|Publisher:||Open Road Integrated Media LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.50(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Please don't eat the daisies
We are being very careful with our children. They'll never have to pay a psychiatrist twenty-five dollars an hour to find out why we rejected them. We'll tell them why we rejected them. Because they're impossible, that's why.
It seems to me, looking back on it, that everything was all right when there were two of them and two of us. We felt loved, protected, secure. But now that there are four of them and two of us, things have changed. We're in the minority, we're not as vigorous as we used to be, and it's clear that we cannot compete with these younger men.
You take Christopher — and you may; he's a slightly used eight-year-old. The source of our difficulty with him lies in the fact that he is interested in the precise value of words whereas we are only interested in having him pick his clothes up off the floor. I say, "Christopher, you take a bath and put all your things in the wash," and he says, "Okay, but it will break the Bendix." Now at this point the shrewd rejoinder would be, "That's all right, let it break the Bendix." But years of experience have washed over me in vain and I, perennial patsy, inquire, "Why will it break the Bendix?" So he explains, "Well, if I put all my things in the wash, I'll have to put my shoes in and they will certainly break the machinery."
"Very well," I say, all sweetness and control, "put everything but the shoes in the wash." He picks up my agreeable tone at once, announcing cheerily, "Then you do want me to put my belt in the wash." I don't know what I say at this point, but my husband says, "Honey, you mustn't scream at him that way."
Another version of this battle of semantics would be:
"Don't kick the table leg with your foot."
"I'm not kicking, I'm tapping."
"Well, don't tap with your foot."
"It's not my foot, it's a fork."
"Well don't tap with the fork."
"It's not a good fork" ... et cetera, et cetera.
Christopher is an unusual child in other respects. I watch him from the kitchen window. With a garden rake in one hand he scampers up a tree, out across a long branch, and down over the stone wall — as graceful and as deft as a squirrel. On the other hand, he is unable to get from the living room into the front hall without bumping into at least two pieces of furniture. (I've seen him hit as many as five, but that's championship stuff and he can't do it every time.)
He has another trick which defies analysis, and also the laws of gravity. He can walk out into the middle of a perfectly empty kitchen and trip on the linoleum. I guess it's the linoleum. There isn't anything else there.
My friends who have children are always reporting the quaint and agreeable utterances of their little ones. For example, the mother of one five-year-old philosopher told me that when she appeared at breakfast in a new six-dollar pink wrap-around, her little boy chirped, in a tone giddy with wonder, "Oh, look, our Miss Mommy must be going to a wedding!" Now I don't think any one of my children would say a thing like that. (What do I mean I don't think; there are some things about which you can be positive.) Of course, in a six-dollar wrap-around I wouldn't look as if I were going to a wedding. I'd look as if I were going to paint the garage. But that's not the point. The point is: where is that babbling, idiotic loyalty that other mothers get?
A while back I spoke of a time when there were two of them and two of us. In my affinity for round numbers I'm falsifying the whole picture. Actually, there never were two of them. There was one of them, and all of a sudden there were three of them.
The twins are four now, and for several years we have had galvanized iron fencing lashed onto the outside of their bedroom windows. This gives the front of the house a rather institutional look and contributes to unnecessary rumors about my mental health, but it does keep them off the roof, which is what we had in mind.
For twins they are very dissimilar. Colin is tall and active and Johnny is short and middle-aged. Johnny doesn't kick off his shoes, he doesn't swallow beer caps or tear pages out of the telephone book. I don't think he ever draws pictures with my best lipstick. In fact, he has none of the charming, lighthearted "boy" qualities that precipitate so many scenes of violence in the home. On the other hand, he has a feeling for order and a passion for system that would be trying in a head nurse. If his pajamas are hung on the third hook in the closet instead of on the second hook, it causes him real pain. If one slat in a Venetian blind is tipped in the wrong direction he can't have a moment's peace until somebody fixes it. Indeed, if one of the beans on his plate is slightly longer than the others he can scarcely bear to eat it. It's hard for him to live with the rest of us. And vice versa.
Colin is completely different. He has a lightness of touch and a dexterity that will certainly put him on top of the heap if he ever takes up safe-cracking. Equipped with only a spoon and an old emery board, he can take a door off its hinges in seven minutes and remove all of the towel racks from the bathroom in five.
Gilbert is only seventeen months old, and it's too early to tell about him. (As a matter of fact, we can tell, all right, but we're just not ready to face it.) Once upon a time we might have been taken in by smiles and gurgles and round blue eyes, but no more. We know he is just biding his time. Today he can't do much more than eat his shoelaces and suck off an occasional button. Tomorrow, the world.
My real problem with children is that I haven't any imagination. I'm always warning them against the commonplace defections while they are planning the bizarre and unusual. Christopher gets up ahead of the rest of us on Sunday mornings and he has long since been given a list of clear directives: "Don't wake the baby," "Don't go outside in your pajamas," "Don't eat cookies before breakfast." But I never told him, "Don't make flour paste and glue together all the pages of the magazine section of the Sunday Times." Now I tell him, of course.
