Meeting Distant Relatives


Over the past week my travels through history have deposited me on my own doorstep, so to speak, but isn’t that always the way? I’ve traveled through ancient Crete, Greece, Troy, Egypt, and Rome and have somehow found myself in Beaconsfield, a small city just west of London. What a week of travel it’s been. The sites I’ve seen and the people I’ve met! Some of these personages include King Agamemnon, a Minoan potter, Cleopatra, and nearly all of the Augustinian Cæsars. My private worm hole has raced me from the 14th century (B.C.E.) through the 1st century (C.E.); how I landed on the door step of Sir Edmund Waller in the mid-17th century I cannot say, but it was a good place to stop to share a rejuvenating cup of tea with my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-uncle (give or take a great or two), who happily shed some light on his life and times.

“Tea does our fancy aid,
Repress those vapours which the head invade,
And keeps that palace of the soul serene.”
Edmund Waller

And Uncle Edmund (his close friends call him Ned, but I dared not) serves up a cracking cuppa. Although he has the reputation of being frugal with himself and his family, I detected none of that in him. In fact, when I was brought into his library he was signing a sizable bank draft to an undisclosed friend. He was deliberate in his movement as well as his words, but never at a loss for a meaningful insight or a witty rejoinder. On a narrow wall between bookcases there hung a portrait of himself when he was only 25, a young man with a quick mind and a pleasant but serious face with beautiful clear blue eyes. Of course, at our meeting he was probably close to 80 and had only a couple more years to live, but I saw no evidence of dulling in any of these features.  Perhaps he was less mercurial, but until I visit him at a younger age I can’t really judge.

If Uncle Edmund spoke truthfully (I later checked with Dr. Samuel Johnson, who corroborated every point so I have no need to doubt him),1687_-_edmond_waller_gkneller__large he was first elected as MP (Member of Parliament) when he was just 18, for Ilchester. Throughout his life he sat as MP for Chipping Wycombe, Amersham, St. Ives, and Hastings. But lest I might think his life was nothing but a series of parliamentary sessions full of men in wigs taking the piss out of each other, he also told me of his exploits during the tenuous and volatile reign of Charles I and  the English Civil War. It was with no small pensiveness on his part that he recounted the day he and two of his fellows were arrested by Parliament for a scheme they conceived in favor of the king. This became known as Waller’s Plot, for which he escaped the execution his co-conspirators suffered because, he said, I was very well-liked by Parliament.” Dr. Johnson told me a slightly different view of this, saying that my uncle was a wealthy man and confessed whatever he had said, heard, thought, or seen, and all that he knew or suspected of others.” When called before the bar he was sentenced to the Tower of London, but, on paying a fine of £10,000, he was released and then banished from the realm. My uncle chose to live in France, where he hosted lavish dinner parties for his fellow royalists. Two years later, at the end of the Civil War, Uncle Edmund’s banishment was revoked and he returned home. Ten years later he was once again elected to Parliament and was quick to boast the words of Burnet, “He was the delight of the House, and though old said the liveliest things of any among them.”

Of course, through all of this political turmoil, Uncle Edmund continued to pursue his real love, poetry, and in his lifetime he published many editions of his work that are still on the shelves today. When I told him of this, and that he is more famous for his poetry than for his politics, he was quite pleased but didn’t seem to be surprised. He always was known for being more than a little vain where his work was concerned.

Throughout his life Edmund Waller fathered 15 children (and built Hall Barn in Beaconsfield in which to house them all), entertained both Charles I and Charles II (both of whom it is said enjoyed laughing at his witty quips), and died in the bosom of his large, happy family when he was 82.

A good, long, healthy, and colorful life, indeed!

Hall Barn, Beaconsfield

“Could we forbear dispute, and practice love,
We should agree as angels do above.”
Edmund Waller

Continue Reading

Of Lakes, Lawns & Naps

Keystone Lake
Keystone Lake

Unless we could have stayed at the house at Tenkiller Ferry Lake, this has been a fairly perfect weekend. Our only real plan was to drive to Tulsa to celebrate the birthday of Lynette’s father, which we did. After an early dinner at Fish Daddy’s Grill House, we drove back via 51 rather than the turnpike so that we could enjoy the scenery of Keystone Lake and the small ranches that line the highway. We then napped through the evening while Agatha Christie’s Poirot droned on in the background. Because we’ve watched the entire series a couple of times, we find it a nice show to nap to because it’s low-key.

