Category Archives: Journal – Vol. III

CXXXIV. Snow Comes Softly II

Sunday, December 10, 2017 —Yesterday came cold and blustery. Flurries of Christmas shoppers arrived at the store where I work, and I felt good to be out among the people and greet them. Children, their animation electrified, anticipated Santa Claus’s coming to town.

It began to snow. The purity of the white is centering. Snow falling is quiet, peaceful. I think I will decorate for Christmas this year simply with only a few greens and bows and candlelight. It will be a quiet observance, the halls of my home dressed in a raiment of soft, warm light.

It is Sunday. The bell in the little Episcopal church across the street rang this morning, as it does every Sunday. It is a real bell, in the steeple, that somebody rings. This little historic church recalls all the chapels in all the English villages, meadows and dales that I see in all the British dramas I watch. They don’t ring the bell long in this Episcopal church – eight times for the eight o’clock service and ten for the ten o’clock service.

One Sunday morning, I was walking in front of the Methodist church down the street when suddenly the bell tolled. I rose several feet off the sidewalk and I suspect not lifted on angel wings. In fact, I exclaimed, “Holy [expletive].” This is a real bell, too, and apparently a good sized one; it is loud, and it goes on ringing for eons. It’s a big church and the congregation continues arriving for ages.

Snowflakes alight briefly in flurries or waltz in endless patterns bending, swirling, reaching and touching everything all the dull gray day and into the deep blue night, well beyond three o’clock in the morning.

Prose arabesques from the pens of writers ornament the characteristics and romance of snowflakes. Each snowflake is uniquely shaped. The flakes fall softly, individually, in pairs and in gatherings. Yet they all come from the same source and are composed of the same matter. Snowflakes have a mission: they fall out of the clouds and they land on black slick streets, red-brick sidewalks, brown winter grass, mounds of dried leaves blown into corners of flower beds and on the bare dogwood branches outside my window. Sometimes the snowflakes melt on contact, sometimes they pile up. And then everything turns white. Watching them fall, we become quiet, meditative, nostalgic, always a little awestruck. We watch snow fall with anticipation: snowfall shatters our routines, like a snowball walloped against the surface of a frozen pond, makes us turn to something new, view life with a fresh perspective. Sometimes each snowflake makes a light ticking sound as it touches down. The birds get quiet when it snows. I watch the squirrels and the birds and I can predict the weather. The squirrels bustle gathering nuts in advance of the coming cold. Birds flock and chatter and then get quiet. Birds have different songs for different types of weather and different times of day. They have their cheery morning song, their spring song for temperatures mounting on soft southern breezes; they have their evensong.

Mothers bring their young children outside to witness the first snowfall of the season. I observe one child extend her arm to watch the snow accumulate in her pink mittened palm.

I like driving in a car when it is snowing. I love being in the magic of the snow flying at me, the cypress and cedars and oaks lining the road, their branches laden with snow, the padding of the car tires on the snow, the few other cars on the road all traveling slowly as in a dream, and the tire tracks of an unseen car gone before me.

Snow fulfills its own purpose. Snow comes softly; it piles on tree limbs, bushes, holly berries and cars. Snow comes softly, like a gentle soul, filling in the footprints on our paths. It stays for a while, and then it is gone.

—Samantha Mozart

CXXXIII. Zinfandel

I have come to my blog this afternoon. I haven’t been here in a while. Maybe you noticed. The place is incredibly dusty. Moriarty, the Phantom of My Blog, does not dust. He sweeps up after parties, hangs new headers, and cooks borscht, but he does not dust.

I walk over to the round table. Even the orange candle in the bottle we keep in the center of the table is dusty. Someone has scrawled “Dusty Destry rides again” in the dust on the table surface, and, “Meet us at Bottle-Neck.” “Oh, so funny,” I think, dryly. “Moriarty.”

