Thursday, December 26, 2013

Taking a break

Dear readers,

I hope you've enjoyed these quotations from Ardyth Kennelly's works old and new (the yet-to-be-published ones) and the excerpts from the journal of Ardyth's husband, Egon Ullman. This last week or two I've quoted from the chapter in The Peaceable Kingdom about Linnea's Christmas at the Orbits' home, a chapter that so many of her fans seem to love.

At this point, I'm going to take an indefinite break from posting new items, but please feel free to comment on the blog or on any of your favorite quotations. I welcome any comments or questions!

If you're already an Ardyth Kennelly fan, you will love reading her new book, Variation West, and her memoirs when they are all published next year. Her storytelling genius only expanded during 1977-94, the period when she wrote the new novel, and her memoirs are delightful as well as revealing.

If you're new to "Ardyth's world" (as an exhibit of her collage art was called), be prepared for something very unusual. If you like long stories, short stories, and lots of them--especially stories of times past in the West--you'll love her writing.

Nancy Trotic
(Ardyth's step-great-niece)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

One of the merriest

It had been one of the merriest Christmases anybody ever had!
     --From The Peaceable Kingdom

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Something out of the ordinary

"This Christmas was a day that'll stick in my mind till I die. Them little angels with their wings! Them little angel costumes! Them little pieces they spoke! I'll remember all that when I'm a old lady. My kids'll remember it when they're old ladies. They'll never forget it. Why, stuff like that--stuff like that, Mr. Orbit--" she groped for words. "Somebody that ain't like nobody else, that's as different as a blue moon's different from a regular moon, that goes at things in a way out of the ordinary--what I'm trying to say is, that gives you something out of the ordinary to think about and something out of the ordinary to remember, why, they're important, Mr. Orbit," she said, "they're awful important. Whenever the world gets so there's nobody out of the ordinary in it no more, it'll be a pretty sad old world, that's all I can say! A pretty sad old world!"
     --From The Peaceable Kingdom

Monday, December 23, 2013

Real Christmas angels, and one more piece

About the dinner Mrs. Orbit's words were as good a description as could be found: it should have been framed and hung upon the wall to admire--and it tasted as good or better than it looked. But the hours in the parlor afterwards, when, the dishes done and the kitchen left spick and span, they all retired there, were scarcely less enjoyable. There was such a roaring fire. . . .
     They ate nuts and apples. Mrs. Orbit brought out a brown paper sack of chocolate drops which she passed around. . . . She picked up her mandolin from the corner where it was leaning against the wall with a red ribbon about its neck like a petted dog, and had it in her lap and was plinking and planking the tunes of "Willie, We Have Missed You," "Murmur, Gentle Lyre," "Then You'll Remember Me," "Alice, Where Art Thou?" "Polly Wolly Doodle," "We Three Kings of Orient Are," "I Traced Her Little Footprints in the Snow" and other songs too numerous to mention, while all joined in and sang. In the yellow lamplight, in and among the dancing red firelight they sang and talked and laughed and played games. It was a Christmas scene to be drawn by hand, by an artist, to illustrate a book about yuletide. Even the four little angels, once pathetic and ridiculous in their costumes, skipping around in cold and chaos with their draperies held up, or stumbling over them, were now idoneous and relevant, real Christmas angels, settled on the roses of the ingrain like doves upon a bower.
     When it was time to go, Rosabella had her inning. She didn't need any help from anybody. She knew her piece as Joseph Smith knew his pieces from the Lord. All the guests had their coats on and were ready to go; they were only milling around and the adults were saying a last word to each other. Mamma didn't even have to give her the high sign. She ran four or five steps up the steep staircase. Mamma held the lamp up high and cast its beams upon her. She hitched up her robe and her wings fluttered. Then she recited gloriously:

     Dear friends, good night, the day is o'er,
     The happy Christmas is no more.
     We hope you have enjoyed yourselfs and had a happy time
     Here in our house in this snowy clime.
     Good wishes go with you out through the door,

She pointed first to the guests and then to it, significantly,


     "It could be printed in the papers," Linnea declared. "Honestly to goodness, if it couldn't."

