The Cabots and the Lowells

There’s a doggerel: “The Lowells talk only to Cabots, and the Cabots talk only to God.” The aphorism came into being in regard to two old established Massachusetts families. Many people, including myself, have the saying wrong where the Lowells are replaced by the Lodges – another venerable New England family. They’re all interrelated by marriage, and the Lodges factor in nearly equally. Either way the message is: they keep themselves to themselves.

This expression came to mind recently when a friend, who lives halfway around the world, told me not to tell some bit of information about her to her family members who live near me. I found this amusing because: I never run into them, I’m not sure I would recognize them if I did, I can keep a secret, she has known me all our lives, and I will probably forget what she told me. Finally, I hardly talk to anyone – I’m picky.

With the work I do – my day job – I talk all day long. By the end of the day I’m not even listening to me. Accordingly, in my downtime there must be quiet, and if there is conversation, then I am unforgivingly selective to whom I might give that time. I live in a neighborhood rife with busybodies, so the practice of only talking to the Cabots and/or God I apply ruthlessly. Not only are they nosy, they are banal. If they corner me I am assaulted with a string of inanities – and it’s hard to break loose because they don’t take a breath. There’s ten minutes out of my life that I’ll never get back. I don’t want to be rude, but I must draw the line in the sand. 

Consequently, I go to ridiculous extremes to avoid them. I use different entrances, I walk in the back of the property – which is nice and woodsy – I pretend to be on the phone, preoccupied…I’ve done this so long that I am not even aware that I do it. There are, of course, some wonderful people here, but since the cosmos likes a joke I hardly see them.

I’m sure my lack of participation has tarnished my neighborhood reputation, which is my hope. My father would find this funny; he was the epitome of discretion. My mother, however, was terrible about keeping a secret – unintentionally. She was kind, but somehow, she often let something slip. Her lapses were frequent enough that one or all of us would shout, “Loose lips sink ships!” which my father told us was a slogan during World War II.

In an era where everyone chimes in and has opinions and platform(s) in which to shout them, I think the idea of keeping schtum is moribund – if not dead. Since I like a lost cause, I unconsciously am keeping it going with my friends and neighbors.

In memory of reticence and golden silence.

Clare Irwin

Going to Costco with Eric Clapton

The idea for this essay came to me when I happened upon the documentary “Eric Clapton: A Life in 12 Bars” on Showtime. Then last week a friend took me to Costco which reminded me that I saved this idea in my drafts folder – involving both. I bet you’re wondering how I’ll manage to get Clapton and Costco to intersect. I’m wondering that myself. 

I re-watched the documentary last night. The first time I watched it I remember being engrossed in the story of this remarkable musician; at the same time, I felt annoyed and aggrieved, and totally overwhelmed by the gravitas of this man. I had to stop watching and it took three more attempts to finish it. Not because it wasn’t good, it was, but the level of intensity was more than I could handle in 135 minutes.

Forgive me if I am recapping what many people may already know, but most of this was new to me. Clapton’s life story is compelling and his childhood was deeply wounding. His talent emerged early; by 17 he was already part of the music scene in Britain, hanging out with members of emergent bands like the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, et al. What a Renaissance! This quiet skinny kid who could play the guitar was right in the eye of the hurricane. On first viewing I thought, yes terrible childhood but he had so much too. I thought of Frank McCourt’s line from the first page of Angela’s Ashes, “the happy childhood is hardly worth your while.”

Clapton’s anguish was mother-related (what else?), his grandmother and aunt had a hand as well, so trust issues abound as well as a confused idea of women. The woman who he thought was his sister was, in fact, his mother who after giving birth leaves for Canada and starts a new family. Abandonment, rejection, cruelty: it’s all there. From stills and home movies one can see how this betrayal impacted the unsmiling little boy.

I was puzzled by my conflicting impressions of Clapton’s story. Let’s fast forward through the meteoric rise and get to the part, where upon first viewing, was where I had to stop. Perhaps this is Clapton’s story arc as they say in Hollywood: falling in love with Pattie Boyd, George Harrison’s wife and Clapton’s best friend. Bit sticky. Clapton’s obsession with her bore out some of his greatest work. The song “Layla” took inspiration from a Persian tale that Clapton had read, involving Prince Majnun who loves, unsuccessfully, a beautiful girl – Layla. It all ends in tears with Majnun in the desert giving his soul up to Allah and dying alone. The album — which includes the song “Bell Bottom Blues” also about Pattie — is momentous.

