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 History Lessons columns of 2008

December 2008

On the subject of religion, rarely raised in our household, my father’s opinion, advice, comfort or reassurance was never invoked.  I wonder whether his distance from Catholicism was

A Matter of Choice
by Bebe Vaughan

         My parents had what used to be called – and perhaps still is – a “mixed marriage.”  This meant that one partner (in this case, my mother) was a Catholic and the other one (my father, obviously) was not.  For the marriage to take effect (read “be blessed with issue”) the non-Catholic had to agree to “take instruction” in the mysteries of the Faith.  And the non-Catholic, in those far-off times, was a Protestant, of course, because the notion of a Catholic marrying (nom de dieu!) a Jew or a Muslim was simply not entertained.  I mean, it wasn’t a question of family vapors, majestically expressed with hysteria, recrimination, excision from wills and banishment from stately homes/small-but-costly manor houses/rustic cottages/double wides/barns.  It was never raised as a possibility because it never happened.  Prostitution, now.  That might happen.  Joining the Labour Party, that might happen, as might eloping with the gamekeeper or dyeing one’s hair blonde, but never, never so far removing oneself from the one true faith as to join in holy matrimony with a practitioner of such, such – well, unthinkable beliefs.  The line, I think, was drawn at Anabaptists, and I only know of this sect because I love reading Saki.

         My father, then, Took Instruction before his wedding. And it was while pondering this phenomenon that I realized that there are no photographs of my parents’ wedding. None. What was the problem?  The event was never referred to, no memories of food, dresses or flowers, no names of guests fondly, or even factually, recollected.  Perhaps my mother was pregnant.  That would account for a lot of the mystery, because there are no photographs of any newborn babes, nor of the baptisms of any of his surviving five children, nor of that solemn rite of passage called First Communion – an anxiety-flooded day of ostensible celebration marking the official reaching of the Age of Consent.  When I was enduring it, the age was seven, and the memory still makes my stomach hurt.

         “You are old enough now to go to Hell,” remarked Sister Anselm morosely, adding to this alarming likelihood the roster of newly minted worries that included inadvertently touching the Sacred Host with one’s teeth.  “Our Lord cannot be chewed,” she added darkly.  Up to that moment it had never occurred to me to chew the host, but thereafter I could think of nothing else.  My older sister, on the other hand, went completely to pieces at the altar rails when she made her First Communion.  The priest approached, vestments whispering, chalice glittering in his hands, Latin words tumbling from his lips like water over lovely stones, and to his astonishment and consternation the child burst into tears, rose trembling to her feet, tore off her white veil, dropped her white gloves and her glossy new Missal and fled back to the family pew, sobbing: “I can’t do it, I can’t do it, he’s too big!”

         She had accepted the solemn assertion that the priest stood in for Christ, and that she, as a communicant, was expected to open her mouth, and carefully (watch those teeth!) receive, then swallow the Word Made Flesh.  She was seven years old, she had worked hard to prepare herself but now realized, belatedly, and with hell, high water and Sister Anselm poised to explode upon her head, that the task was impossible.  For the little girl, it was a moment of agonizing choice.  For my father, who was not present but whose sense of humor was subtle and highly developed, it was a story that would have delighted him.

         I doubt, though, that he ever heard it.  On the subject of religion, rarely raised in our household, his opinion, advice, comfort or reassurance were never invoked.  I would give so much to know whether this was a choice he made, a decision to abdicate, taken during Instruction, perhaps, and resolutely adhered to – or one more with which he was encumbered, his role as pere de famille shrugged aside, his stature, his presence in the world, once again minimized.

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October 2008


In those days, fifty was old and my father was exhausted.  But occasionally he would attempt some home repair.  Things might have been different

If Our Home Had Been a Castle
by Bebe Vaughan


         “An Englishman’s home is his castle,” goes the saying.  I wonder if this was true in my father’s case.  He seems to have spent an awful lot of time away from home, which would be understandable, in my view, if the home in question actually was a castle (those endless spiral staircases! Those icy blasts whistling through the narrow, unglazed windows! The dismally cold stone of walls and floors, the slimy moat, the rusty, malfunctional drawbridge, the slippery battlements upon which one might, if of more robust constitution than my male parent, take an unnerving evening’s stroll to aide one’s digestion … To say nothing of the furious, high-decibel complaints of his lady wife about the discomfort, the repetitious boredom of it all).

