Moved to Jersey City
1913- Family moved to 758 Avenue A. Bayonne, NJ
Of Making Books There Is No End
Justin Huntly McCarthy--------
A Ballad Of Book-Making
The playwright's mouth, the preachers jangle,
The critics challenge and defend,
And Fiction turns the Muses' mangle--
Of making books there is no end.
Ruby Alice Thompson - Journal - October 12, 1917
I have been thinking an awful lot about Grandma Side of late. I think will make time to write a sketch of her. She was a noteworthy woman; and anyhow it might interest some of my children or grandchildren.
I am really writing this diary for my grandchildren. Diaries seem awful nonsense when you look back through those you write and you yourself appear such a conceited fool in them-- but still, to grandchildren, they may present a curious fossilized tableau of our times. What would I not give for Grandma Side's old diaries: diaries she was writing from 1840 to 1870 or so? Why did she destroy them? What treasures they would have been to me! I hope I won't get a fit of disgust at mine and destroy them pell mell twenty years or so hence. I have a dream favorite granddaughter and these scribbles are for her.
Dear God: Please break me a leg-painlessly. I want to write a book but am already too busy with other activities and breaking a leg would salvage me the twenty-odd hours per week now preempted by tennis. But, God, be sure to remember that part about painlessly.
I am not even certain it is exactly a "book" I want to write but shall use that term until I see what emerges. I am now reading 42 volumes of a journal my mother maintained over a period of 60 years, from 1909-1969, from the time she was a young matron until her eyesight failed her a few months before she died. When she was no longer able to read or write she was deprived of her two compulsive pleasures and decided to close her life-book forever.
As a curious aside, Dad died for a similar reason. He had been doing the household chores and generally looking after Ma and when she departed, his mission was over and he died two months later-- even though he was in full charge right up to his final day maintaining his own household and even preparing for a transatlantic voyage.
A FEW PEBBLES
Andrew Marvell...TO HIS COY MISTRESS
but at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near.
Although Mother's journal provided the initial impulse for my writing these notes I abandoned any attempt at following her day-by-day accounts, principally because I got such a late start. Whereas she began at age 25 and went on writing for 60 years I am starting at age 74 and can look forward to only a minor fraction of such a span of time. Her method was best for her; mine for me. However as I allow myself considerably more latitude in format I shall not completely avoid an occasional daily item of current interest. Here is one in Mother's mode.
Wednesday, 18 April 1984. Almost midnight. Mother's birthday. She would have been exactly one hundred years old today--an age she frequently vowed to attain. She made 85 and nine months which is not too too bad at that. Her eyes went bad and she could no longer read or write, her two chief pleasures, so she figured the game was no longer worth the candle and the candle could not light the game. I don't blame her one bit.
Laurel and Paisley here for Easter holidays; Lynn driving down Friday for the weekend and to pick them up. Exceptionally bright and most pleasant kids, and Mother would have been happy to have known them.
Awhile ago Paisley wandered into the living room to state she was having difficulty getting to sleep and requesting a banana, her usual home remedy for insomnia.
ME: Certainly. I'll get you one. Oops! Sorry. Nothing here but green ones.
PAISLEY: I always eat green bananas.
You can't beat a smart kid on details.
I am so enchanted by Mother's journal my mind keeps reverting to it. There should be at least one such record in the family each generation and here is a contribution for my generation. Mother's so intrigues me I shall imitate parts of its format even if I despair of simulating its intensity and grace of expression. Mother read exhaustively, volume after volume after volume and with it all furnished in her journal ideas about what she read-- good and bad; likes and dislikes--so I shall here touch upon a few aspects of her writing.
Mother rarely repeated herself, or repeated anybody else, except, of course, in giving a direct quote. You cannot find a cliche per volume; everything is new minted and sparkling and she never descends to the latest buzz word. No "last but not least" or "At this point in time" or "The bottom line" or "In no way, shape, or form." But with all that there are three phrases she returns to, to describe three recurring feelings and I shall mention them her so as to provide a few gleanings from her voluminous writings.
