LOVE AND RUIN

October 14, 2018

             Last week I went to the fiction section of our bookcases, looking for a copy of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, remembering how I’d written in The Cheerleader:

  • At Christmas, Snowy gave Tom a hardback copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls, trying to educate him, and Tom gave her a heart-shaped gold charm engraved “I Love You.”

             I found the book but hesitated about opening it. I thought I remembered the first lines. Should I reread them and should I reread the entire book or should I let it all remain part of the past?
             What made me curious about it is Paula McLain’s Love and Ruin, a novel about Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway’s third wife. I’ve been listening to the library’s audiobook. I’ve never read Martha Gellhorn’s books or a biography of her and I’ve mainly only known of her as part of Hemingway’s biographies, although in my younger years I had wanted to be like her, a foreign correspondent.
             Me, an intrepid reporter on the frontlines?! As I’ve written about before, that ambition dawned when I was babysitting my Girl Scout leader’s children one evening and began reading a book of my parents’ I’d brought with me, foreign correspondent William Shirer’s Berlin Diary. (Well, later when I tried some journalism I learned I did not have the temperament for domestic—much less foreign—reporting.)
             Martha Gellhorn’s romance with Hemingway began when they were both in Spain to report on the Spanish Civil War. At Bennington, for a paper for a U.S. Foreign Relations course, I decided to write about this war, a prelude to World War II. But did I choose the subject just to have an excuse to reread For Whom the Bell Tolls?
             So that was the second time I read it, and if I decide to reread it now I’ll actually be re-re-reading. I think I may just dip in.
             I liked Love and Ruin. The audiobook’s narrator is January LaVoy, who always does a splendid job. The library’s other recent audiobooks I’ve enjoyed are The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel; The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce, a novel whose protagonist can match music to your needs; and On Brassard’s Farm by Daniel Hecht, a novel set in Vermont that shows how complicated the simple life can be.

©2018 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved

A NEW FURNACE

October 7, 2018

             There was a lot of hubbub in the house last week. This spring Don and I decided that we finally had to go ahead with a long-overdue project, replacing our old furnace. Then Don’s illness postponed things. Until now.
             We have two driveways, one of which leads to our ell door on the right of the front lawn, the other to the bulkhead on the left. Come Monday morning, I saw a pickup truck pull into the bulkhead driveway. Then a van and a truck arrived to fill up the ell driveway. Wow, I thought, the troops are here. But then I heard a heavier noise approaching, and what arrived next but a lengthy flatbed truck with a crane and a propane tank the size of a blimp. (Oh, I forgot to mention that we’d been advised to replace our oil furnace with a propane.) The pickup guy moved his vehicle onto the road, and the flatbed truck filled the bulkhead driveway. Wow, indeed!
             Soon there were five guys conferring. The guy with the pickup left, and the rest stayed to do the crane maneuver, replacing our smaller tank with the new one, and then the two crane guys left and the two remaining ones set to work.
And thus the project proceeded the following days, with lots of clanging and banging and very polite explanations to me about what was being done. I kept closing my laptop and moving from room to room out of their way. Throughout, I was remembering the only other time I’ve experienced a furnace installation. Without digging back into diaries, I’m recalling that it too happened in October.
When Don took the English-teaching job in the small town of Lisbon, NH, in 1962, we rented a little farmhouse Cape that had no heat except a potbellied woodstove. The woman who lived in the house had died, and her son had inherited it. He’d intended to put a furnace in before he rented it, but we wanted to move in at once, so he let us. By the time he got around to the furnace, school had started and we had settled in.
             And we had acquired a puppy, our border collie we named Heathcliff (ah, English majors!). Heathcliff was six weeks old and brimming with curiosity and vim. So my main memory of that furnace project is keeping him from falling down holes cut in the floor.
             Last week as I shifted my laptop from my office to the dining-room table and then into Don’s office and back again, I was also remembering my office in the Lisbon house, in the room that usually would have been a dining room. Don built the bookcases and my desk, one of those door-on-legs tables. I wrote The Lilting House on my Royal portable typewriter on that desk.

© 2018 Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved

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