Shawnee Dispatch

I am in Shawnee-on–Delaware, near the Delaware Water Gap, doing research on Fred Waring for Fred Waring’s Christmas Shindig at the Shawnee Inn. Oh, and I’m also having a much needed getaway with my family, enjoying the inn for the weekend and getting in some skiing and snowboarding. One of those delightful professional research trips which is also a nice time. Why? you might ask, it sounds like you’re working on vacation. Ask an accountant.

From the entryway, Fred on the left.

Waring did a lot of his recording and performing here from the 40s to the 70s. Pictures of him are everywhere inside. The inn is in it’s third incarnation at least, having been turned into a modern golf resort and, in that transformation, acquiring an unfortunate corporate sheen. The hallways are bedecked with chincey fixtures and drab wallpaper, the kind you might find inside any Days Inn. Even so, the old world bones of the place Waring saved from demolition all those years ago still give it a stately elegance. The cheerful staff make it feel welcoming and warm (the fireplace in the lobby helps too). The four of us are packed into a small room with two double beds and a very small bathroom. It’s lucky we get along.

My research took me to the inn’s gift shop – but it’s really more like a little art gallery and Fred Waring celebration with some golf togs mixed in. A nice woman named Roxanne chatted me up about Fred, as I finished buying the biography written by his wife Virginia, a CD of his “greatest” hits and some Fred Waring postcards. Roxanne told me that Fred is buried in the little graveyard up the hill, and that his son Malcolm lives up the road a piece. She was very interested in what I told her about the piece I am developing with my collaborators, and she gave me the name and email address of the woman who currently runs the Shawnee Playhouse – a stone’s throw from the inn. It’s the same Shawnee Playhouse where Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians performed for many years, and where many of their performances were recorded.

The view from the porch, the Delaware River just beyond the gazebo.

May I drop some Quakerism on you? Thanks. Friends believe that God is working in us and through us with as much meaning and fervor as God did in the days of the Old Testament. The further into this belief you get the more profound it becomes. One of the ways it has affected me is that – in my better moments – I am led to read my life like a divine pattern, in which God has placed hints and nudges. So there I am, chatting with Roxanne in the gift shop of the Shawnee Inn, and I name one of the nudges.

“You know,” I tell her, “I’m about to begin rehearsing a play with a character named Roxanne in it. But she spells it differently.”

They named a sandwich after him in the local general store.

“Wouldn’t it have been nice if I had been named after her?” she asked. “But no. So you’re an actor too? My cousin is a well-known actor.” I was sure I would have no idea who this person was, but I asked anyway. Roxanne became coy. “The most nominated actor in the history of the motion picture Academy.” I froze. I know who that is.

“Meryl Streep?” I asked, astonished.

“Yep. Cousin Meryl.” Then she pulled the sweetest photograph out of her date book. “Here’s my favorite Meryl photo, she’s with my brother and the grandmother we share, in 1969.” And indeed, there she was, maybe the greatest American actor ever, as a smiling and angular teenager in a knee-length 60’s print dress, next too an old woman who looks like she should be inside making pirogues, and then a younger boy, with brown hair, on the other side of Grandma. It’s a sunny, summer day outside what is either Grandma’s house in the country, or a vacation home. Staring at the photo, I fall in love with Meryl Streep all over again.

That is the second nudge. Never mind that she and I went to the same drama school (years apart), Meryl Streep has been a kind of phantom inspiration in my life and denizen of my sub-conscious, frequently showing up in my dreams where she and I behave as if we’re old pals, and she usually gives me some little piece of advice. Because of this habit of her’s, she appears in my latest novel in someone else’s dream. She’s not just an actor I admire. Some part of my being has latched on to her, and, collaborating with my subconscious, has turned her into a kind of shamanistic projection. And there she was yesterday, in Roxanne’s wallet, in Fred Waring’s inn, smiling at me from 1969.

A crazy person would take all this and say – “It’s meant to be! I shall buy this inn and make beautiful theater at the Playhouse, and all shall live happily ever after!” But I am not a crazy person, not that crazy at least. I choose – and that’s a word not to be overlooked here – I choose to read my life as a constant duet with a Loving Presence, and when I get nice little nudges, I say thank you, and I enjoy them.

Then I return to my work.