Saturday: Hili dialogue (and Leon monologue)

It’s a bleak and rainy Saturday in Chicago, but Hili, far off in Poland, will bring us some sunshine. First, though, it’s October 1, 2016, and I present the annual Ode to October: an excerpt from Thomas Wolfe’s Of Time and The River (1935):

Now October has come again which in our land is different from October in the other lands.  The ripe, the golden month has come again, and in Virginia the chinkapins are falling.  Frost sharps the middle music of the seasons, and all things living on the earth turn home again. The country is so big that you cannot say that the country has the same October. In Maine, the frost comes sharp and quick as driven nails, just for a week or so the woods, all of the bright and bitter leaves, flare up; the maples turn a blazing bitter red, and other leaves turn yellow like a living light, falling upon you as you walk the woods, falling about you like small pieces of the sun so that you cannot say that sunlight shakes and flutters on the ground, and where the leaves. . .

October is the richest of the seasons: the fields are cut, the granaries are full, the bins are loaded to the brim with fatness, and from the cider-press the rich brown oozings of the York Imperials run.  The bee bores to the belly of the yellowed grape, the fly gets old and fat and blue, he buzzes loud, crawls slow, creeps heavily to death on sill and ceiling, the sun goes down in blood and pollen across the bronzed and mown fields of old October.

The corn is shocked: it sticks out in hard yellow rows upon dried ears, fit now for great red barns in Pennsylvania, and the big stained teeth of crunching horses. The indolent hooves kick swiftly at the boards, the barn is sweet with hay and leather, wood and apples—this, and the clean dry crunching of the teeth is all:  the sweat, the labor, and the plow is over. The late pears mellow on a sunny shelf, smoked hams hang to the warped barn rafters; the pantry shelves are loaded with 300 jars of fruit. Meanwhile the leaves are turning, turning up in Maine, the chestnut burrs plop thickly to the earth in gusts of wind, and in Virginia the chinkapins are falling.


October is National Apple Month, National Pork Month, and a bunch of other months. And today is National Pumpkin Spice Day as well as World Vegetarian Day (more on Pumpkin Spice later). On this day in 1891, snooty Stanford University opened for business in California, and, in 1908, the Ford Model T went on the market for $825. It came in any color you wanted, so long as that color was black. On October 1, 1939, Nazi forces, which had invaded Poland a month earlier, entered Warsaw. In 1971, Disney World opened in Orlando, and, on the exact same day, the first CAT scan of a human brain was performed. Those born on this day include Bonnie Parker (1910, shot 1934), Julie Andrews (1935 ♥), and Theresa May (1956). Those who died on this day include Louis Leakey (1972), E. B. White (1985), and Tom Clancy, 2013.

Three days ago, Hili left home and didn’t return for 48 hours. She’d never been gone that long before, and Malgorzata and Andrzej were distraught. They deliberately didn’t tell me because they knew I’d go wild with worry, which was kind of them. Fortunately, Hili turned up at home after two days, which prompted both great relief and today’s dialogue:

Cyrus: Where have you been for two days?
Hili: I went to a friend for a gossip.
In Polish:
Cyrus: Gdzieś ty była przez dwa dni?
Hili: Poszłam do koleżanki na plotki.
And in nearby Wloclawek, Leon the Dark Tabby is resting in the kettle used to make jam:
Leon: Plum jam? What plum jam?



  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted October 1, 2016 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Great choice of writing for October 1st – thanhs, I’d never heard of Wolfe.

  2. E.A. Blair
    Posted October 1, 2016 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    It’s also National Sarcastics’ Month

  3. Frank Bath
    Posted October 1, 2016 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    I liked the Wolfe very much. Here in the UK we don’t have anything as magnificent as he describes, no reliable climate we have weather all year round, and October is often a changeable and soggy affair. The sun’s side light is always good though.
    Glad to hear the cat came back.So worrying.

  4. Randall Schenck
    Posted October 1, 2016 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    How many would head for google to read up on what the heck a corn shock might be. I can just remember seeing a machine made for corn shocking and I guess that was the first step to mechanization of a very labor intensive job it was with corn knives and string. So much for the good old days.

