Hudson Valley Literary Connection

In my family, there is a book that is as significant as a Bible.  It is The Melendy Family by Elizabeth Enright, first published in 1941.  Before I was born, my sister, Jan, was the first child to snuggle next to our mother as she read aloud the adventures of the four Melendy children: Mona (girl, 14), Rush (boy, 12), Randy (girl,10), and Oliver (6). 

            As Jan remembers, she burst into tears when our mother finished reading the last paragraph.  Jan was so distraught that Mom turned back to the first chapter and started the book again.

            “It would have to rain today,” said Rush, lying flat on his back in front of the fire.  “On a Saturday.  Certainly. Naturally.  Of course.  What else would you expect?  Good weather is for Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday; and rain’s for Saturday and Sunday, and Christmas vacation and Easter.”

            For me, that first line is more evocative than the March’s “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.”

            Mom loved reading aloud, so I got the Melendys next.  She was sad when I became an independent reader and wanted to read on my own.  My cousin, Patty, only two months older, was also a Melendy lover.  Together we acted out Melendy stories in our fantasy play.  I know I read the book at least ten times before I turned eleven. Years later, I read The Melendy Family to my daughter.  She has continued the tradition, reading the book to her two girls.

            The Melendy Family actually contains three smaller books: The Saturdays, The Four-Story Mistake, and Then There Were Five.  In The Saturdays, the Melendys are living in New York City during the beginning of World War II.  Mr. Melendy works for the government in some unspecified capacity.  In the first chapter of this book, the children decide to pool their allowances so that each child can do something special on his or her Saturday. 

            It amazes me now, that eighty years ago, a ten-year-old child, Randy, was allowed to wander around New York City alone.  Eventually, though, it is decided that the children should all go out together.

            The Four-Story Mistake begins with the family moving upstate.  I have wondered many times whether the Melendy’s relocation to a quirky house near a small Hudson Valley village drew me to live in a similar place. 

            I was pregnant with my second child when we landed at my husband’s family farm.  The Melendys had a brook on their property.  I had the Wallkill River below the house.  Later, after a couple of moves, I bought a house with a nameless creek in the backyard.  There, my daughter met up with a luna moth, echoing Oliver’s infatuation with the very same creature.

            For the past few days, I’ve been rereading The Melendy Family.  It’s a joy to reconnect with the book, but also a revelation.  Enright is a fine author.  Her prose is clean and lyrical, and she knows children.  For example, here is Rush getting ready for his Saturday adventure:

            After lunch, Rush had to hurry.  Randy came in as he was furiously combing his hair and trying to make it lie flat. 

            “What have you put on it now?” asked Randy, sniffing curiously.

            “On what? My hair?  Oh, some of Mona’s face cream,” grinned Rush.  “I thought maybe it would make it straight.  But I guess it won’t.”

            “Mona will kill you if she finds out.  You’d better go before she gets a chance to smell you.”

            I have often thought that, when I’m quite senile, I will confuse my own stories and family with the Melendys.  Without a doubt, author Elizabeth Enright and The Melendy Family shaped me as a writer for children.

Tea

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

If I could weep,

I would make saltwater tea for you,

foolish, fat man,

full of bluster and lies.

Today I am beyond tears, but others aren’t.

Here, have a cup of tears wept

for the grandmas felled by COVID,

for George Floyd,

for immigrant children

without parents,

for Iowa’s farmers,

for the coral reefs,

the glaciers,

the burned coastline.

How many cups can you drink?

The School Snake

Her name was Kali.  She joined my second grade classroom when she was only about as long as my forearm, a gift from a student.  His father raised Colombian rosy boas in their basement.  The dad must have done it well, since a full-grown pair had been happy enough to mate and start a family.

Unlike some, I don’t have problems with (non-venomous) snakes.  I’ve always enjoyed the feel of them.  Their bodies are so smooth and cool.  The patterns on snake’s skins are often beautiful. I like the pressure of the constrictor’s body as it glides along my arm.  So I was delighted to have Kali.

Kali ate mice.  Live mice.  In order to feed her, I kept a cage of mice in the classroom.  Be assured, I never dropped a mouse in her tank when the students were in school.  Even so, it was with a combination of horror and fascination that I watched Kali zero in on her meal, snatch it, and squeeze. Then began the slow process of swallowing the mouse headfirst. 

All of us in my class enjoyed the snake.  Those at home–not so much.  My family tolerated Kali when I had to bring her home during vacations.  The mouse cage stayed in the downstairs half-bath, on top of the toilet tank.  They smelled. 

Once, when I had stayed home sick, my substitute teacher, Mrs. D., called me.  Mrs. D. was one of the most competent substitutes in the district.  She was tough, and no student behavior was known to faze her.  However, the day she called, Mrs. D. was freaking out—and not because of the snake. The mother mouse had eaten her babies.   I was stuck at home with a cold–there wasn’t much I could do.  Either the mother mouse had felt her family was threatened, or the babies weren’t healthy.  Poor Mrs. D.! I imagine she thought twice about accepting a sub day in my classroom after that.

Kali got one mouse a week.  And Kali grew.  She’d reached about three feet in length when our relationship came to an abrupt end.  One morning before the kids arrived, I fed her a mouse.  Then I refreshed the water in her dish.  As I returned the dish to her tank, Kali struck at my hand.  Rosy boas don’t have fangs, but they do have rows of needle-sharp backward-pointing teeth.  Both snake and I recoiled with surprise. 

When I spoke about this with a knowledgeable snake person, I learned that Kali was now a two-mouse snake.  I had been feeding her too often. She was bigger and hungrier.  My hand must have smelled like the mouse I had held, so she went after it.  The bite wasn’t big or serious, but I had to reconsider:  How important was it to have a rather large snake in the classroom? It was time to part ways.

