Friday, July 07, 2006

Bea’s Books (7)

Yesterday I told Bea that I had decided to write about her life and asked if I could quote from some of her papers. She said yes and looked pleased by the idea.

Today Bea is sleeping, mouth hanging open. She refuses to drink or eat. When I change her at 9 pm, she cries out in an angry voice, “Go away. Let me sleep.”

I find a special little book on her bookshelf. Embossed in gold letters on the cover I read My Trip Aboard. The first page has a dedication, “Beatrice – Bon voyage! Mary.” Bea has signed the second page with her name.

Bea didn’t like airplanes. Her idea of a splendid time was to cross the ocean on a ship. Her preference probably dates back to this trip July 14-23, 1928, when she traveled with her mother Bertha and sister Helen aboard the S. S. Minnewaska to Europe.

The first section contains useful information such as

1.) Foretelling the weather with an aneroid barometer
2.) Distances at which objects are visible at sea at varying elevations
3.) Latitude and longitude from Greenwich
4.) Value of foreign coins
5.) Mailtime distances from New York City
6.) Watch as a compass and the mariners compass
7.) Aids to navigation (buoys, beacons and channel marks)
8.) Sound signals for fog
9.) Characteristics of lighthouse lights
10.) To tell the distance of an echo
11.) Method of keeping time on board a ship
12.) Night signals (etc.)

There are also instructions on how to play shuffleboard.

In the journal, Bea describes in detail all the people she meets during her travels, especially the men. Here are a few highlights:

“Tomorrow we go sailing up the Thames. It will be rather painful to leave the boat. The trip across has been so enjoyable. Not one of us was the least bit seasick although the boat did act like a cradle on the first day out.

I need not describe the enduring hardy type of beauty of the changeless horizon. When the sea is misty, it seems to cast a dreamy spell over those who observe it. On a crystal clear day the water looks as if it had been pushed up against the sky.

Ever since I read “The Bridge of San Luis Rey,” I wanted to see the sunset over a western sea. We usually missed the sunset though to have dinner.

The other night I woke up to find silver light streaming through the porthole. I naturally presumed that the moon had risen, but I climbed down my ladder to investigate. What fun! I stuck my head out of the porthole and let my hair wave in the cool breeze. The salt spray felt like dew on my face.

The silver light was not created by the moon, but by the sun at 3:30. At night, the sky was more beautiful in a bizarre way than I have ever seen it. Shades of mysterious violet were still high up in the heavens. Only three stars remained. I wouldn’t have wanted any more stars. These, burning gold through the violet, would have put to shame the Russian crown jewels …”

In London, Bea goes sightseeing:

"We stayed for the service at Westminster Abbey. Small choirboys in red robes chanted, adding solemnity. The two graves that impressed me the most in the Poets' Corner were those of Browning and Hardy, the last of which had a wreath of heather, picked off Egdon Heath. Perhaps I ought to admit that I was somewhat disappointed by the Abbey. But maybe I don't know enough of English history to appreciate it yet. I think it seems rather crowded with graves of people who are not famous to the people of today although the very graves over which I stood in awe may be passed with a shrug centuries hence."

"The next day we took a Cook's tour of the City. The Tower of London has much history connected with it. In one room there we saw the English crown jewels. Several of the diamonds were enormous. The crowns of diamonds, rubies and perals with little ermine bands at the bottom were exquisite. I suppose the ermine was to make the crown fit comfortably. At first I thought of all the poverty in England which might be done away with if those jewels could be invested and made to draw interest. Then I realized that such display adds to the prestige of a country."

While in England, the Chinnocks meet some cousins:

“The next day we left for Middleton to visit the Franklyns, distant relatives of Mother’s. They lived in a cozy little house and ate meals at the weirdest hours. Breakfast and luncheon were normal but ‘high tea’ came at five and ‘supper’ – a regular dinner - at about eleven, before retiring.

Nina, their buxom daughter, was sixteen and full of fun. They talked quite differently from the Londoners. Helen remarked that someone was dumb – not meaning speechless. Nina said, ‘Why do you say dumb instead of dahft?’ Their sentence inflection is different, too.

Sunday afternoon we went to visit the Chadwicks. The father looked exactly like Santa Claus minus the whiskers. His son, who was a sweet little boy of fourteen, played for us on an instrument called a concertina. A relative of theirs had been a missionary in Africa, and they insisted on giving us some of the little tokens she had brought. They so much enjoyed giving them that we couldn’t refuse.

The father, who was extremely garrulous, told us that one of our ancestors was knighted by Queen Elizabeth for stopping a run-away horse of her carriage.

The next day we had tea with Aunt Martha Fitten who lives in the old Leicestershire section of Middleton where the houses are all alike and the children wear queer wooden shoes. All the relatives gathered to welcome us. Aunt Martha was over sixty, rather deaf, and rather plump with a hoarse voice, a jolly manner, and twinkling eyes. Finally their grandson, Herbert Fitten, red-haired and seventeen, came in. He offered to take me to see the Middleton Church where my great grandparents were married. The church was centuries old, of Norman architecture, and one of the few churches with a wooden belfry.

Herbert took me up narrow, winding dark stone stairs to the place where a dozen young ‘learners’ were being taught the art of ringing bells. It was like a funny dream to see what we would describe as ‘frumpy’ looking men tugging away in their shirtsleeves as their teacher gave the signal 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. One rang on 1, and 2 on 2 etc. Then Herbert and a ‘learner’ helped me up through a windier, dirtier, darker passage to the place where the bells were. Phew! What a climb! I began to wonder how I would ever make the descent. As it was, I had to sit on each step going down and nearly ruined my clothes. In the belfry, they let me try to ring one of the bells. It was very hard to pull. I was surprised that as soon as I got to the belfry, their teacher ordered me in his queer Leicestershire dialect, to keep my hands at my sides and my feet on the floor lest ‘a loop from one of the ropes she catch on me and yank me up to the ceiling,’ maybe that wasn’t a strange experience!”

Bea, Helen, and Bertha also visit Stratford …

“The hotel was formerly an inn in Shakespeare’s time. Every room had the name of a Shakespearian play. There were etchings on the walls, all scenes from Shakespeare’s plays. The draperies on our bed were in a quaint pattern of glazed chintz. The bed (oh, goody-goody!) had a canopy on it.

Shakespeare’s birthplace looked every bit as old as it ought to look. We visited the church on the bank of the Avon where Shakespeare is buried. We saw that famous ‘Curst be he that moves my bones’ effect. In the Church was a baptismal font centuries old.

In the afternoon we went out to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. Its thatched roof and garden are very picturesque. There was an old reed bed in one of the bedrooms. I sat on the bench beside the fire, which Billy sat on when he courted Anne.

Then we went back to London to the Royal Place Hotel in Kensington. The next morning I telephoned to the Guaranty Trust Company and received Dad’s cable “Yes” meaning that I made Vassar. All three of us laughed and cried at the same time with relief and joy. I was touched to see that Mother and Helen cared so much.”

Bea was the first woman in her family to go to college. Getting in must have been quite exciting. What fun that she recorded this event for us to share 78 years later!


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