Friday, October 10, 2008

The State of the Spouse

Remember Head Cold?

He of mercurial wit, who took Merrick by the hand and led him through 14 days of sickness? Endurance finally failed and Head Cold sighed, leaned against a wall and let little Merrick go. In the interim, there were 9 out of 10 school days with NO SCHOOL for the 5 year old.

The Matron barely noticed.

You see, Merrick is John's child. When the Matron tries to comfort her son, he says: "Where's Daddy?" The Matron asks Merrick if he wants dinner, a cookie, a new pony? "Will Daddy give it to me?"

Just this morning, the Matron said to her youngest: "Will you cuddle with your mama?"

Merrick: "If Daddy's not thewe."

So the Matron knows how lucky she is, thus mated.


The other day, she dined Out with several friends, middle-aged mamas in marriages that are well-aged. Ripe enough the danger of disease is there, the fetid edge. (she loves that word, fetid)

Near the end of the evening, came Wifely Complaint. Who cleans the toilet? Does the husband dump out the towel drawer and wipe underneath? When was the LAST TIME HE wiped the bottom of the cupboard with the garbage?

The Matron has her own relationship with these questions.

Was this last year? Six months? Or more?

John was "On Kid Duty," shuffling the crew out the door to school.

The Matron queried: "Do you have the note for the gym teacher about loaning our tennis rackets on October 15? Does Scarlett have an extra snack for Eleanor because Eleanor likes chocolate cookies? Why don't you have Merrick's yellow jacket instead of the white because yellow is his favorite color and did you know that Scarlett's substitute teacher needs volunteers to cut out templates for the third-graders? And Stryker has a playdate with Henry after school so you need to call his mom and write a note for the teacher, only the Dad is picking them up and it's library day for Merrick, Scarlett's math isn't correct and Stryker needs to turn in a permission slip for next Thursday's field trip."

To this, John turned and -- shall we say, Clarified:

I am not hard-wired that way. Make me a list. But on my own, I will never remember the note for the gym teacher about loaning our tennis rackets on October 15? Or that Scarlett has an extra snack for Eleanor because Eleanor likes chocolate cookies? I don't have Merrick's yellow jacket instead of the white because yellow is his favorite color and I didn't know that Scarlett's substitute teacher needs volunteers to cut out templates for the third-graders. And Stryker has a playdate with Henry after school so I need to call his mom and write a note for the teacher, only the Dad is picking them up and it's library day for Merrick, Scarlett's math isn't correct and Stryker needs to turn in a permission slip for next Thursday's field trip? This is news to me. Write it down and I'll get it. But if you expect me to be like this -- like you--you'll always be disapointed."

Click, click, light bulb, light bulb.

But today.

She knows he won't remember the blue t-shirt is special or that Stryker gives fruit snacks to his friend in the lunch room. And he'll be there every second for the sick kid, holding the hand and wiping the nose.


Today, her dear husband forgot to pick up the children from school until the school secretary called to remind him.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Close to Home

The Matron actually does believe in talent--especially the hidden kind! Is there anything more delightful than stumbling across the essay that stuns? Or how about the time she walked into a new friend's house, only to discover the entire structure FULL of incredible art.

Insert New Friend's Shrug: "Oh, I paint a little when I can find the time."

Indeed! Well, thanks to that south-bound bladder, the Matron recently encountered Talent--sweet and pure and inspirational--in her own tiny 'hood. In an attempt to teach Satan's Familiar the beauty of poop in the Great Outdoors, the whole family was out for a walk--when all of a sudden, the Matron had to PEE. NOW.

At dusk on a gorgeous August night, they hustled over to the nearest house of folk they knew and liked well enough to knock on the door and say: "She has to pee right now that's why she's running past you, upstairs, thanks!"

Being that this was summer--August and all and dusk and a beautiful night--that pit stop led to a bottle of wine on the deck ( and more pee later), and the sweet ease of conversation, the kind where nobody has to be anywhere soon or get up in the morning, and the children race around outside in varying stages of stealth and pursuit, feet wet and hearts racing with the safe thrill of chasing stuff--and each other--outside in the dark, night.

In the midst, as a means of wrangling for an overnight with Stryker, 12 year old, Henry, who resides in the house was called upon to play his guitar. Now, the Matron had heard about Henry's successes. She knew of Lesson, Conference, Concert and Calling. But she hadn't heard him play in a couple of years.

She was floored.

