Retro Post: October’s Bright Blue Weather

This was originally posted on October 12th, 2012.

Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885)

October’s Bright Blue Weather

O suns and skies and clouds of June,
And flowers of June together,
Ye cannot rival for one hour
October’s bright blue weather;

When loud the bumble-bee makes haste,
Belated, thriftless vagrant,
And Golden-Rod is dying fast,
And lanes with grapes are fragrant;

When Gentians roll their fringes tight
To save them for the morning,
And chestnuts fall from satin burrs
Without a sound of warning;

When on the ground red apples lie
In piles like jewels shining,
And redder still on old stone walls
Are leaves of woodbine twining;

When all the lovely wayside things
Their white-winged seeds are sowing,
And in the fields, still green and fair,
Late aftermaths are growing;

When springs run low, and on the brooks,
In idle golden freighting,
Bright leaves sink noiseless in the hush
Of woods, for winter waiting;

When comrades seek sweet country haunts,
By twos and twos together,
And count like misers, hour by hour,
October’s bright blue weather.

O suns and skies and flowers of June,
Count all your boasts together,
Love loveth best of all the year
October’s bright blue weather.


Each year there is one crisp, blue and yellow day that expands almost til it bursts; the day on which I instantly recall this poem. I first learned about it from a friend, Les Brownlee, who, when in his eighties and nearing the end of his incredibly full life as a pioneering black journalist in Chicago (he coined the phrase “eyewitness news”), robustly recited aloud the first lines of the poem on just such an October day many years ago. I knew instantly that I would make it part of the landscape of my years, a personal tradition to keep for my own. While I would never commit the poem to memory in it’s entirety as Les and those of his generation did so often and so well, I would work to learn the first few lines and to have them on the ready as a surprise autumnal gift to give at just the perfect moment.

Surrounded by the red and white of Les’ beloved alma mater UW Madison (and the occasional fighting badger adorning a wall clock or hand towel) my husband and I would join a generous-sized gathering at his home on many Sundays throughout our life in Evanston, Illinois. He and his wife Priscilla were the family and hearth we were missing in our contemporary, parent-less lives. That era has long since come to a close, but how lucky I am to take with me those memories of friendship and inclusion – as well as a few choice poems and stories.

One or two days a year, when the weather turns just so, I think of you, dear Les, and I send you my gratitude for helping to write a lovely stanza in my own life’s poem.

Post Script, October 2015: The mild days of fall are fast disappearing now, so too are the leaves. Fall is stunning for one or two brief weeks, but by month’s end, there’s not a leaf left. It’s hard to imagine how the landscape will transform in the coming days. We’re savoring it all here at The Hillhouse, as we’re not quite ready for all the dull, gray branches and cold air ahead.

Here are some pics from our colorful life this past week…













The view here is bright and blue.


If I can get to sleep by ten, I’ll be waking to see the clock by three. If I push my bedtime back to midnight, it’s almost certain I’ll be up again by five. Even with the prescription sleeping pills. My mother’s body has worked this way for years – so it’s not really a surprise. The difference between us is that she accepts it, but me, I don’t want to. I cherish my sleep, and I’ll do whatever I need to do in order to get it. My dreaming world is far more interesting and compelling one than this waking one. Besides, my body has always needed and wanted sleep. Always. I find that either exactly seven or nine hours is best. Less or more seems to throw me off. But five? That’s more my ex-husband’s speed. Not only do I need sleep – but I fairly live for it. I exist for those heavenly departures from the constantly-running mind. The endless worry over money, over heating oil, over my worsening arthritis. The endless tangential branches of thought that almost never return to their origin, the constant interior spinning of my head.

Once, when remarking that I hardly knew what to do first in order to get the Studio completed, a friend asked if I had ADD. The idea had come as a complete surprise. Did I? I didn’t think so, cuz I did manage to pull off a lot – but maybe, maybe… Further contemplation on the question tells me that that’s not the issue. It’s just that I have so many interests and goals, and for the time being, it’s just me getting them all done. As my son gets older, he does more for himself, and that helps a lot. And soon, with any luck, it won’t be just me piloting the Studio into its future. But for the moment, it feels like the world won’t turn unless I figure out how to turn it… And my thoughts just won’t turn off.

