A quiet Sunday afternoon. It’s what I call a cozy day–gray but dry outside, cool but not dauntingly cold–a day to curl up with a book once the flurry of necessary activity is complete.
Mark, who was up before dawn to travel to Erie, Pennsylvania, where his dad is hospitalized, called to say that there is no immediate crisis. His siblings had gathered round, and Matthew, our older guy, was there. They were buoying up Pat, Mark’s mom.
Angelo is 94 and frail; but he enjoys life and loves company, and I am glad it is not his time to go just yet.
So James and I straightened the house and threw laundry in. We pored over ads and gathered coupons and special offers, and made out a list and went shopping. We drove from drugstore to dollar store to supermarket. Our savings were legion.
Triumphant, we came home, fixed lunches and went in separate directions. James sat in front of the TV with his laptop; now his snores compete with the sound of the furnace kicking on.
I sat in the brown chair in the corner of the living room, pulled an old quilt over me, dragged the ottoman closer with the heel of one foot, and finished “…And Ladies of the Club.”
Framed in Angelo’s sudden illness and the frank reflection of the book, it is hard not to ponder the passage of time and the process of aging. Santmyer deals kindly with the aging; written, as it was, when she herself was nearing the end of her life, this book gives great sympathy to the old. And it’s written with no sense of fear that Death approaches, but with a feeling of aptness. The time, she seems to be telling us, has come for this part of the story to end…
…But the story itself goes on. Santmyer, it seems from the little bit of background reading I’ve done, has written herself into the book as Theresa, the chronicler, the young woman so chagrined at Sinclair Lewis’s treatment of small town America in Main Street that she determines to write a sweeping opus showing the real story.
Little Sally Ann is a child at the book’s end who will remember her great-gran always, and who will take comfort in Ann’s wisdom as she faced the light. Born in the 1930’s, Sally Ann bridges the time till today.
The story’s families continue, with foibles and frailty, strength and moments of luminescence. They are shaped by the ones who came before…even the ones they did not know or no longer remember clearly.
And the club goes on: the meeting of women to share their learning. The Christmas party that draws all the disparate families together takes place, a little differently perhaps, but with the same sense of occasion. The women meet every two weeks, dependable, predictable, providing a strength that undergirds life in a small Ohio town.
I think about this, as Ang’s ‘kids’–the youngest in her forties, the eldest, Mark, turning the corner to 60 this year–gather to be with him in this sudden illness. Time moves and roles shift and fingers release as hands let go. Mark texts me a photo of our two beautiful granddaughters, grinning in a shining hospital corridor. Alyssa is 16; Kaelyn is eight. No longer babies, they are dreaming special dreams for themselves and the lives ahead.
It is good that the family circles now; a time of great change approaches—although I hope it will not come too soon–and they will need to struggle together to define that change.
And that’s it–that’s the role the Club played in Santmyer’s book…it bound together a range of women after the Civil War. They were vastly different in age, in ethics, in religious bents; perhaps, if not for the Club, they’d never have even acknowledged each other. But the Club gave them a mechanism for making sense of change, of pinning change down, and for defining and redefining their lives.
They didn’t even always like each other. They surely didn’t always agree. But in the framework of the Club they flourished, drawing in daughters and friends and young ones in need of mentoring from the next generation, inculcating a sense of the Club’s meaning. When the last charter member is gone, she is celebrated and eulogized by the Club members, who move forward. World War One is over; Roosevelt has been elected; the women do not know how long the Depression will last or that it’s ‘cure’ will be a war more devastating than the last.
But the club will survive.
I look at the club I’m in, a club that has been meeting for more than 140 years, which has its roots in the same beginning era as the fictional Club in Santmyer’s book. Traditions prevail even as practices change. But the commitment to learning, to expanding, to continuing–to appreciating the past and looking toward the future in company–is quite the same.
Santmyer wrote the beginning; in clubs and in groups and in families, we continue to write the latest chapter.
Quotes I liked from Helen Hooven Santmyer’s “…And Ladies of the Club”
Astonishing how attached one can become to a group of essentially incompatible women. (625)
Or was it possible to act a part so long and so faithfully that that was what you became in the end? (691)
Now we’re middle-aged, and the Club is a little more than just something to do. Somehow, there’s a bond—something between us—between women who’d never see each other if it weren’t for the Club. (752)
It gives her contacts outside the family, a feeling of belonging: as a member, she is connected with something outside herself. (801)
…men do not have a reputation for gossiping, but information spreads among them at remarkable speed… (982)