It’s time to bid the earthly farewell to Dorothy Louise Clough (August 1, 1923-December 5, 2017). She was one of the grand dames of East Aurora and a matron spirit of Roycroft.
Unforgettable is one word for Dorothy. Particularly in her last decade, she had a tendency to call things just the way she saw them. It was not always to the comfort of thin skins and strangers. I found the trait delightful. She had earned the right to speak her mind.
Dorothy figured once in the hearing of a mutual friend that she and her late, beloved Sid (1923-2005) had left the world a family of sixty individuals. Through her and Sid and their example, all seem to have been well-parented. This accomplished, energetic, and thriving family was an impressive gift to the world. They were led into the world, not cast upon it.
One memory of Dorothy stands out. When she and Sid gave up their longtime village home, they did so with a ceremony disguised as a party. It met on a lovely summer twilight in their former yard on Oakwood and basically switched places the way the couple had switched homes. The band – Halim Andy Byron and his worldbeat buddies in the Outer Circle Orchestra – commenced a song in place and then up and started to migrate. People in mid-dance swayed out after them. Not all of us were in the know – Where’s the band getting off to? – but gradually everyone got up and followed, escorting the white-haired pair in a sipping, swaying, tooting, piping, pounding, block-and-a-half long boogie-train to the new digs on Walnut. The houses were so close that the vanguard had touched down and picked up partying as the tail end was still wondering where it was headed. Not many Americans downsize to a place they can walk to, and no one in East Aurora has ever done it like that. The gesture was out of New Orleans, if not Africa. The pair were basically swept with joy and rhythm into their new earthly state, one they knew would be their last.
While the pair of them led the musicians, I doubt the move was Sid’s idea, and the event is my lasting impression of Dorothy’s personality: that sense of ritual, of ceremony, of flourish. The trait certainly explains her contributions upholding the culture at Roycroft, another of her loves. She saw that life has levels beneath the obvious, beneath the present and the timely, and that we owe a debt to the future as well as the present. She understood that some things and customs – like Roycroft – enrich our lives, even for those who do not notice. It takes energy, but those of us who are aware ought to help maintain the best of them so that others after us might have the chance to know them.
The stroke of Dorothy’s loss may be lessened because the goodbye was so long. In fact, even her memorial Dorothy planned. I know because she described it and asked me to contribute. I wasn’t the only one. I know of artists, musicians, and singers at work on their own pieces for Dorothy. She had it all worked out. You can say what you like about that, but I figure that that was a right she earned, too.
I also found it beautiful. Dorothy understood that life is to be savored while we live it, and that even our passage from it is to be styled, if it can be, like a playwright crafting the exit of a character through his or her actions and words. Though she passed in her sleep, she met death in every other sense with clear, open eyes.
Dorothy liked the long piece I wrote for her friend and neighbor Kitty Turgeon and asked if I would do something for her, too. I couldn’t see a long one in Dorothy’s case. She had already said it all, anyway, and with her own flair. I should have spotted her from the first as another Leo. All I need to contribute is the period – tidy and traditional. It is here.
I saw it when you marched down Oakwood Ave,
The band, the whole party, and you and Sid –
What family switches homes the way yours did? –
That sense of ceremony too few have.
Not many save fine things so as to give
To others who might never else have had.
How I admire this sense so ironclad.
That and the sixty souls you gave to live
Gives you full right by now to state the true –
Who cares who likes it? – and to go your way.
I know you planned this: singers, artists, too;
So take this with you on that long sashay.
Why not live a life to end with a swirl?
You have, you know – our grand, our graceful girl.
Mason Winfield, © 2017