as the opening post in Fundraiser #14, Winter 2012.
Encountering Frugality in the Garden of Forking Paths
Originally published February 20, 2012
Our quarterly fundraiser is the Löbel Bastion of the Gates of Vienna enterprise, the last redoubt holding back the janissaries of poverty. It’s been breached and battered and patched back together out of old masonry, shattered wood, miscellaneous structural rubble, and anything else that comes to hand.
As the First Quarterly Fundraiser of 2012 boots the wolf from the door, this stout defender is asking for a name and a raison d’être.
Fortunately for us he’s not unexpected, so I give him his badge and a cup of coffee. At the moment this one is sitting meekly in the parlor, acting as though he were the resident expert. Let’s see how often he actually shows up once we get rolling.
Truth be known, we begin with a theme, but sometimes the bleg begins to run the show, ditching our theme, throwing away that badge, and pushing pedal to the metal all the way to the end. Let’s see where this one goes once we move into the Garden of Forking Paths.
We’re in mid-conversation here. Frugality is the “theme” and it’s a subject the Baron and I have been pondering since we met — often misunderstanding one another’s implicit communication. Example? The day we met, the Baron almost immediately told me he was a landscape artist. My interpretation? He was bragging about it, and oh, heavens, would I be able to ‘interpret’ his paintings? As I later learned, by telling me what he did, he was trying to warn me he was a starving artist. And I worried for nothing: it isn’t hard to interpret hay bales when they’re rendered in such detail.
Another early example, this one a… umm… discussion. Yeah, that’s what it was, a discussion. It would become emblematic of these talks. The subject was parmesan cheese, the mise-en-scène our grocery store. And the meta-discussion turned on how one categorized parmesan cheese: luxury or necessity. What’s your take? Is parmesan cheese a necessity?
Marriages have a better chance of success when the partners come from the same cultural milieu. We were fortunate that ours intersected at enough points to allow for mutually intelligible meanings. But the ride would get bumpy at those places where our meanings were polarized, or where our characterological differences made our perspectives 180 degrees out of synch. That’s where learning the rules of communication is essential.
And that’s why the subject of frugality has been a marriage-long entertainment. We’ve been poor and we’ve been “comfortable” — but mostly we’ve been poor. It’s a strange amalgam more common to this generation than to previous ones: having the luxury of education and the ongoing education of poverty. We loved the luxuries good pay allowed, but during those fleeting good times, the salary he earned always felt like Monopoly money to the Baron. Not that we didn’t squirrel away most of what the future Baron’s education didn’t eat, not that we didn’t turn from shopping at thrift stores to perusing catalogues, not that we didn’t enjoy sudden vacations… but these good things never lasted long enough to become Necessities.
And still we had Discussions. The Baron claimed we were rich. I laughed and said, “We’re only rich to us. The rest of our world thinks we’re living in genteel poverty.” We never had the opportunity to lay that one to rest, since our fall from grace back to what we’d always considered Reality came on with the first wave of mergers and down-sizing.
We weren’t nearly as traumatized as others, since we were so new to the game of prosperity. Neither of us ever believed we were cut from Middle Class Cloth, though we’ve accumulated some patches of it here and there.
On the roundabout to our theme: Frugality. Frugality is fraught, for sure. Fraught and fungible. Is frugality by chance, by choice, or cultural? Think of the cultures you know which are stereotypically proud of their frugality. Scotland is one. Scrooge McDuck is one of its American icons. Norway is another, though I didn’t know that until the Danes told me some stories to prove the point.
And even within frugal cultures, there are points along the line from Luxury to Necessity where people claim their perspective is the true one, even as they save rubber bands they’ll never use and wash out margarine containers for use at some future time that never quite arrives. I have postage stamps in my correspondence drawer that my mother removed from letters she’d never mailed, back when first class postage was a dime.
As inflation sets in, which it has again for some items, value (as related to the frugal life) becomes confused. Each generation has its set point regarding what everyday items “should” cost; as the train gets further from the station of their emergent adulthood, the prices get steeper and less meaningful. Consider it part of the stress of losing your youth: losing your price perspective.
