Saturday, May 1, 2010

Sic transit gloria femme

It is Saturday, so a free day in my mind, free of my desires to catch up on the laundry and etc. as they used to say. It is a free day so I have been roaming around mentally and of course on the internet. I got to thinking about Phyllis McGinley. I remembered two things about her, a poem and a book of essays drawn from a column in, I believe, Ladies Home Journal. She was a houswife/poet/philosopher. I liked her writing then, when I was in my twenties and the feminist revolution, to say nothing of a liberal education, had not yet set off fireworks around my head. In that day she represented the world I came from or aspired to - a bit higher than middle-class, I suppose. It was a world in which the highest aspiration for a woman, generally speaking, was to be an upper-middle class housewife. Phyllis defended that, and the idea of a house and family in suburbia, which was just then the target of much cynicism and criticism. Yet, suburban America then and now is a tremendously privileged place to live, often safe from crime and boasting good schools, to say nothing of good sanitary sewer systems.

That can easily lead me to one of my meandering talks about having clean water. A dear friend, older than me, just got off weeks of diarrhea. Her western doctor wasn't a whole lot of good, by the way. She reminded me, There are places this is called "dysentery," and it kills people. Yes, it kills people all the time, but seldom in suburban America.

Phyllis had many honors, appeared on the cover of Time, won a Pulitzer prize for her poetry. Yet she is now almost forgotten. My city library, one of the best in the country, has only four works by her, children's books. And I suppose you can buy anything she wrote for $.01 online. There's your note on impermanence, how even praise and blame pass.

However, she is still with me. She inspired me, somehow, with a dream of making a harmonious home, of being a poet and of thinking about my life. I am quite the feminist, but have never let go of that ideal, and I still think it is a good one. All over the planet people are dying in the wake of earthquakes and epidemics for want of a simple shelter the size of our guest bedroom. (That guest bedroom was one of the middle-class things I saw as deeply privileged back then. ) Home, a safe home, is a wonderful thing to have. We forget that. We could begin each day with a list of the things for which we can be truly grateful.
Bare feet on a smooth wood floor.
Excellent full-bodied coffee.
Shelter from the wind that is rising even now
and the rain that keeps misting down.
[image: the back seat of the van two weeks ago, full of woodland and native plants for our front gardens.]

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