Rooting hormone – where can I get that stuff? And how much longer will those cuttings last before it’s too late to root them? If I get a 32″ wide door for the utility room door and frame it smaller, will the sink fit inside? Will people fit through ok? Who’s the biggest person who needs to get in there anyway? Gotta measure that sink. Can’t forget to cancel my old car insurance and call the new agent back asap… How will I afford the additional storage space for the blog? Gotta get a sweep for that east-facing door, have to make sure the thermostat works in the outside closet before it freezes, gotta pay Al, gotta pay Joe, gotta buy a new door – and is that door still sitting at the side of Locust Grove road? – gotta pay the lawyer, the dentist, the electric bill for the Studio… I’ll need more students to make the new expenses… Man, how will I make the insurance payments? How can I get people in the place? How do I keep going with no money? I’m getting fatter these days and sure am glad I kept my bigger clothes… How will I ever get back into shape again? Shall I start Weight Watchers again this week, and how embarrassing will that be? Why oh why did I let myself go over the summer? How will I make Elihu’s costume? Wonder if the head or the shoulders support the weight… Damn these arthritic fingers, I can feel them crossing now…. When was it I first noticed that? August? Beginning of September? There’s no going back, my fingers will never, ever be as they were… God I wish my fingers would just stop getting worse. No sense worrying about it, but damn it, I can feel them right now, rubbing against each other. But then again, what am I complaing about? I have fingers. And they work. Could be so much worse. I don’t have cancer… yet. Dare I even think that? I used to think I’d never get cancer, but just look at all of my friends who have had it, they probably didn’t think they’d get cancer either…

And on it goes. But deeper still, beneath the white noise-like chatter of my conscious thoughts is a near-constant sense of fear, of imminent doom, rumbling away. I used to wonder if I was the only person – but I’ve always known that I couldn’t possibly be; there are enough of us here on the planet that I can be damn sure that I’m not the first to do or think anything. Just yesterday I came upon the blog of a fellow who describes himself as a constantly depressed ‘type’. And for him, as it is for me, it isn’t that he’s unable to laugh or to enjoy life, it’s just that he always starts from a melancholic place. That’s just the way he’s always been. It relieved me to hear someone else talking like this. Someone else for whom good cheer and positivity must be cultivated. When I read his ‘about’ page, my first thought was finally. Finally someone else who isn’t always up, who isn’t wired to see a glass half full. Someone who knows better, and has to work go get there. I honestly do feel it’s easier for some than others. Me, I look at my hoarder, depressed and alcoholic brother and I realize there’s a physiological component to my temperament as well. Aside from the general ill-ease I feel, there’s always the threat of panic attacks – or at least acute pre-panic episodes. My panic attacks may be helped along by certain triggers, but at the end of the day, they are physical events over which I simply do not have the sort of control I might wish. People may think it’s a way in which to shirk responsibility for oneself, but it’s not so. That being said, there are some things I can do to help keep myself aloft as well as to keep the panic events to a minimum, and they’re on the list. Even if I can’t control the panic thing entirely, it’s true that I need to take more action. And I think of the things I mean to do about it as I lay in bed each night, spinning.

“You know why you’re having panic attacks these days” my new friend miChelle said with complete confidence. “It’s because you’re not meditating”. I knew that she was, in part, correct. I also knew that I wasn’t exercising in any way, and that contributed. So did drinking alcohol daily. The challenge about drinking is just as it was for me with smoking; you’re always chasing that buzz, that wonderful, warm and ‘hopeful’ feeling, but it’s gone almost as soon as you feel it. It’s elusive, and demands you chase it down the hole. But in the end, it just makes it even harder to sleep, adds more useless calories to your day, and leaves you with a fuzzy headache the next morning. It helps to know that the Studio’s hump is behind me now, and so too are my taxes (which I got done late this year!) so I can afford to turn more of my attention to figuring out a game plan for living better. At least I don’t smoke anymore. That God for that. 

Another spin cycle starts… People who know me personally might think of me as energetic, positive and outgoing, and on the outside, yeah, I am. But that’s not how my soul feels… Daily, sometimes even hourly I think of the horror that fellow humans live with; the poverty, the disabilities, the indignities, the physical torture at the hands of other humans. I’m always aware that unspeakable pain and fear exist on the planet at this very moment. I also realize that because I’m powerless to change anything other than my small sphere of influence; fretting over this stuff is wasted mental and spiritual energy. So instead I take moments throughout the day to send my love and peace to these people. Even those back through history. I try to comfort them across time and space, because I feel for them. Remembering them should help me to understand how fortunate I am, but somehow, I can’t get it as I know I should. Why am I so deeply bothered by other people’s traumas? Why do I feel as if I myself might also be only steps away from a horrible fate? The view outside my window is lovely, my child is thriving, and so far, I’m not in pain or acute distress. So far. Man, what is with me? I feel like Woody Allen here.

