Saturday, October 11, 2014

Music for melancholy people

to a young child
"Starry Night over the Rhone" by Vincent Van Gogh


Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

"Spring and Fall"
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

I don't know if this extends beyond Margaret and me, but autumn — my favorite season — sometimes puts me in a melancholy mood. I know the mood has arrived by the songs that start running through my head.

Paul Simon's 1973 song "American Tune" came to mind this morning. It takes me back to the disillusionment of the early 1970s. I remember listing to it with my mother. She was recently out of a terrible second marriage and I was fresh out of Sixties dreams and working as a writer. This was the era of Watergate, when revelations about the misdeeds of President Nixon filled the headlines. Somehow, probably because it's so lovely, it's long been one of my favorite songs.



Another song that reminds me of autumn is Joni Mitchell's "Urge for Going." Tom Rush's version is the one I heard first, and it's still my favorite.



And then there is the classic "Autumn Leaves." Many great singers have sung it, but for the past few years my favorite version has been the one recorded by the late Eva Cassidy.



This last song, "Shenandoah," came out of a distant memory. I've never been to the Shenandoah Valley, so I don't have any direct connection with it. But somehow, the ache for the past is there just like Margaret's mourning.



"You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare agains the wind and the cold, wintry light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason."
~ Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Late addition for returning readers

My friend Susan Champlin, author of the excellent blog What Would Katherine Hepburn Do? (WWKHD), told me about Bruce Springsteen's version of "Shenandoah." I've fallen in love with it. It is the "Grapes of Wrath" rendition. Give it a listen.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Remembering Patty

"Hiya sweetheart!"
~ Patricia Marie Hush

Patty (at left) with sisters Barbara and Joan.
My beloved oldest sister Patty was born on this day in 1931. Her bright light left us on November 23, 2013. My other sisters, along with my nieces and nephews and friends who knew her, put our heads together to share memories of Patty — photos of her, the music she loved, the things she used to say.

My niece Heather summed up the Patty effect well: "She was such a blessing to us all. Anyone who spent any amount of time with her left more compassionate and light-hearted. She was one of the best gifts/life lessons we could have received as children."

Patty was intellectually disabled — mentally retarded, as we used to say before "retarded" became a shaming word. She never learned to read or write. But she was brilliant about people. Her social skills were better than mine will ever be. She was also the family's memory keeper. She forgot nothing, but forgave a lot. She went through some extremely hard times in her life, but her joyous spirit bounced back and became a source of buoyancy to us all.

Let's start with a couple of the songs she loved. "Down by the Old Mill Stream" is a song my dad was known to sing and pantomime to at the dinner table. Patty always chimed in.



This was another favorite — Tex Beneke's version of "Five Minutes More."



My niece Hilary remembered how much Patty adored babies — and here's photographic proof. She would often ask my mom when she would get married and have a baby. The knowledge that it wasn't likely to happen broke her heart.

Another niece, Deirdre, was the first to point out "Hiya sweetheart!" — Patty's oh-so cheerful greeting. It never failed to put a smile on the face of whoever entered the room.

Hilary also remembered the way Patty would inevitably shout out "Happy Christmas!" during a quiet moment at Christmas Mass. She adored Christmases and birthdays. I vividly remember her during my first Christmases on the planet; Patty would sit in a chair and make a fuss over every gift she received.

Even this shower cap — a stocking gift. On Patty's lap you can see one of the Christmas stockings that my Aunt Ella made for all of us.

Whatever Patty said, she meant it. My friend Dawn remembers a night when she slept over at my family's house and woke to find Patty touching her long blond hair saying "So beautiful." She said those words, coming from Patty, meant more to her than all the praise guys gave her (she was gorgeous) because she knew it was sincere.

A few more photos:

Patty with my mom and our dog Gay at our house on Dune Road.
Patty on Easter with our cousin Tommy and sisters Terry, Barbara and me.






















Patty flanked by sisters Betsy and Terry in 2009.



























Finally, two of my all-time favorite photos, which capture one of the things I miss most: Patty's big, bright smile.


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Happy birthday to Billy Collins

"We seem to always know where we are in a Billy Collins poem, but not necessarily where he is going. I love to arrive with him at his arrivals. He doesn't hide things from us, as I think lesser poets do. He allows us to overhear, clearly, what he himself has discovered."
~ Stephen Dunn

Billy Collins has become one of my favorite poets ever since I read his poem "The Death of the Hat," which reminded me of my dad in all the good ways.
THE DEATH OF THE HAT
by Billy Collins
Once every man wore a hat.
In the ashen newsreels,
the avenues of cities
are broad rivers flowing with hats.
The ballparks swelled
with thousands of strawhats,
brims and bands,
rows of men smoking
and cheering in shirtsleeves.
Hats were the law.
They went without saying.
You noticed a man without a hat in a crowd.
You bought them from Adams or Dobbs
who branded your initials in gold
on the inside band.
Trolleys crisscrossed the city.
Steamships sailed in and out of the harbor.
Men with hats gathered on the docks.
There was a person to block your hat
and a hatcheck girl to mind it
while you had a drink
or ate a steak with peas and a baked potato.
In your office stood a hat rack.
The day the war was declared
everyone in the street was wearing a hat
and they were wearing hats
when a ship loaded with men sank in the icy sea.
My father wore one to work every day
and returned home
carrying the evening paper,
the winter chill radiating from his overcoat.
But today we go bareheaded
into the winter streets,
stand hatless on frozen platforms.
Today the mailboxes on the roadside
and the spruce trees behind the house
wear cold white hats of snow.
Mice scurry from the stone walls at night
in their thin fur hats
to eat the birdseed that has spilled.
And now my father, after a life of work,
wears a hat of earth,
and on top of that,
A lighter one of cloud and sky--a hat of wind.

I've seen him read a few times now, and each time I've liked him more. But today I came across this video and I wanted to share it with you. He collaborated with Sundance a couple of years ago to create animations of several poems. They're surprisingly wonderful.

But stick around for the final poem, "To My Favorite 17-Year-Old High School Girl," which will bring a smile to the face of anyone who's ever had a teenager in the house.




Learn more about Billy Collins and read his poems here: