The sight of Eudora Welty’s house, maybe, where she lived all her life. After reading The Ponder Heart and Why I live at the P.O. What struck me as the utter confidence she displays in writing the way she does. I’m Eudora Welty, and this is how I write. Gather up your own spirits, go forth, and do as you can or must.
Her home. The notion of someone living in the same town and the same house for a lifetime must have set off the recollection of the fifteen or sixteen months in the house with the butterfly roof. An architectural innovation designed for snow-clearing through wind action. Side effects of which were best displayed in the springtime when a battery of pails, pots and pans lined the hallway in which melted ice plinked and plonked on irregular beats.
The house with the butterfly roof was in a town with a mining and frontier mentality. Vast reserves of aluminum in the region. Newcomers and regular food deliveries from the “South” (i.e. Quebec City) caused great suspicion toward the first, and a craze for five-cent bags of potato chips for the second. I was eleven years old in a classroom of thirteen year olds. The atmosphere in the convent schoolyard? I’ve never been on safari in Africa so the feeling of being sniffed out for my nutritional value is obviously a metaphor. A powerful one nonetheless. Those girls owned the place. This was their town, their schoolyard and those were their five-cent bags of potato chips bulging out of the pockets in their school blazers.
The nun in charge of the English class loathed her assignment for two reasons: 1) she neither spoke nor understood the Henglish language, nor did she see any value to knowing or teaching it; 2) she’d been assigned the Henglish language because her superior thought she found too much earthly enjoyment in the teaching of Home Economics. She would call me in before class and demand that “Miss Show-Off” – Mademoiselle Sait-tout (yours truly) read through the lesson in her presence. When she floundered in class, she had Mademoiselle Sait-tout stand up and show off her skills in the Henglish to the circling hyenas. My knowing the Henglish good was a source of great hilarity.
At home, our mother insisted on reading a chapter of A Tale of Two Cities after the evening meal so that we would not lose all traces of the Henglish ourselves. When I wasn’t reading adventure novels, my best friend was another stranger, a German girl three years older than I and three times my size. This gentle giantess confided to me her intention of becoming a cloistered nun. In the meantime, we headed away from civilization every chance we had, and collected fine bits of rock around a small and icy cascade. One fine day, municipal workers laid down a stretch of asphalt on the back road. I recall a few thrilling bits of roller skating there. Then, it was winter again, we were moving. The loaded truck stalled in the minus forty-five or fifty degree weather and the back of the piano split open from the cold.
Other things happened too, of course, but those and related recollections kept me awake part of the night. Come to think of it, the thread leading to this post started before the sight of Eudora Welty’s home. It started yesterday afternoon, when I opened the door to the classroom in which I do my coaching en français. I excused myself, and shut it gently, eyes wide and ears stunned at the sounds produced by a woman teaching the Henglish to an unsuspecting victim.
Confidence, yes. Confidence.