There are times when I think if I only had a partner, things would be so much easier. Someone to say ‘don’t worry, I got the dishes, you go and update the website.’ Or someone to make supper, go shopping, run into town… But then I scold myself. I know damn well that while it might be nice to have a dear friend and peer in my camp (and having someone who actually made decent money in the household would undoubtedly lift an enormous burden) I’m not sure it would fix everything. In fact, it’d be one more person who needed a piece of me. And the way I feel about life these days – I just don’t have the energy for that. 

I can tame the spin a bit by getting it down on paper. Seeing the lists helps. And I’ve collected half a dozen small spiral notebooks in which nearly every item has a line through it. Lest I lose myself in despair I must remember that the Studio is open for business and populated each week (albeit by only a couple dozen people), and one year ago the place was gutted and barren. So I got that going for me. Which is nice. (Yes, my in-the-know friends. Caddyshack.)

Elihu and I walked in the woods just down the road and visited the beaver pond this afternoon. Years ago there was no trail; my mother gave us the directions she’d used in those days – we were to head east until we came upon Sessleman creek, at which we should take a right, following it until the waterfall at the pond’s head. (Elizabeth Sessleman, of the family for whom the creek was named, married Ralph Ellsworth and they built the home in which we now live.) As we entered the property we met a fellow walking two big dogs, and he told us to follow the trail, crossing the bridge and continuing on to the lookout. I expressed my surprise at the infrastructure, and he told me that the property had been donated to Saratoga PLAN, a local land conservation group. Martha had given her land to them too. While it was ultimately good news, it did kinda sadden me that the old days of finding one’s way through the woods without benefit of a trail were gone. But the trek didn’t disappoint, and in fact my previously cranky pre-teen enjoyed himself thoroughly. We were met with cairns everywhere, and there were even Tibetan prayer flags hung at the entrance to the lookout, which perched over the waterfall at the creek’s end – the creek which my mother had followed years ago on foot. 

In the woods, all my panic-related thoughts eased. The scent of a damp forest in continual, soft decay restored us both. Penny-sized flecks of mirror-like mica peeked out from beneath the moss, and the roots of huge trees hugged giant boulders, coaxing them gently out of the ground in super slow motion. The trail had some pretty elevation changes throughout, with large ledges of exposed rock marking the topography. We found our way down to the water’s edge and although we found none, we kept on the lookout for frogs.  Elihu wove me a bracelet from sedge grass and noted that he really was a Waldorf kid. ! We followed a small penninsua out into the water and had a fine time exploring. As the sun began to dip down below the treetops, we turned and followed the trail loop back to the road.

Now we’re home. It’s been just about as fine a fall day as one could ever have, and we’re pleasantly tired, holed up in my bedroom and waiting for the electric space heater to take the chill off. I feel better, both for having moved in the fresh air, and for having had the chance to express a little of my inner world to the outer one, so very far from the confines of my tiny room. For now my head is clean, and even though my house might not be the same, I feel fairly content. I’m in my favorite chair, and Elihu is here beside me in my big bed, cozy and playing a game on his Ipad. Every now and then he tells me he loves me. He asks if I’m happy, and I tell him that I am. It feels good to be home, healthy and safe. So for now, I’m going to try not to worry about anything at all. Because I know very well that the world spins just fine without me.

IMG_0035Not far into the woods we came upon Sessleman Creek. The bridge is fairly new.

IMG_0039It flows pretty well here, glad there was a bridge to cross it.

IMG_0223A ridge of rock pokes out from the forest floor and has me imagining a sleek, mid-century home atop it…

IMG_0079After a short walk we come to our destination, the big pond formed by beaver dams.

IMG_0075We’re on a ridge about 30 feet above the expanse of water, but Elihu can’t see anything but the closest trees. He gets that there’s some ‘white’ out there, but that’s it. I promise him that when we get home I’ll show him the pics of the water on the computer. This kind of stuff always breaks my heart, but I don’t dwell on it – especially not in front of him – because it’s simply how things are.

IMG_0052Next comes the bridge over the waterfall. Not long ago this bridge wasn’t here either.

IMG_0092Looking back at the waterfall bridge. We found dozens of small cairns throughout this part of the trail, so I left one too. It’s at the bottom of the pic, silhouetted against the water.

IMG_0130The forest floor, a gorgeous tapestry.

IMG_0147Mica glowed like diamonds everywhere. They looked beautiful to Elihu too. Thankfully the up-close world is visible and vibrant to him.

IMG_0178Down at the surface of the beaver flow.

IMG_0188The view back at the place from which we came; it hardly looks like any elevation at all, and yet the bridge and waterfall are mid-way to the tops of the trees, in the center of this pic. (I felt the elevation on the walk back up!)