     --From The Peaceable Kingdom

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Juanita speaks her piece

When things started to circle around and be passed and the mothers began to fix two or three plates besides their own for the littlest ones who could not do the jobs themselves, Juanita started to tug on her mother's arm to try to get her attention. Mrs. Orbit, busy and happy, with a flushed face and bright eyes (Linnea's was the same, and Mr. Orbit's was the same, and so were all the girls') kept unconsciously flicking her off as one flicks off the winged company of sticky summer nights. She kept coming back, pawing and whispering. Finally, she let out a howl.
     "What's the matter with Juanita?" everybody said.
     "It's her piece," Gloriana elucidated.
     "Oh, my God," Mr. Orbit said mildly, chewing, with a look of glazed beatitude on his face and a loaded forkful poised beneath his nose, ready to go  into his mouth when he should be able to receive it.
     "Hush," Mrs. Orbit said. "That ain't no way to do at the table. Bawl." She looked bewildered at her child. "What's wrong with your head?"
     Juanita howled louder.
     "Don't you remember?" Gloriana said. "Her piece!"
     The two other angels joined in, nodding their heads vigorously. "Her piece! She gets to speak one, too. . . ."
     "Well--" said Mrs. Orbit doubtfully. "It don't fit in so good any more . . ."
     Juanita could hear by the leniency in her voice that all was well, so she scrambled to a standing position on the seat of her chair, taking a deep gasp, throwing out her stomach and reaching back to scratch the spot where a wing sprouted. She opened her mouth. No sound came. She opened it again.
     "Eat hearty and with good appetite," Gloriana prompted her.
     "All the things on our festive board," Guinevere added softly.
     . . . The piece in its entirety went as follows:

     Eat hearty and with good appetite
     All things on our festive board.
     Take the cup and quaff it up:
     Drink to the bottom of the gourd!
     Nobody on their way will ever lurk
     If they know when they arrive they are going to get a turk!
     Oh, what, oh, what is oh, so jolly,
     As the Christmas feast beneath the holly?

(There wasn't a square inch of holly, but it sounded very pretty anyway.) . . .
     Juanita had sat back down with a thud. Now she was busy shining while they spoke of her.

     --From The Peaceable Kingdom

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Conspiring to please and bless Mrs. Orbit

Linnea and Mr. Orbit decided that Mrs. Orbit must have dropped off upstairs and they hoped so. They were conspirators now, conspiring how to please and bless Mrs. Orbit, and they hoped she would nap along until the feast they were preparing was on the table. Mr. Orbit did a lot. He kept the fire going, and peeled potatoes and dried the dishes, while Linnea went ahead and worked the miracle. She brought about perfect order in the topsy-turvy kitchen. She made apple pies, raised biscuits, cranberry sauce and never left a dirty dish behind her. At intervals she turned practised Apician eyes upon the pork roast popping and snapping with juice and turning more and more golden brown. She set the table for ten and in the exact center placed that more than decorative piece, the frosted fruitcake.
     The dinner would not be ready to sit down to and eat until six-thirty, but at a little after five Mrs. Orbit appeared with the shamed strained eye-swollen miserable look of the man who has crept in the house at broad daylight with his shoes in his hand after having been out all night drinking and squandering his salary and doing God knows what else besides.
     “Merry Christmas,” Linnea said with twinkling eyes through the steam of the potatoes. She had just taken the lid off the kettle and was sticking a fork into them to see how much longer they had to cook.
     Mrs. Orbit’s face worked. She saw, not in detail but panoramically, that electrifying changes had been made in her kitchen. It looked beautiful, it smelled beautiful. Best of all, it was working, perking, running, a going concern. There was light to it, life to it, snap to it. It had a beating heart and a reaching soul. “Merry Christmas,” she said brokenly. Then she put her hands up before her embarrassed face and she bawled.
     --From The Peaceable Kingdom

Friday, December 20, 2013

"Let's us play like . . ."

There were a few toys in the Orbit household, if they could ever be found, but none of them were recalled to be in very good shape. Nobody had seen any of them for a long time. For Christmas they had received not much more than the Ecklund sisters. Toys, however, did not much signify, and well equipped with next to nothing but far-reaching imagination they began to play.
     As the steam runs the steamboat and folly runs the perpetual motion machine, a bubbling song runs the game of pretending. It starts Let's us play like and ripples anywhere.

     We're rich!
     I'm the Papa, you're the Mamma!
     Here's our house!
     Here's our back yard!
     Lookut us!
     I'm a old lady thirty-six years old!
     You're a old man with whiskers clear down to here!
     I got a silk dress hiked up in the back!
     Here's our kids!
     Johnny! Bessie! Mary! Nephi! Pearl!
     Here's our table!
     Here's our house, our boat, our sleigh, our wagon!
     Lookut our things!
     We found a sack of diamonds lost downtown!
     Wouldn't give um back!
     Kept um!
     Lookut us!

