Delight Springs

Monday, August 7, 2017


Georgia Ruth Turnbow Roth (1931-2017)

They dismissed school early, the day Georgia was born. That teacher knew something about teachable moments and the school of life.

It was a long, rich life, in all the ways that really matter. She touched so many of us, and leaves so generous a legacy of spirit and kindness and perseverance.

Roth www.lewisherald.comGeorgia was born November 17, 1931 in Perry County on Sinking Creek, in the same house her mother was born in. The first child of James Turnbow and Clyde Graves Turnbow, she grew up on Swan Creek and later moved to Hohenwald, where she graduated from Lewis County High School. She married Freddie Roth on November 2, 1950. They were married almost 60 years.  

Georgia often recalled the thrill and wonder of first seeing humans take to the sky, though firmly and proudly planted in the soil of her native grounds.

Of course, that was nothing - speaking of legacy - compared to the thrill and wonder of the birth of a son, Frederick David, and then a daughter, Sharon Clydine; and later a pair of granddaughters, Emma Rebekah and Elisabeth Kathleen (Katie).

Georgia, like her parents before her, worked for many years at Genesco. She provided for her children not only materially but especially in the richness of an endless and daily nurturing love.  She loved keeping her home and cooking beautiful meals.  She is survived by her son F. David Roth, her daughter Sharon C. Roth (Phil Oliver), her brother Jimmy C. Turnbow (Ruth), and granddaughters Emma Rebekah Oliver and Elisabeth Kathleen (Katie) Oliver, and many beloved nieces and nephews.

When her daughter Sharon and I married, Georgia was about my age now. She struck me then, as she deserves to be remembered now, as youthful, kind, funny, curious, nurturing, and nourishing: she was a wonderful cook, in the traditional southern country style, and that - her cooking, my delight in her cooking - was maybe the first strong connection we made (beyond agreeing, of course, that her daughter was a pretty terrific person). Recalling that I bonded with Georgia’s mother, Granny Bo, over homemade GooGoo clusters, you might suspect a pattern here.

I gave her a copy of the Andy Griffith Cookbook, knowing she’d know just what to do with it. Every time we gathered over one of her and Freddie’s wonderful meals I’d have cause to effuse, in my best Andy of Mayberry accent, “Aunt Bea…!” And I tried not to be too much like Goober, when he briefly fancied himself a philosopher.

Georgia was funny, usually in a droll and understated way. She loved to laugh, and to make others laugh. She loved to repeat the inadvertently-funny things her granddaughters would say, like the time we were driving through the aromatically-bovine Vermont countryside when 3-year old Emma complained about something nasty “on her nose.” (That was a euphemism, I really didn’t want to talk about cow manure here.) Oh, and ask Emma about the Granny/leopard print lingerie story, I really can’t do it justice.

She also struck me, back then, as an auto-didactic, a self-educator and lifelong learner, a curious and eager reader, still working on her education. That was another strong and warm connection. I’m an auto-didact too, albeit an overeducated one. But Georgia was the sort of person who knew instinctively what Mark Twain meant when he said you should never let schooling interfere with your education.

So I didn’t just give her cookbooks. I gave her my book on William James, which she found a prominent place for on the coffee table, and a collection of some of his correspondence. He wrote delightful letters, back when people still knew how to write letters and treated them as a form of art as well as communication. I directed her attention to a couple of them in particular, that I thought she’d especially appreciate.

One was about the futility of trying to say everything, to put everything into words, because so much of life is too large to fit into words and sentences. There’s always something that “glimmers and twinkles and will not be caught.” She was one of the more perceptive people who seemed to me, somehow, to get that.

Another James letter was about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which he experienced at firsthand. Georgia back then seemed to me someone who’d also respond to unanticipated upheaval with more excitement and curiosity than fear, with “glee at the vividness which such an abstract idea or verbal term as ‘earthquake’ could put on when translated into sensible reality and verified concretely.” (That was certainly the spirit in which she thrilled to her first bumpy ride in an ATV “mule” last Fall with Jimmy Fite at the wheel, a ride too bumpy for her daughter and me.) The philosopher described a feeling like a terrier shaking a rat, followed in the days ahead by the socially uplifting spectacle of strangers pitching in together to clean up and rebuild. There are people in the world who meet disappointment and distress with perseverance and resolve. She was one of those.