I open the windows and let in the light and air. I go into the kitchen. Fingerprints pepper the dust all over the black stovetop, and a stippling of dots, like someone has sneezed. There are a couple of corks on the stove, but no companion bottles. A pot of leftover chili sits on a burner, still warm, the handle of the big spoon sticking out at the rim of the lid. Moriarty must be here. I go into the back kitchen. Fingerprints are in the dust all over the old black stove here, too, and paw prints on the top front edge. And bird claw prints. Odd. I find a couple of rags in a drawer, dampen them and begin dusting. I climb to the catwalk. While dusting the apparatus, ropes and wires along the open spaces, I hear music – Moriarty’s banjo – and then peals of macabre laughter reverberate through the beams and railings. I stop. No … that’s not Moriarty. He doesn’t laugh that way. Silence ensues. A chill runs up my spine. Goosebumps rise on my forearms. This is my blog. I welcome visitors. But this – who else is creeping around in here…? A stranger listening for me? I’ll never get done dusting if I stop and wonder. I certainly do not want to be in here till midnight. I continue dusting. Once or twice I hear a dog bark – Moriarty’s black, fluffy dog, Dickens?

Now I am hungry and the chili back there on the stove smelled good. I come down to the kitchen, rinse out the rags and take a break. I reheat the chili, sit at the round table and eat what is left. In the gathering gloom I think I hear again the evil laughter. I listen; then, stillness unbroken. I look around. I see no one. I get up, go into the kitchen and wash the dishes, chili pot, and the stoves in both rooms. I stay at my blog until well after dark, dusting. Finally I am done. I close the windows. I am ready to go home.

I think I hear Dickens barking. They must be in the cupola. I am tired and want to sit and relax with a glass of wine and good conversation. In the kitchen I find a wine glass but no wine, just bottle corks, and no cheese and crackers. The cupboard is bare. Unusual. I should visit my blog more often.

I climb the creaking, winding staircase, carrying my empty glass, and, brushing peeling yellowing paint off my sleeve, remember that I must get Moriarty to put a fresh coat of paint on these walls.

At the top, the cupola door is shut. Beyond the door I hear muffled voices. The door sticks a little, but I push it open wide. Dickens rushes to me, all wiggly, nuzzling me. He sniffs my hands, to see if I am bringing food, and my clothes. I probably smell like moldering rags. He sneezes.

Moriarty lolls in one chair and across the space, in the half-light, I see a dark-haired scrawny man sprawled in another. The man’s face is sallow, bony and crumpled, uneven, like whoever planned this face hadn’t laid out the parts on a grid first. He has a small mustache and random curls drop over his high forehead. His eyes are sunken, yet bright and beady, like small black grapes. He is dressed all in black, a black turtle neck sweater, with a scarf wound tight and tied about his neck, and jeans. He wears black loafers but no socks, the mark of a Southern man, or one who has lived for some time in the South.

“Samantha, this is my friend, Poe,” says Moriarty.

“Poe? As in Edgar Allan?” I ask, still standing just inside the door, staring at the pair. Poe fixes his eyes on me. They shine with dark intent – mysterious glinting blades. I reach to the doorframe for support.

“Poe is my first name,” he answers. “Edgar Allan Poe is my ancestor. My mother named me after him. He is my ancestor on my sister’s side.”

“…What? Your sister…?” I ask.

“Yeah. Paula,” he says.

I don’t pursue the conundrum. He seems a bit wacky to me. And he is creepy looking. I hear a whirring. Suddenly, a large bird swoops down, close in front of my face, and perches on Poe’s shoulder. I start. It is a raven, having apparently been perched on the frame over the doorway, right above my head: the explanation for the bird claw prints on the stove.

“Come in. Sit,” says Moriarty, waving his arm toward the remaining empty chair. “I see you found my message.”

“The one in the dust about meeting you at Bottle-Neck?” I say.

“That one,” says Moriarty. His banjo stands against his chair.

“Where’s the wine?” I ask. “I’ve been dusting all afternoon and I’m ready to near-drown in a glass of Zinfandel armed with cheese and crackers serving as floaties. Where’s the wine?”

The two gaze at me blankly. No, sheepishly. Then I spot over in the corner, and lining one wall, even in the gauzy light of the few candles Moriarty has brought up to the cupola with him, a contingent of Zinfandel bottles. They are empty. All of them.

My eyes widen. “You drank all the wine?!”

“We’re having a frightfully good time,” says Poe.

“We’re telling each other spooky stories,” adds Moriarty, “and then singing them.” He sniggers.