This morning when I came out to get my coffee, I found Lynette making Easter dinner, something I didn’t expect because we’d previously decided to forego it this year. What a great surprise! After enjoying our meal we put on a four-part documentary about Elizabeth I hosted by David Starkey, whom we like very much. His series, Monarchy, is also very good. Of course, naps ensued and we will have to watch it again with our eyes open.

Other than these things the weekend has been uneventful, just the way I like it. The weather has been nice, the lawns have gotten their first mowing of the season, and neither of the cats brought home a dead critter. What more can a person ask for? Sure, a weekend at the lake house would have been nice, but we’ll probably not get that opportunity again. But I’m grateful for Bookends Cottage. I’m also grateful that I’m starting to get my energy back. Hopefully, I feel like doing some recording this week. That’s my plan, anyway.

I hope your week ahead is a good one!

Continue Reading

How Big Is The Sky?


On certain kinds of days, usually those when I’m not feeling well, my mind starts asking questions. I’m usually able to answer these question, perhaps not correctly, but well enough. If I can’t find the answers within myself, I’ll look it up on the internet and will almost always get more answers than are helpful. These usually come from semi-literate people who post answers based on their lack of proper grammar, their inability to spell even the simplest of words, and their overall lack of critical thinking skills. Sometimes they answer in rude or abusive ways that consist of four-letter words. But, mostly, I can answer my questions myself using my imagination, of which I can boast no little measure. Today might be one of those days.

For instance, this morning I woke up wondering what was Julius Caesar’s main thought that moment when 60 senators stepped forward to assassinate him. We know his reaction (according to Plutarch) to the first stab, delivered by Tillius Cimber: “This is violence!” His next utterance was to Publius Casca, who delivered the second blow: “Casca, you villain, what are you doing?” And what about those famous last words, “Et tu, Brute?” (“You too, Brutus?”) Roman historian Suetonius reported that Caesar’s last words were, “You too, child?” while good old reliable Plutarch maintained that Caesar said nothing, but pulled his toga over his head when he saw Brutus approaching. If true, I interpret that as a sign of devastating emotional hurt and betrayal, something so terrible the man couldn’t bear to face it. He’d known Brutus since Brutus was a boy, after all. No, the famous last words were penned by William Shakespeare and have no basis in historical fact. But my question isn’t about the man’s last words. I wonder about what went through his mind when he saw all those drawn daggers coming toward him. Thanks to Lynette’s education in trauma’s effects on the brain, I believe he went into classic trauma response. This is a complicated science, one that I can’t get into here. Besides, I’m not trained in the subject like she is. But here’s the thing. I believe Caesar’s first two statements, “This is violence!” and “…what are you doing?” have to be factual because they conform perfectly to how the brain reacts when faced with trauma, something Plutarch, even with his vast range of knowledge, couldn’t have known. And the toga gesture? As Lynette says, “Hormonally-induced emotional denial. That’s oxytosin.” I’m hoping she’ll explain things a little in a comment (hint, hint).

Another far less weighty question is, who was the first guy to peel and eat a banana? More, how did he decide to to try it? It might’ve been poisonous. And did he actually peel it, or did he try biting through the thick, bitter peel first? I think I have the answer to this one, actually. I think humans followed the lead of other animals where most food-producing plants were concerned. If a monkey didn’t die after peeling and eating a banana, it must be safe. I imagine they then killed and ate the monkey.

My most recent question pertains to our cat, Mozie. I understand why cats “make bread”. As nursing kittens, this is how they express the milk from their mothers. I even think I understand the purring while they make bread: expressing the milk releases endorphins that create feelings of pleasure and comfort. All well and good, but why does Mozie make bread on my face at four in the morning, purring like a chain saw? What can he possible be getting out of it that makes him so happy? But cats do all sorts of things meant to puzzle humans, so I don’t linger on this question for very long.

And lastly, I still don’t understand how transmitting and receiving works. In anything. How can my voice, spoken into a phone, go halfway across the world and come out at the other end sounding uniquely like me? How does music go out across the land on radio waves and come through my speakers sounding like what it’s supposed to sound like? And how does something get imprinted on a strip of film simply by opening the shutter? Actually, this isn’t such a stumper as the answer lies in the mirror inside a camera, but digital cameras? I really have no idea how that works. I’ll probably die never know the answers to these questions because, although they’ve been explained to me many times, I still don’t get the HOW.

My mother used to tell me that when I was a very small child I had two questions I used to ask her: “What are elephants made of?” and “How big is the sky?” I know the answer to one of those, but the other I’m still trying to find out.

Continue Reading