At Home in Ohio: Spring 2015

I head to my home state of Ohio a few times a year. I go back to see my beloved family, I go back to stay at the farm where I grew up, but mostly I go back because I have to: it is home.

Home can exist as a state of mind, it’s true, but home as an actual physical place has a stronger claim on a person than any abstract notion ever could. This doesn’t even have to mean that your home is a place you even necessarily want to be, but it is still a place, not just an idea. A place that exists in a specific spot on the planet — one that is unlike any other for you, utterly familiar no matter how long it’s been since you’ve been there. That’s how the farm is in Ohio for me. And not just for me; it’s the same for a lot of people in my extended family, scattered across the continent and the globe. We all converge in this particular spot any chance we get. It’s not that our farm is particularly amazing, though it has plenty of amazing elements, it is that it is ours. When I’m there, I think about my grandpa, who died in 2006, the year my oldest son was born. Just as my grandpa no doubt thought about his grandparents every time he was back on the same farm, their farm, long after they had passed away.

Spring came while I was in Ohio for this last visit. We celebrated Easter and mourned the dead and dying Ash trees that cover the property, the work of an invasive species which showed up  in 2002 and has managed to kill millions of trees in little more than a decade. Death and life, as always, go hand-in-hand and even as dead ash trees are cut out of the landscape, the tiny seedlings my sister planted in anticipation of summer sprang from the dirt and cheered us all up each time we walked past this little field of green.

The days are getting longer, long enough for the kids to run around outside to the point of exhaustion, but not so long that there isn’t time for adults to sit around in front of a fire in the wood burning stove on my mom’s porch, hot tea taking the chill off a late evening in spring, at home in Ohio.

Downton Abbey: Season 5, Ep. 8: “What a Palaver!”

What a palaver! Tom says during a momentary lull at the latest ruined dinner party. This particular one is destroyed by Rose’s mum, Sour Sue, who, in the midst of her divorce from ol’ Squishy, has missed out on so many recent terrible dinners. Sour Sue decided that if no one else was going to say awful things at the table, then it might as well be her, since no one likes her anyway.

Apparently the British are only repressed when two or fewer people are in the room. A proper Brit refuses to even look at her husband in private, as that would be too indiscreet. No, the best thing to do is wait until you’re gathered around the table with the entire family, a complement of servants, and several near-strangers, then — one or two courses into an elaborate meal that cost 150 pounds a head factoring in food and labor — announce to all and sundry that you never did like your husband much. Or Jews for that matter. And did I mention? The host, as a person, pretty much makes me want to puke in my soup here. And his politics! His politics make me positively want to rip the hand-sewn beads right off my dress and scatter them around the room just before poking him in the eye with my oyster fork. Okay now, back to the soup, everybody! Nothing to see here! What a palaver!

Sour Sue preparing remarks for the dinner table. Topics for discussion  include anti-semitism, divorce, blackmail, poverty, and my intense dislike for my daughter.

Sour Sue preparing remarks for the dinner table. Topics for discussion include, but are not limited to: anti-semitism, divorce, blackmail, poverty, and intense dislike for one’s own child.

Love is in the Air

The show opens with the household in a flurry over the upcoming nuptials of Rose and Atticus. I had no idea what was happening for roughly the first twenty minutes, since the last we saw R & A they were ancillary to the real action, which took place at the last disastrous dinner party with Larry and Gary Merton. But here is Rose, suddenly taking center stage with a minimum of pre-wedding plot lines — stories which I fully expected to go on for years and years. So you can imagine my confusion (or maybe you don’t have to imagine it) when this episode opens with everyone running around the kitchen getting ready for a wedding. Whose wedding? I thought. But then I was distracted by the visual splendor of the elaborate wedding cake being made with great care by Daisy, who is not only a scholar, a budding farmer-socialist and a first-rate Undercook, but a sort of genius artist when it comes to sculpting roses made of icing. This particular cake is so special, it needs to be made over several days. It can only be crafted at Downton, where Mrs. Patmore and Daisy Undercook keep the family’s collection of giant cake pans, after which it will be transported down to London in an open-air motor car with limited shock absorbency, a hot, shaky, coal-smoke bellowing train for several hours, then another motor car, placed in the gentle hands of a taxi driver — watch the delicate icing roses, sir! — then hurried down to the bowels of the London house to clog up kitchen counter space for several more days in anticipation of a wedding reception, which will take place at some point in the future. The cake will taste like cardboard and the roses will have been crushed several times over, but at least it is there, on the table, towering over the proceedings like the 21st century anomaly it is. Continue reading

At Home: 2.20.15

The house is buried in snow this winter. Not literally, but almost. I’ve had lots of time inside to look around my house and wish I had resources of every kind to make it look better. But then I make a cup of coffee and look around a second time and remember: the snow is outside, I am inside, warm and drinking a cup of coffee. Right now I’m not too worried about refinishing the floor and repainting the walls. It could be a lot, lot worse.