Kali’s robust health and size brought a good price when I traded her in at the pet shop.  In her place, I got some fish, colorful gravel, and a filter for the tank.  The fish were soothing to watch.  The gurgle of the filter was also a pleasant noise.  Best of all, I didn’t need to keep a cage of smelly mice.

That was my last pet snake.

Here’s an interesting article about why animals sometimes kill their babies.

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/3/140328-sloth-bear-zoo-infanticide-chimps-bonobos-animals/

The Book of Longings: A Perfect Read

The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd was a delicious book, so good that I couldn’t stay away from it and I also didn’t want it to end.  Of course, I pretty much knew at least part of the ending, as it was the story of Jesus’s wife, Ana.

I imagine that idea alone—that Jesus had a wife–offended plenty of potential readers.  However, I’ve always found the claim that Jesus was a celibate bachelor hard to believe.  Jesus was a Jew, and Jewish men got married.

Author Kidd invents Ana, a young girl passionate about writing and study.  At the book’s outset, I was skeptical that such a person would have existed during Herod’s reign.   The power of the story soon left my disbelief behind.  By the time Ana meets Jesus, she is a learned scholar and chronicler of the lives of women.

In Kidd’s words:

            I saw Ana not only as the wife of Jesus, but as a woman with her own quest—that of following her longings in pursuit of the largeness inside herself.  I saw her, too, as a woman able to become not only Jesus’s wife, but his partner.

Kidd’s extensive research gives the book credibility.  I was most interested in the Therapeutae.  As Kidd explains, this was

            a real monastic-like community, near Lake Mareotis in Egypt, where Jewish philosophers devoted themselves to prayer and study and a sophisticated allegorical interpretation of Scripture…However, the Therapeutae’s practice of asceticism and solitude was far more prevalent and intense than I describe.

Delving further, I found this information from Britannica:

Therapeutae, Greek Therapeutai (“Healers,” or “Attendants”), singular Therapeutes, Jewish sect of ascetics closely resembling the Essenes, believed to have settled on the shores of Lake Mareotis in the vicinity of Alexandria, Egypt, during the 1st century AD. The only original account of this community is given in De vita contemplativa (On the Contemplative Life), attributed to Philo of Alexandria. Their origin and fate are both unknown. The sect was unusually severe in discipline and mode of life. According to Philo, the members, both men and women, devoted their time to prayer and study. They prayed twice every day, at dawn and at evening, the interval between being spent entirely on spiritual exercise. They read the Holy Scriptures, from which they sought wisdom by treating them as allegorical, believing that the words of the literal text were symbols of something hidden. Attendance to bodily needs, such as food, was entirely relegated to the hours of darkness.

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Therapeutae

It intrigues me that there were Jewish monastic communities. With the Therpeutae, Ana finds support for her true self.

            In The Book of Longings, Ana manages to protect the scrolls of her writing, and ultimately hides the copies she’s made for future seekers to discover.

            I truly enjoyed being part of Kidd’s speculation about Ana and the vivid description of the times in which she lived. 

Karakesh Chronicles: Book V is on its way

Bimi Lightfoot, ten years old, knows that his mother was a faerie. He knows he doesn’t fit in with the beach family who adopted him. Someday, he promises himself, he’ll find his mother and ask her who his father is. When Bimi’s faerie cousin scoops him off the beach to steal back a horse, Bimi’s chance to find the answers becomes a reality.

Once again, in Book V of the Karakesh Chronicles, the protagonist’s quest leads him into adventure, danger, and friendship.

Elf boy 3D effect
https://www.deviantart.com/athena-erocith/art/Elf-boy-3D-effect-420733462

If you’ve read any of my other Karakesh Chronicles, you’ll know that the Kingdom of Karakesh is a land of magic and danger. The young characters encounter some fearsome faerie monsters, such as the dreaded fachan, whose glance may stop a heart, or the bunyip, a bloodthirsty dweller in rivers.

Book I, Tangled in Magic: Agatha sets out to find her twin brother, Malcolm, held prisoner by a warlock.

Book II, Guided by Magic: Two sisters struggle to unite and discover their destinies.

Book III, Awakening Magic: Prince Emric must avert a war between the faeries and dwarves.

Book IV, Ripples of Magic: Demara, a half selkie (Seal Person) hopes to join her selkie father in the sea.

Four Karakesh Chronicles are available on Amazon at

https://www.amazon.com/Ripples-Magic-Karakesh-Chronicles-Ellis/dp/1647030226/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=kim+ellis&qid=1599650324&sr=8-3

or from

http://www.handersenpublishing.com

I’ll let you know when Book V is ready.

Who Am I Now?

Photo by Petr Ganaj on Pexels.com

When I read about the bonobos—

the more peaceful cousins of chimpanzees—

The earth lurched.

Given a lexicon board with over 300 pictograms,

The bonobo Kanzi communicated with Sue,

the scientist.

The bonobo created new words,

lied, identified and expressed emotions.

Every human trait that set us apart and above the beasts

is ours no longer.

Birds make tools, bonobos invent words,

gorillas cry and mourn the death of a companion.

Dolphins—

well, who knows what they say to each other?

Do all living creatures have souls?

Is there a cut-off between dogs and crows?

Do even stones have a measure of consciousness?

The bonobos opened the door of the tidy box

where I kept my assurances.

We share 98% of the same DNA with chimps.

My faith quaked.

I wrapped my arms around my hairless ape’s body

and shivered.

*****

The poem above was inspired by this article in Smithsonian Magazine.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/bonobos-teach-humans-about-nature-language-180975191/

Many thanks to those who follow my blog. I’m deeply grateful that my poems and musings have readers.