All content on this blog is copyright by Marci Andrews Wahlquist as of its date of publication.

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Murder Takes the Back Seat

“It has been said, by myself and others, that a love-interest is only an intrusion upon a detective story. But to the characters involved, the detective-interest might well seem an irritating intrusion upon their love-story. This book deals with such a situation. It also provides some sort of answer to many kindly inquiries as to how Lord Peter and his Harriet solved their matrimonial problem. If there is but a ha’porth of detection to an intolerable deal of saccharine, let the occasion be the excuse,” wrote Dorothy Sayers about her final Lord Peter Wimsey novel, Busman’s Honeymoon.

Contrary to all accepted opinion on the wisdom of such a course, I started reading the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries with this novel. It was not entirely my fault. I was given this book as a birthday present by a friend who was sure I would like it, and being young, I had not yet heard of Dorothy Sayers. I immediately got all the rest of the books in the series (a dozen) and read them in order to find out how this fascinating sleuth and his valet and his wife ended up on such a pinnacle as the final book left them.

It was a journey into the land of the highly educated, a place one might have expected me already to be familiar with since I was then working on the M.A. degree in English literature. But my education had not nearly the depth and breadth of Dorothy Sayers. She sprinkles Latin and French quotations liberally, includes a bit of Greek, and when the quotations are not in foreign languages, they range through the ages of British literature, touching nearly every master of the nuances of that language and culture. I got out my dictionaries and translated the foreign quotes. I kept a pile of lit reference books nearby to look up quotations of English authors. I was absolutely enthralled with the world of Dorothy Sayers, and then astonished at the quality of the characters she had created.

Lord Peter has been criticized for being too perfect. He is of the aristocracy, he is rich, he is very highly educated and brilliant, he is skilled at negotiation with and between foreign governments, he is brave, strong, witty, kind, sees the equality between races and sexes, and is reportedly a great lover. However, he also suffers from shell shock, avoids responsibility, has a tendency to talk too much nonsense in general and especially when nervous, carries a guilt complex, is impatient, and is a nervous person in general. In short, he is a complex, believable character, and most fully realized in the final novels.

Harriet Vane comes on the scene as the Accused in a murder trial, so she is set before us in her complex imperfections, yet is also presented as the Perfect Woman for Lord Peter. She is an Oxford-educated crime novelist, rather like Sayers herself, and is the daughter of a country doctor, so most certainly not of the aristocracy. Though a gentleman’s daughter, she is poor and used to pinching pennies. She is not conventionally beautiful; instead she is striking. She is a rather liberated woman, but she sacrifices some of her ideals for love and when betrayed, she withdraws in a mirror image of shell shock for the former first World War soldier. She begins by enduring Lord Peter, and then soon subtly encourages him while refusing to acknowledge that she is doing anything of the kind. She cannot help being drawn to her soul mate, but she spends three books resisting, hoping to reestablish her independence as a means of asserting her right to her individualism. When she ultimately realizes, in the penultimate novel Gaudy Night, that she does not have to be independent of Peter to be free to be herself, she is freed from her emotional demons and can accept his proposal of marriage.

Peter spends part of Busman’s Honeymoon working out his own demons, because he has undergone an emotional makeover in the space of the three or four novels preceding this one; yet he finds himself at a crossroads: he has simply wanted her, finally won her over, and suddenly does not know how to be himself with her. He wants to withdraw into himself as he has usually done at the end of a case of murder, when the guilty must hang, but there is Harriet, waiting for him to come out of it and come to her instead.

Harriet has some distance still to go in Busman’s Honeymoon. For instance, near the beginning of the novel she has to meet with the Wimsey family solicitor and sign a lot of things relating to the Settlements and the Family Position. It nearly overwhelms her, for, as she tells the Dowager Duchess, “Ever since I left College, I’ve never spent a penny I hadn’t earned.” But Peter understands, sending a three-page letter of sympathy that ends with the line, “Either your pride or mine will have to be sacrificed—I can only appeal to your generosity to let it be yours.” And Harriet does. It will be Peter’s turn next.

