An envisioning . . .1990 and the big house in the French Quarter with fall setting in.

Oh to be here.

New Orleans and back home after a summer visiting around wherever a cooling breeze can be found. Canada, South Dakota and the Fourth of July on a mountain peak up in the Rockies in Colorado.

Traveling fun but being home where gumbo doesn’t come out of a can even better. Accents that sound normal and flowers that linger. Funny. An odd thing to miss, but no. Snow around the inn with the fireworks coming down and all. Very pretty but odd-looking to anyone born near the bayou.

Feet a bit sore and knees that ache but a balcony to sit out on and watch the world go by and another facing the other way with a courtyard and birds.  Not Father’s, no, that one sold after one of the storms but this one the same if you close your eyes and pretend. Voices going back and forth and a whisper from the back where the grooms lived after the war until automobiles came in. That and the stock market going and the chauffeur departing for who knows where once the second war began. Shipbuilding down by Canal Street somewhere or one of those raincoat factories.

Two grandsons coming later and a dinner outing but time. Books pulled out and pages leafed through. Old friends, they were. Bookshelf to bookshelf and house to house with their own rest when everyone went away. The same old book smell as it must have been back in the way back time. No, that would never change.

But an old photograph for a bookmark that wasn’t there before. One of the grandchildren, maybe from one of those boxes of old papers in the attic.

A memory. All dressed up with hair curled up and almost looking like a girl. Mother, it would have been. Wanted a little girl and didn’t get one and hair curled on every fancy occasion thought of.

Junior page at the Mardi Gras parade though. Worth every minute with hair screwed up in papers. Riding through the middle of the city and waving while the king and queen sat on the float and bowed. That not so fun but the candy was. Someone afraid a child would be scared and a whole bag of it stuffed under a cushion.

Four pieces for every block and a stomach ache that lasted for days. . . worth it. . . like going to heaven and back . . .mile after mile of waving and beads being tossed but boarding school after . . .teased for years but one didn’t know it then . . .no happy and that without end . . .

Austill Pharr, Mardi Gras junior page boy of 1930.
Austill Pharr, Mardi Gras junior page boy of 1930. Image © Erik Overbey Collection, Doy Leale McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of South Alabama. Fair use license. via Facebook.

An envisioning . . .1942 and the house in Chappaqua . . .

Oh to be here.

Winter vacation and time to sleep in and not even think of school. The boys lots of fun but biology class not so much. One of those frogs to cut up making one want to be home feeling sick.

Plenty of nap time and four movie dates. Each with a different boy but no matter. No, two from the school but in different crowds. One met at an away football game in September and the other from the church. A need to keep their names straight but not too hard. Note taped to the inside of one’s bracelet and a glance before the lights dim.

Mother downtown having lunch with her photographer friend and no modeling jobs until March. Less spending money but more time to do what one wants instead of what one must. Well, sort of. Downtown all day being fun and another magazine ad to show around and make the other girls jealous. But stuck half the morning in a dress held together in the back with clothespins and not as glamorous as they all think though of course one lets them think whatever they want.

But the cook downstairs making lunch and no one to say no. The boxes of old pictures under Mother’s bed all dumped out on the bedspread in a heap. Most saying who but not always. But fun.

One at the very bottom. A girl with her hoop not looking thrilled and her mother with the dog and the father too. Some sort of kin, they must be. So much black but what they all wore then. Like a funeral every day, it must have been.

Bright colors now but the rest the same. Having to pose for longer than one wants dressed up in fancy clothes. . . .who knows what happened to them later. . . no way to know . . . hopefully, it was all fun  . . . better not to know if it didn’t turn out all sunshine . . .


Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevich his wife Grand Duchess Alexandra Iosifovna and their eldest daughter Grand Duchess Olga. 1860's.
Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevich his wife Grand Duchess Alexandra Iosifovna and their eldest daughter Grand Duchess Olga. 1860’s photograph. via Facebook.

This is for my mother, Helen B. Guest Perry, who went to high school in suburban New York City though not Chappaqua. A model she was for various magazines with a zillion dates and rides home from the big city at 4 AM.

An envisioning . . 1960, Massachusetts and an apartment by the river . . .


Oh to be here.

