Monday, October 31, 2011

Freedom Square

Friday, October 14, 2011

April 20, 1932

Dearest Kat -

Guess you're saying - damn a woman like Lucile Nowlin anyway - has she got writers cramp. I answer no. I merely have spring fever plus complications like, blueness, disappointment and discouragement. And this last two weeks have been test weeks - and your letter was missent. The mail service to this town is zero minus.

Thanks for the poem - that was the one I wanted. As for the answer to the question - I know darned well I have to face life without him. I've known all along I couldn't ever have him - ever since I started going with him. But I'll have to break down and admit I could face the next forty or fifty years of my life with a great deal more joy and equanimity if I thought all the things I dream of could be true. But I have no allusions about that. And could I just enjoy being around him? I think so. Katherine, I'm honestly learning things about being in love. I know I've never even remotely been in love before. Ain't this a helluva note. I don't know how I'll survive this summer. He said once he wasn't going to write. (I'll change his mind.) But three days is as long as I can stand even when I see him downtown or when he comes for Donald & Doris at school, so what will I do for 2 months. He'll come to Mobile to see me before I leave. He'd better. I got the cutest picture Monday. I think it was one made for the annual last year. Anyways, it's plumb good. I just loves it.

Weep, Weep. the orchestra is playing "Auf Weidersen." I really like that piece.
We're going on a fish fry tomorrow night. I'm really glad its turned warm. Moonlight. The man I love, a campfire. Oh la la. They put it off twice last week for Beverly and me. I had to go to P.T.A. Thurs and Wed. he had to keep the kids.

There's no news. I'm afraid I'd get morbid if I wrote the things I've been thinking since last Friday. I'm really discouraged and tired. Wish the next six weeks would pass while I slept some night. We were supposed to get out May 27 but got 2 wks Xmas so we don't get out until June 3. Then I don't know how I'm going to N.Y. Mary Jane is going so I don't know where I'll meet her, Nash. or Memphis or Atlanta. We'll leave about June 15 or 20. I dread thoughts of school, but it's perferable to teaching. 'Less "somepin" happens I won't be alive to go anywhere. Gotta stop & go mail this.

Love, Cile.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

April 8, 1932

Dearest Kat:

I really was all surrounded. Imagine keeping the secret so long. I don't see how they managed it. Get all the details and let me know. He would do something like that - but me - I'm so damned in love that I can't see straight. Honestly you've no idea to what a state I've been reduced. But to return to N. P. G. you're quite correct in assuming that in April 1930 he was making eloquent love to me and writing compromising letters to me. Will have to drag 'em out next weekend and read 'em. "Darling, I hope I can prove to you someday how much I love you" - or words to that effect. (I'll have to hand it to him. He had a most marvelous line.) He has, by marrying the girl he thinks he loves. He must to marry her. Saw in the Herald where Carolyn Hardison got married. I wish her happiness.

I have enjoyed seeing Beverly this week so much. He came for me Sunday and I saw him Mon. & Wed. Haven't got a date tonite. He went on a wild party Tues. nite and has got to sleep tonight. But I'm gosh awful funny. I wake up at 5:30 thinking of him. And all day, little brother does things that are characteristic.* Sometimes I want to slap him and some days I want to squeeze him hard. But Beverly sees that I go to all the things around here to go to - comes for me Sunday and is so darned thoughtful and sweet. I was never gladder to see anybody than I was him last Thursday nite when I was sick. If that's a sample of this summer I'd better reserve myself a padded cell up at Tuscaloosa. I'm going to have an aching void and nothing to fill it with - if I had heap much money and plenty of friends in Mobile to play around with it would be different. But possessing neither and no prospects I wonder what I'll come to.

Enough of me and Beverly - you're probably bored still - but when I eat, sleep, dream, and almost teach him I have time for little else. Lyman, etc are just nil. They don't register one peg.
I am quite crushed over the wedding. I thought I'd at least always have him to fall back on. Remember how you used to tell me you thought I loved him or came nearer loving him than anyone I'd ever gone with. Guess it's all over now even the shouting. What are they doing - is Nolan still going to school - and are he and Mary living together - or is he home - and given up pursuit of higher learning. (Helen Rowland says that girls go to college so they an come home with a knowledge of how to apply make-up and a higher education in the "noble" art of necking - wonder why boys go?) I want all the dirt on this affair. I've heard no gossip in years - not since I left school anyway. I've been much to busy giving the village gossips something to wag their tongues about to hear any of the gossip much less Tennessee gossip.

