On Visiting the Past


On Visiting the Past – This weekend we are in Baltimore – a reunion for him, a nostalgic return for me, as are all visits here. So much is gone, disappeared. And I’m not too enamored of the ersatz glitz that has replaced it. Potemkin’s Village, it seems, with $100 plates of spaghetti ordered by those who forget Baltimore’s past as a real city, one with watermelon rinds floating in the harbor, and Norwegian seamen staggering along Pratt Street. Okay, seen through a sepia lens, but it’s my sepia lens.

I drove up Charles Street, a few blocks from Mt. Vernon Place and my memories of Peabody Conservatory, though I only attended the Preparatory Section. And there is was, or rather, it wasn’t. The Peabody Bookshop. Gone. Ah, well.

And I thought of an earlier time – much earlier, when in high school, when I thought that it really was a bookshop, and ventured in. And it was, though one the likes of which I had never encountered before. Dark, smoky, and books, all right. I tried to make myself at home. But the back of the shop, the stube, well, was this a bar, or what? The few patrons there ignored me, as well they should have, I attired in my grey wool uniform skirt and required black-and-white saddle shoes. I had considered myself quite sophisticated – until that visit. Then I realized that I had much to learn, to experience. So I crept out, and breathed a sigh of relief when I was once again heading south to be met by my father who was patiently waiting outside the music school doors.

I returned several times over the years, each time with more experience, or so I thought. But no matter how often I went there, no matter how sophisticated I thought my order, my black turtleneck and tights, I always felt, deep down, that I was a fraud. Somehow everyone else there belonged; somehow everyone else there really had read Dostoevsky and Proust and Marx, and they knew, really knew, the difference between stout and lager.

And now I wonder.

By now I’ve read Crime and Punishment, and Remembrance of Things Past, and The Communist Manifesto, but I still don’t know my beers.

Another Sunday, www.cynthiastrauff.com



On Remembering Trees


On Remembering Trees –My current favorite tree is the beech that grows outside my bedroom window. I love that it keeps its leaves all winter, albeit, no, especially because, they are brown. When the late afternoon sun shines through them, it infuses the room with a soft, golden patina. A romantic glow, I think, that takes me to an earlier time, an earlier century, for the late 1800s, the early 1900s are, for me, sepia-toned. My wonderful beech seems to understand this, and does all it can to bring that time to me.

Now it is coming abloom with that light green tint that communicates Spring without words. The gold finches are once again gold, and it is impossible to keep the feeders filled.

And watching this season unfold brought to mind other trees that I have loved, some without even realizing that love it was. A towering oak that sat in a clear meadow at the end of Oella Avenue and Frederick Road just east of Ellicott City. Riding with my mother, for it seemed that riding in a car was the only time I spent with her, we would see that lone tree, a sentinel in a country setting. Sometime in the 1970s or 80s, we knew that it was dying, though it took years for this to come to pass. My mother commented that “maybe it’s just had enough,” and I was surprised at her dispassionate response, that she did not seem distressed about it, as I was. Perhaps the knowledge and acceptance of life’s seasons comes easier with age and loss. And so that tree is gone, and I’m sure that whatever farm might have been there has now been replaced by mega-mansions or a gated town-home development.

I think of the maple tree that stood outside my bedroom window in the house where I grew up. I paid no attention to it, except in autumn, when, once again, the setting sun transformed it ablaze with leaves. Two evergreen trees stood sentinel in the front of that house, and I thought that it was silly that my mother noted their growth every year. Of course, they would get taller. That’s what trees did, and I was unconscious of her awareness of the passing of time.

There was a walnut tree in our woods, one that I never saw or knew about, until I learned that she had sold it for the value of its wood, to help pay the taxes and expenses of the house. It was time for her to leave, I said, full of efficiency and competence. I ignored what this would mean to her, and what destroying a tree, for money, meant, what leaving her home meant. But now I understand, and I regret that I was not more sympathetic, more kind.

Trees, and remembering them.

Another Sunday, www.cynthiastrauff.com