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.
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 . . .
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. . .
The main ballroom of Saint Petersburg’s best hotel in the depths of a Russian winter in 1913. . .
Two flights up. A wall of silk and velvet draperies framing snow that blows like a sea bird’s feather with a plush carpet to match but with silken fringe instead of anything cold.
Cousins from everywhere, some not seen for years. From the family merchant houses in those other places. Rome, Paris, Amsterdam. Even a great uncle from the one in Zurich.
Cousin Gertrude and a wedding to dream of. A husband whose entire home is done up in silver gilt and a veritable zoo of Faberge creatures as an engagement gift. Who knows what for a wedding present. Two palaces along the Neva and a yacht perhaps.
Not like that other cousin’s in Venice that time. No. A gondola and what someone had said was a palace. But a leased one in the end.
Someone at the other end where the table begins standing up as the toasting begins and comes around the table like voices echoing around the lake estate in the mountains that Grandmama owned.
A parade of waiters and a sedan chair sort of thing carried by six dogs but with an ice sculpture filled with black caviar slowly melting in like a mound of mashed potatoes after one poured the gravy on.
Champagne and a chat with the lady cousin to the left and then to the right.
Talk of problems between the kaiser and the tsar before the dancing but no. Something that will be surely worked out like all those other times.
Something in the Balkans but then there is always something in the Balkans. Serbia always wanting to be free but no. First the sultan and now Franz Joseph. The little places not ready to be free. Better having fewer border guards and trains that don’t stop when one only wants a holiday to start.