"See, I've always pictured life as one of those ladders you find on playground sliding boards -- a sort of ladder of years where you climb higher and higher, and then, oops!, you fall over the edge and others move up behind you." --- The character Nat in "Ladder of Years"
I think Anne Tyler and I are cerebral twins. I really do. I have never come across another writer who finds the quirky weirdness each of us has inside of us to be so...fascinating. Why is it she and I love to focus in on the ordinary and see the uncommon? To see something beautiful or worth pursuing where others might see nothing that even piques a second glance from them?
I know now as I've gotten older why I never pursued becoming a novelist. I have no ear for dialogue, no ability to create conversations between characters. That's one area where Ms. Tyler and I differ because she has an uncanny ear when it comes to creating the 'voice' of her characters. They are so believable. From a spinster sister whose eccentricity borders on full-fledged nuttiness to a husband who listens to his wife's conversation with only half an ear. Teenagers who can say so much without uttering a word just by the shrug of a shoulder or tuning you out with casual indifference. They're as real as anyone we come across in our own lives...as real as the people who share our lives.
I'm in the process of reading this book for the third time. I never tire of reading Ms. Tyler's books again and again. Every time I read one, I feel as if I'm a spectator in the lives of her characters, albeit an observer from the sidelines who never takes an active part in what's going on in the story. But I'm living that life right along with Delia...I am understanding why she's stepped out of one life into another one. I am feeling her longings for the what-should-have-been's but never were. And I am evolving along with her as she stumbles into her own sense of grace. Of finding herself. Herself.
I was talking to my neighbor Scotty the other day as I was out walking Chloe dog. He came over to his front gate as he saw us approaching and we spent a little time chit chatting about all kinds of things like we always do when our paths cross. His wife passed away just before last Christmas from tongue cancer and we've talked about losing spouses and parents. About illnesses and coping with aging parents. I mentioned to him that at age 54 I'm the matriarch of my family, the oldest female in the direct bloodline, and he told me in Scotland I would be called "herself" because of that. I just looked up 'herself' and one of the definitions says it comes from Old English "hire slefre", dative of 'heo self' meaning 'she self''. Hmmmmmmmm. I've been rolling that one over in my mind. Are matriarchs considered the 'selves' who've finally spanned time and come to the conclusion of who their true female selves are? Oh, I know I've come a long, long way from the bright-eyed 20 year old who married and set out on a life that has taken more twists and turns than I ever dreamed were possible. I have loved and learned and bled and cried and laughed and rejoiced. I have given birth and witnessed death. I have hoped and prayed and mourned and praised. I have had my moments of what-might-have-been's...but, unlike Delia, I have had the love of a man who truly loves me. Or at least I should say, he's let me know he loves me. And therein lies the key to the contentment of myself...herself...at this particular juncture in my life. And therein would lie the happiness of a lot of people if only love was shown. Where women are not led to believe their position in their families' lives are merely taken for granted. Where we could wander off down a beach and not be missed for a span of time. Where what we have to say is considered nothing more than an irritant shrugged off or ignored by our husbands or children. Because all of us are somebody. We are.