And they do take turns throughout the novel, intelligently discussing the difficulties of adjusting to marriage and coming to ingenious and satisfying compromises and conclusions that lead to greater and greater happiness for them both. Of course this all happens with a murder mystery to solve in spare moments, but the mystery is not very difficult, and the marriage journey takes up most of the novel in almost episodic fashion. It is an idealized portrait, and yet a thoroughly realistic plan, of how a marriage should work, and it is absolutely wonderful. The sentiment never becomes overly sentimental; their wit and practicality and a bit of comedy from the supporting cast keep it above the syrup level.

Though this book is said to be a gift to only the firm fans of Peter and Harriet, I can attest that it also can stand alone in creating such a fan.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ben Worsley and an Oddly Sad Ending

Benjamin Squier Worsley was born in October 1851 near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the second son of John and Barbara Worsley, mill workers who had emigrated from England in 1848 as soon as they were married. Ben’s older brother, William, had just turned 2 when Ben was born. Their next younger brother, Alfred James, was born in November 1853 in Massachusetts, but he died the next August. A sister was born back in Philadelphia in November 1855, Sarah Jane, and then in November 1857 when the family was in Maryland, a brother, Joseph Henry, was born. Their youngest sibling, Laura Emma, was born in January 1863 in Trenton, New Jersey, where their father had joined the Union Army as a 1st Lieutenant, serving in Company D, New Jersey 1st Cavalry Regiment in 1861 through 1862.

In 1863 John and Barbara decided to move their family to the Oregon Territory. William was 13, Ben 11, Sarah Jane 7, Joe 5, and Laura was 6 months old. John went overland and established a mill in Brownsville, Linn County, Oregon.

In the early summer, Barbara packed up the children and with a few mill workers intending to work for her husband, set out by ship to go to Oregon by way of the Isthmus of Panama. They crossed the Isthmus using a mule train, with the children and Barbara riding the mules, and then took another ship heading up the coast to Seattle. The ship let the Worsley party off at Marshfield (now Coos Bay), Oregon, and sadly, Barbara became sicker and sicker from malaria that she had caught in Panama. She died six weeks after arriving in Brownsville, a month before Ben’s 12th birthday.

John held the family together and the children grew up, but John did not continue with his mill very long. Before 1870 the family had moved to The Dalles, on the Columbia River, where John opened a photography studio. He probably took this photograph of Ben and Joe at about that time.

When Ben turned 18, he quit school and was working as a foreman on a steamboat on the Columbia River out of The Dalles. William was a carder in the woolen mill; younger sister Sarah and younger brother, Joseph, were attending school; and little sister Laura was not in school yet. 

Ben’s father died in 1874 at the age of 49, and William and Ben managed to keep their siblings together and helped the younger ones finish school. Sarah Jane met and married a man named DuVall two years later.

Ben met Felicia Harlow some time in the next few years and they were married May 19, 1878 in Portland, Oregon. Ben was a steamboat engineer on the Columbia River. His and Felicia’s first son, Ralph Harlow Worsley, was born on June 26, 1880 in Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia River.

Ben’s little sister, Laura, age 17 that year, had been living with Felicia’s father’s family in Portland—she was enumerated there on June 16th—but two days before the baby came, she was enumerated again in Ben’s household in Astoria with Ben and Felicia. She probably came to help take care of the household while Felicia was recovering. However, since Laura was living in Astoria when she married Ferdinand J. Boedefeld in June 1885, she may have stayed for five years in Ben’s household.

Ben’s and Felicia’s second son, Paul Yates Worsley, was born in 1886 in Astoria and died there when he was only four years old.

Ben’s profession, steamboat engineering, was a dangerous one. The engineer was responsible for the steam pressure that kept the vessel going and regulated her speed. The boilers were touchy and often exploded, and practices concerning them were often unsafe due to economic pressure to achieve the highest speeds possible. Steamboats were subject to shipwreck by being rammed by the huge ocean-going vessels, by running into or onto logs or rocks or pilings in the river, or by catching fire. In addition, steamboat operations at the mouth of the Columbia River had to contend with extremely dangerous physical conditions. The tides, winds, rocks, and channels at the mouth of the Columbia combine to make it one of the most dangerous river mouths in the world for navigation. The photograph shows a sternwheeler steamboat having taken an ocean-going vessel through the mouth of the river to the harbor at Astoria.

