Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Betty the Church Lady


I was thinking of A Secret Infatuation the other day.

By the afternoon the drizzle had ceased but the mist was as thick as ever. It was almost teatime when the Reverend Mr. Watts phoned. He had a small house on the other side of the village, perched off the narrow road on the steep side of the open moor, no distance away but awkward to reach, some way away from the first of the village cottages. 
Eugenie, listening to his anxious voice, felt sorry for him. His cold was worse, he complained--if only he had some cough lozenges or even a lemon, and he had finished his aspirins.
"I'll come over with whatever you need," said Eugenie, cutting short his unhappy complaining. 

and later

There was a message for her when she got back home. Could she go and see the Reverend Mr. Watts about the Mothers' Union and the pram service and could she at the same time bring him some more aspirin?

Eugenie is just doing what a church lady do. Other heroines in the Canon bring flowers to the church or organize lines of Sunday School kids or host stranded travelers overnight because the Rectory is so massive and wash out large tea urns all in the normal course of church-y events.

I really relate to La Neels's church ladies. I belong to a congregation that exploits free labor puts one to work and over the years I've been a pregnant and nursing Cub Scout leader, Sunday School teacher, on the activities committee, president of the women's auxiliary, etc. Right now I have two jobs (never the flowers! Why don't I ever get the flowers?). For one of them I teach a class one hour a month on an assigned topic for an adult class of 30-ish people. The other is called 'Compassionate Service Coordinator' and I facilitate all the serving that needs doing. This means that at any given time I'll have a text on my phone that someone just had a baby or had surgery and needs meals brought to them or rides to the hospital or temporary childcare.

Anyway, I think it's made me wiser about my own human nature--how happy I can be when I've really done some good. And how hard it is to pick up the phone when I know who it is and what they'll need and how much time it will take.

Does anyone else have any fun church (or other secular service organization) service stories to share? Times you've been pressed into service like Eugenie up there?

Monday, January 4, 2016

Goals and the Making of Them

Rose tapped her pen and finally wrote:
"Graduate with the Gold Medal"
It was sure to come in handy sometime.
It's the first Monday of the New Year and the van Voorhees family will be doing what we always do: Reviewing last year's goals and making some new ones.
La Neels was probably that sort of girl herself. She has Caroline (Caroline's Waterloo) resolve to learn how to ride a horse. Eleanor (Roses for Christmas) makes a whole list of things she would like to have--and surely some of them would change her life. Lucy Lockitt (The Girl With Green Eyes) practically makes a campaign out of conquering the heart of her fair hero. And then there is the clever, disciplined and AWESOME Laura (A Hasty Marriage):

As they walked back, Reilof observed: "It would serve everyone right if you were to turn up in bridal finery and a dozen bridesmaids behind you." He looked down at her thoughtfully, and she thought that he was really seeing her.
"You don't look as old as you are," he told her kindly, a remark which left her seething, although she thanked him in a colorless voice and bit back the retort ready on her tongue, while a resolve, a little vague as yet, took shape in the back of her head that one day he should eat his words...

Does anyone have any New Year's Resolutions they would like to share? Strategies for success? Worthy ones that were not pulled off?

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Greatest Fantasy Element in Neelsdom

Waterloo would bide his
time. And then when the dog
wasn't looking...
The Canon of Betty Neels contains many elements which, though not wizards and fire-breathing dragons, have just as much improbable magic in them.

  • Unattached, established bachelors waiting around for poor, plain, gently-bred, British nurses to steal their hearts
  • Loyal servants and enough wealth (usually) to afford them
  • Dutch stately homes in excellent repair dying for a mistress to poke through the linen cupboards
But the element that surprises and delights me more than most has to do with the pets. Whenever the two households (lady and gentleman) become one, there is the sticky issue of "How will the pets get along?" to work out. Betties, THEY ALWAYS DO.

I do recall one instance (but not the book, darn it) where a new cat was given a swat on the face from an older, more established cat before learning his place in the pecking order and taking to it at once but most of the time it's even more seamless than that. 

In 'The Promise of Happiness' (or 'Becky and the Baron (the Hot, Hot Baron)') Becky has to entrust her two beloved pets (Bertie and Pooch) to a near stranger for weeks at a time. Will they settle down? is the anxious question:

He put a hand on her back and swept her along and through the baize door, down some steps and into a large kitchen, equipped to the last skewer and still somehow looking delightfully old-fashioned. There was an Aga stove along one wall and on the rug before it were Bertie, Pooch and a Great Dane. All three animals turned round, half asleep, and then bounded to their feet and rushed across the kitchen, the Great Dane to hurl herself at the Baron, Bertie and Pooch to cover Becky with joyful licks, pushing and shoving her in their efforts to greet her properly after such a long time. She sank on to the floor and let them have their way while the tears ran down her cheeks...

