The Looking Glass
by Jennifer Johnston
Photograph by Yahn Smith, The Quiet Man years, ca. 1974
Thomas Wolfe notwithstanding, sometimes you can go home again (and again). "Home" is not always a physical place; it can be and is a state of mind as well ... a warm, abiding feeling of familiarity, belonging, safety, memory, an echo of the spirit and clarifying reflection ... a sense that all is well, and as it should be ... that the stars and planets and "vibes" are good and full of preternatural promise.
When you find your home(s) ... for sometimes there may be more than one ... you begin to understand the sense of being enveloped and gently held in a loving place of life and light where your past, present and future intersect and combine to soothe, educate, enlighten, sustain and expand your soul.
Dallas has always been a tangible "home" place for me. Denver is another, although Yahn is not as comfortable with the ambiance and altitude ... and sometimes attitude ... that are common to that Rocky Mountain "Queen City of the Plains." Childress was "home" in a physical sense for the first 16 years of my life ... and even after I left, it was a "home" of sorts because my blood family was there for some years after my departure. I suppose that in some corner of my mind there remains some vestigial feeling of "home" because of the good friends and the good memories which still reside in that small corner of the Texas Panhandle.
But ... even though I have come to appreciate many of the things and the people I knew in Childress, it never felt to me like I "belonged" there. For a long time I had the distinct feeling that I had been "kidnapped" to Childress when I was six months old (grin), although now I reflect that there were karmic reasons why I needed ... was supposed ... to be there.... I enjoy visiting Childress from time to time, and taking "memorial drags" on Highway 287, through Fair Park, down a Main Street no longer as familiar as in memory ... but I feel it is unlikely I could ever be happy living there ... despite the fact that one of the things I have learned over this lifetime is "never say never" ... and ever and never are sometimes dependent on things outside our ken. Obviously others feel differently about Childress ... that is their choice, their sustaining place, their "comfort zone," their karma ... and that is as it should be for them. But Dallas is "my place" in a way that Childress, and Houston (even after 20 years there) and Las Vegas never were.
My longtime Houston friend Susan and her boyfriend Drew came to Dallas (new territory for them) to visit over this past Easter weekend, and to see some of the city. Given Yahn's ongoing recovery from his surgery in December, we weren't able to spend long periods of time with them, or get out and walk around a lot. But still, we did get to have lunch with them both Friday and Saturday, and après lunch take them driving around the city ... and it was interesting and revelatory in a way to experience Dallas ... the Dallas we knew from 1968 to 1980 when we were young, and the Dallas we are discovering and rediscovering now ... through their eyes. It was also verrrry interesting to see Susan get insight ... a vision if you will ... of the person I was when we previously lived in Dallas, compared to the older paralegal colleague and friend she came to know in Houston.
Crème brûlée, photograph by J. Patrick Fisher
From Wikipedia Commons
On Friday we had lunch at Zen Sushi here in our Oak Cliff Bishop Arts District. As always, the food was outstanding ... Zen Sushi regularly makes the "Best of Dallas" lists ... and we enjoyed introducing them to chef/owner Michelle Carpenter, and finishing the wonderful meal with Michelle's extraordinary crème brûlée (in French, literally "burnt cream"), the best I've ever eaten (and I've had crème brûlée in some lovely and exotic locales around the world). It always seems just a little "off" to go from Japanese to crème brûlée ... but somehow it is a perfect coda in that eclectic, serene and minimalist venue in funky Bishop Arts.
After lunch we headed out to "tour" some of the different Dallas neighborhoods, starting with hilly Oak Cliff, sections of which remind me of Ireland (its shades ... in a couple of senses of the word ... and shadows) and seem almost enchanted, particularly on bright afternoons of deep still darkness beneath the trees, or foggy mornings, or at twilight. After Oak Cliff we "did" Downtown Dallas and the Arts District, including the historic Dealey Plaza/Texas School Book Depository confluence of streets where John F. Kennedy was murdered by Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963, and pointed out (among other things) Reunion Tower, the spectacularly lit glittering "dandelion" (although it has been called by a more colorful name that rhymes with Dallas ... grin) that was the location of the revolving Antares Restaurant (now Wolfgang Puck's Five Sixty), where we took Shannon and Chiara when they were children for Thanksgiving dinner the first year I didn't cook or we didn't go to Childress or La Grange to feast with family.
Photograph of Reunion Tower by Danny Burton,
Released to Public Domain
Then we headed to Oak Lawn, the "gayborhood," where we lived before we moved to Denver in 1980. Leaving Oak Lawn we drove through the Lee Park/Turtle Creek area, then très riche Highland Park (where my college roommate at Texas Tech, Susie, and my old boyfriend Kirk Wade, and Floyd Dakil grew up and went to high school), then to the super-trendy and chic West Village and Uptown areas ... and then to and through my cherished Knox-Henderson enclave.
(Sidebar: The area is called Knox-Henderson because on the West side of Central Expressway the street is Knox, but East of Central it is Henderson. Knox was always the cooler venue, at least in my Dallas experiences ... and it still is, IMHO ... although in the past few years it seems Henderson has made some strides toward its own cachet. But my memories reside on Knox....)
The Quiet Man, my favorite bar/pub ever ... truly like no place else (with a nod to Nicki's previous post) ... sat more or less in the middle of the 3100 block of Knox ... about two and a half blocks West of Central ... and as we told Susan about the great times we had there (together and sometimes singularly when Yahn was traveling a lot for his job as Art Director for Packaging Corporation of America), it was interesting to note her rising level of interest in a "me" that she never knew. I couldn't see her facial expressions because I was driving, but I did pick up on her vocal inflections as she commented and questioned.