How does a 12-year old boy play classical guitar with the emotional complexity and acumen of a seasoned veteran, an adult? The only analogy she can draw (at the moment) is to ask if you can imagine a 12 year old girl singing like Billie Holiday. The kid is ready for Carnegie Hall -- at 12! Now, she knew, theoretically, that those kind of children existed. But that night she got to see one in flesh and blood. (and ponder again her son's choice of yo-yo as his Art and most recently, the declaration that he would attend Yale on a Dance, Dance Revolution scholarship.)

So the Matron attended a free concert. She imagines the neighbors, perched on their own decks and porches, caught by beauty and surprise as music struck out into that already stunning August night.

Henry's neighbor was there --a grandfatherly sort who has been pretty much adopted by the family to fill that role. Now, the Matron knew he was a retired historian, a man who made a living with the hit and miss rhythm of an adjunct. But beyond that, he was more or less kinda like her, all: "Who's driving the boys to baseball" and "Can the boys play at your house because my head will explode?"

So when the parents were all like, "Forget Henry -- Steve wrote a book!" the Matron was taken aback. Actually, horrified, in the way she every single time someone else succeeds where she has failed, twice. Isn't SHE THE ONE WHO IS SUPPOSED TO BE GETTING A BOOK DEAL?

Once THAT was out of her system, she was able to scrape herself off the ceiling and be stunned, yet again. Talent! In the flesh! In the blood! Her backyard!

Published by Turner Press, the book, Historic Photos of St. Paul, is just that -- a panoramic view of a city, from 1840-1970ish. The Matron allowed herself the luxury of paging through this lovely text, cover to cover, and she highly recommends the experience. Why? There's something unsettling--humbling and humanizing--about seeing an intersection as a patch of dirt and following its progress, uninterrupted, to a major urban hub. How far we've come! This book made her wonder what her world will look like, when she's not here.

The book is stunning! Talent, unfurled! Why, she's so proud of Henry's Adopted Grandfather-Neighbor, that she has tapped him to be . . . . .

The First Ever Matronly Interview

But before she begins-a nod to the Minnesota Historical Society and the Ramsey County Historical Society because she's certain that the pictures she found on Google Images are nearly entirely from them! She could only find TWO from the actual book online. Isn't she gifted? So Copyright God - these pictures belong entirely to someone else.

What was your great challenge writing this book? (clever question, honey!! go right for the tough stuff)

There were several challenges. The first was how to tell the story of St. Paul's development over more than a century, in only 200 images with a limit of 75 words per caption. The next was finding appropriate photos--in some areas there were not many to be found. I wanted to make sure to adequately cover basic urban themes, such as transportation, work, entertainment, immigration and city infrastructure. In addition to being informative, the images needed to be visually interesting. Then I had to convince the publisher that I needed to replace many of their initial choices with images that would do a better job of illustrating the development and diversity of the city, its downtown, neighborhoods and people and the institutions they built. Finally, sometimes it was a challenge find out enough about a photograph to create an interesting story to go with it, particularly if there was just a name written on the back.

Your favorite three photographs?

It's hard to decide which are my favorite, so I'll chose ones that are my East Side home base and that illustrate the sort of information I wanted to offer readers. There an 1870s shot (p.23) looking at downtown from Dayton's Bluff that's great because it allows a person to compare this old view with today. I love how the horse-drawn vehicle is coming up the hill and the railroad in the distance is shown on pylons to raise it above the extensive wetlands. Next, I choose the 1915 Johnson High School girls basketball team (p.99) because it may surprise many readers to see that women's sports flourished long ago and it's not just a recent phenomenon. Finally, I have always loved the photo of the two Railroad Island residents (170) proudly showing their baked bread. It illustrates the neighborhood, its ethnicity and deals with an important aspect of everyday life.

This is one of the Matron's favorite photos!

The Swede Hollow photo that was one of your favorites was picked to include one of the legendary St. Paul communities, in this case an area where poor families lived. You can learn a lot from looking closely at this image, including the row of outhouses that extend over Phalen Creek and the less than linear arrangement of the residences.

The Matron was struck by the complexity of garb on turn-of-the-century children. Was the fully loaded girl on page 69 from the upper class? In the photograph's earliest days were the uppper crust its primary target?

I didn't look into their background, but the clothes would indicate at least middle-class. These may well be Sunday clothes and a Sunday afternoon drive. I doubt the girl would usually dress this way. Mother may have been along to take the photo, but at the time, not a lot of families had their own cameras. The photographer might have been a professional, hanging out around the park. If the family owned the horse and carriage, they were well to do. If it was rented, middle-class.

Can you guarantee that photograph on page 163 won't be repeated?S now in May!!

Anything for you, darling. This seemed like a fun-photo to reinforce the supposed Siberian-like nature of our city. The photo also shows a bus, one of the many photos in the book that show the many forms of urban transportation.

