I so appreciated the enthusiastic response to my “Proper Introductions” post on Gladys Taber last week! It was heart-warming to hear how many of you share an affection for her writings. She is such a gentling influence; decades after her death, her words continue to promote peace in an unsettling time and to point our eyes in the direction of the beauties right before us. I have the greatest esteem for Gladys–it makes me glad to know that so many of you do, as well.
And I’m happy to say that, among a few other titles, I’m listing two more of Gladys Taber’s books today:
The Book of Stillmeadow, (SOLD) the 1930’s “round-the-calendar” record of the early days at Taber’s Connecticut farm, crammed, characteristically, with cats and spaniels and forays into the garden and firelit evenings. Based on her Ladies’ Home Journal column, “Diary of Domesticity,” this title was reprinted in the 1970s, but the older ones are getting difficult to find. The one I’m listing today is a 1948 third printing, and while it’s seen some love, it’s still a sturdy and collectible copy. A previous owner has thoughtfully marked her favorite passages–I feel a certain kinship with her as I leaf through the pages and read over the bits that meant the most to her, whoever she was…
The Stillmeadow Road, (SOLD) the seventh title in the Stillmeadow series. Originally published in 1959 this is a 1962 second impression. According to Taber, “part of The Stillmeadow Road was written when Stillmeadow was snowbound. The pipes were frozen, the furnace off, and most of the firewood for the great hearth was used up. An oil lamp provided the illumination. The windowsills were deep with snow and buttressed with bath towels. The house was full of melting cockers and Irish setters. And the phone did not ring, ever. This might have made for a quiet time in which to think, except for having to leap up every half hour and fling logs on the fire. Of all the thirty-six books I have written, this is certainly the most complicated from one standpoint. I ran out of paper and had to write on the back of already used sheets.” Nevertheless, for all the complexity of its origins, The Stillmeadow Road is yet another immersion into the sweet sanity and contemplative values that mark all of Taber’s books.
In addition to these gems, I’ve listed a couple of books by D.E. Stevenson and Miss Read–two other authors who reliably penned stories that soothe the soul and venerate the “simpler pleasures.”
The beloved English author, Miss Read, received a marked revival of popularity after Jan Karon confessed her a favorite and an inspiration. I love Miss Read’s books, not only because they are light and touching—and yet have a penetrating insight into human nature and manners that’s almost Austen-ish in it’s flavor—but because they were much-loved by my Anglophile grandmother. Most of her books are centered in the fictional Cotswold villages of Fairacre and Thrush Green, and tell the day-to-day stories of people who seem like real-life friends and acquaintances. Like Jan Karon, Miss Read wrote of the life she knew first-hand, and let the rest of the world see how charming it was without faltering into clichés.
In Miss Read’s Village Affairs, (SOLD) Fairacre’s schoolmistress has to face the challenges of running her school under the terrible rumor that it is going to be closed…
And, if you’re not already acquainted, D.E. Stevenson is a treasure. My book club calls her “Elizabeth-Goudge-Lite”, and she’s who we turn to at least once a year between weighty tomes like George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell. She was a Scottish writer of the last century and related to the great Robert Louis. And her books are simply charming. She writes of houses that remember their past and women who understand the art of being womanly. In D.E. Stevenson, you will find well-laid tea tables and rambles over the Scottish hillsides, not to mention engaging plots which are usually fashioned upon a frame of revered domesticity. And another joy of Stevenson is that once she takes the time to create a character, she doesn’t seem to want to put them to rest at the end of a book, or even a series. She wrote over forty novels, and the people you love in one book have a way of cropping up again in another character’s story, with a delightful sense of friendly recognition.
Originally published in 1943, Celia’s House is the tale of a young woman who surprisingly inherits her family manor and endeavors to make it her own in the stern face of tradition and under the somber cloud of war. And Listening Valley, published as a “companion” to Celia’s House, follows the fortunes, heartaches and wartime romance of Antonia Melville.
Before I go, permit me to indulge in a humorous little domestic vignette of my own. It’s probably no surprise, but all of this reading and writing about “hearth and home” has kindled a fire of domestic energy in my heart–so much so that I’m giving everything a closer look as the patterns of light in my rooms begin to shift with the season. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll doubtless already be apprised of my latest homemaking misadventure–but, in a nutshell, I happened to glance at my bathroom curtains last week and think, “My goodness, they sure look dingy! I think I’ll give them a thorough soaking, and throw in some bluing for good measure.” On my way to the washing machine with arms full of muslin, I noticed that the antique lace valances over the kitchen sink were rather limp and dusty, so in they went, as well. I felt very accomplished and productive as I went about the rest of my housework–a mood that persisted until a few hours later when I lifted all that muslin and lace out of the wash to find my curtains reduced to an armful of shreds. It was a low point, to be sure, but Amazon came to the rescue, and by Saturday morning, my kitchen windows wore a pair of inexpensive lace valances I can live with (until I have time to make or find something better), and my bathroom windows were dressed in cascades of ruffled white flounces I adore. The effect was so bright and pleasing that I couldn’t help but notice how badly the bathroom needed painting. To be sure, with a whole wall of multi-paned, wavy-glass windows, painting my bathroom is not an enterprise to be entered into lightly (it’s taken me seventeen years to get over painting it the first time), but what is a three-day weekend for, if not impossible feats of home improvement?
The project was well-underway before Philip even suspected my intentions, but when he came into the bathroom and found the whole place in disarray and me already highly-adorned with splotches of “Glass of Milk,” he merely shook his head and laughed. I don’t think he knew whether to praise my industry, or gently chide me for taking on too much. But, whatever his thoughts, he nobly leant a hand at scraping glass and unscrewing objects from the walls–most notably an unreasonably heavy cabinet in which I keep all my perfume bottles and essential oils (and which, incidentally, my sister gave me over a decade ago with good riddance seeing as she’d given up trying to keep the thing mounted to her wall).
In retrospect, I probably could have chosen a better time to step out of the room to chat with visitors in the hall, but an ear-splitting crash sent me tearing back (while my visitors quietly excused themselves and took their leave), where I found Philip, standing on the commode with the cabinet pressed desperately against the wall, and a ruin of perfume bottles and oils littering the floor around him.
“I told you we should have emptied this thing before trying to move it,” he said.
The whole scene was so ridiculous I couldn’t stop laughing as I mopped up the hideous mess, some of which had fallen into the litter box, creating its own…situation. Broken glass and fragrant oils mingled with large chunks of porcelain–it took me a moment to realize they were chunks of the commode itself. By the time I had made it safe for the barefooted Philip to step off of the commode-turned-footstool, it was evident that we had a serious problem. I don’t know my commode anatomy, but suffice it to say that something in that cabinet struck the back of the bowl with enough force to knock off a whole corner. It was evidently an important corner, for when Philip gave the handle a tentative flush, a flood of water poured out of the tank and onto the floor in a swirling river of perfume bottle caps and cat litter.
As of this morning, I have a fresh-faced bathroom, delicately tinted in a perfect warm-but-not-muddy grey. And as of tonight, I’ll have a brand-new commode. Way more effort (especially for my poor Philip), and considerably more money than we wanted to spend right now, but the bathroom’s looking awfully pretty. Which makes me think that the paint in the bedroom could use some freshening up, and we really should have a new rug in front of the fireplace…