You visited me in a dream last night. That hasn’t happened for a while. As usual, you didn’t talk to me. You were busy doing something for me, though. You were working on my taxes. You wore a checked short-sleeve shirt and dress pants. You also wore fuzzy slippers. “Where did he get THOSE?” I wondered. At some point, I realized this was a dream and I might not see you again for a while. I didn’t want to waste my chance, so I walked up to you and gave you a hug. You wrapped your arms around me and held me tight. Thank you for that. Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you.
Title:The Fiddler in the Subway (Simon & Schuster, New York, New York, 2010) Author: Gene Weingarten is a nationally syndicated humor columnist and writer for The Washington Post. He is the only two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing. With his son, Dan Weingarten, and cartoonist David Clark, he is the author of Barney & Clyde, a daily newspaper comic strip launched in June 2010. He lives in Washington, D.C.
What happens when you pick up the last book you will ever read? When the writing is so good that it will ruin everything else for you? Gene Weingarten’s writing did that for me. This book — The Fiddler in the Subway — is a collection of feature writing he has done at The Washington Post. Two of the pieces won Pulitzer Prizes.
Only three stories in — The Great Zucchini, The First Father and The Ghost of the Hardy Boys — and I thought, “If you want to write, read this book. If you want to teach others to write, use this book. When I write, I want to write like this.” It is beautiful, masterful stuff.
Reading further, I thought, “I can’t recommend this book. I just can’t. It will ruin every other writer for you until the end of time. I don’t know if I can read anything else after this book.”
Then I mustered my best Jimmy Dugan voice and yelled, “There’s no crying in journalism! Why is he making me cry?”
I read “Pardon My French” on the 72nd anniversary of D-Day in Normandy. It’s the one that made me laugh out loud. Then giggle at how delicious it was that he found just the right way to get the most honest responses from French folks. He calls it the Machine. I call it hilarious.
Every paragraph in “Fatal Distraction” is a punch to the gut. I almost couldn’t bear to read it. But I let Weingarten take me by the hand and gently lead me through the horrific experiences of the people in this piece.
Weingarten quotes Franz Kafka: “The meaning of life is that it ends.” This is the heart of everything he writes. This is what breathes life into every word.
Is this the last book I’ll ever read? Well, no. I could no more stop reading than I could stop breathing. I will, however, measure everything else I read against Weingarten’s writing.
Thanks to Jeff Sharlet, who suggests so much good writing. He led me to Weingarten. “Thanks” is not enough, but it will have to do.
I took my daughters to the Twin Cities yesterday to celebrate turning 12. Since we were there, we drove by Paisley Park. We had no idea what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect what was there. Officials blocked off the turning lane. (I had to drive to the next stoplight and make a U-turn.) They posted “no parking” signs. Nearby businesses chained off their parking lots. But I still found a place to park. Hundreds of cars. Hundreds of people. Everyone in their own little world — alone or with their group — and yet together. Subdued. Quiet. Kind. Even in cars, letting someone in. Almost as if the whole thing were orchestrated. We walked along the entire length of the fence. As we made our way back to the entrance, we heard from a car making its way back out of the area the unmistakable tune and lyrics of “Little Red Corvette.” Perfect ending.
My baby girls recently turned 12, so I took some license, replacing “ten” with “twelve.”
DAY DREAMS, OR (TWELVE) YEARS OLD
I measured myself by the wall in the garden;
The hollyhocks blossomed far over my head.
Oh, when I can touch with the tips of my fingers
The highest green bud, with its lining of red,
I shall not be a child any more, but a woman.
Dear hollyhock blossoms, how glad I shall be!
I wish they would hurry – the years that are coming,
And bring the bright days that I dream of to me!
Oh, when I am grown, I shall know all my lessons,
There’s so much to learn when one’s only just (twelve)! –
I shall be very rich, very handsome, and stately,
And good, too, — of course, — ’twill be easier then!
There’ll be many to love me, and nothing to vex me,
No knots in my sewing; no crusts to my bread.
My days will go by like the days in a story,
The sweetest and gladdest that ever was read.
And then I shall come out some day to the garden
(For this little corner must always be mine);
I shall wear a white gown all embroidered with silver,
That trails in the grass with a rustle and shine.
And, meeting some child here at play in the sunshine,
With gracious hands laid on her head, I shall say,
“I measured myself by these hollyhock blossoms
When I was no taller than you, dear, one day!”
She will smile in my face as I stoop low to kiss her,
And – Hark! They are calling me in to my tea!
O blossoms, I wish that the slow years would hurry!
When, when will they bring all I dream of to me?
Good fortune is a giddy maid,
Fickle and restless as a fawn;
She smooths your hair; and then the jade
Kisses you quickly, and is gone.
But Madam Sorrow scorns all this;
She shows no eagerness for flitting,
But with a long and fervent kiss
Sits by your bed — and brings her knitting.
Oh, the comfort — the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person,
Having neither to weigh thoughts,
Nor measure words — but pouring them
All right out — just as they are —
Chaff and grain together —
Certain that a faithful hand will
Take and sift them —
Keep what is worth keeping —
And with the breath of kindness
Blow the rest away.
Title:Writing Home (Hearth Stone Books, Royal Oak, Michigan, 2005) Author:Cindy La Ferle‘s essays and columns have appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Reader’s Digest, Country Gardens, Mary Engelbreit’s Home Companion, Writer’s Digest, The Oakland Press, The Royal Oak Daily Tribune and many other publications. She lives with her family in Royal Oak, Michigan.
What a wonderful collection of essays! Cindy La Ferle is a great observer of human nature, and she is a brilliant writer with a calm and assuring voice. Many of her essays brought me to tears, especially the ones she wrote about her son. My children are in between the stages of childhood and teenage-hood. I look into their faces that keep changing yet staying true to who they are — and I try to savor every moment with them. Her words remind me that this motherhood ride is an exciting one with the milestones speeding by in the blink of an eye.
“The sacred is in the ordinary. It is found in one’s daily life — in friends, family, and neighbors; in one’s own backyard.” Thanks, Cindy, for reminding me.