Image by Lee Peters, adapted from cover art, Vintage Paperbacks, 1954 (original artist unknown)
Charlemont, Massachusetts, is a musical town.
The town has never hosted an opera, however … until now.
On Friday and Saturday, a concert production of The Ponder Heart will debut at the Charlemont Federated Church. The opera was composed by Alice Parker, a splendid musician and a loyal NOT (neighbor of Tinky).
Eudora Welty’s short novel The Ponder Heart first appeared in the New Yorker in 1953 and was published in book form the following year.
Alice adapted it into a short opera in 1982 with Eudora Welty’s blessing. Thanks to grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and several local cultural councils, the upcoming production will reintroduce this humor-filled musical gem to the public and provide a concert recording for future listening.
As I type, Alice’s Musicians of Melodious Accord are arriving to fill up houses all over Charlemont, Heath, and Hawley and get ready for their final rehearsals.
Alice Parker (Courtesy of Melodious Accord)
I haven’t seen the opera, although I have read the novella—a delightful comic Gothic piece set in Mississippi in the 1930s.
Narrator Edna Earle Ponder is a character with whom I can identify. She tells anyone who will listen, “It’s always taken a lot out of me, being smart.” I have often felt this way myself.
Like me, Miss Edna Earle likes to make fudge and keep track of her neighbors. The proprietor of the Beulah Hotel in the small but bustling town of Clay, she knows everyone in town and has an opinion about everything.
It is her lot in life to mediate between her Grandfather Ponder and her lovable but impulsive-to-the-point-of insanity Uncle Daniel Ponder. In the course of the story, Uncle Daniel gives away just about everything he owns (including his grave site), marries twice, and goes on trial for murder.
It seems appropriate to me that this small-town story will be performed in another tight-knit community, and I look forward to seeing what Alice has done with Eudora Welty’s tale. I’m sure the composer’s ear for vernacular music will do justice to the saga of Edna Earle and Uncle Daniel.
Naturally, I have a recipe to share in honor of The Ponder Heart. I was hoping to write about divinity, a confection dear to the heart of both Eudora Welty and Edna Earle Ponder.
My friend Bill Kubasek’s mother Win gave me her divinity recipe, and I obligingly covered much of my kitchen in sticky sugar syrup in an attempt the make the stuff.
Unfortunately, I haven’t managed to get the hang of it yet. As Miss Edna Earle says in the story, divinity is NOT “the kind of fudge anybody can make.”
Part of the Sticky MESS!
I plan to return to divinity in December, when it should make a lovely holiday gift. Meanwhile, here is a recipe from the composer of The Ponder Heart for a simple, tasty, and fairly healthy dip. Alice often calls it “Grandma’s Dip” and keeps it in the house to use as a quick appetizer when company stops by.
It would be perfectly at home at the Beulah Hotel, where guests, including Miss Edna Earle’s beau the traveling salesman, could dip vegetables or chips in it while listening to Uncle Daniel wax operatic about his trials and tribulations.
Try it—and if you’re in New England this weekend, come see and hear Edna Earle, Uncle Daniel, and the townspeople of Clay in the New England premiere of Alice Parker’s Ponder Heart.
Performances will take place on Friday, October 8, at 7:30 pm and on Saturday, October 9, at 11 am. Tickets cost $20 and may be reserved by contacting Kay Holt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alice pretty much wings this dip, and I did, too. Adjust flavors to taste, and add anything you think might enhance the mixture. Fresh herbs out of the garden are of course preferred, but you could probably throw in a few dried ones in winter.
2 cups cottage cheese (low fat is fine)
1 cup sour cream
salt and pepper to taste
seasoned salt, garlic salt, and/or seasoning mixes to taste (I eschewed the salt and pepper and threw in several sprinklings of my Zatarain’s spice mixture, as well as a dash of something from Penzey’s Spices called “mural of flavor” seasoning)
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 pinch cayenne pepper
a handful of chives, finely chopped
other fresh green herbs to taste (I used parsley, basil, and dill), finely chopped
Combine the cottage cheese and sour cream in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat in the remaining ingredients.
Place the dip in a bowl, and refrigerate for 2 hours before serving.
Serve with veggies, chips, sliced apples, or crackers. This dip also tastes great atop a baked potato.
Makes about 3 cups.