While I’m watching this part, the first time, I’m thinking, “there are girls stupid enough to think this is so romantic: this man is writing songs about how much he loves her and how lucky she was….” Boyd appears to have a fairly qualified reaction to this in the documentary. She seems like a nice enough person and someone who let two men push her around. I thought, you know after a week of this guy it’s got to get old, or completely exhausting. How can anyone live up to the ideal he has in his mind? It’s impossible. The pressure alone would kill you. And when they finally “do it,” forget fireworks and waves crashing on the cliffs – nothing less than a supernova – the death of a star – will do.

It wasn’t lost on me that even in all this pain the men have all the fun and all the talent. Apparently, Boyd was a famous model in the ranks of Jean Shrimpton, whom I have heard of, but not Boyd. That’s all very nice but it’s not nearly as good as being in a legendary rock band. So, you’re an ornament, an ideal, the long-suffering wife of the unfaithful George, and the other rock star down the road, literally, is writing you love letters.

Where does Costco come in? Well, I was thinking that as an affair this could work for a short while, but long term, and Boyd and Clapton did get married, how can this sustain itself? The mundane tasks that need doing, or delegating, they kill the perfect picture. I don’t know why I thought of Costco, maybe because I have an allergic reaction to the place, so the question came to mind, how do you go to Costco with Eric Clapton? Every little thing, every moment, has to be so laden with meaning, so pregnant with profundity, so fraught with significance – what happens? Does everyone’s head explode?

While I was at Costco last week, which gave me nightmares, they had on display an entire living room and entertainment center, all appointed as if a family could just walk in and occupy it. I thought, unkindly, that Clapton could buy a new birth family, equipped with a proper mother, and all would be well. Or would it – the prevailing theory is art is born from pain.

And, more pain is waiting. Boyd and Clapton marry, during the depths of his severe alcoholism, and inevitably it doesn’t work out. There’s a long period of isolation and affairs which bore one daughter and one son, Conor. The tragic death of his 4-year-old son is horrifying. Clapton was in New York staying at a friend’s apartment and Conor falls from an open window. I then remembered that my sister’s friend, who was at school in New York at the time, told us that she was walking home up Lexington Avenue near The Armory and she sees a man running madly towards and past her. In the flash of him she realizes that he’s Eric Clapton, and not until she was home and saw the news, that she put it together.

Through Clapton’s grief he creates an album that is a tribute to Conor. All acoustic, it wins six Grammys. More creating, more successful collaborations, awards and honors – they are legion. In an early interview in the documentary, Clapton claims he doesn’t think he will live long. He’s outlived many/most of his friends and peers: Harrison, Hendrix, Duane Allman, B.B. King…

Quite a journey and in some ways a happy-ish ending for a man who, I am sure, does not believe in them. In 2001 he marries his current wife and now has three teenage girls. At 73 he is outnumbered by four women. I wonder if fate has lent a hand here. Without exception, all the fathers of houses of girls whom I have known, especially during their teenage years, just try to get through the day without having a heart attack. Maybe Clapton in his older age can see women for who they are – perhaps still mystifying but definitely human. 

Christ, I’m at 1100+ words and I’m getting annoyed again. This guy is still in my head. I’m sick of this whole subject and am returning to my initial mean-spirited feeling which was: wake up and realize how fortunate you are! You have it all! There are millions of people who have it so unspeakably worse, and nothing good happens, or if it does it’s not of this Olympian magnitude. What a lucky man you are.

And ladies, get your own rock band, career, something – don’t just sit in attendance and/or nursemaid these talented men. You know all those romantic songs about “their lady loves?” Well, they are more about them than you. Get over yourself, move on and get a life! Cautionary coda: Google Pattie Boyd now, take a look at her website and attending articles. At 73 she’s living in the past and swiftly approaching an eerie imitation of Miss Havisham. 