Religion, a certain source of great comfort to many, was a frequent cause of disquieting change to Mother--for several reasons. Basically three different religious systems ran through her mind like a braid, different ones uppermost at different times, and she could never settle comfortable very long in any one of them. Her family background was Church of England. In her later youth and early adult life she was much impressed by a Charles Voysey, the head of a Theistic Church. Then about four years after their marriage my father converted to Catholicism and Mother followed him into it, perhaps halfheartedly and to please him; or perhaps intellectually or emotionally. Who knows?
Basically Mother was a Theist. She always believed in God but believed in religion only sporadically. She believed there was a god but usually rejected the divinity of Jesus and considered dogma man-made. She enjoyed and respected the Old Testament but did not respond to the New; she frequently considered it on a par with Mother Goose. Also she considered my father a religious nut. (Herein I, personally, agree with her but must admit there were many, many who considered him a saint. A question of viewpoint. I hasten to add that I always respected my father and am much like him-- cause and effect?-- but we disagreed on religion and resented its being the most important force in his life--which it most certainly was. How can a wife compete against religion? Dad's religion, which to him was a spiritual blessing, was to Ma an emotional curse.
Mother was always most certain and serious in her religious belief, as certain as the Pope and as serious as the Archbishop of Canterbury; but she never retained the same certainty very long--a sure sign of an open mind. Each time she recorded her re-conversion to Catholicism --Roman Catholic, she called it--she would end her report with, "Lord, I believe; help mine unbelief." A one point she mentions her favorite saint, Jane Frances De Chantal, as having used the expression but otherwise never alludes to its author. Actually it comes from the Bible, the Ninth Chapter of Mark, and was spoken by the man who had asked the disciples to cast out the dumb spirit from his son, but they lacked the faith to do so. It is most likely Mother knew the Biblical origin and merely supposed everyone else would likewise recognize it.
In any case, Mother would later revert to Church of England or Theism or each in turn and still later "return to Rome" with ever stronger conviction and then would come, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief."
To her compositional credit Mother did not use this expression as a cliche but more as a prayer, and prayers are by their nature, like the Pledge of Allegiance, repetitious. She was asking for help to reinforce her new found faith, like the father in Mark's Ninth Chapter.
Later when she lost the faith she would end her recording with a self-reproach. "Unstable as water, thou shalt not prevail." Here, again, she did not mention the biblical origin of the quote --Chapter 49 of Genesis where Jacob on his deathbed is putting a curse on Reuben his oldest son for having slept with his, Jacob's concubine. Here it is doubtful if Mother thought of the source as, although the words fit her situation, the sense certainly did not. (Interpolation several months later after reading some dozen more volumes of Mother's journal--a quote from the journal for August 19, 1958: "Remembering one of the texts which has always applied to me: the judgement on Reuben: Unstable as water thou shalt not prevail.")
Come to think of it there was another expression, not of Biblical origin, Mother used as solace when things did not go as she thought they should, "There ain't no justice." In this case, however, she always credited me with being the author. I would not want to state no one made that remark before I did but I do know that thought partly reconciled me to any number of inequities at least to the extent of providing the feeling that the present quality of justice was not too much worse than its general manifestation. As far back as I can remember I had an over-emphasized sense of justice and like so many others it always pained me when justice was not done, most particularly when I felt better justice would have produced a more favorable result for my particular cause.
I DISCOVER CIVILIZATION
RUBY ALICE THOMPSON-JOURNAL-July 5, 1961 (regarding qualms about a young girl about to enter a convent) However I cannot do anything about Teresa Button. She will have to dree her own weird, like the rest of us.
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for the brethren to dwell together in unity! PSALM 133
My dictionary does not state so but it is clear to me civilization starts with cooperation. Civilization is cooperation and cooperation is civilization. Civilization is merely regarding your neighbor as part of your extended family. Cro-Magnon Man goes hunting while Cro-Magnon woman minds C.M. Man Jr. Cro-Magnon Man and Cro-Magnon Brother team up with Cro-Magnon Neighbors to hunt Cro-Magnon antelope and defend against Cro-Magnon saber-toothed tiger; and thus starts civilization.
