Frances Mayes was the keynote speaker last weekend and though I'd cherished hopes of of getting to tell her how much I love her books on Tuscany (Under the Tuscan Sun on audiobook has enlivened many an ironing session,) it was not to be. She was not staying at our bed and breakfast and though she was was at the Saturday night dinner for the authors, she was at a different table.
I have long felt a kinship with Mayes, just from reading the books about Tuscany -- we are almost the same age; we both grew up in the South with somewhat volatile family situations; we both moved to someplace where we were 'strangers in a strange land.' We both learned to love and appreciate our new neighbors. (She got the better deal, as far as local food goes, alas...)
Mayes has a new book out, a memoir about her youth. I purchased it and began reading it right away. As I read I kept nodding my head -- yes, I remember the frozen fruit salad, the linen dresses, reading The Girl of the Limberlost, listening to angry voices somewhere else in the house at night, Capezios and crin0lines, green beans cooked with salt pork till they fall apart, wedding presents spread out on tables all over the house for my mother's friends to come look at, a little too much alcohol and not quite enough money . . .
Mayes spent two years at Randoph- Macon where the dorm curfews and rules were even stricter than those I experienced during my one year at Emory. Then it got really weird.
She transferred to University of Florida. As did I. I'm pretty sure that we were there at the same time. She mentions a class in Chaucer where she memorizes the opening to the Canterbury Tales. I took that class. (Whan that Aprille with its showeres sote/ The droughte of Marche hath perced to the roote . . .) Were we in the same class?
She got a job at Donigan's -- the popular clothing store near campus and not far from the upstairs-over-the-real estate-office where I lived. I spent far too much of my allowance there on madras blouses and Villager shirtwaists -- did we bump elbows, do you suppose?
Obviously this book resonated with me in a very big way. But even without all these points of convergence, I'd have loved it for Mayes's crystalline prose, her evocative descriptions, and her deep appreciation for the mysteries of families, love, and life.
Oh, Frances -- how I wish we'd been trapped in an elevator long enough for a good session of did you know and do you remember.
Probably just as well it didn't happen.
There's more about Frances Mayes and her books HERE.