The House on the Hill

Last week I was getting books together for a friend who is ailing. I was in my office going through the bookcases, looking for things that might tempt her. Of course, I was distracted and started looking through the books; I found an old newspaper clipping of a book review, a five dollar bill, a note in someone’s hand I didn’t recognize, a bookmark from the Getty Museum – it’s curious what we leave behind. I came upon a copy of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and I stopped to thumb through it. I haven’t read it in ages, saw the movie (and the BBC miniseries) long ago, but I was struck by the first lines, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” It goes on to describe the narrator’s – the second Mrs. de Winter’s – dream of returning to her former home – a great house on the Cornish coast.

The dream sequence continues for several pages and I was riveted. It’s so well written and haunting and moody, but there was something more. I realized that I too have had a similar dream – of my old home where I grew up with my family. I would have the dream often, for years. As in Rebecca, I am on foot and it is twilight or dusk and the drive winds and winds until our home comes into view. In my dream sometimes the house is a combination of my family’s old home and my great grandmother’s wonderful stone house. Sometimes, I can walk in and pass through the rooms, other times all I can do is look through the windows. I am so thrilled to see it again, to recognize familiar things. Like the narrator, “I stood, my heart thumping in my breast, the strange prick of tears behind my eyes.” When I awaken, or the dream ends, I have an achy feeling in my heart, both elated and crestfallen.

I never mentioned the dream to anyone even though it occurred frequently. That is, until I was deeply involved in a romance of my own. I must have had the dream and it was weighing on me. The man, who was older than I and fairly intuitive about women, saw my distraction and prompted me to tell him. So I did. He listened carefully and intently. When I was done, he said, “You want to go back to the house on the hill.” He was right. The house, both of them in fact, were gone, yet the desire to return to the house on the hill remained. I do believe he understood, even though we were at that moment on another continent in another hemisphere, but I knew vaguely that there was a house on the hill for him as well. Entirely different, and not a house per se, but  a place and time no less powerful. If I had continued with this man I would have been a second Mrs. de Winter of a sort, and was keenly aware of living up to a memory of another woman who had died. The dream, the memory of my romance, the novel, images of my home and my great-grandmother’s were all shuffling through my mind. Then, I remembered that I had gone to a lecture at Princeton on The Odyssey and the speaker discussed the idea of the eternal returning – not just of Odysseus but of all life travelers. The need, the yearning, to come home. An ancient theme no doubt, it’s in Genesis as well, I think.

As I write this, I think of all us through those years: playing, running, throwing our bikes in the grass, catching fireflies — and the day ending as the lights would come on in the house. I can see my father in his study reading, my mother talking to one of our dogs or the cat while she readied dinner, one of my sisters at the piano, a thriving hive of activity and halcyon memory. Like Manderley ours is no longer, our Manderley is no more. Even so, as the narrator in Rebecca writes, “Time could not wreck the perfect symmetry of those walls, not the site itself, a jewel in the hollow of a hand.”

Clare Irwin

Stream of Consciousness Sunday

I haven’t posted anything new for over two weeks, and my only excuse is that I was sucked into the vortex of Twitter and Pinterest. Just got back, barely. Twitter and Pinterest are fun and intriguing, but suddenly I realize that I’m late for…everything. On Twitter, there’s a lot coming at the viewer – it’s about speed, I think. I do like the exercise of keeping it brief, but with an endless supply of new tweets and “news” items, my mind is jumping around from saving the oceans, to what British Vogue is recommending for an in-between weather coat, to Shakespeare Sunday, or whatever international day we are celebrating.

As I was driving on my appointed rounds today I was trying to compose a new blog post in my head. I then realized I had Twitter-itis – the inflammation of random thoughts bouncing around the various lobes of my brain. So I guess since that’s the best I could do, here is how it went:

I decided to listen to disco music, which I am not even sure I like, but the weather has been so gloomy and stormy I felt like I needed a dose of verve. Donna Summer was playing which reminded me of an old Saturday Night Live sketch about a fast food restaurant in the South where the employees are telling customers to “Simma down now!” (Cheri Oteri and Tobey Maguire were in it). That brought me to Pulp Fiction, which I have mentioned in a previous post, and the line Uma Thurman delivers when Vincent Vega comes to pick her up for their “date.” She’s directing him to the bar or the music and she says, “Warm. Warmer. — Disco.” I like that. Next, I thought of my friend’s son, James, (I have written about him in an earlier post), who despite his mother’s ironclad parental restrictions on cable, internet, TV, and movies, unearthed a website where he can watch all the things he shouldn’t. James has discovered Quentin Tarantino and especially likes Pulp Fiction. Thinking about James made me realize how much he’s changed since last summer, as boys his age are wont to do — he’s still funny and precocious. Now, he is also courtly and charming with the ladies, offering to carry my shopping bags and that sort of thing. James is more engaging in all sorts of inappropriate conversations which is a guilty pleasure we share. He’s retired the Pink Floyd T-shirt for the usual prep school gear that those of us who went to prep school give ourselves over to for a time. Soon he’ll be off to college, which then makes me think of the last two weeks and how I would like to get through a day without someone in my orbit crying. So, after the drama of the day, I do unplug, but come morning I am back on Twitter and Pinterest. Next is learning Facebook — so send out the search party.   

Facebook-plasia anyone?

Clare Irwin

P.S. The Pulp Fiction post “Son of a Preacher Man” can be found in Archives July 2016, and James’s post “Straight to the Heart of Fun” Archives August 2016.