Midsummer and Mickey Rooney

My grandmother called it ‘syringa’, a shrub with hauntingly fragrant white flowers which marks midsummer. It seems to be more widely named now as ‘mock orange’  but whatever it is called, its scent takes me to other times and places.

It takes me to a house in London’s Middlesex fringe, as it was then, built during the ribbon development of the 1930s, to which my mother and I moved in 1941. The house was on the side of a hill. The ground floor in the front looked out on to a main road and bus stop. In the back,  the ground floor became the first floor and looked down in to the garden. The spare space below the house was used as a cellar for some and an air raid shelter for most.

We sat on the balcony overlooking the garden. My grandma, with her accent from the depths of rural Essex, tempered by a time in Victoria’s  London ‘in service’, called it the ‘belcony’. I remember my ears picking that  up.

From the ground below, up to the wall of the balcony, a syringa shrub grew. That’s when I first encountered its evocative, yearning scent – and that is what I recalled today,  as I wandered in my garden and stooped again to recover the fragrance of our own flowers.

Next to the the shrub there grew a climbing rose, deep red, which also reached the rim of the balcony. I don’t think that had a scent. At the feet of these two shrubs there was a patch of mint. And half the garden was filled with an apple tree and a pear tree, both of which produced enormous fruit, the pears sweet, the apples for cooking.

So there I am in 1941. We had moved, because of Plymouth bombs which destroyed my father’s factory – and because he expected imminent call-up,  to London, free then of the blitz, but where the flying bombs would eventually fall. I had left Devonshire. It was to become an image, only an image, for me in adulthood, of paradise.

Most families we knew then visited the cinema at least once a week and virtually all my schoolmates attended ‘Saturday morning flicks’. For some reason that was not part of our family life.

We did go once to the local Odeon,  during the war, to see a black and white film with Mickey Rooney in it. I remember his name. I also remember the darkness in the local Odeon. And I remember the shattering headache with which I went out from there, back into the sun.

Wandering on the bypass last night, as I usually do, in the evening light, and looking out over the fields – and thinking of the sea from which we are far, while still reaching to the beauty which was there and then, I thought I might be seeing another image of paradise.

And I wondered whether we might find it one day, after stepping out from the dark cinema of our lives.

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3 Responses to Midsummer and Mickey Rooney

  1. Pooka says:

    I’ve been thinking of paradise of late. Your work here on the blog has played some part in it. Our connectedness to place seems so important. I wonder at those who can’t seem to “settle down” to one place. How do the rootless manage? All through life, the universe and their following texts there is this theme of connection to The Land. In the very first verses of the Bible, God creates The Land, which I recently learned is the same word as used when speaking of the Promised Land of Israel.

    People build essential dependence, not simply on the fruit of the land, but on the… how would you say?… Essence. We are attached to the scent, the feel, the surrounding area, everything about it. I am reminded of Heinlein, in his book, “.To Sail Beyond The Sunset” wherein Maureen’s cat had to say goodby to her “only Home.” I’ll email you the passage.

    But, to tie back into paradise, our need to be somewhere, rooted, or our undying connection to a particular place, seems ingrained. And I think as we’ve progressed into this electronic era of travelling by the tips of our fingers and digital cameras that we’ve lost that sense, as a whole, and maybe it adds to the disoriented collective reasoning we have.

    • lleweton says:

      Thanks. I really am feeling my way here. I’ve surprised myself with what has come into focus as I’ve tried to find words to give form to often-fleeting perceptions and to memories – sometimes memories which may have been dreams. One result has been to lead me to make the leap of believing in the actual reality conveyed in the hints of heaven I’ve sometimes dwelt on. That has taken me a step in the right direction in my own life.

      I’m truly appreciative of your encouragement and that of others who read my posts. This has brought me some distance from where the blog began. I’m conscious of a temptation to write for the effect which has brought friendly responses.

      Rather solemn I know,but I shall aim to post only what I believe to be worth saying for its own sake. That means I probably won’t be prolific. Thanks for your reference to Heinlein. His is a new name to me. I’d like to see the passage about the cat if you would send it please. I can’t trace it on line at the moment.

  2. Pooka says:

    Even knowing where it should have been, that Heinlein bit was tough to find. I found it on an odd reading site. Hopefully you’ve received the email now.

    I too find a temptation to write for the ear of potential readers. So far, I think I’ve done fairly well at avoiding doing so. The purity of your work probably depends on your keeping the material close to you, and not “taking suggestions.” The meta that follows is better set to stir up outside involvement. At least, that’s how I see it. You have personal memories, and unless you’re collaborating with another eye-witness for the purpose of joint views, I’d say they must remain aloof. And that’s what is there, it’s as if your reader is looking into your window to see what is yours on display.

    I view my poetry that way, except that it’s cryptic (on purpose, most of the time) so that the image is there, but not to be taken from me. That may not be particularly useful, but I think there’s a connection there.

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