In an earlier blog called ‘Throwing Away Words’ I mentioned a woman named Claire. I have been thinking about her since I posted recently about music to write by, and friends have been graciously sharing their favorite music with me. Claire influence my taste in music and gave me dreams about writing, so I would like to tell you her story.
In the early 1950’s my mother met an eccentric older woman named Claire, who was on her way to rescue a horse. Claire, at that time, had been a classic pianist, had a radio show, and had traveled while performing with Leopold Stokowsky. She also had a failed romance she never spoke of.
Claire had tired of the public. She rescued the neglected horse, bought 150 acres in the woods, built a small barn by herself, and lived in it with the horse while she built a house and started a collection of abandoned and neglected dogs. She was a woman of contrasts, tall and willowy with amazing cheekbones and a cheeky grin, who dressed in jeans, flannel shirts with suspenders, and logging boots.
As a child I visited her house in the woods. The place smelled of her thirteen dogs. But there was always books and paper and classical music. I grew up wanting to be just like her. I was going to be a writer, a hermit in the woods, alone with words and music.
In my twenties, I took over her grocery shopping. She had no car, no phone, no family. She never left her home, even when her health failed and she should have. I would go to her place, bring in a chair from the chicken yard, and listen. She only had two chairs; one for the house, and one for when she wanted to watch her chickens, and that was the company chair. Not a clean chair. But the stories were worth the chicken poop.
Claire would have an album ready, and when I was seated, she would start a classical piece. As it played, she told me not only the story the composer was telling, but also stories of her days performing. I grew to love what she played, but I am not sure if it is because of the music, or the stories. When I hear ‘Scheherazade’ I smell dog and chicken poop, I can feel grit and cobwebs, I can see the grin and the logging boots, and can once again feel that sense of awe that comes when you are transported into the world of story.
The dogs were also a source of stories for Claire. She published children’s books and articles about her dogs, where they came from, how she rescued them, and sometimes hilarious tales of their personalities. She never sank into clichés or saccharine words. Her published works were as earthy and honest as her life.
I was all ready writing during this time that we shared. I had been writing for many years, but in secret. In Claire I saw a woman fearless, who lived life as she wished, who was brave enough to step outside the expected norm, and I sensed that maybe, just maybe, writing was something I could be proud of. Even though I didn’t come out of the closet about writing until my husband’s pride in me booted me out the door, I still know that without Claire, I wouldn’t have seen so clearly the person I wanted to become.
I live in the woods, in the mountains, with three dogs, and I write. The hermit part didn’t quite work out, but I did end up with a husband and son who cherish the quiet life and who get on ‘people overload’ as easily as I do. When I look at my life, I see the shadow of Claire, I see that grin, and I lace up my hiking boots with pride.
And I feel her presence in the story.