    Hili’s staff was likely in bad shape there for a time. I know the feeling and it is not good. Very glad it all turned out well.

    • Rita
      Posted October 1, 2016 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      I thought the proper term was “shucked”, and the dictionary agrees.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted October 1, 2016 at 10:33 am | Permalink

        Suggest you research a bit more because there is a difference. A corn shuck or shucking corn it will tell you is removing the outer covering (leaves) from the ear. The ear, by the way, is the cob with the Kernels on it. A corn shock is several stocks of corn tied together and standing in the field for further drying. This was how corn was harvested by hand many years ago before modern machinery. Even hand shucking was done prior to the invention of the corn picker.

        • Rita
          Posted October 1, 2016 at 10:43 am | Permalink

          Oh, the dictionary didn’t know about that, thanks.

          • Rita
            Posted October 2, 2016 at 9:30 am | Permalink

            I should have remembered this: ”
            WHEN the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,….” – James Whitcomb Riley

        • cornbread_r2
          Posted October 1, 2016 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

          My grandpa harvested his corn by hand until he retired in ’59. When one cuts the stocks with a knife, it leaves a pointy six-inch bit of stock in the ground thereby making it very difficult, if not treacherous, to run across a harvested corn field. Don’t trip and fall!

          I don’t recall him using string to tie the shocks together. IIRC, he’d just lean several up against each other and keep adding until there were 20 or so looking like a teepee. In the dead of winter he’d turn his small dairy herd out among the shocks and they’d feed off the dried corn leaves and smaller bits of stalks.

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted October 1, 2016 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

            Wow, in 1959. Must have had not so many acres maybe? I was only 9 years old in 59 but pretty much assumed harvesting by that method went away prior to WWII. Without getting into too much boring detail I think the first corn pickers were taking over after the war. Farmers would certainly put the cows out into the stock fields but after the pickers were finished. Hand picking or shucking was done before the machine pickers were taking over and that was using horses to pull a wagon along while hand picking and throwing the corn into the wagon. A man who was really good at hand shucking could pick 100 bushels a day.

            • cornbread_r2
              Posted October 2, 2016 at 12:34 am | Permalink

              Out of a total of 85 or so, grandpa had only maybe 15 acres in corn in any given year — enough to feed his 10 cows, 4 horses and mules and chickens. One of our chores was to sit in the crib, cranking the manual sheller, which would separate the kernel from the cob. Cobs were used for fuel in the cook stove.

              Grandpa was a holdout in many respects. He never owned a tractor. His house never had indoor plumbing and he didn’t get electricity until right before he quit. Though his parents were born in this country, he spoke more German than English. And, of course, being a dairy farmer, he *never* had a vacation.

  5. Christopher
    Posted October 1, 2016 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    and with luck (well, a good decade+ of hard work through science, actually) the chestnut burrs will again plop thickly to the earth in gusts of wind.

  6. Posted October 1, 2016 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Wonderful that Hili is home now. I can imagine how happy and relieved Malgorzata and Andrzej are. My cat, who looked like Hili, disappeared and never returned, and it is difficult to cope with.

  7. Jenny Haniver
    Posted October 1, 2016 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Why is it that though readers have never met Hilli, or any of the other dear critters regularly featured here, we began to fret in a personal way. As a child, when my father went off to do something, the purpose of which he didn’t want to disclose to me, he’d say “I’m going to see a man about a dog.” So, when a sentence or two later, it was revealed that Hilli had made a safe return without disclosing her whereabouts, I cried with great relief “Psaikrew!” Doesn’t that mean “Dog’s Blood!” in Polish?
    I love Polish expletives.

    • Malgorzata
      Posted October 1, 2016 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      A slightly different spelling: “psiakrew” but the meaning is correct, it does mean “dog’s blood”. But, to be honest, Polish expletives, though there is a wide range of them, cannot compete with the Russian ones.