IMG_0127Now Elihu can finally see the open area, and he gets how big it is.

IMG_0181The enticing shoreline of the other side.

IMG_0193Contrast – the visual component Elihu appreciates best of all.

IMG_0216Cairns on the trail back.

IMG_0224Up, up and out of the woods.

IMG_0235At the trail’s head Elihu leaps from boulder to boulder. Sometimes it really is hard to believe he’s legally blind. !

IMG_0268He’s hardly stopped running all afternoon. We get home and what does he do? Goes straight to the pond to look for frogs.

IMG_0303Me, I head inside to start supper. This is a view I enjoy very much. I love an excursion, but oh how I love to be home. Like the woods, it’s one place where the world doesn’t always spin so fast.

Bag O Dad

My father’s ashes have resided on North Broadway in Saratoga Springs for nearly two years now. We pass the funeral home each morning as we drive to school. Some mornings we wave and say hello to grandpa, sometimes we call out to him, letting him know that we haven’t forgotten, and we’ll come to get him soon… but most days we do forget. In our minds, that historic mansion on North Broadway is just where dad lives now. Among the tony, gentile and wealthy folk he so often joked about. He had liked to speak in different accents, and would happily interject “I weesh to be reech” into conversations – he even said it again just a few days before he died, with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. Many were the times he would tell us how life would look for a gentleman of such means; he made mock instructions to his imagined staff, told us how he’d lunch with Marylou or take tea on the veranda. For as long as I can remember, he would make good fun of the money’d folk and their upscale habits, but deep down, I don’t think dad would have minded one bit if such fortune were to have befallen him. Had he the money to express himself fully in this world, I have no doubt he would have surrounded himself with the finest of everything (most notably wine and double-manual harpsichords.)

We’ve always liked knowing he was there, quietly resting on a shelf in the fine home. It feels familiar now, to know that dad “lives on North Broadway”. As I said to the funeral director on the phone today – when I finally felt it was time to see if dad hadn’t overstayed his welcome – that it had been dad’s pleasure to have lived across the street from the Riggis, he generously offered that it instead was the Riggis who were honored to have had him as their neighbor. The Riggi’s enormous home – one which they themselves like to call the ‘Palazzo Riggi’ – has become something of a tourist destination, especially on Halloween. Readers may recall that Elihu won a $100 bill from Mrs. Riggi herself last year for his unique costume. While I posed with the Riggis and my son for a quick selfie, I noticed the Burke Funeral home mansion just behind the camera, and in that second the clash of realities seemed surreal. I said a quiet hello to him as we left the decadent celebration, and once again I wondered how long it would take for me to face the idea that dad was now no more than a shoebox of dust. It still didn’t feel real. Telling ourselves that dad was there somehow offered me some comfort. But the idea of actually seeing – and holding – the small box of his remains felt too real. Last fall I still wasn’t ready. God bless those folks at the funeral home. They’d never once called to tell us to come and pick him up. In fact, the funeral director had even said, shortly after dad’s death, that there was no hurry. I’m not sure most funeral homes are so lax. Don’t know, but I’d like to believe that we’ve been given some good, old-fashioned small-town care here. Yeah, it’s felt nice to know dad was there, taken care of and safe. I feel silly saying that, but there it is.

And here we are. I think we Conants are ready. Tomorrow would have been mom and dad’s 56th wedding anniversary. They married on 10/10 in Manhattan’s upper East side on a fine fall day. After their service they celebrated at the Harvard Club (a Yale man at the Harvard Club? Shhh…) and as they entered the limousine to take them away into the night, they received a telegram of congratulations. Can you imagine? There’s a photo of them, somewhere, in the back seat of the car, leaning in to read the message. It was truly an entirely different era. I think it’s just as well my father’s no longer here with us in this modern world; he was an old-school gentleman and scholar. His was a world of typed correspondence and hand-written notes… it was a slower, gentler world; a world of telegrams, paper and ink.

Although my mother doesn’t come out and say it in so many words, I can sense she might be starting to wonder at how things will end for her. I’m sure she wonders how long she’s got. How can you be 80 and not have such thoughts? I know that I, at 52, have come to understand in a much more profound and real way just how limited our lives are. As comfortable as we humans may have become at ignoring our ultimate fate, there still comes a moment or two when the idea finally gets your attention. I tell ya, knowing that in the next couple of hours I’ll be putting a box with what’s left of my dad’s body into the back seat of my CRV is a little surreal. And it makes this whole idea of actually dying begin to feel very possible. ! Look, I know this is business as usual; all of us deal with death. And at some point in many people’s lives they’ll be faced with the receipt of a loved one in powdered form; in a box, a bag, or if the comedy of life insists, all over the kitchen floor. (I was greatly relieved when Danny told me that the cremains were inside a bag which was then inside a box. !) I shouldn’t be making this such a big deal. But when it’s your first time, when it’s your deal, it is big. I do feel I’m readier for it than I was a year ago, but to be honest, my heart begins to race at the thought of holding dad’s remains. This morning I was missing my father deeply. Maybe having what’s left of him back home again will help soften that. And then again, maybe not.


