Lady Harbury


“Dear Lady Harbury. I hear her hair has turned quite gold from grief.”

If you say it in your plumiest, most aristocratic British accent, you get the best effect. It’s from Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest,” and is a quick little throw-away line that always made me giggle.

Dear Lady Harbury, who seems to be living entirely for pleasure now, is painted in just two short lines as a society matron, released from the stern prudishness of her much older husband by his death. Whee! She’s never mentioned again; she’s only a rococo ornament intended to more richly illustrate a frivolous society, but I have newfound respect for her.

Perhaps Dear Lady Harbury really did love her husband; perhaps theirs was a long and august union. But perhaps every time Dear Lord Harbury went to the grocery store, he picked up a box of Whoppers for Dear Lady Harbury “because I know you love them and you’ve had a hard day and I thought you might like a treat.”

And no matter how much she wished she could resist, Dear Lady Harbury thought (a) he’s so sweet and (b) malted milk balls – outstanding!

Pretty soon, if she was getting a treat, he figured he deserved one, too. She fell into the same habit. Instead of one of them pulling the other into better choices, they both pulled each other into worse ones – out of love and affection and an abiding mutual appreciation for malted milk.

It wasn’t until Dear Lord Harbury died (from, I’ve decided, gout brought on by too many malted milk balls) that Dear Lady Harbury thought to herself – what was I thinking? Jeez – I’m just not going to have any of THAT stuff in the house anymore. And since no one else but Dear Lady Harbury went to the grocery store anymore, suddenly there were no more malted milk balls. No more treat-matching. No more “If YOU’RE getting something, I will too.”

It takes a full-time, every-single-day commitment to safeguard your health… but I am now astonished and impressed when anyone can correct a tendency that they share with their partner. My sister Lexie and her husband Scott both smoke; they’ve each tried multiple times to kick it – but often they can’t gin up the will power to try when the other one is also ready. One person smokes and the other gives it up? Impossible; it’s simply asking too much of a human.

So if you read my blog and think “I should be trying harder,” then (a) thank you; I’m ridiculously grateful to you for reading and (b) if you’ve got a mate who doesn’t share your commitment, then you have my sincere respect. You’re pulling twice as hard to get half as far.

I recently went through the anniversary of my personal Lord Harbury’s death, and my response was to curl up and hide; I didn’t want to go to dinner with friends or in other ways socialize. All my friends kindly understood and gave me the space I needed. During that time, I wasn’t at all particular about what I ate; ice cream was an absolutely acceptable dinner.

But by the end, my skin was feeling greasy. I felt like – like I’d been eating WAY too much sugar. Friday was the Final Death Day, and I began to look forward to Saturday because that would be the day I pulled myself together and ate some broccoli instead. I was actively looking forward to it.

During my self-imposed isolation, my loving friend Susan (who acts as tough as a bear to hide the marshmallow heart) bought me some ice cream; she was going to give it to me during my mourning. But I wouldn’t come out to play.

The next day, still wanting to ease my pain, she bought me MORE ice cream.

And on Sunday, when I was back to enjoying the company of others, she presented me both pints, along with a stunningly savory vegetable soup she’d made me. She handed me a bag filled with love. Just like Dear Lord Harbury!

And what did I do?

Ate the ice cream, of course. I’m not made of stone!

(Well – I ate one of them. The other is sitting in the freezer, like a rattlesnake in the corner. I know it’s there; I know it’s watching me; I’m trying not to antagonize it.)

Love is glorious; love makes the world go round. Love is all you need. But love can also sabotage your attempts to be healthy, so proceed with caution. Onward, ever onward!

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Lady Bracknell. Well, I must say, Algernon, that I think it is high time that Mr. Bunbury made up his mind whether he was going to live or to die. This shilly-shallying with the question is absurd. Nor do I in any way approve of the modern sympathy with invalids. I consider it morbid. Illness of any kind is hardly a thing to be encouraged in others. Health is the primary duty of life. I am always telling that to your poor uncle, but he never seems to take much notice… as far as any improvement in his ailment goes.


2 thoughts on “Lady Harbury

  1. Dear Pru,

    a) You are my hero(ine) and, yes, The Blog is a godsend on so many levels.
    3) I do have a mate who does not share my commitment to age stronger & lighter, but who has, thanks be to the everlovin’ goddesses that be, has quit trying to be an underminer.
    IX) I remain staunch in my belief that under this neverending snow there are crocuses (croci? lol) and daffodillies straining to break through.

    Many thanks.


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