The Columbia River was divided into three sections for steamboats up until the mid-1890s: the lower river was the section from the mouth at Astoria up to the Cascades Rapids (now where the Cascades Locks are). There was a portage there to the middle river, which ran from the top of the Cascades Rapids to the Celilo Falls just at The Dalles. Another portage connected with Celilo Village above the Falls. The upper river ran to near the mouth of the Snake River. Ben would have started on the middle river.

The cargo on the middle river was mostly lumber, agricultural products, fish, and livestock, with gold while the rush lasted. There was also a limited passenger trade, but most people did not use the steamboats in the middle river because of the cost, though passenger service on the lower river could be very heavy. On the lower river was where the money was to be made. From about 1860 through the 1880s, steamboat operations on the Columbia River were controlled by a monopoly, the Oregon Steam Navigation Company (OCN), which is likely the company for which Ben Worsley worked.

But something odd happened to Ben around 1900. On June 8, 1900, Ben is enumerated in the Census for Clatsop County in the community of Svenson, just east of Astoria. He is listed as a farmer, and Felicia is keeping house, while 19-year-old Ralph is a teacher. That all sounds normal, but then Ben appears again a week later in the Census, this time in Astoria City, but his occupation is listed as “Auctioneer” and all details of his birth and parentage are listed as “unknown.” Felicia’s and son Ralph’s births are sketchy, but they are there; but Ralph’s occupation is listed as “At school.” Why are there apparently two households for Ben’s family? And why is the one in Astoria so full of contradiction and inaccuracies? Let’s go on to 1910.

In April 1910 Ben is enumerated in the Svenson Village again. He owns a fruit farm, and with him are his wife, Felicia, and his older brother, William, who is listed as a fruit grower who is “working out.” Interesting, but the strange part comes next. On May 2, 1910 in Santa Clara County, California, Felicia H. Worsley is enumerated as the head of a household that consists of herself and her son Ralph! Her profession is “House Mother” of a “Club House,” and the details are off—she is 52 but it says 50; she has been married 31 years but it says 30; and she bore 2 children, 1 of whom is living, but it says she bore only one. Ralph’s age is off by two years, but his parents’ birth places are accurate as is his work—he is a “Professor” at Mayfield’s High School. Why is Felicia listed as Ben’s wife in Svenson, Oregon, if she lives apart from him in California? Why does she list herself as a married woman? Perhaps they are separated and not divorced. Could there be an economic reason for the separation? Could she be living in Mayfield (soon to be annexed by Palo Alto) just as a favor to her son?

In 1911 Felicia Harlow Worsley went to Hong Kong on a pleasure trip. On her travel documents, she lists “Portland, Oregon” as her home. This is curious, considering her seeming estrangement from her Northwest family!

In the spring of 1914 Ralph Worsley traveled to England, and on his return to New York aboard the S. S. George Washington in April, his travel documents report that his home is in Astoria, Oregon. Again, curious!

On November 5, 1916, Ben’s older brother, William Samuel Worsley, died in Astoria. William was 66 years old. Their younger brother, Joseph, bought graves for them all in The Dalles in the Odd Fellows Cemetery, and they buried William there.

The bigger blow falls soon after that. Felicia Harlow Worsley must have filed for divorce, because she married a man named Elmer A. Coe in Astoria on January 15, 1919.

1920 sees sad changes in Ben Worsley’s life. He is enumerated in the Astoria Census on January 17, 1920. He reports that he is single. He is the head of a very large household—it seems that Ben is renting a sort of boarding house, and his profession is now listed as Secretary of Astoria Land Home—and he is its employee. Poor Ben! His wife has divorced him, his brother has died, and he is 68 years old, so maybe he felt too old to continue the fruit farm, and too discouraged too.