The experience of ‘picking dad up’ was made easier by the good-humored funeral director who welcomed us inside and never let up with amusing anecdotes and corny jokes. It wasn’t a show meant to distract – it was this fellow’s genuine personality. He recounted stories about terrifying nuns at Catholic school in his youth, and allowed Elihu his own boisterous expression as he bounded through the halls and jumped down half the staircase on our way out.

We then took dad out to lunch before heading back to mom’s. We hadn’t prepared her for his return, but in that I’d mentioned it recently, I suppose it wasn’t such a surprise. Mom doesn’t let on much of her inner feelings, and while she didn’t cry, I think I saw her eyes moisten just a bit. I’m glad that dad is home again, on this, the eve of their 56th wedding anniversary. Very likely he’s still somehow nearby, smiling and wishing his love upon us all, hoping that we can still feel his presence, and wishing very dearly that we should not be so sad… After all, this is a family of some deep-seated good humor, and we’re also pretty good about getting back to the simple things in life, which at the end of the day, are the reasons we’re all still hanging around.

IMG_0146A fine, rainy fall day as we head out.

IMG_0155Nostalgic for the way things used to be, I swing by Martha’s on the way to town. Still can’t believe she’s gone, too.

IMG_0166One year ago this week Saratoga’s Banjo Man, Cecil Myrie died. I see the Jamaican flag on Broadway and it reminds me… It was purely by coincidence that the Jamaican flag had been hung above Cecil’s makeshift memorial last year. Now it’s hanging at the other end of the strip. (We’ll be planting a memorial tree for him soon. Took a year to pull off!)

IMG_0179The Burke Funeral Home. One of the famous North Broadway mansions of Saratoga Springs.

IMG_0186Ok, this seems quite unexpected and unrelated… But our host insisted on showing us this very fancy, custom shower from the ’30s. Water came in at ya from all directions. Turns out mom and dad had one very much like it in their first NYC apartment on W 57th. And why shouldn’t it have had the finest appointments? “It was a very high class building” she reminded me, citing neighbors like Jose Ferrer, only a few doors down…

IMG_0189Elihu jokes around a bit with Nancy. She is, as my mother (also named Nancy) would say, “a good egg”.

IMG_0188So this is it. Sheesh. No pomp or ceremony. Tom just finds our box in the pile of other folks waiting to go home too.

IMG_0196I take a quick pic of the Palazzo Riggi from the second floor window.

IMG_0202Elihu’s like a ghost as he runs to the door, while I and my host (whose hand is in the far right) are making a much more measured and middle-aged descent down the carpeted staircase.

IMG_0203 (2)Finally, here we are. They even gave me a carryout bag. ! Oy. Bob in a bag. ! I do like the way it matches the mums, I suppose. !?!

IMG_0214Now this is the life to which my father could have grown accustomed with little effort. This fine Saratoga home belongs to the Wait family, the matriarch of which was once a board member for dad’s Festival of Baroque Music.

IMG_0234We’re at the Olde Bryan Inn. It’s a cozy place, perfect for a rainy afternoon lunch with dad.

IMG_0218Hmm, do ya think anyone suspects dear old dad is sitting right beside me??

IMG_0222Ah well, here’s to you, dad. Miss you.

IMG_0258We didn’t give mom much warning, but she seems ok. As she gives dads remains a heft, she says that she misses Annie (her cat who died two weeks ago today) a lot too – letting on that she must also be missing her husband. She never says so, that’s not her way. But she’s gotta be missing him, and especially today, on the eve of their anniversary.

IMG_0271She assesses the box, and the accompanying note of verification. (Dad’s correct date of death was December 27th, but as we couldn’t get anyone to formally pronounce him dead until the 28th – he died shortly before midnight – it will forever be legally recognized, albeit incorrectly, as the day he was legally pronounced dead. Oh well. We know.)

IMG_0302Within moments, it’s life as usual. The box sits in and among all the other day-to-day crap and clutter. Mom goes back to unpacking her groceries, and Elihu’s got his nose in a book on amphibians.