I also shared with Georgia an appreciation of the great chronicler of the American west Wallace Stegner, and a copy of his Angle of Repose. In geology the angle of repose isthe steepest angle of descent or dip relative to the horizontal plane to which a material can be piled without slumping.” In human terms, it’s “the angle at which a man or woman finally lies down.” The narrator of Angle of Repose is a stoical wheelchair-bound historian who must come to terms with his own present incapacity as he tries to understand the past. “Wisdom,” he realizes, “is knowing what you have to accept.” Georgia was wise in that way too.

Another Stegner character said, in  Crossing to Safety,

If you could forget mortality... You could really believe that time is circular, and not linear and progressive as our culture is bent on proving. Seen in geological perspective, we are fossils in the making, to be buried and eventually exposed again for the puzzlement of creatures of later eras. Seen in either geological or biological terms, we don't warrant attention as individuals. One of us doesn't differ that much from another, each generation repeats its parents, the works we build to outlast us are not much more enduring than anthills, and much less so than coral reefs. Here everything returns upon itself, repeats and renews itself, and present can hardly be told from past.”

There’s more than a bit of wisdom in those broadly geological and biological perspectives, reminding us that the sting of death is due mostly to excessive fixation with our linear individual destinies. Life’s a much bigger picture, a more epic adventure, than even the sum of all our individual stories. The adventure really begins when children and grandchildren enter the picture. If we can grasp that, then we can accept our mortality and be grateful for our “little life rounded by a sleep.”

Georgia did grasp and accept the bigger picture, and also knew that some individuals--the ones we call grandkids, for sure--definitely do warrant attention. Lavish, tireless, delighted attention.  How she loved and doted on her granddaughters Emma and Katie, loved to tell their stories, loved to dream of the lives they’d live and the love they’d pass along in their turn. It’s a long and often-dazzling (if finally wearying) parade, this human journey. We’re the lucky ones, we’re in the procession, we get to wonder what life may yet become, and to try and nudge it forward. Think of all the merely-possible people who’ll never get the chance.

One of her favorite poems, and mine, is William Cullen Bryant’s “Thanatopsis” (his “consideration of death,” which Georgia committed to memory in youth and retained for a lifetime)-allegedly written when Bryant was just a teenage college dropout and inspired by one of my favorite poets William Wordsworth. He aptly said the best portion of a good person’s life is her little, nameless unremembered acts of kindness and love. We should remember. Wordsworth also said

Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind…

Life remains behind, here and now on this planet and, let us hope, for many tomorrows and many generations to come, newly invigorated by her memory. Bryant’s “consideration” lends strength to that hope.

To him who in the love of Nature holds   
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks   
A various language; for his gayer hours   
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile   
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides   
Into his darker musings, with a mild   
And healing sympathy, that steals away   
Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts   
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight   
Over thy spirit, and sad images   
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,   
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,   
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;—   
Go forth, under the open sky, and list   
To Nature’s teachings, while from all around—
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air—
Comes a still voice…

So live, that when thy summons comes to join   
The innumerable caravan, which moves   
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take   
His chamber in the silent halls of death,   
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,   
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed   
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,   
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch   
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

Pleasant dreams, Georgia. The example of your unfaltering trust sustains and soothes us, in our grief for your passing. Grief will give way to gladness and gratitude for the privilege of sharing our too-brief time here with you. And, as I learned from the experience of losing my own parents several years ago, you won’t ever really leave us. Exemplary lives shine on, with an unshakable inspiring presence.

The great essayist Montaigne said he wanted death to find him planting his cabbages, not fretting about death or his garden. Georgia’s literal gardening days were behind her, but she still met death in the metaphorical cabbage patch. Now it’s up to us to harvest that crop and be nourished by it, and to cultivate our gardens in turn. Thank you, Georgia, for your nurturing example. We love you. We’ll never forget you.
obit, Lewis County Herald

Friday, August 4, 2017

"What gets me out of bed in the morning"

Emerson had a resolutely resilient thought when he counseled himself to "finish each day before you begin the next, and interpose a solid wall of sleep between the two. This you cannot do without temperance.” Emerson in His Journals, Jan 26, 1844

But did he in fact ever say what the Internet claims he said?
Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.
Doesn't matter, it's a darned good statement about what gets resilient people out of bed in the morning.

Taking the whole discussion down a notch in solemnity, while taking it up in levity, is Senator Al Franken in his new book. "What gets me out of bed in the morning is having to pee. Sometimes that's also what gets me out of bed in the middle of the night. In either case, I always go right back to bed."

