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

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.