I don’t find these two boys particularly amusing. I’ve been scrubbing prickly cactus on a dusty desert all afternoon, reaching precariously over the edge of the catwalk, filling my lungs with dust and my ears with reverberating peals of macabre laughter seemingly out of the ethers, I am moldering and thirsty, and I want at least one glass of wine, a large one. Filled to the rim.

“There’s no more wine anywhere?” I say.

“It was a faulty case,” says Moriarty.

“Now, wait a minute,” says Poe, indignant. “I didn’t think the case in my detective story I just told you was faulty.”

“No, the case of wine,” says Moriarty. “The bottles all had leaks.”

“We should have brought a cask,” says Poe.

“I’m sure,” I say, flatly. “And, no cheese and crackers?”

“Nothing more,” says Poe.

Dickens walks over and sniffs the empty plate on the floor next to the bottles. There isn’t even a crumb for him to lick up.

The raven burps. Dickens trots over to the bird and begins barking up at it, still perched on Poe’s shoulder, Dickens commanding, as if to say, “You ate ‘em all. Cough ‘em up, buddy.”

But, I suspect it was Moriarty and Poe who ate the greater balance of them.

The candle flames flicker in the bare draft whispering through the open window. The curtain rustles lightly. We sit in silence. Poe stares down at the shapeshifting shadow specters dancing a fantastic fandango across the candlelit floor. The raven blinks. Moriarty watches Dickens settle onto the worn red Oriental rug, against my chair. A distant bell tolls.

Poe sits bolt upright. He peals,

“‘And the people–ah, the people–
 They that dwell up in the steeple,
    All alone,
  And who, tolling, tolling, tolling,
    In that muffled monotone,
  Feel a glory in so rolling
    On the human heart a stone—,’

“I think I’ll write a poem about that,” he muses, “something about bells. It has a nice ring, don’t you think? It just rolls – rolls, rolls, rolls, rolls – rolls lightly off the tongue. A tintinnabulation.”

“You’re making me hungry,” says Moriarty. “Rolls and butter.”

“It’s already been written. By your ancestor on your sister Paula’s side,” I point out. “It’s called ‘The Bells.’”

“Ah, iron bells.” The rusty tone of his voice rises from a deep well within him. There is a peculiar, dark nervousness about this man. He twitches and fidgets and then suddenly he is calm, strangely calm, glassy. Then, I notice his eyes are not black, but light, yet acute, and sad, yes, sad. And, every time he twitches and fidgets, Dickens watches, amused, as the raven puffs its wings, roughs its feathers and shifts its position.

“Has Dickens been fed?” I ask.

“Well, smooth, sweet nepenthe. Of that I must have more,” says Poe. “I must get my hat and depart thee. I must get to the store. Then, I am headed to my chamber. I feel an urge, a pressing urge to write ever more.”

He rises, turns and then stops. He stoops and reaches into one of the bottles, the raven hopping, turning, adjusting its wings and claws on Poe’s shoulder for balance. “Look at this. It’s a message.” He sticks a finger into the bottle neck and coaxes out the paper. “A message in a bottle. Cool.”

He unrolls it. “Uh-oh,” he says upon examining it. “I wrote this.” He hands it to Moriarty. I read it over his shoulder. It is faded and hard to read in the feeble candlelight, but I can make out the title, in large print: “MS. Found in a Bottle.”

“You just gave yourself away,” I say. “You’re the real Edgar Allan Poe, not some descendant on your sister Paula’s side.

“I won a literary award for this,” says Poe, “my only one. In 1833. I entered it in a fiction contest sponsored by the Baltimore Saturday Visiter [sic] newspaper. Fifty dollars, I got for my short story.” He reaches and pulls his black cape off the back of his chair, sweeps it around his shoulders, turns and heads down the winding staircase, the raven teetering as they descend as one. He waves a hand over his shoulder, “Ciao,” he says, and he and his raven vanish into the murkiness of the hour.

I turn to Moriarty. “You, my dear Phantom, have an intriguing menagerie of friends.”

Moriarty smiles.

The scent of fresh, wet earth rises as a soft rain begins to fall. Moriarty pulls the window closed and extinguishes the candles save one. He carries it to light our way as we descend the winding stairs, Dickens leading. Our shadows in the lost light glide alongside us like leviathan grotesques navigating inside a diaphanous wall.