Gotta quit and make maps for the little dears. I cordially hate 'em right now.

Love, 'Cile

*Beverly's little brother Donald must be in the class of students she teaches.

Monday, October 10, 2011

April 4, 1932

Dearest Kat,

Remember the poem you sent me not long ago - I lost it and want you to send me another copy. It's the one J. gave you about recognizing your "life's love."

About Beverly - I can't write you all things - but if I could talk to you you might understand. (I'm afraid I understand too much.) He's forgotten to mention the "other girl" since January. If he's married he's a pretty unfaithful husband. If he's just engaged - like you I'd not feel sure of his love - tho' once he said he'd thought he didn't love her anymore but as soon as he saw her he knew he'd always love her. and he once told me that he'd love me for a lifetime, but I'd better not get out of sight!!! I take it he's one of the most fickle of the fickle males. Nevertheless, that doesn't help much the state of my feelings which are chaotic to say the least. Once when I first knew him (before he told me of his love affair) he remarked that I was an unbelievable person and I told him I believed nothing I heard and half I saw. He then asked me if I believed him and I swore I wouldn't - all laughing you know. He thanked me. But he's told me he loved me so many times I'm afraid it's beginning to make an impression. And wouldn't I love to believe it! I don't know where to start - or stop for that matter when I get started on him. He came up to see me last night (forgot to mention that I'm at home this week with the flu). Shore was glad to see him. I've missed him like hell and thought of little else for Wed. and Thurs.

The tornadoes haven't been too close to here. We've gotten rain - just lots of it. cold weather. a little wind but no storm.

My Easter was candy. I was so disgusted with Beverly I didn't know what to do. He's given me candy two or three times before and as I've never had flowers I wanted them terribly. I've had a terrible cold for two weeks and was feeling abdominable so Fri. nite he gave me my candy & said he wasn't sure he'd see me Sunday so I could have it then. I came home Sat. morn. crawled in bed and have been there every since. So see your letter came to cheer my lonely hours in bed. And believe me I've been plenty bored.

I crave me some new clothes like nobody's business but I'll need 'em too bad this summer to buy any now. And besides I need all the cash I can get to go to school. Hope to heck we continue to get paid - I can certainly use it. And may even have to borrow off 'en Mother. A little. But Frances isn't going to have much and I know I'm not quite as extravagant as she is, so maybe I'll manage.

Am up and dressed today for the first time. Just a little while this afternoon. Am weak - can hardly move a chair. First time I've been outside since a week ago. Unless I improve rapidly don't see how I can stand the kids Monday.
Guess I'll sign off and let you try to make heads or tails of the mess.

Lots of love, 'Cile


This got mislaid and did I have seven varieties of kittens. I was afraid Daddy would read it and I couldn't remember exactly how much or how little I said. But I repeat: if you can make a thing of this you're a regular Sherlock Holmes.

Am parked waiting to see if Beverly is going to come for me. I have an idea he's going to make me ride the train just because I haven't in five weeks. He's mean enough to and then laugh about it and tease me. Ma mere says I should lie down and I guess she's right. Nevertheless, I don't want to.

If I wrote anymore it would be Beverly so I won't bore you. Honestly don't see why you don't tell me "fer cryin' out loud in church" to shut up about him. Must bore you to tears. He's hoping you have a big time from now until school is out.

Signing off a second time.

Love, 'Cile.

P.S. Got back up here and hear that when I wasn't here Mon. and Tues. (that) the town said I had eloped with Beverly. Don't know how they accounted for me being gone and him here.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Rock Creek Park Horse Center

Right here in the middle of the city, there are stables and trees!
This is Asia leading Bertha from her stall.

First, she brushes Bertha and picks her hoofs.

Then she saddles and bridles her horse.

