Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Letters Received While at Camp…

Bea has been talking about her father a lot, which surprises me because I hadn't realized the attachment was so strong. Harry Singer Chinnock, Jr. or – as Bea puts it, “someone who looks just like him” – has been visiting. Harry was a good-looking bloke in his youth. I notice that in a photo of a garden party he has claimed the comfortable Adirondack lounge chair in the middle and sits, feet up, looking for all the world like JR’s father in Dallas, while the other family members, dressed in highly starched, light-colored dresses, are perched, prim and proper, on benches and chairs.

I knew my grandfather as an elderly man who always pulled me close and planted a slobbery kiss on my cheek. We didn’t see much of Harry because of his retirement to Florida. This was the reason advanced, rather than the unspoken one: my father did not think Bea’s dad was a good influence.

Each family is unique, but sometimes parents do behave in curious ways ...

Bea's little brother, Harry Singer Chinnock, III, fell ill while in Helen and Bea’s care. The two little girls were blamed for his death, although he died of meningitis, according to Cousin Nan.

Of Bea's four other siblings, only Dorothy succeeded in life. As Dot notes in a letter, three led tragic lives. To what extent Harry was responsible, it is impossible to gauge. In any case, he showered his second daughter with affection. She and Dot were the survivors.

Bea chatted to herself until 11 last night, so today she is out cold. I sit with a box of letters, a treasure trove of memories from another time and place. She has marked “Save” on one. The letter is dated August 14, 1925 and starts, “My dearest Honey Bee,” (evidence of a different spelling prior to Vassar.)

Here is an excerpt:

“My girls’ lives are before them and behind them stand their parents’ undying love. Try, both Helen and you, to mold your lives rightly, to meet some man, not narrow but broad in his views, and make sure that he really loves and adores you. Then it will be your jobs – and lifelong ones – to show him how that love is reciprocated in your affection for him, in never losing your temper and keeping him to you and always being reasonable with him. Then you will literally go through life hand in hand, shaping your sorrows (if any) and joys, like a laughing brook until life’s end. This is your father’s – and I hope every father’s – wish. I want to see you both married certainly to men congenial in temperament to you. You are now, perhaps at camp, making some friends to hold for many years. Remember that each true friend is like a precious jewel. Never, in life, because you have been blessed more than another, snub any one, but be kind and considerate of all…”

While at camp, Bea also receives a letter from her mother. Bertha advises, “Remember not to talk too much or too loud, and to be friendly but not to bore your associates by voiding all you ever think about. Only a mother can be interested in every little thing, and even the best of friends likes the other fellow to be quiet a while so he can think.”

Bertha's comments will, no doubt, amuse everyone who knows Bea. I guess she has always been a chatterbox.

Both Harry and Bertha had six siblings, so Bea grew up knowing extended family. I am struck by how close the clan was. Most of them lived nearby, in northern New Jersey. They got together in the summer at Green Pond.

In one photo, Bea stands with family. They all seem to be having a grand old time. Bea must be about 10 and wears a prominent bow in her hair. How strange to think that when she dies, since no one will remember any of these people, the photo will become simply a historical document of a lost time…


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