“Remember, I asked you to paint these walls,” I say. “Would you do it soon? Please?”

“They have to be scraped first,” he says, “sanded down, to reveal the bones beneath.”

–Samantha Mozart
October 20, 2016

 

CXXXII. “Under the Trees It Was Green and Cool”: F. Scott Fitzgerald

The singer is gone, but the song lingers on. September 24 is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s birthday. This year he would be 120.

September 24, 2016 — F. Scott Fitzgerald came to live in Wilmington, Delaware, in March 1927. With him he brought his wife, Zelda, and his little daughter, Scottie. They stayed two years.

The feudal atmosphere in Wilmington under the du Ponts, thought Maxwell Perkins, Fitzgerald’s editor at Scribner’s, would provide the creator of The Great Gatsby with the tranquility he needed to finish his new novel, “The World’s Fair,” and give him material for future work.

For $150 a month, they leased Ellerslie, the white three-story 1842 Greek Revival cupolaed mansion on the Delaware River in Edgemoor. Wilmington attorney John Biggs, Fitzgerald’s former Princeton roommate, found the house for them.

For the first few months, life at Ellerslie floated along on the wings of a dream. Fitzgerald wrote to Ernest Hemingway: “Address for a year – Ellerslie Mansion, Edgemoor, Delaware. Huge old house on the Delaware River. Pillars, etc. I am called ‘Colonel,’ Zelda ‘de old Missus.’”

Scott and Zelda devised a system of calls and echoes so they could find each other among the 14 of the 27 rooms they kept open. Scottie romped the broad green lawn with the Wanamaker and du Pont children. And from the second-story bay window room where Fitzgerald wrote, he could see the lights far across the river.

Ellerslie

Ellerslie, image from the Hagley Museum and Library

At Ellerslie, in the deep night, amid the whispering old oaks, beeches and horse chestnuts, you might glimpse the suggestion of a figure, perhaps Gatsby himself, standing on the pillared portico of the magnificent house, lifting his arms outstretched toward the dark water.

The invitations went out and the crazy weekends began. Fridays the French chauffeur drove to the Wilmington train station to meet the guests who included Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Thornton Wilder, Edmund Wilson and Charles MacArthur. The chauffeur drove them back on Sunday. In between were dinner dances, polo matches staged with plow horses and croquet mallets, and late-night bedside visits by the resident ghost. If things got dull, they caroused the town: John Biggs received the middle of the night phone calls to get them out of jail.

At Ellerslie, Fitzgerald had turned 30. Indeed, a weekend guest recalled one of the parties as being a virtual funeral wake for the passing of his 30th year. His sense of loss plagued him.

“There was a demon within him to be the greatest writer of his generation. He didn’t feel he was accomplishing this,” remembered Biggs.

He got distracted when he started writing. “I get afraid I’m doing it instead of living…. Get thinking maybe life is waiting for me in the Japanese gardens at the Ritz or in Atlantic City or on the lower East Side.”

Zelda wanted to build a surprise dollhouse for Scottie. Fitzgerald and his little girl waited in their car on a quiet red-brick street corner while she disappeared with some papers through a door lettered “Cabinet Maker.”

It was a fine November day. The last golden leaves clung to the trees, sprinkling little shadows here and there on the sidewalk. The daddy yawned. A very little boy walked up the street, taking very long strides. He went up to a door, took a piece of chalk out of his pocket and proceeded to write something under the doorbell.

“He’s making magic signs,” the daddy told the little girl. The daddy then wove a tale of fairy intrigue. ‘The little boy was the ogre and he was holding a princess captive behind the closed curtains of the flat on the corner. The king and queen were imprisoned 10,000 miles under the earth.

“And what, Daddy? What?” demanded the little girl, caught up in the magic. The man continued the story. He wanted to be in his little girl’s fairy world with her. A shutter banged closed, then slowly opened. Suddenly the room turned blue. That meant the prince had found the first of the three stones that would free the princess.

The man could remember that world but he knew he would never again see it or touch it for himself. “Outside the Cabinet-Maker’s” was published in The Century Magazine, December 1928.