And, finally, Asia is mounted and riding. Today's lesson was about posting correctly. The kids learned how to walk their horses into a trot and then to canter smoothly. They do all of the grooming and prep work themselves. For more information about the Rock Creek Park Horse Center, go here.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Fort Hunt Federals

The Fort Hunt Federals right before their game win yesterday (13-7) in Alexandria. Cody is the player without socks. It's the only way we were able to keep track of him on the field.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bud Taplin

This is Eric and Bud Taplin at the Westsail Rendezvous this past weekend. Bud is a famous figure in the Westsail world. He was general manager for the company in the 1970s and can tell the true story behind the production of the one boat that is credited with popularizing the cruising lifestyle. He is the go-to person for technical advice, assistance, and hard-to-find materials. During the Saturday boat visits, Bud had lunch with us in our little 28 and over ham sandwiches shared a little bit about his grandchildren and life as it is sans boats. He's a down-to-earth guy and we're pleased to have spent time with him.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Herrington Harbour North

Eric and I are currently tied up to Herrington Harbour's haul-out dock and will be pulling Clementine out of the water later this week for winter storage and heavy-duty maintenance, to include waterproofing and painting the hull, making repairs to the rudder, and polishing up the teak.

Herrington Harbour North has an enormous boat yard, resort-like amenities, and on-site expertise. The photo above is from their website and accurately depicts our surroundings. It was a no-brainer decision to stay here after we figured out how to take the 902 commuter bus back and forth to DC.

The challenge in these small parts, however, is to find food and supplies without the benefit of a car. West Marine is nearby; there's a decent hardware store around the corner, and after a lot of trial testing, we have decided that the South County Cafe is our best bet for food and the Happy Harbor our most interesting choice for local flavor. I'll keep posting as the cold weather approaches and Eric's real work begins.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Westsail Rendezvous

Yesterday was Eric's 50th birthday. I left work early and met him in Deale, MD, where the Westsail "rondy" is taking place. There were appetizers on the dock and then we met Bud Taplin and approximately 20 other Westsail owners for dinner at the Calypso Cafe. Coincidently, Eric's boat purchase went through a year ago on his birthday, and now one year later, we had the pleasure of meeting the sailors behind Legend, Full Circle, Namida, Caprica, Melissa Claire, Bravura, and Odyssey.

At day break, Eric and I took a walk for coffee. We ran into this on the way. That's a lot of signage! Do you think they sell beer? I bought a small chair at a yard sale for $20. One of the other boaters has experience refinishing furniture and tells me the chair is mahogany, has authentic ceramic casters, and was probably made in the 1920s. All in all, a good bargain. It was a full day of boat visits, talks, and still more food. They are now showing the film The Perfect Storm so we can catch a glimpse here and there of the one boat that made it: Satori; but, instead of watching we are all cozied up inside Clementine.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

the trip begins ...

Eric is on his way to Deale, MD, to meet up with some other Westsailers. (It's a rendezvous, you know, a prearranged meeting place, especially an assembly point for troops or ships.) That's him motoring off this morning after we filled up the water jugs and fuel tank, loaded the boat down with food, and said our goodbyes. I won't be able to join him until next week.

So while I was making my way home via water taxi and bus, he was dodging crab pots and storm debris; and now, while he's anchored down for the night at Mathias Point Neck, I am settling in to watch all of those movies he has no interest in seeing. I miss you, Eric!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Water, Water, Everywhere

So, for two days, it did nothing here in the WDC area but rain buckets, several inches per hour, eleven or more total. These photos show places normally dry. The top two were taken outside of my office. The picnic tables are submerged almost up to the benches. The bottom two are of the marina at the start of high tide. The ducks are swimming in land and have a whole new cruising ground. Roads were flooded, schools were closed, and people were tubing down main intersections for entertainment. At this rate, after a hurricane, an earthquake, and now a tropical storm, I wonder what kind of a winter we will have.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Today is Asia's birthday! She is 9 years old now and Maya's little sister. This pic was taken on Friday night when we treated her to the restaurant of her choice - Chipoltle - followed by another more sophisticated celebration at Petit Plats on her actual b-day.

Asia is a dancer and also likes to ride horses. She has a mind of her own and has decided that she will not eat red meat because she LOVES cows and pigs. Asia has a great appreciation for all things beautiful and, best of all, finds pleasure in making people laugh.

