Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Cast Party

 The Cast

            The heroine of this essay will be Ms. Cora Louise Fleming-Benite, granddaughter extraordinaire and, for the brief captivity of a few hundred words, guiltless prey of the social historian.  If you are a reader of history books, certain clichés are probably incised upon your cerebellum.  The most notorious, perhaps, is “the rise of the middle class.” The middle classes have so long been ascending above the pages of our history books as to be visible only with the aid of the most powerful optical instruments.  But there are many others: “index of social change,” “the formation of elites,” “revolutionary consciousness,” “liminality”, etc., etc.

            It is sometimes possible to observe rapid social change very close up.  Take a farm kid from the Ozarks and, just for the preposterousness of it, send him to Oxford, where he will meet and eventually marry the brilliant and accomplished daughter of Edwardian meritocrats.  Let the female issue of the Oxonians, having already begun a stellar academic career, marry an equally brilliant Israeli historian of Iraqi background and terrifying erudition.  Then take the infant products of that union to Paris for four or five years and, upon their eventual return to America, place them in the Ecole Internationale de New York (alias EINY) so as to allow them to maintain their native French.

"What?  Me worry?"

            The Parisian schools in which my granddaughters were enrolled have a very cool institution called the semaine verte—a “green week,” which is a sort of American school “field trip” on steroids.  The kids are rusticated to some gorgeous old farmstead in the Cevennes or somewhere, where they get to breathe the air and milk the cow, or feed the pig, or trample the grapes—in short, to go seriously rural for a few days.

            Part of the authentic Frenchiness of EINY is that they should offer such an opportunity to the cliff dwellers of the concrete canyons of New York City.  But for New Yorkers, the Cevennes region is a little distant.  The obvious destination combining Francophonie with reasonable proximity is Québec.  However, if you are making your trip to Québec in the winter, it is much more likely to turn out to be a semaine blanche than a semaine verte.  Thus did my granddaughter Cora Louise find herself last week at the winter resort of Mont Tremblant to the northwest of Montreal.

            But here social history ends and human drama begins.  Social history might explain why little Cora could indulge in such exotic sports d’hiver as ice fishing and dog-sledding—hyperborean exertions known to her aging grandfather only from the pages of Jack London.  But it was not sociology that determined that on the last day of the school trip, indeed on the last straightaway of the last ski run, Cora Louise should fall and painfully injure her lower right leg.  That will have been determined either by the God of Small Things or the Random Play of Electrons that our godless age seems to prefer to the mellower concept of Providence.  In any event, that is what happened.
 Scene of the Crime: Mont Tremblant, P.Q.

            The battlefield diagnosis, which at the time seemed a reasonable hypothesis, was “sprained ankle”.  The treatment for that sort of thing is three pronged: ace bandage, aspirin tablet, and a certain level of words of comfort from concerned adult supervisors.  That therapy, reinforced by the usual animal energies characteristic of young persons on long bus trips, proved entirely sufficient to return her uncomplaining to New York City.  But the next morning her vigilant mother could tell that all was still not quite right.  Her misgivings were confirmed by a radiologist in the Emergency Room.  Cora’s ankle was not sprained; the ankle bone was broken.

            This means about a month in plaster.  Except that to my admittedly inexpert eye it doesn’t seem to be plaster anymore.  It’s more like gauze reinforced with light-weight kryptonite.  It is no doubt admirably suited to its task, though as a writing surface it is less satisfactory than the old plaster casts of my youth.  Even so I was able to leave my mark—“Gran Dad,” written in a jagged, spidery hand as though the material written upon were a white window screen.  But other inscribers of the cast have sensibly gone for the pictorial, and even since I took the photograph two days ago, it has flowered with cheery images in red, yellow, orange, and green.

            Her school is a fair distance from her home, and even the most modest ambulation is no small challenge under the circumstances.  Little Cora is having to master the use of crutches, and she has faced the awkwardness of it all with determination and a nearly supernatural cheerfulness.  This little girl is one of God’s brighter sunbeams.  In general her most pessimistic category is the glass three-quarters full.  The very least I can do is salute her in “Gladly Lerne Gladly Teche.”