A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


It's freaky the way my screenplay is beginning to mirror my own life. I started with an idea I had put in my story file long before I ever bought the Emory House. As I started to develop the story, nothing I invented in the way of plot elements seemed to fit as well as actual incidents from my own experience. Without consciously trying, it seems, I've been writing my own story.

I decided, for example, that my protagonist, Alice, should become interested in researching the history of her house. Since I had in fact done that myself, I thought I'd retrace my steps, this time taking photographs and notes. I started yesterday at the genealogy room in the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum.

Here's the Springfield, Massachusetts city directory for 1871, the year the Emory House was built. Entries are in alphabetical order. P. P. Emory is listed as a coppersmith and brass founder, with a business on Hampden Street and a house on Spring Street. (The house was moved to its present location on Salem Street in the 1970s.)

My original intention was to make note of what steps I'd taken and in what order, so that I could create a similar scene with accuracy. That should have taken about ten minutes. So why did I end up spending the entire afternoon in the museum?

In fact, I got caught up in the actual history of the Emorys. I pored over every city directory until 1942, when the last Emory died. I learned that Paschal Emory had died in 1906, his wife Merilla in 1909, whereupon daughter Carrie became head of household. In 1929, the house was vacant. Result of stock market crash? A year later, Carrie turns up in a smaller house three blocks away, and the Emory House becomes a boarding house, changing hands a couple of times. Carrie remains on School Street, unmarried, until her death in 1942.

With the help of John O'Connor, the genealogist, I located Carrie's obituary. She was a member of the Smith College Club--a fellow alum!--the Springfield Women's Club, and South Congregational Church. She was buried in Springfield Cemetery.

Next stop...Springfield Cemetery. I have a feeling Alice is going to go there, too.

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International Wow Factor

Smith College Reunion bartending again today, this time for the class of 1967 at Cutter-Ziskind. The weather was fine, so we set up in the courtyard. 1967 is one of those gin-and-tonic classes....if I'd let my partner make everything else, and I had just handled the g-&-ts, the labor would've been about equally divided.

Cutter and Ziskind, built in the late 1950s in the international style, are the most modern residential houses on campus. Together they form a U shape, with a shared dining area in the middle section. Each house has its own living room and "beau parlor" on the first floor, and individual rooms on the second and third floors. (A beau parlor was a quiet room in which you could entertain your date, back in the days of parietals. Nowadays they're just study rooms. If you don't know what parietals are, well, never mind.)

The complex may be architecturally significant--the buildings are the only residence houses to be studied in Smith's art survey course--but they are the least popular houses to live in. One reason is that the rooms are so small, not to mention boxy and characterless. My own room in Gardiner House was a large and lovely corner room, with two windows and a window seat, a wood floor and a walk-in closet...pretty kneehole desk, Windsor chair, tall dresser...and plenty of room for a vintage rocking chair, handmade bookcase, coffee table, steamer trunk, and so on.

I never thought much about Cutter or Ziskind while I lived on campus. A few years ago, however, I was wowed by a visit to the complex. As cramped as the upstairs rooms are, that's how spacious the public space is. Suspended from the ceiling at various heights, fluttering in a slight breeze from the open doors, were a thousand origami cranes in beautiful bright colors. I never forgot the sight. That was the inspiration for the cranes I have fluttering from my own high-ceilinged kitchen today.

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