A Sentimental Journey

The sentimental in writing and life; how do you get the first definition without the second?
Adjective
  1. Of or prompted by feelings of tenderness, sadness, or nostalgia: “she felt a sentimental attachment to the place creep over her”.
  2. (of a work of literature, music, or art) Dealing with feelings of tenderness, sadness, or nostalgia in an exaggerated and self-indulgent way.

I, for one, am a sucker for sentimental stuff–but then I want to be sick when it goes too far. So when do you know you’ve gone too far? Be very careful when and how often you make men weep or children speak (even if they’re adorably precocious).

At Yaddo in Saratoga yesterday I realized that the Trasks (Spencer and Katrina) had all the makings of a very maudlin story, but they avoided it with grace. I feel certain that after the deaths of ALL FOUR of their young children, many tears were wept. One of the children had even suggested the name of the place which could have been a sentimental disaster, yet somehow it’s not.

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Spencer created the rose garden as a gift to his wife who had always dreamed of a garden of “delight and romance” as an “expression of her own life.”

Spencer Trask was a Wall Street financier and Katrina was a poet–the stuff of romance. Off to one side of the rose garden is a grove of trees with a statue of a youth “Christalan” sculpted by William Ordway Partridge as a “memorial to the children of this house.”

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Christalan represents youth, chivalry and victory over mortality.

Think upon the grief of parents who obviously took their children seriously enough to allow them to name a grand estate. Then imagine a couple who remained devoted to each other even after such tragedy. We sometimes imagine bitter old, rich misers–a sort of bitter resentment of our own at another’s success, but these two people lived lives of grace and dignity.

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With no heirs and a great appreciation for artists of all kinds they secretly formed what would become known after their deaths as The Corporation of Yaddo endowed in perpetuity to administer a working community of artists. And the artists came:Milton Avery, James Baldwin, Leonard Bernstein, Truman Capote, Aaron Copland, Langston Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Flannery O’Connor and more.

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Under restoration . . .

There’s no great statue of Spencer or Katrina and even their monstrously big home they opened up even in their lifetime to all sorts of people. The public today has free access to the gardens.

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And the artists who continue to fellowship here have the house at their disposal.

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The sundial in the garden is inscribed with words from the Trasks’ friend Henry VanDyke:

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Sometimes fictional sentiment doesn’t hold a flame to the real thing.

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