Monday, July 06, 2009
Needed: Bigger Buckets.......
My recent visit to England was just long enough for me to realize I'd have liked to stay longer, much longer! The southwestern part of the country has a magical quality. I felt as though I'd stepped back in time to a slower-paced, more contented era, to a rural landscape of farms that have been worked continuously for hundreds of years, to rolling green fields, and wild flowers, and cozy cottages with lovely gardens and blue smoke curling up dreamily from their chimneys.
And what is more timeless than a brand new baby, with the eggshell still on his head, as Isabelle so aptly put it! But almost gone in this recent update......
Too soon, it was time to leave, but consolation came from an unexpected source. From a woman named Mary Webb. It would have been a real pleasure to have met her in person, but since she's been resting under the Shropshire soil since 1927, my new friend and fellow grandma, G, did the next best thing. She gave me a copy of "Precious Bane," one of Mary Webb's best known books.
Mary Webb lived most of her life in Shropshire, several years of it in a house next door but one to where G lives now. I was delighted to have such a memento of my few days there, and thought that, some day, I might even read it.
Home, unpacking, and moping because it all flew by so fast, I picked up "Precious Bane", and as I thumbed through it, Mary Webb cast a spell on me and lured me into the world of Prue Sarn.
"Shropshire is a country where the dignity and beauty of ancient things lingers on," writes Webb in the foreword, "and I have been fortunate.....in being born and brought up in its magical atmosphere....."
I feel that way about the place where I grew up.........
As I read, it occurred to me that, even though the world and our daily routines have changed drastically since those days, the things that are really important and give meaning to our lives have hardly changed at all. Something to believe in: Prue has her faith in God. Something to do: She has plenty to do, helping her brother, Gideon, with all the work on their farm. Someone to love: Aha! Very few people can see beyond the birth defect Prue was born with, so they write her off as someone not deserving of love. Even Gideon, her brother says
"Being as how things are, you'll never marry, Prue." At which Prue's heart
"beat soft and sad. It seemed such a terrible thing never to marry. All girls got married..........even Miller's Polly, that always had a rash or a hoost or the ringworm or summat, would get married. And when girls got married, they had a cottage, and a lamp, maybe, to light when their man came home, or if it was only candles it was all one, for they could put them in the window, and he'd think "There's my missus now, lit the candles!" And then one day they'd make a cot of rushes, "and one day there'd be a babe in it, grand and solemn, and bidding letters sent round for the christening, and the neighbours coming round the babe's mother like bees round the queen."
Mary Webb,[and through her, Prue Sarn,] is so in tune with human nature, and the natural world around her, that she draws you into that world of Shropshire a hundred years ago, to Prue's life and her thoughts, to all the subtle signs of the changing seasons, to her everyday worries and occasional joys, to her strength and how she deals with the cruel handicap life has dealt her, and to the cozy little attic where she writes it all down.
"For you canna write a word, even, but you show yourself - in the word you choose, and the shape of the letters, and whether you write tall or short, plain or flourished....."
You hardly realize she's doing it, but while she captivates you with the twists and turns of the story, she takes you there, to the cornfields and cottages and lane ways of rural Shropshire, to the air humming with the "murmuration" of bees and birdsong, so that when winter creeps over the fields around Sarn Mere, you shiver in your armchair and draw your imaginary shawl closer around you against the cold, damp fog rising off the water. As I read, and the landscape came alive in my mind, I couldn't help thinking again and again of Constable's beautiful paintings of the English countryside......
......and thinking in the Shropshire dialect between bouts of reading! It too has a comfortable, cozy "murmuration" to it!
Reflecting on the characters' vain attempts to quench a blazing fire, by passing buckets and pails of water, one to another, Prue writes
"And I've thought since then that when folk grumble about this and that and be not happy, it is not the fault of creation that is like a vast mere [sea] full of good, but it is the fault of their buckets' smallness."
I liked Prue, her way of thinking and her way of writing. Or was it Mary Webb, and her thinking and her writing that I liked so much? To what extent can you separate the writer from the characters she creates? Can you invent such a beautiful character and mind without being so, and having such yourself? To me the mind of Prue Sarn and the mind of Mary Webb are one and the same.
And now I'm "afeerd" you'll all think I've lost my marbles. I'm not advocating that we go back to the way things were in that time, milking our own cows, spinning our own yarn, sending our daughters off to neighbouring villages to be apprentice milkmaids....... But it was somehow comforting to feel such a connection with Prue. Almost like reading something my great grandmother might have written, like getting a glimpse into how her everyday life might have been, and into the things that might have occupied her thoughts and made her world go around. And finding that, despite the intervening years, we are still more alike than different.
Go read a "tuthree" pages of "Precious Bane", if you can find it, and let me know what you think.