An envisioning . . .1900 and a summer afternoon winding down at grandfather’s dacha near Pavlovsk.

Oh to be there.

Summer under the white nights and no Petersburg nannies and their boring rules. Cousins to play with and dance concerts in the park to run around the outside of with no one saying anything. No, trying to make noise only when they applaud or when the drums are loud. Otherwise, grandfather coming out to snarl.

Grandmother letting the girls play jump rope with her ropes of pearls and Mother letting everyone run free. Always worried about what they think at the embassy next door, but those people gone back to Berlin to meet with their Kaiser.

Mushrooms to find in the woods and a creek to swim in. Pony carts to ride around in and the tsar’s little cousins with one with goats up at the other end of the park. One the same age with a July birthday and letting everyone who came to his birthday party have a turn.

A summer village’s worth of dachas with grandchildren in each one. The ones next door to play with and the others further down. Same Sunday school in the winter, but everything having to be arranged and set up. Easier just to run over instead of wait for the coachman to have time after Mother paid her calls and Father needed the sleigh and horses to visit his clubs.

But everyone tired, the grownups napping Sunday afternoon away and up in the nursery trying to be quiet so they can sleep. Outside later but not until after the maids bring tea. The housekeeper on her afternoon off and Mother forgetting to come.

Fun it is. Time to go through everything in the closet that every child who has been a child in the nursery ever decided to keep. Half-forgotten much of it is but fun to look at. Dried flowers from some older sister, special rocks and a good luck pebble that someone brought back from a holiday in Finland. Old pictures in watercolor and chalk of Easter and one of great-grandfather jumping into the Neva through a hole in the ice on New Year’s day.

One of a little girl in the very back wedged in with ribbon bows in her hair. Sad later she was. Grandfather’s big sister it must be. Happy then but the big wedding to an army chap who died fighting the Turks.

But happy then . . .no way not to be happy . . .sun, friends and goat carts. . . What else does one need . . .

Princess Clotilde of Saxe-Coburg. 1855.
Princess Clotilde of Saxe-Coburg. 1855. Oil on canvas. Franz Xaver Winterhalter, painter (1805-1873). In the public domain in the United States because the artist has been dead over 70 years. via

An envisioning . . . 1990 and a sultry afternoon in Bridgetown, Barbados.

Oh to be here.

The trade winds gone off somewhere but back soon. Afternoon on the verandah in the old army barracks just up the hill from the beach.

Decades lived and not ending up where one would have thought. Bombay, London, and then first one West Indian island and then another. Weather better than England but the work much the same.

Like the stories Father told about the army moving him around but different. All French places, those were. French then, they were, but the family morphed somehow into an English speaking British bunch since.

The same tropical trees and almost the same smells. A going back if one squeezes one’s eyes tight enough shut.

The scent of curried goat from somewhere down the hill and music the other way. Mother in a sari and Father coming in the house in his cavalry boots with the heavy noise they made against the tile. A nurse whispering in at the other end of the verandah in the same sort of sing-song lilt.

But not the same. Life comes and gone, and India left. But still, things to hold in one’s hand that bring it back. Prickly and studded brighter than the sun. A turban ornament, but funny. Cartier, not Indian, really, but a shop in Paris where the cousins lived. For one of the grand balls they held in 1903 when the king’s brother came out from London. Delhi Durbar and everyone positively dripping diamonds.

Not exactly gone. . . well mostly. . . .Emeralds up and left but in one’s mind. . . .nothing ever really gone if you remember it . . .

This is not my story. It is, rather, the story of my Saint Lucian friend, Charles C., who was old when I was young. Son of a high caste Indian lady and a French army officer at the turn of the last century in Bombay, a time when that was not supposed to be.

Indian turban ornament and brooch (sarpesh). ca. 1900.
Indian turban ornament and brooch (sarpesh). ca. 1900. Gold and silver set with emeralds, diamonds and a hanging natural pearl. Cartier Paris, maker. © The al Thani Collection. All rights reserved. Fair use license. Photo credit: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd. Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. via

An envisioning . . . 2000 and a quiet January day in Copenhagen . . .

Oh to be here.