Each culture’s foundation is economic. Man is the animal who barters and bargains. Some cultures (and sub-cultures) play fair — e.g. the Quaker businessmen in England whose intramural ethics revolutionized business behavior in general when the advantages became obvious. Meanwhile, some cultures consider bargaining a vitally entertaining pastime and those who refuse to play as cowards or poor sports.
Each economic class within a given culture has strict (if unwritten) rules about the use and abuse of money or barter. What constitutes correct behavior in one class is considered almost criminal in another. And in most cultures, money divides people into their respective classes. Or rather, money has come to constitute class, usually within a generation or so (see some of Takuan Seiyo’s ideas on this). No doubt intelligence will often prove the boost up to the next stratum, but I’ve known too many high I.Q. folks who couldn’t maintain in the face of a quotidian reality. So character and initiative and energy remain critical components.
Some of us straddle those fences, at least in the moment. The Baron can don his bespoke suit and set off for Washington D.C. looking like any other substantial bureaucrat — as long as you don’t examine his car closely, or check his socks (the shoes will pass). That much gets him in the door when he needs to be on the other side, which is not frequently. And it may be that eventually his late-chosen career as truth-teller will make him persona non grata once on the other side of those doors with his real name in view.
So be it. You pays your nickel (surely a dollar by now) and you takes your chance.
Does frugality exist anymore? Sure, especially for the unemployed or those with children, or those who want children. Does it even make sense? Yes, unless you have a trust fund; then it’s irrelevant if you don’t look too far down the road.
For the very very poor? Not so much. Frugality depends on a foundational sense that what one does with one’s time and talents makes a difference. Not everyone shares that reality. A poor person wins on a ten thousand dollar lottery ticket and his benefits dry up. The money is a burden until the spend-down brings his eligibility back.
During this First Fundraiser of 2012, we’ll be walking in the Garden of Forking Paths (if it’s not snowing too hard) to contemplate some of the incidents and accidents of wealth, poverty, and frugality. Theories of abundance and scarcity and which one appeals to whom.
We’ll examine again how little we understand one another — no matter our good intentions — outside our own enclaves.
[End of Dymphna’s revenant voice]
Tuesday’s gifts came in from:
Stateside: California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas, Virginia, and Washington
Far Abroad: The Netherlands, Thailand, and the UK
Australia: Australian Capital Territory and Victoria
Many thanks to everyone who chipped in. More tomorrow!
Tuesday’s Update: Emerging From Anhedonia
This week’s theme, inspired by “The Ash Grove”, is faces that can be found in personal or historic memories.
The photo above is an excerpt from a much larger group photo. It was taken in the mid-1920s at a May family reunion somewhere in New England. The young boy at the lower left is my father at the age of thirteen — he had had polio when he was an infant, so he was small and looked younger. The elderly man who looks like Charles Ives in the center back is his grandfather, my great-grandfather, whom my father loved dearly. The young lady in front and to the left of my great-grandfather is my aunt, my father’s big sister. I can identify everyone else in the photo — the names are written on the back — but I don’t know most of them. You can’t miss those May ears on some of the guys, however — they’re obviously my relatives.
I’ll do some more reminiscing later on in this update, but first a word about what I’m doing here.
This is the one week of the quarter in which I exhort, hector, cajole, badger, and otherwise persuade my readers to donate a modest amount to keep this website going. This is how I get by — I haven’t monetized Gates of Vienna; there are no paid ads here. Instead I rely on you to clink that tip cup on the sidebar or use this link to help keep the electrons and Islamophobia flowing here.
Also, I need to mention that I donate 10% of what I take in during fundraising week to Vlad Tepes, whose video work is so important to our shared mission. If you want to see Vlad receive more than that, please visit his site and use his own donate button.
This crowdfunding thing is amazing. It’s been going on for more than ten years, and I never fail to be surprised that it always works, somehow. Your continuing generosity is truly inspiring.
In yesterday morning’s post I mentioned the wasteland of wordless devastation that I inhabited during the first few weeks after Dymphna’s death last June. Mercifully, I don’t remember a lot of it all that well, especially in the early days. Some sort of protective neuro-psychological mechanism must have kicked in to help me survive the experience of catastrophe.