Harvard Square, Cambridge, and a living room with big windows the better to watch the students scull like a streak of lightning around the bend and back again.

Grandchildren and children and the same maid grown very very old. Still younger and that a blessing. Great auntie having been right about that. Better to have someone older around as long as you can so you can feel young.

Swarthmore a long time ago with its dreams of becoming not sure what. A fellow from Haverford to marry and what came after instead. Big house on the Main Line and another out on Block Island to summer in.

One on Block Island still there but no. No way to live there all the time. The wind whistling a bit too much and at an age when needing help is something never far away but no one closer than a few hours and a ferry ride away. Cambridge, its memories of cousin visiting and races run instead.

So long ago. Sometimes forever and other times only yesterday. Sports when almost no one did them. Boarding school and then college. Nearly every team tried out for and a spot on half of them. Every afternoon nearly in a middy and gym boots and a hope of more. But a memory forever. Captain of the baseball team and that no one can take away . . .a blessing . . .so much gone but memories you get to keep.

1913 New York Female Giants team.
1913 New York Female Giants team. Courtesy Bain News Service/Library of Congress In the public domain due to age. via

An envisioning . . .1970 and the big house outside Vancouver.

Oh to be there.

Sun rising over the Pacific and a big cup of coffee. Pancakes later once everyone gets up but peace for now and an ocean to watch. The best part, the water looking the same no matter where you went as long as you keep staring straight ahead and don’t look at what’s on either side along the beach. Bath and boat houses everywhere but all looking different from the land. But all right the other way, too. Looking like a black mouth with ropes hanging down waiting to swallow anything you can sail or paddle up.

Quiet now but not for long. The baby beginning to stir in her crib and the other three up after. Orange juice to pour and blueberries to pick through.

But the wind turning into a breeze and a bright day the radio said.

If only. Great grandfather’s summer house in the Hebrides supposed to have been much nicer. Must have been bigger with far more than four bedrooms to have had those Edwardian house parties. Ten bedrooms, at least, those needed and a nursery that took up all of the third floor instead of half. Guests that stayed for a month instead of a fortnight and enough time to read anything that turned up in the bookcase in the guest room in the very back instead of looking for something short. No, enough time to almost read all of “War and Peace”, a fog horn that almost never stopped and a bigger lighthouse sweeping light across the bedroom wall over the bed as it swept around in its circle going twenty miles out to sea.

But the living room just as nice and so many things brought over you can time travel through the old stories. Great grandmother sitting in the rocker by the fireplace reading to the little ones like Mother talked about and Great grandfather complaining about the man taking too long to bring in the lamps when it grew dark.

But the children having fun and that part the same. Nothing better than even part of a summer with a different cousin for every day and mood . . . grown up and then they moved and it was a letter writing thing but not then . . . stones to skip and races to win . . .and that till the end of time and into another. . .

Royal cousins on holiday in Denmark in 1899 (detail). via Facebook.
Royal cousins on holiday in Denmark in 1899 (detail). via Facebook. Image © Etude Coutau-Bégarie, Paris. Fair use license. via

An envisioning . . .1960 and the old villa up on the Øresund coast in June.

Oh to be there.

Denmark for the summer and a treasure it is. Home in a way that the other house isn’t. The children all thinking it is and agreeing but not inside. An outside thing like a winter coat instead of a grown-up lady version of the tutu skirts the ballet dancers wear to dance.

No, Canada if you marry a Canadian gentleman and a family home but a home of the heart, no. Butter cookies that don ‘t taste as good and no Baltic smells.

Fishing boats though that are almost the same. Sometimes being able to squeeze your eyes shut and pretend. Back you go, patterns swirling against the sun and around again like one of those kaleidoscope toys. Canada, France after the first war and Ireland after the second.

But different. The other houses not the same with different echoes. Impossible. So different that even one’s favorite grandchild doesn’t want to quite believe.

The tsar coming and his mother each summer to her house at Hvidøre. Imperial children running everywhere and hide and seek along the beach behind the rocks. Father only a baron but no children living close and getting to play with them anyway. Grand duchesses the girls were called, but the doll tea parties were just the same.