The three animals seem to get on like a house on fire and in none of the calls from Becky to the Baron, over her weeks of absence, were mentioned litter box mishaps or antique William and Mary settees ruined by claw marks or soiling. 

Betty Kylene (whose heart is made of butter) found herself adopting a stray black cat a few months ago. Of course the cat was pregnant. Of course the cat and her other cat fight like brawlers. It's been fine since one was an indoor cat and the other was an outdoor cat. But did I mention the heart like butter?

The winter is cold and the outdoor cat is loveable so she's resorted to a baby gate to try to acclimate the two factions to one another. It's going to be a process...

Have you any experience blending pet families? Successes? Failures?

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year, Renier

Happy New Year Betties, wherever you are! The Great Betty certainly had a fondness for a good Dutch New Year's celebration and this one in 'Winter Wedding'--when he loves her and she is sick with love for him and no one is saying anything--is one of my favorites:

...when it was discovered that she danced like a dream, there was no lack of partners. It was almost midnight when Renier swept her away from Franz with the remark that it was his turn to dance with her, "If," he added, "you can bear to dance something as old-fashioned as a waltz."
Speechless, Emily nodded. Her carefully arranged hair had come a little loose and her cheeks were flushed and she had to crane her neck to see his face. He danced well, and she--she floated round on air, loving every second, wanting it to go on for ever.
Actually, it was only a few minutes before the band stopped playing so that everyone could hear the great clock in the hall chime midnight, and at its last stroke there was a sudden burst of good wishes and kissing while Hans and Bep and the maids wove their way around with more champagne.
Emily drank her toast at the last stroke and said in a quiet little voice: "A Happy New Year, Renier."
He bent and kissed her cheek: "And to you, Emily." He smiled as he said it and the next moment was engulfed in a wave of singing, laughing guests. Emily, caught up between two elderly gentlemen she had never seen before, lost sight of him altogether.

Casa van Voorhees will be quietly celebrating this year with a large platter-ful of empanadas and cranberry Sprite to toast at 9 or 10 depending on when we want to put the little Pledges to bed. Any memorable New Year's celebrations or traditions of your own to share?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Risky Business

Dear Alice, I see you have a nice
hat. I could offer you all the
hats you could ever desire...
I was flipping through my copy of The Silver Thaw (which has one of the frost-melting-est covers) and came across Gideon van der Tolck's proposal:

"Why not marry me?" he asked her quietly.
Amelia jerked her head up in amazement, the whole of her suddenly intent on getting the conversation back on a rational footing. "Why on earth should I want to marry you?" she asked haughtily.
He said mildly: "Oh, I don't know--I've a large and comfortable home to offer you."
"I already have a large and comfortable home, thank you."
"So much the better--you would have two. And think of the children."
She gasped: "I haven't got any children!"
He answered her with an amused patience which made her want to grit her splendid teeth. "Of course not, dear girl; that takes time, but a family of, say, three would need room in which to grow, don't you agree? What could be a pleasanter childhood for them? And when we're old and helpless..."
He was joking and she didn't know whether to be sorry or glad about it. Her fierce frown smoothed itself and she chuckled. "You're absurd! You may get old, but you'll never be helpless."
"Ah, now that's a sound argument. I shall be able to look after you and cherish you until my last breath."

The Great Betty wrote this with such mastery. Amelia is still engaged to the worthy Tom and is almost overset by Gideon's proposal...if that's what it is. She isn't sure. But Gideon has been painting a picture of life that looks very different than prudently delaying a family and being called 'old girl' long before actually becoming one.
In my review of The Silver Thaw I further commented on Tom's interest in kicking the marital can down the road:

(Tom's) got a brand new job offer! In Australia! The one in the Antipodes! A contract! For five years! On the condition he stays single!
It doesn't take a mathematical genius half a second to do the quickest sums ever."Tom, in five years I'll be thirty-two!" And really, if you think about it, he's asking the impossible. For instance, if you walked into Cafe Chi-Chi and were told about the 3 hour dinner wait, you might say to yourself, "But the vichyssoise is really, really good and I'm not starving anyway. I'm already here and wearing the right clothes. Put my name on the list." Say then that you face the same wait time at Mac-Burger-o-rama's...for yesterday's boiled-over potatoes...
I think I've made my case. The prosecution rests.
Amelia agrees. "I just can't face five years of theatre and living like a nun..." 


And there Gideon is, dangling the prospect of being eternally cherished right there in front of her nose. The Great Betty was a genius. Even a bigger one when you realize that Gideon hasn't risked being turned down in earnest. She has him phrase his proposal in such concrete terms but with enough room to claim he was not serious if Amelia wants to fight about it. So clever. SUCH good writing.

