Please note that this blog is a work of fiction.
As a small girl, my parents sometimes decided that I deserved a treat. It was never clear to me why I was so deserving or why the treat had to take that form. But you never heard me complaining. We would go to the tea room at Knight’s in Reigate and sit at tables with tablecloths and silver cutlery. I would be made to wear a skirt and unscuffed shoes. My mother, and sometimes my father, would get tea sandwiches and scones. I would get a “Knickerbocker Glory” which is an ice cream concoction in a tall glass with layers of ice cream, fruit, whipped cream usually with a cherry on top. You had to use a long spoon to eat it and I always ended up with a significant percentage of the dessert on my face but I loved it.
The Knickerbocker Glory is one of those things that when I first mentioned it after moving to the US no one knew what I was talking about. As a well-read, careful to listen to advice kind of person I knew not to refer to cigarettes as “fags” as we do in the UK or pencil erasers as “rubbers” as we also do in the UK. But referring to an ice cream sundae or parfait as a Knickerbocker Glory didn’t offend American sensibilities; it just left people completely mystified. Americans had never heard the phrase and that amazed me.
A cursory internet search of the term leaves me none the wiser regarding its origin—though the internet did confirm that the phrase is a British one. I assumed that –well-actually I’d never really thought about it—reconstructing my assumptions after the fact—I had assumed that the phrase if not the dessert itself came from New York state. As noted earlier in this blog, Diedrich Knickerbocker was a nom de plume of Washington Irving for a time. The name itself dates from the pre-British colonial era of New York when New York city was known as New Amsterdam and the state was a Dutch colony. A knickerbocker is a pair of loose trousers gathered at the knee or calf. It is also a nickname (or knick-kname) for New Yorkers. The New York Knicks are actually the New York Knickerbockers. I love this stuff—when words you don’t even think of that often reveal old connections and preoccupations.
I live at the foothills of the Adirondacks not to far from the Catskills (or Kaatskill) Mountains so beloved of Irving. The area still wears its almost ancient Dutch history like you’d wear an old T-shirt…comfortably but not showily. There are Dutch pancake houses, Dutch inns, archaic spellings of local names. And yet people are either unaware or not caring of the fact that this was once a Dutch colony.
When I sit on my front porch in the evening I look at the mountains, not too far away, and they go from a sunny green and gray to deep shades of purple and blue as the sun goes down. At night the mist descends and the details of the escarpments and valleys blur in an indigo silken haze. I can hear distant rainstorms rattling and winds groaning through the mountains and I shiver.