His son Ralph is not enumerated in the 1920 Census, but the reason appears on a document dated July 16, 1920—Ralph has finally married. He is 40 years old, and his bride, Clara Meeks Worsley, is 25. They are returning to the United States from Yokohama, Japan. They were married in the Philippines. Ralph says his home is Svenson, Oregon though. Did Ben give his son the fruit farm?

Ralph and Clara had two sons, and those boys had children themselves. I remember Clara Worsley. We called her “Aunt Clara.” She lived across the Golden Gate Bridge from us, and we would drive up there to her house every October when our great aunt, Ruth Boedefeld, came to visit. Ruth and Ralph were first cousins, and Ruth and Clara became good friends, even though they didn’t see each other often. Ralph died somewhat young in December 1938, age 58. Clara was a schoolteacher in the Menlo Park District in the 40s and 50s and lived in Marin, California in a lovely house with a beautiful garden. Sadly, both her sons seem to have inherited the Worsley trait of dying young—they were only 50 and 55 years old when they died. Clara died at the age of 90. Here is a photograph of my parents, my sister and me with Aunt Clara.

Benjamin Squier Worsley died in January 1927 at the age of 75—an old age for a Worsley up to that time. He is buried in The Dalles, Oregon.

Many questions remain. Was his life a turbulent one? It would seem so—with his mother dying so young, followed by his father, I have to wonder what his home life was like. Was it unsettled? Was his life on the Columbia River indicative of his temperament? It was a stressful career—I am not surprised that he left it rather early and acquired a fruit farm. Fruit farming seems like a much calmer pursuit. But then his family split up right about the same time! What was going on? That final census document seems so sad—a lonely old man living in a home as an employee and listing himself as a single man—everyone he had loved is gone from him.

I wonder if at the end of my life I will be as alone as he is. I won’t be divorced, but my husband will surely be gone long before I will. My son will probably not leave me—but I will surely have to make other arrangements when I can no longer take care of the two of us. Will it be sad—or will it be a situation to which I am reconciled?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Not an Artist

I wish I could say that art has been important to me to create throughout my life, but it isn’t so. I wish I could say I developed that talent, but I did not.

I did learn to draw pretty early, and I remember my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Vestal, took a drawing I had made of a tree with a cat lying on a limb into the teacher’s lounge to show all the faculty. Apparently first graders don’t usually draw all the details of limbs and leaves and fur and claws that I had put into my drawing.

Another drawing I remember was the result of the teacher putting Ferde GrofĂ©’s Grand Canyon Suite on the record player and instructing us to draw what it made us see in our minds. I drew a desert with a lot of cactus and other plants, rattlesnakes, jack rabbits, and burros in the distance. At the horizon I drew purple mountains. I colored the desert to make it appear “painted” in stripes. I put a yellow sun in the middle of a very blue sky. I wanted to draw the sunbeams, but I didn’t like putting in those usual straight short lines just around the circle. Yet, I didn’t want them over the top of my other details either, so I left them out and was dissatisfied.

When I was in third grade a local artist offered to give after-school lessons in various media to specially selected students. I was one of the students selected. We learned about crayons, chalk, pencils, watercolor, many drawing techniques, and even a little clay modeling. My clay head was a little girl with a pony tail. I remember being enormously pleased with it because I thought it looked life-like. I took a lot of time with her hair, making it just a little wavy. One of my drawings with India ink was a pop-art design of close, thin lines, very popular in the mid-sixties. I remember though, that no matter how happy I was with my own work, the teacher never seemed to agree with me—somebody else’s work was always better than mine.

I took art again in junior high school. We were assigned to draw a Raggedy Ann doll and ball still life, in pencil. I took a lot of time on it, and worked and worked at the shading to get it right. I loved my picture when it was done. Looking at it made me feel happy, because the work was happy work and the class a happy class. I kept the drawing for years. I wish I still had it.

At BYU I took a drawing class. Just by drawing close, straight vertical lines and varying the shading of portions of each vertical line, I drew a still life of a table on which was a jar with goldfish and a water plant in it. It was a brand-new technique for me, and it wasn’t very good, but I was delighted to see its possibilities when it was finished. My favorite drawing from that class was the monster. I combined an eagle, a horse, and a snake to make something pretty scary looking, at least to me. This is my photograph of that drawing; the original is lost.

