Tea and a blazing fire with the maid about to open a box of cookies back in the kitchen. Well, only three boxes left but more to come as soon as a grandchild comes to visit from England. An entire second suitcase filled each time and that enough to last until Christmas or maybe next June depending on how many young people there are to help eat them up.
Helsinki more fun what with its theatres and all but a husband lost and a need to economize. Funny. Lived through all that excitement in Saint Petersburg and sneakings out after that man made the tsar die, only to have a spasm and collapse eating mushrooms that turned out to be the poison kind and not the sort to fry up in a little frying pan with sherry.
But the quiet nice, too. So many years with babies to take care of and not enough time to sit and read let alone sit and think. . . .a long way back .. . only time to think and not have to take care of anybody . . . an album tucked away and a memory in flood . . . science class and everyone with a long braid down their backs instead of grown up lady things. . . . time and all the energy in the world . . . .the energy gone but all the time in the world to remember from before it all got gone.
Fringe of Boston and lilac season with scents so heady one almost feels dizzy just walking down to the end of the driveway to get the paper when the boy misses the porch.
Winter finally gone, and the coats sent off to be cleaned. Cedar closets sitting empty soon to be filled up with sweaters and summer chests in the attic to be taken down with things to be got ready for the house in Bar Harbor.
Children in high school and a child off to college. The swing set taken down in the back yard and more and more cars in the driveway instead. A bigger garage, but no. Gone soon they will be and money needing to be spent on grandchild bedrooms where the maids used to sleep soon enough. Three rooms already and not wanting more. The house big enough and not needing something the size of another with a suite or two for nursemaids or au pairs or whatever the young people call them now.
But the neighborhood grand and the flowers divine. A good house for children but not the mother.
A long time ago it was, that year in the apartment on Beacon Hill. Bedrooms needing to be shared but a walk across the Common every Thursday and a sister to meet for dinner. In the same space and not needing a car, just feet. . . far away now she is but not in one’s heart . . . no, there and two ladies in a restaurant laughing over pot pies and a cocktail and cigarette forever . . .
This is the story of Isabelle C. whom I worked for when I was young and she seemed terribly old. She had long since moved to the suburbs but had fond memories of her apartment and told me how once a week her husband would watch their children and she would cross the park to meet her sister for supper.
Hawaii and the sun just beginning to set. World plunged into darkness soon but not yet. No dusk or blue light, but friendly people and the scent of frangipani glorious.
Mornings to watch the waves while the children are in school. Afternoons spent playing bridge at the club with a big gin and tonic.
Home by five and sitting in the breakfast nook watching the children eat their supper. Big dinner in the dining room and then up to bed.
Husband with a big job in the navy and a chestful of ribbons. So many places lived in that who can remember. Hopping around the world like a kangaroo but never sticking long enough to make memories. Christmas parties with Santa and toys for the children draped in palm fronds one year and icicles the next.
Language after language but none of it sinking in very deep. Venice with its canals and Okinawa with its beach.
Home as a series of boxes and furniture that always sits in the same place no matter where you are. Same napkin rings on the same table with a background that’s always in flux.
But home and that all that counts, even if no one would have thought that back in Wales. No one ever leaving or having pets gone and buried in backyards spanning all the oceans of the world like a necklace of memories that purr.
But the old cigarette cards in the bottom of the trunk in the closet and a private memory that goes on forever . . .afternoons up under the eaves in the little room at the end of the attic and another world . . . ships with swimming pools of their own and ending up with one’s own pool even if it doesn’t have torch-like things and columns like the picture in the book of Homer at the school . . . a blessing.
Hungary and up early. A cup of coffee and then another. Hands that feel cold and a little more coal for the fire.
Pancakes for breakfast with a knob of butter. The children visiting later and all that but peace for now. Not coming till supper time and the cleaning lady getting everything tidied up by two.
A morning to memory drift. A better time. If only. Papa having hated wars but ending up in two of them. The first war taking the big house in Vienna and the second two brothers. Someone else getting what was left after.
But things that were there in one place or another to pull out and remember by. Porcelain shepherdesses from Vienna, silverware that looks like twigs from the house in the Carpathians that Mother’s cousins owned and love letters that someone’s beau sent from the old hope chests in the attics in the summer house in Tyrol.
Old books to look through and photographs that fall out . . .funny . . .history as bookmarks. But one at the very back . . .Papa and his friends on that winter trip to where someone’s uncle had a hunting lodge. . . . way up in the mountains and snowed in for days . . .another five years and it all starting to go but no one knowing it then . . .
A North Carolina June. Terrace to sit out on and listen to the college boy from down the hill mow the lawn.
Things all right and a new grandchild almost every year. Done soon, one hopes, while there are still enough bedrooms to put everyone in. Wanting everyone home for Thanksgiving and that impossible otherwise.