These pics were taken earlier in the evening. I am completely devoted to her.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Irene, our little hurricane

Irene wasn't a treacherous storm, but our little hurricane was exciting and a great learning experience. Eric stayed on board Clementine in a small cove near the National Harbor. He was protected by a hill, the bridge, and an island. (I stayed home with the pets and kept him company by telephone when the wind was at its worst.) So what did we learn?

Advance planning. Make sure you have enough food, water, and sleep before the hurricane arrives. Know where you're going to put the boat and get there early. Watch the weather. Know which way the wind will be blowing, what path the storm is taking, and what the current is doing. Protect your nylon rode. Eric wrapped cloth around all of the potential chafe points to keep the line from breaking and the anchor secure. Clementine is stout. With winds at 47mph, gusting to 58, Clementine yawned and went back to sleep. We both have complete confidence in her ability to take on the elements.

The following day was bright and sunny, yet surprisingly dry. It was like Irene had never even been there. When all of the bigger boats started coming home in a long line down the river, it was like a joyous parade. We even got to see John, our neighbor on the water, who abandoned his boat in good times but came through for her in bad.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Yesterday, we experienced an earthquake! It registered 5.9 on the richter scale and shook the ground all the way from New York to North Carolina! Eric and I were in DC for a doctor's appointment and couldn't get out of the city. When the quake hit, everyone left their offices and classrooms, filing out into the street. Museums closed down and so did the subway system. Traffic was at a standstill. What did we do? We walked home! It took us 2-1/2 hours to get from Union Station to Virginia, at which time we took a pizza break and then were able to catch a bus the rest of the way home.

And today, we have to think about how we can prepare the boat for Irene, a category 4 hurricane expected to hit the area this Saturday.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


A movie still from the book I am currently reading. Who can guess the title without looking at the photo caption?

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Island of Ibiza

Also from the Jordi Canosa website, this house is found on the Island of Ibiza and is called la Casa Es Vedra. Do you notice there are no lamps in any of these photos ... only wall fixtures, lanterns, and candles?

The Island of Formentera

These three interior shots are from the Jordi Canosa website and are of a house called Daisy on the island of Formentera. All of the furniture is lightweight and easily moved. There's no excess, not in style or in color. I find the space calm and inviting.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Resolution #2: Get My Financial House in Order

If there's a resolution #1, there has to be a resolution #2, in the same way you can't have a first annual event, now can you?

Resolution #2, Get My Financial House In Order, has made 2011 a tough year so far, mostly due to a big step I took in securing my retirement fund.

I started working at a local community college when I was just 20 years old. Part of my compensation package was that the Commonwealth of Virginia would pay into my pension plan 100%. So, having gone straight from my father's house and high school to my husband's house and night school, I found myself working full time and going to this same community college as a part-time student. After many years of sacrificing my social life, going through a divorce, and taking a few semesters off here and there, I was in my mid-30s and still working full time and pursing an undergraduate degree part time. I had transferred to a four-year university but was still plugging away one class at a time and getting increasingly tired. When my grandmother died and left me some money, I decided to take that gift and supplement it with my retirement fund which had accumulated quite a bit over time. I quit work and became a full-time student.

What I didn't plan for was going back to the same job I'd had before graduation and reaching the point where I am now with 28 years of service and only 13 years of retirement. Couple that with a very real economic fear of losing my option to buy back my retirement, I made the decision a few months ago to invest a whopping $42,000 into my future. In less than two short years, I can now "retire" at age 52 and will receive one half my current salary for doing absolutely nothing. I'll still have to work to survive, but one half my income will be free and without obligation. How can I pass that up?

But where does this big SMART move leave me today? Broke with no immediate savings and in debt to my mother for part of my investment and another $3,000 spent on medical bills for my cat who was suffering from hyperthyroidism. Throw in no pay raises for the last three years due to the economic downturn, a decline in my condo's property value, rising costs everywhere especially for food, and a potential major increase in my condo fee due to a window-replacement issue which seems to be going no where and I am suffering even more. I am downsizing everywhere I can in an attempt not to self destruct.