A couple of weeks after the funeral I realized that I couldn’t remember much of it — just isolated snapshots here and there. It was like I had been drunk, only I hadn’t had a drink. I had to ask the future Baron about it: Was so-and-so there? Do you remember what I said to this person? Etc.
If I hadn’t had the work of maintaining Gates of Vienna, I don’t know what I would have done during July and August. Getting up every morning to answer email, build the news feed, edit video transcripts, and put up posts provided a structure of activity that kept my mind from dwelling overmuch in the pit of agony that yawned all around me.
By the time I went to Ottawa in early September, things were getting a little better. Not much, but a little.
Then, in mid-September, the priest at my church suggested that I attend a grief support group run by Hospice. It turned out to be a good idea — when I went grocery shopping after the first session, I noticed that I felt almost chipper, something I hadn’t experienced since June 16th.
I’ve been attending sessions of the group almost every week since then, and it really has made a difference. Somehow, in ways that I don’t understand, the experience of group discussion has helped me pull out of the pit and allowed me to begin to come back to life.
Everybody’s grief is different, and everyone deals with it in his own idiosyncratic way, but we all have something in common, too. Even the facilitator has been through it. We don’t have to explain, nor ask each other how we are. [A word of advice: don’t ask a recently bereaved person how they are. Believe me, you don’t want to know.]
Each person in the group gets a chance to talk, if they want, and say something about the spouse or parent whose death they’re grieving. Some people are wallowing deep in the slough of despond, while others are coping better. Some are dealing with a recent death, while others are still struggling a decade or more after the death of a beloved.
It helped me to talk about a prominent feature in the early stages of my grief: I didn’t want anything. I didn’t want to eat or drink; I just did it. I didn’t want to get up in the morning, but I didn’t want to stay in bed, either. Doing this work at Gates of Vienna every day was duty, fortunately, so it didn’t require my wanting to do it.
I wasn’t suicidal — I didn’t even want to die. I didn’t want anything.
I identify this condition as a form of anhedonia. The word refers to a psychological state in which one is unable to experience pleasure. I don’t think one can want something without the anticipation of pleasure; that’s why I classify my condition as anhedonia. It is a feature of severe depression, but in my case the depression was situational — brought on by the death of my wife — rather than clinical.
Fortunately, the extreme anhedonia has begun to fade. I really wanted to go to that organ recital on Sunday, and it really gave me pleasure. That’s a milestone.
If you ever experience severe grief over the death of a loved one, I recommend finding a grief support group like the one I’m in. It really does help.
I’ve also learned that it helps to write about my experience of grief from time to time here on the blog. I expect that as I emerge further from the dark night of the soul, I’ll need to do less and less writing about it. Which is good — this doesn’t make for cheerful reading. But I need to do it.
And I also want to do it.
Monday’s generosity flowed in from:
Stateside: Alaska, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Virginia, and West Virginia
Far Abroad: Finland, Germany, Israel, and the UK
Canada: British Columbia, Newfoundland, Ontario, and Saskatchewan
I’ll be back tomorrow with another update.
Monday’s opening post
It’s hard to believe, but it’s been exactly eight months since my wife Dymphna died. This is the third fundraiser I’ve had to launch on my own since then, and this time it seems significantly easier than the previous ones. I was totally devastated for several months, but now I’m beginning to come back to life.
I chose the photo above for this post because it has a nice range of faces in it, to go with the title. It was taken in Florida sometime in the mid-1940s. On the right, with the impish smile and the spoon or knife in her mouth, is Dymphna. All the other babies and toddlers are her cousins, as far as I know. I can’t identify any of them, alas. I don’t know what the occasion was, nor whose backyard it was taken in. So many photos, and hardly any of them have anything written on the back to tell me what I’m looking at.
Before I go any farther, I need to remind everybody of what I’m doing this week. Or, in the case of new readers — I know there are at least a few, because some of them send me emails — I need to explain it for the first time.
Ever since I got laid off back in 2006 Dymphna and I (and for the last eight months, I alone) have managed to keep going by holding a fundraiser once a quarter. It lasts for a week, and during that time our generous readers click the tip cup on the sidebar (or, if they prefer, they use this new link) and drop in a modest amount, whatever they can spare.
