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part iv Families: Private and Public Reflection 3 “The Ring of Time” in the E. B. White Home Movies Martha White In the spring of 1956, my grandfather, E. B. White (1899–1985), wrote an essay called “The Ring of Time” (Essays of E. B. White, Harper & Row, 1977) in which he attempted to record a moment in Sarasota, Florida, where a mother and daughter rehearse a circus act, the girl riding bareback as her mother guides the horse around the ring. Another of his much-reprinted essays, “Once More to the Lake” (Essays of E. B. White, 1977), recalls returning to one of the Belgrade Lakes with his son, as he had once done with his own father. This theme, both of time passing and timelessness as viewed through the generations, was a common one in my grandfather’s work. “I have always felt charged with the safekeeping of all unexpected items of worldly or unworldly enchantment,” my grandfather wrote in “The Ring of Time,” “as if I might be held personally responsible if even a small one were to be lost.” In the home movies he filmed, this same attempt to communicate his appreciation of the small, commonplace yet precious moments of the day is clear. Further , like the rider and her mother in that circus ring, the connections between past, present, and future are unmistakable. Viewed over eighty years after the first scenes were filmed, it is remarkable how much has stayed the same, even as time has marched on. These home movies were filmed almost exclusively by my paternal grandfather (except for a few rare moments when he allows the camera to be turned on him) and span a period from approximately 1929 or 1930 to the early 1960s. They go from black-and-white to color; from New York City to the coast of Maine; from the early days of his marriage to Katharine Sergeant (Angell) White to his stepparenthood of her two children, Nancy (Angell) Stableford and Roger Angell; and to the birth in 1930 of his only (and Katharine’s third) child, my father, Joel McCoun White. In E. B. White’s own life, his appearances in public or on camera were exceedingly rare. At his memorial service in 1985, as an example, my grandfather ’s stepson Roger made the observation to the assembled crowd that “if E. B. White could have been here today, he wouldn’t have been here.” Likewise, in these 222 | Martha White films, his appearances are tiny cameos and, always, he appears self-conscious in front of the camera. Over time, three spouses are introduced on film: Nancy’s husband, Louis Stableford (playing croquet); Roger’s first wife, Evelyn (and her St. Bernard, Tunney ); and my mother, Allene Messer White, seated on the doorstop of our house on the Benjamin River in Maine. Nancy is seen as a young girl on a horse and later sailing a Brutal Beast catboat off the Center Harbor Yacht Club. Roger Angell, as a boy, sports a bow and arrow and is also filmed in a Gluyas Williams cartoon spoof of “Portrait of a Small Boy Reading,” as he spins 360 degrees in his overstuffed chair on the porch, while purportedly reading a book. (More on this later.) My father is recorded being given a bath by a brusque nurse, taking his first steps, trying to row, training his dog, Raffles, to tow a berry basket, picking a flower for his mother, feeding a lamb a bottle, helping with the haying, and other bucolic moments of my grandfather’s choosing. Grandchildren naturally follow, including the youngest of us (on film): my older brother and me (seen chucking firewood off the truck at the end of the films), and our younger brother, seen crawling after a croquet ball and trying to catch a free-ranging chicken in the backyard. What overshadows the various family members, however, are two things. One is the various creatures on the Whites’ salt water farm in Maine, including not only chickens, geese, turkeys, lambs, sheep, cattle, and horses, but even a close-up of a spider in her web (filmed long after Charlotte’s Web was published in 1952), and also a great many dogs (read E. B. White on Dogs, 2013, for more of them). Many of these creatures also show up in my grandfather’s essays and poems, of course, most notably in One Man’s Meat (Tilbury House, 1997). Second of the overriding themes is the...


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