It flows and meanders anywhere, any tiger, any crown, any sharpshooting gun, any necklace, any blue satin, any France, any scope, any face, has only to be reached out for and plucked as it grows down-hanging and full of flowers, its leaves in the water. . . .

     --From The Peaceable Kingdom

Thursday, December 19, 2013

"She wasn't soaring far"

While the poor embarrassed man complained Linnea made little soothing noises and surveyed the kitchen. She had to take stock before she knew which way to enter the fray. There seemed to be great numbers of pots and pans that had been put to soak and stood here, there and everywhere half-full of discolored water. Linnea was glad Inegborg didn’t have a chance to see the cupboard. She would have fainted dead away. The tumbled oilcloth-covered table had on it not only unwashed dishes marked prominently with hardened egg yolk, but beads of honey strung in a row like a necklace, half-emptied jam bottles and a frying pan a third full of cold bacon grease. A stack of newspapers, a small gaiter, Demorest’s Monthly, a green book entitled The Bride of Llewellyn or, Cruel as the Grave, and a clean but unironed corset cover also decorated the table. There was, however, a roaring fire in the capacious stove. That made up for a lot of things. So did the sight of various buckets, baskets and sacks, on pantry shelves, warming oven, kitchen dresser and even on the floor, full of sweet potatoes, cranberries, parsnips, Idaho potatoes, two monstrous fresh cabbages, flour, sugar, butter and apples—the makings of a Christmas dinner fit for the President of the United States. Not only that, there was a huge pork roast in the oven. Linnea looked at it. Its thick coating of fat was unmelted except for a transparent layer the thickness of tissue paper and it was not warmed through, but when it was done it was going to be a pork roast of pure white and golden brown, full of juices and flavor (plenty of salt, plenty of black pepper), that started the saliva running at full blast even to think of it! Linnea beamed happily, rolling up her sleeves and tying a small plaid tablecloth found hanging over the back of a chair, around her waist for an apron.
     Shyly Mr. Orbit, much comforted by her words and manner, twitched back a fringed paisley couch cover and revealed, on the foot of the lounge on a large platter under a dishtowel, a huge cake sparkling with hard white frosting. “She went to work and made it this last week. Receipt Ma had.” He tried to say it like it didn’t amount to much but his eyes gave him away. “Dark fruit cake. Like we always had a saying about hash, Everything in it but the kitchen stove. Don’t look like she made much of a bobble of it, either, does it?”
     “Bobble!” Linnea said, “I should think not! Why, I never seen a prettier sight in my life!”
     “Receipt Ma had,” he repeated.
     “You see!” Linnea said triumphantly. “What she can do when she puts her mind to it! Anybody that can clean up and doll up a parlor like that, and anybody that can bake such a cake, why, I tell you something, Mr. Orbit, if she’d take a notion, why, there wouldn’t be a woman alive that could outdo her!”
     He beamed. “Ma used to say to me, Alvin, she’d say, Izola’s all right,” he said, “the only trouble with Izola is, she ain’t just anchored like she should be, she kind of wants to soar off into space. You keep her from soaring off into space, Alvin, she used to say to me, and you got something.”
     “You have, too.” Linnea said. “She wasn’t soaring far when she baked that cake.”

     --From The Peaceable Kingdom

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Mrs. Orbit's parlor

Mrs. Orbit had tacked twisted red and green streamers of paper at intervals all around the picture molding and drawn them together in the middle of the ceiling, with just the right and artistic pendency, and hung there a honeycombed red paper bell. Red paper bows perched like feverish butterflies upon every picture frame. The fragrant Christmas tree, now seen to be standing in the corner tastefully trimmed with popcorn strings, gilded walnuts, pasteboard cutouts and numerous candles, could hold its own with any tree in Zion. And what was this innovation? Mrs. Orbit had used soap and drawn with it in grand style upon the mirror a ghostly holly wreath and the head of St. Nicholas. Also she had printed  M E R R Y  X M A S.
     --From The Peaceable Kingdom

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

All over everything!

It was more of a surprise that Mrs. Orbit did not step out of the gloom and greet them with more Christmas poetry, than if she had. "Where's your mamma?" she inquired, peering all around.
     "She's upstairs throwing up," Gloriana said.
     "All over everything," Guinevere added.

     --From The Peaceable Kingdom

Monday, December 16, 2013

Greeted by poetic ghosts

It surprised her and she gave a little jump when the door flew open with a bang and either Gloriana, Guinevere, Rosabella or Juanita--well, perhaps not Juanita, for she was, after all, only a little past three--but they all looked so much alike and were so nearly of an age that it was hard to tell one from the other--stood dressed in white like a small-sized ghost haunting a large-sized doorway and cavernous dark hall beyond. "Well, hello!" Linnea said. "Merry Christmas."