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted October 1, 2016 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

        So glad to know that Hilli’s back home and none the worse for wear. I appreciate the correction and see that I’d inadvertently transposed two letters. Re foreign expletives in general, for me it’s the sounds of the words coupled with the frequently colorful and surprising imagery. One could accuse me of possessing a very politically incorrect kind of expletive appreciation, which is dependent on the foreignness of a language (sound and writing); but if someone went about crying “Dog’s blood!” in English, I’d be almost as taken — not quite as much because the sounds of the Polish are foreign and so the sound of the words resonates on levels beyond their meaning — insofar as I can find the proper ways to pronounce them. While I have personal and blasphemous reasons for my penchant for Polish expletives (I once published a little satire about a certain Polish pope and filled his mouth with the most outre Polish expletives that I could come up with — had them vetted by one “Stanislaw Kielbasa”, the waggish nom de plume of a student in the Slavic Studies Dept. at UC Berkeley, author of “A Dictionary of Polish Obscenities”), I’ll definitely have to investigate Russian expletives. I’m sure they’re in a class by themselves.

        As for the wonderful sounds of words, I just came across “Yan tan tethera,” the sheep counting systems of Northern England. For those who delight in the sounds of language/s, this is non pareil, as good as the seemingly nonsensical incantations in the Greek Magical Papyri — fantastic poetry, humor and one doesn’t even need to know the meaning. Better if one doesn’t, as long as one isn’t a shepherd.

  8. David Duncan
    Posted October 1, 2016 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Was Cyrus worried too?

    • Malgorzata
      Posted October 1, 2016 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      Yes, as a matter of fact, he was. He was looking everywhere in the house and when left out into the garden he continued to look around, as if seeking something he lost. And he started with this behavior on the second day.

  9. Posted October 1, 2016 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    That’s why Hili needs her bodyguard. Poor thing. Poor A&M. I bet she was chased by some critter. I’m relieved she’s OK and hope she’ll stay close to home from now on.

  10. Neil Faulkner
    Posted October 1, 2016 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Went to a friend for a gossip, eh? That sounds like modesty to me. It just took her longer to save the world than usual.

  11. Mark R.
    Posted October 1, 2016 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Wolfe’s prose is remarkable; he’s one of my favorite American authors. I put him up there with Twain and Faulkner in terms of a unique voice and style and the endeavor to illustrate what America is. Yet Twain to me probably will always be at the top because of his ineffable wit.

    I know the relief felt when a lost pet is found. Phew… And thanks for keeping the incident secret until all was right again. Are you going to be nervous now letting her out? I know I was after a cat of mine disappeared for a couple days. My cat only did it once though.

    • Malgorzata
      Posted October 1, 2016 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      As a matter of fact, less nervous. Now we know that she can stay out for 48 hours and return. Hili seemed more nervous. She was now at home from her return Friday morning until an hour ago, with a very short trips into the garden a few times.

      • Mark R.
        Posted October 1, 2016 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

        I’m glad to hear it; your attitude towards the incident makes sense.

  12. Kevin
    Posted October 1, 2016 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    I went to Stanford. And though I love it, it is a rather snooty school. Just get rid of football and any remnant of theology on campus then it would be the best.

  13. Steve Pollard
    Posted October 1, 2016 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    Very nice pics, and a wonderful piece of poetic writing from Wolfe. But…for us bewildered people the other side of the pond, what is a chinkapin?

  14. Filippo
    Posted October 1, 2016 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    “Three days ago, Hili left home and didn’t return for 48 hours.”

    No doubt it’s in a cat’s “nature,” and the cat has no free will to act otherwise.

    Reminds me of a certain relative of mine who, over the years, has been predisposed to say to this and that person,” I don’t owe you an explanation!” or, “I don’t owe you that consideration!”

  15. Dionigi
    Posted October 1, 2016 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    I was led to believe that the model T came in more colours than black.

  16. Posted October 1, 2016 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    I grew up in Virginia, and the one thing I miss are its trees. I miss the pine forests with their lovely scent, and the maples whose sweet sap I could lick off beautifully colored leaves that had fallen, more than any others. Virginia before the European invasion must have been breathtaking.

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