Downton Abbey, Season 5, Ep. 7: In Which Another Dinner Party is Ruined

You do realize that Mary is not even human, right?

“I’ve got an idea: how about we three keep walking and never go back there again.”

I watched this episode in the middle of a round of insomnia, sometime after midnight and before dawn, so my recollection of it might be mixed in with some thoughts I had while nodding off. If so, I apologize. One of my potentially imaginary impressions is that this episode was visually more interesting than most. It was less claustrophobic than they usually are; there seemed to be a lot more walking across the lawn and up and down stair cases and less sitting around on the couches. The scenes moved at a statelier pace, which was a welcome change from the usual leap from one mumbled conversation to another. Usually, I don’t even have time to get oriented visually before it’s off to another showdown between a couple of characters about what one of them overheard in the hallway.

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Downton Abbey, Season 5, Ep. 6: This One Hurt

Let’s get the miserable stuff out of the way first. Things came to a head with Poor Edith, baby Marigold and the Pigman family. Maybe it’s because I’m exceptionally emotionally unstable this winter, cooped up as I am inside the house with snow drifts blocking the exits, but I thought I was going to choke on my own tears during Edith’s baby-snatching scene. Watching Mrs. Pigman realize her worst fears was painful beyond measure. Just think: Mrs. Pigman receives a knock on the door and opens it to find wild-eyed Edith staring at her, the stuff of nightmares. She soon comes to understand that this time Edith doesn’t plan on lingering at the table eating biscuits while staring at Marigold longingly. This time Lady Edith has come to take the baby without warning, coolly announcing that she has every right to take her, thanks a lot for watering and feeding Marigold over the last couple of years. Gotta go now. Bye! Mrs. Pigman looks at Mr. Pigman pleadingly at which point he says Yep, I’ve been lying. We’re not Marigold’s parents — this lady gets to take her. Right now.

The cruelty of the situation was just awful. Of course I’m sympathetic to Poor Edith who is a bit crazed in the wake of finally discovering her beloved newspaper editor is dead and gone from her life forever — who wouldn’t be sympathetic in such circumstances? (Besides Mary, who hardly counts as human.) But Edith’s behavior really, really made me see the justice in Miz Bunting’s opinions about the evils of the aristocracy when she walks into the Pigmans’ kitchen and announces, that, after some consideration and a few years, she just wants Mrs. Pigman to know that she’s actually the baby’s mother. Without further ado, Edith more or less rips the baby out of Mrs. Pigman’s arms, leaving Mrs. Pigman — the innocent party — bereft, with no baby and no recourse. It’s not that I don’t want Edith to have her baby. I just want Mrs. Pigman to have her baby too.

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Downton Abbey, Season 5, Ep. 5: “Sweating Like A Beast”

The title of this post is brought to you by Sweet Baxter, who, in one of her many compassionate moments on the servants’ staircase with Skulking Thomas, gently asked if he was okay. When he snarled at her in reply, she pushed her point further. “Are you alright?” she asked, “You are sweating like a beast!”

Indeed. Skulking Thomas aka Barrow was sweating like a beast. He was also white as one of Mrs. Patmore’s meringues, with the sunken, hollowed eyes of a dehydrated mystic. He basically lurched around the entire episode, the sweat beading on his brow as he nearly toppled into the family’s plates at every meal. He looked so ill even the aristocrats became concerned, but still, it was not enough to send him downstairs to his narrow cot to prop up his feet and do whatever it is he’s doing in that little bedroom of his. Sweet Baxter seems to know exactly what he is up to in there. It has something to do with self-electrocution. Enough shocks and Skulking Thomas will be a different man altogether, one who is wooing Daisy Undercook in no time. Sweet Baxter, who understands these things completely, is entirely certain that no amount of self-administered shock therapy is going to make Daisy Undercook the new Mrs. Skulking Barrow, and tries to talk the Skulk out of his ill-advised foray into such territory, but the Skulk, whose brain might be fried but whose tongue remains in good working order, tells her that no amount of electricity would ever make her attractive, so there’s that. It’s another strange and pointless plot line in a show crammed full of meanderings.

"I'm perfectly fine. Now pass me that tray of sausages."

“I’m perfectly fine. Now pass me that tray of sausages.”

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