Stillmeadow and Sugarbridge

I finished reading Stillmeadow and Sugarbridge by Gladys Taber and Barbara Webster in November. The book is composed of letters between  Gladys Taber in Stillmeadow, Southbury, Connecticut and Barbara Webster in Sugarbridge in Pennsylvania over one year in the 1950s, illustrated by Edward Shenton, Barbara’s husband.  Stillmeadow Friends is a good site for information about Gladys Taber and her books.

 I started to read Stillmeadow and Sugarbridge in August and decided then to take my time and read it slowly and at first I managed to limit my reading to a few letters each time I picked up the book. I wrote about the months of June and July in my Sunday Salon post  at the beginning of November. Since then I couldn’t stop myself from reading it and I finished it by the end of November.

The letters give a good picture of their lives and are full of the love of the countryside, gardening, cooking and their families. I love this  book (thanks again to my friend, Nan of Letters from a Hill Farm who sent it to me). There are so many extracts I could quote that I don’t quite know where to start. Here are a few.

Gladys, writing to Barbara in January:

Do you ever have a moment that is absolutely exquisite? Such moments are rare, they are like holding a pink pearl in your palm. Happiness, I think, is being able to live these moments when they come.

Barbara to Gladys on humour:

A great humorist, I think, is a top blessing to the world. It’s all very well to write grim things, profound tragedies, but we all need a little bright sun to encourage us. I also think it’s harder to be funny.

Barbara, writing about women writers:

I considered for a moment, the fine and fertile individualism of most English women writers, herself [Elizabeth Bowen], Virginia Woolf, shy and fey, fanciful and profound, with a gentle musing face; Edith Sitwell, fierce and inspired, with the air of an Elizabeth high priestess; Rebecca West, a keen and subtle reporter, a powerful novelist.

Gladys on time:

When I hear people doing things to pass the time, I shudder. For the one precious and irreplaceable gift is time, and surely we are in sorrowful state if we merely want to toss it out as fast as possible.

A day is a fine thing, and we shall never see this day again.

It is not a thing to take too easily.

I could go on and on, they write about the natural wants of man, getting inside of others, life as an orange – bitter and sweet, the intoxication of words,  writing, living each minute whilst still looking to the future, the ethics of hunting – to kill or not to kill, books, poetry, dogs, cats, children, flowers, vegetables, birds, the beauty of nature, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and a whole host of other topics; a picture of full and rewarding lives. This is most cetainly a book I shall re-read and re-read.

One last quote from Gladys, with which I can sadly agree. She had been dieting, at least between weekends (oh I know just what she’s saying) and was discouraged when she had worked out:

… that at the rate I am losing, I will be just right by the time I am a hundred and seventy three.

The Sunday Salon – Reading Today …

This morning I began reading Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain) was born 30 November 1835, so reading this book takes me back nicely into the Celebrate the Author Challenge, a challenge where you “celebrate” an author’s birthday each month by reading one of their books during their birthday month. Huckleberry Finn is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read for years and never got round to it – so this November I am. So far Huck has left Miss Watson’s house, stifled by being “civilised” but now his drunken brute of a father has got him locked inside his cabin. I plan on reading a few chapters a day.

Next up is Stillmeadow and Sugarbridge, letters between Gladys Taber and her friend Barbara Webster (Shenton). Today I read a few of their letters written in June and July – so very different from the season outside my window. At Sugarbridge Barbara is writing about the way the garden runs riot in the summer, particularly after prolonged heavy rain followed by a hot spell. I do like the way she describes it:

A wave of vegetation sweeps over everything. In a twinkling grass and weeds grow up the gravel drive, poison ivy impudently snakes its vined tongue up the very front steps, the creek bank is a jungle, and what has happened to the garden? Weeds tall as trees wave a united front there … The worst of it all is that midsummer languor has descended, and I have no longer the enthusiasm I could muster earlier in the season. Things have got beyond me. I admit it; I am beaten. So I take refuge in philosophy, always the shelter of defeat.

She could have been describing our garden, which has been really neglected this year. Not that we have had the hot spell she describes – just the heavy rain.

Gladys, meanwhile, on a hot July day is looking forward to Barbara’s visit:

We shall go right to the pond as soon as you unpack your bathing suits. On the terrace the ice bucket will be frosty and fresh mint leaves will be ready for your glasses, and we shall stay ourselves with cheese and crackers and smoked tid-bits  so we won’t have to rush dinner.

It sounds perfect. And I like Gladys’s idea of bringing a book to read aloud after dinner. As she wrote:

I feel reading aloud is an art which we have almost lost sight of, and it is a great pity. Nothing is better than to sit quietly and share the experience of a good book.

