We sit by Bea’s bedside and chat, once she is all arranged with pillows tucked here and wedged there. Jane has Italian ancestors, so I tell her Bea used to speak Italian and loved visiting Italy. Bea seems to enjoy our conversation, which provides distraction, if nothing else, while a second Aleve takes effect. Jane lovingly describes her grandmother, an amazing cook.
Bea’s English-born grandmother was also quite special. I know this because Bea wrote about her for a family history. On occasion, Grandma White would dance a jig, even in her 70s. Every Christmas, she would give Bea and Helen an “inexpensive, wonderful, large, illustrated book of stories gathered from writers all over the British Empire.” The book was called Chatterbox.
“Avidly reading these stories for many years, I got my early impressions of far-off places. Even in 1971, an exotic story about Corsica recalled the atmosphere of swarthy bandits and mysterious ravines I had encountered in Chatterbox as early as 1917.”
Bea will never lose her fascination for far-off places.
In June 1931, she travels to Europe with several Vassar friends on the Holland-America line. I have already described her preference for ocean voyages. Now I understand why. Luckily she thought to share her impressions with elder sister Helen:
I’m having the most wonderful time. At last I know what it means to be really popular on a boat – but the popularity is due to the fact that there are ever so many attractive men on board and very few girls.
The man of the moment is a wealthy Yale boy from Chicago. Charles Ingersoll Morse, known as ‘Chuck.’ His family has a home in Munich, and he wants us to let him drive us from Munich to Venice or vice-versa in his Mercedes. He appears to be on the verge of falling in love with me. He is clever, with blond curly hair and blue eyes, quite cherubic. He has a friend with him, Edward Brewster, also from Yale and St. Paul’s. Ed has been nice to me, too. It was very funny the other night. I was up on deck with the two of them, and Chuck wanted to be alone with me, but I didn’t want that because I like Ed, too.
Two other very attractive boys, who are just graduated from Columbia, are giving us some time as well: David Dunham and John Watkins. Kitty has seen more of David than anyone else, but she has eyes for no one really but Selden.
Miss Bizzoni has been sweet, not crabby. She is very efficient as a chaperone, gets Betty Jean to bed early and goes herself.
We have a letter of introduction to the President of the Republic of San Marino. They shall most likely get out a brass band when we arrive.
I’m becoming frightfully healthy – enormous appetite. (You know me in salt air!) My hair is beautiful, and I feel spry, when not sleepy. We lie on the upper deck in our bathing suits. Yesterday I read a thrilling book on astronomy to John, and he explained the parts I couldn’t understand. Today they are putting up a canvas swimming pool. I’m quite sunburned already.
Except for the food, S.T.C.A. is a marvelous way to go to Europe because of all the young people. There really is a very good crowd. Not too raucous.
A friend of mine invited us up to 1st class last night and nine of us went, but it was so stodgy and hot that we didn’t stay long although, as we were leaving, an elderly lady begged us to remain because we were ‘such nice young people.’ When Chuck and I were dancing together – I in Dot’s black evening dress and a red carnation that Chuck had put in my hair and I had forgotten about – he claims somebody said, ‘What an attractive couple!’ You can see my hat does not fit me already. But I know it is all a very transient dream, that the boat will soon reach Boulogne and … pouf! However, we shall see lots of these people abroad in Geneva, Venice, Paris, and Munich.
I have had five champagne cocktails (at 75 cents a piece) bought for me so far (no more than one an evening). Please inform Mother than I have not broken my promise about drinking hard liquor and shall not.
Wish to Heavens you were with me!
Love & love,