Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Ever feel like you are being watched?

Just back from Arizona, and spent the day getting ready for what tomorrow will bring... a variety of tasks. That included getting caught up on my e-mails, regular mail, phone messages, laundry, etc., and the cat tree in my office is usually empty.  But not today....

Does this mean they missed me? They weren't alone; I had a friend in the place all the time I was gone, but she said Maksim (Russian Blue adoptee) was a ghost and she wasn't even sure there were two cats here. Cleopurrtra (A sort of Egyptian all-black - on top) was more friendly, but not very.

I think they were just trying to make me feel slightly 'on guard....'

Monday, May 19, 2014

Celebrating Contra and Square Dancing

My younger brother sent me an antique photo of the Shattuck Inn in East Jaffrey, N.H. It was interesting to see one of the places where we learned both square and contra dances during the summers.

My earliest dance teacher was Gene Gowing, and I was introduced to him through Harry Holt, his mother and his sister, Diana. Somehow Mrs. Holt became the driver for a bunch of us who wanted to take square dance lessons in the mid-50's.

Mr. Gowing was a dashing looking fellow, charming in every aspect, and determined to take the uninitiated and unskilled and bring them up to his standard of dance performance. There was a correct way to stand, to address your partner, to do an "allemande left," and a right way to manage all the parts of the pattern of the square or the contra. And especially he was particular about the swinging with your partner. Men were not to crush the women too close, women were not to 'hang' on the man. "It's a balancing act," he would say. And in truth, swinging well during a dance does not come easily for many.

I had a huge crush on Harry, one that lasted for decades. But it wasn't just his Hollywood good looks that appealed to me. He was the absolute best dancer I'd ever danced with… whether for squares, contra or ballroom, thanks in large part to Gene, he said. And he can still have that versatile dancing title. If you're still out there, Harry, I have lots to thank you for.

Winter dances were rare, in part because of the snowy, icy weather in New England - hardly conducive to having a car full of teens giggling and jiggling with excitement. So the first summer dances usually began as school was coming to close, right around Memorial Day.

It wasn't until I began driving myself that my weekends were full of dances, starting on Friday nights, usually at the Peterborough Golf Club with Duke Miller calling. (The link features a complete dance he called in August 1965.)  Then Saturdays could be anywhere in the Monadnock Region… Greenfield, Fitzwilliam, Jaffrey, Dublin and Nelson or occasionally, Hancock.

At that point in my life, I was given use of a dark green 1932 Model A Ford and I think I probably put more miles on it in that first summer of driving than the poor old thing had up to that time. But I felt 'vested' in that car since I had helped my father restore her to new glory including genuine Naugahyde tan seats… the only thing that prevented her from winning awards at antique car shows.

With the top down, wind blowing through my hair and ruffling up my brother's carefully slicked down do, we rattled over the back roads, sometimes picking up Miki Shearer or Deanna Edmunds or other pals who wanted to go to a dance. We arrived in time to see the band setting up because I absolutely didn't want to miss one dance. And we stayed until the band played the last note, walking slowly out to the car, savoring the just-created memories of patterns, dance partners and conversations.

"I just love Cheat or Swing," I said to no one in particular. I recalled the very first time I learned the dance at Gene Gowing's instruction, and the very first time Harry surprised me with his swing style. From then on we were often each other's choice as swinging partners. He knew just how to keep his inside foot in place and he was smooth, never pumping his arm up and down in time to the music like so many did.

What made that dance such fun was it allowed you to choose to swing someone other than your partner and was a great way to find out if there were other good dancers to say yes to. In those days it was rare for a woman to ask a man to dance; you just had to wait, or tell your best friend to help you out.

If Harry was all the way across the room in another set, when it came time for the caller to say "balance with your partner, now cheat or swing," we would be off in a flash headed toward each other, whirling madly out-of-set and then dashing back to our partner and our home set, breathless and heady with the simple of joy of it all.

Both Gowing and his compatriot dance caller/teacher, Ralph Page, were instrumental in giving me the appreciation for the dance music of the squares and contras, as well as giving me the skills to dance all my life. Once you have learned how to dance in square or contra form, you can usually remember the patterns and pick it up again - just like riding a bicycle!

I feel more than a little guilty that I didn't write or call either of these gentle men once I'd grown up and left New England. They were phenomenal teachers, each in their own way, and it is a testimony to their efforts that I still recall each of them with great appreciation.

But perhaps it would give them some pleasure to know that I am still dancing squares and contras, still doing Chorus Jig, Money Musk and Petronella, sometimes feeling more than a little nostalgic for the Nelson Town Hall, or Peterborough Golf Club (since changed its name to Monadnock Country Club) or town hall, or the other town halls in Fitzwilliam, Jaffrey and Dublin.

Nelson gradually became one of my favorite places to dance, and Duke Miller, who was more of a Western square dance caller, did not appreciate the rowdy nature of their dancers in his venue of the Peterborough Country Club. However, those of us who danced "Nelson style"were allowed, during Money Musk, to balance (clog) loudly and be generally untrammeled once Duke called out "Nelson style." and after that we were supposed to go back to a more stately dance form.