A long trip up from Johannesburg but worth it. Kin not visited in decades what with Father having decided to seek his fortune in Rhodesia and then Cape Town after the war. Must have been from the fighting with the British. Better that for a young man than anything in Scandinavia no matter what anyone did.

The children taken ice skating in the morning and home for hot chocolate and enough food left over from New Year’s Day for a family of twenty.

Everyone stuffed, exhausted and napping. Time to sit in the kitchen and look through the old pictures.

In someone’s barn, auntie wrote on the back. Maybe that or under the drawers in grandfather’s big desk. But no matter. Safe however it was. Engineers, they all were. Mostly built bridges and things. If there was only a two-inch gap between a rafter and a beam they could find it.

More hot chocolate and then coffee. Up half the night probably but not mattering much. Another two weeks before the plane back home and a job to get up for. Half a plate of cookies, too. Not much room after lunch but stuffing them down anyway. Tasting like there is a pound of butter in each tin and much better than anything in South Africa. Just didn’t taste the same. Must be the Baltic air.

Scrapbooks looked at and put back on the shelf. From all around the family, people that lived in Berlin, Odessa, and Barcelona, not just Denmark. Living all around the world until the wars took it all out.

A treat. A picture that they forgot to glue in falling onto the table with names on the back. From right after the first war judging by the lady’s cloche. The cousins in Spain, it said. All right then but the other places taken. Gone to South America somehow once Germany got France and never heard from again.

But all right then . . . .another tango and another luncheon on the beach . . . life with all the joy and no one knowing the rest . . . .

Folke Bernadotte, Count of Wisborg and his wife Estelle.
Folke Bernadotte, Count of Wisborg and his wife Estelle. ca. 1929-35. Photo credit: Scanpix. via

An envisioning . . . 1935. . . December 31st at the best hairdresser in all of New York.

Oh to be here.

A big do, and every girl up and down Central Park West invited, at least all the ones that count.

A  new frock that looks like the Vionnet frock Mother brought back from Paris that time.

Well, not the same, Mme. Vionnet not designing much anymore and all of it for older ladies, not young ones. Newer designers and satin to look like someone in Hollywood but the same wine red color with nail lacquer to match.

The Saint Moritz tonight and more packing tomorrow. Beach house near Havana for half the winter and Key West for the rest. Maybe somewhere else after or maybe not.

Hard. A bit old for debutante things and the escorts that they have. Another few years and too much time on the shelf. College men at the dances at Cornell but none of them having stuck. But tonight. Maybe. Someone’s older cousin down from Harvard Law.

Men to spin around a ballroom with. . .men to partner for a party breakfast so late it could turn into a ride down a bridle path in Central Park . . .hopefully one for good soon.

Menu card for New Year's Eve in the Colonnades Ballroom, Essex House Hotel. 1935.
This menu card, from the Museum of the City of New Menu card for New Year’s Eve in the Colonnades Ballroom, Essex House Hotel, New York City. 1935. collection of the museum of the City of New York. via

An envisioning. . . 1970, three days and the rental house on Mackinac Island. . .

Oh to be here.

Everyone gone to Saint Louis for the weekend and the house to oneself. Mid-May, no one around and the house sort of ready for the season.

Food from the little grocer and lunch on the porch. Funny. No family and whatever one wants, not just what they say to eat. Muffins and eggs for breakfast with a plate covered with bacon. Two bowls of fruit for lunch and nothing for supper but a big bowl of shrimp and a jar of cocktail sauce with a flute of champagne. Healthy on Tuesday but not today.

The porches swept, beds made and the old towel rack in the maid’s bathroom covered with face cloths. Bag after bag of little shampoos and toothpaste to be put around. A pain, six bathrooms and each one needing three.

All right back then. Great-grandmother’s wedding present house. Wintering in Detroit and up on the island from June to September with a nurse for every child. The Detroit house gone after they lost all the money and winters in Florida in a tourist camp with the train up nearly as soon as the ice thawed. Their real home it was.

Games of sardines and freeze tag on the lawn. So many rooms that the cousins from down the road got lost playing hide and seek.