IMG_0307A closer look at the newly discovered book given to him by grandma.

IMG_0310And shortly thereafter, a live specimen in hand.

IMG_0324You’re a good-looking creature, little one. Please hunker down safely before winter, won’t you? You are one of the simple joys that keeps us going here on this sad, funny, ridiculous, heartbreaking and incredibly challenging planet. Good night frog, good night to all. And welcome back, dad. I know it’s not really you there in that box, but still.

It’s nice to have you home.


Sometimes they start and end with a defining moment, but mostly they overlap, fading in and out with such subtly that we don’t realize the times have changed until long after they have. Looking back one can see with clarity how and when the events and circumstances changed, we can note the point at which certain characters left or our joined our drama, we can remember ‘times’ as if they were distinct acts in a play, yet when we sit in the midst of our action, deeply embedded in our own scripts, it can be a challenge to see the bigger picture.

Recently I came upon a pile of fringe on the floor of my cellar clothing storage room, and recognized it to be from an antique dress that I loved well. Made in the 1920s, I’d worn it throughout my career with the Prohibition Orchestra of Chicago. A deep ache began to grow in my chest. The dress was likely ruined, but I didn’t dare confirm it. Nor did I pickup the mess. Instead, I sat and felt the grief fill me. I wondered why it broke my heart so? I thought back on all that had happened in that dress… I remembered the stories, the scenes, the cast – the soundtrack. I tried to console myself; the dress was in tatters, but hadn’t I used it well in its time? Hadn’t I myself enjoyed those days as deeply as I ever could have? Yes, I had. I’d always enjoyed myself to the core. What bothered me so deeply now was not so much that that time in my life was over, but rather that I never actually understood when it was that it closed. I was never warned that there would be no more gigs, no more crowds, hands in the air singing ‘Brother Can You Spare A Dime’ in full voice, smiles all around – the whole thing was over before I knew it was over. And that’s what got me. In order to give myself some kind of closure, I stood there and let myself remember…

I’d been young, pretty, and fairly on top of my game. On stage, in front of that band, dressed in those one-of-a-kind vintage dresses, bedecked with bracelets and hip-length necklaces, kohl-eyed and as animated as ‘the it girl’ herself, I glowed. I emanated fun. I was always chatty with the audience, slightly inappropriate, slightly bawdy; camp enough to give the show some punch, self-deprecating enough to endear myself to fans. The tunes were those I loved best, and although the charts were mostly written for a man’s voice and had me splitting lines and finishing them an octave above or below, I loved them all. The music was charming, the guys and the gals in the band were charming – and our audience was charming, too. It was a cast of characters united in their deep love for the dusty songs of a time long-gone. I must have known the door to this time had closed when I moved away from Chicago to the corn fields of Dekalb. But no, even then I had an occasional job with them. Enough to make me think this band might slow its pace, but would always be there in my life, chugging along… It was only when the building in which the band enjoyed a steady engagement (at Bill’s Blues) burned to the ground a couple of years ago – long after I’d moved to New York – that my heart finally understood it was over. There was no going back now. And this poor dress, after nearly one hundred years of service, is done with its career of dance parties and concerts. This is not to say that its life is completely over; the dress may yet provide years of service as a costume – perhaps in a high school play, or in a little girl’s dress up trunk. But its show days are over. That chapter has closed.

The thing about chapters and books is that you know exactly where you stand with respect to the ending. You can clearly see how many pages are left. From that, you can figure out how to emotionally pace yourself. You might love the book so well you put it down for a few days, so as to make it last. You might love it so well you cannot put it down, and so you consume it immediately. Either way, it’s your choice. You control things. You can choose to skip to the end of each chapter and ease your mind by learning that things finally do come out ok, or you can simply take solace in knowing that ultimately it’s just a book, and as such, it has a finite life. And no matter what the outcome, good or bad, it will come to an end. And you know exactly when that will be. At any given time in your reading of that book you can tell precisely where you are in relation to the ending. Me, I like that feeling. That definite knowing. If only we could know how many days were in a life as well as we know the number of pages in a book. A pity we don’t, I say. How much more carefully we would write if we knew how many pages we’d yet to go.

