I just read Patricia Hampl’s The Florist’s Daughter, and I’m in awe of her prose and her ability to evoke the world of St. Paul in the 1950s and 60s and make an enthralling story out of the lives of “ordinary” people. This book was such an extraordinary pleasure to read, I looked forward to each time I got to open its covers and re-enter its world.
In this most recent of a series of memoirs, Patricia Hampl focuses on her parents, middle class people (having risen slightly from their origins) living in the middle of the country in the middle of the 20th century, who believed the middle was the best place to be. St. Paul was their world–“Why go to Minneapolis?” her father would say. As her mother lies dying, Hampl looks back over her parents’ lives and her own. “Look, look!” her very visual, man-of-few-words florist father often exhorted, while her mother, a college library file clerk, loved reading, story telling, and the written word more than anything. Quite the set of parents for a writer!
Recently I re-read Barbara Pym’s novel A Glass of Blessings for about the third time. All of her novels can be read again and again for the pleasure of her prose and the precision and humor of her observations–and, of course, their delicious Englishness. I’m sure I’ll be reading them all my life; I find them cheering in good times and comforting in bad. I feel at home in her milieu of Anglican clergymen and middle-aged excellent women.
One of my favorite Pym lines occurs in A Glass of Blessings, spoken by Father Ransome at a church gathering in the parish hall: “Life has to go on, and I suppose a cup of tea does make it seem to be doing so more than anything else.”
The sun floods into our living room through the tall windows in the bow front, which face due south. The bow reaches out and brings in slants of light from the east and west during the course of the day. One of my simple pleasures and joys is to watch the light at different times and seasons. Now, close to the equinox, we have sun for most of the day.
The pink and aqua tea cups are placed on the white table near the front windows just to look pretty. The light filters through the lace curtains and illuminates the swirly glass candlesticks. This is a house of contemplation, where there is time to stand in the entrance to a room and watch the play of light. Sometimes in passing through the dining room, I will be stopped and delighted by the rainbows colors in the crystal prisms of the chandelier. If I move my head a bit, I will see green. Move again, blue and violet. Slight change of angle, yellow. Shimmering crystal prisms of rainbows in the midst of an ordinary day at home!