I've mentioned The Quiet Man on the blog before (among other things as the place I last saw our classmate Jimmy Lassen), but for those who are not familiar.... The QM was an Irish-style pub, filled with a totally diverse clientele from darts and rugby players to SMU professors holding "seminars" over pitchers of beer on the patio or inside the bar, to bikers (I am speaking of both Harley-Davidson and Schwinn varieties), hippies, leftover beatniks and young professionals ... owned and lovingly operated by the fabulous Mike Carr, a mad but benign Irishman well-known in Dallas for his over-the-top St. Patrick's Day celebrations ... like disrupting traffic on Knox to paint a green stripe down the street, then commandeering the side closest to the QM for the huge, spillover crowds that came to take part in the revelry. I also remember a couple of bizarre Easter Egg rolls in the parking lot, and festive, costumed Halloweens and so many other special days in that life....
The QM now exists only in memory ... Mike Carr died in 1998 ... and the place where the QM sat is now occupied by some white thing called Quatrine Custom Furniture. Feh!!! Within walking distance of the QM were the Knox Street Pub (now operating in another location) and The Old Church (so named because it was in fact once an old church before it was deconsecrated and turned into a "hot" watering hole with steeple), which is still physically there but operates under another name. Sometimes we would make the Knox "rounds" of all three places ... but always returned to the QM, where the jukebox was to die for, and the conversations were so stimulating, and the darts players and the bikers (all of them!) were always interesting. I always felt "at home" at the QM ... had many friends there ... and if Yahn was traveling, sometimes I would go there to read and write letters....
That was back in the day when people actually wrote letters ... often lengthy letters ... instead of Tweeting, Twittering or e-mailing. Oh don't get me wrong ... it would have been absolutely fabulous to have had at that time some means of almost instant communication that we are now afforded by the Internet.... Nevertheless, there was always something magical about opening and devouring the contents of a fat envelope, then going back for a slower, more contemplative re-reading ... or setting pen to paper to begin composing an answering missive ... while Willie and Patsy and Ray Price and Ray Charles and Sammi Smith and Steppenwolf and the Drifters and the Platters and the Righteous Brothers and the Eagles blended seamlessly in the background.
Pencil sketch done on the Patio of The Quiet Man, ca. 1974
I loved writing, and receiving, those long letters ... the tactile sensation of my hands holding the paper and seeing the words ... the familiar handwriting.... More often than not, letters I would begin writing at The QM or The Old Church would be finished later at home ... after the girls had gone to bed. The atmosphere most conducive to writing seemed to be to start a fire, put good and meaningful music on the stereo, pour a glass or two of wine ... and then let the words and the music and the flickering fire with its myriad fascinating imaginary shapes take me wherever my mind was inclined to wander, in a sort of "altered" state.... But I digress ... although a fun digression, at least for me....
On Saturday, after a lunch of good old classic Tex-Mex at El Fenix, we took Susan and Drew to drive around White Rock Lake, a favorite place in those early years to take our daughters Shannon and Chiara to play and feed the ducks. It is just as picturesque and peaceful, if a bit more crowded with upscale homes and joggers and boaters and bikers ... of the bicycle variety ... than it was lo those many years ago. Of course we related the legend of the ghostly "Lady of White Rock Lake" while we drove.
"Ianare the Ghost" painting by Ianare Sevi
Released by the painter to public domain, Wikipedia Commons
The story (which many lakeside residents insist is true) holds that sometimes, when "conditions" are just right, a spectral young woman will appear to some driver traveling the road late at night. The Lady is always dripping wet, in evening attire common to the 1920s ... and if the driver stops she tells him she has been in an accident on the lake, then asks him to take her to her home. She always gets into the back seat, and when the driver arrives at the address given and turns to speak to her, she is gone ... leaving only pools of water in the seat and floorboard. It is said that for a long time, if any driver had courage to knock on the door of the house to inquire, he was told by the owners that their daughter had died by drowning late one night many years ago when she fell out of a small boat on the lake. Updates to the tale say that when the driver arrives at the address, the house is no longer there but has been torn down and replaced by apartments. Whatever the truth of the matter, the story has always been good enough to induce chills in listeners ... though it has always seemed to me that the lost Lady means no harm and is simply trying, again and again, to reach "home"....
I believe that the memories we spun, the Knox Street stories, White Rock Lake and the haunting narrative of its Lady, gave Susan insight into the person I once was ... as well as the person I am today, given that I am a firm believer that our earlier experiences in life remain with us and shape us as we grow in age and knowledge ... and inexorably move between the lives, as a Rabbi once translated to me from the Hebrew on a charm which I acquired in San Francisco. But again I digress ... and that is another supernatural story for a very small audience....
More importantly, by the time we dropped Susan and Drew back at their downtown hotel (where Susan says they had a fabulous view of the Dallas skyline), I believe I had "touched" once again so many things intrinsic to my soul ... the person I was, am and will yet become ... in this place of "home" and homecoming, where the future is arriving and fading into past even in those minutes that I type these words.
Virginia Woolf wrote: Each has his past shut in him like the leaves of a book known to him by heart and his friends can only read the title. Yet if we are very lucky, and very aware, we may find one or two souls along the way who are able to "read" past the title, to know the intricacies and the nuances of the story.
That is a "good" place, a welcoming, warming "home" ... bearing in mind always that "home" is truly where the heart and longing and memory and prelude and promise reside in universal harmony and keen anticipation....