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Friday, May 13, 2016

A Cottage of the Mind

It occurs to me that like most beloved places, the cottage in Stockbridge is as much a place of the mind as a place in reality. Why does it occupy such a  place in my mind?

It is not simply, I don't think, that it is a beautiful place, though it is. In the Berkshires, on a lake, with a community beach. It is that my beloved relatives lived there: my Aunt Fritzi, my grandparents Emma and Leo. They represented Vienna to me. They lived the life I felt happiest in: very cultured, as people from that time and place tended to be. They loved music and art. My grandmother often sent me cards that she wrote while in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. 

My own life in suburbia on Long Island was--even when I was a child--a place that I did not find beautiful. (It wasn't--and isn't.)  My parents did not listen to music. When I was old enough to take the train to New York City, I got a student membership to the Museum of Modern Art and spent many hours wandering through the collections. I wanted to be an artist then.

It strikes me that the cottage--as a place of the mind--is connected to my love of reading. I was--as a girl--always lost in a book. My best friend for many years (till her family moved and I received a returned letter stamped "Address Unknown") loved reading too: we would read together and swap books. I am the only reader in my family. It is not that my parents weren't intelligent: both were college educated. My father had a PhD in the days when that degree was rare. But they did not read. So I always felt somewhat alien in my family and in the town where I grew up.

Perhaps I read to draw a world closed around me. 

A pastoral world. An enclosed world of art and imagination.

Is it any wonder that when I was in college I wrote my thesis on pastoral poetry?

Or that when I went to graduate school, I ended up doing my thesis on The Faerie Queene and some plays by Shakespeare-- that represented, explored, or WERE enclosed spaces of art and imagination?

So I am somewhat comforted by the thought that--even when the cottage is no longer accessible to me or to my children as a real place that we can visit--I can recreate it by thinking about it, and perhaps by writing about it.

My Proust-loving husband reminds me of a famous quotation by his favorite author.

The only true paradise is a paradise we have lost.


Swissy said...

I love this, twin sister. I was instantly reminded of a wicker sofa on a porch on an island in a lake In Minnesota. Everyone was waterskiing. I was reading a dusty book of Nordic myths I found in one of the bedrooms. That space on the porch is lodged in my mind forever.

Frugal Scholar said...

@swissiy--Thank you so much (having a bad week). I always wanted a sister.

tess said...

Sorry if this is my being a busybody, but could you discuss with your husband & children and see if you all agree to purchase the cottage from your mom through that shady realtor? Alternately, see if she could let the listing expire and offer to you?
It's never easy.

Frugal Scholar said...

@tess--The idea was (and this was my mother's idea) that we would "buy my brother out" as part of the estate. We cannot afford to buy the house at its current price. The realtor, I'm afraid, lured a listing by proposing an extremely high price. She also had my mother give her exclusive representation for a year.

tess said...

Dang, a year is a long time. Although if the price is too high, no one will buy,
so possibly your mom may offer you a reduced price at a later date?
Ah, families...

Shelley said...

I still can live in my Grandparents' house in Oklahoma City, at least in my mind. The house itself was torn down by the new owner after he destroyed the neighbourhood. He had great plans for development which, to date and to my great satisfaction, have not happened. I can remember details of my other Grandmother's house, the first of hers I remember. The last I saw if it it was barely still standing and I wouldn't wish to see the inside I'm sure. Of course the house I grew up in still looks as it did in the 1960s in my imagination. No doubt the abuses of 25 years of renters, though repaired, have altered much of the aesthetics I recall.

It sounds as though you're going through a painful time. I hope your memories will bring you some comfort.