Duke was a barrel-chested man with a good voice and terrific method of putting the calls to the beat of the music, and his style brought all the 'summer folk' out to dance. Some of his followers were true Western square dancers, meaning they wore the costume of frilly dresses with huge petticoats, black dancing shoes with heels and the men had jeans with large buckles on their belts, western shirts with pearl snaps, a lariat around the neck and a towel for wiping sweaty hands on the right hip at the belt.

Nelson style meant more than a dance step. It was also the sixties-style long cotton patterned dress with short sleeves for women and jeans or shorts for the men with t-shirts or other casual shirt. Many of us like to dance barefoot, too. And it was having Newt and Franny Tolman playing flute and later my mother, Kay Gilbert, playing piano, with Harvey Tolman sawing away on his fiddle until you'd think the strings would just get cut in two. It was a marriage of the musicians and dancers, each playing off the other through the hot summer evening, and if you arrived late, walking through the grass parking lot you could hear the sound of the feet on the dance floor like another instrument accompanying the band.

My last time in the Nelson Town Hall was the most memorable… my older brother, my younger brother, my younger sister and I all went and danced with each other. And we all were such "swingers!" Among my best-saved memories is that evening of dancing Nelson-style, whooping it up as if we knew it was the last time.

The little Black Diamond Community Hall outside of Port Angeles, Washington, has a contra dance on the first Saturday of each month, and Port Townsend's Quimper Hall has squares on the second Saturday through the winter. The Black Diamond group reminds me very much of home. As I recently looked at YouTube videos of dancers from Nelson, N.H., in 1983, I could swear some of those folks must have left their clothes to the 2014 dancers in Washington.

I'll be back in Washington in time to get to another dance on the first Saturday in June...

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Arizona again...

The suharo cactus doesn't get it's first 'arm'
until it is at least 50 years old. I think there
is some kind of message in all that...
I used to live in Arizona. I also worked here for awhile for a company that was developing on-line, at-home high school education programs. I even had some input about content and processes.

But that all seems so long ago, and the grandchildren I was babysitting occasionally are now teens, one of them about to become a driver.

This time my return is not be a grandmother, but to be a mother again.

In the cycles of living, growing up, partnering up, nurturing children and then discovering they no longer need daily or even random care, it causes one to review Life's Purpose and to see how one still fits into the Big Picture.

Being asked to mother once more, however briefly, is like getting a chance to do a better job than was done before. To prove that there are lessons learned and entrenched with becoming a better person over time.

If, as a child, our own parents didn't do such a hot job, for whatever reasons, and then we didn't do much better, for those reasons and others, then we wonder how humanity will even progress.

But then, in the re-mothering opportunity, we discover that there were some good things we brought about, and those good things grew in our children, and they are doing gooder, or even greater, than we could have hoped for. There, now, is a sense of peace and hopefulness that warms from the inside.

Even as the Arizona sun is beating down and warming us up all over, again.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Spring into Summer

Bright yellows and blues carry the burden of color for now.
All my lovely bright spring colors have passed by and now come the flowers of summer, but in the meantime, my garden looks a little transient.

The tulip leaves drag things down with their wilting, fading color, but I can't move them without affecting their performance next spring.

And I'll be away next weekend for a week, so I'll probably miss some of the transforming that is in progress. Sigh.
Peony about noontime, before the heavy rain.
Peony several hours later, after the rain…. slightly more
open, definitely on the way to full display.
Although it's been raining hard all day with thunder and lightening and it's cooler, it has been interesting to note the hourly movement of the peony from a tight bud into a beginning blossom.

Every day when I'm away for work or other activities, when I come back, it's all a surprise to me as to what has been going on.

I feel as if I'm living in time-lapse mode… it's all too fast.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Hooray, hooray for the First of May

As a little girl, we celebrated the first day of May with a maypole and both boys and girls threaded the ribbons during P.E. (aka physical exercise).

This year I watched the tulips go past their prime and tilt over, the candytuft is striving to stay in bloom until my birthday, and the other spring flowers were just undone by the sudden (and welcome) heat of the past few days.

So now we are in May and all my laziness about the garden will have to be put aside as I plan for a summer show of some kind in a semi-shade, semi-arid plot. Although I live in the Northwest, I also live at the edge of a prairie and in the shadow of the Olympics, so during the summer we do not actually get a lot of rain.

Tiptoeing through the tilting tulips...
I went to a gallery yesterday to talk about hanging some of my work. Next week I will be presenting what I have done so far to see if it will be approved. And now that it's warmed up, I can get out into my little studio cabin and do some new work.

There is a trip to Arizona in my future, so I will take a couple of cameras and see what inspiration I can find. Their springtime is long gone and summer is in full swing down there. But there is beauty in every season in every locale and I'm sure I can find it.