Monday, June 29, 2015

The Lake. Childhood.

As wonderful as "The Beach" was, for my family it was slightly second to "The Lake."

During the 1930s and 1940s, originally as part of the WPA, the government damned the Santee River in SC producing Lake Marion. Part of Lake Marion's shore line is in Clarendon County, where my grandparents lived in the small town of Manning.  In the early 1950s, my grandparents built a summer house on Lake Marion. The house was about twenty miles from Manning, and you got to it by first going down a two-lane paved road and then a dirt road that winded through cornfields. If you look carefully, you can see that the painting in the banner of my blog is the same house as the one in the picture above.  In 1953, my father made the painting in the banner and took the picture you are looking at.

In Manning, my grandparents, Jack and Sally Goldstein--like so many Jewish people of their generation in the south--owned a small store.  (Though I must say that my grandparents' store was considered a cut above many other similar stores because my grandmother was widely known as a woman with "very good taste.")

My grandparents, Sally and Jack Goldstein

My grandfather wanted a house at the lake, and my grandmother, a member of the Manning Garden Club and a woman whose only outdoor activity was supervising the man who gardened for her, agreed on the condition that the house on the lake would be as nice as the house in town.  For my brother and sister and cousins and me, our grandparents' lake house was the most beautiful and wonderful place on earth.

We loved our grandparents' lake house because we loved being in the water and we loved our grandparents and we loved life as it was lived at the lake.

My brother Ben Somberg and me at the lake.

But also because my grandparents loved their grandchildren very much and made it a place where the children and the grown-ups found great pleasure.

My mother Harriet Somberg with her sister Miriam Mann and their children Terry Mann, my brother Ben and me.

There was a shuffleboard court and a croquet field.  My grandfather had a "big boat" he used to take us out in the lake, and a "little boat" we could paddle in.  There was a big screen porch around two sides of the house, and in each corner was a Pawley's Island hammock where we children would play and I, as I grew older, would read novels.  Every night my grandfather would make a martini and, along with any grandchild who wanted to join him, would walk down to the lake and tell us stories.  We adored our grandfather.

My Granddaddy Jack.

We also loved our grandmother, but with her we had to behave.  She dearly loved us as well,but she didn't play with us like my grandfather did.

My Nanny Sally

We went to the lake every summer. We grew up there and we loved it every year in a new way.  

My brother Ben catching his first fish.

My brother Ben and my sister Sandy paddling in the "little boat," while my grandfather fished.

My brother Ben playing War.
Ben is now one of the most liberal people I know,
which just goes to show that playing games doesn't necessarily lead to action.

My sister Sandy toasting marshmallows.  The food was always great at the lake.

My brother Ben with two of our Mann cousins,

Sandy.  Behind is the "big boat."

My father Sy Somberg.  One of the few pictures he didn't take.  

My mother, Harriet Somberg.

Sandy.  She was such a cutie.

Growing up at the lake.

The lake ended in 1963, when my grandfather suddenly died of aplastic anemia.  Born with the century, he was 63 at his death.  My grandmother almost immediately sold the lake house because being there was too painful.  She never got over his death.

"The lake" has an almost mythic status in my family.  Because our grandmother sold the house so quickly, we never went back after our grandfather died.  So it is enshrined in our imaginations as Arcadia.  And we only have brief glimpses in our memories, in the stories we tell each other, in the pictures my father took, and in the painting that hangs over the mantle in my new lake house.   

As you might imagine, my love of Lake Medora stems in part from my love of "the lake" in South Carolina.  There are even some things in Tony's and my lake house that come from my grandparents' lake house--like some of the lake dishes and my grandfather's martini pitcher.  Our home at Lake Medora also has many of the allures of my childhood loves.  When I am here, I swim, read novels, eat good food, and occasionally drink a martini.  I will write more about all that in my next post.


Friday, June 26, 2015

The Beach. June 26, 1988 and Before.