Here's my list of Top Ten Budget Cuts, including those accomplished and those yet to come:

1. Eliminate cable television and Internet service at home.
I was paying $80 a month for both only because to get Internet service alone was nearly as much as the two combined. The plan when I cancelled service was to tether my iPhone but unfortunately found out afterwards that the G3 doesn't have the capability to hotspot unless you jailbreak your phone and open yourself up to hackers. Hmmm, so no Internet at home right now and using up massive amounts of Eric's tethering service when he's here. (TY, Eric!) And no regular TV because I don't have and don't feel like buying a digital converter.

2. Spend less on books and movies.
Who knew the library was such a good option for books and movies? Luckily for me, I live less than two blocks away from Arlington County's largest library and it has every book I could ever want and a fairly decent DVD collection. This change has turned out okay.

3. Spend less at the hair salon.
Instead of going into Georgetown every month, I now walk down the street to a local salon. It's $20 less per month and saves me a lot of time. At first, I was pained by the change. Georgetown has a good vibe and the salon was beautiful ... hardwood floors, beautiful light, hip clientele. Now? Small, cramped, and the shampoo girl - as nice as she is - talks way too much but Joseph, my new hair guy, is quite intelligent and a lot more interesting than my old hair guy who was awfully cute but not that bright. Another adjustment that turned out okay.

4. Spend less on shampoo and cosmetics.
I was a bit shocked when I started looking at how much stuff costs, or rather, how much I was spending on certain items when other less expensive options were available. I've been buying a tube of mascara that costs $28 (!) when there are many alternatives out there for just $15. The cheaper version probably won't last as long but heck I probably won't replace it any earlier so the savings is still there. And the Bumble Gentle Shampoo I was ordering is pricey but the Seaweed version is a just a little bit less so and smells a whole lot better so no pain here.

5. Spend less on food, or more appropriately, shop more wisely.
This has been a tough one and I've made no progress in this area at all. I like to eat and I enjoy eating out. Harris Teeter, one of the most expensive grocery stores around, is one step outside my front door. I could walk down the street to the Spanish market in order to save money but I don't. I could bag my lunch at work but I haven't. I could give up convenience and cook everything at home but then I'd have to clean up and wash dishes and that just isn't me. I'll keep trying ... really I will ... right after Eric and I pick up our take-away salads from Marvelous Market on our way back from the library today.

6. No more Starbucks on my way to work.
I quit this habit a long time ago. $3 a day is a lot for coffee but the real reason for stopping the Starbucks trip was it's a 15-minute walk to the nearest store and I want my coffee hot right out of bed first thing in the morning. I still give myself credit, though, for making this switch because it wouldn't be that hard to pick it up again.

7. No more expensive clothes.
Actually, hardly any new clothes at all and this sucks. I don't like it. This has got to change. Thanks to my mom, I still get a little bit of a fashion fix, though. She gave me lovely Repetto ballet flats for my birthday and loaned me money for an Eileen Fisher black sweater I was able to get for a steal. Heck, the $9 stripey jam jam pants I bought in the check-out line at the grocery store are pretty awesome all the same and there are some fun treats out there even if they cost less. (Yeah, sure, keep telling yourself this, Leslie, and maybe you will start to believe it.)

8. No more taxi cab rides because I'm lazy.
I've been car-less for years but got spoiled when I started dating Eric. He'd drive me here and there and I got lazy. Now that he's car-free (since buying Clementine), we fell into the habit of taking taxi cab rides from the marina to the condo, and from the condo to the marina. The totals added up at $40 a pop but we are back on track with public transportation and are healthier because of it in the long run.

9. No more gym memberships.
I never go. I join with good intentions and then feel guilty for not going and develop an aversion to the whole thing. There are many good ways to get exercise without having to commit myself to a monthly fee and contract. Eric and I row the dinghy out to Clementine. I can sign up for a pay-as-I-go yoga class. We can run outside instead of inside on a treadmill. The key is in actually doing it but no sense in spending money in the effort. A financial investment does not make for an exercise commitment.