This sounds wonderful:

The quick lanterns of the fireflies make a pattern of flickering gold tonight in the meadow, the sky is deep with stars. After a hot day, a summer night is dramatic and wonderful. The cool breath from the heart of the woods slides so softly over the lawn, the world is very still as if the heat of the day had tired it. One feels suddenly the urge to stay up all night, following the moonlit country roads to the pale edge of the horizon. Surely, if we did that, we should find something strange and wonderful!

I can just picture myself there!

Later today I’ll be reading more from Les Miserables. I’m making good progress and am about halfway through now, so I’ll easily finish it this year. Although there are many digressions from the story it does move along quite quickly. I have to keep reminding myself who all the characters are, though, as there are so many. In my last reading session after a longish description  of what was happening in Valjean’s life after he evaded being re-captured by Inspector Javert, I met Marius, who is going to be another major character in the story, I think.

The Sunday Salon

This week I’ve been travelling in time and place in my reading.

I’ve been in Pennsylvania and Connecticut with Gladys Taber and Barbara Webster reading their letters to each other from Stillmeadow and Sugarbridge over one year in the 1950s (the book was published in 1953; there’s been no mention of the Second World War so I’m guessing the letters were written in the late 1940s or early 1950s). Stillmead and Sugarbridge is a book to savour and read slowly. I’m limiting my reading to a few letters each time I pick up the book. Stillmeadow is the house in Southbury, Connecticut where Gladys Taber lived and Sugarbridge is the house where Barbara and her husband Edward Shenton lived in Pennsylvania. Edward’s drawings illustrate the letters. Between the letters and the illustrations I’m getting a good picture of their lives. Their letters are full of the love of the countryside and their families. When I’ve finished it I’ll write more fully about it. For now here is a quote from Barbara’s first letter in the book, writing in January about what she likes about living at Sugarbridge:

A broken-up day is to me a lost day, and social and business dates, no matter how delightful or important, hang over me with a sense of doom. So I am particularly grateful for those long intervals of country peace when we see no one, nor stir from our studio except for an afternoon ramble over the hills. We no longer live by the clock, slaves to time; we make our own.

She thought that this would not be everyone’s ideal. It sounds good to me.

I first read about Gladys Taber on Nan’s blog and was really pleased when she sent me this book. I would like to know more about Gladys and Barbara and so far I’ve found these websites –  Stillmeadow Friends and also Stillmeadow, where I read that the farm was in danger from development. This was in 2002 and I can’t find out what happened – does anyone know? There is also a website for Edward Shenton, but I can’t find out how Gladys and Barbara met.

Then I’ve jumped back in time to France in the 1820s with Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. I am only too glad that I don’t live in post revolutionary France. The Battle of Waterloo is now over and Jean Valjean has at last escaped from prison and rescued Cosette from her pitiful life with the cruel Thenardiers. Poor Cosette:

Fear emanated from her so that she might be said to be enveloped in it. Fear caused her to draw her elbows in at her sides and her feet underneath her skirt, to take up as little room as possible and to draw no unnecessary breath; it had become so to speak, the habit of her body, impossible of alteration except that it must grow worse, In the depths of her eyes there was the haggard gleam of terror.

Jean and Cosette are currently on their way to Paris and a better life I hope, but I don’t expect it will be as I still have about 800 pages left to read.

Over next to Regency England in the early19th century with Georgette Heyer’s Friday’s Child. Dialogue makes up a large part of the book, full of 19th century slang. I mentioned this in my last post and in the comments Geranium Cat explained what a “Tiger” is and pointed me to this site – http://www.heyerlist.org/slang.html for more explanations. This book is a mixture of romance, a whirl of social events – balls, masquerades, theatre-going, duels and farce. I’m about halfway in the book and this morning read about the duel between George, Lord Wrotham and Sherry, Anthony Verelst, Viscount Sheringham after Sherry saw George kissing his wife, Hero.

Last and my no means least I’ve popped over to America again. This time to New York with Dodie Smith in 1939 just before the start of World War Two as described in Dear Dodie by Valerie Grove. Dodie and Alec (who she marries) arrive with Pongo, the dalmatian who inspired her to write 101 Dalmatians after leaving England because Alec was a pacifist and a conscientious objector. Dodie was soon cast into gloom, unable to like America and forecasting

years of exile, a world war in progress, losing her audience-sense by being away from England, and possibly also losing all her capital. On three out of four counts her forecast was absolutely correct.

I knew very little about Dodie before and am learning a lot about England at the beginning of the 20th century and theatrical history as well as about Dodie herself – an unsuccessful actress, then a shop assistant at Heals furniture store and then a playwright. It’s fascinating reading about her relationship with people such as Noel Coward, John Gielgud, Gladys Coper, Jack Hawkins and Jessica Tandy, to name but a few.