And then last week I had a dinner party and told the twins and Christopher not to go in the living room, not to use the guest towels in the bathroom, and not to leave the bicycles on the front steps. However, I neglected to tell them not to eat the daisies on the dining-room table. This was a serious omission, as I discovered when I came upon my centerpiece — a charming three-point arrangement of green stems.
The thing is, I'm going to a psychiatrist and find out why I have this feeling of persecution ... this sense of being continually surrounded. ...CHAPTER 2
How to be a collector's item
I was reading another volume of collected letters last night, and it sent me right back to worrying about that old problem. On what basis do you decide that your friends are going to be famous, and that you ought to be saving their letters? Naturally, you save everything you get from Ernest Hemingway and Edith Sitwell. But think of the smart boys who were saving Edna Millay's penciled notes when she was just a slip of a thing at Vassar. What gets me is how they knew.
As sure as you're born, I'm tossing stuff into the wastebasket this minute that Scribner's would give their eyeteeth for twenty years from now. But you can't save everybody's letters, not in that five- room apartment. When I was young and naïve, last year, I used to file away mail if it seemed interesting or amusing. But that was a trap. For instance, I have a marvelous letter from my cleaning man explaining how he happened to break the coffee table. But clearly this is a one-shot affair. He'll never be collected. You have to use a little sense about these things.
No doubt the safest procedure is to confine yourself to those friends who have demonstrated a marked literary bent. Even then, I wouldn't collect anybody who didn't seem a good risk. If you have a friend who is a novelist, you might play it very close to the ground and wait until he wins a Pulitzer prize. Of course, by that time he may not be writing to you any more. His correspondence will very likely be limited to letters to the Columbia Broadcasting System explaining why it isn't convenient for him to appear on Person to Person.
If you have a friend who is a playwright, it's simpler. You begin collecting him immediately after his first failure. As letter writers, playwrights are at the top of their powers at this moment. For color, passion, and direct revelation of character you simply can't beat a letter from a playwright who has just had a four-day flop.
And sometimes you can see a talent bloom before your very eyes. I have one friend, a poet, who used to write nice little things about "the icy fingers of November" and "the strange stillness of ash trays after a party." I admit I didn't take him very seriously. But just last week he had a long poem in the Partisan Review and I didn't understand one word of it. Well, let me tell you, I'm saving his letters now.
You've got to keep your wits about you. It would be terrible to think you were brushing with greatness and didn't even notice. Oh, I'll admit there are times when you just can't be certain whether or not a friend has talent. In that case, just ask him. He'll tell you. But here, too, some discretion is necessary. For example, I don't give any serious attention to friends who get drunk at cocktail parties and announce they could write a better book than Marjorie Morningstar.
On the whole, I'd say that if you have a very promising circle of acquaintances who appear regularly in the newspapers announcing that their beer is Rheingold the dry beer and on the networks pouring out their little secrets to Tex and Jinx, your path as a collector is clear. Leave town. Otherwise, they won't have any opportunity to write to you.
But who am I trying to fool with all this nonsense? Obviously, I'm not really worrying about my friends' letters. What keeps me awake nights is the question of my letters, the ones I write. Are they being saved? Fat chance. I know my friends — it simply wouldn't enter their scatterbrained heads that they ought to be collecting me. And poor Doubleday, how will they ever scrape together a book? Well, they won't, that's all, if I don't take steps.
So I'm taking steps. From now on I keep carbons of every word I write, and to hell with my cavalier pen-pals. I've got a very decent sampling already:
Johnny doesn't seem to have a pair of socks without holes so tell him he has to wear one brown sock and one green sock. If he makes a fuss — tell him he can wear his long pants and they won't show. And another thing, very important — it's Gilbert's turn to drink his milk out of the beer mug.
Joan, dear —
Well, we finally moved into Hilltop and what a magical place it is! High, high above the slate-blue waters of the Bay. We have our very own special, sad, sighing wind. It seems enchanted and, we fancy, it is full of ghosts of Heathcliff and his Catherine. Promise you'll come and see us. We're always here.
The All-Season Window Corp., Mount Vernon, N.Y.
Listen, are you going to come and put in those storm windows before we are blown out into the damn Sound? You said Monday and here it is Wednesday. We keep the thermostat up to eighty-five and still the toast is flying off the plates. And I had to put mittens on to type this.
I hope to hear from you soon or never.
Thank you, thank you, thank you — for an evening of pure bliss. Your book arrived yesterday morning and it hasn't been out of my hands since. Much have I traveled in realms of gold — but truly, Phyllis, this is a coup. It needed to be said. As Sainte-Beuve once remarked, "Je ne sais quois pour dire."