Gone for a long time and in a horrid way but no one knowing then.  . . .No. . . holiday bare feet and time to run . . . run fast enough, and maybe it can all be made to change . . . .but a memory . . .safe forever where nothing can hurt. . .

Crown Princess Margaret of Sweden with her children. Photograph ca. 1900-1910.
Crown Princess Margaret of Sweden with her children. Photograph ca. 1900-1910. In the public domain due to age.via.

An envisioning . . .1970, the bungalow in Santa Monica on a Saturday morning and the noon sun almost come.

Oh to be here.

California and life with a smile. Three roommates and college only a few years behind. Well, the university campus more exciting but more work, too. Too many term papers and half the classes such a bore.

But finished. A job at the library and a hope for a better one. But all right now, endless books to borrow and some to buy when they have a book sale. A spot in the back yard for a planter filled with flowers and the beach down the street.

San Francisco more exciting but no. Used to one place and not wanting to change. Enough changes already and only one place to be in San Francisco and that with a lot of stairs. Everything one could afford two flights up. Better somewhere without much excitement but no stairs.

All right all week. Enough saved up for a ticket to something every other month and the occasional drink. Tons of gentlemen and a date with a new one every other weekend. What else could a girl want? Well, a husband and children, yes, but that for later.

Church on Sundays at the parish on the corner and dinner at Grandmother’s with all the little cousins cantering around the palm trees in the back. Everything saved. Old the house is from the beginning of the city and no one having moved since. Fun to look through, it is. Far more fun than moving what with having to throw things out.

The little cousins getting tired and a bit of time to sit on the glider and poke through the old photographs from the last shelf in the library. Pot luck they are, with no one bothering to write much of anything on the back.

But a nice one at the bottom of the pile. The hospital that great grandfather ran, it must be. Cars that have that carriage look form when cars were new and the thing as bright as a new penny without a ripped awning or smudge mark anywhere.

Not like that for long . . .no . . .down in one of the earthquakes and Grandmother ending up marrying and moving away . . . .but no one knew that then . . .no . . . .a new job, a new hospital, and a new beginning . . . if you knew how it all ended up, you’d never start.

Good Samaritan Hospital, Los Angeles, California. ca. 1904.
Good Samaritan Hospital, on Seventh Street west of Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, California. ca. 1904. Mission in style. In the public domain due to age. via

An envisioning . . . 1950 and a warm afternoon on the terrace at the summer cottage in Great Barrington.


Oh to be here.

Massachusetts in summer and one of the best yet. Well, not the child kind of summer spent running to make fairy grottoes back in the woods behind the hotel, free as long as you reappeared to eat.

Fun that had been. Everything filled with families and someone to play with every day.

No one much in the winter. No, that part of New York getting commercial again and everyone else having headed uptown. Mother saying she was sick of moving. Like dominoes, she had said. A move every fifteen years. Nothing else to be done, that or be so out of touch that you could never get a table to have tea at the Plaza.

Girls the same age to play crochet with while the boys swam in the pond in the morning. Girls in bathing suits in the afternoon and nursemaids sitting along the banks under umbrellas with lemonade and towels.

Suppers in the dining room and evenings chasing fireflies on the lawn. Beds to be tucked into up under the eaves. Fathers that came up on Friday and went back on Monday with dances across the lawn with a band from Boston to fall asleep to.

A joy. No better. If only but almost no pictures. The hotel lost in a fire and everything lost. New York pictures instead. An album and then another with perhaps a firefly memory somewhere in the folds.

But no. Dancing school in New York. A room full of girls dancing with each other. Better, Mother said, than a dancing school with boys though surely that would have been more fun.

All right, sort of. No clunky shoe prints on one’s slippers and no dance cards to figure out. . . no one to complain and all the afternoon left to try to waltz . . .


"Dancing class, the Minuet." Smolny Institute for Young Ladies, Saint Petersburg, Russia. ca. 1906.

“Dancing class, the Minuet.” Smolny Institute for Young Ladies, Saint Petersburg, Russia. ca. 1906. In the public domain due to age. via

This is not my story. It is, rather, the story of my friend Eleanor P. who was old when I was much younger than this, who grew up spending summers at the great hotels with a mother in every rocker and a child to play with in a summer that went on forever and ever and never seemed to end.