It’s been said of me by friends that I tend to look backward more often than forward. And I suppose I agree. I get nostalgic and misty over past decades quite easily. In my defense I offer that it’s because I have had some very good and memorable times on this planet. It’s also been said of me by friends that I’ve lived half a dozen lives already. And I would agree with that too. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have lived this life. I’ve piloted a 40 foot sailboat through a storm on the Atlantic, I’ve jumped out of planes and hosted a radio show (not at the same time!) I’ve sung in front of thousands of people, I’ve played a sparkly accordion, I’ve traveled to unusual parts of the world, I’ve butchered a chicken, I’ve raised a child. I grew up in a house full of harpsichords, my summers were filled with New England lakes, Baroque concerts and life on a farm. From a young age my father took me to hear jazz, and my grandma showed me how to dance to Jelly Roll Morton. My Pakistani father-in-law and Chilean mother-in-law opened my world to a still-wider cache of experiences. I learned to make new kinds of food. I cooked food on a private boat as it motored down the Mississippi, I avoided day jobs by taking hundreds of temp jobs and doing singing telegrams, two tanks of helium in my trunk on the ready to blow up balloons en route to my hits.

My memories are jammed to the rafters. And as I recall some of them, I can almost pinpoint the times at which ‘mini eras’ came to be, and the times at which they came to a close. Funny thing is, when I was actually living these memories, I wasn’t necessarily aware of them as chapters. All I knew is that I was following the events as one prepared the way for the next. And when an era came to an end, it certainly didn’t feel like it. I may have sensed things were changing, but in the back of my mind I guess I always thought that things would continue on as they were… Maybe that’s because I am not good at goodbye. Change is relentless, and I know it’s not healthy to fight it, but still, it’s not something that sits easily with me. I like things steady and for the most part, unchanging. But to be fair, if life didn’t lead me to new experiences, I’d probably cry of boredom. I guess the trick to living happily in the balance is to be aware of things as they are happening. Perhaps this is a gift of aging. Even if I knew it before, I know it so much more keenly now: savor, savor, savor. You may not think so now, but chances are good that one day hence you’ll look back and miss the way things were this very day.

My son is in seventh grade. If ever there was a time in which things change, this is it. I know it was for me. My first real crush, the first time I ever shaved under my arms, the first time I realized how complicated it all was. Elihu comes up to my ears now, he might even a bit taller. His skin is still smooth, but the hair is coming in differently on his legs, his toes and feet don’t look like a young child’s anymore, and soon, very soon, he will become taller than me. And I’m ok with this, poignant though it may be to my sentimental heart, because now I know to be on the lookout for it. I will not be taken by surprise by the forthcoming chapter, dammit. Each day I note how subtly he is changing. I soak up our time together now because I know that one year from today we will have entered another era, and things will likely be very different. Being aware helps me in my process. I just wish I’d thought this way all those years ago – as I left the Aluminum Group days, as I left the sailing crew days, as I left my days of city living…. I guess I always thought I could return, effortlessly, to those experiences. I didn’t quite realize that each chapter requires a certain, magical alignment of the stars, and that that magical composition morphs and moves on just as surely as do the eddies in a river…

One week ago today, when the Studio’s last guest was gone and I stood alone in the space, a clipboard full of new email addresses under my arm, I knew then that we’d experienced a beginning. The beginning of the preceding chapter was easy enough to define; six inches of standing water covering the Studio’s floor left me nowhere to turn. The moment my eyes first looked upon the flood I knew things had shifted. I just wasn’t sure how things would pan out…What followed was a chapter full of incremental changes, movement at a snail’s pace that could hardly be detected from up close. Yet things had changed. In a big way. And finally, we were here. I’d spent a lot of emotional energy coming to terms with the idea of my father’s era truly being done now, and it was a good thing the process has been slow – otherwise I might not have had the heart to go through with it. I needed the time to find emotional closure to the old days before I could step across the threshold into the new ones. Looking out on this empty hall, it occurred to me that one day this time will be looked upon with some nostalgia and interest, too. When my son takes over, or the board votes me out, or a theater company buys the whole shebang and puts a new wing on…. This will be the era that came before, upon which people wax nostalgic…

I may not know how many pages are left in my book, but at least I know to write more carefully as I go, being ever mindful of my surroundings as the chapters unfold. One day I hope to leave behind a fine book, with a fine ending too. But for now, it’s just one sentence at a time.

Like A Rhinestone; Retro Post

Like A Rhinestone – originally posted on 10/25/11

I’ve had a long-term ear worm the past month. Through the ether this little gem reached me, inspired by what I cannot tell. That I even know the song is somewhat of a mystery; I was after all I was just about eleven or so when it came out. While I do have memories of sitting in the back seat of our Plymouth station wagon, hanging my chin over the front bench seat and begging my mother to please turn on the radio, I don’t think I encountered the song there. At school, perhaps? On the playground? Did my hip-looking fourth grade teacher play it for us in our progressive, 70s classroom? These were the days when music was an elusive treasure; a pre-walkman, pre-ipod culture, so the sources were few. Ah, perhaps I heard it first on my yellow, doughnut-shaped AM wrist radio… yes, that might be it. Imagine this simple little melody, absolutely fixed in my brain after all these years. Well, Glen, kudos to you; you chose to record one sticky little tune.

