Posts Tagged 'Katharine White'

“And they called it puppy love…”

Eddie at 5 weeks old

In the month since we adopted Eddie, I’ve been reliving the elation and exhaustion of being a new mother. It’s been seventeen summers since I brought my youngest child home, but the feelings are so familiar that I’m constantly having to remind myself that my new baby is… a dog. Some people dress up their pets; I prefer to think of Eddie as a small boy dressed in a dog suit. I half expect to find a zipper when he rolls over for a belly rub. I imagine these are the same emotions that Stuart Little’s mother experienced when she noticed her second son “looked very much like a mouse in every way.”

In the lexicon of technology innovation, Eddie is what’s called a “disruptor.” Like a Fortune 500 company in a mature market, my family has had to rethink the way we do business and to adapt following Eddie’s arrival, starting with a few facility changes: guests will notice the absence of rugs and the addition of some rather unsightly plastic barriers blocking off part of the living room and the stairway. We’ve all had to become more nimble, dodging Eddie’s razor-toothed assaults on our shoes and pant legs and clearing the floor and low surfaces of objects that might attract his rapacious jaws. I’ve had to adjust my daily routine to accommodate his need for frequent walks and close supervision, and stock my pockets with dog treats and bio-bags. During this time of transition, the old (feline) technology has retreated upstairs to sulk and plot their re-launch strategy.

And yet, despite the disruption and the considerable time-sink that housetraining a puppy poses, I am utterly smitten. Puppy love: I’ve got it bad. Continue reading ‘“And they called it puppy love…”’

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Ode to a Spider

My friend Jeff recently called my attention to a segment that aired on NPR’s “All Things Considered” on August 4, 2008.

Entitled “Charlotte A. Cavatica: Bloodthirsty, Wise and True” and reported by Melissa Block, the segment discusses the character of Charlotte and includes clips of E. B. White reading from Charlotte’s Web. Like his readers, young and old, he always struggled to read the ending without crying (spoiler alert: Charlotte dies). The show also includes speculation by Martha White (EBW’s granddaughter and editor of his collected letters) that Charlotte was modeled on her grandmother, Katharine White. Lending credence to the theory, NPR’s Block notes that EBW penned an arachnid love poem when he and Katharine were newlyweds, some 25 years before the publication of Charlotte’s Web:
Continue reading ‘Ode to a Spider’

In Appreciation of John Updike

In hearing the sad news of John Updike’s passing this week I suppose I should not have been surprised to learn that E. B. and Katharine White were among his earliest fans and that, likewise, Updike was an admirer of EBW’s.

In a January 1962 letter to Updike, EBW wrote:

I would rather read an unwritten novel by you than a written one by almost anyone else. The piece in this issue is wonderfully moving, moved me wonderfully, is almost unbelievably good, except I believe it….I keep trying to discover what it is (what mysterious thing) that elevates writing to the level where combustion takes place, and I guess it it is simply that in writing there has to be an escape of gases or vapors from the center — Core Gas, that is. And even this explanation is unreliable, because God knows there was always a lot of gas escaping from Hemingway but a lot of the time it reminded me of the farting of an old horse.

Continue reading ‘In Appreciation of John Updike’

Striking the Stage-Set of a Life

In 1957, E. B. and Katharine White left Manhattan to live year-round on their farm in Maine. In Good-bye to Forty-Eighth Street, EBW wryly compares the process of packing to:

“…trying to persuade hundreds of inanimate objects to disperse and leave me alone. It is not a simple matter. I am impressed by the reluctance of one’s worldly possessions to go out into the world again. I kept hoping that some morning, as if by magic, all…would drain away from around my feet, like the outgoing tide, leaving me standing silent on a bare beach.

He later returns to the tidal image, observing with resignation:

It is not possible to keep abreast of the normal tides of acquisition. A home is like a reservoir equipped with a check valve: the valve permits influx but prevents outflow.

Particularly challenging is the disposal of awards and trophies, which he calls “leeches.” His trademark wit is at its sharpest here:

…I sat for a while staring at a plaque that had entered my life largely as a result of some company’s zest for self-promotion. It was bronze on walnut, heavy enough to make an anchor for a rowboat, but I didn’t need a rowboat anchor, and this thing had my name on it. By deft work with a screwdriver, I finally succeeded in prying the nameplate off; I pocketed this, and carried the mutilated remains to the corner, where the wire basket waited. The work exhausted me more than the labor for which the award was presented.

I imagine that the nameplate was later disposed of Sopranos-style in a New Jersey dumpster where no trash-picker would make the connection.
Continue reading ‘Striking the Stage-Set of a Life’

Christmas in Florida

In the essay What Do Our Hearts Treasure (January 1966), E. B. White captures the sense of “unreality” that a New Englander feels spending Christmas in Florida. He and his wife, Katharine, have motored south from Maine to Sarasota, where they will spend the holiday alone together. His description of their rented house perfectly fits so many Florida houses built in the era of my own Florida childhood:

Our pleasure palace was built of cinder blocks and was painted shocking pink. The principal tree on the place was a tall power pole sprouting transformers; it stood a few feet from the canal and threw a pleasant shade across the drive.

EBW describes his wife’s growing depression with the holiday approaching:

I would find her weeping quietly in what seemed like elegant, if uncomfortable, surroundings. ‘It’s Vietnam that’s making me feel this way,’ she said. But I did not believe it was Vietnam. I knew her well enough, in her December phase, to know that it was something far deeper than Southeast Asia at work.

Continue reading ‘Christmas in Florida’


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