Remembrance of Things Past – The School by the Park

I hope everyone is having a merry time visiting family, traveling and relaxing, as we round the turn to the closing of the year. I too have been enjoying this time. Simultaneously, I can’t help but think about all the people I love – family, friends, loves – who are not gathering around my table any longer. I do miss them but I am blessed to have the memory of these exceptional souls.

This feeling was solidified when I was searching The New Yorker website for an article, and accidentally came upon a wonderful piece by Muriel Spark. She was the Scottish writer best known for the novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. The essay is entitled “The School on the Links,” and it is a non-fiction look back at the girls school and teacher who inspired Spark’s book. Like all her work it is flawlessly executed, beautiful, funny, poignant and wise. It’s definitely worth reading. Spark describes the school and her friends, recalling the thrill of learning new things, and the fascination and speculation of her teachers’ private lives, particularly her exhilarating Miss Kay on whom Jean Brodie is based. 

I went to a small private girls school, eons after Muriel Spark and it wasn’t in Scotland, but here in the States. It also wasn’t on the links, but it did face an exquisite historic park. Even so, there are elements in common that are eternally true: school “chums,” everything and everyone seeming, to us, to have a sex appeal charge. Most importantly, the appreciation, even while young, of the “grown-ups” in our lives and their endearing qualities. I think of what was once my somewhat large family: high-spirited, vital, courageous, trail blazers, smart, funny, and dare I say it – quite glamorous. Of course none were perfect, not by a long shot. But I do know this, the world isn’t as interesting with them not in it. They all added more than a splash of sparkle to the world. I think too of my one true love, the love of my life – my immortal beloved who left this world too soon. One by one they passed over, some way too young, some after long illnesses, and some at a good old age.

A number of years ago, at that point it was just my father and I who remained. I remember we were outside in a parking lot or someplace random. I think we had run into each other (we lived in adjoining towns), and we were chatting about this and that. I think I adored my father most of all – he had such lovely ways about him. As the conversation, which I cannot remember, wound down my father was laughing and shrugging his shoulders, wearing his sweet shy smile that was completely disarming. And then he said, “Let’s face it Clare, you’re the last of the Mohicans.” I thought it was amusing, and now, at this vantage point, those words echo often in my mind and I see how true and how right he was. 

Ram Dass says, “We’re all just walking each other home.” I like that. But as I look at the road forward, I can’t help but at times look back. Over the past few years my memories have taken on an appropriate hue, and I can think about all that was and smile, laugh and be so deeply grateful for the knowing of them all. What I owe the ones I love is beyond evaluation.

In The New Yorker article, Spark wraps up her story, “It was sixty years ago. The average age of those high-spirited and intelligent men and woman who taught us were about forty; they were in their prime. I cannot believe that they are all gone, all past and over, gone to their graves, so vivid are they in my memory, one and all.”

Clare Irwin

Holiday Wishes! & I’m Just Wild about Harry!

Yuletide wishes & happy festivities to everyone! I hope your holiday is full of love and joy and peace. Now and always.

I was on Twitter this morning, composing a holiday greeting, and on my feed I saw a sweet tweet from a gentleman in England: Harry Leslie Smith. The tweet read: 

“Happy Christmas to all my friends and followers. Love will triumph even in this darkness, if we show the courage of compassion to our fellow travelers. All the best, Harry.” I went to his home page and learned that Harry is a remarkable man. Nearly 95, he has decided that, “I’m spending the last years of my life touring the refugee hot spots of the world to find a solution to this crisis…” How fantastic is that? Harry’s profile reads: “Survivor of the Great Depression, RAF veteran Activist for the Welfare State Author of Harry’s Last Stand Love Among the Ruins, 1923 & The Empress of Australia…”

I hope I’m like that if I make it to 95 – but why wait? I think I will take a leaf out of Harry’s book and start…now. All that courage, concern, heart, resilience and joy. It’s admirable stuff. I remember that The New Yorker magazine used to have mini-columns (maybe it still does), that were usually at the end of an article where some space needed to be filled. There was: “Block that Metaphor!” and “There’ll Always Be an England.” Of course they were clever and funny, and I am thinking of Harry, but more in connection to the song,”There’ll Always Be an England,” which I vaguely know. It embodies British pluck and courage even in the midst of the “darkness” to which Harry refers.

So dear friends, have a happy and raise a glass to Harry, to yourselves, your loved ones, and to bravery. 

Cheers!

Clare Irwin

Dogville – Part I: Celebrity Spotting & Part II: Size Doesn’t Matter

I’ve mentioned my friend Will in a few other posts. Will is an excellent source of humorous observation. Among the many things he does, Will walks dogs in my favorite seaside town that I’m always going on about. The other day he texted me a comment and photo about a dog he walks. He’s been walking this particular dog for a while, but suddenly looking at him he realized that the dog bore an uncanny resemblance to Frank the grouchy Pug from the original Men In Black movie. Here decide for yourself.

As you can see Frank is camera shy which confirms to us it is actually the real Frank. Will says this is as much as he could get Frank to look at him. Another sign of celebrity! So, in case you were wondering, Frank is living the good life in retirement and is still fairly uncooperative.

 

 

I have another friend, a lovely young woman who I have known for some time, but only recently I learned about her little dog who she adores. I think it’s a Chihuahua but I am not positive. She only weighs 2 pounds! Our cat weighs 12! She is thinking of breeding her perhaps this coming spring, and I can’t imagine how tiny the litter will be. I find it endearing and touching the love my friend has for her dog, and what I like most is that the dog’s name is Peggy Maria. That knocks me out. Her name is bigger than she is! Here are some pictures of two best friends, and once again reminds us that love comes in all packages and sizes.

Enjoy the holiday weekend.

Clare Irwin

P.S. I just learned that Peggy Maria is a miniature Doberman — not a Chihuahua!

P.P.S. Frank was spotted on the cover of this week’s New Yorker! Looks like he has the right idea.

 

 

 

To All the Pets We’ve Loved Before…

…and will again and after.

Bull Dog

Bull Dog

A dear young friend of mine lost her beloved pet this past Thursday night. This young lady is a special soul, intelligent, sensitive, creative and loving. A wonderful person, beautiful inside and out. She possesses the pale beauty and perfect features that one sees in paintings of the Northern Renaissance — I am thinking of Jan van Eyck as an example. She loved her pet and cared for her in a fashion that was so touching. My heart aches for her loss. Many of us know the grief of saying our goodbyes to the pets we love with all our hearts: dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, all of them. Of course there is other devastating grief. But I am thinking of this unique and wonderful bond we are able to have with these beautiful creatures who simply love us.

Girl with horse

Girl with horse

Whether it’s a pet from long ago or a recent loss we hold the memory of them in our hearts. They stay with us always.

Baby Mice

Baby Mice

I remember vaguely a movie where a man thinks he has died and gone to heaven. He awakens on a beautiful deserted beach and a dog comes happily running up to greet him. The man says, “Oh, I was hoping there would be dogs here.” Nice. I’m hoping and believing that all the creatures we love will be there too. I recall in prep school singing the lovely Anglican hymn, “All things bright and beautiful,/All creatures great and small,/All things wise and wonderful,/The Lord God made them all…I realize that not everyone shares this belief, but I hope all can take comfort that wherever our lovely pets are they are happy and frolicking and forever beautiful and well.

Black Cat

Black Cat

Clare Irwin

P.S. I hope you will share your remembrances of your much loved pets with me.