10. Sell my condo
Or better title, Get Out From Under My Mortgage. Home ownership is not all it's cracked up to be when you consider how much interest you pay and how little you actually get back at the end of the year. Owning a home ties you down to a certain geographic area; even if you decide to stay there, the noose is pretty tight, and what's the point when you can't afford to make any of the modifications you'd hope to make when you decided to buy the place originally?

So, in 2013, when I "retire," no longer have a mortgage holding me down, and my financial house in order, the whole world will be my oyster, insh'Allah. May my health and good fortune permit me the opportunity to travel. I may move back to Adams Morgan, or down to Old Town, closer to Eric's boat, or maybe I'll study a year in Spain and see all of the wonderful architecture I have been reading about this weekend.

And my promise for tomorrow?
Not to blog about such important stuff in such great detail. I have some great rustic interiors to show you from the Balearic Islands.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Celebration of Reading

Well, my book-reading binge has slowed down quite a bit. DCs oppressive heat wave has subsided - somewhat - and there's more to do outside. It's strange when a 90-degree day provides noticeable relief and we can all breathe easier.

So, the common thread in the books I've read so far is DRINKING, and lots of it. I started Strangers on a Train and the two opening characters were sloppy drunk and I thought, I just can't handle this right now. In Breakfast at Tiffany's, they drink for fun; in Gray Flannel Suit, they drink out of habit; and in Peyton Place, they drink in basements for weeks on end and only come up and outside when the alcohol runs out. We all know that drinking during meetings and at work was common during the 1950s but, interestingly enough, there was no alcohol at all in the UK's To Sir with Love. Sure, Braithwaite was a straight-laced kind of guy and all of the American writers were serious alcoholics, but what does this say about American culture in general?

To give the whole 1950s literature challenge a temporary break and expansion, I've picked up a book on architecture (Architecture of the Islamic World) and added the Cairo Trilogy to my reading list. All three books (Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, and Sugar Street) were also published during the 1950s. I wonder if the characters in these books drink alcohol? I do know in Egypt you can't buy alcoholic drinks in restaurants but they will deliver alcoholic beverages right to your door and probably serve alcohol in clubs. What were the topics of concern during the 1950s in Egypt? We shall see.

So, in Celebration of Reading, I've created my own meme and hope you will link back and answer the questions. Please post a photo of your own bookshelf if you do participate.

1. Do you read for pleasure daily, in spurts, or rarely?
I read when I don't want to think. I've just realized that. I read three books back to back over one weekend when my grandmother died. I read quite a bit during the summer of 2008 when I didn't want to think about buying a condo, and I always like to read when I'm on vacation. I also read to pass the time when I have a long commute or bus ride. I don't have the ability, unfortunately, to read on an airplane. I feel too distracted by the fact that I am way too high up in the air and have a huge vacuum of space underneath me.

2. What kind of books and magazines do you like to read?
I like fashion and interior design magazines but will confess, I don't really read them. I read fictional novels and art books. I don't like celebrity biographies, how-to books, or modern-day horror fiction. I do like gothic novels, though, and vampires stories. I read crime fiction and mysteries when I'm tired. They don't require a lot of mental focus.

3. Who are your favorite authors?
I'm going to say Willa Cather and Thomas Hardy right now because I've read multiple books by both authors and, after a great purge of books, still have their novels on my bookshelf.

4. How do you organize your books?
By subject matter or genre, then by country of author or topic, and then by size (height and depth). One shelf - the top one - is all fiction, the next shelf is all cookbooks, the third shelf down is for art books, and finally the lower shelf is for history, including genealogical research documents, and Elle Decor magazines. I'm getting ready to move my reference books over to the top of my desk to make more room for art books and have stacks and stacks of books around my house right now in anticipation of another major purge. It's crazy that when I move I have one box of dishes, three suitcases, and 15 boxes of heavy-ass books. (Getting ready to move, you ask? Not this year, but maybe next. More on that in tomorrow's post.)

5. Have you made the transition from printed material to e-books?
No, I'm resisting it. It makes sense having all of my books in one place and portable, especially if I decide to spend a lot of time out on Eric's boat, but after having worked in publications for years, I like how a printed book feels. I like turning the page and touching the weight of the paper. For now, I'm sticking with traditional.