         But it wasn’t.  Home was a square, brick, four-bedroom house in a small village near a university town outside London.  It had a huge beech tree at the back, shading the French windows of the drawing room, and an enormous circular planting of rhododendrons in the front.  The garden (Americans say “yard,” but this was a garden) was long and wide, with fruit trees, raspberry canes, roses, rhubarb and a run full of excitable hens who deferred distractedly to an irascible, scarlet-combed rooster. Here my parents found some degree of armistice to their long, personal war: They exchanged and implemented suggestions augmenting the pathetic quantities of food allowed by our ration books.

         This was the home where my father finally attempted to halt his lifetime habit of disappearance from the family scene.  I wish I could say “and found peace at last” but that would not be quite accurate.  He did, I’m fairly sure, try to find peace in the bosom of his family; he did try to be a husband, and a father.  In those days, fifty was old and he was exhausted.  But when we arrived in England from Africa, World War II was exploding all around us and he was recruited as a Fire Watcher in London.  He had a tin helmet, worn while reporting fires from the roof of his office building in the Çity.  But, on a weekend, sometimes – usually in Spring – he would put on disreputable clothes and a Wurzel Gummidge hat, then hunt out half-finished cans of paint and spruce up some woodwork, here and there.  He would last approximately three hours, at which point he would blanch, sag at the knees and succumb to some toxic element in the paint.  It happened every time.  I marveled that he was always so surprised, but I think he pinned his hope on the gossamer possibility that this time, this time, things would be different.  Of course, they never were.  And he would try to spend time with me.  This involved riding our bicycles along country lanes, sometimes as far as a famously picturesque little village on the Thames, where I always hoped we would stop for tea in a teashop, but we never did.  We rode largely in silence.  I enjoyed it immensely.

         And he was already deathly ill.  His right arm was rendered useless as the cancer in his system, stealthy as a crooked politician, gradually gained power, but he persevered until the very end, taking the daily London train to his office and heroically practicing writing with his left hand, marshalling his affairs to order.
He died a few days after his surgery, slipping away on a tide of bright blood that trumpeted a hemorrhage at the incision site.  He had abandoned the homestead for the hospital wards many times in the nine years he had lived in it.  I still wonder if a castle would have been a more effective incentive to keep him with his family.  Perhaps battlements, moats and arrow-slit windows would have suited his self-image more accurately, erased his shame, given him a fierce determination, a pride in living, in being a father and watching his children, and his grandchildren, make their lives.
        
         But mostly I think that it was someone like my father that Shakespeare had in mind when he wrote in the great funeral song from Cymbeline:
    “Thou thy worldly task hast done
    Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages.”

    Home, for my father, was not of this world.  Whatever shape it finally took, I hope he found peace in it.

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September 2008

I know nothing of his background but, to the survival of his genes,

My Father Obviously Considered Education Crucial
by Bebe Vaughan

         I think I have mentioned before that I know nothing of my father’s background.  His parents, his upbringing, his education.  

         I know about his siblings.  His (younger? older?) brother Frank, who went to Ceylon or Sumatra – one of those places whose changed names have wiped them off the map – to plant/taste/export/well, something authoritative involving tea, and who was imprisoned by the Japanese during World War II and whose two teenage sons (can’t remember their names) and tearful mother (oooh! Was Uncle Frank abusive?) I met after the war ended and the father-brothers were uneasily reconnected.  

         I know that his sister, Gwyneth, married and lived a safe and prosperous life (her husband was a bank manager, I think) embellished by annual classy trips to Scotland “for the fishing” and bore one daughter, Heather, and that both mother and daughter died of breast cancer, perhaps in the same year.  

         And I know that my father went to sea – who knows in what capacity – as a teenager, procured a tattoo of a Geisha on his left arm and, at the outset of World War I, joined the King’s Own regiment where, elegantly astride a horse, he achieved the rank of Captain.  He married my teenage mother in Marseilles in 1919 and went to work in the colonial offices of an English coaling and shipping company in St. Vincent, Cape Verde Islands, and Dakar, Senegal.  I’ve always believed that my father was a working class boy from Wales who, by luck, charm and a few well-connected friends – notably his father-in-law, an aristocratic French army colonel – made it into the upper-middle-class echelons of early 20th century society.  But these notes suggest that this is not the case.  Those three kids were not working class.
    
