Background Music "Blood in the Desert" (c) 2017 Zach Hardy
"The Hardy Heart" monthly blog - October 2017
Every night when I was a kid my brothers and I would fall asleep to a tape of one of the books in The Great Brain series. The world of The Great Brain takes place in the semi-historical, rural town of Adenville, Utah between 1896 and 1898. The series revolves around the wild tales of a young boy Tom Dennis Fitzgerald who is so cunning and charismatic that he can think his way out of any problem and into a whole host of outlandish schemes. The stories are told from the vantage point of Tom's younger brother John Dennis Fitzgerald, who both equally idolizes and worries about his genius, older brother. The boys have one older brother Sven and then Mama and Papa Fitzgerald. I absolutely fell in love with the way in which the books narrated this family's life in the old west where there were no cars, "water closets" were cutting edge technology, weekly chores included milking cows, and the family spent evening times in the parlor.
The concept of a "parlor" is something that to this day completely fascinates and intrigues me. Growing up, my family had a "living room" and "family room," but there was something about these rooms that did not quite match the magic and importance of the Fitzgerald parlor. The Fitzgerald family would use the parlor as a place where each person could either be engaged in their own book, game, or knitting project, or gather together to discourse with each other or with guests. It seemed like a main hub for the activities of the home and was the setting for many of the plot developments in the books.
There is a place in my childhood memory that does equate to the significance of the Fitzgerald's parlor and that is the main room in my family's cabin up Big Cottonwood canyon in the mountains of Brighton, Utah. It is a beautiful, old structure from the early 1900's that Heber J. Grant purchased as a summer home for his second wife Augusta (my great-great-grand parents). Although a few updates have been made over the years, it has retained a quintessential log cabin feeling complete with a large stone fireplace and old creaky wood floors. One of the most magical times at the cabin was in the evening, after dinner when we would make a roaring fire, turn the lights down and listen to my dad sing and play guitar. We would sing along with him at times, but I have so many warm memories of sitting in a trance like state, staring at the fire and listening to the music.
I have been in my current residence for just over a year, a classic, gorgeous, old Victorian Salt Lake City home. A lot has been remodeled and updated in the house, but there are still some old timey elements intact like large radiator heaters placed strategically around the home to heat it during the winter. When I first toured the home, I loved that the main floor plan included a room that could fit my family's large dining room table that I'd been storing, and another separate room that anyone these days would call a living room. However, the first time I saw this room I knew it was our parlor. It had a nice wood floor, a fireplace with a carved, wooden mantle and tiled hearth, tall ceilings, huge windows with shades you could pull down from the top to let light in, and sliding wooden doors you could pull out from the wall to section it off from the dining room. I imagined evenings after dinner where we would retire to the parlor and hang out telling stories or jam music on the guitars.
We set the room up with this intention in mind and over the past year there were a handful of times that this room absolutely moved beyond the realm of living room into full on parlor. This last weekend stands out as some particularly good parlor time where on Friday night, after going to dinner for my brother's Judd birthday, my girlfriend, brother and father retired to this room, turned the lights down, lit a small fire, and in between stories would pass around the guitar and sing whatever song the moment asked for. Somewhere in that couple of hours I flashed back to being a kid up at the Brighton cabin, sitting on the couch with a roaring fire dancing light across the room and the comforting, hypnotizing sound of my dad singing and playing guitar.
Part of me really wants to wrap this story up with a pretty, early 19th century bow and talk about how we all need to turn the technology off, pull out the button-up britches and dresses, and as the French would say parler: talk to each other. However, we've got a flat screen TV in our parlor hooked right up to Apple TV, ready at the push of a button to take us into Game of Thrones or Bob's Burgers or Narcos - and some evenings, after a long day, this is exactly what is needed to unwind and relax. Sunday night we sat in the parlor and instead of playing music, YouTubed and watched an old, performance of my brother in New York City. Then there is just the time factor; with how fast things are moving these days, it can absolutely be a challenge to stop time for a spell and tap into this slower rhythm.
There is a current, pervasive mindset about wanting to return to some earlier, romanticized way of life in this country that in my opinion oversimplifies the entire equation. It is not about going back. It is about moving forward and carrying with us the wisdom of the past if we are so apt to study and learn it. From this perspective, I believe it is of the utmost importance to have the intention of "parlor time" in our lives, partnerships and families. It does not necessarily have to be without screen time, but it should include plenty of no-screen time. Even if one of you is reading a book and the other is piecing together a puzzle, or if you are both deep into a conversation on horrendous dating stories, or if your friend is over with his guitar ready to jam his rendition of Folsom Prison Blues, it is about the magic of being present and the beauty of just passing the time together.
P.S. My friends Jess and Kat Leonard have attended this huge gathering up in the mountains outside of Salt Lake for the past few years called "Rendez-Vous," where everybody is dressed in Old West attire and everything everyone uses is authentic to life back then. I totally want to hit it up with them one year. Future blog post in the making...