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Cabbage, Radishes, Pearl

Dear Great-Grandma,

I was in the store just after 6 this morning, beating the crowds to get my Thanksgiving supplies. The clerk said to me, “I can see you’re in charge of the vegetables this year. You have all the fancy things.” She was holding a cabbage and a bunch of radishes.

And I thought of you, Great-Grandma. I thought of you and your cousins, up early to get to the market to get the good cheap cabbages and radishes and the other winter vegetables of the north, get them before they were picked over. Get the family fed. All the fancy things.

Great-Grandma, you’ve arrived.

You’re looking over my shoulder as I marinate the thin-sliced beef for tonight’s noodle soup, nodding, oh yah, you can stretch a lot of soup out of that much meat, don’t need much to make it soup, to make it taste fine. Especially with a dab of pepper there, yep, hardly anyone will taste you didn’t put much meat in there, mostly carrots and radishes cut real thin. And noodles, lots of noodles, that’ll make it last. You can feed those big men for days on that soup, they’ll never guess how little you spent on the meat. Good girl.

I wouldn’t even tell you that’s not what I’m doing. I’d just say, you wouldn’t believe how cheap I got this big thing of dates–up on University there’s a Persian grocery that sells them, a quarter the price of a regular grocery store. They have a streetcar you could take there again, just like in the old days. Sit down and have some dates. Have some pecans with them. Take a load off your feet, Great-Grandma. Didn’t you hear the lady at the store? You’re one of the fancy things now. All those days of making it last, making do: you’ve made it.


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I’ve latched onto something here, but I’m not sure it’s the affirmative.

I was singing “Accentuate the Positive” this afternoon, because I am clinging rather stubbornly to this as a theme this week, and also because we watched “LA Confidential” with my workout. (I love that movie, and Alec had never seen it.) And then I got to a line that’s always bothered me.

To illustrate my last remark: Jonah and the whale, Noah and the ark!

Okay, no. Jonah may be the single worst figure in the western tradition–religious, historical, literary–that the songwriter could have chosen for this line. This is just a terrible line. Jonah? Is one of the Bible’s great whiners. If you open the Bible to a random page, you will find someone who accentuated the positive and eliminated the negative better than Jonah. Go ahead, do it. “And there they found the Moabites, who were pasturing their goats–” And the subtext, friends, is that both Moabites and goats were making a great deal less fuss about the whole thing than Jonah would have. “Joseph in the jail.” “Isaac on the stone.” Literally any figure in the Bible. Job on the dung heap, though I haven’t made that scan yet: still more of a positive thinker than ol’ Jonah.

Ending up in the whale is not just one of those things that could happen to any of us, like having to get your milk from Hell or your significant other dying and getting turned into the Moon. Jonah gets swallowed by the whale (Leviathan, whatevs) for very specific reasons in that Bible story, and it’s because he won’t stop lipping off to God about how he doesn’t waaaaant to go prophesy in Niiiiiineveh.

And it’s not like “whale” is needed to make the rhyme work. The things that rhyme in this verse are remark, ark, dark. So literally anything that goes DAH dah Dah dah DAH would have fit just fine. You need a stinger and two iambs, which is just about the easiest thing to find in English, and you need them to be more positive than Jonah, which is just about the easiest thing to find in Western cultural references.

For example, may I suggest “Brutus and the knife”? He was certainly taking a more proactive approach to his problems “when everything looked so dark” than running from them and whining and pitching fits at God, which is where Jonah was at the whale portion of that story. But people remember what Brutus did with the knife, and Jonah…well, we’re just supposed to remember that there was something something whale. You cannot trust scansion, people! Scansion is a cruel, false mistress!

I still do not advocate messing with Mr. In-Between. Let no one take this post as favoring messing with Mr. In-Between. I just had to get the thing about Jonah off my chest. It’s the sort of thing I know a lot of you think about, and I needed to let you know you weren’t alone.

Okay, so probably not. But you might now! And my work is done.

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Don’t get me wrong, I like Eowyn kicking butt too. But really.

“So here we are in Middle-Earth.”
“Where a great many people get killed by orcs, trolls, wargs, giant spiders–”
“Ooh, those are nasty, I had a cousin killed by a giant spider last week.”
“Quite. Elves. Dwarves. Balrogs. Particularly detetermined hobbits. Dragons. Ents, when they move themselves to it. Rock slides. Rivers in flood. Influenza.”
“Yes, I’m beginning to see your point.”
“Yes, yes.”
“Cholera, starvation.”
“You needn’t belabor it.”
“That fellow who turns into a bear.”
“I got it quite some time ago, thank you!”
“Not to mention shield-maidens of Rohan and their stubborn old aunties, thank you very much. Oh, and UNliving men, we seem to have no few of those wandering around on winged shadow horsies, no guarantees that they’ll stay my pals, our side are not known for that. And you want me to feel all cozy because I can be hindered by no living man? Thanks. Thanks ever so, dark lord, that’s just keen.”

She closed the book. “And that, my darlings, is how the word ‘angmar’ came to mean ‘panic room’ in the old tongues of men.”
“But not the old tongues of elves, Mummy?”
She kissed the little hobbitling brow. “Elves have four different words for panic rooms, my sweet, and if you are good, we will get one of your Took aunties to come over and teach them to you, and why it is that they need to complicate things with four when we and the dwarves don’t need any. But not tonight. Tonight is for sleeping.”