My constant headache is still constant, but my sinus congestion feels some better. Tom will be home for two whole days. This afternoon, if the ground isn't too sodden, I plan to start edging flower beds and weeding out the maple saplings that are starting to sprout in the soft soil. For dinner we'll have either leftover-beef tacos with the genuine Chicago-made corn tortillas I've been hoarding in the freezer or noodle bowls with marinated tofu, blackened cabbage, and pot-au-feu broth. I'll let the boy decide.
Last night I finished rereading Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's A Midwife's Tale. Martha Ballard, the diarist that Ulrich studied, has many charms for me. Though I am not a caregiver in the way she was, I so admire her pertinacity: an aging woman falling off her horse, for the hundredth time, as she muddles down a wet lane in the middle of the night, on her way to help a neighbor in labor. How many times did she cross the unruly Kennebec in a canoe and immediately tumble into the mud? Her physical clumsiness and her skilled grace are endearing. And she loved her garden. In May 1809:
Clear part of the day. Showers afternoon. I have dug ground west of the hous. Planted squash, Cucumbers, musk and water mellons East side house. Began and finish a Large wash after 3 O Clock. Feel fatagued. Son Jonathan ploughing our field. My husband workt with him.Two hundred years later, in Portland, Maine, a day's voyage down the watery lanes from Martha's vanished farm, I dig ground and sow seeds and finish a large wash, as a son and a husband wrestle with their own thorny chores. The contiguity pleases me.
Martha's chaotic spelling is also a charm of the diary. Her own sister was illiterate, but somehow Martha not only learned to read and write but also used those skills to enshrine a private life . . . a very rare action for a woman of her class, in her time and place. Her erratic spelling feels like part of that bravery: a way of stabbing over and over again at language, determined to make it do her bidding. And sometimes it is also very funny. In March 1809:
Son Jonathan sent for his Father & I to dine with him. We had moos meet stakes.The diary has been a fine choice for pandemic reading . . . close enough to evoke a shared life; distant enough to allow a detachment that is not available to me in our present crisis. But now that I've finished it, I'm turning back to familiar fiction: yet another rereading of E. M. Forster's A Room with a View. Published in 1908, a hundred years after Martha ate moose meat with her family, it will certainly clash in my thoughts with Mrs. Ballard's frontier diary. But I like its farcical prewar English-in-Italy hoohah, especially the misunderstandings: the impossibility of actually saying what one means. No matter when or where we live, we still seem to struggle with our words.