She notices an African-American face first on page 167 and from then on, the book refreshingly diverse. Do historic or archived photographs themselves serve as a template of Minnesota diversity? Were the earliest photos exclusively Scandanavian?

You are right that after Hallie Q. Brown there is more diversity shown. However, you missed the earlier image of the African-American mail carrier. But on your question---there are not a lot of early photos available for early African-Americans. Those that exist are often portraits and don't show the sort of action I was trying to find. The photo of the Red River Ox carts on page 10 also shows early diversity, since the drivers were Merits--mixed blood French and Indian people who developed a culture of their own.

Thanks, Steve! Welcome to the ranks of people better-published than the Matron. Her hat is, off. And here is a picture from about 1935, taken from her very own front yard.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Yup, An Average Joe

Sarah Palin's words make up most of this blog post. This, from Newsweek.

"I think they're (media) just not used to someone coming in from the outside saying, 'You know what?

It's time that Joe-Six-Pack-American is finally represented in the position of vice-presidency.'

I think that's kind of taken some people off guard, and they're out of sorts

And they're ticked about it

but it's motivation for John McCain and I to work that much harder

to make sure that our ticket is victorious,

and we put government back on the side of the people of Joe Six-Pack like me,

and we start doing those things that are expected of government (like ban gay marriage -- okay, okay, that's the sarcastic Matron she has NO self-restraint)

This is an old adorable picture of the Matron's child and is Secret Second Set of Siblings and these three are definitely not Joe Six-Pack, either. . . their parents are raising them to be more like Joe-Surly.

and we get rid of corruption

and commit to reform that is not only desired,

but is deserved by Americans."

The Matron wonders: who is Joe Six-Pack, Sarah? The Matron assumes this is a first-name basis relationship since you're all about crackin' that beer and scratching your belly along with the rest of us.

Would you be representing the best interest of all people?

The Matron is camera-shy so she thinks Blur is the New Black.

A Joe-Six Pack Constituency? Speaks loud and clear to this bunch.

Monday, October 6, 2008


Is the Matron's NEW favorite number!

Because although her readership varies -- sometimes soaring toward that 200 mark and on the weekends, diving near 90 -- every week day, the lowest number for awhile has been 107. Not 108 or 9 or 110.

She likes to think some law of averages is not at work, or that one day Jenn at Juggling Life forgets to read but that day, Mamabird pops over. No, she's not thinking like that.

She imagines those same 107 every, single, day.

The Matron writes for readers. She's not the sort that gets pleasure in the act for the sake of the act itself, all that very mentally healthy process blather.

She's in it for the attention!

So faithful, thanks for showering her with some. One day, she will have time to pimp her blog but for now, this corner makes her happy.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sniffle Season in Minnesota

October has offered the Matron and her family its usual bluster and blow: crisp mornings and cold houses, rooms that were once hot now requiring slippers and long sleeves. This month also introduces the entire state to the Head Cold (aka Cough or Sniffles) who will never quite leave until April, simply changing form and crouching in dark corners, waiting to retool and leap again. Head Cold is a seamless entity -- if not nestled solidly in your own house, he is visiting the neighbor until it is time to cross the street and slip through your window, again.

Merrick has missed three days of school. Head Cold has shimmered into the shape of Cough for awhile, bouncing back and forth between Merrick and Scarlett. The Matron imagines him a thin veil, spread between her family, in various stages of advance and retreat for the next few months.

Head Cold, in honor of your arrival, one of the Matron's favorite poems:

Life With Sick Kids

One child coughs onnce
and is sick for nearly eight weeks, then the other child coughs so
hard he nearly vomits, three weeks, and then
stops and the first child cuoghs a first cough,
and then the other delicately and dryly begins to cough,
death taking them up and shaking them
as kids shake boxes at Christmas. So in bed on the
third day of the blood when it would be
almost safe to use nothing,
just a tiny door left open for a resourceful child,
I cannot see or feel or smell you, I keep
thinking I hear the unconceived one
cough a little introductory cough.

Sharon Olds


Head Cold made a strategic turn into Fever and felled young Merrick, that quick. No school in the morning, as he is nursing a temp of 102. Oh, Head Cold, you have mercurial timing. Tomorrow the Dean is going to attend the Matron's morning class, to review her for Style and Pedagogical Flair. She even ironed her clothing for the occasion. And tomorrow, Scarlett must be conveniently driven to a workshop in the far west and rehearsal in another state (No Mary Poppins-Frau Schmidt till Tuesday) while another parent must attend a meeting at Stryker's school. Call down, Head Cold! We have a long season ahead.