My Mijnheer did not leave himself that wiggle room when he proposed. He is one who punches from the shoulder, "When I talk about you to other people, I call you my girlfriend. What do you call me?" He used the words "Will you marry me?" in that order so that I could not be confused for a moment. Getting on his knee was involved (no mean feat in a Utah snow).

So, how far did your loved ones have to stick their necks out? Was it the slow negotiation of a peace treaty? A bolt out of the blue? A growing acceptance that this is the way things would turn out? (I am picturing a slow-moving gelatinous
goo...)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Gifts We Give

I was industriously wrapping presents for my Pledges and Mijnheer van Voorhees when I came to the wallet Pledge One had asked for on his Christmas list. It was poignant for two reasons: A) He's old enough for wallets! And not ones that have cartoon characters and Velcro on them! B ) A wallet is the first gift I gave his father in our courtship. 
He had an old leather wallet he had bought in Argentina and it was falling apart. We had been dating for six months or so, the opening salvos in our discussion about marriage had been made, so a gift exchange was definitely in the cards (for me. I think I took him by surprise so he ran out and got an Erykah Badu CD). Anyway, a wallet was not binding to him in any way--he would not feel embarrassed about it if we ever broke up but it was nice enough that I thought it was, in the words of O. Henry, "...just a little bit near to being worthy of the honour of being owned by" him.

One of my favorite books in The Canon is "Winter Wedding" which has one of the best exchanges of gifts. The heroine doesn't wish to presume. The hero has been holding onto a locket he bought in a panic of guilt. But the guilt has gone and it means more now:

...paused at the last unopened gift to watch the Professor. She hadn't known what to give him; he had everything, so in the end she had settled for a silver mouse with a long tail, small enough to go into a pocket or for that matter, tuck away in a drawer and forget. She studied his face anxiously as he opened it and was pleased to see that he slipped it at once into his waistcoat pocket. Only then did she untie her last preset.
It was a small velvet box and inside was her locket and a little card: "With best wishes from Renier Jurres-Romeijn." She fastened it around her neck with fingers that shook and presently when he came to thank her for the mouse, she asked urgently, "Did you buy it--my locket? Was it you who got there before Louisa? 

What were your first gifts of courtship?

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Things of Betty

Marnix was happy that Henrietta had a
television she could install in the small parlor
of her own. He did not know he would have to
cordon off a whole wall...
I was thinking about all the 'stuff'' in a Betty Neels book. The hand-crocheted pieces and second-hand clothes at a church bazaar, the antique diamond broaches in the shape of a lover's knot, an amber necklace, the Weesp china which the lady of the house doesn't trust even Jolly or Mrs. Jolly to wash...

I love it all. I have sort of a magpie soul and like to add bits and bobs to my nest. My favorite collectibles are Wade's Whimsies (tiny pocket figures of all sorts of things, animals and people and ships, etc.) and other wee things that I can pick up on my travels and not feel like I'm cluttering the house with.

Henrietta's Own Castle has one of my favorite scenes about one particular item (and lots more described as "trifles" which seems so poignant):

"Did you know that there's a cupboard in the dining-room of my little house, with silver in it and a necklace?"
"Yes, I knew."
"Well--it is a secret?..."
"...They're yours now, of course."
'But are they? Who gave them to Aunt Henrietta in the first place--and I want to kow why she lived in Gijzelmortel for so many years and why my parents always allowed me to believe that she was dead--did she do something awful?"
His voice sounded patient enough, although she didn't think he was. "My uncle gave them to her--no, my dear good girl, do not interrupt. He gave her the house too, to live in for the rest of her life and to leave to anyone she wished. You see, they loved each other; he met her when they were both quite young and was already married and not happily. They didn't have an affair in the usual sense of that word; it wasn't  until she was forty or so that he finally persuaded her to go and live near him...he desperately needed someone to love...he furnished the house for her and bought her trifles, and although they loved each other very deeply they were never more than friends..."

He gave her things to take the place of what he wanted to say. So many feelings.

The Intelligent Collector says that there are a variety of reasons people begin collecting some of which are:
  • Knowledge and learning
  • Relaxation and stress reduction
  • Personal pleasure (including appreciation of beauty, and pride of ownership)
  • Social interaction with fellow collectors and others (i.e. the sharing of pleasure and knowledge)
  • Competitive challenge
  • Recognition by fellow collectors and perhaps even non-collectors
  • Altruism (since many great collections are ultimately donated to museums and learning institutions)
  • The desire to control, possess and bring order to a small (or even a massive) part of the world
  • Nostalgia and/or a connection to history
  • Accumulation and diversification of wealth (which can ultimately provide a measure of security and freedom)

  • So, what do you like to collect? Do they have romantic meaning?