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Road Signs

I was seventeen when I met my Caucasian-American grandmother on my dad's side of the family, whom I knew only through mail correspondence (handwritten messsages in old-fashioned ornate greeting cards) received around birthdays and holidays.  My grandmother was nothing like me, being rather tall and majestic with big bones, a matriarch who enjoyed crocheting and sewing patch-work quilts that she set aside in a cedar chest for her grandchildren. A Democrat whose colonial ancestors from Ireland and Electoral Palatinate region of Germany had intermarried in eighteenth-century Virginia and moved from there to Missouri, she represented Old America to me. She belonged to a garden club and was formal and strict like a Victorian. She must have been used to American expatriates who had lived in Asia as two of her brothers were missionaries, one in China and one in Indonesia, and she had one nephew who was born and raised in China and had returned there after attending a divinity school in the U.S. and getting married. He and his wife raised their two daughters in China speaking English at home and attending an international school. So, although my grandmother hadn't seen me since I was an infant, she probably knew more or less what to expect. Some years earlier, she had seen my two older half-sisters who had returned to America after six years in Japan where they had learned to speak Japanese fluently at boarding schools and acquired a reserve that is typical of softspoken schoolgirls.  As for me, I was educated first at a Japanese kindergarten and grade school, then at an international school from age ten onwards, and spoke good school English but sounded slightly foreign with an unplaceable accent, unlike my older sisters who had spent the first decade of their lives in America speaking only English. (I could make the r/l,  b/v and th/f distinctions but my th sometimes sounded like d which is also typical of the French and Spanish speakers learning English.) Having been raised in a household with a full-time housekeeper, I hadn't learned to cook except in home economics class at school where I had learned to make scrambled eggs and also learned to sew an apron and walk with a book on my head.  My grandmother had learned to cook from her mother on a big family farm where she was raised with nine brothers who helped work the farm. They would get up early to tend to their various chores and show up with a ravenous appetite when she rang the bell to let them know that the big breakfast she helped her mother prepare was ready. Her brothers all went to college and she herself was one of the few women in her community to go to college and become a school teacher. Her progressive formal education gave her the independence of mind that allowed her to transcend her rural Southern belle existence, move to another state to teach and assimilate to the urban way of life. She had been teaching for several years when she met and married my grandfather, a Northener of English ancestry. Widowed fairly early, a year after I was born, she didn't remarry and lived alone, attending church regularly, and was a respected member of her community who enjoyed cultivating flowering plants and won a prize one year at her garden club for developing a hybrid fuchsia. I remember eating her home-baked biscuits with honey for breakfast and her southern-style fried chicken for dinner and playing scrabbles and card games at her small well-kept house. We were also invited for tea at her best friend's house where we played a game of croquet together in the backyard.

I had never played croquet before and it didn't impress me as a particularly interesting game. I may have enjoyed it more had I been younger. That was the last time I played croquet as I never got to spend another summer with my grandmother who passed away from heart failure the same year I graduated from high school when I was supposed to spend more time with her. She never really got a chance to shape and mold me, personally, but her influence remains.

I had first read about this lawn game in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and it is associated in my mind with the Victorian and the Anglo-American way of life.

At different times in my life, I could relate to Alice on certain levels, such as when she first meets the Caterpillar, who asks her who she is  and chides her for being confused, then gives her advice on how she can take a bite of (the left hand side or the right hand side of) the mushroom to grow or shrink in size. Probably, every adolescent facing the angst of an identity crisis  http://hapavoice.com/  can relate to Alice on this level. (Who am I? How can I measure up, rise to the occasion, or be comfortable in my growing/changing body?)

Then she meets the Hatter who makes personal remarks about her hair, asks whether she can solve a riddle and subjects her to nonsense poems. (This is clearly about how presentable and articulate someone is or isn't and whether this person can thrive in a given social circle using a shared language in specific, humorous, witty or even idiosyncratic ways.)

The Duchess hands her an unconsolable baby to hold and the Queen wants to know whether Alice can play croquet.  (A well brought-up teenager who is ready to assimilate to the world of grown-ups makes a responsible babysitter and is also socialized to play various socially acceptable games.)

Then she meets the Cheshire Cat, who won't give her directions, since any road will take her somewhere if she only walked long enough, which amounts to minimal guidance but allows her the freedom to be fully lost and exercise her own judgment. The Cheshire Cat's trickster personality makes it seem uncaring, yet it is perhaps the only character in Wonderland who takes Alice seriously while the other characters are merely interested in what she can do that would be useful or interesting for them. Alice eventually has enough of all the nonsense, stands up for herself and wakes up to the real world with legible road signs and better access to information.


Why is a raven like a writing desk?

A raven is like a writing desk “Because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is Nevar put with the wrong end in front!” (Lewis Carroll, came up with this answer to satisfy his readers after saying that the question was meant to be absurd with no answer.)

Poe wrote on both.” (anonymous)

They both stand on sticks.” (anonymous)

"Because there is a B in both and an N in neither."  (anonymous)

"They both come with inky quills.” (anonymous)

I was inspired to write this blog after listening to You are Here (Aug. 6, 1999 episode from This American Life.) Three stories, three people, and three sets of maps. Stories of people trying to figure out where they are in the world in the most literal and least literal ways possible. We explore what it's like to be lost—how we all struggle in that moment not to give ourselves over to fear but try to enjoy it. - See more at: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/136/you-are-here#...

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I very much enjoyed reading

I very much enjoyed reading your piece.  

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Thank you

for reading and commenting. Glad you enjoyed it, despite the few errors which were edited; I also added a few sentences here and there.