I drew my sister, our dog, some landscapes, myself, and various portraits over the years. Some were pretty good, others didn’t achieve the effect I wanted. I never developed my ability further, and when last I tried to draw something, it was terrible and I quit.

I like photography better, especially where I am able to capture different qualities of light. I wonder if some of my photographs can be called art.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Age of Good China

We are using the good china now. 

A few years ago I wrote about saving space in my house, and one of the things we decided to do was to get rid of some of our dishes. We had been using my little Grammy’s old and much worn, much loved Virginia Rose patterned dishes that my mother said had been bought for a quarter apiece at Newberry’s Department Store in the 1930s. Grammy had used it every day, and the times I stayed with them, I washed those dishes after dinner and after supper. They were lovely dishes, a cream colored background with a pink rose pattern swirled around both sides.

After Grammy died, my cousin Lynne inherited that dish set. She didn’t have any use for it and it sat for years in her garage until I visited and she asked me if I wanted it. I took it home, washed it and threw away all the unusable pieces—much of it was cracked. Grammy would have used it until it broke through, but I don’t like cracked dishes. The possible germs hiding in those cracks really bother me! We used the dishes with our Corelle, and for years those were our everyday dishes.

Then the space issue came along and I started feeling weighed down by too many boxes packing away too many things I would never use. I gave away the usable pieces of the Desert Rose dish set, keeping just a couple for sentimental reasons and putting them on display in my glass cabinet. Out came the boxes and out came the dishes. 

My “best” china was the set my mother had bought for little Grammy one time in the 1960s when Grammy had complained that she had never had the chance to own any fine china. But once she had fine china, did Grammy ever use it? No! She kept it for “best”! It’s a silver rose pattern by Sango called Rosalie, shown here. She gave it to me when I finished college. I thought we would now begin to use it for our everyday dishes, though I kept a few Corelle pieces that can go in the microwave.

However, my storage revealed a very similar set, made by Silhouette of Japan, that we initially thought were the dishes my husband sold one summer between college terms, learning that he was not a salesman. His mother had bought two sets, and he thought this was one of them. Well, we had to use those as our everyday dishes. The silver rose pattern could be used as alternates. But when my husband’s sister came as usual on that Friday, she said, no, this was not that set. This was a set that their aunt Mabel had had on one of her end-of-the-month sales. Mabel was an executive with the Bon Marche department store from the 50s through the 70s, and she often couldn’t resist her own end-of-the-month sales if the merchandise wasn’t bought by someone else. We have some really nice things that never sold, so Mabel bought them herself—linens, dishes, a mirror, and so forth.

There was a time I admired the English china pattern made by Royal Albert, “Old Country Roses.” My husband started buying me pieces for Christmases, birthdays, and other occasions. We really like these dishes and I thought at first I would like to use them every day. But my husband, who after all paid the bills that he never let me see, said they should be kept for “best.” So they are the dishes we use nearly every Sunday. In researching the brand and the pattern, I have found that most of the pieces I have are now not considered the finest of china—they are not made in the old ways, and they can go in the dishwasher safely without washing away the pattern. But they are beautiful dishes, as you can see.

The other two sets are going in the dishwasher anyway. I figured life is too short to save them any longer, and future generations are not going to want the old china dishes. If I don’t use them, and use them up, some future generation who won’t even remember their history or significance will simply give them away or throw them out as a nuisance.

I had one more set of china that was my late brother Larry’s. He had been collecting the pieces over a number of years and was quite proud of what he had been able to find. They were a blue and white pattern, but since I gave them to another brother, I can’t remember the pattern name except that I think it was American.

It’s time for all of us to get out the good china and use it. The age of good china, it seems to me, is passing us by.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Of Quilts and Other Things

I wrote a poem a couple years ago when I had been thinking about my mother-in-law, whom I never got to meet, and listening to my husband and his sister talk about some of the difficulties of her life. I have become the happy heiress of her inability to sit still without making something. If she wasn’t tatting lace, she was crocheting borders on linens; if not crocheting, then embroidering; if she wasn’t doing that, she was mending; if not mending, then quilting. She almost always had a project going. I have dresser scarves, sheets, towels, pillowcases, tablecloths, bedspreads, and quilts, all enhanced by the gorgeous work of Ruth Wahlquist. Lucky me.