The Fitzgeralds interrupted their two years at Ellerslie voyaging to Paris in the summer of 1928. There, at a dinner party hosted by Sylvia Beach, a Baltimore native and founder of Shakespeare and Company, Fitzgerald met James Joyce, where he was so overawed by the genius of the Irish author that he sank onto bended knee, kissed his hand and later referred to the evening as “The Festival of St. James.”

Leaving Ellerslie for good in March 1929 the Fitzgeralds sailed for Genoa. In April they were somewhere in France. By June they were in Cannes.

After they sailed, Ellerslie was acquired by the Krebs Co.

In Europe Zelda suffered her first major breakdown, most likely bipolar, and spent 15 months in a Swiss clinic. Upon her release the Fitzgeralds returned to the United States to live in Baltimore in 1931, but Zelda broke down again and was treated at the Phipps Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Tender Is the Night, begun in 1925 as “The World’s Fair,” winged its way into the literary world in 1934. One year later, the big square rooms of the sweeping white mansion on the Delaware housed the offices of the DuPont Co. pigments plant.

Fitzgerald published “Afternoon of an Author,” a short story, in Esquire magazine in August 1936. In the story he wrote:

“He went into the kitchen and said good-by to the maid as if he were going to Little America. Once in the war he had commandeered an engine on sheer bluff and had it driven from New York to Washington to keep from being A.W.O.L. Now he stood carefully on the street corner waiting for the light to change, while young people hurried past him with a fine disregard for traffic. On the bus corner under the trees it was green and cool and he thought of Stonewall Jackson’s last words: “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.” Those Civil War leaders seemed to have realized very suddenly how tired they were—Lee shriveling into another man, Grant with his desperate memoir-writing at the end.”

Fitzgerald took rooms at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina, for the summers of 1935 and 1936. He thought the respite at the inn would help him stop drinking and write more.  Tender Is the Night was not selling well: during the Depression people weren’t inclined to read about the highlife of the rich. He was supporting Zelda’s institutional stay and daughter Scottie’s Vassar education. At the Grove Park Inn, Fitzgerald turned 40.

The Grove Park Inn, Asheville, N. C.

The Grove Park Inn, Asheville, N. C.

Some years earlier, Scott Fitzgerald had met Asheville native son, Thomas Wolfe, author of the autobiographical novel, Look Homeward, Angel, through Maxwell Perkins, their mutual editor. Perkins and Wolfe marked birthdays around Fitzgerald’s, September 20 (1884) and October 3 (1900) respectively. So, you might regard this story as a triple birthday commemoration. Wolfe and Fitzgerald maintained a correspondence on the philosophy of writing.

In 1937 Fitzgerald went to Hollywood to write for the movies. Gone With the Wind was one of them. He was also working on a new novel, The Last Tycoon. He stayed at the Garden of Allah residential hotel in Hollywood.

Garden of Allah

Garden of Allah

On December 21, 1940, Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, lyrical prose writer, author of novels, short stories, poems, essays and plays, died in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, of a heart attack. He was 44.

Thomas Wolfe died on September 15, 1938, in Johns Hopkins Hospital, his brain riddled with tuberculosis.

Maxwell Perkins, a kind father to both these men, died on June 17, 1947 of pneumonia.

Zelda perished in a fire at Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, on March 10, 1948, when flames ripped through a wooden building where she and eight other patients were housed.

In 1972, the gracious summer home on the Delaware, riddled with termites, was demolished.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, great grandnephew of Francis Scott Key, the author of the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the United States national anthem, was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on this day, September 24, 1896. Happy Birthday, Scott.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards
Already with thee! tender is the night

—from Ode to a Nightingale, John Keats

This Ode to Fitzgerald is in part excerpted from a piece I published in the Wilmington (Del.) News-Journal, “Only the Memories Remain,” under my byline Carol Child,
April 24, 1986.

Samantha Mozart

CXXXI. Music: Part 3 – “The Wallflower” and The Saga of Annie & Henry

May 14, 2015 — I was in eighth grade listening to hit songs on the radio sung by Doris Day and Perry Como, when my friend, Anne Sullivan, said, “You’ve gotta listen to this.”  It was “Roll With Me, Henry,” sung by Etta James (1938-2012), the first rock ‘n’ roll song (now commonly known as doo wop) I had ever heard. The song, I learned today, has an interesting backstory.