I'm sorry I didn't write to you for the last three weeks but we were picking out our Christmas card. I think your slogan for the Runyon Cancer Fund is excellent. I would by all means mail it in to the contest.
Not much new here except that for some reason Joan dropped in yesterday with her four horrible children — three of whom had harmonicas. Oh, and did you read Phyllis' book? Yap, yap, yap over the same material. She seems to think she owns the seventeenth century. No, I haven't seen Tab Hunter in Battle Cry, but if you say it's a "must" I'll have to catch it.
Love and kisses, J.
Treasurer, Hellinger Theatre, New York, N.Y.
What do you mean by returning my check and saying there are no seats available for My Fair Lady? I asked for two good seats on the first available Wednesday evening. Do you mean to suggest that down through the echoing corridors of time there will never be a Wednesday night on which two seats will be available? I don't wish to inject an empty note of pessimism but even you, in the first flush and fever of success, must concede that there is a possibility — at least in theory — that sometime, say in 1962, you might be willing, even anxious, to sell two seats.
In the meantime, I'm going to see Bells Are Ringing.
I seem to have lost my car key in Schrafft's so will you please take a cab and go pick up the car which I left in front of Bloomingdale's in New Rochelle? It's in a no-parking area but I don't think that matters because it's raining and Peggy says they never check in the rain. There are a lot of groceries on the back seat and I don't know what you're going to do with the ice cream.
Enclosed you will find a check for my February bill. However, I wish to draw your attention to one item which reads "Fifty cents' worth of spiced ham @ 70 cents." I am aware of rising costs and the resultant strain on independent grocers, but nevertheless when I order fifty cents' worth of spiced ham I expect to get it @.50.
Yours cordially, Jean Kerr
Daddy and I are going out to supper and I want you to pay attention to this list.
1. No Disneyland until your homework is done.
2. Get your bicycle and all those guns out of the bathroom.
3. Take a bath and be sure to put one cup of Tide in the water.
4. Don't wear your underwear or your socks to bed.
5. Col says you swallowed his whistle. If you didn't, give it back to him.
Mr. Ken McCormick, Doubleday & Co., New York, N.Y.
Thank you for saying the letters were interesting, and I shall, as you suggest, try Random House.
As always, Jean
P.S.: Will you kindly return this letter?CHAPTER 3
The thing that worries me is that I am so different from other writers. Connecticut is just another state to me. And nature — well, nature is just nature. When I see a tree whose leafy mouth is pressed against the earth's sweet flowing breast, I think, "Well, that's a nice- looking oak," but it doesn't change my way of life.
Now I'm not going to stand here and run down trees and flowers. Personally, I have three snake plants of my own, and in a tearoom I'm the first one to notice the geraniums. But the point is, I keep my head.
However, I've been reading a lot lately, and it's clear that I'm out of step. Most serious writers of stature (I consider a writer serious when he makes more than twenty thousand a year) are giving up their psychiatrists and going back to the land. You can't pick up a book these days without getting all involved with the inspirational saga of some poor, harried writer who was making sixty thousand a year and taking the five fifty-one back to Larchmont, but it was all ashes — ashes.
Then he found this old abandoned sawmill in Connecticut that was three hours from the station and twenty minutes from the bathroom, and there he found contentment.
Right from the beginning the golden days were flowing to the brim with the real stuff of life and living. No matter that the maid quit because she wasn't used to cooking over an open hearth. As soon as the wife opened a can of Heinz's spaghetti, sprinkled it with marjoram, chervil, anise, and some dry vermouth, she once again felt the sweet fulfillment of being a mate and a mother. The children were no problem, because they had to walk eight miles back and forth to school and were scarcely ever around.
And Truth itself came knocking one morning, along about ten-fifteen. It was a pretty spring day, the buttercups were twinkling on the grass, and the only sound was the song of the whippoorwill until the chimney broke off and fell down through the dining-room ceiling, scattering beams, bricks, and mortar here and there and quite demolishing the French Provincial table.
Our writer came upon the wreckage on his way back from the well. Although he was dismayed at first, he took hold of himself and did what anyone else would have done in the situation. He went out and sat on the back stoop. Pretty soon a chicken came strolling by. He picked it up, and suddenly he became aware that it was warm and that it was making little cheeping sounds and that it was his chicken. He held it against his last clean shirt. Now he was lost, lost in the miracle of the warmth and the scratching and cheeping — even though, as I understand it, cheeping is not at all unusual in chickens. Forgotten was the hole in the roof, forgotten the dining-room table. He realized that nothing else really mattered: from now on it was going to be him and this chicken.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Please Don't Eat the Daisies"
Copyright © 1957 Jean Kerr.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Please don't eat the daisies,
How to be a collector's item,
How to decorate in one easy breakdown,
Dogs that have known me,
The care and feeding of producers,
One half of two on the aisle,
Don Brown's body,
How to get the best of your children,
Where did you put the aspirin?,
Aunt Jean's marshmallow fudge diet,
About the Author,