But fun now too. Only two weeks or maybe three and tenant hunting all winter. But worth it. Family homeplace with a boat house and a bunch of canoes. Long table on the porch for suppers with corn on the cob and three pitchers of iced tea as the platters of steak and bowls of salad make their way around.

But all that later. The last spot. Grandmother’s vanity with the drawer stuck. Funny. All the pictures taken out but one stuck inside with the names of the back. Great-grandmother and her little sister the year they lived in Paris.

A memory in flood and rushing back. . . In the gardens of the Tuileries, it must be and looking like little girls done up like the puffballs in the flower bed. . . A dolly apiece and a bonnet . . .happy they were there but only the one time. . .never got to go back, to Canada instead. . . but a happy bubble in time and that no one can take.

The daughters of grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich of Russia, uncle of the last tsar. Photograph ca. 1906.
The daughters of grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich of Russia, uncle of the last tsar. Photograph ca. 1906. via Facebook.

An envisioning . . . 2017 and an afternoon to while away up in the cupola.

Oh to be here.

Afternoon to while away into evening up at the top of Auntie Agnes’s house in Knoxville. Cupola way up at the top with views to die for. Four flights of stairs to die for too but then no one able to follow up either. Their legs too short or too tired. Like being in a space capsule blasted sideways across the trees staring straight through the tree tops and watch the birds dance.

Mother having talked about spending entire afternoons up at the top of the house with a book and glass of water. Just as hot as anyone had ever said and the window sills just as covered with dead flies. But the windows forced open over who knows how many coats of paint and the flies swept out with an old newspaper into the world. Ice in the water bottle and the magazine from the Sunday paper to look through till dusk.

The magazine finished, and a run down to the box room and back up again. A calico covered box, completely stuffed. Auntie not wanting it looked at but all the way down on the front porch with that penetrating stare of hers but no way to see through tree branches, wood, and brick.

One old postcard and then more. Enough for three tables worth of people playing bridge if they were cards. Most of the synagogue where auntie’s parents got married but some others from when they held the Appalachian Exposition that time.

An American Indian girl posed against a studio mountain and a fountain. People weaving coverlets and others showing quilts.

But another at the very bottom. One of those places like they had in Asheville that time where you could rent a boat and paddle around. Fun it must have been  and a relief from the heat.

Much coming but not there yet. Great uncle marrying auntie and that not having turned out too well except for the house. But to be courted in a boat . . . .heavenly. . . a boat, beau and a bunch of flowers. . . .all one needs and never needing more.

Chilhowee Park Boat House. 1910. Postcard.
Chilhowee Park Boat House. 1910. Postcard. S. H. Kress and Company, publisher. C.M. McClung Historical Collection, Knox County Public Library. Fair use license. via

An envisioning . . . 2015 and a rainy day in a rented villa outside of Budapest.

Oh to be there.

A fortnight’s holiday turning into a month. Father busy in the city and Mother happy with her easel. Makes sense, an entire back bedroom for a studio instead of that tiny closet with a window in Prague.

Time to run through the fields and look for elves and fairies in the woods. Fairy circles, too. Both brothers saying fairies only live on clouds but no. Everyone with wings in fairy tale books living in a wreath of flowers in the grass. How it must be no matter what older people think.

Beds so tall they have stairs to get in at least in the old nursery. Very small the children must have been though not as small as fairies. The beds not wide enough for spread out wings so that they cannot have been, but almost.

Smaller than everyone last year at school.  But fun being able to get into little places to explore. Cupboards with old paints and closets with ancient coats for dress up. Doll tea sets with cups and saucers small enough for the littlest baby doll in the world along with two teapots.

The back cupboard opened up and something poking one’s back. Getting out inch by inch and shaking what looked to be a century’s worth of dust off. An old picture. A little girl with a pink hair bow and ties on her shoulders.

No way to know. Everyone lost in one war or another and in who knows how many ways. Now, then and forever as far as anyone can see. But happy she looks with her own Mama and fairy circles to find . . . nothing more but all one needs. . .

Miniature of Princess Elizabeth of Hesse, later Grand Duchess Serge of Russia as a child. ca. 1874.
Miniature of Princess Elizabeth of Hesse as a child. ca. 1874. Sister of the last tsarina of Russia. Artist not known. In the public domain. via