An envisioning . . . . Saturday morning down the hill at the tennis court in the summer of 1921. . .

Oh to be here

The sun risen in the sky and nothing to do but fun until someone littler at home needs watching. New tennis costume from the young ladies’ shop in Coolidge Corner that the girl who sits behind in class knew about. A new kind it is. Sports clothes.

Stores downtown for the older ladies who just lunch, sit and go to their clubs. Old and boring with those huge hip pockets and skirts so big you could put a little brother in each side and he couldn’t get out. What the big places have that no one young wants.

Well someone wants them but if they do it just isn’t their kind of shop.

Middy tied and little sister wailing because Mother won’t get her one. Friends waited on and then out the door and down the hill towards the park. The shop down the street for ice-cold sodas and across the big street and down through the back of the park to the courts.

Luckier than last week, it is. Cute boys on the courts opposite instead of boring looking ones like last time. A good thing what with the shop and the outfit. Having to wear that boring old thing from gym class otherwise. That no boy will ever notice anyone in. No, so ugly they must pick them out on purpose so no one can ever flirt after school and make the headmaster nervous.

A soda consumed and the game not going well. The cutest boy smiling and smiling back. But what to try next. The ball hard to hit way up over the fence but a second soda from the corner store and another try with the other boy bringing it back.

Another time and the cute one instead. Mother wanting to go out but no. No one met at the last three dances and one now . . . . . no  . . . . .life needing to be lived and the rest to wait . . . . . .no point in breathing if you can’t get out there and live . . . . .

Butterick dress pattern #2410. June 20th issue of the Delineator Magazine.
Butterick dress pattern #2410. June 20th issue of the Delineator Magazine. Image in the public domain due to being printed before 1926. via

An envisioning . . . . fall afternoon after school in 1931 when Mother got arrested with whiskey in the bottom of the baby carriage

Oh to be there.

Somewhere on the edge of Boston as the leaves fall off the trees and the fathers build mounds of them in the driveways with the biggest heaps of all in the park to be turned into bonfires for Halloween.

Twigs to kick at on the way home from school and races to the corner. Homework in the kitchen but with the table pulled over the trapdoor in the floor.

The railroad not hiring but not mattering much. No, a special carpenter from somewhere in South Boston that knows not to tell. A special wall in the cellar with cases from that cousin up in Canada reaching up to the little windows that you have to be barely able to walk to peek into.

Bottles to unpack and straw that makes you sneeze. Sheets draped over Sunday clothes when a Saturday night shipment comes in. Having to be ready to be delivered Monday and Mass to go to. No one to really ask but a need to be careful. The priest getting three fifths a month but still.

Little sister sworn to silence and the nuns at the school not asking. But the straw burned. Too much to be put in the rubbish can and lugged out into the street.

Only an hour in the beginning but Mother at it for five years and two more babies needing to be fed. No, up before dawn now and everyone helping.

A few raids but nothing more. The wall with its coal dust blended in across the bead and board done perfectly. Cost a fortune but no matter. Twenty police and no one could tell.

New customers down past the hospital and things likely to chink. Bottom of the baby carriage underneath the baby. Two blankets so they don’t roll around and mother with the little ones starting out. But oh no . . . . . .someone having told . . . .the police coming out like honey bees out of a hive . . . . .


This is not my story though it happened in my neighborhood. A co- worker I had where I worked in my twenties had a grandmother, a mother of nine, who rode out Prohibition in fine form by starting up a whiskey distribution business out of her house after her husband lost her job. . . . did very well but was forever bored once Prohibition ended. . .. in her later years she was given to denial, but her children remembered all too clearly when Mother got raided . . . .

Motor officers, Police Headquarters, Salt Lake City Utah. Early 20th c.
Motor officers, Police Headquarters, Salt Lake City Utah. Early 20th c. via Image in the public domain due to being taken before 1926.




An envisioning . . . . . .Rotterdam in the cold and raw of January in 1960 . .

Oh to be there . . . . .