Amazingly enough, we have somehow managed to get by on it. All those little bits add up to enough to pay the hosting fees, the firewall subscription, and all the other expenses necessary to keep Gates of Vienna going. And there’s always been enough left over to live on, so that I don’t have to get a real job. Which, at my age, would be all but impossible, except as a greeter at Walmart. Which is not necessarily a bad gig, but still…
Anyway, I’m counting on y’all to step up and contribute, just like you always have. In the meantime, I’ll regale you with stories, music, poems, or whatever else comes into my head every morning when I do the updates.
I love to listen to music, but I have no discernible musical ability. My father was musically gifted — he played clarinet in a symphony orchestra when he was young — so I learned how to read music as a child, and played the French horn (very badly) in the band in junior high school for a couple of years. But I have no musical talent whatsoever.
Yet I can hear the tunes. I’m an avid listener, and in my maturity settled on J.S. Bach as my favorite source of exquisite tunes. For that reason I took a drive yesterday afternoon to the United Methodist Church in Farmville, where the pipe organ had just been refurbished. They held a recital to celebrate the occasion, and I was drawn to the event because a prelude and fugue by Bach was on the program. (The other stuff was good, too; you would probably have enjoyed the Shearing piece.) It was my first significant outing on my own since Dymphna died, and I had recovered enough to be able to enjoy it.
Because I love music, I also love to sing, even though I know my voice is terrible. Dymphna was similarly impaired: one time her late daughter Shelagh heard us singing together, and said, “Love isn’t blind. It’s deaf.” A great wit, that Shelagh. Like her mother.
So yesterday afternoon I enjoyed singing along with those Methodist hymns, accompanied by the refurbished pipe organ. It made me think about the Anglican hymnal, and all the various hymns that it includes. After decades of singing from it, I’ve concluded that the best tunes were written by Welshmen. Hyfrydol is a good example, which most Episcopalians are familiar with from “Alleluia, sing to Jesus”.
Yes, I know “The Star Spangled Banner” is a Welsh drinking song, but that’s an exception. If you go through the Anglican hymnal, you’ll find that most of the lilting, inventive tunes were written by the Welsh.
The video below shows a rendition of “The Ash Grove”, a Welsh folk song from the early 1800s. I learned it and sang it in school almost sixty years ago. This particular version has somewhat different words from the ones I learned, but I chose it because it features two lovely young ladies singing in beautiful clear voices:
The lyrics below are the closest to the version I learned in school:
The Ash Grove
The ash grove, how graceful, how plainly ’tis speaking.
The harp through it playing has language for me.
Whenever the light through its branches is breaking
A host of kind faces is gazing on me.
The friends of my childhood again are before me;
each step wakes a memory as freely I roam.
With soft whispers laden its leaves rustle o’er me.
The ash grove, the ash grove alone is my home.
My laughter is over; my step loses lightness.
Old countryside measures steal soft on my ear;
I only remember the past and its brightness.
The dear ones I mourn for again gather here.
From ev’ry dark nook they press forward to meet me;
I lift up my eyes to the broad leafy dome
And others are there looking downward to greet me.
The ash grove, the ash grove alone is my home.
I listened attentively to those words when I was a kid. They seemed to give me a window into old age, a time when a man might find himself all but alone, with most of his friends dead and gone.
I loved the tune, and have remembered the lyrics for all those decades since, until I could dig them up on the Intertubes and present them to you here.
And now I’m in a position to understand them from the other side, from the point of view of an old man strolling through the ash grove looking up at a host of kind faces, the faces of those now departed.
Before Dymphna died I had already lost two of my best friends, and since then another has died. I look up at their familiar kind faces, and I miss them.
And I cherish the time I get to spend with the friends and relatives who are still here with me.
Maudlin nostalgia is actually an improvement for me at this stage. Six months ago I inhabited a landscape of utter, wordless devastation. Thus, wandering around in lachrymose recollection is a step up. I hope you all will bear with me till I finally reach some sort of normalcy.
One final word on “The Ash Grove”: the song almost certainly has pagan antecedents. The ash was sacred to the pre-Christian Celts (as it was to the Norse and the Danes, c.f. Asger and Askrigg). I don’t know enough Druidic lore to assert more than that, but I’m fairly certain that the ash grove must have been a place for important rites focused on death and rebirth.
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