         But where did they all go to school?  My father obviously considered education crucial to the survival of his genes: He had all his children expensively educated in private schools.  He was a stern stickler for correct speech, in both accent and grammar.  He loved words – he read Shakespeare for the joy of it and could place any Bard quotation – and music and theater.  He insisted that we stay up late to listen to Saturday Night Theatre on the BBC when Dickens or Trollope or Galsworthy’s works were dramatized; he encouraged reading and grunted appreciatively at high marks on our school reports.  But he never helped with homework; he never came to the plays ambitiously produced by Miss Bailey, the convent’s talented music director – it was she who discovered that I had a voice – and Miss Clutterbuck (I’m not making this up), who taught elocution – not even when the play in question was The Vagabond King and he could have been awed at the sight of his youngest daughter playing, with obvious relish, a vagabond falling down drunk onstage.  And he never came to the annual Sports Day, either, where dads were encouraged to join in the sack race (see Daddy fall on his face! And struggle ineffectually to get up!) and the extraordinarily difficult egg-and-spoon race, or that one where you tie your foot to a partner’s and try to remain vertical while running like Ella Wheeler Wilcox.

         I wonder what kept him away.

         He taught me one lasting skill: how to tie a reef knot.  I use this gift continually, and remain convinced that one day it will save my life.

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August 2008

His beautiful watch kept him grounded, while reminding him of himself.  It was his emblem of order.  Signifying comfort, certainty and survival was my father’s heavy, round, gold

Timepiece
by Bebe Vaughan

    My father wore a fob watch.  A fob watch is a heavy, round, gold timepiece with a chain attached.  It is worn – well, probably not worn any longer, since I’m writing about the first half of the last century – it was worn across the sternum, mysteriously threaded through the buttonholes of a tailored waistcoat like the one my father wore, part of the signature Savile Row three-piece suit that was, like the bowler hat and the tightly furled umbrella, the rigorous uniform of men who worked in London, in The City.  The watch itself disappeared into a small slit pocket.  To check the time, the watch had to be brought from the pocket – it went in face-first – and briefly studied, its revelations announced or merely silently recorded if nobody had asked what time it was.  Then it was replaced.

         The gesture lives in my memory as one of supreme elegance and simplicity, rich with nostalgia and almost perfumed with significance.  Time had meaning that must be acknowledged, because there were specific purposes to fulfill and much depended upon knowing exactly what the time was.  The 7:20 a.m. bus from the village of Woodley to the town of Reading, for example.  That was the bus that gave passengers – we did not have the word commuters then, it was an Americanism that landed in the lexicon somewhere in the Fifties – just enough time to buy a copy of the London Times, negotiate, at the station, the stairs down and the stairs up to the platform where the London train was waiting its requisite ten to fifteen minutes for its devotees to arrive, find a seat in a third-class carriage, briefly greet their fellow travelers and disappear behind the scientifically folded newspaper as, with a great whoosh of smoke and deafening iron-age clanking, the train started its majestic journey to the nation’s capital.

    And on the days when my father – suddenly aware of the exigencies and expenses of a family – rode his bicycle to the station, time was an even greater tyrant.  Arriving at the station, he must first park and lock his bicycle in the shed provided by Great Western Railway, then unclip his trousers at the ankle, shake the crumpled material into sartorial acceptability, secure his bicycle pump in his briefcase – this rode in a basket on the handlebars and I still can’t quite remember what he did with his umbrella, but it was there somewhere – then deal with newspaper, stairs, fellow-passengers and train.

    All of which he accomplished with grace and calm but with the proviso that there could be no vagueness around the subject of time.  His beautiful watch, I’m certain, was his emblem of order.  He wound it every night and placed it reverently on his tallboy with the mysterious contents of his pockets – all that small change, loose peppermints, small scraps of paper with numbers and names scrawled upon them in his clear, shapely handwriting.  That fob watch was an object of profound meaning to him; it signified comfort, certainty and survival, anchorage in a world that was on fire and might consume him and all he worked for by day’s end in the moon’s cold light.  And, perhaps its most significant attribute, it had style.  It kept him grounded, while reminding him of himself. It was a sacramental.

