It has taken me longer than I thought to this experience on paper.
Sometimes it works like that for me: I find something too evocative to put into words, so I don’t. I wait for the right words to come. I wait longer. What I have discovered about myself is sometimes I never get to writing them down. I wait and then forget.
Slowly and meanderingly, the memory and the core feeling it brings up in my belly stops itching like it once did.
It was several weeks ago I sniffed out a place that has haunted me for at least eight years. Since the first time I “got to know” Edna St. Vincent Millay – because she haunted me and wouldn’t let go – I have had a yearning to visit her home at Steepletop.
In 2008 I wrote of her haunting:
“Someone from history will start tapping on my shoulder and over time I hear the name enough times that it becomes like a familiar song on the radio, the one you didn't know but all of a sudden could sing along quite well without even thinking about it. Edna St. Vincent Millay comes to mind as another woman who haunted me, as did Martha Graham for a time.”
I noted back then there was an artist’s colony there, but no tours of the home or grounds for literary travelers such as I. I tabled the thought, although the idea of an artist’s colony stuck with me. I still haven’t responded to that yearning: an artist’s colony for multi-generations so that parents and/or grandparents and caretakers who are responsible for their children could come and so could the children.
This is how my writing camp idea was initially born and now has been thriving for several years both virtually and in person.
I also became a fan of Elinor Wylie via my series on Literary Grannies from 2012. I noted her friendship with Millay and I bought her poetry collection Trivial Breath. I was fascinated by her history as a mother and then, her many children that never came to be. I felt an odd kinship with her as I suppose was her haunting.
I literally stumbled and then tenaciously stalked Steepletop that day in April. I was so close I simply could not leave the Berkshires without a visit.
What I got was better than a visit.
I backtracked after reaching Auesterlitz and couldn’t find my way to Steepletop. I drove back to the hamlet and telephoned, expecting to get an answering machine. Instead, I got the warm voice of Peter Bergman, the Executive Director of the Edna St. Vincent Millay Society, although I didn’t know at the time to whom I was speaking. He gave me simple directions and invited me to tour the grounds “anytime”. With my heart pounding and my passion guiding the car’s forward movement, I found myself able to experience the grandeur and silent wonder of a place I have dreamed of visiting not on my own or with a crowd. I was blessed to experience Millay’s home on a one-on-one tour with the curator. When I found more of Elinor Wylie’s work on the shelves in the store I literally shouted, “Elinor!” as the reality of their friendship wasn’t at the forefront of my mind until I took her book off the shelf.
Millay was the more famous of the two women, but she loved Elinor with a strength beyond what many ever come to know. In the home at Steepletop there is a bottle of wine meant to be shared with Elinor but instead shared by her widowed husband and Millay shortly after Wylie’s death. It has been left empty on the mantel ever since as a forever altar in honor of their friendship.
I cried several times during the tour. There were times my feet seemed to be glued to the floorboards as I didn’t think I could take another step. When we arrived at the doorstep of Millay’s library, I literally thought I couldn’t go inside.
I’m not sure when you are reading this, but I am writing to you on Mother’s Day. It seems fitting I share this poem written by a woman who was never a mother – Millay, and her friend – who left her three-year-old son with his father and only faced stillbirth, miscarriage and infant loss after she left.
Mr. Bergman recited this poem as he stood next to the spot Millay was found dead on October 19, 1950.
“The courage my mother had," by Edna St. Vincent Millay from Collected Poems (Harper Collins).
The courage that my mother had
The courage that my mother had
Went with her, and is with her still:
Rock from New England quarried;
Now granite in a granite hill.
The golden brooch my mother wore
She left behind for me to wear;
I have no thing I treasure more:
Yet, it is something I could spare.
Oh, if instead she'd left to me
The thing she took into the grave!-
That courage like a rock, which she
Has no more need of, and I have.
Motherhood and friendship, friendship and motherhood weave through the lives of women whether their art form is poetry or mommying or quilting or being a book keeper.
May we all have courage like a rock – to remember our literary grannies and our sisters, mothers and friends of today with a similar passion as these remarkable women shared.
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© 2013 Julie Jordan Scott