Twenty seven years ago, on June 26, 1988, Tony and I got married at "the beach."  For me, "the beach" was always Wrightsville Beach, NC.  My maternal grandfather, Jack Goldstein came from Wilmington, NC and had a large set of siblings.  Many of them had "cottages" (really three story houses on stilts) at Wrightsville Beach on the sound side of Lumina Ave nue, where first-cousins and second-cousins, and eventually third-cousins met every summer.  I started going to the beach when I was a child because my mother's sister, Mirian Mann. had a cottage at the beach on the shore side of Lumina.  My Aunt Ba (my childhood name for her because my grandfather called her Bootsie, and "Ba" was my baby equivalent) had a cottage that belonged to her father-in-law, Joseph Mann.  Mr. Mann had three children--Sol, Etta Rose, and Bea--and each of his children had the use of the Mannn cottage for a month in the summer.  When my Aunt Ba had her turn at the cottage, she would have my mother and her children to stay with her.

My mother, my brotherBen and I on the right.  My Aunt Ba and her husband Uncle Sol and his family on the left.  

Wrightsville Beach is deep in my memory.  It is the place cousins and aunts and uncles and great-aunts and great-uncles gathered.

Goldstein Family Reunion at Wrightsville Beach, NC, early 1960s.

When Tony and I decided to marry we did it at Wrightsville Beach, the most beautiful and meaningful place in our shared history.  Our wedding weekend was perfect.  All Tony's family--brother and sisters and their husbands and wife--plus his Uncle Ted and Aunt Birdie came.  All my family--my sister Sandy and her family, my brother Ben and his family and my brother Steven plus my Aunts Clara, Rose, Annie, Jeanette and Anna and my uncles Able, and Marcus plus many of my Warhsauer and Mann and Offerman cousins--were there.  Tony's family stayed on the second floor of the Mann cottage; my family on the ground floor.  Tony's mother and Tony and I stayed at my mother's house in Wilmington. It was probably the happiest time in my life.

After my mother died in 1997, I went to Wrightsville Beach one more time.  It was sad.  Then my Aunt Ba died and the cottage went to other hands.  By that time my great aunts were gone as well. My sister and I started going to Sunset Beach, NC and later Holden Beach, NC with my sister's husband's family.  And now that tradition seems to be over too.

My memories of the beach are among the strongest and sweetest of my life and made even sweeter by the fact that I also remember it as the place Tony and I married.

My sister Sandy, my mother Harriet Somberg, my brother Ben and me at Wrightsville Beach.  My father took the picture.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Peter Nadas. Parallel Stories.

It is impossible to talk about this novel without talking about its length: 1133 small-type, large-format pages.  Parallel Stories is huge: in length, scope, and ambition.  It includes many (sometimes very, sometimes barely) linked stories that are located in Hungary and that range from the 1930s up to 1989.  This means it includes the lead up to World War II; the Holocaust; the years under Communism, including the 1956 revolution; and the fall of Communism in Europe. It took 18 years to write. I began this book when I was in Budapest and finished it here at the lake.  (I took breaks from it every now and again.). Published in Hungarian in 2005 and translated into English in 2011, it is considered one of the greatest Hungarian novels of the 21st century.  Peter Nadas's (b. 1944) earlier novel, A Book of Memories, was described by Susan Sontag as "the greatest book written in our time, and one of the great books of the century."

Parallel Stories offers a network of stories, spread over fifty-plus years.  These stories are connected in that various characters, or their relatives, appear and reappear, as the novel proceeds.  The stories are not told in chronological order, but skip backwards and forwards in time.  The novel thus demands of its readers a particular kind of attention.  As she proceeds through these somehow-linked stories, the reader must remember and construct connections and must work to understand the ways in which these stories are parallel (or perhaps not).

The subject of these stories is the history of Hungary in the 20th century as played out on the human body. It is one of the most visceral books I have ever read.  It lays out the full range of bodily actions--including sexual intercourse, masturbation, hunger, eating, digestion, urination.  There is a particular focus on the penis.  These bodily actions not only take place in but somehow anchor the horrors of Hungarian life under the Arrow Cross, Nazis, and Communists.