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July 2008

For disciplining his four daughters, my father relied

On Language
By Bebe Vaughan

         I know so little – well, I know nothing – about my father’s early years.  I don’t know where he went to school, or what the establishment perceived as the correct way to shape children’s minds on the subjects of Right and Wrong.  Did he go to a local grammar school in Wales, or was he packed off, as later he shipped off my brother, the poor little scrap, to one of those bastions of English upper-middle-class empire-building probity called a public school, far from home and the dim possibility that a concerned parent might show up in the guise of rescuer, where the sort of savagery we now quite rightly call torture and abuse was not only firmly believed in and practiced by the adults in charge, but was mindlessly handed to older boys to administer?  No wonder the world is such a mess.

         I do know, though, that my father ran away to sea when he was sixteen (that was his story, anyway, and I’m sticking to it) and later joined the British Army, where he donned a uniform with a Sam Browne belt and assumed a languidly glamorous air on a horse in Mesopotamia while all about him World War I raged.  Whatever methods of discipline he learned from both these experiences, he obviously considered them unsuitable for deployment upon daughters, of which he had four. 

         For disciplining the distaff side, my father relied on language.  He had several phrases, which he used often. 

         “You poor fish,” he would growl, confronted by a daughter distraught over an event, accident or oversight guaranteed to release a flood of high-pitched, French/English maternal recrimination punctuated by the slamming of doors and the shattering of china.  I’m still not sure what he meant by this: Was it sympathy, or despair at having his reading interrupted, or disgust that he had produced and loosed upon society a nitwit (read: degenerate)?   I’ll never know.

         “Go and put your head in a bag.”  This was another one, usually in response to one of my frequent dissolutions over my dreaded math homework, or the disappearance of my Wellies, or the tentative suggestion of a donation to my lost library book fund.  And “it’s just not done,” which seemed to be his way of handing the whole subject over to my mother.

         Sometimes, though, he would make a choice to become more involved with his role, which was presumably his position the day he sent my sister from the lunch table for hissing “that’s not pudding, that’s green slime!” in my ear.

         And then there was the day when my father (had he been talking to one of his friends on the train?) forbade me my weekly visit to the cinema and made me write a hundred punitive lines.  Who knows what parental rule I had broken?  “I must not be a blithering idiot,” I wrote, and I wrote it with relief and joy, a hundred times, despite the fact that I think the implications of the sentiment colored most of my life’s decisions.  Any attention, even the most ill-advised, from my father was better than none.  Now I knew I was his daughter.

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May 2008

Perhaps perfect health is the nearest we can come to

A Perfect State of Grace

By Bebe Vaughan

         I think a lot about health, mine and that of family and friends, and I promote it.  I do research, take vitamins, scrutinize my attitudes for annihilating negativity, honor the mind/body connection, read labels on every jar and packet in the grocery store, take notes.  I exercise with fortitude, hefting weights and panting on the coma-induced-by-utter-boredom treadmill – 30 to 40 minutes a day, Lord!  This cannot be accomplished without reliance on a really smashing murder mystery published in paperback, and I’ve been known to arrive at the gym and immediately leave upon discovering that I’ve left my book at home.  I even joined a bicycling group: We meet every Saturday morning and pedal for dizzying miles, covering such distances that I started surreptitiously packing my passport.  It seemed only a question of time before we found ourselves at the Canadian border, being denied access to running water and allied amenities of civilization because we were undocumented foreigners.

         But I’ve never really entertained an image of health.

         Now, as I think about it, it seems to me that health is the no-man’s land between life and death.  Health is the original design, The Way It Was Supposed To Be, with death guaranteeing the end and no need for escalated hostilities.  You’d think, then, that death would be patiently content to let time run its course, but no.  Death is restless and capricious; it engages in guerilla warfare.  It deploys spies and emissaries dealing in epidemics, in utero miscalculations, genetic legacies, accidents and wars, the dropping of bombs and the slaughter of innocents, all the incalculable, crepuscular choices selected by tragic, debased souls.

         I don’t know much about my father’s soul.  I do know that his health began to fail before we left Africa in 1940, that the illness that would kill him a decade later was already entrenched, even if still invisible.  His colonial career was hopelessly compromised by the fall of France: He was recruited into the fraternity, I surmise, by my grandfather, himself a colon of considerable importance to the French Army.  I think my father loved the glamour of living abroad, of communicating in the Romance languages he admired and spoke superlatively well, of servants, heat and fever, of dispensing Great White Wisdom in the local dialects he had no trouble learning.  Now he was faced with the challenge of adapting, with his mentally fragile French wife and wide-eyed, jumpy Franco-Brit children, to English manners and climate for the duration, perhaps forever – always presuming that they would all make it back to that tiny, truculent, endangered island with life and limb intact.

