The misery of deeply cold weather: I find myself longing for actual spring, for tulips, for roses, irises, peonies, poppies.
I’m reading Dominique Browning’s “Around the House and In the Garden”, a memoir which precedes her wonderful “Paths of Desire.” Both are about her home, her garden, and recovery from divorce. I admire her transparency and exposure and am amazed by it and by the fact that I connect with her experiences even though I would have thought that as editor of “House and Garden” her life in a more privileged sphere would have made her foreign to my more humble existence.
While reading her memoir last night, I began to reminisce about my joy in discovering the Stillmeadow and Stillcove memoirs of Gladys Taber. Not only did Gladys write of gardening and domesticity, but she often waxed more political about war (against) and enviromentalism (for). Browning clearly defines herself as a strong feminist, a welcome stance in these reactionary times when many young women of my acquaintance don’t realize how old time feminists have forged the rights that make their lives more full of possibilities.
Gladys Taber, from The Book of Stillmeadow, 1948:
“Many simple folk like me are thinking long thoughts this Christmas as we wrap the packages. We are still waiting for peace. We are insecure, when we have won the war. Civil conflict exists everywhere, people are still starving. Labor and Management are embroiled in half the world. Nations still argue unsolved issues. Race prejudice snakes along every hidden byway.
“This must not be. The aggressive instincts have run the world into destruction, culminating in the desperate promise of the atomic bomb that man shall perish from the earth, and the earth from the cosmos.
“What is the answer for us? The creative instincts, the love force must be nourished with every beat of our hearts until they overbalance the destructive instincts. And this cannot be accomplished by any great legislation. It will be the sum of the little people’s feeling. Good will toward men, that is the answer. Every mother and every father has the future life of the world in control. We have got to stop lining up as Fascists, Communists, Laborites, Gentiles, Jews, Negroes and Whites. Somehow, by some divine light, we have got to see ourselves as people, one and all.”
Gladys maintained her outspoken nature through and beyond the Vietnam War and, like Browning, did so despite her visibility as a columnist for a mainstream “home” magazine: in her case, the “Butternut Wisdom” column in Family Circle. I used as a child to look forward to the day that my Grandmother (another Gladys) would send me to the corner store to buy “our magazines”, Woman’s Day and Family Circle, and”Butternut Wisdom” was always the first page I turned to….a memory which became crystal clear when I read my first Stillmeadow book.
About memoirs, Taber wrote: “What most memoirs do for me…is to illuminate the personality of the writer, for this always comes through. Yesterday may have influenced our tomorrow but we are still individual. What we feel and think is our own possession. But the business of living is sharing, so I always want to know all about everything that happened to the people I care for. Then I feel a small door has been opened and perhaps I may step inside and feel briefly less lonely.”
In earlier adult years, Gladys was not lonely, and lived a life of domestic tranquility with her long time companion, Jill. After Jill’s death, she wrote “Another Path”, a heart wrenching memoir about loss. I believe that was the beginning of her lonely years.
I wish I could go on to post all the Taber passages which I laboriously typed out from her books, but of course what I must suggest instead is that you seek the books out, even the older one that are out of print, and the amusing novel “Mrs. Daffodil”, a fictionalized story of her life.. (I got them through inter-library loans, and later a dedicated Taber fan sent me some old copies of books, including the rare and precious “Mrs. Daffodil”.) Meanwhile, Dominique Browning’s memoir calls me back to the couch….