This is a story of the Bright family, but mostly involves mother Pauline, and her three daughters as they transition from rural Pennsylvania to Philadelphia to begin anew in their father’s uncle’s mortuary business. The setting for Part 1 is 1918 amongst the Spanish flu outbreak. Part 2 takes part in 1925.
This book made me cry so many times, and that is unusual for me! The story involves Death, yes, but there is not just darkness in Death to be discussed. The book also covers hope, redemption, and building a life in the aftermath.
This was my selection for January’s Book of the Month Club. I always enjoy exposure to new releases through BOTM club because I come to rely on them for true literary picks. Meissner is a writer’s writer, and her language is beautiful to read.
Relationship/how you view the world questions to discuss with book club:
How do you see the Grandmother’s choice in refusing Pauline and the girls to return home during the flu outbreak in Philadelphia?
Would you have made the same choice as Evelyn did with Conrad and Sybil?
If you were Evelyn, would you have made the disclosure about Alex to Ursula, or would you have taken that secret to your grave?
If you were Maggie, would you have proceeded forward with Palmer, or waited for Jamie?
Do you hold the same belief as Papa as far as one love of your life? Why/why not?
Quotes I Collected in my Reading Journal:
· Page 97: “Even now I sense the enemy is not who we think it is. My companion hovers kindly in the hellish corners in the funeral home. Like a valet, like a dance partner.”
· Page 111: “I would leave off my sliver of a worry that she had begun to sense my companion’s shadow in the corners of our home. I don’t think Death has been watching her as it watches me, but who can say what that specter is truly up to?”
· Page 301: “Might you marry again, Papa? Your Mama is the only woman I could ever love, the only woman I was ever meant to love.”
The Play Journal revisits Arizona. Some places I’ve seen.
Yes! We made it to the top of Cathedral Rock in Sedona! It doesn’t look like much from the photo, but it is. There is plenty of freestyle rock climbing involved to get to the top. Very nice, and at 8:30 a.m., there were only 6 or so more people at the top when we arrived. We were even able to find parking at the trailhead.
After hiking to the top of that rock, we went to look at a hole in the ground (read: Meteor Crater) and stand on a corner (in Winslow, Arizona). A local drove past in an old pick-up truck and screamed at the tourists: “Eagles suck!” It was so awesome. They pipe out very loud music on this corner, and I don’t blame the guy at all.
The real gem in Winslow is the La Posada Hotel with the Turquoise Room’s signature soup, and co-owner Tina Mion’s art galleries. La Posada is a former Harvey House Hotel designed by Mary Coulter and opened in 1930. For a second I thought I had stepped into the Hotel California.
Amtrak’s Southwest Chief still stops at the hotel. Is it haunted? I don’t know, but I could certainly sense the past there, and it was an electrical past reminiscent of the feelings I got when I would visit the Jerome Grand Hotel in Jerome, Arizona. If history/place memory is a synonym for a haunting, then yes, to me it is haunting. In the most peaceful, comforting way imaginable. There was a Twilight Zone type of feeling (Next stop, Willoughby?).
I wish I could have spent some more time here. Certainly I would have traded my nights in Sedona for nights here. Old America is the feel. A taste of a simpler time, maybe. Maybe I long for something that never was, but I had the sense that I could find something here that I needed. A moment in time that was essentially timeless. I could have been in 1930, 1954, or 2017. But I was there. I lived there for a time.
Tina’s description of Mionland brought tears to my eyes. It involves the death of her grandmother. I knew it was about death the second I saw it, because the senior lady is standing up beside her wheelchair with her cane propped against the back, clutching her purse. She got called up. She’s waiting to transfer stations. I instantly “got” Tina’s work, and it was a powerful experience wondering through the public areas of La Posada, studying her paintings, and then reading her placards. What an unexpected treat!
The guest list at the New Year’s Party includes: Sid Vicious; Jimi Hendrix; Sylvia Plath; Judy Garland; Ernest Hemingway; Marilyn Monroe; and Kurt Cobain, just to name a few. The most fascinating mystery to me is who is the young boy at the back of the photo – standing in the doorway?
Favorite hike in Mesa: Pass Mountain at Usery Mountain Park.
Most beautiful drive: Prescott National Forest to Scottsdale, passing Wickenburg.
Sedona Love = Tableside guacamole at the Mesa Grill at the airport. Morning hikes. Red rocks.
Sedona Hate = poor wi-fi at Oak Creek Terrace and strange spiral stairs in room, with the shower located downstairs, and the half-bath located upstairs in the master suite. Never again! Who builds a layout like that?! Word to your mother – do not book Room 16. Terrible holiday traffic trying to get through town! So bad, we went to Scottsdale one day early to escape the traffic!
Making notes inside my Play Journal of some of the exhibits at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. I can always spot Francis Bacon a mile away, because some guy is always screaming his head off!
Making note inside my Play Journal of the Dale Chihuly exhibit at the Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg, Florida. It very much reminded me of the exhibit we saw many years ago in Oklahoma City (that is a good thing – fond memories).
This time, we caught some of the movie, and I loved hearing about the Jerusalem installation. Very uplifting exhibit! I had forgotten how powerful light and color could be. I had forgotten the magical brilliance of all of it. I won’t for awhile again, now. Like cranes that create, and then erase themselves from the sky.