According to Wikipedia: The Wallflower” (also known as “Roll with Me, Henry” and “Dance with Me, Henry“) is a 1955 popular song. It was one of several answer songs to “Work with Me, Annie” and has the same 12-bar blues melody. It was written by Johnny Otis, Hank Ballard, and Etta James. Etta James recorded it for Modern Records, with uncredited vocal responses from Richard Berry, under the title “The Wallflower” and it became a rhythm and blues hit, topping the U.S. R&B chart for 4 weeks. It was popularly known as “Roll with Me Henry”. This original version was considered too risque to play on pop radio stations.
In 1955, the song was covered for the pop market by Georgia Gibbs with the title “Dance With Me Henry”. That version charted, hitting the top five of several pop charts, including number one on the Most Played In Juke Boxes chart on May 14, 1955 , spending three weeks on top of that chart.[1] In 1958, Etta James made her own cover version of “Dance With Me Henry”.

Hank Ballard (1927-2003) & The Midnighters (formerly called The Royals) released “Work With Me, Annie” on January 14, 1954. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) immediately opposed it incanting that it had crossed over to a white teenage audience and the overtly sexual lyrics were thought unsuitable for them. But efforts to ban the song failed. The song had sold a million copies as did each of the succeeding Annie songs in the trilogy (“Work With Me, Annie,” “Roll With Me, Henry” and “Annie’s Aunt Fanny.”)

The success of these recordings instigated the practice of recording double entendre and answer songs. “The Wallflower” (popularly known as “Roll With Me, Henry”) is the answer song to “Work With Me, Annie.” The Midnighters recycled the melody once more for “Henry’s Got Flat Feet (Can’t Dance No More).”

An answer or response song, as the term suggests, is a song made in answer to a previous song, usually in recorded music. This concept became widespread in blues and rhythm & blues in the 1930s through the 1950s. Country music answer songs were popular in the 1950s and ’60s, primarily recorded by female singers in response to an original male recording. Response or answer music extends through to today in hip hop, rock music and filk music.  Wikipedia defines filk music as both a musical culture, genre, and community tied to science fiction/fantasy fandom and a type of fan labor. The genre has been active since the early 1950s, and played primarily since the mid-1970s. The term (originally a typographical error) predates 1955.

It appears to me that these answer/response song artists were engaging in pre-tech-age forms of flash fiction, blogging, and blog comments and replies.

Here are some YouTube links to original performances of these songs:

Hank Ballard & The Midnighters’ “Work With Me, Annie”  — a 12-bar blues song, the first in the Annie series.

Etta James, “Roll With Me, Henry

This is a later, Platters version of “Roll With Me, Henry” — or as The Platters female singer, Zola Taylor, (1938-2007) says it, “Hennery.”  This is funny — and I thought I could jitterbug. Brings back memories.

Hank Ballard & The Midnighters, “Annie Had a Baby

The Midnighters, “Annie’s Aunt Fanny

The Champions, “Annie Met Henry.”

There are no coincidences, some say, yet I stumbled on this today, May 14, 2015 , the 60th anniversary of Georgia Gibbs’s (1919-2006) “Dance With Me, Henry” topping the jukebox charts, because a fellow blogger visited my site for the first time and commented.  I responded and in turn, visited her blog — she writes about music, mostly rock ‘n’ roll (http://www.jinglejanglejungle.net).  She wrote a post about The Champs and “Tequila” and that made me think of the first rock ‘n’ roll song I had ever heard.

Samantha Mozart

CXXXI. Music: Interlude

September 24, 2014 — F. Scott Fitzgerald came to live in Wilmington, Delaware, in March 1927. With him he brought his wife, Zelda, and his little daughter, Scottie. They stayed two years.

The feudal atmosphere in Wilmington under the du Ponts, thought Maxwell Perkins, Fitzgerald’s editor at Scribner’s, would provide the creator of The Great Gatsby with the tranquility he needed to finish his new novel, “The World’s Fair,” and give him material for future work.