Reading Parallel Stories was a monumental task.  All the chapters are focalized through particular characters, but some are structured as fairly traditional narratives, and others more as stream of consciousness.  It was a strenuous experience but, in my view, worth it.  Constructing in my mind this complex and allusive narrative was a little like constructing an understanding of Budapest.  Finding connections and tracing genealogies and friendships in the book resembled finding patterns and tracing the histories of buildings and sections of the city.  In both cases, I was not just  a spectator but an active participant in building an understanding of something that is simultaneously vital and decaying, public and private, physical and symbolic.


Good-bye Holden Beach


Friday, June 12, 2015

How Does My Garden Grow?

I am NOT a gardener.  If you were to drive by my house in Louisville, you would be convinced. (Right now I call it Miss Havisham's house.  We are going to be selling it next year and before that happens, I definitely have to develop some curb appeal.)

But when I moved to Lake Medora, I gained a house with established gardens.  I have one sun garden at the side of the house.  This one (pictured) has lots of flowers that bloom through the spring and summer.  I also have two shade gardens in the front of the house.  The first summer I was here, my main goal was not to kill the gardens.  I was very conservative.  I wasn't even sure what was a weed and what was a flower.  I didn't know about mulch.

The garden stayed alive the first and the second summer.  The third summer came after an unusually hard winter, when the ground had frozen and thawed several times.  Many plants had been thrust out of the soil.  I tried to replant them (with limited success) but then realized I could replace fairly cheaply, which I did.  The act of actually planting something opened my eyes to the possibility that I could do more than just keep someone else's garden alive.  So I have been cautiously planting perennials.  This year almost all of them have come back.  (Yay me!)

Michigan has late cool springs, so the garden is just starting to flower. Yesterday and today, I cleaned out the sun garden, turned over and fed the soil, and applied some new mulch.  Tomorrow I tackle one of my shade gardens.  

After that, my job will be to keep things going.  This includes trying to keep the deer from eating my hostas; doing judicious weeding; planting some new perennials.  I also have beautiful wildflowers on the part of the yard that leads directly down to the lake. It's actually my favorite garden of all, because I only have to admire what comes up.


Sunday, June 7, 2015


We left  for Lake Medora, near Houghton MI on May 24.  We arrived on May 26.  On May 30, we were scheduled to drive to the Computers and Writing Conference.  I thought we were going to Menominee MI, which is about 250 miles from where we live in Michigan.  No.  As I discovered while perusing the map more carefully en route to Lake Medora, we were actually going to Menomonie WI, which was about 375 miles.  Uh Oh.

The session in which I participated in was on Sunday May 31 at 8:30 am.  We had planned to drive there Saturday and then leave right after the session and drive home the same day.  That was when we thought we would be 250 miles from home. Now we had 375 miles (on mostly 2 lane roads) drive with a stop to buy groceries in Houghton.  So it turned into a spend the night drive.

Happily, I am not attributing this ridiculous error to getting older, as it is exactly the kind of thing I might have done when I was younger.  (E.g., the time we had to spend the day in New York because I mixed up am with pm.)

The session was great.  It was in connection with a special issue of Computers and Composition and Computers and Composition OnLine, devoted to 30 years of CWIC and DMAC, two professional development workshops for teachers run by my great friend Cindy Selfe.  I had a piece in the Computers and Composition Online issue.

And MenomONIE is a really pretty town. This is the 1890 Mabel Tainter Memorial Building.  (Have to get some architecture in.)

But it was a hectic start to an already hectic occasion.  We arrived home to a washing machine that wouldn't stop running water even after it was turned off and unplugged.  (Water-intake valve; shut off the water supply).  Then a complicated attempt to get a repair person here (no cell phone service).  ETC.  I wish it was a better story, but it's really the anti-narrative:  "one damned thing after another."

I am back, though, and ready to blog!