(Though it was funny when the geese chased my husband.)
Sometimes the past can slip through the gate, and no matter how hard you try, you can't shove it back. I've deliberately put things into books, like the time my mother threatened to swing from a chandelier (Consuming Passions) or when the town square flooded in my hometown (Crazy Ladies). I didn't try to mask the crippling grief after my daddy died; I used words as a healing force (American Pie) and prayed they would help someone else.
Teeny Templeton (Gone With a Handsomer Man) opened a locked gate, but I didn't stop her. I followed. What did she let loose? I'll never tell. But other things raced out of that gate, delightful things, like our mutual love for food and table settings.
"I cooked a tomato basil tart, red rice cakes, hoppin’ John, cornbread sticks, and lemon-raspberry-basil sorbet, made by stirring chopped basil and lemon zest into store-bought raspberry ice. Ava helped me set the table in the garden with Uncle Elmer’s hunting dog china."
I poured tea into brown crystal goblets, and so did Teeny. “I cut my own hair and do my own nails. I’m a drip-dry girl. I like cotton, not silk. I like plain, white dishes and don’t care if they match.”
"Since I was in a cooking mood, I made a corn-and-tomato salad with sweet mayonnaise dressing. I set the patio table with blue and white floral dishes, added a vase filled with hydrangeas, and called Red Butler to the garden. "
I can't speak for other authors, but when it comes to life and art, I'm a poor gatekeeper. Things creep in and out, personal hurts, events that embarrassed the beeswax out of me (but were funny later on), and people who broke my heart. Then I shut the gate. And my mouth (except when I'm filling it with cake).
Food and music always collide in my books. In fact, I am partial to songs that mention food: Brown Sugar, (Put the Lime in the) Coconut, Wild Honey, The Lemonade Song, etc.
I always come back to Jimmy Webb's song, MacArthur Park. (I'm writing about it now, in the second Teeny book.) I love the Live and At Large version--it's my most-played song on iTunes. (I can't listen to Richard Harris sing it. It's got to be Jimmy.)
Back in the early 1970s, when I was in high school, our band played this song at every football game. Maybe you remember those days. Me, I was the girl with short hair and big, owlish glasses. My ass was pretty big, too. I was always on a diet, wasn't a cheerleader, wasn't a brain. I said the wrong things, if I spoke at all, and I bit my nails. All these years later, when I hear MacArthur Park on the radio, a sweet, creamy goodness runs right through me, and I can't help but smile.
Back to Jimmy Webb. He wrote the songs that shaped a generation: By the Time I Get to Phoenix; Up, Up, and Away; The Highwayman; All I Know; Galveston, etc. A British interviewer once asked him about the origins of MacArthur Park.
"What does it mean? Was there really a girl in a yellow dress? Was she holding baby birds? Or were the birds symbolic? What about the men playing checkers? The melting cake? The color green? Why did you write this song?"
Some people say Jimmy was writing about Susan Ronstadt, Linda's sister; others say the girl with the baby bird was Jimmy's big love. Still others claim it's about first love, lost love, or some kind of messed-up, bad love. Though it could just be a cake that got ruined by a thunderstorm. This is the magic of fiction and music--a green cake can be whatever you want it to be: dessert, metaphor, or story.
Some musicians and authors will peel back the layers and show where art and truth collide. Others cannot. Maybe it's a private memory, maybe the artist doesn't wish to lift the veil, or maybe it is too painful to explain how the past ran through the tightly-locked gate, galloped off into the wild blue, and no matter how hard you tried, you could not call it back.
So how did Jimmy Webb respond?