After the long and ultimately successful involvement with “The Sound of Music” we decided to take a few days in a warm place.
To tell the truth, I don’t much like Florida once I gave up sun worship, but I’d heard that St. Augustine is an interesting historical place – the oldest city in America. And interesting it is, though I’m glad I don’t have to pass a test on who controlled it when – the Spanish, the French, The British, the Spanish again? If you really want to know, I recommend googling it.
The first news, though, is that we hit it during a cold spell so I wore my warm Minnesota coat all four days we were there. This photo of a restaurant inviting people in to get warm tells the story. I’ll bet more often that sign says “Cool inside.”
And Old? Well, there’s the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the U.S.
And the colonial village with it’s quick run-through of years of history.
And the guide who made it so entertaining
The first thing to see is the fort that once protected the town. I caught Doug looking down as he began is walk on the ramparts.
Perhaps the most outstanding is the wealth that contributed to the town’s development. Once there were two extremely luxurious hotels for the 1% of the time, complete with every amenity one could imagine. Now the first of those hotels, built by Mr. Flagler, is a liberal arts school.
Across the street is the other hotel, now the Lightner museum. We started at the third floor ballroom which overlooks what was once the swimming pool. (women limited to the shallow end.) It is now the cafe where we had lunch after enjoying this really eclectic place.
We particularly enjoyed the display of old music makers. Wonderful sounds and sights.
The tour of the Ximenez-Fatio boarding house was an interesting look into the past. The rooms were made up as they would have been for some of the people who lived there. It wasn’t a quick stop-over place. People made their homes there. One room, for example, was furnished as it would have been for the doctor who lived there. It was also a reminder of how much freer single women were at the time to pursue financial goals, but limited in the businesses they could develop — especially boarding houses.
Just wandering the streets evoked feelings of the past.
And just plain interesting things, like this gentleman playing the Australian Didgeridoo, accompanied by his amazing calm, cool, collected dog companion.
Especially welcoming was the Penny-Farthing Inn where we were treated like invited family in a beautiful 1880s atmosphere.
with its lovely breakfast area. The hostess inquired about food preferences. When she learned I don’t eat bread products, she prepared scrambled eggs and sausage for me, while Doug had such goodies as Banana French toast. Really well cared for.
If you are wondering — yes, the Penny-Farthing Inn is a delightful place to stay. I guess we weren’t the only ones who felt that way. The rooms were full when we were there.
We also had three great restaurant experiences, like:
the A1A Brewing Company where I enjoyed a perfect shrimp cocktail and wine while Doug had a tuna steak sandwich. He said it was perfect.
the Collage Restaurant, reportedly the best in town, where we celebrated Doug’s birthday with perfect service and food.
The Black Fly where Doug enjoyed a rather huge pizza. I could have had a cheaper meal than I got, but, limited by the fact that I don’t eat bread products. I had a great fish meal. In fact, it was fresh caught fish in all three places.
It began at Thanksgiving time with starting to memorize the Latin words for the many lovely chants and songs offered by the nun’s chorus. The music for the nun’s quartet was easier — in English.
It went on with weeks filled with rehearsals, of which there were even a couple of cancellations because the weather was so bad — even for Minnesota! Mostly, though, the show had to go on no matter how bad the storm and the cold.
It was over with the final performance on Sunday, March 2, 2014.
So here for you to see — some photos of the people involved.
First, the nun’s chorus, against the backdrop of the elegant set.
And the children’s chorus. I’ve been told they hated to see it end, having become a very close “family.”
And Edelweiss. Many year’s ago when my son in Junior High performed the role of the Captain, my father “cried three handkerchiefs worth.” I understand people in this audience teared up too. The song is so touching for people who have left their homelands behind, and even for those who haven’t.
Sister Berthe, Mother Abbess, and Sister Margaretta
The Nun’s Quartet in action, discussing Maria’s suitability for the Abbey.
Sister Margaretta and Sister Berthe, with a little slice of Mother Abbess on the side
And then the finale in rehearsal
Things are getting back to order bit by bit here after the time from Thanksgiving until last weekend was dedicated mostly to preparation for “The Sound of Music.” It was really well received. Some people came a second time because they enjoyed it so much the first time. We had sold out houses and nearly-sold-out houses, with praises still coming in.
