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

Pink Slip

I have a delightful friend who is 93 years young. I know it’s a corny expression, but it’s accurate. Annie is a gracious and truly kind person. I met her a few years ago at a function, and at first I wasn’t quite sure what to make of her. That was my myopic error. Annie is funny, she’s still sexy, and she unabashedly loves men. But Annie is also a good friend and admirer of women — she finds good qualities in everyone. Maybe that’s what confused me.

We ran into each other a few months later, and we started talking. Her radiant smile and her beauty — which has not diminished – I found enchanting. Thus began a great friendship that continues to this day. Annie lived not too far from me. After her husband passed away she decided it was too much keeping up the place and living alone. So about a year ago, Annie moved into assisted living. It’s lovely and quite expensive — not gloomy. There are lawns, ponds, and walking trails. Annie has had some funny adventures navigating her way through this completely new experience. And of course, Annie, being Annie, has done so most successfully.

Annie has a busier social calendar than most people a quarter of her age, and she’s often off on day trips and adventures. And, she drives herself! On crazy scary giant-truck-infested highways! She’s gutsy. Since she no longer has the responsibility of taking care of a house and all, she has more time for reading. Not surprisingly, Annie likes romance novels, but the tamer ones. There’s a library where she lives and she regales me with plot summaries of what she’s reading. I enjoy her “reviews.” It’s a genre I am not greatly familiar, and I relish her excitement as she tells me about the latest tome.

Recently, she came upon a book that from the cover and title looked interesting. Now, I don’t know the book, but it really upset Annie – it was too raunchy and disrespectful — she didn’t like it at all. She felt it was corrupting and unworthy of reading. She was concerned for her fellow neighbors and staff laying eyes on it. Anything could happen! It had to go.

Annie ruminated on this on this for days – it was a project! First, she put it in the bottom of her garbage pail, but decided that wasn’t enough – someone could fish it out. Then she went to the dumpster of the facility and realized the same thing could happen there. So she did her best to rip it up and then scatter the book’s remains over various trash receptacles to insure that no one would be able to reassemble it. I found it funny her rigorous effort to save the world from a “dirty book,” and while she was telling me she started laughing too. To be sure, she is the most open-minded person, there is no Fahrenheit 451 aspect to her. The novel rattled her, and being a considerate person, she didn’t want anyone else unsettled.

Typical of Annie she made a quick recovery and continues to enjoy her less spicy romances – but with a watchful eye. Clare Irwin

N.b. As I am reviewing this I realize that the amazing David Sedaris wrote a hilarious essay on a similar experience. Much better and funnier than my post. You may find it in his book Naked entitled “Next of Kin.” Enjoy!

 

Adventures in Dog Walking

I started a blog post, on a completely different topic, over a week ago…to my chagrin I have yet to finish it. I’ve been busy and finding a block of time is not as easy as I thought. So, in the interim, I will rely on my trusted fallback topic — pets, and my trusted fallback source of information — my friend Will. As I have mentioned in previous posts, Will walks dogs in my beloved nearby coastal village. And, as I have also related before, this community is an affluent one, so not only do the people live well, so do the dogs. How nice for them, don’t you think? Will has one client who rescued a dog from Hurricane Katrina 10+ years ago, pretty neat.

Here are some of Will’s favorite dogs: Maverick (photo above), or Sir Maverick as Will refers to him, probably because he is a big Lab – over 125 lbs. Hard to tell from this photo how big he is, but what a sweetie! You’ve already met Frank (one of my favorites) in the post “Dogville,” and Freckles in the recent post “Cardinal Points.” Speaking of Freckles, Will and I were talking yesterday — he stopped by to see me, and he reached into his coat pocket for something and accidently pulled out this: What is this? Well it’s a fancy “poopy bag” from the pet store! Special baggies for the dog’s “business.” These cracked us up — first of all the hearts, like the dog cares! But also what do these cost? And you have to go to a special store to buy them…they are not just in the pet aisle at the supermarket! It’s all because we love them!

Here’s another sweetie pie that Will walks: his name is Dexter. He’s a little bit of an older fellow, and Will explained to me that he has a bit of a “backstory” too. Dexter had a herniated disk a couple of years ago, and sometimes his back legs give out and they go limp. Will says when that happens, “All you can do is be there for him emotionally and keep him still until his legs recover. And every time he greets me with his favorite toy: a purple octopus.” Adorable!

I think Will is really tuned into his clients. He’s like the intuitive Dog Whisperer. Another nice remark he made, “I love every dog I walk and I really know them, and they love me too.” Indeed, animals know who understands them. And loves them.

Clare Irwin

Shhh! Una Tomba!

Hi! I took a break for a couple of days. I’m back  — and I hope — refreshed. We are having another heat wave, so I better try to get some postings done before the heat either wipes me out or I use it as an excuse to go and binge watch Game of Thrones or Lost. I’m a fan of Rhonda Byrne and The Secret, The Power, and I have done all the exercises The Magic . I started to feel a summer cold coming on so I went back and redid the “health” chapters in The Magic. In the chapter exercises the reader is asked to think of 3 times in your life when you felt on top of the world. So I thought of three and did the rest of the exercises and this morning I felt a lot better! Hooray! A curious side effect of looking back and remembering wonderful times is unbeckoned memories . Post

Out of nowhere I recalled a trip of many many years ago when I went to see Etruscan ruins in Italy. These remains of a city were in the South and by the Mediterranean Sea which was visible from every vantage point. As I was walking around there was this older man in worker’s overalls sitting on an ancient stone — maybe it was once a column or part of a building — he had his pail lunch with him and a wicker flask of water or maybe it was something harder. He wore a beat up hat to shade himself from the mid-day sun. He was smiling and just seemed to be totally content and right with the world. As we approached he said to us, gesturing in the international finger to the lips sign of quiet, “Shh! una tomba!” In other words, “Quiet please, this is a tomb.” He wasn’t reproaching us, I think it was his job to let visitors know that this was an ancient burial place and we should give it the appropriate respect. I remember this marvelous man who seemed so proud of his charge. He too is probably gone or very aged. I think of the Etruscans who lived there so far in the past, and if they could imagine in 2,000 or more years that there would be this gentle man taking care of their resting place by the sea. And, I think of this lovely man, and if he has passed away that he too has someone come to visit him and that they come often and remind people where he rests, and where the dead rest is a quiet respected place.GreekTemple I know I will remember him and the added joy he gave to me in that beautiful place at that moment in time and that exists in memory with no constraint of past present or future.

Clare Irwin