After all this hammering at the computer I wonder why I ever did this. Life is hard and it’s wonderful and for all the horrendous shit you go through – if you like yourself now, then it was all absolutely necessary.

 

So, Mr. Clapton, I bid you adieu. Try to be happy, be a good parent and give generously.

Clare Irwin

PS I never want to talk or write about this ever again!

We Just Weren’t Made For These Times

Once again I was listening to the local high school radio station. A student whose show I enjoy was signing off for good. He’s headed to William and Mary in the fall. I will miss his astute music knowledge. His last show was comparing the Beatles’s Rubber Soul to Pet Sounds to Revolver, a sort of battle of the bands for the pinnacle of musicality. He played a Beach Boy song with the Phil Spector-esque Wall of Sound, and then he played it without – just the harmonies of five beautiful voices. Marvelous both ways.

He also played the song “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times.” Watching the Showtime documentary on Brian Wilson reveals his emotional troubles, which are well-documented, and this song is emblematic of his discontent. And all our discontent?

I often have this thought myself and I know I am not alone. I think of my friend Will and a friend’s daughter who yearn for something….else. We’re fairly certain it’s not this. My friend’s daughter, Emily, is a beautiful tall blonde athletic Amazon. She’d been perfect for the surf culture decades back in San Onofre and Point Dume. She’s trying to find her way in this nutty world, and is not feeling the manic pull of over-achieving-I-have-to-get-into-Harvard nonsense. 

Will, who is her senior by ten years, is a sweet guy who wants everyone to be happy and love one another. He hangs out at a local vintage shop full of 50s and 60s memorabilia. He has not taken the usual route of “success” and chooses work where he can connect with people. He’s good at it – everyone loves him.

What we have in common is an attraction to a simpler, freer time, which through the rose colored glass is the 1960s. A time of division in the country and an vibrant youth culture – not unlike now. There’s a growing feeling inside of me to light out of where I am and drop out. Hunker down either for “the end” or for the backlash to lash back. I was always like this, even as a kid. A friend’s older brother would laugh and say, “Clare, how far back do you want to go? Do you want the right to vote?!”

Back to the student DJ and his open-mindedness and insight. As a counterpoint, I was talking to my friend Sebastian who is in his twenties. We were discussing a song from the 60s, and he said, “I know I’m supposed to hate it, but I don’t.” That was the saddest thing I heard and it also pissed me off.  What is this “supposed to” stuff? What happens if you download a song “not of your time” on Spotify? Does a red rotating alarm light go off and you’re taken to an underground bunker for reprogramming? To Sebastian’s credit he remains open, but I was discouraged nonetheless.

What is the remedy, I wonder, as we watch everyone exercise their right to act crazy – publicly and privately. While we are lamenting the death of the 99 cent avocado, some maniac who has just been on a high speed chase with police runs into Trader Joe’s wielding a gun and holds the store hostage. Or as we hand over our democracy to Russia with a big bow on it, will we rue the decision of learning Mandarin instead of Russian? 

My answer: not sure. Find a patch of peace, make it your sanctuary, watch, wait, and hope for the best. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Yes, some of us just weren’t made for these times.

Clare Irwin

 

Happy Second Birthday to Phantom Noise in Ordinary Time!

Two years ago yesterday I penned the first essay here. I remember it was Bastille Day, and I wrote in my post, titled Day 1, about what had happened in Cannes – the terrible attack of a truck plowing into crowds of celebrants. I didn’t know until later that a friend of mine was there, pregnant with her first baby. Thankfully, she and her family were not at that locale. And, today the French won the World Cup. I am not sure how that connects but somehow I believe it does.

I reread that post this morning and the one from last year marking the first year. What is different, I wonder? I sense in myself a more somber feeling. I think the last 18 months have been wearying, downright crazy more often than not.

I still hold to the sentiments I wrote on the first year anniversary. I have loved every minute of writing this blog and hope that I, and it, will continue to grow. So many essays in my drafts folder, never enough time. It’s been a joy, and once again I am deeply grateful to those who come and read it.