But a fine life. Work one likes and things that are fun. Better than they had it back then, anyway. Great grandfather having had to leave home to seek his fortune at twelve instead of going to school. Made a lot of money but no. Not enough ladies to choose from, he said. More where he had come from but going back not possible. The mills not doing well enough for someone else to help run them.
Long ago and far away but still fun it must have been . . . like the dinghy that time out on the lake with a big brother to take the oars . . . a story like that with a rowboat and a creek . . . no picture but must have been much the same . . .two boys having an adventure. . . .best thing about a picture . . . goes on forever and it doesn’t matter how it ends up.
Minnesota and January into another February. Memories of being somewhere warmer but back there so far it’s more of a mirage than anything else.
Big house on the coast near Havana, a dining table so long it looked to be slipping into the sea and maid after maid. Father an attorney downtown and a mother that party planned when she wasn’t sipping her way through another pitcher of daiquiris.
But better. America never home. Home for husbands and children but not for oneself. No, snow and ice with lines on telephone poles where it came up to so high even the tall gentleman who lives down the street has to jump as high as he can to touch it.
But one day. Out in that tiny boat when the revolution came and mother clung to all the way to Florida.
Two albums filled with pictures that were under the seat and nothing more . . . dinner party for one of the ambassadors . . . only a mayoress now and a table by the window but the rest only a dream anyway . . . doesn’t really matter that it was all real . . .
Pacific Northwest and fish that almost hop right out of the water. Fisherman neighbor down the street and three the other way. Vegetable garden big enough to barter all summer long and never run out of tomatoes.
Husband that lawyers in Seattle and children heading off to college. One for Idaho, one for Nevada and a third for who knows where, as long as they’ll take him.
Things great fun but still. Hard. Nurses and all that in Mississippi but not now. No, cleaning ladies all right but having to tend one’s children in person.
Dreams dreamed and left on a shelf. Hopefully coming back or maybe new ones that are even more fun.
But scrapbooks with things saved and memories of glories past that never leave. High school and a basketball championship won with a gym full of cheers that echo forever. Out there somewhere now if one tries to hear. Like the roar of the sea down at the beach but coming sideways instead of in . . .
Oklahoma and a boyfriend to visit or two if the trains run right on the way back. Mother not too thrilled. Three boyfriends back in her flapper days and a different boy to Charleston with across every dance hall in Phoenix with that big old cigarette holder sticking out of her bag and feather waving a foot above her head. No way to say much.
Both in the war but opposite wars. A kiss from each and then back to school. Hopefully, a third one to keep sooner or later but fun for now.
Coffee from the coffee shop and another hour to kill before the westbound comes in. Book to read and what must be the last troop train with men to watch . . . what more does a girl need . . . heaven . . .
West Indies for the winter and a treat it is. No snow and soap flakes in store windows scattered around pretend sleds. Sorrel punch for eggnog though that not a treat. Eggnog a bit tastier but not a tropical thing. Milk coming dried out of a tin from somewhere in the old empire but not like the kind they have in Ottawa.
But a balcony off the bedroom to look out at the sea and a beach to swim at whenever one’s son in law wants to take a drive. A walk once but the knees too bad and a cane needed.
Hard. School and able to do everything but not anymore. But a fine memory. Captain of the archery team at Wells and tournaments played with everyone. Almost getting the coach in the face when she walked the wrong way but not quite.
Hard just reaching for a drink and not spilling but not then. . . arrow pulled back, and nothing in the world but a bullseye to hit . . . too bad it ever ended but at least it happened . . . better than dreaming of a life filled with nothing . . .
Uruguay and the house by the sea. Waves washing up and children that run out to meet them. Blue sea with a fishing boat going across with dolphins that arch against a bluer sky.
Christmas soon but Thanksgiving first. Well, not real Thanksgiving. No, a turkey and whatever else they can find that looks like pumpkin pie at the restaurant in town that the two American men from Berkeley own. Every American who can breathe around that table somewhere. A special holiday but even more special somehow in a place where almost no one keeps it.
California, back home, and every year with fathers cooking turkeys in the grills at the end of the driveways. Like a ribbon of houses, that had been. Subdivision that went on for miles, not like the ones they like in Uruguay that go round and round like a maze in ring after ring.
The same all those years and then not. Trip to England for a graduation present. Train trip all the way to New York and the biggest steamer in the harbor. Getting nervous halfway over, sobbing and wailing at the table two from the captain and ending up parked in the brig. Funny. That part not so good but the man in the other cell a treat. Someone from Uruguay that the British wanted, they said. But friends by London and married after.
Divorced soon after but that not to be thought of. No . . . the ship and sailing into the future . . . a crooked future but that one couldn’t know . . .