     Dear Mrs. Ecklund, and family, come inside,
     On this happy Yuletide,
     You will find all warmth and cheer
     In your honor waiting here.

the little ghost cleared her throat and recited. . . . In the faint light, by straining the eyes, it could be dimly seen that she was wearing something like a white shroud, with a pillow stuck in behind and amorphous curls, lumps of hair in rag curlers, like knots on a club. . . . 
     "Which way did you say we was supposed to go?" she asked the little guide.
     This conjured up out of the shadows another small white shape, wearing a similar shroud-like garment and lumpily crowned by the wreath of rag curls. She was guarding the parlor door, which she now pushed open with a squeak. Beckoning theatrically she recited:

     Enter here our portal gay
     On this merry Christmas day.
     In the shining candlelight
     One and all must now make merry
     Before our Christmas fire SO CHEERY.

     "Well, what do you know," Linnea said. "Are we supposed to go in the parlor? My, that sounded pretty." . . .  "What you kids got on anyway?" she asked.
     "We're angels," they announced. "These here is costumes."
     "Of course!" Linnea said, smiting her brow. "I must be rumdum."

     --From The Peaceable Kingdom

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Linnea had misgivings

Linnea had misgivings about spending Christmas with the Orbits and wished she had not had to promise. Everybody knew Mrs. Orbit did not even set a Christian table for her own family, but let them help themselves at any hour of the day or night to bakery bread, eggs, coffee, cheese or whatever they could find. Not only that, she was renowned for her poor housekeeping, and when all the other ladies were in the midst of Spring Housecleaning or Fall Housecleaning, Mrs. Orbit wasn't in the midst of anything except a book called Ethelyn's Mistake or The Lost Heir of Linlithgow or Spectre Lover.
     --From The Peaceable Kingdom

Saturday, December 14, 2013

It's never really what you wanted

Why is it God never grants anything when or the way we want it? It’s always his version, like you tell a guy over and over just what you want for your birthday, then you open the package and it’s . . . not it.
     --From Variation West

Friday, December 13, 2013

New York isn't big

“New York isn’t big at all, it’s little. . . . It’s just this one little village, even Times Square, even Beekman Place, repeated over and over hundreds and thousands of times.  Little hamlets.  All nestled up against each other, people stay in them the way they do in villages.  You see if you live in one, they’re there.  But the effect is of one great big terrifying city, a big, immense, full-spectrum, rattling, teeming place.  But it isn’t. It’s just—villages.  But we don’t know.  We say New York and shake in our shoes.”
     (A few months after I got back home in Portland, Oregon, I read a piece in Harper’s magazine or somewhere that said practically the same thing, only sparklingly and with say-so like a high intelligence.)
     --From Ardyth's memoir New York on Five Dollars a Day

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Talent, concentrated

That was what he was. Talented. But talented like a river that’s all little streams and runs. Like, say, for Christmas you get nothing but little stuff. Not one big whopping present, like a diamond or Cadillac. What it ought to be, talent, was concentrated, collected. At a center, like those throbbing black stars one teaspoonful of which would weigh one hundred million tons. The purest . . . all the different rays . . . the burning glass that sets the Burning Bush on fire.
     --From Variation West

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

"Who is the mamma in the house?"

With each housecleaning, minor and sometimes major, rearrangements take place which, at first, invariably confuse me. If I try weakly to ask why or offer an alternative which at the time seems to me to be more practical, I am usually cut short with a "who is the mamma in the house?" which makes me abide and pay no further attention. Only once in a great while it has happened in the past, not in this but in another house or two, that I came home at night and walked into our bedroom to take off rain-soaked clothes before presenting myself only to find out that where the bed used to stand there was a desk, and my clothes cabinet had moved without telling me to another room. I used to be frightened by such unforeseen and surprising moves. But I found out that such changes take place in complete order and no more than a question is necessary to get me the full information as to where my house robe or my stockings or tax receipts will be kept from now on.
     --From her husband Egon's journal, Christmas Day 1947

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

It's God on the line

“I just got to wondering,” she said this day. “We say ‘my conscience’ like we’d say ‘my nose’ or ‘my hand.’ And we feel its pain, and its pain, like I say, is its pain, not like any other. But then we don’t know what we’re talking about.”
            “King David’s heart hurts him when he’s been crooked,” he said after a little thought. “Job’s heart tells him ‘You did nothing wrong.’ But old Thomas Aquinas had it figured this way, conscience is really a telephone line. Telephones hadn’t been invented then, of course, but that’s how he described it, man and God hooked up like . . . What he really meant . . . a hot line. Lift the receiver, ‘Man?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘God.’”
     --From Variation West