Quilts and quilts and still more quilts fill
the trunks and boxes and bags in the storeroom
sit soberly stacked on the closet shelves
lie waiting to enfold someone—waiting
through decade after decade
until somebody takes them out for show
unfolds the splendid colors intricate patterns and tiny stitch work
and hangs the green one over an easel in the cultural hall
the blue one across a table artistically draped
representing Women’s Arts of long ago
still seeming newly finished, a gorgeous expanse
of pastels and soft spring green borders shimmering like water
or the borders of blue as the deepest skies along the mountain ridges at noon.
Two little boys with long blond curls dove
giggling under the quilt frame
crouched stifling their laughter into wheezy silence
as the women returned to the room from refreshments
resumed their places in the heavy oak chairs around the frame
picked up their needles and stretched: poke-2-3-draw poke-2-3-draw
chattering happily of husbands, hopes, children, jobs, gentle jokes,
church suppers, sports, and polite politics—all topics refined
secure in their society, inclusive in their inclinations
working in well-ordered rhythms
as they stitched steadily closer to the center
rolling the edges every hour
ignoring the little boys who thought they were hidden.
Sometimes the quilt was on the frame for weeks
when the weary mother had too many papers to grade
too many bills past due too many demands on her energy.
Oft times she stitched alone
remembering with regret how quickly the time had gone
piling up into days, weeks, then months, years, a decade then two:
a mountain of memories between herself and her husband’s
sudden slip into eternity.
Sometimes she put a quilt up for comfort
expecting and anticipating hours of quiet time, reflective time,
But the next afternoon as the spring-loaded door slammed
behind her from the back door into the kitchen
she could hear her mother’s voice, and her aunts, and her cousins, and their friends—
and the quilt was nearly done;
her mother was happy at the success of her scheme
helping her too-busy burdened daughter
who really couldn’t have time for a quilt, now could she?
She sighed. And the mannerly expressions of gratitude flowed forth as expected
stitching the words into formulaic patterns, embroidering the minimal truth
until the beauty of well-crafted phrases created the truth of appreciation
for the swirling patterns of stitches anchoring all the bright patchwork
to the puffy filling and another clear blue backing.
In time a new pattern established itself:
she sewed all the pieces together, preparing the top
fluffed the cotton batting into place
tacked down the layers on the long thin frames to await the next time
Mother and aunts and cousins came to quilt
but when they’d gone she looked at the stitching
and a sick dread filled her heart
for unmistakably her mother’s work was not what it once was.
Mother’s work.
Always it had been perfect.
Always she had demanded perfection of her only child,
her beautiful, talented, clever, and surely-destined-for-greatness only daughter
Time was betraying the established patterns
introducing aberrations
like a crazy quilt.
The new pattern was hard to discern at that time in its developing
but pieces had to be unpicked and resewn
stitches had to be taken out and stitched anew
and all must agree with the earlier patterns so that
next time under the gaze of Mother in new glasses
successfully she’d hidden her help—
Though should not Mother know, on some level, her powers were changing?
She would fight it vocally and with violence in her feelings
she would stitch to the very end blind to the very needle’s direction
let alone to the threads’ wandering steps all over the patches.
Quilt making dropped off.
Grandma died.
Her daughter did not long follow.
Boxes of quilt pieces sorted for color, size, shape
sit silent on the granddaughter’s closet shelves—and
she sometimes tries to get sisters-in-law or nieces
interested in the quilt pieces—
inevitably they opt for the simplicity and speed
of printed patterns and yarn ties—
though when the trunks and bags and boxes are opened and the quilts come out
looking still new with their old-fashioned exquisite handiwork
they all exclaim and wish they had the skill and time
of the mother and grandmother and aunts and cousins
of that older time of quilting.
Now the old boxes of old scraps
sit collecting dust.
            May 25, 2012