I started the blog as a way to connect with my family – who are gone. There’s no “remember when…” family member around, so this is my way of sharing memories with them. I would like to imagine that my writing, traveling through the ether, is a delivery system for my message. Most of all, I began this endeavor because of my father who was the last to pass away. He always encouraged and supported me, and believed in me when I did not. He showed me how to be strong and courageous, loyal and true. I can only hope that I might come close to the example he set. So, in the overall, this…all this…is a love letter to my father.

Thank you Dad – I don’t know what you would make of this world gone mad, but I know it wouldn’t shake your core value system one bit. You would carry on. Not just carry on, but live in love, live inside your heart.

My hope is that we are kind, gentle and understanding with each other – even when it appears to be impossibly difficult. Perhaps it is the only, or best, stratagem while we wait for the world to come to its senses. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clare Irwin

A Last Chance Power Drive

Every Sunday a number of older men congregate by the local coffee franchise with their custom vintage cars. They sit in their beach chairs and talk about…cars. They relish in the passers-bys’ compliments. Magnificent machines.

Back in LA I remember a similar crowd would assemble at the Bob’s Big Boy in the Valley, and of course these were the zenith of car collections. It all started there didn’t it – the custom car culture that Tom Wolfe wrote about so wonderfully in his book The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. 

The men assembled this morning were a good-natured bunch, sitting in the hot sun, basking in their handiwork. I asked to take some pictures, and they were happy to oblige. One of them said, “But not of us! Some of us may be wanted men!”

As I left and headed towards the water to enjoy beach activities, I was thinking about these men and their cars. I imagine they are of the age that would have made them eligible for the Vietnam War. I wondered where the next generation of vintage car enthusiasts will come from, or if they are a dying breed.

Times change. The car, the open road, Detroit: the realities and dreams that those words conjured defined America – its industry, fantasy, music, and spirit. America was “the car.” No longer. GM, Ford, Chrysler were either dismantled or bought by foreign car companies. Today, the association is indistinct.

When I was a kid my father went through a phase of collecting British cars: Aston Martin, Alvis, Jaguar, Bentley. They were exquisitely made – the day of the hand-made car has definitely departed – but they were temperamental to say the least. Unreliable would be a better word. We used to joke that our place was where British motors went to die. No one but my father drove them, that is if they started,and they were stick shift, which we all learned on but abandoned for the convenience of automatic. What a shame! Eventually those beautiful dreams were donated to charity.

Collectible cars may be moribund, but romanticism remains. The lure of the open road still beckons with all its promise and possibilities. I hope that never fades away.

 

So drive on. The road is waiting. You’re gonna get to that place
where you really wanna go.

Say hi to Bob for me…and be free.

Clare Irwin

 

 

“C’est la vie”, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell…”

June has been a month “on the road” and a break in my normal routine. Many ceremonies and rituals to attend and the pleasure of meeting new people – a refreshing time. I learned and laughed. I promised myself that I would write four posts this month, so I’m down to the wire, which is my wont.

As I was driving back to home base in the glorious summer weather, I had time to reflect. The window was down, the breeze was fine, and I was driving a scenic route listening to Patsy Cline (another of my father’s Pandora selections), barefoot on the pedals – heaven.

I think the best part of my “adventures” was seeing a friend who I have known since I was nine years old. I see her once a year and it’s always magical. We spent hours sitting on her porch overlooking the water; we’d talk, sometimes she would cross stitch, and the best part of old friends – comfortable silences. I hold dear this friendship and our bond is like sisterhood. 

I take comfort in the old-fashioned rituals of summer: the outdoors, the mountains, the woods, the beach, river rafting, BBQ, picnics, ice cream, spying fireflies, tending a garden. When my parents were still around there would be homemade ice cream. These simple pleasures are essential, particularly now that life is so hectic. Stop and smell the roses, people! I realize this is a completely banal observation, yet the old saw is wise and not heeded nearly enough.

It is my intention to live in an endless summer, and I shall endeavor to realize my ambition. I don’t know what I want to “be” when I grow up, and frankly I hope when I am 80 (if I am fortunate enough to live that long), and still have all my buttons as my great-grandmother would say, that I still won’t know what I want to be. If life is too defined or planned, that usually doesn’t work anyway, and if it does – wouldn’t it close us off from infinite and wonderful possibilities?

