Tuesday, January 11, 2011

My Life in France

                In an effort to save money, in the last couple of years I have curtailed my former lavish bookstore spending and buy most of what I read at Goodwill or a wonderful used book store, The Book Lady, located in a neighboring town.  Recently I picked up a copy of Julia Child’s My Life in France, which I read while sipping coffee this morning.  It is another  glorious snow day, schools closed, kids snoozing away, and Julia Child has taken me away to Paris, where she has recently enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu and, after an initial disappointing class,  is reveling in a new year-long culinary course given by a master chef.    As I contemplete this reading and write my blog, my very long and wide Ginger cat busies himself wrenching a ball of yarn out of a plastic bag at the end of the bed and madly attacks it before tossing it on the floor.  The dog lies on a folded up mattress pad—much in need of washing—that lies next to the bed, strewn with her collection of stuffed animals—including a filthy Captain Underpants, “Chicken Man” (a funny looking chicken with protruding yellow feet), Scooby Doo, a fuzzy Llama, and Curious George. The dog, a cocker spaniel named Stella, is a bit of a neurotic and has some odd habits, including collecting any toys—children’s or cat’s—which find themselves on the floor.  If an individual threatens to take one away, she grasps it in her mouth, aims a menacing glare at the potential thief, and burrows under the bed to add it to her secret stash.   I really do need to clean under there . . . someday. 
                My world is so far from that Julia's and so far removed from how I’d envisioned grown-up married life.  When I met my husband back in the early 90s, he was finishing up a Ph.D. in romance languages from Carolina. He is a quiet man, a skilled listener (probably a product of his many years in his former career as a minister), a person who, when he does speak, employs words that are wise and cut to the heart of an issue.  When we first married, we’d both expected that he’d soon be teaching at a university, and that we’d be living in a rich cultural milieu, attending and hosting cocktail parties where guests would debate the merits of particular authors and European wines.  Neither one of us intended to stay in Union County, North Carolina, teaching school, living just a stone’s throw from Wal-Mart. Yet, nineteen years later, here we are.  As a man in his forties during our early married years, the exhausting tasks of teaching school, renovating our previous house, and tending to a new baby sapped any energy he had for looking for university employment at the time.  Right now, he is downstairs in his robe saying morning devotions, and I sit in the bed, alternating between reading about Julia’s life and trying to finish a lacy mohair scarf I plan to give to a dear friend tomorrow. 
                Our life is not the intellectual, sophisticated one we’d envisioned.  We do not travel to Europe each year.  In fact, we’ve never been there together.  Our children are not the hybrids I was so assured that we’d produce—ones who would be musical prodigies and say, “Yum, we’re having sushi tonight.”  My son James receives the class clown award each year.  He is a drama king, a child whose crowning performance to date is when it took a total of seven doctors, nurses, and orderlies to manage stitching up his cut finger while he kicked and spat and screamed at the top of his lungs, “God in heaven, kill me now!”  He is also the child who stuffed homework in his desk at school last year, coming home each night saying he didn’t have any.  His older brother, my teenaged son is big and brawny and cute, a football player and wrestler who only seems to process about 30% of oral language that is addressed to him.  He stares numbly as we say, “There, pick up the large purple book, the one right in front of you on the table,” and goes on to look for it in the closet.  It is amazing how a child whose mother so furiously tried to stuff him with culture, taking him to plays, reading to him, enrolling him in academic camps, etc. has produced such a contented jock, one who is more than satisfied with Cs on his report card and who has not gone a day in weeks without watching a football game on TV. 
                Alas, what do all of these ramblings about Julia Child and a mundane existence have to do with a knitting blog? Both my knitting and Child’s book take me away for a while from dirty laundry, papers to grade, and the aesthetically unpleasing fast food restaurants and strip malls of my everyday life.  As I sit in bed, handling some wonderful mohair and reading a knitting magazine from a German company, my senses are fully engaged, and the romantic in me is taken to faraway places.  The mohair comes from Italy and I imagine its journey to my messy bedroom in Indian Trail, and the sleek images in Filati magazine reassure me that short, plump, schoolteacher me shares some part in the glamorous cashmere-clad, clutter-free existences of the women on the glossy pages.  Julia’s experience with oysters and sole and wonderful wines inspire me to later on today concoct something exotic in my tiny galley kitchen. 
My life gives me insight into why  women in previous eras in humble farmhouses or small log cabins, women whose lives were harsher than mine, lives which were plagued frequently with struggle and sickness and death, created fanciful quilt designs or lovingly canned food and smiled with satisfaction as they lined it up in a pleasing array on their shelves.  Such acts, like my knitting or reading or experimenting with recipes inspired by Julia, bring art and life and the world to even the humblest in the most provincial town.  Small substitute, perhaps, for travel and urbane banter, but small blessings nevertheless, ones without which life would be dismal indeed. 


Stella with her llama. 

Streaky loves this microfiber blanket. 

Detail from mohair scarf.

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