Ah, San Francisco, with your urine-soaked streets and parks. You certainly have a smell and a look like no other. You get an A+ for making tourist traps too, and even provide a great free workout via stairs up Lombard street. Union Square is a mob scene disaster to shop/walk/breathe. Haight Ashbury is touristy weird, but has a great bookstore and is fun to walk a bit and people watch, checking out the old Victorian houses in the neighborhood. Golden Gate Bridge, Fort Point, and the park = the best thing going on out here.
Then there is Fisherman’s Wharf. I knew it was a trap, but we had to eat before we got trapped on that awful ferry to the prison. Do you know what these people did to me out here? We went into some chowder restaurant and they had soup and chili in bread bowls. The menu read: “Stagg chili – $8.25.” I asked Bob, I said: “What’s Stagg chili?” We discussed it amongst ourselves and concluded that it must be the West Coast’s answer to Black Angus. Well, I get a bowl and it tasted like holy hell. Super bad. But I ate it anyway because it was the most expensive cup of chili I ever ordered in my life.
I get back here tonight and I’m still thinking about how awful that expensive chili was. Do you know what Google told me? It’s a can of chili. These people served me cannedchili out here.
As soon as I find my receipt I’m going to tell you who did it. And no, we did not mistakenly wonder in to a soup kitchen (although that is a real possibility out here, and you will know you are in one because there will be a Bernie Sanders sticker covering up the broken window, and they will probably be dishing out Bison Chili straight from one of Ted Turner’s fourteen Venezuelan ranches). Anyway, I ate my can of “chili” and prepared to go to prison. How fitting.
A disappointing and frustrating visit. A perfect example of what happens when government gets its claws into anything, and completely ruins the experience by apparently making the goal to sell tons of cheap tickets in high volume vs. offering a curated private experience, and letting guests choose their preferred mode of experience.
I was not able to get a single photo inside the main cell block because I was too busy elbowing my way through. Compared to Missouri State Pen; Eastern State Pen; Mansfield Reformatory; and the West Virginia State Pen, Alcatraz (my former holy grail of abandoned prisons) gets an “F -.” The more than failing grade is attributed not only to poor general guest experience, but in lack of access to the buildings. All four of the prisons mentioned above are proud to offer about 95-98% guest access to the public at an affordable admission price. Alcatraz is not a private business, so it doesn’t feel the need to be good.
I’m not saying I’m somebody, but when the author of “Haunted Asylums, Prisons, and Sanatoriums” tells you to skip this one, I’m trying to do you a favor. You aren’t going to be able to see anything except the back of the head of the person who is walking in front of you. Really, truly, terrible. A big fat, glaring FAIL.
Also, I’m not sure why you can’t take a helicopter over there. Do you think I wanted to spend my free time sitting on a ferry squeezed in between some people I don’t know? For God’s sakes, some poor kid played his harmonica THE ENTIRE BOAT RIDE. I thought I was in steerage on board the Titanic, and I thought I WAS GOING TO DIE ON THAT FERRY.
I just sat on that boat, watching this poor old guy pick his nose, amazed that I had found a mode of travel worse than commercial air. I did, I found it, and it was this boat. Don’t do it to yourself.
But on a high note, there was Fort Point and the Golden Gate Bridge. Neither of which, I might add, gave off the merest hint of urine. And no one, not even one time today, tried to make me eat canned chili.
As always, we notate our adventures in our “Play” Journal by Stealth Journals. Stealth Journals is a line of indexed book journals. “Play” should be used to record all of your good times!
Eighteen miles of paved bike/walking trails along the coast. Magnificent, but crowded!
In 1879, an unknown writer (Robert Louis Stevenson) holed up at the French Hotel while waiting for Fanny Osbourne to divorce her first husband so they could get on with their lives.
Scenes from Big Sur
Dear Sur: You are prettier than Montana. We drove you twice just to make sure.
Scenes from San Simeon
Elephant Seal Pups:
Scenes from Hearst Castle
Let me put it to you this way, it takes a certain type of asshole to stand in front of you at the very end with his hand out for more donation money after the $50.00 tour, while we are all standing under a ceiling that is plated in 22 carat gold leaf. Just kidding, no one had their hand out. I’m referring to the audio tour guide begging for more donation money as we rode the bus down the hill. Hilariously tacky!
I do have to say that the Roman Pool seems haunted, though. I kept waiting for something to swim up to me. I don’t know what, but I felt like something was brewing underneath that pool. Maybe they buried the bodies down there.
We keep an analog version of all of our travels carefully notated in our “Play” Journal by Stealth Journals. “Play” is an indexed book journal that should be used to record all of your good times! Flashback to the last week of 2016. RCW & JDW in Monterey / Big Sur / Cambria / San Francisco. Using the Play journal log to remember. To dream. A reminder for when we get stuck in a normal/ordinary routine work day. Play journal books are kept as a celebration of our life together. One day when we are old or sick, we can look back fondly upon this legacy of good times that we have built together. Play also serves as a reminder to make the time for these fun moments. Sometimes we can get too busy and bogged down in our daily work activities, and miss all the fun. Make yourself accountable for creating these moments. Build your life.
Unfortunately for me, The Baxter is no longer functioning as a hotel. However, they do special events, and lease commercial and residential space. There are dining options on site. My choice was The Bacchus Pub, and it was fantastic!
Is it haunted? I have no idea, but would love to hear from anyone who has stories!