June has left me in a mellow, contented, well-being state of mind. No drugs necessary! As we enter July, I wish for all a fun-filled, amazing, adventurous, transformative, and inspiring summer with precious memories for the years to come.

In love and peace,

 

Clare Irwin

Thank You For The Days

These past two months have been busy and I haven’t had much down time. Work is a full court press, and I grab snatches of “me” time with middling success. I am also feeling a bit of melancholia. People who I care about deeply are seriously ill, some have passed, and others are nearing their end of time here on earth. The nature of things is not always easy to accept.

These circumstances led to my thinking a great deal about my family who are gone. My father most of all, but also my maternal grandmother, and my great grandmother. As I walk along the water and have time to empty my mind of the mundane, memories of them come – unbeckoned yet not unwelcome. I haven’t been able to shake this feeling and I am not sure I want to.

While I was driving the other day, I was stopped at a school crosswalk, and as I was waiting I turned on the local high school radio station. The song, “Darling Be Home Soon” came on, sung by Tedeschi Trucks. I had first heard the song right after my dad died and I burst into tears. I think it particularly affected me because the song was sung by a woman. In my detective work to find the song I discovered it was written by John Sebastian, and was also covered by Joe Cocker. It captured how I felt, the ache, and also the thankfulness for such love

Shortly after I first heard “Darling Be Home Soon,” I heard “Days” which did me in as well. As I was trying to discover the song writer, I saw a few people wrote that it was a song that was played at their fathers’ funerals. I learned it was written by Ray Davies of the Kinks. “Days” elicits the similar cathartic feeling, it’s a little darker –  the end point is acknowledged straightaway.

In the last week I have heard both these songs again on the radio. Curious chance of odds that I caught both randomly. I’d like to think that in the continuum where time and space collapse that the beauteous spirit who I am missing is letting me know, “I’m here Clare, and it’s okay.”

Clare Irwin

I have included below the words to both these beautiful songs which are intricately layered:

 

Come
And talk of all the things we did today
Here
And laugh about our funny little ways
While we have a few minutes to breathe
Then I know that it’s time you must leave
But, darling, be home soon
I couldn’t bear to wait an extra minute if you dawdled
My darling, be home soon
It’s not just these few hours, but I’ve been waiting since I toddled
For the great relief of having you to talk to
And now
A quarter of my life is almost past
I think I’ve come to see myself at last
And I see that the time spent confused
Was the time that I spent without you
And I feel myself in bloom
So, darling, be home soon
I couldn’t bear to wait an extra minute if you dawdled
My darling, be home soon
It’s not just these few hours, but I’ve been waiting since I toddled
For the great relief of having you to talk to
So, darling
My darling, be home soon
I couldn’t bear to wait an extra minute if you dawdled
My darling, be home soon
It’s not just these few hours, but I’ve been waiting since I toddled
For the great relief of having you to talk to
Go
And beat your crazy head against the sky
Try
And see beyond the houses and your eyes
It’s okay to shoot the moon
Darling be home soon
I couldn’t bear to wait an extra minute if you dawdled
My darling, be home soon
It’s not just these few hours, but I’ve been waiting since I toddled
For the great relief of having you to talk to
John Sebastian
 
Thank you for the days
Those endless days, those sacred days you gave me
I’m thinking of the days
I won’t forget a single day, believe me
I bless the light
I bless the light that lights on you believe me
And though you’re gone
You’re with me every single day, believe me
Days I’ll remember all my life
Days when you can’t see wrong from right
You took my life
But then I knew that very soon you’d leave me
But it’s all right
Now I’m not frightened of this world, believe me
I wish today could be tomorrow
The night is dark
It just brings sorrow, let it wait
Thank you for the days
Those endless days, those sacred days you gave me
I’m thinking of the days
I won’t forget a single day, believe me
Days I’ll remember all my life
Days when you can’t see wrong from right
You took my life
But then I knew that very soon you’d leave me
But it’s all right
Now I’m not frightened of this world, believe me
Days
Thank you for the days
Those endless days, those sacred days you gave me
I’m thinking of the days
I won’t forget a single day, believe me
I bless the light
I bless the light that shines on you believe me
And though you’re gone
You’re with me every single day, believe me
Days
Raymond Douglas Davies

Baker’s Dozen – I

I’ve been mulling over whether to write this post or not, consulted friends, and as I start this now I still don’t know. Last week, I was in Trader Joe’s and I remembered that I once wrote an article about TJ’s beauty aisle for a now defunct fashion/beauty website: “Trader Joe’s Baker’s Dozen Best Buys for Beauty.” The site went out of business before I submitted the final draft. I dug around and found the article – it’s a bit long and heavy on the lavender and tea tree oil – but informational.

