Sunday, January 25, 2009


My great-grandfather, Ephraim Wyman, lost a leg in the Civil War. I accepted for years, having been told as much by someone who I thought would know, that the wicker box under the canopy bed in one of the back bedrooms contained his wooden leg --possibly both of them. He had two, even though he was only missing one leg. Maybe he had one for everyday and one for best? He also left behind a pair of crutches. My father, in need of large, sturdy crutches after a skiing mishap some decades ago, retrieved his grandfather's from whatever closet they had come to live in. Sometimes the family accumulated stuff comes in handy, although I haven't heard of anyone wanting to borrow Ephraim Wyman's leg.

I never bothered to look in the wicker basket, not being particularly interested in wooden legs. The basket migrated around that back bedroom: under the bed, in the closet, in a corner. I'm not sure it wasn't downstairs in the living room for a while. When my sister lived there she sprinkled her rooms with"anti-queues" (her pronunciation) that I understand were supposedto be decorative. The large basket containing half a dozen small organ pipes has been retired. The rectangular thing on wheels at one end of the living room, covered with little cutesy objects of which I have no distinct individual memory, remains.

For a while, I muttered threats to pack Paula's bric-a-brac in a box and consign it and its anti-queue to the attic. While Iwas getting around to doing so, I discovered that my son approves of the whatever-it-is and its cutesy objects and votes to leave it alone. Since I can't move it myself, it will have to stay until I need the space for something else, which may never happen.

At one time I had an impression that that Paula called the object in the living room a "corn chopper." I never could see how it would go about chopping anything, but what do I know? It has since come to my attention that the "corn chopper" is a different family artifact -- the one that sits on a structure at the side of the house that I think of as a porch but my mother, for reasons too complicated to recite here, calls a "stoop." So the conversation piece in the living room must be something else.

When my son came upon Ephraim Wyman's leg-holding basket and I related to him my understanding of it, he, of course, opened the basket and looked inside. It proved to contain, not the leg, but the leather apparatus for strapping in on. "There ain't no leg in there," Justin said in disgust. Scratch one family heirloom. I put the basket with the leather strapping under the bed in the back bedroom. It goes without saying that such things should never be discarded; but I don't see the need to put this one on display.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Dear Santa --

I know this is late -- I was distracted by the ice storm and subsequent snow -- but since I'm asking for miracles, not package delivery, maybe that's all right.

If you have up your sleeve for me a line on the Matthews-Berkeley edition of the Diary of Samuel Pepys, offered at a knockdown price by an academic widow who can't wait to get rid of all those books so she can have a sewing room for her quilting club -- if you really have arranged this, please disregard the rest of this letter. I promise I'll give more money than I can afford to Rosie's Place, or that shelter in Cambridge for homeless women and children that our church activists have been beating the drums for.

If not -- I'm afraid this will sound ungrateful. I don't mean it that way. It's just that from principle and long habit, I'm not big on wanting things. Sure, I could use a food mill, even though the large ones don't seem to exist any more and the small ones cost $100. I'll probably get around to springing for one one of these weeks, hopefully before all those apples in the woodshed begin to soften and develop spots. But the food mill can easily retreat to the back burner where such things live in my life. I certainly don't need for you to provide it.

What I would like you to do for me is this: Please take whatever you have in mind for me and apply it to someone else's account. Find a single mother in failing health with a little kid or two and an ex-husband who's making all the trouble for her that he can. Give her a lead on a job that she can live on, that won't demand her whole life in exchange. A lead on an affordable but decent place to live would be nice, too. A single mothers' commune would be ideal -- I stumbled on one or two such things in the early 1980s, so they may still exist. (While you're at it, you might provide a high-paying job for the ex, in Alaska, maybe, unless he's really seeing the kids when he's supposed to. If he's being even that much use, distract him with the girl of his dreams instead.)

Please don't try to solve this mother's problems by sending her romance and a second husband, unless there's no alternative. Romance fed by desperation so often winds up out of the frying pan back into the divorce court, with another set of kids in tow.

That's all for now. I'll go back to looking around on line for that Diary. I hope you had a very merry Christmas yourself.

Your old friend,

Aunt Stanbury