Monday, December 9, 2013

"He could not unbuild it now"

The role he had effortlessly assumed and unconsciously learned, he was still playing and would play. . . . How easy it was to be a patriot who had avenged his country's wrongs by spectacular assassination. How hard it had always been to be himself! This role was so easy. It asked so ridiculously little of him--just to lie here until the time came to cross the river, just to keep from walking around on his broken ankle, just to escape. . . .
     The role, however, was growing harder to play. Almost as hard, if one faced it squarely and took everything into consideration, as it might have been to go ahead and play himself, a handsome young actor full of unnatural love and hatred, with a soul in torment and a lost voice. If it got much harder he might have to give up the part altogether. But no, he could not do that, could he? He had to keep on with it, because, terrifyingly, assassin and self were now one and indissoluble. He brought his right hand up close to his face and looked at it. That reverberating death of Lincoln, that enormity, that amplest structure in America--he could not unbuild it now. With this hand, it was built forever and nobody could push it down. He hid his hand in the water over the boat's side, but not to cool it for it was cold as death.
     --From The Spur

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Masquerading as thin

She was of an essentially plump genus coerced and bedeviled into masquerading as thin.
     --From Good Morning, Young Lady

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Resistance (to French chocolates) is futile

The worst difficulty was the French chocolates in the ribbon-tied boxes. . . . One ruse was to lock the box in the lower left-hand compartment of the buffet, and hide the key and try not to be able to recall where it was but this was a failure every time. Alma Morelewski found that the best way to do was, after the box was about half empty anyway, to eat up all the rest of the candy in it at once so she would not have to think about it, and pray that Mr. Morelewski would not be put in mind to bring her any more, perhaps ever. But he did, after a week or two, or three, depending on when he happened to remember, and in spite of her various resolves, she was always more glad than sorry to see the familiar oblong package with Schramm-Johnson's printed all over it.
     --From Good Morning, Young Lady

Friday, December 6, 2013

The greatest danger to beauty

To the Queen, food had ever been the one, true, never-failing source of pleasure in life and she ate often and earnestly, would have eaten more often and more earnestly did not a nagging little voice from the region of her conscience lift itself to say that food might be the cause of fat, and fat was the danger of the world to beauty. And what would be so bad as to lose that greatest gift? To the ordinary person, maybe going blind or falling down hopelessly paralyzed might compare, but these catastrophes seemed of small consequence beside that one.
     --From Good Morning, Young Lady

Thursday, December 5, 2013

"Like a stage magician"

It was funny, though, what happened the year the so-called Utah harems made headlines once more in the Eastern papers, and like a stage magician pulling a tablecloth from under a pile of dishes without breaking any, Congress tried to outlaw the Mormon doctrine’s plurality of spouses without doing any harm to religious freedom.
     --From Variation West

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

No fun in the Portland cemetery

Mother didn't want to be stuck up in the Portland cemetery where she didn't know anybody, all by herself with just Egon and me. She wanted us all to be buried in Albany. After all, who did we know in the Portland cemetery? A few nodding acquaintances, no relations or close friends, and what fun was that?
     --From Ardyth's memoir Bodies Adjacent

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Nothing new

I read her some biographical notes on William James from Mathison’s book, and we discussed Pragmatism. She found the meaning of James’ thoughts as almost “childish”, commenting how strange it is that men can devote their lives to explain things that are really self-understood and need not to be talked much about--and become famous with it. She did not think I told her--or James, rather--anything new.
     --From her husband Egon's journal, January 26, 1948

Monday, December 2, 2013

Cut off and cursed

He was cut off from the church and cursed in his basket and his stores, his parts and powers of procreation.
     From Variation West

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sinners lived there, too

Not that sinners, reprobates and sly offenders didn’t live there [in San Bernardino] like anywhere else. A headstrong girl turned down a man high up in the church because of his white-filmed eye and the fur on his tongue (and got the licking of her life). One time a calf was stolen, the Roberts lost a shift off their clothesline, pies had vanished cooling on a sill. But of course that could have been thieving Mojaves. The Lord’s name was taken in vain, the Ten Commandments went against. Many a wife and house had been coveted. Maid-servants would have been coveted too, oxen and asses also, had any lived around there at the time, which none did.
     --From Variation West