What stumped me most was the alarming note of not recognizing myself in the writing. I sound positively giddy. To be sure, I was writing it for a specific purpose/audience, and it was a number of years ago – at least five. But that wasn’t it, I’ve found writings and “scribbles” from when I was a kid and I see myself. All I could think was, “Who is this woman?” “And, what extraordinary cocktail of drugs is she taking?” The answer is none, so I have no excuses. I’m attempting to recall what was going on at that time, and it’s vague because it wasn’t particularly interesting. I was friends with a girl who normally I wouldn’t be friendly with – we had mutual acquaintances. Anyway, she was…I sound like her in this which really scares me. I can’t remember now, but I may have deliberately tried to channel her “voice” since the audience for this piece would have been girls/women like her. Nice, safe, conforming, aiming to please, nonthreatening…blech. Sadly, or not, I don’t fit this role as much as I may try. I lean more in the direction of say her (right), or this (below):

Now, I am less drawn to the make-up and creams as I was a couple of years ago. Obviously, there are other products at TJ’s that actually may contribute to my health like juices, nuts, fruit, and of course candy (reward motivation system?). The 99 cent greeting cards are excellent too. So, I’ll frequent TJ’s until the farmer’s markets gear up again.

Now I have to figure out how to add the article without making this an endless word salad. Help!

Tripped Up & To Be Continued –

                                         Clare Irwin

Okay, it’s done. See the above post “Beauty’s Baker’s Dozen II” for the article where I dost not know my self.

Pandora

You’re probably thinking I’m going to lay another Greek myth on you. Not exactly. Well maybe…I’m not sure where this is going. The Pandora of which I speak is the music streaming company. I forgot it was installed on a bedroom TV. I had it for my father who lived with us in the last years of his life. So, the stations are his, and as I have been listening to them these last weeks, I think of my dad and what an amazing person he was. Since it’s his selection of music, I feel him with me even more – music is one powerful force. I love how nothing is by accident, and by mere happenstance (not really), I just read an article on how music affects the brain. Even if you’ve heard a song hundreds of times, the anticipation, the frisson, is as strong as ever, and dopamine and other happy chemicals are emitted by the brain. Then, I was listening to a show on YouTube about essentially the same thing – that music is good for you, and if you want to listen to your favorite songs for the 1,000th time: go for it!

Perhaps I did open Pandora’s box –  actually in the versions of the myth it’s a jar. Nevertheless, what was released for me were not plagues and evils, but beloved memories. I was impressed by the variety of music my father enjoyed: classical – Cecelia Bartoli, Shostakovich, Brahms, Schubert, Mahler, – Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday (he adored her), Louis Armstrong (I think “What a Wonderful World” was my dad’s personal anthem), Bob Marley, Wilson Pickett, Milton Nascimento, Big Band orchestras, Jo Stafford, The Beach Boys, the Beatles, Charlie Parker, and here’s a few I found amusing: The Go-Go’s, R.E.M., ABBA and Cyndi Lauper. Where the hell did he come up with those? There’s many more – I’ll stop grocery listing – but they are indeed intriguing and genuinely eclectic.

Dad’s Pandora stations reaffirm for me his marvelous ease and joy of life, his open-mindedness, his embracing of all, his massive capacity to love, to forgive, and to endure. I’m not canonizing him, he was a beautiful wonderful flawed human being like the rest of us, but I must say that he did have an extra dazzle and sparkle that was a joy. He was a true gentleman, to the marrow, and women seemed to intuit this because they all loved him – often to my mother’s dismay. His humor and wit were superlative, and even when life threw him cataclysmic losses – they had no dominion over him. He remained the glorious generous person he always was.