Sunday afternoon to while away in the Netherlands with an ocean storm settling in. Friends from school and a cousin from out of town.

The rijsttafel earlier than usual and all the grownups sitting around stuffed downstairs with glasses of something.

Not quite glued to the sofa but close. No, upstairs maybe but two feet on each step and a racket that would make every rafter shiver.

Time to look through all the old things in the attic from when Mother lived in Java in the old residency up in the hills before the last war came and went with the Japanese and they had to leave. For sure everything shaking so much if they came up that one could take out the old things to play pretend fairy queen in five seconds.

A green sarong thing and then a red. Funny. Wouldn’t have thought they’d buy those. Must have been intended for Christmas presents for anyone who’d never been near the place.

Baskets made from palm fronds with a dusky smell.

Nutmegs with the mace still on in a china mug like the one Mother has hidden in the pantry behind the flour and sugar. A memory thing, they must be. Warmth, a tropical sun, and everything different.

Down at the very bottom and a parcel. A picture with writing on the back in great grandmother’s hand . . . .their honeymoon hotel. . .. . the room by the green door in the picture, it says . . . .Funny. .. looking so old and stern in the pictures but young and gay then . . . .no . . .a world filled with sunlight and joy and a servant around every corner . . . .home . . .must have thought they would never have to leave . . . .

Marine Hotel. Batavia, Dutch East Indies. 1881-1889.
Marine Hotel, Batavia, Dutch East Indies . 1881-1889. Lithograph after a watercolor by Josias Cornelis Rappard. Collection of the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam. Cc licence 3.0. via

An envisioning . 1937 and high above the noisy streets in a city somewhere in the American Midwest . . . .

Oh to be here.

Turkish lounge upstairs in the big hotel downtown. An afternoon to be whiled away and a space like the “Thousand and One Nights” along with mother’s stories about Stamboul before the sultan was got gone, and everyone had to leave.

A harem that one was with all the ladies behind latticed windows but the arches and divans much the same. Colors not quite as bright but not that Western shade of pale they have downstairs at tea in the palm court.

Cups of hot tea on little tables and pastries that bring back the scent of baklava if one but tries. Stuffed dates in bowls to pick the stuffing out of when the waitress isn’t looking to make them taste like home.

Fire crackling and a dream to dream of going back. The big harem that the old ladies talked about during Ramadan. Ten slave girls, twice as many children and so many ladies that half the rooms had to be shared.

Men having to knock to be allowed in except for the pasha and even he asked first. No one to have to make dinner for and all the time in the world to live.

Five or six mothers they had had but all together with a life to be shared. Children to rear but together, not each mother in a separate house. Someone to talk to at home or on those picnics along the water. Gazebos in the park and every lady for blocks with pitchers of every fruit drink ever thought of and some only dreamed.

A better way . . . . back it may come . . . . . until then a castle in the air and that as often as can be. . .

Turkish Den. Planters Hotel Saint Louis.
Turkish Den, Planters Hotel, Saint Louis, Missouri. Undated hand colored postcard. image via In the public domain due to age.



An envisioning . . . . . .1950 and a long-abandoned dacha out along the Arctic Sea . . ..

Oh to be here.

1950 and summer coming back in. A weekend to explore and the first white night to do it in. Mother tired enough not to hear the squeak as the front door opens and shuts.

Leningrad the rest of the time but freedom here. Horses to ride and a meadow of green. The boy cousin from next door and off where the grass meets the sky.

Opening the front gate to the ancient dacha and in. Belonged to someone from Moscow back before both wars. Gotten gone, they must have been, for no one remembers their ever coming back.

The sitting room and an old armchair with an entire colony of mice. Dining room with a sideboard with dust so thick that the baby cousins would be knee deep if they crept across. Cupboard with dishes and drawers filled with silver so tarnished black it would never gleam again at least not for a million lifetimes.

Up to the second floor with a left foot up against the wall and the other squished tight to a banister as the treads sway and crack.

