A Harry Lauder tree whacks me in the noggin
My dear mother was a fountain of good advice to her brood of four boys. She bubbled over with words of wisdom that still resonate in me.One of the best was: “A lesser word is a better word.” That is a rough translation of the original Yiddish, though my mother grew up in Chicopee, Mass., speaking English and learned the language of the old country from family who came to the USA through Ellis Island.What did my mother’s rough statement really mean? I’ll tell you: “Silence is golden.” Or, if you don’t know what you are talking about, as Jay Leno would put it, “Shaddup.”My good wife and I recently left our scenic Goshen farmstead after 42 years and are now ensconced in a pleasant cottage in a retirement village in Simsbury.There are several pods in the McLean Village, i.e., a small group of cottages around an open greensward with flower barrels, enormous oak trees soaring to the sky and minimal boring landscaping.But wait, in front of the cottage directly across from us, covered with leaves in season, is a short ugly shrub.One sunny day last summer, I ran into the nice lady who occasionally prunes a few leaves off the offending shrub.Completely forgetting my mother’s good advice, I quipped: “That sure is ugly, why don’t we chop it down?”Her back reared up. “Chop it down? And then what?” she asked scornfully.“Plant a nice well-formed small flowering tree,” I replied.“And what’s wrong with this plant?” she retorted.Digging myself ever deeper into a hole, I replied, “It has no shape and is just sort of ragged and . . .”She interrupted me. “Do you know what kind of a shrub this is?”“I didn’t think it had a name, figured it was a giant weed that got out of hand.”“It’s a Harry Lauder shrub, a specimen plant. And I’m not cutting it down.” She stormed into her cottage and slammed the door.Harry Lauder. Harry Lauder. By grim and by golly, I had heard that name before. I searched my Google-like memory and it came to me.During both World War I and the second World War, Lauder, a Scottish singer, entertained the English in their music halls and then visited the British troops and sang for them, much as our Hollywood and Broadway stars visited our troops at their far-flung battlefields.As for his walking stick, Harry Lauder always performed using a crooked branch as a cane. He raised enormous amounts of money for the war cause.Winston Churchill said of him, “By his inspiring songs and valiant life, Harry Lauder rendered measureless service to the Scottish race and to the British Empire.” The king knighted him, so it’s now and forever more Sir Harry Lauder.He wrote most of his own songs, of which we Colonists probably only remember “Roaming in the Gloamin’.”It’s the height of winter now in my retirement settlement, and there’s not a leaf on the shrub across the way, only the crooked branches that Sir Harry would have been delighted to add to his collection of crooked walking sticks.I now measure my words. The nice lady who prunes the suckers off the crooked specimen shrub and I have become friends.Thanks, Mom, for the good advice. Freelance writer Barnett Laschever, formerly of Goshen, is still tapping away essays, plays and biographies on his trusty iMac, with the assistance of Mr. and Mrs. Google.