Yesterday, in a whole different vein, I did a presentation on “The Function of Punishment” at the Community Center. Today is busy with other stuff. Tomorrow I can’t postpone it any longer — I have to pull together my income tax information. But now I want to share some photos of the set. I promise photos of the nuns, etc., will follow.
Here’s the whole thing, constructed in the sanctuary of Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Excelsior. That’s why you see the stained glass windows in the background, basically incorporated into Doug’s set. (Remember you can enlarge the photo by clicking on it.)
Turn the Gazebo around and light the photo of the interior of the Salzburg Cathedral above and you have the abbey where Sisters Margaretta, Sophia, and Berte hang out with the Mother Abbess. (I’ll have photos of them in a later blog.)
Turn the altar around again and you have the gazebo in the garden with a shot of the Salzburg alps in the background.
And finally the bedroom side of the set.
In a half hour I’ll be heading off for the last performance of “The Sound of Music,” promising to post some photos in the next few days. But today I want you to enjoy the fun talent of Thelma, my MFA sister. (i.e., she has a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing.) I love what she writes, and I hope you will also enjoy this little bit of reality-based fiction from a Connecticut suburb in 1926.
I hope for comments I can share with her (which she can see when she reads my blog.) I’m not generally too good at getting reactions to what I post, but I know she would love some feedback on this little gem. Maybe I’ll be more successful this time.
(Some of you may feel echoes of Garrison Keillor in this visit to “Aunt Ellen’s.”)
Off to Aunt Ellen’s
The adventures began in the year 1926 when their father unexpectedly brought home their first automobile, a brand new four-door Overland sedan. Resplendently gray, the square box-like coach rode high above the narrow wheels. The running boards, flat roof and narrow protective metal awning over the perpendicular windshield were in accenting black, an elegant au-courant vehicle. Inside, a braided silk rope hung across the back of the front seat for a snuggling blanket to warm legs in cooler weather. Like others of its generation, it was a fair weather car. When frost threatened, up it went on blocks, drained of oil and gasoline, and the family went back to walking again, until spring. They drove this car for eleven years, while four-year-old Megan went from a little girl to a teen, her brother Ralph from a little boy who insisted on his window to a young man, the family grew from four to five, and the country slid from The Roaring twenties into the Great Depression of the thirties—until it became “the old Overland,” too decrepit to drive.
All but one of Megan’s mother’s five sisters had settled in the small Connecticut town where they had grown up. Only Aunt Ellen had moved away –to Wolcott and become an unreal fairy tale aunt to Megan. (She and her father were up-to-date on fairy tales, some of which he made up just for her.) Aunt Ellen lived on a farm, like the ones in her picture books. She was the only person in Megan’s life who lived far away. The day her father brought home the car, while they were still in the driveway admiring the new machine, she began to wheedle and beg for a trip to Aunt Ellen’s. That made her father smile and wink at her mother. “That settles it, Caroline.” He knew how badly she wanted to visit her oldest sister, enough older to be her mother. “Let me have this week to get used to the car. This is new to me, too, little girl. And the next Sunday afternoon, we’ll surprise Aunt Ellen and Uncle Henry.” When Daddy called her “little girl,” Megan knew she had to stop fussing and be content.
Her mother knew how impossible it would be to ask her little girl to wait eleven days for this red-letter day. It would match the tension of waiting for Christmas. She riffled through the papers on her desk until she found an extra calendar, marked the special Sunday with a star, and showed Megan how to follow the number each day by putting an X in its box. Then Caroline settled at the kitchen table to do her own thinking about this extraordinary Sunday with the new Overland.
Over time it had become a tradition among Caroline’s relatives to drop in on each other Sunday afternoons for a visit that always ended in an invitation to stay for supper. The choreography for this dance was as confusing as a Grand March. But somehow, it worked, and it was part of each Saturday morning to prepare a light meal “just in case.” Aunt Ellen being so far away, was not part of this ballet. She might not spend Saturday morning preparing for them. Caroline made notes that would metamorphose into a chicken casserole and a peach pie (if the peaches were good) to carry to Ellen’s.
