Farm life and that fun what with the fields to gaze out on in their beautiful shades of green and yellow when the crops came in. Vegetable garden to hoe and a veritable ribbon of tomatoes to can until the stove feels red hot and the kitchen feels hotter with the flies dancing on the other side of the screen door. Ones in the store in pretty cans with pictures but the other ladies carrying on. Something about a real wife growing her own food and not being lazy and buying it canned by someone else somewhere else with the stems and things living someplace else in their giant mound.
A writer turned into a gentleman wheat farmer and that not . . . . just not. . . Skies that go on forever and the children to tend and knit sweaters for while they grow like weeds. But not normal things for them to do. Jumping from haylofts and walking into town instead of taking the streetcar into town to window shop and have lunch at the lunch counter in the big café in the train station.
A grand life but a photograph falling out of the back of the album that fell behind the bookcase and a dreamtime back. Wanting to be a model and the neighbor lady knowing someone at Neiman Marcus. Getting a job wearing evening gowns for rich ladies to see while their granddaughters sit on little gold chairs on either side with eyes big as saucers. Not a forever thing for sure but a dream lived for real instead of in your head . . .
Summer into fall and the new year about to begin. Funny. Decades living where the year starts in January but growing up in Boston with so many schools everyone starts over in September even if you are 103.
Fun back then and wanting to stay forever but a handsome young man living around the corner who went to West Point and ending up traveling the globe one army base at a time. Children that pick up new languages at the drop of a hat with mothers who only know the words for “gin and tonic” and “Where is the dress shop, please?”
All of that fun with dolls and other fun things sent back to relatives who never travel further than their feet will take them but still . . . .fun it was back at school . . .four years all in the same place and a college bookstore that never moved the hand lotion instead of a new PX and having to dig things out like a dog digging in the sand . . . Christmas and being an elf in red tights with a green tunic and a headdress with tinkling bells . . . a vision it was and a treasure forever. . .
Georgia State Women’s College (now Valdosta State University), Valdosta, Georgia. Page 19 from the Georgia State Womans College 25 Year Anniversary Bulletin, 1913-1938. PDF Link here https://buff.ly/3wEWdhv Screenshot from a PDF of it. I found the link at Valdosta State University Archives and Special Collections on Facebook. What is now Valdosta State University was called Georgia State Woman’s College from 1922 to 1950.
A forever home and a husband to help take the grandbabies for ice cream cones every day after supper when they come to visit. A lunch of whatever one wants as long as you remember to check the icebox before you make your list.
Smiles all around and the same pew at church with the same child holding the incense boat. Not the same child but not like Christmas with a new child in each place.
Better it is but only sort of. The train into the city to shop every few months and the big city station with a place to get tea with chairs with caned bottoms and ice cream with chocolate sauce in dishes.
Knees that ache in the rain and ears that don’t hear so well but a memory in flood. A lounge for ladies to sit with their babies with a long-ago vision of a mother sitting up all night waiting for the early morning express, a child at either end of the bench, and two more towards the middle kept warm with their coats.
Wanting to leap on the next train when the man calls the stations. The express to New Orleans or maybe Los Angeles or Chicago. None of that mattering except for the train part. A married lady name now but little Flossie Shepard back then telling stories behind the limelights and banging on the drum with every sister on her violin with Burtie blowing away on his tuba. Mother and father smiling after in the dressing room. The next train to the next place and a hop, skip and jump to another contract touring on the vaudeville circuit.
Elmira, Charleston, Baton Rouge, and tiny places that blur with the hotel up over the restaurant and an opera house up over the Masonic Hall. Big places with four opera houses and elevator hotels with bellboys.
No vaudeville anymore and everyone gone. But something to remember forever and that every time a freight train whistles along its track. . .
Originally from Lawrenceville, New York, the Shepard Family Band toured throughout the Northeast in the 1880s and 1890s, eventually settling in South Royalton, Vermont. All members of the family were apparently musically inclined: “In addition to Minnie (mother and matriarch Mary “Minnie” Shepard), and her husband, patriarch James Monroe Shepard, all of the children were pressed into service. Daughter Laura Belle, the ‘violiniste,’ was getting better all the time, under the instruction of a ‘competent master.’ (Her fans “will be astonished at the improvement in style, tone and expression.”) It was said of little Lessie that, ‘Among lady cornetists she has no equal.’ The darling little son of the family, Master Burtie, could not help but please, for he was well-known to be, ‘The youngest Tuba soloist in the world; only nine years of age; scarcely larger than the instrument he plays.’ He was also a ‘clever comedian, singer and character artist.” The baby, little Flossie, “a sweet little miss of four summers,’ was said to be a “wonderful mimic and impersonator…a veritable little fairy.’ Daughters Kittie and Georgia were also part of the troupe.” Henry Sheldon Museum.
Maine and a visit with the boy cousins. August into September and then October but no matter. A governess and not having to take the train back to Richmond for school.
School last year and the year before but Mama with a rich new husband. Governesses now and boarding school later.
Flower petals strewn at the chapel in West Virginia in July where everyone summers. Bathing suits bought and Cape May for a week.
Maine. Mama off on her wedding trip. Warmer in Virginia but having to wait until they come.
The weather a bore but the ghost stories around the big fireplace downstairs. Cider, doughnuts, and apples. Wind whistling around and hikes through the mist.
Another month and maybe. Auntie wanting to get home before the snow starts, whenever that is up near Canada.
But Uncle having to come first. Somewhere with J. P. Morgan about his bank. Hard to remember. At the house party at the beginning of August. Who everyone had wanted to meet. Tall with dark curly hair like the little cousin in Maryland. Everyone lined up to be introduced like a receiving line at one of Mama’s New Year receptions.
But fun. A spot for a child on each side and a horehound candy dropping into one’s hand from his pockets with each person met. . . . enough candy money for all the world someone said . . . . .what else is money for . . .
The violinist playing the last few bars of a scene as whispers from the score of the end of act I of Saint Saens’ opera “Samson et Dalila” drift through. The thump of the parquet seats bouncing toward their seat backs and fans snapping open as ladies take their escorts’ arms and head towards the back of the theater heading towards the doors as the lights go up like moths to a brilliant flame. Couples from the loges grilles above filtering back toward the lobby stair. Ladies who are enceinte along with ones in mourning frocks and ladies of the evening in their garish satins escaping from their screened boxes way up towards the stage.
The interval having just begun and the next act in a bit. The champagne ladies almost done setting up.
Gentlemen’s lounge belching cigar smoke whenever the door opens. Ladies streaming into the lounge across the way in search of smelling salts and hoping for a gentler relace of their corset strings from the maid in the little curtained room in the back before they swoon.
A good visit with a friend and enough time for a second flute. A lady who must have had three waltzing in the corner with a gentleman who does not appear to be her husband judging by the kissing.
Another ten minutes and the lights dimming and rising again. Everyone dashing back and the morocco leather covered doors closed again with the last few arriving too late to be admitted and reduced to standing on tiptoe peeking through the windows towards the stage until the ushers take pity as the orchestra swells and the soprano’s next aria begins and let them in.
Image: French Opera house, Bourbon and Toulouse Streets, New Orleans, Louisiana. Built in 1859 it was destroyed in a 1919 fire. This is a view of the lobby. I found it on the Facebook page The New Orleans Culture but have only been able to trace it back to this website http://old-new-orleans.com/NO_French_Opera_2 which has other images of the opera house but with this being the only one of the lobby.