Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge: FictionI just finished a very interesting book. Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout, is presented in a series of short stories within the ongoing story of a woman's later years in life. It was a hard book for me to get into; I kept reading a little and tossing it aside, but after a while, I couldn't put it down.
The short stories are about the lives of residents of a small town in Maine, all tied together with one individual: Olive Kitteridge, a retired school teacher.  She is a big part of some of the stories; in others, she is barely mentioned.  But she is a very strong presence. 
The most poignant part of the book is when Olive is in her seventies, looking back on her life.  Although she is lonely and tired, she acts self-righteous, hateful and superior.  She thinks people around her are only trying to make her life miserable, and often wonders why all these things keep happening to her. At times, you want to slap her big sarcastic face; other times, you completely understand what she is thinking.
Elizabeth Strout's writing is gutsy and powerful, emotional and moving. I won't soon forget Olive Kitteridge.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Rose Kennedy and Her Family

I recently came across a book about Rose Kennedy I didn't know existed, and it does not paint a pretty picture of the matriarch of this once powerful family.

Rose Kennedy and Her Family was written in 1995 by Ted Schwarz and Barbara Gibson. Schwarz wrote the biographical account, and Gibson (Rose's personal assistant for ten years) added first-hand accounts of incidents along the way. Some are amusing, but many are rather disturbing.

Rose was very vain. When pictures of the Kennedy family were taken, she refused to sit next to the younger women. "They make me look older," she told Gibson.

She was a tightwad. Although the Kennedy children had trust funds (between 30 and 300 million each), Rose griped about how much money they spent. And she was constantly upset about wasted electricity. She ordered the help not to turn the lights on until dark.

Rose often gave her old clothes away and took them back. "Remember that blouse I gave you last year?" Gibson heard her tell a family member, "I want it back; please bring it to me." (Incidentally, she gave her threadbare bras to Gibson. But she never took those back!)

She never felt she was as good as the Brahmins of Boston, who looked down on Irish immigrants. She spent her life trying to impress them, but she ended up as snobbish as they. She always referred to Gibson as "The Secretary," and when The Secretary accompanied her to Mass each morning, Rose made her sit in the back of the church. (Because that is where the help is supposed to sit, she explained.)

Ted was Rose's favorite. In her eyes, he could do no wrong. When her youngest son came callin,' she greeted him in full makeup, hair done, acting flirtatious. When her daughters visited, she often greeted them in her robe, hair in curlers. She did not approve of drinking, so when the girls slept over, they sneaked bottles of wine to bed with them. (I'll bet Teddy never hid out to do his drinking!)

Rose disowned her oldest daughter, Kathleen (Kat), when she married a man who was not of the Catholic faith. After he was killed in WW II, Kat began a love affair with a married man. Sadly, they were both killed in a plane crash. Joe attended the funeral, but Rose refused to go. Her death was God's punishment for marrying outside her faith, Rose said. (Judgmental people irritate me no end!)

Rosemary, the eldest Kennedy daughter, was the most attractive of all the sisters. But she wasn't competitive in sports (much to Joe's disdain), and didn't excel in her studies (much to Rose's disdain). Rose tried to work with her, to no avail. Gibson says evidence now proves that Rosemary was never retarded, but simply suffering from dyslexia.

Rosemary had another problem, one the Kennedys never talked about.

"She had 'unbridled sexuality,' which was absolutely forbidden if you were a Kennedy woman," Gibson says, "If, however, you were a Kennedy man, apparently, you could become president or at least a senator."

Joe nipped that in the bud. He authorized a lobotomy, which rendered his daughter drooling and severely impaired." (Talk about double standard! He encouraged his sons' unbridled sexuality!)

Because of his numerous affairs during their marriage, Rose was very bitter toward Joe. She showed neither concern nor empathy when he suffered a stroke, and she seldom went to his room. When his nurse insisted on bringing Joe down to have breakfast with her, Rose ignored him. After he suffered his last stroke and was near death, she went on with her regular schedule. She went up to see him hours later, and then she took a long walk before authorizing the nurse to call an ambulance.

Rose traveled extensively, even when her children were sick. As a child, President Kennedy was in frail health, forced to spend much of his time in bed. But she left him with the help and went on her merry way. "Mother was never there when I needed her, ever!" JFK once said, "She was either in Paris buying clothes, or on her knees in some church!"

Be that as it may, Rose lived to be almost 105 years old.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Sounds of Country Music

Yesterday, I was thrilled to learn that Hank Williams had received a Pulitzer Prize! The country legend was praised for "his craftsmanship as a songwriter who expressed universal feelings with poignant simplicity and played a pivotal role in transforming country music into a major musical and cultural force in American life."

I couldn't agree more.

I went to sleep each night to the sounds of country music when I was a child. Radio station WCKY came to us all the way from Cincinnati, Ohio, which seemed a continent away back then. Sometimes it came in as clear as a bell; other times it faded in and out, depending on the weather between Western Kentucky and Cincinnati, I suppose.
That was before we got our first TV, so Mother and Daddy spent their evenings reading various books and Time, Look and Life magazines, often reading tidbits aloud to each other. The radio sat on the end table next to Daddy's worn swivel rocker, and I think it played until they went to bed. But I had no way of knowing for sure. I was fast asleep by then.

It was always summertime back then, it seems. And after Pitty Pat, Mary Ellen and I ceased our nightly whispering and giggling, we drifted to sleep to the sounds of country music, frogs croaking in the swamps nearby, our parents' soft murmurings drifting from the living room, the fluttering of the leaves in the old Cottonwood trees just outside our bedroom window.

Hank Williams was everyone's favorite, and I loved the sad ones: Your Cheatin' Heart, I Can't Help It If I'm Still In Love With You, I'm So Lonesome I could Cry, Take These Chains From My heart. His mournful voice came from deep within his soul, his music like sad and lonely people trailing along behind.

I still love the sad ones, and my all-time favorite is Cold Cold Heart.

I'm listening to it now. And far, far away, I hear my parents' voices, frogs croaking, and the fluttering of the leaves in the old Cottonwood trees just outside my bedroom window.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Six Minutes

If the doctor told me I had only six minutes to live,
I’d type a little faster.

~Isaac Asimov~
All words and pictures © 2008 Brenda G. Wooley