In an effort to exorcise the nugget from my head I awake early and pull out my tether to the world – my now rather ancient, yet essential G4 I Book – and I cast my line out into the ocean of information. What will I find? My friend Joan told me recently that he doesn’t look so good these days. I’m emotionally prepared. How old must he be? My mom’s age? Hmm… Then there it is. A page of head shots past and present. First, my eyes are drawn to the Glen Campbell I remember, the helmet of perfectly feathered hair, the cleft chin – the classic 70s handsome good guy look shared by the likes of Mac Davis and Bobby Sherman. This wasn’t the type I had gone for back then. I preferred the curling, long black hair of Donovan and Marc Bolan (so much so that decades later I crafted my own look to resemble Marc’s as closely as possible). Then there are the full body shots. The iconic belt buckle, long thin legs, cowboy boots, thumbs hooked onto belt loops with one hip cocked to the side. One groovy, sexy silhouette. I continue my quest. Just what is he up to these days? Soon I begin to collect a tidy list of tidbits on the man. I realize that I know very little of the guy.

My first impression upon seeing the first photo that comes up on his website is that he looks a little Sting-like, only with a wider nose. In the next shot he evokes a little Willy Nelson. All in all, not bad for a fellow who’s been around so long. I learn he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and has recorded his latest record “Ghost on the Canvas” and plans to do a farewell tour. Sort of. He doesn’t commit to this, but for the time being it appears this is the plan. I look elsewhere and learn that he played rhythm guitar as a sideman on Frank Sinatra’s recording of “Strangers In The Night”. Apparently, he was starstruck and admitted to the producer that it was the reason he kept staring at the maestro. Irked at young Glen’s stares (also perhaps at the session itself as later Frank called the single ‘a piece of shit’) the crooner asked his producer ‘who is that fag guitar player?’ and told him he’d slap Glen if he did it again. Love it. I move on…

I am taken on a brief detour as I chase a link to Anne Murray – and discover that she is probably aging the very best of her generation. She looks gorgeous. After a quick foray into her history and current life I wander back to my man. I visit You Tube and find his song covered by school-age kids in Thailand, in a David Hasselhoff concert in Germany, by a homeless guy in the States and a marching flute band in Ireland. Nuff said. This is an earworm shared by a worldwide family. Lest I make the mistake that I disdain in so many and assume that he himself wrote it, I wonder: who really did write this song? I admit that I was quick to assume that Glen himself did, yet a quick check shows that is not the case. I must remember that the time in which this song was recorded was one in which performers themselves were not necessarily songwriters. This era was on the cusp of change; until that time singers had recorded and performed material created by folks whose sole job was that of songwriter. Even more specifically music and lyrics were two separate occupations. Although the music world was certainly changing by that time, the old architecture still existed; songwriters wrote, managers assisted the artists in choosing material and anonymous session musicians played on the tracks.

Larry Weiss of Newark, New Jersey wrote it. And poor guy, while he’s had a long and varied career since then, he has ultimately hung his hat on that one little song, and is even still actively wresting the life out of it in his current work on the theme for Broadway. Sheesh. But then again, if ‘Mama Mia’, why not ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’? Give the people what they want – redo your kitchen and buy a new car while the iron’s still hot. Why not? I would. I still love my old band The Aluminum Group’s ‘Chocolates’ and never minded playing it at every single show. I admit I was never sorely tested on that front; I really do wonder how folks are able to play their hits night after night after night and still bring it the life their audience deserves. Could I? Don’t know. That Larry and Glen continue to have an interested audience, and that they and thousands more can still make an income off that one two-minute song impresses me.

My tappy-tap tap sounds from the keyboard awaken my son. I greet him with the first line of the song. He finishes it. I guess I’ve been singing it around the house this past week more than I’d thought. He likes the song too. I’m surprised to learn he knows just about all of it. Elihu has a nice singing voice, I get a kick out of hearing him. It gives me an idea. I suggest he might want to sing it at this year’s Talent Show. He laughs and says he’d love to. I can play the piano for him… yes, and he can wear a big belt buckle… I’m getting excited now. Maybe this will be what clears my head of the hit. Hair of the dog, right?

We finish our breakfast and head to the school bus singing. The bus arrives, and my little cowboy rides off to his star-spangled rodeo.