No. 16: Scottish Fantasy

Artist: Max Bruch
Title: Scottish Fantasy
Date: 1880
Culture: German
Provenance: Album gifted to EAH by her mother in 2003

I had no idea that my last trip to my family home in Vermont would be my last. Had I known, my sentimentality would surely have ruined it. I would have had that terrible painful lump in my throat and carried that profound this-is-my-last perspective into everything. Lucky for me, I didn’t know, and so I had one of the most perfect days of my life.

When was it? August? September? I was working my first job out of college in New York and needed to get away from my squalid apartment in Queens and my ego-squashing job at Rockefeller Center. I needed open spaces and trees and birdsong and the comfort of home. I needed a little mothering.

I remember nothing of that trip aside from the last day. My mom and I drove to Burlington for lunch and window shopping. Somehow or other our conversation on the drive brought us to music, and she mentioned Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasty, which I had never heard of. She couldn’t believe it and insisted on buying me the CD when we got to Church Street.

We started our drive home in the late afternoon, a drive we’d done a million times before along the hilltops at the edge of Lake Champlain, eventually winding through the forests and farmland that led to our cozy house in the woods. As we left Burlington, we played Scottish Fantasy on the car CD player. The sky was painted spectacular shades of orange and red, and the lake reflected the waning light, making the world seem soft and golden. The setting and the music and the mood were perfect. Is there a word for it? Something like onomatopoeia? I remember the mood in the car—the light and the swelling music and my mom’s smile and our shared sense of wonder. It was, as my mom would have said, gemütlich. But it was more than that. It was transcendent. I’ll never forget it.

We stopped at our favorite dinner spot on the way back, an old schoolhouse at the edge of a country road that served blackened fish and burgers. We both got gin and tonics with our food. On the drive home, we looked for moose and foxes, remembering the fox with her kits we had seen along that stretch of road several years back.

The next morning I flew back to New York, and the spell was broken. Bills, work, the subway, increasing uncertainty about what I should be doing with my life. As I floundered on the seas of my young adulthood, that day always stood out as something of a beacon to remind me of how good life could be.

You often hear people say that when you’re living in the golden times, you never know it, but I knew I was living a golden moment that day. What I didn’t quite realize was how rare and fleeting those moments are.

Now that my mom is gone and I no longer have a Mama to fly home to for comfort when life feels bleak and altogether too adult, I still have that day. I have that car ride with its pinky-golden light and the harmonizing violins and the green mountains and Lake Champlain and my dear mother. I can remember just how lucky I have been. It was beautiful.


2 thoughts on “No. 16: Scottish Fantasy

  1. Oh Ellen, this is so incredibly beautifully written, and I could feel all of it as you described your day and your ride in the car, your mother buying you the music, the 2 of you listening to it on your way home, and the big smile on your Mom’s face! She would have loved every single minute of it, too, and I’m sure she remembered it for years after as well. Makes me miss your Mom even more than I already do. I am so very sorry she died so young. She was a magnificent mother and instilled (along with your Dad) your love of art, music, beauty, gardens, parenting, and so much more. Thank you for this. I needed it today to restore my soul. Love, Sandee


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