Wednesday, May 03, 2006
A new book I'm really enjoying
On my way back up north from Margaret's funeral, I stopped at the Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield, NC. It was a small town museum and quite charming for what it was. (Item: In addition to teaching, Margaret ran a small town museum, so the trip felt like something of a pilgrimage.)
At the time, I found the story of Bert Pfeiffer, a dutch artist obsessed with Gardner far more interested in Gardner's own. Pfeiffer survived a concentration camp only to become obsessed with Ava Gardner and spend the rest of his life endlessly painting her. Now that's a story.
Even though Gardner's own small-town-girl-made-good history has less pathos, I became interested in Gardner and have tivo'd several of her movies since coming back. I asked Edie to find me a copy of her autobiography. Edie came through and I started it tonight. It is really delightful, actually far better written than Katharine Hepburn's autobiography, and y'all know I'm loath to admit that anybody can do anything better than Kate.
Here's a passage I especially liked:
My parents' sedate form of religion didn't appeal to me, but Elva Mae, the sweeet little blakc girl who helped Mama out in the kitchen, used to take me to services at the Tee's Chapel. And I just fell in love with the singing and the preaching and the rest of that old time religion.
It would start with everything quiet and reverent. The preacher would warm up with a few quotes from his bible. Then, out of nowhere, he'd catch fire and give everyone hell. I'm here to tell you, there ain't much forgiveness in that old time religion. That particular savior was a mean son of a bitch. If you sinned, honey, he was going to get you, no doubt about it. "All of you down there in this congregation is sinner," the preacher would thunder, "An not sinner's going to escape hellfire and damnation, no sirree, no siree.
Crouching down next to Elva Mae,, I jsut knew I was one of the real dyed-in-the-wool sinners. Sinning when I broke a school house window during the summer so that Al and my friends could play in a classroom. Sinning when I hung out with Preston Lee and his brothers, boys who knew all the best cuss words and weren't afraid to teach me how to use them. Mama, though, would have a fit if she caught me saying them, and they slip out to this day. They sure do give a satisfying jolt to a sentence.
And most especially I was a sinner at watermelon harvest time, when we raided our neighbors' fields. Not that we needed to. So many watermelons were grown that lots were left to rot in the fields. But we were theives, we were excited by the dark notion of going out and stealing someone else's. And it was hard work, too. When you're six or seven, the damn things weigh a ton--you could barely struggle along with one in your arms. But it was worth it when you got into the shade of a tree and started munching.
My private catalogue of sins was invariably interrupted by a "shouting." A woman in the congregation would suddenly leap to her feet and scream "Oh, my Lord! Oh, my Lord! I"m in the arms of Jesus! I'm in the arms of Jesus! Let me pray in the arms of Jesus!"
That kind of outburst was like a red flag to the rest of the folks. All the sinners would go wild, shouting, praying, running down the aisles, leaping in the air. I guess it helped to drive the sinning out of them. I watched, holding my breath, my little eyeballs out on stalks. Then the frenzy would ebb out of them, the preacher would ease them back to normal, and we'd sing another hymn or two. Those lovely, surging, soaring spirituals sung in harmony and lifting the soul. Then we'd file out, peaceful and purified. And I'd plod home with Elva Mae, making pious resolutions about that watermelon-stealing stuff.