12/25/2008

Anglophilia

Many who know GFT would suspect her of a secret dose of Anglophilia. It is a common affliction among English teachers - they tend to fall into one of several camps. There are the poets, the sensitive types, long -haired, free-spirited Birkenstock wearing creative writers. There are the American Lit folk - often with a New York Times or Atlantic Monthly folded under their arms, coffee drinking, crossword puzzle fans, busy planning to attend a retrospective on Saul Bellow or Ntosake Shange . Then there is every one's quintessential H.S. English teacher - forever wearing her hair in a bun, peering inquisitively at you over bi-focals with those intense gray eyes while reciting from memory large selections of the romantic poets. GFT is in actuality none-or a little bit of all - of these types (clearly stereotypes - tsk, tsk ! The very thing she would recommend you avoid in your own writing ). GFT has taught, over the years, nearly every grade of English throughout the middle and high school spectrum and as a consequence loves something about each of them : American literature, British lit, world lit, literature of women, Jewish American lit, African American lit, Chinese American lit, Southern lit, South American lit, the classics, modern novels, creative writing, journalism, remedial English, advanced English, and everything in between. I especially enjoy Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Arthurian legends. My reading list of choice these days is more often than not from the Man Booker Prize ( Britain's equivalent of our Pulitzer.)
The Anglophilia that GFT professes does not stem simply from a job description, however. It all goes back much further, to GFT's childhood. A nerdy, lonely child, GFT spent way too much time reading novels - children's classics, of course, but I soon ran through all the available children's books at the time. (Remember, this was back in the day when there were only 3 tv channels, total, and cartoons for only 30 min, once a day) By 5th grade I had plowed through all the great reads such as the Little House series, the Narnia series, A Wrinkle in Time, Earthfasts, A Secret Garden, Charlotte's Web, and pretty much everything Zilpha Keatly Snyder ever wrote. I then moved on to adult books. I started with Uncle Tom's Cabin and Gone With the Wind for school assignments, but quickly learned not to be daunted by the mere length of a book and even read War and Peace, Huck Finn, all the mystery novels my mom had laying about the place, and tried to teach myself Latin and Greek. (Many of these passions were shared by several of my wonderfully nerdy - ahem, gifted- childhood friends. ) One of my earliest favorites was Jane Eyre, which I read for the first time in 6th grade. (Yes, I not only read books - I re-read them.) I soon moved on to Jane Austen and Dickens and .......by 7th grade, decided that the best way for my friends and I to survive the travails of junior high was for us all to run away to England (together, naturally). I plotted it all out, how it could work .......and still hope , someday, to take that trip with those friends. My BFF and I just knew that we were the modern day reincarnations of Lord Peter Whimsey and Harriet Vane, perhaps the most wonderful fictional characters ever, immortalized by Dorothy Sayers . The tender romance of it all was just too enchanting.

I confess that as a young adult, my British passions took on a more commercial , superficial aspect. Perhaps as a result of years of reading about characters from Britain, it wasn't enough to want to go there - which I did , several times in college - but I had to dress like them, too. I was fortunate to receive the magnificent gift of a "grand tour" as a high school graduation present (that in itself a veddy British notion) , which included a stop in England as part of its overall program . Later, I spent a significant portion of a summer motoring about Stonehenge, York (checking out Hadrian's Wall), and Scotland (shopping in Edinburgh and trying to get to Findhorn).The dollar was strong, the pound was weak, and it was a glorious time to be an American shopper equipped with credit cards. This began my life-long love of British consumer goods, especially clothing, crystal, china, decor as a general concept, and bric-a-brac.

Many years later, when I was dating the hubster and trying to decide if he was "sponge-worthy", we happened to have one of those many "test" conversations that women often have with men, sending out little relationship flares, to see if the man is the right sort or not. Men often have only a vague notion of what is going on - often it comes with a sense of foreboding, the man knows he's being tested, he's just not certain what the exact criteria of the test is. These minefields are many and often involve the "does this dress make my butt look fat?" type conversations for which there is no good answer. Somewhere in all this, the hubster and I got to talking about crystal and china - we hadn't even decided to get married yet, this was all hypothetical, you understand - and it turned out we each, at the age of 34, owned a set of Wedgwood china. (Mine from my former marriage, his b/c his mother bought him a basic white set for future use. What's not to like about that ? ) CHECK !!!! Hubster scored correctly on that test. Then he added, quite unknowingly, the coup d' etat : His favorite character from his favorite novel series (by Andrew Greeley) was an Irish Catholic priest named Blackie Ryan who loved to drink Bushmills whiskey from his Powerscourt crystal glasses. From that moment on, GFT knew this was the man for me ! When we married, we started collecting Waterford Powerscourt crystal as "our" pattern. (Yeah, yeah, yeah, purists will say, "it's Irish, not English" - ok, we know that ! So do the British, who are not afraid to take the best from their empire , whether it's curry and silk or the Elgian marbles or Scottish woolens or Irish crystal.) The crowning touch was achieved many years later, when my mother and I found a complete set of Wedgwood china (this being my third set) at a discount shop, and it was the very pattern that matched our Powerscourt crystal (Waterford and Wedgwood having joined forces, several years previously, and now are some sort of jointly owned company.)

So it should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I would end up Anglican- er, Episcopalian. I started this quest as a teenager (my childhood minister , a boldly confident kindly Presbyterian, took us on a tour of other faiths as a part of confirmation class; we visited everything from a mosque to a temple to the local Catholic church, Baptist church, Unitarian, Episcopal, etc), continued the journey through a series of Episcopalian boyfriends, and was confirmed in my mid-20's. I have raised my sons in this faith - they were each baptised and confirmed in the strangely archaic and beautiful traditions of the American Episcopal Church. Both have served many years as altar boys at our little local church. It is with agonising sadness that I observe the slow-motion train wreck that is happening in the American branch of the world-wide Anglican Church at the moment. To the uninitiated, the church is in the midst of a painful split over the issue of gay and women bishops ....churches are pulling away from the mainstream, little neighborhood chapels with their attendant youth groups and VBS about to be left behind, as the non-resolution of these controversial issues completely rends the fabric of this beautiful, comforting, tradition-bound religion. I am not sure how it all will end up - but it may be the end of my Anglophilia.

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