My brother Eddie used to bully me just to break the monotony, to break his monotony; I would sooner have had the monotony. I recall in particular one special form of his deviltry. He would stand me in front of him and issue specific instructions to the effect that under no circumstances was I to do what he commanded. He would then order me to leave the room and I , naturally, would remain in place. He would then issue increasingly stern orders for me to depart, shouting louder and louder and making more and more dire threats until i would eventually depart, only to bring down extra wrath for having disobeyed his original stipulation. An early Catch 22, even before the phrase was penned.
Mother provided no specific defense against these tyrannies but her mere presence inhibited the more outlandish forms. There was no problem when Dad was on the scene; his sense of justice would not have tolerated any such shenanigans. In Mother's defense it must be stated she had better ways to spend her time and found it easier to deputize Eddie to keep things under control than to do so herself.
To borrow a north country phrase that I learned from Mother years later, I decided I would just have to dree my own weird, meaning to suffer my own fate. (You get little opportunity to use such a phrase so I might as well sneak it in while the situation is apropos.) I just tried to understand my world to the extant possible and to defend against it to the extent necessary. In the case of Eddie the only defense that occurred to me was to out wait him. A tedious prospect but I perceived no other. I just dreed my weirds on the assumption that was the natural state of humanity. I do not recall even being provoked at Ma for not coming to my defense, probably working on the assumption it was none of her business , which seemed to be a reliable working thesis at the time and squared the facts.
One early summer day in Tenafly when I was eleven of twelve Eddie was working me over just outside the kitchen door. I have no recollection of the proximate cause of his bully ragging, perhaps he had not enjoyed his breakfast; perhaps he had just finished reading a book and it was too soon before lunch for him to go to the library for another.
Enter Harold coming up from the barn. We had no prearranged plan but Harold apparently took in the situation and sent me some body language. Facing me, he through his head to his left shoulder pointing toward Eddie and pursed his lips like a chimp holding them out for a peanut and put a question mark on his face. i nodded agreement and we jumped Eddie!
I dropped low and wrapped my arms around his legs and Harold rushed him amidships and down he went with the hollow thud of a keg toppled off a stool; and more surprised than pleased. The rest was just technique. Our combined two hundred odd pounds were more than his one hundred and twenty or so could manage although he did thrash around considerably. It required little time for us to work our way around to lie on top of him and tire him out. As his struggles subsided his bellowing increased with foul language like you never heard before: "I'll break your goddamn necks. Jesus, when I get up I'll knock the crap out of you both. I'll break every bone in your lousy bodies. " Uprising! Revolt! Revolution!
Enter Ma brandishing a bristle broom,armed to drive off a brace of attacking curs. Not to save our goddamn necks or lousy bodies or to keep our crap in us but to order us to let him up. The natural love of the first born. This hooked us right on the traditional horns of the traditional dilemma. We had never before disobeyed Mother but on the other horn we did not relish broken bones or having crap knocked out any faster than normally. Caution or fear, at first prevailed over training and we remained atop the sputtering victim. No punching, no twisting, ; just dead weight.
After a spell his struggles subsided, then his invective. It dawned on him how ridiculous such mighty threats sounded from such a supine position. An impasse. Like Humbert Humbert's first close encounter with Lolita, we had found the whole procedure much easier than we would have considered possible.
Finally we let him up. Instead of breaking any bones or knocking any crap he went over and stood beside Ma as if to declare: "Us tow against you two," but much abashed realizing another encounter would produce like results. Like the story book bully he thrived on bluster but wilted against sufficient determination. finally Ma put up her battle broom and we all went off trying to appear as casual as possible.
That is the way I discovered civilization. , the realization that cooperation beats antagonism and is lots more fun. It also straightened out Eddie's thinking considerably and likewise introduced him to civilization.