Canada’s Thousand Islands and auntie’s great camp. . . . . .1890 or maybe 1892.
Funny. Like Scotland or Normandy, it looks. Front porch held up by logs but the rest not like the Vanderbilts’ a few lakes down. Built after one in the old country, the servants say. An ancestor from Northumberland where England and Scotland meet the sea and a great house once lived in before America.
The rest all right but the young man no. Nephew of the lady down the lake and all the way from California but a crashing bore. A strange accent like nurse’s old boyfriend back home in New York. Not supposed to go, of course, but everyone gone and no one to know. Lunch on a bench in Central Park instead of a hoop bowling across the meadow. A ticket bought, and play seen, with money for lemonade and a cookie and nurse always coming back.
But not as nice as that. Bicycle that was all the rage it was true. An expedition with a hamper of sandwiches yet to come and a forest path to explore. Woods deep enough to hide in but not yet.
Hard. Auntie and Mother liking him. A house called the Wilderness somewhere that wasn’t near woods. House on the other coast in Monterey County wherever that was.
Still. What could one do. Everyone having decided. At the cotillion and all the right dinner parties no matter how well one tried to hide. Dinner partner at two and then the last dance given up. The other beaux more fun but no choice.
If only. Someone of one’s own kind, they said. A young man like nurse’s beau, perhaps, but that would never do. No. Cast out and alone. A wedding for Christmas no matter what and the best of it to be made.
Daisies and rings for love but a satin and lace Worth frock and a cold hand to take. Babies in lace in swansdown coats to hold but nothing behind it. Ice where there should be fire. Nothing left.
Black Bottom Mississippi on a steamy afternoon in summer as one century ends and another begins.
A sweep of faded out rose and lilac printed chiffon to trail over the hall bench and onto the floor.
A splinter to catch with one’s toe but what can one do. Nearly all the money gone by the time uncle died.
Hard. All the menfolk having had to leave to find work. A cotton broker in New York and another in New Orleans. Something but not enough. Brokering cotton somehow not the same as growing it when it came to money. Less work and not needing people or a slave street but enough for just one person. A tiny house down in one of the less stylish faubourgs or a boarding house room in Manhattan.
Not like before. No not enough for everyone to stay for however long they needed.
Grandmama’s before it all started. Great aunts who hid behind the velvet curtains down the long halls reaching out and punching people as they went by. Uncles who sat all day staring into the fireplace saying it talked. Fried chicken and biscuits all around until the fireplace talked back and the curtains punched people of their own accord.
Impossible. Churches to be a minister of but with only food in pay. No way to pay the taxes and fix the roof with that let alone the rest.
But time to sit and remember. Grandpapa riding across the fields before he ended up at Shiloh and lost his arm. Grandmama dancing with him at Christmas, the house filled with people from clear to Savannah.
Only up to their knees but that good enough. Lost between the ladies’ hoopskirts as they swung to and fro and not knowing where one would spin out of the dancing. The front door one time and the fireplace the next or perhaps the bottom of the staircase.
Funny. The same hallway but so different. The wallpaper new and a huge chandelier. The butler carrying a silver tray of mint juleps around the room. Gifts piled up almost to the ceiling in the front parlor with ten for each child.
So long ago and then like yesterday. The War come and gone and life never the same. The minister coming but only for tea and an old scone. No silver tea service and trays of treats.
But a mindset to wander. A good thing in a way. Old and allowed to forget. Better than having to remember on an afternoon that was never meant to end and a way of life that already has.
America somewhere out in the heartland and a hot afternoon in the summer of 1960 something. Yellow crop-dusting plane out where the fields meet the sky heading straight for Canada dipping its wings as it gets ready for another pass.
The state fair on the edge of town and something new to do or at least sort of new. Partly forgotten since last summer and that good enough.
A midway filled with cotton candy and a man with ice cold Coca-Colas. Someone calling with one of those games where you toss beanbags to win prizes. But no. All his good prizes old looking and covered with dust. Better the younger fellow two down with a bigger booth or the one down at the end to watch with his magic tricks.
The airplane ride but parallel to the ground, the better to scare Grandmother. Something that looks like the roller coaster cousins talked about after they went to the big fair in Saint Louis.
But the merry go round the same with its brass ring to try to grasp. Same swan and duck shaped benches for babies with their mamas and the horses and unicorns for everyone else. Mothers to stand beside and hold on when the man flips the switch and the music begins.
Corn dogs and cheeseburgers for supper. Father springing for all the french fries one can stuff in.
The last day and the excitement gone tomorrow with a chewed-up chunk of dirt and grass where it all went. Carnival people gone before the sun rose for their next show.
The stars overhead and the fireflies giving their own light, seeing to blink off and on like the lights on the rides as children race to take their seats before the last turn of the ferris wheel comes.
A dream sequence and then another. Light upon light revolving in the air. Magical. Suspended between one and the other in a summer night meant to never end.
1925. Maiden voyage of the newest liner on the New York to Southampton run.
First class vestibule in those magic hours after shuffleboard on the back deck and a few chapters read over tea on a deck chair starboard by the ladies’ lounge after luncheon. Cocktails and then dinner but first a meandering through to see and be seen.
Gay chatter with the couples in the corner and then again with another group under the skylight with its pearly light above. Waves up to a friend on the first balcony up and then another on the second.
A European prince and a rush to his side. Very rich and out to find an American girl. New York, no doubt. They swarm there in season.
But perhaps here or at any rate, fun to try. Better a Princess of anything no matter how small than a plain Mrs.
But a chance. France and that boring young man Uncle William found. Three chateaux and who knows what else.
But not like anyone here. No. Gentlemen all in white tie from the best tailors anyone can find. The French not so much.
Their wine such a bore. No hip flasks filled with gin to take to the races either.
Uncle having tried to make Cousin Eustacia marry another one last year. No beaver coat, she had said. Funny. Every Princeton boy with one but none over there. Almost no one fit to Charleston with and not one with a bootlegger romantic or otherwise in the bunch.
Maybe yes or maybe no. Mother’s mind up and all those tiaras they say, a different one every New Year’s Eve for the rest of one’s life.
But a new green Vionnet cocktail frock and a pair of the highest heels in all of New York. Free till Paris and a flirtation for now at least.