Monthly Archiv: August, 2014



Having achieved status as a writer with my sixth grade classmates, (perhaps you remember Peggy’s Troubles) I decided that like Jo March (Little Women), I needed a lair like she had, in the attic. (Ms. March had supplanted Nancy Drew by then.) louisa 2

The privacy and quiet of Jo’s attic hideout was very instrumental in her success, it seemed to me. If I was going to be a writer, I needed my own space. But unfortunately, the attic was out. My sister was already using ours, so I claimed a domain of my own in the basement. Curtaining off a corner that had a little window, (you know – the kind that’s mostly below grade, with a curved metal retainer to hold the earth back), I found a table I could use as a desk, like Jo was using in the picture) and a lamp (it was a bit dim in the basement).

Pencils sharpened, paper ready, I set to work on the first rainy day. Seated self, arranged paper, picked up pencil…

And discovered that while the office was very cool (figuratively and literally) it did not supply inspiration. How did you write a novel, anyway? Where do you start?

With a heroine, dummy! Her name was Elizabeth van Landingham. She was from a wealthy family, and no one liked her, including me. It was then I discovered the next hurdle: drafting a creative piece soon gets boring, especially if you don’t have much sympathy with the main character. Once you’re done with a draft, working on its style and adding to it will make it come alive, but I didn’t know that at the time. I just kept plugging along and, if I remember correctly, threw the unedited pages out when summer came to an end and, with a measure of relief, dismantled the office and went back to school.

harvard elementary school

Here’s my alma mater, Harvard Elementary, grades k-8. Impressive, don’t you think? I was entering 7th after my summer in the basement. I don’t think I wrote much after that, until high school and a chance to be a newspaper reporter.

THE TRAIN (The Heir)



We’ve totally lost of glamour of train travel. And it was glamorous, for a while. In the late 20’s, trains were fast losing their market share due to the automobile, so they all got competitive. Instead of being simply a conveyance that got you from point A to point B, the Pullman became a luxurious way to travel, the engines “streamlined”, with elegant cars to sleep in and elegant cars to eat in and others to drink in and the porter to bring you anything you wanted if you didn’t feel up to getting it yourself  (much to Emily’s dismay.) The rails were smooth, so that you noiselessly and quickly travelled along. Here’s some pictures of sleeping car arrangements.

sleeping car 5

sleeping car

sleeping car 6

The top bunk folds into the wall,  the bottom one becomes the seat, in this case with a table that folds down. (I don’t remember hearing anything about that in Emily and Charles’ car, but the varieties of arrangements were endless.) The hall, off which the compartments branches. looks  a little like a prison.  I’m sure Emily thought so!




Let’s think about the porter for a minute. Without him, a trip would have been impossible, for not only did he make up your bed, when the time came, but he provided lots of other services, aside from hauling your luggage in and out. He’d  iron your clothes, baby-sit your children, deliver trays of food,  shine your shoes, and endure your racial slurs, if it was your practice to use them, with a smile, for your tips were crucial. If he complained, either about the treatment of the conditions of his work, he was fired. He worked 400 hours a month and was paid $66.Ten years later, in 1939, when  Steven took the train from Port Huron to Boston, then took the Old Colony to Waterford, he’d have been well looked after by the train crew, who’d have assumed responsibility for him.

 dining car

Not long after that came World War Two. Gasoline and tires were rationed, and it didn’t take long for trains to become overloaded with vacationers, soldiers on furlough, and families traveling to visit loved ones at military bases. Reservations for spots in Pullman sleeping cars were so hard to come by that scalpers made a fortune buying and reselling them. They were never as elegant after that, I think. The war had worn them out, and when it was over, you  could buy a new car and there was plenty of gas. The trains lost the competitive edge, but you can still reserve a sleeping car, and there’s still a separate place to consume alcoholic beverages.


The 20’s roared because of prohibition and rum running, and at the same time women had been liberated. They’d been trussed up in corsets and imprisoned by social constraints and stuck with all the housework and childbearing besides. For a young woman to have the opportunity to be who she chose to be instead of dutifully fulfilling her parent’s expectations – well, I know how I’d feel. It was bad enough growing up in the 50’s!

So we have Emily and Pris, who had been following the traditional path (as far as we know) insofar as “dutifully fulfilling” parental expectations. But I suspect that, together at Bryn Mawr, a lot more went on than either set of parents suspected.

This led inevitably me to the mode of dress that these party people adopted. The flapper is fairly well known (though not among very young people, I find) with her boyish figure, dropped hemline, feather boa, a necklace down to her waist and a head band often sporting a feather. flapper5

I think the most distinctive wear for men was the straw boater, which apparently you wore when you weren’t sporting a fedora.









Certainly a big part of the scene was the automobile. It was a game-changer.Did Henry Ford know how profoundly his invention would affect American life?sedan

His was not the first car on the market, nor the first to be invented, but his application of the production line is what made his model T affordable for a whole lot of Americans. The 20’s was a prosperous era, and more people had more money to spend than ever before.

And while we’re at it, lets not forget the rumble seat!rumbleseata





Alice’s hog-tying consists of teaching the “townies” the skills that the upper crust already have, like playing bridge (Ellen Shaunessy is going to Vassar and will need this social grace). Mary Ann Hall has been “promoted” to the status of Pris Warden’s friend, even though she’s scrubbing floors at the Warden mansion, and “the gang” is going to participate in the Fall Fest shoulder to shoulder with the town kids, who are teaching them skills prized by their peers – whittling, canning vegetables, and making straw dolls (an ancient tradition of agricultural societies, still practiced in Ireland). Many of the “townies” were descended from the Irish servants brought into Waterford in Victorian times, so making a St. Brigid doll was part of their heritage.

straw doll 2

straw dollHere’s the scoop on the saint, thanks to Wikipedia:

Brighde was one of the most popular and widely worshipped Celtic goddesses, and when she became Christianized as Saint Brigid her worship remained as widespread throughout Europe as it had been as a goddess. Churches dedicated to St. Brigid can be found in the UK, France, Germany and other countries that had at one time been occupied by Celts.

As with all Celtic Festivals and many other Catholic Saint’s days, the celebration of the Feast of St. Brigid began on the evening before her official day, the 1st of February. There is usually an image of Brigid, which can be a doll, or be made out of straw or a bundle of cloth. The Bridóg (or “Little Brigid”) is either placed in a position of honor at the family feast, or is carried from house to house in a procession, then brought back with an elaborate ritual, often involving call-and-response greetings repeated three times.

The weaving of St. Brigid’s crosses and other symbolic objects would have been created either after the meal or in conjunction with the creation of the Bridóg. Before the family retired for bed, rituals with the crosses and straw objects would have been performed in the house and byre and used afterward to protect and bless young children.straw cross

Needless to say, these folkways were pretty far removed from Waterford’s upper crust.