Megan had finished her X’s. Daddy had wrapped the casserole in heavy layers of newspaper to insulate it as well as the pie to keep it from spilling. Ralph, who considered himself too old to admit he was thrilled, carried them to the car, and settled them on the floor of the back seat between him and Megan, whose short legs stuck straight out on the seat. Their parents in a flurry of worry, each checked twice to be sure the house was locked before stepping gingerly on the running boards and getting into the car. “No fighting back there. I have to concentrate on driving. This car goes twenty-five miles an hour.” And they were off to Aunt Ellen’s.
When they reached the turn off to Wolcott, the muddy stretch through the woods looked more like a cow path than a street. The Overland’s narrow wheels found their purchase in two parallel, dug in ruts, and with Daddy grasping the wheel tightly to keep the car steady, they flew along at this amazing new speed. Until Mother cried, “Charles, there’s another car coming right at us. There’s only room for one. The children! What are you going to do?” When the oncoming car kept moving, Daddy rolled down his window, stuck his head out so he could see, and backed inch by inch the way they had come, forcing the wheels to stay in their narrow lanes until he found an open field, where he pulled the car off “the street.”
“That was pretty chancey. Caroline, I’ll admit.” Charles leaned over with a quick kiss to restore her confidence. The man who was driving tipped his hat as he passed. They had their first adventure before they even reached Aunt Ellen’s.
When they did arrive, they brought chatter, all around. From the kitchen, Aunt Ellen saw them drive up. Rushing out to greet them, she pulled her little sister into a warm embrace. “Land sakes, I’m glad to see you, Caroline.” She hugged Megan, who moved closer to her mother. Ellen shook hands with Daddy. “And a new car, Charles?
What a special day! Do come in. Henry’s in the barn, but he’ll be in soon.”
Once inside, Megan was a little braver. She looked around at this “fairy tale” house. She whispered to her mother, “What is that big thing in the sink?”
“It’s a hand pump.” Aunt Ellen heard and answered her. “The hired man made it for me so I wouldn’t have to go outside to the well to carry in water.”
“We don’t have one of those,” Megan marveled. “We don’t have a well either.”
“We live in the country.” Aunt Ellen explained. “We don’t get city water. You have shiny faucets you can turn on to wash you hands. Would you like to try it?”
Aunt Ellen hoisted her up, but though she tried and tried, she couldn’t make the heavy handle move.
Just then, Henry came in, wearing overalls with suspenders, like the farmer in Megan’s book, to say hello and to shake hands with Charles. Her eyes bright, she told him, “You look like my farmer. Can we go see the cows? Where is the barn? Do you have chickens? My farmer book has chickens.”
“Whoa, Megan. Uncle Henry isn’t used to curious little girls,” her father interrupted.
Uncle Henry chuckled. “Let’s you and I show Megan around the property and leave the girls to catch up.”
When the boys had returned to the house, Ralph talking non-stop about driving, the men and Megan, too, who was excited and tired after seeing and petting real animals, Aunt Ellen made the first move in the familiar ballet. “Won’t you stay for supper?”
It was Caroline’s turn to say, “Thank you. It it’s not too much trouble?” But the finale belonged to Charles when he went to the car to bring in the casserole and pie Mother had prepared in expectation of this invitation.
When supper was over, the grown-ups relaxed and the children sleepy, Daddy said, ‘We need to go while it is still light. Or the path through the woods will be too dark for our headlights.
Mother and Aunt Ellen washed the casserole dish and pie plate to use for the next adventure. Megan and Ralph settled in the back seat of the Overland, their parents in the front.
“So good of you, Charles, to bring them to see us. Caroline, come again soon.” Aunt Ellen waved them goodbye.
Daddy eased into the by-now-familiar two tracks for the car, drove through the woods without meeting another car all the way home. As they reached their street, a happy Caroline mused, “Isn’t this car amazing, Charles. All the places we can go. What an unbelievable world we’re passing on to our children.”