         Perhaps perfect health is the nearest we can come to a perfect state of grace.  My father, as his illness advanced, certainly felt that he had fallen from grace, a suspicion generously fostered by his masters in London.  They gave him a job in the Head Office in the City, and he resolutely took the train each day to his place of work, accompanied by an emanation of failure and shame as acrid to my child’s sensibility as the smell of ammonia.  My father became an ambulatory invalid even as he took part in “war work,” which for him meant being a Fire Watcher from a London roof when there was an air raid.  Sometimes he and I would go for long bike rides, or we would walk, hooking blackberry bushes with walking sticks to collect the fruit for my mother’s exquisite blackberry-and-apple tarts.  We hardly spoke, but I recall these excursions as calming.  His health gave out in 1949.  He had no energy, no will to recover from the brutal surgery that all but vertically halved his torso, and he died.  He was 61 years old, and all his nurses were in love with him.

         To me, that’s grace.

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April 2008
 
Money knows what it’s doing.  You’re not supposed to get in its way, because

Money Is Energy
By Bebe Vaughan

         It’s spring, and money has taken its toll of my life again.  There is a receipt in my Tax File for every thought I think, every breath I draw, every decision I make, every eyebrow lift and hand gesture.  I have a mobile face; I use my hands as language. I am distraught.

         It’s all currency.  It’s cheques – okay, make that checks – and credit cards and ATM transactions; it’s Macy’s and Nordstroms and Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale
s and Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s and Air France.  It’s my sessions with Polly, who designs my Bergdorf Blonde hair, and celebrating my daughter’s birthday with lunch in the Garden Court of San Francisco’s Palace Hotel, where the food is not particularly distinguished but the atmosphere is magical.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Below, wallowing in a sort of disastrous post-Titanic wash, there’s my venerable Honda, and my affection for its charm, my refusal to retire it and, in return, its relentless, edgy, endless demands, its pouting refusal to listen to reason and face up to the fact the Things Are Different Now, we’re not doing the handmade driving gloves anymore, just as we were not doing them last year when we had this conversation.  Nor the year before, actually, or the year before that – many, many years, in fact – but who’s counting?

         I am.  I’m counting days and miles, gallons and minutes.  I have receipts for all these things and somewhere, someone is waiting in the striped livery of the IRS (or is that the pattern of my prison uniform as I break rocks?) to notice my inadequacy, my forlorn failure to get money, the idea behind money, which to me is so quintessentially American. 

         I’ve always known I’d make a terrible American, and at times like these – well, once a year, I suppose – I wonder why I am here.  America is quite different from the England I remember when I was growing up.  In America, money is like the weather in England, it’s what you talk about in the train, or over coffee, or waiting for a bus. 

         We never talked about money in England when I was growing up.  My father was a proud and elegant man.  He was also bankrupt, something that happened in the course of our not very proud, in fact decidedly inelegant, departure from a life of colonial ease in Africa at the beginning of World War II.  Back in England we started a life of, well, I wish I could say hamburgers and champagne, but it was wartime and there wasn’t much food, so let’s say sardines-on-toast and champagne.  There were three children to raise and somehow my bankrupt father paid for a private convent school where the cost of the uniforms alone (wool serge, tussore silk, Panama straw and finely woven Viyella flannel) would have kept a family of five comfortably on the Dark Continent for a year, perhaps two.  And that’s not counting the cost of books, travel and other learning necessities.  My father’s suits were made by a Savile Row tailor and, when he got off the train from London, he clipped his trousers to his ankles and rode his bicycle home from the station, thus saving bus fare.

         See, it’s magical, money.

         Miraculously it comes.  It stays a while, and then it disappears.  It is energy: It knows what it’s doing and you’re not supposed to get in its way.  I do, though.  When it arrives, I’m thrilled: I spread the good news.  I rejoice.  Then money, it seems, gets bored with me.  It distances itself.  It goes away and I grieve, deeply. 

         Well, money is a symbol for love.  And now we’re back to my father.

