Saturday, May 2, 2009


Green Gardens

The recent airing of the remarkable production of HBO's Grey Gardens has precipitated quite a lot of conversation in my circles on the subject of eccentricity. Is it a singular characteristic; one to be celebrated and encouraged? Or is it simply the more fanciful relative of insanity? In regards to the ladies from Grey Gardens, one might certainly argue that eccentricity veers solidly into madness when squalor, stench and raccoon roommates enter the picture.
I do feel qualified to say that I can recognize the difference, for I am from the South.
Though our gardens may be green, we are well acquainted with eccentricity here.

There are those who have read John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and believed it to be a wonderfully imaginative tale. For us, it was totally non-fiction. The colourful characters that populate the works of Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor and Pat Conroy...not to mention Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote? I could introduce you to their prototypes any day of the week. In fact, more that a few of them are nesting quite comfortably in my family tree.

We have swimmers in our gene pool who have broken limbs as the result of ill-considered efforts to fly. While a few of these painfully hopeful attempts employed the aid of umbrellas, at least one depended solely on the flapping of arms. There is the uncle who named his truck, painted that moniker on the side of the door, bought a police radio and spent his days waiting to hear of any and all disturbances at which point he would jump in the christened vehicle and head to the scene. Needless to say, he was a bit famous in law enforcement circles. There is the neighbor who swears he witnessed a group of houseguests levitate in another neighbor’s back garden and of course, there is the gentlemen who frequently strolls out to get the morning newspaper in a short baby blue negligee.

Maybe it’s the heat. Or the humidity. Perhaps the moss that hangs from the trees somehow finds its way inside our heads. But here in the South we dwell within a veritable petri dish of eccentricity. It permeates our literature, our music, our humour, and it is often the prism through which we view the world. To be sure, it does make life interesting and, I suppose, as long as the raccoons remain on the other side of the doors, we’re safe.

We are all mad here
The Cheshire Cat,
from Alice in Wonderland


40 comments:

  1. Well I agree with the Cheshire cat..and I"m from Holland!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have not seen the Grey Gardens, but your post has now left me intrigued and I hope too. I think most families has their interesting characters and eccentricities. I used to envy the people who said their family was "normal" and had no problems, only to find out later that they were in fact in denial about major issues. In my late 40's now I have come to have more affection for the eccentric characters in my life and how much more interesting the world is with them! I have enjoyed your post very much.

    Gillian

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for dropping by. Grey Gardens really piqued my interest. But I don't have cable.

    ReplyDelete
  4. so true....
    i have enough southern relatives with kooky stories as well.

    i love the mad tea party !

    xx

    ReplyDelete
  5. I believe that people who are afraid to express themselves think many folks are "crazy."

    I also believe there are several souls in the world who are who they are, despite what anyone, even other "crazy people" think.

    It is interesting that the world of dollhouse miniatures has adopted Alice as a mascot representing the wonderment we find ourselves enjoying with each tiny new world we see. I am of the opinion that Alice makes a fine mascot for that reason, but also because miniaturists (myself included) tend toward the "mad" descriptions.

    We spend hours turning an empty roll of toilet tissue into fancy papered chandeliers, we rejoice upon receiving cast off buttons and other bits and bobs.

    Some of us even weave the tapestry of a character doll so well in our heads we can hear them speak to us.

    The rest of the world may keep it's vanilla idea of sanity and normalcy. I shall have some sprinkles with my vanilla and feel sorry for those who are too afraid to try them. ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  6. We are all eccentric in our family and I love it!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I am glad to hear that my enjoyment of one of my favourite travel books s not to be marred by any hint of it being total fantasy. The film of 'Midnight' is up there in my top ten of all time, and made me vow to visit Savannah one day.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Pamela...like you, my family tree branches bend with the weight of eccentric relatives. I would not have it anyother way! Eccentric, as you well know, fascinates the southern writer in me.

