22 January 2008

Tuesday of the 2nd Week in Ordinary Time

Spent much of the day gathering information and writing emails and talking on the phone to older and younger relatives about this summer get-together, tentatively being called the Mueller Family Melee.

Finished Jacqueline Winspear’s Messenger of Truth, the fourth in a series about some of the close and distant and usually unforeseen consequences of the Great War on the survivors in Britain. It was a good story about good and evil, as were the earlier ones in the series. One really cares about many of the characters, especially her main heroine, Maisie Dobbs. I suppose the critics would call the series a kind of a soap-opera in book form.

Two quotes stood out for me. One in the front matter was a poem that didn’t rhyme by Paul Nash, who served with the Artists’ Rifles and the Royal Hampshire Regiment during the Great War.

I am no longer an artist interested and anxious,
I am a messenger who will bring back word from the men
who are fighting to those who want the war to go on forever.
Feeble, inarticulate, will be my message, but it will have a
bitter truth, and may it burn in their lousy souls.

and then on p. 166, a few lines of prose, some of which rhymed, where the narrator describes a diphtheria fever hospital in the early 30s: “Austere, iron-framed cots were lined up, each with just a sheet and rough blanket to cover the feverish body of a child. The vapor of disinfectant barely masked another lingering smell, the foul breath of death waiting for another victim to weaken.”

I can actually remember an infectious disease ward, having had the privelege of serving in one in Cincinnati in the middle 60s. We knew it was a leftover from an earlier time, and probably not going to be around much longer, but tradition dies slowly in some places, and there was a peculiar smell I can still recall. I didn't know then much about the "foul breath of death."

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