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Coming of Age in Plainfield:

Women’s Stories of Successful Aging

Irene Jordan Caplan: Wordsmith

In September 2007, when Irene was 87 years old, she said:

I love words. I think they are fascinating. I love that passage in the book of John: “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” It says, God “spoke the worlds into being.” He said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. Words have a power beyond almost anything that we know of.

Irene’s love of words began in childhood. When she was only 3 years old, she surprised her family by reading aloud an advertisement from the newspaper. She had taught herself to read, aided by the Chautauqua desk her mother bought for her children.

Her fascination with words continued as she grew older. In 1935 she was elected “Class Poet” of her high school graduation class. In her long career as a singer, the words were just as important for Irene as the music, and she loved to perform works based on great literature. Like her mother before her, she knew and admired the works of Shakespeare, and when she was selected by the Ford Foundation as one of America’s “Top Ten American Performing Artists,” the work of new music she commissioned was The Medead, based on the Greek tragedy by Euripides.

Words continued to be a source of pleasure in her elder years. In 1999, at age 80, she participated in a writing group for seniors held in nearby Cummington. This group was led by Wynne Busby and supported by grants from the cultural councils of Cummington, Plainfield, and several other hilltowns. Two of Irene’s stories (reproduced here) appeared in the group’s self-published collection entitled “Reminiscences.”

“To the Maker of Music” (1935)

Irene graduated from high school in 1935, when she was only 16 years old. Chosen as “Class Poet,” she wrote this poem dedicated to the “Maker of Music.” Her sons found the poem among her papers shortly after her death in May 2016. In an uncanny way, the poem describes what listeners heard whenever Irene sang, the “low, rich phrase which will draw a tear / At the beauty of it all.”

“Leaving Manhattan” (1999)

Irene describes the day she moved from her Manhattan apartment to a spacious family home in New Rochelle, NY. Her joy turns to sadness when she receives a letter from her mother.

“Twenty Plus Things About My Mother” (1999)

Irene adored and admired her mother, Sarah Ann Whitehurst Jordan, known to friends and family as Annie. In this piece, written when she was 80 years old, Irene captures the essence of a remarkable woman.