I can relate. Walls of sleep aren't as solid as they used to be. But tomorrow is a new day. Exciting new blunders and absurdities await.

Thursday, August 3, 2017


I've volunteered to try and come up with something philosophical and different to say about one of the buzzier words in current circulation, "resilience." It's a splendid concept, and one I've treasured since long before it became a pop culture buzzword and cliche.

During my walk this morning, leaning into the rising sun while the morning air was still fragrant and cool, it occurred to me that it's really just another word for what "dawn" means to me: a new day, a fresh start, another chance to do something good, another round of experience to notch on my stick. For me, and I suspect for most dawn risers addicted to morning air, "resilient" means nothing if it doesn't mean awake, rested, and ready. It means a daily return to life.

Great, but here - on a loop William James endlessly repeats to me -  is every honest philosopher's challenge:  "the return to life can't come about by talking. It is an act..."

And so, in order to say something worthy about resilience I'm going to have to do something resilient. Why don't I do this? Why don't I resume regular reporting to this journal of no very wide circulation, this repository of dawn reflections, and see if something more than mere talk materializes?

I'm betting it will. But if it doesn't, I'm sure I'll be resilient.

I wonder if the School of Life is onto something, with its take on the subject?

“One of the characteristic flaws of our minds is to exaggerate how fragile we might be; to assume that life would be impossible far earlier than it, in fact, would be. We imagine that we could not live without a certain kind of income or status or health; that it would be a disaster not to have a certain kind of relationship, house or job. This natural tendency of the mind is constantly stoked by life in commercial society, which adds to our sense of the number of things that should be considered Necessities rather than Luxuries. This kind of society goes to extraordinary lengths to get us to feel that we really do need to go skiing once a year, to have heated car seats, to fly in Business, to own the same kind of watch as a famous conductor and a jumbo-sized fridge, and to lay claim to lots of friends, perfectly muscular health and a loving, kind, sex-filled relationship…”
A materially-simpler life is a more resilient one, is the message here. Not just any old act will do. The return to life can't come about by shopping. I'll buy that.

Image result for new yorker grim reaper cartoon

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Shame culture & English heritage

Another passage worth pondering in that excellent essay on Mill by Adam Gopnik, with a quote that must have deeply impressed William James:

"He always condescended to the French, as even Francophile Englishmen will: “Whenever anything goes amiss, the habitual impulse of French people is to say, ‘Il faut de la patience’ ”—One must be patient—“and of English people, ‘What a shame.’ The people who think it a shame when anything goes wrong—who rush to the conclusion that the evil could and ought to have been prevented, are those who, in the long run, do most to make the world better.”

As July 4 approaches, it's hard not to agree with Gopnik and Mill's biographer Richard Reeves: "Reeves rightly calls “On Liberty” 'the greatest celebration of the value of human freedom ever written.'”
"What a shame" the Study Abroad course that inspired this one didn't quite make, this year. Maybe next year we'll get to lay eyes directly on this and other English heritage sites:

40 Queen Anne's Gate, Westminster, London SW1H 9AP, City of Westminster

18 Kensington Square, South Kensington, London W8 5HH, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

Mill moved to 18 Kensington Square with his mother, Harriet (1782–1854), and eight younger brothers and sisters in 1837, following the death of his father, the philosopher James Mill. Here, John Stuart Mill continued to tutor his siblings according to the demanding curriculum prescribed by his father, and it was at Kensington Square that he wrote two of his most important works, A System of Logic (1843) and Principles of Political Economy (1848), the overarching themes of which were social progress and the relation of the individual to society.

One visitor to the house, the diarist Caroline Fox, recalled Mill's ‘charming library and … immense herbarium; the mother so anxious to show everything, and her son so terribly afraid of boring us’.

The close-knit family was blown apart in 1851 when Mill became engaged to the recently widowed Harriet Taylor, with whom he had been in love for more than 20 years. Mill took umbrage at – as he perceived it – the reluctance of his family to acknowledge his new wife, and the drawing room at number 18 was the scene of a painful attempt at reconciliation.

The house dates from 1686–7 and was built by Stephen Emmett, a bricklayer of the parish of St Margaret’s, Westminster. Mill and Harriet moved to 113 Blackheath Park in Greenwich in 1851, but the Kensington Square house continued to be associated with the Mill family until about 1857.
Less than a quarter of a mile from the Mill house:

34 De Vere Gardens, Kensington, London W8 5AQ, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

The Anglo-American writer Henry James is famous for his novels The Portrait of a Lady, The Wings of the Dove and The Golden Bowl, as well as the novella The Turn of the Screw. He lived at 34 De Vere Gardens in Kensington for over 10 years from 1886 until about 1898, ultimately giving up the lease in 1902.

