Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Power of Words: They Linger and They Dance

How many of you have come across a word in your reading, and for some intangible reason, that word finds a safe haven in some little-visited corner of your mind and refuses to leave-- even when it has no reason to stay?

I had that happen to me when I was thirteen and read Norah Lofts' Pargeters. One of the characters was a master pargeter, and Lofts gave just enough information about this decorative plasterwork done on half-timbered houses that it stuck in my mind. Only the most highly skilled at this craft could do work that would stand the test of time and weather. I distinctly remember thinking, "I'd really like to see that. It sounds beautiful!"

The word must have felt welcome, and it found a warm little nook in my memory where it took up permanent residence. I gave little thought to it over the years. If I saw photographs of half-timbered houses or decorative plasterwork, the word would trot itself out. I'd use it and undoubtedly sound like a master hoarder of obscure trivia, but it's something to which I gave no thought. Pargeting did not give my life meaning, and I lived very well without it. But the word was warm and comfortable and saw no reason to leave. Almost as if it knew something that I did not.

Thirty-nine years later, my husband and I were planning a trip to the UK. In order to visit relatives, we would be staying in a cottage in Bedfordshire for a week. I picked up my copy of the 2007 National Trust Handbook to check to see if there were any interesting spots in the area we would be able to visit during that week. I also pulled out my beloved copy of Town Tours in Britain. Saffron Walden would be within range. I opened the pages for that town and began to read. "The Sun Inn...
1376...magnificent pargeting 1676...." The word stood up, smiled, stretched... and began doing a little clog dance in my mind.



Could it be? Would I finally be able to see this marvel of plasterwork for myself? I searched some more. There was more pargeting in Clare-- not far from Saffron Walden! The word stopped clog dancing, gathered some friends and began a very noisy hoe-down.

Denis and I went to the UK. We spent that week in Bedfordshire. While we were there, we spent the day driving through several villages, and we stopped and walked the streets of Saffron Walden and Clare.

After thirty-nine years, I finally got to see my pargeting. Was it worth the wait?

(Top, Saffron Walden; Bottom, Clare)



  1. WOW!!! Absolutely terrific post. So nicely written: personal and informative. I am in love with old architecture -- from the humblest shack to the grandest cathedral or castle. Thanks for adding to my knowledge.

    And I must read that book. I always loved books that highlight what are fast-becoming lost arts.

  2. I love this post! It's so wonderful to see the impact a book had on you when you were 13 years old. I love the pictures, too.

  3. What an interesting and educating post! I for one learned a new term, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Beautiful photos and a well-wrought post :)

  4. You're welcome, Joe. I'm glad you liked it!

    Beth--I love old architecture, too--shacks and castles. Lofts wrote more than one book centering on one house and all the people who lived in it over the years. She's one of my "sentimental favorites" authors.

    Thanks, Kathy. I was sitting at work yesterday morning and had another idea for a similar post...but I didn't write it down and forgot it. I'm hoping that it comes back to me!

    Thank you, Dorte! I never know if these more personal posts are going to fly or crash. :)

  5. Oh, this post was a definite flyer, Cathy!

    The part I particularly related to was the word part. Yes, my mind squirrels them away, too. Often when I'm lying awake, they parade for me: brobdignagian, pitter-patter, heist, firkytoodle ...and play together.


  6. Susan--I'm going to have to look up firkytoodle. I can't wait to use it in conversation!


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