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February 2008


The relationship between Valentine's Day and

Good Grammar

By Bebe Vaughan

    February is an eventful month, what with St. Valentine’s Day and the expected sighting, or non-sighting, of that little groundhog who either sees, or doesn’t see, his own shadow and thereby communicates what we might with confidence expect, or not expect, to transpire, if we’re either lucky or abysmally destitute of hope, during the rest of the year.

    Now I revere all creatures, wild or domesticated, feathered, furred or scaled, but there’s something a tad too uncorralled for my comfort about the above representative of brute creation.  It might recall its recessive saber-toothed tiger genes and get uppity.  Let’s stay with February 14.

    According to Wikipedia, many of the current legends that characterize Saint Valentine were invented in the fourteenth century in England, notably by Geoffrey Chaucer and his circle, when the feast day of February 14 first became associated with romantic love.  The birthdate and birthplace of St. Valentine, or Valentinus, are unknown, but it seems that there may have been three of him, each one cheerfully martyred by the ancient Romans.  The name was a popular one in late antiquity – several emperors and a pope bore the name, which is derived from valens, meaning worthy, and my mind leaps to the current radio ads for Valentine gifts of “Hearts on Fire” diamonds.  The feast of St. Valentine was first decreed in 496 by Pope Gelasius I, who included Valentine among those “whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God,” which is probably just as well, given what we know of the lechery rampant in ancient Rome.  The feast day may have been an attempt to supersede the Lupercalia festival, which was in honor of the She-Wolf who suckled the orphans, Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, and was celebrated near the cave of Lupercal on one of the seven Roman hills, to purify new life in the Spring.

    Which brings us to a high point: the ceremonial lashing of women and girls with thongs made from the leftover goats sacrificed at the beginning of the good-natured proceedings.  Why?  Because this was a good way to make women pregnant, of course.  Didn’t your dad teach you anything?

    And there’s more, much more.  So much more that I must plead exhaustion: I have spent the early days of February being interviewed, along with two others of the Kensington Ladies Erotica Society, by members of the Canadian television program SexTV, and I really have very little left to offer on the Sex and Love subject.  I do have a joke, though.  It was sent to me by my beloved friend Billie.  It’s called “English Lesson” and it goes like this:

    Harry is getting along in years and finds that he is unable to perform sexually.  He goes to his doctor, who tries a few things but nothing seems to work.  So the doctor refers him to an American Indian medicine man, who says, “I can cure this.”

    He throws a white powder in a flame, and there is a flash with billowing blue smoke. Then the medicine man says, “This is powerful medicine. You can only use it once a year.  All you have to do is say ‘123’ and it shall rise for as long as you wish!”

    Harry then asks, “What happens when it’s over, and I don’t want to continue?”

    The medicine man replies, “All you or your partner have to say is ‘1234’ and it will go down.  But be warned – it will not work again for another year!”

    Harry rushes home, eager to try out his new powers and prowess. That night, he is ready to surprise Joyce.  He showers, shaves and puts on his most exotic shaving lotion.  He gets into bed, and lying next to her says, “123.”  He suddenly becomes more aroused than at anytime in his life, just as the medicine man had promised.

    Joyce, who had been facing away, turns over and asks, “What did you say 123 for?”

    And that, my friends, is why you shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition.

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January 9, 2008

Designed to distract us from the real and patient fact that Death, actually, is the one in charge, Sports are 

A Male Invention

By Bebe Vaughan

    The subject of sports fills me with alarm and despair and unrelenting memories of humiliation.  I remember watching Reading University students at rugby practice and the connection I made of testosterone to death.  I was in my early teens, a reluctant participant in the discipline of field hockey, which is a game nobody ever explained and at which I was so bad that the team I belonged to could never find another team bad enough to play against it.  Hockey practice, which took place in a muddy, misty field some three miles from my convent school, was spent shivering in the damp English air outside the pavilion, hoping nobody would sprain an ankle or worse, necessitating ambulances, paramedics and a dismaying call to one of us to fill in, rescue the team and save the day.