The big bedroom and then the small. Up another flight and an attic filled with trunks. Sabres to sword fight with between the rafters but a packet in the bottom.

Pictures of pretty girls that must have been shot if they didn’t get away to Finland or Paris. But a watercolor in the bottom.

Their grandfather or his big brother, it must have been. From before everything but long after the Tsar Peter that everyone talks about in Archangel because he put all the ships there.

Bonnet like a puffball and holding some kind of stick to hit and torment his sister, no doubt. What else would a brother do . . . . if only . . . so many risings and plots and gone in any . . . . .better to not know . . . .a long life instead wherever it was. . .

Described as a portrait of Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevich. 19th c.
Described as a portrait of Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevich at a year and a half. 19th c. Watercolor. Signed Alexeeff in pencil at center right. via Facebook and No further information available. Artwork in the public domain.

An envisioning . . . . . .1930 and a summer chapel on the Isle of Skye . . . .

Oh to be here.

A fortnight’s holiday in August on the Isle of Skye and a friend in each cottage. London in September but time to run barefoot and play.

A squishy feeling running over the dead mice that auntie’s cats find out in the meadow that runs to the sea. But no matter. What Mama doesn’t know she can’t wail over.

Seals to swim with and secret coves to find. A grown-up or two but mostly not. Busy up at the house with their endless cocktails and games of bridge.

Riding too but something to let them be. Always chasing something and yelling at people on ponies who can’t keep up.

Better to be on the beach with the wild Shetlands that live by the cliff than following someone in a red coat who won’t shut up.

The summer chapel down at the end where Canna, Rùm, Eigg, and Muck dance on the horizon like a mother duck and her ducklings with tinier isles for eggs.

Silver polished and set out. The holy water pitcher taking the longest but the most fun too. The rest like the parish back in London with a silver pitcher that looks like everyone else’s.

But this more fun. Everyone wanting to be an acolyte and help serve. Water that comes out of the cow’s mouth like the blue and white milk cow that was on the table in the day nursery. Put away for the next baby it is but this one is for now.

From India, Grandmama says. Something about a brother who was an aide to the king at the Delhi Durbar and brought it back.

Ten pews and no carpeting but where everyone is, in the chapel on Sundays or lying in the cemetery around it. . . .one’s own spot known but something to think about later . . . much later . . . .time to play forever and a day . . .

Holy water container in the design of a cow. ca. 1880.
Holy water container or Goumukhi in the design of a cow intended for pouring water from the Ganges during fertility rites. ca. 1880. Kutch, India. Sterling silver. Maker not known. Dating from the time of the British Raj. Image in the public domain due to it’s age. via

An envisioning . . . . . .1899, spring in Egypt and Easter eggs to dig out of the sand.

Oh to be here.

Easter under a palm tree and every cousin in the world. Whitehall having given uncle’s regiment more time but who knows for how long. Could be in Hong Kong next or up the Yukon. Better to go now.

A house bigger than anyone has in Wales and servants just to open and close the doors. Paper chains in pretty colors wrapped around the banisters all the way up to the nursery on the top floor. A week sitting in the back garden making them in shifts, but it just wouldn’t be Easter otherwise.

Good Friday and nothing to do after church. Everyone else at work. Mostly Muslim and  their own holidays.  Not like January, the governess said. The opposite with days slept away and noise every night once darkness fell.

But an outing to see the Pyramids.  Hot and everything too tall to climb.  But a picnic with Grandmama in the shade below the Sphinx’s right ear and a nap before the little train comes back.

Off to the Anglican cathedral in the morning and then a gymkhana at the royal governor’s mansion. Home and then sleep.

So many cousins there is an Easter basket behind every curtain. All morning to hunt for eggs in the sand.  . . .enough memories of warmth to last an entire British misted in life long . . .

Children on holiday with their governess posing before the Sphinx and Pyramids. ca. 1900.
Children on holiday with their governess posing before the Sphinx and Pyramids. ca. 1900. Photographer not known. Image in the public domain. via