Willa Cather (1876 – 1947) is surely one of the greatest American novelists.Earlier in the year I read her “Death Comes to the Archbishop”, and I have just read her exquisite “My Antonia”.
The book is set in the prairies of Nebraska from 1884 onwards.Cather had moved there from Virginia at aged eight.Her work is semi-autobiographical. She weaves her tale in the voice of a nameless person, a friend of the fictional Jim Burden about whose life the story is told.
“Jim” himself moves from Virginia to Nebraska to live with his grandparents.He arrives by train to the settlement of Black Hawk.Also on that train is the Shirmerda family, non-English speaking immigrants from Bohemia.
The novel is a wondrous tale of life in “un-developed” Nebraska, and of the intersection of Jim’s life with the oldest Shimerda daughter “Antonia” (pronounced “ant-o-nee-a” with the “ant as in the name “Anthony”.)
Cather brings to life both the beauty and the harshness of the praire, and the beauty and harshness of people. It is a tale of the good, the bad and the ugly, but also a tale of the very good.
By the end of “My Antonia” Jim is a successful lawyer, and Antonia is the loving mother of a brood of ten children living with her steadfast husband Mr. Cuzak on a Nebraskan farm.
It is if course Willa’s story, told by an un-named voice, with Jim representing Willa.It is a story of deep love and friendship.I was sad when the book ended.
I suppose that many of my American friends were “made” to read “My Antonia” whilst in High School. If they have not done so recently I encourage them to re-visit this fabulous tale.I urge others to read “My Antonia” for the first time.
“Look at the soldiers dancing in the rain”:that’s a memory of my mother’s words, when she and I looked out of the front room window at the splattering of raindrops on Devon Road in Bristol, U.K.
That memory triggered others from my youngest brother Martyn.
Martyn remembers when our Dad decided that it was bedtime for the younger ones.Dad would say “up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire”.Then as they got into bed (often four to a bed) Dad would pronounce “beaks under wings and heads under blankets”.
I smile as I read Martyn’s memories.I love the imagery of sleep as “beaks under wings”!
I cannot remember ever hearing those words such as those.What I remember is that Dad or Mum would say “time for Sleep Street” before ushering me off to bed.
I merge the two sayings into “Sleep Street in Bedfordshire”, and that sounds like a very desirable address!
Martyn and I surely remember another parental saying: “down the little red lane”.Mum or Dad would say this when we were reluctant to eat some food.
But not just about food. When we were little and feeling under the weather, Mum would take us to see our fabulous family Doctor Purcell, (and when he retired, to his nephew and successor Dr. O’Brien). In those circumstances both would prescribe a “tonic”.
A “tonic” was to be feared.It was an iron based medicine, with a foul taste. “Down the little red lane” was uttered by Dad or Mum as we were forced/encouraged to swallow a teaspoonful of this noxious liquid.
My memories of Doctors Purcell and O’Brien lead me to be very proud of my parents. Both Doctors were Irish but Mum and Dad eschewed the normal anti-Irish sentiments of English folks.
They adored Dr. Purcell despite his whisky loaded breath.(His wife had to drive him to his home visits - for he had been banned from driving after an alcohol fuelled motoring accident).
And we all were grateful for Dr. O’Brien’s superb care as our Dad moved towards death in 1974.
Neither Martyn nor I believe in the “good old days”.But we share many good old memories.
Adelaide came home on Monday afternoon, after three days at the Veterinarian’s Clinic.The news is good!I’ll get to that soon.
But first you must hear about the responses to the return of the wanderer by senior cat Ada, and Penne the dog.
Ada reacted as if she had never before encountered Adelaide.She kept “batting” at Adelaide with her right paw as an old cat might do to a new cat.In due course the cats rubbed up against each other, and peace prevailed.
Penne was entirely confused. It was as if she could not remember that she shares my home with two felines.She seemed to be confused.First she would look at Ada, and then at Adelaide.She repeated this for about ten minutes.She gave Adelaide a sniff test, from nose to tail.Then she relaxed!
I had a long conversation with the Veterinarian this afternoon.He assured me that the analysis of Adelaide’s urine showed no anomalies.His best guess is that she has a weakness in the wall of her bladder.The condition is more frequent in dogs than in cats.
There is an efficacious drug for dogs, but it has to be “compounded” for cats, and thus becomes very expensive.
Therefore my Vet is recommending the use of “Dasuquin”.
Dasuquin is a “natural supplement”.It seems to strengthen muscular tissue.
It also includes an extract from (get this) avocadoes, which seem to reduce inflammation in feline bladders.
(I twice use the word “seem/s” because the scientific tests of Dasuquin are not yet in).
For now I am mixing up the powder from the Dasuquin capsules into a bit of canned tuna.Adelaide is scoffing this down, and she is no longer leaking urine.
Please keep your fingers crossed that this “natural” treatment will continue to work.I cannot envisage life without my lovely and loving Adelaide.