I am tagging Evil Pixie, What She Said, Vacant Lot, Shining Lotus, Siobhan, Kevin's Stills, Do These Shoes Match this Purse, and Tourist Cup. Remember to include a photo of your own personal library if you post! Let's see how far my little meme can travel ...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

To Sir, With Love (1959)

Ricardo Braithwaite is a bright, educated black man, but after his service in the RAF, he can't find work due to the color of his skin and is forced to take an appointment teaching unruly "children" in a working-class neighborhood. "To Sir with Love" is an autobiographical description of this man's first year in London's East End school Greenslade.

Braithwaite's primary message is that a black man is no different than a white man, that his color is only skin deep and does not determine his character or ability. "Sir" expects his students to present themselves well, and insists on clean clothes, polished shoes, proper manners, and good speech. Braithwaite teaches his "children" how to think and express themselves with control and confidence.

It's a quick read, but the language isn't simplified to allow for it. Braithwaite is intelligent, as is evidenced by his writing, and his thinking is good, but his emotions are clinical and he seems a little too self important. The female students, Pamela Dare, in particular, are infatuated with him. Characters comment on how good looking he is and neighborhood mothers give him special treatment. Unintentionally, Braithwaite presents himself as superior to his charges and their families. He has an "us versus them" attitude and the division isn't based on color or on heirarcy within the school system, but instead on social class.

The most interesting part of this novel, however, is Braithwaite's assessment of racism and how Americans are open and vocal about their differences whereas the British are closed, hiding behind the pretense that they treat all men equally, yet in truth they resist fair treatment and behave badly in the process.

To Sir, with Love is one of the first inner-city inspirational teacher novels. Blackboard Jungle, published in 1954, is credited with being the first. Braithwaite currently serves as a university writer in resident right here in Washington, D.C.

To find on amazon: To Sir with Love

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Peyton Place (1956)

Well, I hardly even know what to say about this book ...

I included "Peyton Place" on my list of books to read because I've been aware of the title since early childhood and research tells me the novel was a huge scandalous success with 60,000 copies sold during the first 10 days of publication. What, I asked myself, could cause such a stir in 1956?

Well, the book deals with everything: puberty, sex, menopause, infidelity, spousal abuse, murder, jealousy, incest, rape, mental illness, suicide, and even, surprisingly for the 1950s, alcoholism. The general conclusion I reach is that Grace Metalious believes most people are motivated by their base desires and character defects. Unfortunately, there's very little happiness lurking in the small miserable lives of Peyton Place. I'll take away Selena's strength to survive, her love for Joey, Matt Swain's honor and sacrifice, but will try my best to forget all of the rest, especially Norman's creepy mother.

To find on amazon: Peyton Place

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Eric and I were walking from the marina to the shopping center for groceries earlier this week, and came across this sign. What a great relationship this dad and daughter must have. :-)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1955)

Tom, his wife Betsy, and their three kids live in the Connecticut suburbs. Tom commutes to work in Manhattan. They hate their average house, need a new car, and constantly worry about how they are going to make ends meet. Tom works for a foundation but accepts a new position with the United Broadcast Corporation in order to make more money. Out of fear, he begins to play corporate games, telling others what he thinks they want to hear and trying to judge people's positions so he can mimic them. As time goes on, the problems begin to mount, both personal and financial. The couple no longer feel pleasure and the harder they work at their perceived goals toward happiness, the more dissatisfied they become with their lives. It isn't until Tom becomes honest with himself, his boss, and his wife that they find the contentment they seek.

To a lesser degree, the story is also about mental illness, the discomfort people feel discussing it, and the lack of understanding people have about it. Tom is charged with running a campaign to promote an awareness about mental illness yet he suffers from PTSD and doesn't recognize his condition. He wonders how he can be rewarded for having killed seventeen men in the war yet potentially ostracized for having fathered a child during the same time period.

In the same vein, Tom's boss works non-stop from morning until late at night in spite of the toll it has on his health and the damage it does to his family relations. Tom tries to perform at the same level but eventually decides he'd rather work a standard 9 to 5 job and spend more time with his family.

Many of the issues Sloan Wilson presents in "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit" are ones we still wrestle with today: debt, overwork, consumerism, dissatisfaction, and a lack of honesty to self.

To find on amazon: The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit