Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Transitional Phase

Yes, of course it is the house at The Farm, circa 1955-6.  I have now left home to be married. Since this is a Memory Thread, let me give you the most specific memories I can. The original section of the house was built circa 1850-1860; it was in need of almost total restoration and renovation, and it came with barns, a decrepit outhouse (which made a great bonfire!) and 140 acres of land.
You will notice that there is a chimney-shaped hole in the end of the house with the unpainted siding. This is where the chimney will be built, with a fireplace insert that will take a five-foot log. The corner closest to us is the one that taught me what "plumb" means. Dad hung a plumb bob from the roofline. He made it himself from a length of lead bar, with a hole drilled in it for the string. (I have this 3-inch bit of lead and string, which were in my mother's things when she died.) Daddy explained to me that we were going to raise that corner with a jack just a little but every few days. He did get the house straight in the end; afterwards none of the upstairs bedroom doors would close, and all had to be rehung. Also, he improved the foundation.
The roof is metal; I knew it well, since I painted every inch of it. A flat ladder was placed in one strip--I used it to paint from, doing the adjacent strip. Once I slipped a little, but I never fell. I was paid $1 an hour, which was pretty good for those days. This money I saved for college. I went away to the University of Arizona in August of 1953.
I had forgotten that the addition on the back of the house had a captain's walk on the roof, but I remember the addition well, since I painted the siding from a ladder, first with a coat of linseed oil on the new wood (I think this was to save on paint.) and then a coat of white paint. Money was borrowed to build this two story addition, which was not recovered in the sale of the house when Dad was transferred to Cleveland in 1957. I think it took the folks about five years to pay down this loan after they moved. The addition was built during several weeks over one summer by a pair of carpenters named Tom and Bob, I seem to recall; Dad did much of the other work himself, He completely rewired the house, which had only one bulb hanging from the ceiling in the kitchen. He used a new kind of  cream-colored GE click switches. If I every see any of these switches in an older place, I am reminded of my Dad.
There was one pipe bringing water to the kitchen sink. Waste water went into a large milk can which had to be carried outside to be emptied. All the first summer, we bathed in a tub upstairs that was fed cold water from an outside tap by a hose laid up the side of the stairs. We warmed this with two or three kettles of boiling water carried up the stairs. I am happy to report that, as the oldest child, I carried the kettles and took the first bath, followed by Susan, and then by the four boys, probably in groups. I think my mother bathed toddler Marji earlier in the day in a smaller amount of water. Dad had done the outflow plumbing for the tub. I am sure my parents bathed during that first summer; I seem to recall carrying the kettles for Mom once, but I don't remember more. Such are the limitations of Memory Threading.
Well, this is really enough for tonight. I'll do another one of these soon, covering the porch, the trees and a few things about the interior.

Readers of this blog may know that I like old things maybe better than I like new things. My experience with this old house may have something to do with that. My interest in Stanley Kunitz has endured for many years. I note that he was born in 1905, just a year before my father. But he lived to be One Hundred, instead of only Eighty like my Dad. Both were extra-smart young men who improved their stations in life dramatically through education.
Today I read about half of Stanley Kunitz's essays in the volume collecting earlier writings (many had previously appeared in periodicals) that was published by Atlantic, Little Brown in 1975. The book is called A Kind of Order, a Kind of Folly; essays and conversations, and is arranged in thematic sections. Much ephemeral writing from the mid-20th Century, no longer reads very well, but these are certainly an exception. It was quite a trip for me to remember some of the times, events and people and to see his balanced views and comments on so many different topics, politics, poetry, creativity and art from those times. As I was reading, I marked things to write about here; I was delighted, for example, to find a couple of pages discussing haiga and haiku, and the relation of art to poetry.
For tonight, from pages 115-116, I would like to give you the poem he has written an essay on the writing of; the poem is called:

End of Summer

An agitation of the air
A perturbation of the light
Admonished me the unloved year
Would turn on its hinge that night.

I stood in the disenchanted field
Amid the stubble and the stones,
Amazed, while a small worm lisped to me
The song of my marrow-bones.

Blue poured into summer blue,
A hawk broke from his cloudless tower,
The roof of the silo blazed and I knew
That part of my life was over.

Already the iron door of the north
Clangs open: birds, leaves, snows
Order their populations forth,
And a cruel wind blows.

--Stanley Kunitz

In a lucid page and one-half, he describes the genesis and maturation of this poem. In itself, since it touches on so many of the things that can strerngthen a poem--and how one finds them--this would make a great lesson for a poetry-writing seminar. Let's write something tomorrow, for sure!! Then revise it! Sleep well.

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