An envisioning . . . 1938 and an early spring afternoon in Father’s house in Shanghai.

Oh to be here.

Time to while away once the homework is done. Well, not done yet. Stuffed behind the chair in the corner where no one can see. Another chapter of the book to read and then everything pulled back out.

Thursday and only one more day to go. Outing with everyone from school to have new uniforms fitted. The school not too fun what with the sisters with rulers to smack everyone’s hands up their sleeves but the girls very nice. Something needed in a family with lots of brothers but no sisters to whisper to in bed at night before anyone falls asleep.

Church with everyone on Sunday and then another week and another unreeling like some of those longer movies at the movie houses downtown. Fun but all the same. Well, not quite. A special feast for Lunar New Year and parties for all the cousins.

Evening frocks and a dance downtown at the big hotel, but you have to be eighteen first. Young men to dance with but not to take home. That something for parents to figure out.

A western place sort of what with all the merchant house offices downtown but not. At least not like the books the bookstore sells, the one the sisters say not to go to. Novels by American ladies and English ones, too, with jazz bands everywhere, mothers in Mainbocher whoever he is and girls in butterfly wing colored party frocks that dance across the page.

Still. A romance in one’s head. Perfect, it could be there, with no unhappiness at all.

A walk around the bedroom and a peek in Grandmother’s things. Not allowed but everyone off having tea somewhere and not back for hours. Most of the things boring. Pictures of people who died a long time ago and who knows what else.

A postcard wrapped in silk at the bottom. Trying to remember. Great auntie’s ship, it must be. Married to that young diplomat and off to Manila. The legation for years and eventually an ambassador’s wife in Europe somewhere and not always happy.

But all that not really mattering . . . a place to sit all day and watch the waves go by . . . .a bubble to ride in from one place to another . . . who knows how it will end up. . . .that’s the magic . .

This is not my story. It is the story, rather, of the mother of my friend Anthony L. whose mother was the daughter of a gold trader in 1920’s and 1930’s Shanghai with a two courtyard house of the old school filled with relatives. Marrying a very junior diplomat at the age of eighteen she sailed off on her honeymoon right into what became World War II, ending up in America where she lived to be very old.

Cafe on the "Titanic".
Cafe on the “Titanic”. 1912 image colorized by Thomas Schmid of 3D History. © Thomas Schmid/Exclusivepix Media. via

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