Saturday, December 16, 2017

Home is where one starts from

When I walk, I imagine the best way things could be. I dream about the incredibly beautiful wreath I'm going to make and put on the front door of our little cottage, with holly from Oxford because all the holly near us is un-berried, and pine branches, and ribbon. I wonder where to buy grosgrain ribbon, because that is my favorite. In Los Angeles, I have a box of ribbons, and grosgrain in every (winter) color - red, brown, orange, lime green. I look at the beauty of naked branches and think I an incorporate them into a wreath, with lichen perhaps, and then I laugh at myself. And I marvel at the glory of it all: the impossibly bright winter sun, the orange-brown light on the trees just after sunrise, the spotted sheep huddling in puddles of sunlight, the cracked perfection of the puddles of ice, the sparkling frost on the black roads. When I walk, I am my best self, optimistic and ebullient and magnanimous, with the cold air freezing my face, and red-nosed in awe and gratitude. When I walk, I shed the doubt. Perhaps we all do.

I was born here, on a farm, in a cold house that didn't have a lot of central heating. There was a huge wood burning stove in the hallway that heated a fair amount of the house, and log fires in the sitting room, drawing room, dining room and study. I remember being too cold to get out of bed to go to the loo in the middle of the night, even though the loo was next to my bedroom. I remember ice on my windows. I remember frozen fingers and forced dog walks twice a day. And cold Land Rovers. And the damp. And the smell of wet dog. Five or Six of them. But, now I'm back I wonder if Southern California softened me, thinned my blood, made me a princess. There is no doubt I am now a princess. I've had to learn to wash my own floors and do my own ironing (I still suck at ironing). I've had to learn to feel cold, a lot, and to wear a woolly hat in the kitchen sometimes. Charlie is kind and good to me (too kind, too good, my mother says). Yesterday, I got back (freezing) from a funeral in London and there were white tulips on the kitchen table and yellow daffodils on my bedside table. "I wanted to remind you of spring," he said. "And hope. It's not always going to be like this." I'm not sure what to do with all this kindness. I don't ever feel deserving of it. I am not sure how such a lovely man managed to get into my orbit or what divine intervention brought us together. I know this: he makes the cold worthwhile.

When I walk, I warm up. I'm wearing my red and white Norwegian sweater and a huge red pashmina scarf, wrapped three times around my neck to stave off bronchial conditions and scattershot maladies. And on top of this a coat in my brother's tweed. It's the warmest thing I own. I want to wear it every day, even in London. "It's not really a London coat" says Charlie. He fears I'll start to wear one of those furry hatbands that all the Sloanes favor. When I warm up, the world becomes benevolent again, and the fear assuages.

We sang hymns in church. I stood beside my childhood friend who I love very much and he sang in a deep baritone.  All public school boys do this. It amuses me. My piping second soprano could not be bridled. I jolly well love to sing hymns. The Lord's My Shepherd (Crimond) and Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, a great Wesleyan hymn. Goodness and kindness all my life shall surely follow me. What lovely, lovely lyrics. What lovely hope.

I hope, deep in my heart, that England is still in my bones in a proper, English way. I hope that I am deserving of its beneficence.

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment 
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.  -- from East Coker, by TS Eliot


Unknown said...

I grew up in a 1930s semi in suburban Leeds. There was no central heating, and I too remember being too cold to get up to use the loo, and frost-patterned iced flowers on the windowpanes. Now I live in the Swiss Alps, in an almost 500-year-old wooden chalet that has been gut-renovated, insulated to within an inch of its life and has underfloor heating and solar panels on the roof (the Swiss build to withstand the cold). So I have officially gone soft, and I don't think Yorkshire would want me back ;)

But come Christmas, it's the English carols I crave and the English traditions I hold dear. It's home, and home isn't necessarily a place – it's a feeling, and memories.

Wishing you and yours a Yuletide full of warmth, family and cheer, Miss Whistle.

Imogene x

LPC said...

As one still here in California, I will say that you sound quite, quite British in this post. Talking the talk as it were, might lead to walking the walk. Or perhaps it's been the other way around. <3

tedsmum said...

Stomping the snow off your boots, feeling the glow on your cheeks, looking into the fire,wrapping your fingers round a mug of tea, sharing your bed with a hot water bottle and a small dog......And Christmas! love and peace to you and yours and may the warmth be with you! :)

Katherine C. James said...

This is beautiful, Bumble, and a pleasure to wake up to on a Sunday morning. As soon as I read your title, my heart leapt with recognition. As much as I have wanted to love other poets over my lifetime, Eliot remains my favorite. On the tenth anniversary of my father's death I sat in the wet winter grass by his gravestone and read him The Four Quartets. (He would not have sat still for it if he were still alive, but he would have loved me for doing it.) How perfect to use East Coker for what you are expressing. As I'm certain you know, Eliot's British ancestors came from East Coker, and the place was for Eliot, who was truly British in his bones—I have to remind myself he was born in America—a central and significant place. You were born where you are now living. Britain is in your bones. As Eliot says at the beginning of East Coker, "In my beginning is my end."

For years all my emails have ended with the famous quote from the end of Little Gidding, "We shall not cease from exploration…," but you make me think of the earlier Little Gidding lines:

For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
But, as the passage now presents no hindrance
To the spirit unappeased and peregrine
Between two worlds become much like each other,
So I find words I never thought to speak
In streets I never thought I should revisit
When I left my body on a distant shore.

And of these, which I read to my father as the sun appeared, glowing orange just before setting, on a cold winter day in 2010, and which made me smile because they did not fit my Northern California setting, "So, while the light fails/On a winter's afternoon, in a secluded chapel/History is now and England."

They do fit you: your history now, until and if you choose otherwise, is England, and you do (of course you do) deserve its beneficence.

Marcheline said...

England has the very best carols! Glad to hear yours were unbridled - that's the way they should be. Wishing you the very merriest, most deliriously peaceful, wonderful Yuletide ever.

Marcheline said...

Happy New Year!

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