Evensong, crankshaft, aubergine, hogshead

My sons’ father took this photo of me on our honeymoon, in September 1986. If you had told me that day I’d be leaving the marriage seven years later, I’d have laughed out loud. I was 28 and pregnant (finally!) with the baby I’d been yearning for since I was a little girl.

I can’t look at this photo without hearing the words of Jane Howard, an excerpt from her book Families (Simon & Schuster, 1978) that I copied into my book of quotations when I was 21.


“Meanwhile I talk in daydreams to children I don’t [yet] have. The ice is thin and dangerous, I tell one in such a daydream, and I hold you in my arms now as we skate, so you won’t drop.

There’s a lot I’ve got to teach you. You have to learn to look up at the tops of buildings, not just at what is at eye level. You have to learn to notice the fragrance of clothes dried outdoors, the look of leaves against wet November pavements. You must learn to make angel wing-prints in the new-fallen snow, and to bring people flowers, and to decorate walls with topographic maps, and to look up evensong and crankshaft and aubergine and hogshead in the dictionary. You must learn where to look – to your father, perhaps – for the things I cannot teach you, which are endless.

We’ll make bean soup together, and find people to feed it to. When we go to foreign cities (if there’s fuel enough to go there when you’re older), we will look for marketplaces, zoos, weddings and funerals. We’ll go when we can to houses near water, and while our clothes are flapping dry on the line in the wind, we’ll walk over rocks with our sneakers laced together and slung over our shoulders, in case we come to a place too sharp for bare feet. I’ll show you how to cut a slice of bread, and when to pull back in your own lane after you have passed another car (if cars still exist when you’re older).

I shall try to make you understand that certain mysteries are meant to remain mysterious, that hellos imply farewells, that much of what you’ll ever learn, from me or from anyone else, is subject to change, and that it is well to speak plainly and, on occasion, to lift your voice in song.”


2 Responses to “Evensong, crankshaft, aubergine, hogshead”

  1. carin

    Sent my bookseller a note immediately after reading this and ordered a copy of ‘Families’. Amazing that you already felt the power of this passage at 21… says a lot about where your head was. Lucky son.

    And thanks for this. I’m not familiar with her work, but have a feeling I’m going to like it. A lot.

    • commatologist

      I’m so pleased you ordered a copy of the book, Carin! I’ve always meant to read her other books and haven’t yet. She was a fascinating person. This is from her obituary in the Chicago Tribune:

      “Jane Howard, who liberated herself from the sheltering environment of Chicago’s North Shore to become one of Life magazine’s most adventurous correspondents during the 1960s and early ’70s, died Thursday in her New York home at the age of 61. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer.
      A writer with strongly feminist sympathies, Ms. Howard was equally well known as the author of a half-dozen books. Most noteworthy, perhaps, was “A Different Woman,” which chronicled the lives and thoughts of her contemporaries. It was published in 1973, the year after Life folded. Ms. Howard also wrote one of the earliest books about the human potential movement, titled “Please Touch” (1970), as well as a 1978 documentary about the American family, called “Families,” and a 1984 biography of anthropologist Margaret Mead.
      More here: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1996-06-29/news/9606290104_1_life-magazine-ms-howard-robert-howard


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