    Typical guilt-inducing brainwash, this reference to “the team.”  What did the team ever do for me?  See, I hate sports.  I think they are boring and depressing and a dangerous mistake made in the rearing of children – boy children, historically, as part of a classical education, but girl children, too, now that media pundits  (and you know who you are) aver that women have achieved equality.  Have they, gentlemen?  Can I be elected Pope?  Funny, I’m having trouble being ordained even a simple parish priest in the Roman Catholic Church.  If I am elected President, it seems I’m going to have to worry about showing my age as my years in the White House pass.  John McCain is my contemporary – will he have to worry about wattles and lines if he’s elected?  Certainly not.  And never mind the question of equal pay for equal work.

    Try looking at this discomfiting subject under the rubric of women’s sports.  Something is still stinking rotten.  I think we should outlaw sports and replace the rubric with art.  Take music, theater, dance, painting, design, woodwork and stone carving, and make them as essential to a country’s greatness as sports have become.  The “something special” that is supposed to happen to young people when they are involved in sports, the mens sana in sano corpore so revered by pedagogues (self-discipline, concentration, self-assurance) can all be achieved with art, which is life-affirming.

    Which brings me back to testosterone and death.  Let us take a moment to consider, with a sigh, that the male of the species has been in charge of this planet for some 5,000 years.  In that time, we have seen, among other marvels, the evolution of sports.  And sports are a male invention, a variegated design of male hormones – war, smoke and mirrors, usually shaped like a ball – to distract Him Wot’s In Charge from the real and patient fact that Death, actually, is the one in charge.  This is a concept that makes HWIC uneasy – irascible, even.  It makes him snap at people, like his dear old mother or his lady wife or the blowsy barmaid down the pub, who already know this about death: It does not need to be wooed or murmured at in siren tones; it does not require umpires or generals or boy-kings to bellow the rules and rebuke the free-spirited.  Death, as any despised and maligned woman can attest, will come of its own accord, when the time is right.

    That’s a recognition that would herald change, don’t you think?

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I Am Bebe Vaughan

by Bebe Vaughan

    I am the product of an uneasy detente between the Welsh (my father, blue-eyed, strawberry-blond, musical, literary, sartorially stylish, often missing and, when present, largely remote; he died when I was fourteen) and the French (my mother, from the Midi coast, black-eyed, garrulous, gifted and unstable, present in my life with an intensity that caused me later to decamp and head for America).  I was born in England and educated in France, Senegal (in what was then French West Africa), and England, so by the age of four I could speak three languages.  Unfortunately, I never learned the alphabet in any of them and, to this day, I consult dictionaries only when no one else is around to stare aghast at my chaotic thumbed hunts through the listings as I murmur "M ... let's see, M -- is that before Q? Oh no, it's after L: KLMEnno. So it's before N... Oh, look! R!"

    Despite this drawback, I am remarkably well-read, say my children, and I have been writing since the age of nine.  I have written a lot.

    I am a member of the Kensington Ladies Erotica Society and contributed to all three books as both author and editor. The emerging KLES oeuvre was published by Ten Speed Press in 1984, 1986 and 2002.  The first book, Ladies Home Erotica, stayed on the Bay Area Trade Paperback Best Seller List for 26 weeks and propelled us, as part of a national book tour, onto Fresh Air with Terry Gross and Oprah, before she was Oprah.  She was the Oprah Winfrey Show in those far-off days, and we were Those Masked Ladies.  Well, it was 25 years ago, before Madonna and AIDS, and things were far less, er, frank.  We all had jobs and nervous husbands; the word modesty was still in use.  The prospect of being sidled up to at the water fountain, or in the supermarket parking lot, and assailed by the sibilant graphic whisperings of furtive Lotharios was unnerving.  We raided the mask collection gathered by one of the Ladies and hid behind papier-mache, shells and feathers as the publisher's photographer took our group pictures.  Our success caused the Ladies' Home Journal to panic: They ordered us shrilly to cease and desist, because we were a) encroaching on their intellectual territory as they apparently own the words Ladies and Home when they are right next to each other in a sentence and b) confusing their readers -- all of whom, you can bet your bra, were over eighteen.  But, as Tony Soprano said at his mother's funeral: "Whaddya gonna do?"  We changed the title of the first book to Ladies Own Erotica, and there it has stayed.  None of the books has ever been out of print.

    I am an award-winning journalist (to my surprise, the American Sunbathing Association awarded me the Non-Nudist Printed Media Award for Best Magazine Article in 1988.  They gave me a plaque which, as we speak, hangs resplendent above my computer, and $100, most of which I spent on lunch with my editor, who assigned the piece).

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