    I have not seen Green Gardens, but your descpition of it put me in mind of my favorite subject," Goat Castle".

    xoxo,
    Carol

    ReplyDelete
  9. I heard an NPR report, years ago, about the differences between eccentrics and the insane. Mostly it's a matter of being content with one's unordinary beliefs, and voices telling one that they are really good and happy, and hallucinations of saints and happy ghosts - that sort of thing. And that they are under-studied by psych pros because they don't see these differences as bad, only coming in for help like the general population, for grief or stress unrelated to their particular POV of the world.

    I think the southern weather does have an effect, you are outside more, so it's more visible. It's more easily concealed in places with only two or three hot months every year.

    ReplyDelete
  10. When we watched Grey Gardens, I told my husband who hails north of the Mason-Dixon, this was a story Flannery could sink her teeth into. I am not sure whether it's the heat or humidity of the south that produces such characters, I think maybe it's because the south was populated with more than a few of us celtic folk. We know the magic is in the words and in the telling. Besides, what good is a family tree if you can't claim a few nuts?

    ReplyDelete
  11. am fascinated by this story. I have never heard of it before. Its a lot to read, but thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  12. This sounds most interesting, Pamela! I have not seen/read Grey Gardens, or any of the authors you list - I will look at the blog you mention.

    I suppose my definition of eccentricity, as opposed to insanity, is having a good grip on reality and choosing to live true to one's originality rather than running with the crowd. (But of course, I am a giraffe, and we're all a little eccentric here!)

    ReplyDelete
  13. Oh! You do it to me EVERY time. Your words are like Buttah...smooth, always want more!

    To the south! Cheers!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Very well written. You make excellent points about our culture and eccentrics.

    Thank God I'm a Southerner--otherwise someone might try to lock me up--and a few relatives too!

    Have a great raccoon-free weekend!

    ReplyDelete
  15. I miss many things about the South! Especially the stories. Thanks for this post.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Eccentricity is to be celebrated :) I love it, despite it's proximity to madness. There aren't enough eccentric characters where I live, so that the person most likely to have the title is me!

    Kim x

    ReplyDelete
  17. Delightful essay! I loved it.

    And for what it's worth, I, too, agree with the Cheshire Cat.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Hello P&E,

    I wonder, could you ask your neighbour where he buys his negligees?!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Oh yes, Joni's take on the Grey Gardens on her blog was really great and informative.

    The Grey Gardens itself is something else, really deserved the makeover it had... and now its really beautiful.

    As for the two Edie's...sad:(

    ReplyDelete
  20. From the perspective of having not only the original documentary to go by, but also having known "little" Edie personally, I can say that
    the HBO film, starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lang is certainly a perfect tribute to both the original documentary and these two wonderful woman.
    I was told right after filming of the HBO film wrapped up in the fall of 2007, that I would be blown away at the last scene, where Edie sings Tea For Two at Reno Sweeny, and I was ! I had supplied the film company with the only recording in existence of Edie singing the tune, only this wasn't from her actual performance at the club, but rather her singing it just for me at one of my many visits to Grey Gardens, more than 30 years ago. Drew sang it exactly, phrase for phrase as I have it on tape. Edie and I actually met that night at Reno Sweeny, and my relationship with Grey Gardens has now spanned over 3 decades. For our complete review, check out our blog at MyGreyGardens.com (HBO film review by Robb Brawn & Lee Arboreen), and be sure to check our Youtube video uploaded 4/18/09 the same day as the HBO film release. Click
    GREY GARDENS PROMO to view the video

    ReplyDelete
  21. What a wonderful post...and appreciated by a southern girl like me! Thanks for the link and I see you even have a neat comment! WOW!

    ReplyDelete
  22. I'm in the wrong part of the country! well not actually, because I do believe we have a small detached corner of the South right here! it must have made its way here by way of the equinox in transition at some point in time.....

    ReplyDelete
  23. I just quoted you on my blog today! I hope that's OK with you! I thought some of my friends would love to have the link that you gave! THANKS!

    http://lavenderdreamstoo.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete
  24. Well, I'm English and we do eccentrics quite well there too, but I do believe the South of the US has more than its fair share of eccentric characters.....
    I am working hard personally to become a very mad old dog and garden lady with floppy hats and so forth.
    Happy weekend to you and Edward and Apple.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I live not to far from Grey Gardens...it has been renovated by a novelist and is on such beautiful property...I am so glad it has been restored to its beauty!