For $150 a month, they leased Ellerslie, the white three-story 1842 Greek Revival cupolaed mansion on the Delaware River in Edgemoor. Wilmington attorney John Biggs, Fitzgerald’s former Princeton roommate, found the house for them.

For the first few months, life at Ellerslie floated along on the wings of a dream. Fitzgerald wrote to Ernest Hemingway: “Address for a year – Ellerslie Mansion, Edgemoor, Delaware. Huge old house on the Delaware River. Pillars, etc. I am called ‘Colonel,’ Zelda ‘de old Missus.’”

Scott and Zelda devised a system of calls and echoes so they could find each other among the 14 of the 27 rooms they kept open. Scottie romped the broad green lawn with the Wanamaker and du Pont children. And from the second-story bay window room where Fitzgerald wrote, he could see the lights far across the river.

Ellerslie

Ellerslie, image from the Hagley Museum and Library

At Ellerslie, in the deep night, amid the whispering old oaks, beeches and horse chestnuts, you might glimpse the suggestion of a figure, perhaps Gatsby himself, standing on the pillared portico of the magnificent house, lifting his arms outstretched toward the dark water.

The invitations went out and the crazy weekends began. Fridays the French chauffeur drove to the Wilmington train station to meet the guests who included Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Thornton Wilder, Edmund Wilson and Charles MacArthur. The chauffeur drove them back on Sunday. In between were dinner dances, polo matches staged with plow horses and croquet mallets, and late-night bedside visits by the resident ghost. If things got dull, they caroused the town: John Biggs received the middle of the night phone calls to get them out of jail.

At Ellerslie, Fitzgerald had turned 30. Indeed, a weekend guest recalled one of the parties as being a virtual funeral wake for the passing of his 30th year. His sense of loss plagued him.

“There was a demon within him to be the greatest writer of his generation. He didn’t feel he was accomplishing this,” remembered Biggs.

He got distracted when he started writing. “I get afraid I’m doing it instead of living…. Get thinking maybe life is waiting for me in the Japanese gardens at the Ritz or in Atlantic City or on the lower East Side.”

Zelda wanted to build a surprise dollhouse for Scottie. Fitzgerald and his little girl waited in their car on a quiet red-brick street corner while she disappeared with some papers through a door lettered “Cabinet Maker.”

It was a fine November day. The last golden leaves clung to the trees, sprinkling little shadows here and there on the sidewalk. The daddy yawned. A very little boy walked up the street, taking very long strides. He went up to a door, took a piece of chalk out of his pocket and proceeded to write something under the doorbell.

“He’s making magic signs,” the daddy told the little girl. The daddy then wove a tale of fairy intrigue. ‘The little boy was the ogre and he was holding a princess captive behind the closed curtains of the flat on the corner. The king and queen were imprisoned 10,000 miles under the earth.

“And what, Daddy? What?” demanded the little girl, caught up in the magic. The man continued the story. He wanted to be in his little girl’s fairy world with her. A shutter banged closed, then slowly opened. Suddenly the room turned blue. That meant the prince had found the first of the three stones that would free the princess.

The man could remember that world but he knew he would never again see it or touch it for himself. “Outside the Cabinet-Maker’s” was published in The Century Magazine, December 1928.

In March 1929 the Fitzgeralds sailed for Genoa. In April they were somewhere in France. By June they were in Cannes.

After they sailed, Ellerslie was acquired by the Krebs Co.

Tender Is the Night, begun in 1925 as “The World’s Fair,” winged its way into the literary world in 1934. One year later, the big square rooms of the sweeping white mansion on the Delaware housed the offices of the DuPont Co. pigments plant.

On December 21, 1940, Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, lyrical prose writer, author of novels, short stories, poems, essays and plays, died in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, of a heart attack. He was 44. In 1972, the gracious summer home on the Delaware, riddled with termites, was demolished.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, great grandnephew of Francis Scott Key, the author of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the United States national anthem, was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on this day, September 24, 1896. Happy Birthday, Scott.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards
Already with thee! tender is the night

—from Ode to a Nightingale, John Keats

This Ode to Fitzgerald is excerpted from a piece I published in the Wilmington (Del.) News-Journal, “Only the Memories Remain,” under my byline Carol Child,
April 24, 1986.

Samantha Mozart