He moved to number 34 in March 1886 from a small flat in Mayfair, the darkness and mean dimensions of which contrasted sharply with the recently built fourth-floor flat at De Vere Gardens, which was ‘like a photographer’s studio’. James’s domestic needs were attended to by a live-in servant couple, and the writer jokingly vowed to a friend to be as ‘bourgeoise as my means will permit, and have large fat sofas’.

To an aunt he proclaimed that ‘my new quarters work beautifully and haven't a flaw’, though with bachelor fastidiousness he complained of ‘some romping little wretches of children overhead’.

James nonetheless enjoyed a productive spell here. Among his successes were the novels The Reverberator (1888) and The Tragic Muse (1890) and, among other works for the stage, a dramatisation of his early novel The American (1877; stage version 1891). His 1895 short story ‘The Altar of the Dead’ tells of a man obsessed with the commemoration of those departed: James had been much affected by the loss of several close friends, including the actress Fanny Kemble and the writer Robert Louis Stevenson.

From 1896 James based himself mostly in Rye, Sussex, where he settled permanently two years later. The London flat was sub-let, and James gave up the lease in 1902. It was at Rye that he produced perhaps his best-known works, including the sinister novella The Turn of the Screw (1898) and The Wings of the Dove (1902). James became a naturalised British citizen in 1915.

Also nearby:

3 Kensington Court Gardens, Kensington, London W8 5QE, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
TS Eliot was one of the most influential poets of the 20th century and a central figure in London’s literary scene. Best remembered for The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and The Waste Land, Eliot is commemorated with a blue plaque at 3 Kensington Court Gardens, where he lived from 1957 until his death.LITERARY LONDON
Born in St Louis, Missouri, USA, Thomas Stearns Eliot married his first wife Vivien Haigh-Wood and settled in London in 1915. He had already written The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock four years before, but it was the English poet Ezra Pound who pushed for its publication. He wrote to Harriet Monroe, editor of the magazine Poetry: "I was jolly well right about Eliot. He has sent in the best poem I have yet had or seen from an American. PRAY GOD IT BE NOT A SINGLE AND UNIQUE SUCCESS... He has actually trained himself and modernized himself on his own."

In London Eliot and Pound formed a friendship and literary partnership that was to change the direction of modern poetry. Eliot dedicated The Waste Land (1922) to Pound, calling him ‘Il miglior fabbro’ (the greater craftsman) due to his skilful editing of the epic poem. Pound’s blue plaque can be found a few streets away from Eliot’s, at 10 Kensington Church Walk.

Eliot became a naturalised Briton – and an enthusiastic Anglican convert – in 1927. His literary reputation was later reinforced by the drama Murder in the Cathedral (1935) and the poetry collection Four Quartets (1943).

Eliot lived at a number of addresses in west London and Regent’s Park before moving to Kensington Court Gardens in April 1957, shortly after he had wed his former secretary Valerie Fletcher (1926–2012).

In his later years Eliot wrote almost no poetry, but did complete the play The Elder Statesman (1958) while living here, and continued to work for three afternoons a week as an editor at Faber & Faber in Russell Square. In this capacity Eliot introduced the work of many up and coming poets to the public, among them Ted Hughes, later Poet Laureate, who unveiled Eliot’s plaque in 1992.

Less expected was his association with Groucho Marx, the comic. Marx had dinner with the Eliots at Kensington Court Gardens in June 1964. Seeking to impress ‘my celebrated pen pal’ with his literary erudition, Groucho had read and re-read a couple of Eliot classics. He found, however, that the poet – ‘tall, lean and rather stooped over’ – was far more interested in discussing Marx Brothers films, of which he was a devotee. English Heritage
And that's just the barest tip of the iceberg. Unlike real icebergs, fortunately, the U.K.'s not going anywhere. We'll carry on and get there when we can. We're resilient, like the Globe.
On this day in 1613, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre burned to the ground. The thatched roof caught on fire after a theatrical cannon misfired during a production of Henry VIII. Only one man was hurt; his breeches caught on fire, but the quick-thinking fellow put them out with a bottle of ale... After the fire, the Globe was rebuilt in 1614, and it was in use until 1642, when the Puritans closed all the theaters in London. The building was pulled down two years later to make room for tenements. It was rebuilt in the 1990s, and except for concessions made for fire safety, it is as close to the original Globe as scholars and architects were able to make it. WA

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Rain delay

First morning in recent memory when weather's kept the dogs and me from our appointed rounds through the neighborhood, and it's kinda nice sitting out here under our tin roof enjoying the gentle clatter. Habit and routine may be the enormous flywheel of society and sanity, but it's good too, periodically, to break routine and look at things aslant. Like climbing up on Mr. Keating's desk, reminded there's more than one way to seize the day.