    ReplyDelete
  26. I'll go over to Cote de Texas for a peek, but first have to say that the southern gene pool has resulted in members who seem a lot like my loved ones on Cape Breton Island. Has it got something to do with isolation (splendid isolation? I might add) The isolation that came on the south after the civil war...the isolation that forms an island community. I know that the Island that I now call home has more than the usual number of beloved oddballs - interesting every one.
    Lovely post - thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  27. There are many eccentrics up here in Alaska too!! I loved HBO's Grey Gardens.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Boy this was such a great post.

    I love it and I love the idea of eccentricity. I think there is a fine line between it and madness and living in squalor with feces on the floor strikes me as mad.

    Love Renee xoxo

    ReplyDelete
  29. I can't get enough of that house!
    thank you so much for this, my friend! most appreciated!!!!!! I am humbled.

    Joni

    ReplyDelete
  30. ps - guess what I watched tonight - "Midnight in The Gargen of Good and Evil" - I thought of you....it's such a good film....

    ReplyDelete
  31. 4am. Drinking hot tea. Laughing at your words. You kill me. LPxo

    ReplyDelete
  32. What funny facts about your antecendents!

    In French, 'eccentric' and 'special' are fairly unequivocally perjorative, 'original' is reluctantly allowed...

    ReplyDelete
  33. HBO has aired "Gray Gardens" several times in the past few days and I must have seen it all in bits and pieces over as many days.

    I am so glad you included it in your blog. There are some swimmers in our family whose domiciles bear a frightening resemblance to that of Grey Gardens.

    Alas, I wish ours were as charming; instead, they are mostly mean and angry.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Pamela, have you seen the original documentary on those 'girls?' It is really very good. I've heard the fictional version isn't great, and really I have no interest in it after seeing the real one. I think the Brits have their fair share of eccentric souls so it must not be the heat! :<) The scariest movies I ever saw were Raintree County and Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Hi! I only recently found your blog (through Cote de Texas), and am having such fun going back to read your older posts.
    This one in particular spoke to me as I have Southern roots on my father's side and have had my share of experiences with eccentric relatives! Maybe that's why I love Southern literature... because I know that those people actually exist and it really tickles me! Is it a kind of madness to live your life exactly as you please, raccoons and all, or does that freedom bring one a peaceful sanity the rest of us can only aspire to?

    ReplyDelete
  36. Love the levitating houseguests. And in another vein of Southern Gothic, Barry Hannah is no slouch. Thanks for coming by, and hope you will return for more Alice.

    ReplyDelete
  37. I love 'a petri dish of eccentricity'. I'd have to admit that I am pretty eccentric myself...well, at least that is what they tell me. I just think I'm normal! Happy posting to you - will visit on my return. Don't feel sorry for me that I'll be missing those Nash Bridges re-runs!
    Catherine

    ReplyDelete
  38. My father used to speak of a Great Aunt, He said, one of her axels was a tad off. As a child, I often imagined her akin to a tricycle.
    Eccentricities can either charm one or annoy. I prefer to look for the charm.
    pve

    ReplyDelete
  39. not seen Gray Gardens but i'm intrigued!

    ReplyDelete
  40. I think being "different" is good. Even with appearance, it is confusing to watch a film where all the acresses look alike conforming to a particular notion of beauty. I don't think people should conform so much to how they behave either. Oxford is full or eccentrics- those who are so taken with ideas in their heads that they can forget about the world arond them. Without this sort of thinking genius works would never be born. I love the poem about growing old and dyeing my hair purple. Up with eccentricity!

    ReplyDelete

I love to read your comments! Each and every one! Though I'm always reading your comments, I may not respond in the comment section. If you want to write me directly, you may do so at pamela@pamelaterry.net. Thank you for reading!