Thomas Hart Benton's sister taught us dancing; Ray Bolger stopped at our table. Readers also join in on eggs, poetry, etc.
Georgia Skaggs of Kansas City took ballroom dancing lessons from Mildred Benton, the younger sister of Thomas Hart Benton, whose art has often adorned these pages. It's the kind of footnote, so to speak, that delightfully expands our Home Forum with readers' additions or corrections. ``The Benton house in Neosho, Mo. (my hometown), was known as the `Benton Mansion,' '' Mrs. Skaggs goes on in response to Iris Fanger's essay on Irene and Vernon Castle, ``They invited polite society to join in the fun'' (April 3). ``In this elegant and refined atmosphere we learned dances made famous by the Castles during that era. My four-year collection of college dance programs lists the tango, polka, one-step, waltz, and others. The hesitation waltz was one of my favorites danced to the music of Barcarolle. I think this is enough nostalgia, don't you?''
Not quite. The same essay brought these memories from Jeanne Beaman of Rockport, Mass., a former member of the San Francisco Ballet:
``In the late '30s I with three other members of the San Francisco Ballet went to Chez Paree -- to dance and to see Ray Bolger. He came over to our table and said he knew we were dancers by the way we looked on the floor. Were we proud! A few of us loved ballroom dancing and went out whenever we could. The Chez Paree was the high spot -- and of course Chicago was as far east as S.F. Ballet got on that tour. Our other bright moment was having Phil Spitalny's brother lead his orchestra in Strauss waltzes for us at some hotel in Phoenix, Ariz. Ah, those were the days!''
In addition to dancing and horses (please see opposite page), eggs seem to be of some interest to Home Forum readers. At least Gabrielle von Fremd of Cambridge, Mass., wrote more than three pages in response to Amy Duncan's ``A good egg is hard to find'' (March 7). A sample:
``My father once made an omelet with an enormous goose egg. He let me have a taste, but it left no lasting impression. Perhaps I expected too much.
``My mother's specialty was a puffy omelet -- at least two inches of puff. That certainly demanded a good egg or two.
``In those days chickens roamed about the barnyard, and the farmer's wife made them a mush incorporating bacon rinds, potato peelings, and other kitchen scraps cooked up in a huge pot. It must have been more fun to be a chicken then, unless the poor bird was at the bottom of the pecking order, but did that produce a better tasting egg? We like to think so. We like to think that the things we eat have been reared in the fresh air and sunshine. We don't like to think of farm animals being made into factories.
``On my way home one dark rainy afternoon I stopped in at a little store I'd never been in before -- a kind of Mom and Pop corner store, except it isn't on a corner and there only seems to be a Pop. What I wasn't ready for was the magical word `strictly' on the pink cardboard egg boxes. At last we have found a source for a really good tasting egg.
``I'm no egg expert, but I'm pretty solidly convinced that it's not the color of the egg, or whether it is fertilized or unfertilized, or even whether the chicken was free to scratch around the barnyard that makes the difference. It's freshness that makes the difference. A strictly fresh egg is a good egg.''
And how about shells? ``Having spent three winters on Sanibel Island [Florida] I recognize your sheller characters [in Guernsey Le Pelley's ``Seashell people,'' March 15],'' writes Jessie Latter. ``I must tell you, however, you have hardly met the inveterate collector. You need to be on the beach for the second and third low tides after a northwest storm, three hours before low tide and frequently between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. As the tide is going out one is equipped with buckets and flashlights. Then one finds great specimens in plenty on a debris-filled beach (debris being egg sacks and seaweed). Why the collectors? My theory: The shells make romantic souvenirs of a happy time of search and discovery. Where are the prize shells in my collection? In a large glass lamp base, the one on the grand piano.''
Going back to an earlier Le Pelley piece, Russell M. Simmons writes from Natick, Mass.: ``Having thoroughly enjoyed `Honor by degrees' [Oct. 30], I feel I should share the story of the one who signed his name -- and had cards printed -- with M.D., D.D., L.L.D. When challenged he freely admitted they stood for Mairzy Doats, Dozy Doats, Liddle Lamzy Divey.''
Not only words but pictures came from Lois S. Keeler of Seattle: ``Because of `Seattle scenes' [essay by David Mazel, photo essay by Mabel Stephens, Jan. 21], I thought immediately of this wood engraving [`Lake Union,' by Harold E. Keeler] and of the one-and-a-half years that our small family lived within a block of Lake Union. It was wartime with a continual parade of boat traffic. Touring the lakeshore in 1983 I was impressed with the many changes. Most of the houseboats are gone and much more sophisticated homes line the walkways. In one office building the elevator takes you down to the water-level offices where ducks come begging for handouts.
``The other engraving is in response to Theodore Wolff's `Beauty underfoot' [Feb. 14]. `Fairy Calypso' I sketched high in the mountains of Colorado.'' ``I do not know what happened to Beryl Markham,'' wrote Joan Baum in her essay of appreciation (Feb. 5). Thanks to Patricia Bellingan of Harare, Zimbabwe, for these words of amplification: ``I had just put down your latest Monitor when I read something in the Spectator which made me turn back to your paper. You had printed an article entitled `Beryl Markham, whoever she was, could indeed write' [International Edition, March 30-April 5]. It would seem that it should have read `whoever she IS,' since in Geoffrey Wheatcroft's account on Kenya he speaks of her as still living in her eighties. He mentions her book `West with the Night' and agrees with your columnist that there is nothing else quite like it.''
As for poetry, remarks Dick Raymond of Paoli, Pa., ``Your poems often lack a rhyme/ They seem that way most all the time/ To lightly make a point we're lost/ Let's leave it up to Robert Frost: `Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down.' ''
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow usually kept the net up, as in the example shared by Ruth M. LaVine of Los Angeles, who tells of coming across a book of pictures of the Wayside Inn, which the poet is said to have visited:
``After a memorable visit to the Inn and now this second visit via photographs so vivid and beautifully portrayed, I found myself going into my library and taking down from the shelf a treasured book of Longfellow's poems. What a delicious feast! One I enjoyed so much I had to copy it, hoping it might bring enjoyment to others. It is `The Birds of Killingworth' from `The Poet's Tale.' With spring approaching and sparrows hiding peanuts in my flower boxes, on my 12th-floor apartment terrace, I dread to think of the mess they'll leave when they dig up these treasured peanuts in December for their winter meals. Their pals, the blue jays, not only make a terrible mess but have the audacity to shriek at me because in my desire to keep the flower boxes neat I occasionally see an unplanted peanut and discard it. Not so, the little sparrows -- they are not as beautifully blue-feathered as their pals, the jays, but they never utter a peep when I scold them. No wonder they are `proud' to be mentioned, as Longfellow states, `in Holy Writ.' '' Here are some lines kindly copied by Mrs. LaVine:
``The robin and the bluebird, piping loud/ Filled all the blossoming orchards with their glee;/ The sparrows chirped as if they still were proud/ Their race in Holy Writ should mentioned be. . . . `` 'Tis always morning somewhere, and above/ The awakening continents, from shore to shore,/ Somewhere the birds are singing evermore.''