Pandora in the ancient Greek means all-giving, I had forgotten that. How appropriate. It sums my father up – it is also what music does. At the end of Pandora’s story, the only thing left in the jar is Hope. Among the scholars and philosophers, Hope is another evil, a mixed bag at best. Much debate abounds – even drilling down to the meaning of the ancient Greek word, which is ambivalent at best.

Well shoot, it’s a sunny day, I’m in a good mood, and I need to wrap this up, so I’m going to go with the Pollyanna view which is hope is good thing. Hmm…isn’t that from The Shawshank Redemption?

So…Rock Out?

Clare Irwin

Portable Magic – Part II

What to read…what to read first? I visited my local libraries and the displays were vast and tantalizing. I will enjoy reading their new books recommendations in the near future, but too many choices tend to baffle me.

So I return to the “classics” – ones I never read, and ones that deserve to be read again.The first work I picked up was a collection of Washington Irving’s short stories. I wanted to reread “The Legend of Sleep Hollow,” and while I was thumbing through the table of contents I noticed how many of Irving’s stories are part of the American lexicon, particularly Rip Van Winkle, and of course Icabod Crane and his Headless Hessian Horseman. In the introduction, I read about Irving’s life which was quite fascinating: he spent 17 years living abroad, and was highly prolific in all genres: histories, biographies, travelogues, etc. While in England he visited Walter Scott, whom Irving revered, and Scott was an admirer of Irving’s History of New York. Irving took posts with the Navy and accepted numerous diplomatic positions. Upon his return to America, Irving was nominated by Tammany Hall as mayor of New York – a position he declined. He traveled to the Oklahoma Territory which yielded A Tour of the Prairies. At 52 Irving bought the property which would later be known as Sunnyside – his home near to the locale of his famous tale. Irving is distinctly old New York: the early Dutch heritage, and the mystery and beauty of the Hudson Valley north of Manhattan island. Irving Place in Manhattan is named after him, and his family home there has enjoyed an distinguished provenance of creative people.

While thoroughly enjoying Irving’s marvelous tale and description of life in Sleepy Hollow, a memory from my childhood returned to me – of a trip my mother and I took to see Washington Irving’s home, which is open to the public. My mother planned special trips with each of us on our own with her. Irving’s home is in Irvington, and I recall the weather was beautiful. It was a wonderful day – a special day – the house was delightful and the docents were dressed in clothes of the time. At the end of the tour the kind ladies invited the visitors to a spread of tea things, lemonade and ginger spice cookies – which were excellent. The docents offered the recipe on elegant cards…in green ink and a pretty William Morris-like pattern border. It’s a sweet memory.

When I decided to write about Irving and promised the recipe, I was gripped with anxiety. How was I going to find it amid all the recipes and papers and “stuff” I inherited from my faithful departed? I pulled out the accordion file aptly labeled “cookies” and the recipe gods smiled on me: I found it right away. It’s not the original green ink card, it looks like a 5th generation xerox copy. But it is the recipe with notes from my mother – it’s both comforting and jarring to see a loved one’s handwriting – there’s an intimacy about it that reconnects me to the person. Here it is. My mother used to make the cookies at Christmastime, but the recipe is suitable anytime of year. They are not too ginger-y: they are just right. 

So Washington Irving, his lanky schoolmaster and the quiet town where people tarry, brings me to my memories – all supplied by a bite of a ginger cookie.

Enjoy!

Clare Irwin

 

 

 

 

 

 

Postscript: If anyone can’t read the recipe and would like it, I would be delighted to post it in more legible form.

Post Postscript: In the introduction of Irving’s collection of stories, Charles Neider, the editor, writes: “‘Rip Van Winkle’ is a fairy tale of bewitchment and a story of the magical changes wrought by Time. It has been insufficiently stressed that Time is one of Irving’s chief characters…he was endlessly fascinated by the effects of Time. It was an artist’s fascination.” I wonder if that is why, unconsciously, I was drawn to Irving first; for Time plays a significant role in this blog – it is the thread I hope, at least, that I weave into the fabric of the writing.