   Image result for dead poets society desk scene

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

McEwan's thinking machine

Ian McEwan, reflecting on the experience of writing pre- and post-computing, reminds me of those primitive grad school days and nights when they chained us to typewriters and ordered us to churn out proof of our worthiness every three days, for nearly two weeks. The idea was either to kill us (i.e., cull us from the program) or make us stronger for the next hurdle, the Ph.D. I still like writing longhand, and sometimes feel nostalgic for my old Selectric. But McEwan is right, this is more like thinking... less pressure to get it right the first time, more opportunity to play with possibilities.
When asked how his writing process has changed with the onset of technology, McEwan answered: “In the seventies I used to work in the bedroom of my flat at a little table. I worked in longhand with a fountain pen. I’d type out a draft, mark up the typescript, type it out again. Once I paid a professional to type a final draft, but I felt I was missing things I would have changed if I had done it myself. In the mid-eighties I was a grateful convert to computers. Word processing is more intimate, more like thinking itself. In retrospect, the typewriter seems a gross mechanical obstruction. I like the provisional nature of unprinted material held in the computer’s memory — like an unspoken thought. I like the way sentences or passages can be endlessly reworked, and the way this faithful machine remembers all your little jottings and messages to yourself. Until, of course, it sulks and crashes.” WA
Right. Sometimes the machine sulks and crashes, but more often it's the operator.

Image result for smith corona selectric

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Morning air & communion

Speaking of air, which was again lovely and chill this morning - actually had to don a jacket for our dawn stroll - Henry had it just right: "...let me have a draught of undiluted morning air. Morning air! If men will not drink of this at the fountainhead of the day, why, then, we must even bottle up some and sell it in the shops, for the benefit of those who have lost their subscription ticket to morning time in this world." We inebriates of air can't stop feeling a bit superior to those who sleep away their only shot at the fountainhead.

The other lingering feeling I continued to enjoy this morning, in the backwash of another pleasant Fathers' Day, is that of paternal pride and sentiment. On that holiday in 2001, our girls  presented me with a shirt upon which they had imprinted their hand- and footprints. Sixteen years later, an update (with supplemental pawprints):

The sentiment is gratitude, for their persistence (this being the year they each graduated, from college and high school, respectively) and their grace. I was an @home dad when that first shirt arrived, and I will always look back on those charmed days in the company of our joyous and inquisitive children as the very best of times. As I've noted before, in echo of one of my favorite essayists, "daily companionship with a questioning child is a reminder of what intelligence is for--not, ultimately, for dominion, but for communion." 

Yes, that form of communion I'll always happily take. Why do I dote on my dogs? Practice, for the next time I'm graced with the steady company of a questioning child. 

In the spirit of communion, then, this slightly-tardy recognition of Fathers Day in the form of an 1895 letter from William James to his little girl Peggy. It reminds me of the picture book-inspired conversations I used to have with my little girls.
El Paso, Colo.Aug. 8, 1895.
Image result for william james and his daughter peggySweetest of Living Pegs,—Your letter made glad my heart the day before yesterday, and I marveled to see what an improvement had come over your handwriting in the short space of six weeks. "Orphly" and "ofly" are good ways to spell "awfully," too. I went up a high mountain yesterday and saw all the kingdoms of the world spread out before me, on the illimitable prairie which looked like a map. The sky glowed and made the earth look like a stained-glass window. The mountains are bright red. All the flowers and plants are different from those at home. There is an immense mastiff in my house here. I think that even you would like him, he is so tender and gentle and mild, although fully as big as a calf. His ears and face are black, his eyes are yellow, his paws are magnificent, his tail keeps wagging all the time, and he makes on me the impression of an angel hid in a cloud. He longs to do good.
I must now go and hear two other men lecture. Many kisses, also to Tweedy, from your ever loving,