14 June 2011

a family gathering


(enlarge this to see the photographs in detail)

There are recognizable faces to readers of this page- the great lady, Nancy Astor, her niece, one of our favorites, Nancy Lancaster, along with the famous Langhorne Sisters drawn by John Singer Sargent.

I love these sorts of walls-this one in the dining area of Elizabeth Winn's London flat. The flat was photographed for  The Englishwoman's House-a book published in 1984.  Elizabeth Winn- Nancy Astor's great niece wrote the piece about her home for the edition and of  this photograph she says- The walls are "plastered with black and white photographs of my family past and present, which makes it very nostalgic for me." Not mentioning her famous connections, Winn shares one of the intimate spots in her house that must have been a great joy and perhaps a bitter sweet one too. Images of  loved ones past- loved and along with them the up and coming-much to love- generation that will carry on the name, the stories, the photographs. I don't know if the wall still exists or if the family photographs have been broken up and passed along to the next generation in Winn's family.  It really doesn't matter. Doesn't that wall exists for us all somewhere?

I well remember a room with polished log walls where my great grandmother slept. It became the room where she could usually be found when I went out for visits.
She wasn't holding court as some might think-rather she was holding a place for all her loved ones -many scattered away from home- in that room.

The screen door to the log house-always open-the doors always unlocked. Come in.

Step onto a long enclosed porch where every variety of plant & seedling was lined up along a shelf that ran across the length of window. Just beyond that shelf-the bathroom, an addition at some time in the house's history-when I don't know-for once upon a time a privy had existed out on the grounds just beyond the house.

From the porch to the kitchen, I enter & am accosted by the fragrant odors of baking pies, cakes, always baking. Lots of baking was done there, someone-one of four of my great aunts always seemed to be baking.

From the kitchen and on to the bedroom where MaMa is keeping  faith with her memories.

There- in the room along with bed and sofa and chair-is the Family.
There in that room "plastered" everywhere are the images of her daughters and her son-my grandfather.
From that generation to the next-there are the grandchildren- my father and the other grandchildren added to the logs .
My parents wedding portrait hanging amidst all these photographs.
Onward to the great grandchildren- my own generation and forward. Mama is keeping faith with the family by adding pictures of every sort-with many spilling out onto her mantle.
Often-if she is not sleeping, I might ask for a story from her or my father or mother about one of the pictures-

"Now who was that? "

"MaMa is that you? "

"Where is my picture?"

"Was  I born when that picture was taken?"

"Now how am I kin to them, Daddie?"

Hearing and hoping to remember that strand of our story so on my next visit I can share it with her- and so on from there to the next.
It's my story.
It is all a memory of course-
The wall is gone-long gone-as is the  house- as it was known to our family.
There is a private family cemetery where so many gather together again- but for me- it is that wall that I think of and remember.
It's my story and I think of it and often I dip back to those days-
the stories
the Family
and that wall.

(photograph by Derry Moore are from The Englishwoman's House)



  1. Walls and memories. My Aunt May kept the "family wall" and "the family" together until her death at 105. I miss her terribly as she was the glue to my life. Thanks for inspiring happy memories. Mary

  2. That is, quite simply, my favorite post I have ever read on any blog on the internet since i found the internet!! Because it is so sentimental in so many ways. And so useful; practical, and achievable for anyone.

    And I mean that!
    You very succinctly described what matters to me the most! (and all will agree succinct is not my forte)

    What a gift such a "wall" is for people to know about their "ancestors"..(the people in their families who came before them)

    .....and we all should provide this information for our descendants. OUr descendants will be interested in us; and those who came before!! (And in case they're not.......delete......is always an option!

    email doesn't do it. printed out photos.......(digital works) of family members.........on a "portable wall" (I say that so it can move out of the house....)!


    How lucky your great-grandmother was to have YOU!! So curious..and interested........and you sought her out.........and now for you to deliver this gift to all of us how to preserve our background relatives! and people who have meant so much to successive generations!
    so great!!!!

    I give you the Academy Award!

    I think you have made a huge contribution!


    "Family"......whether blood or adopted or fostered or emotionally connected is the most important part of my life......

    What a wonderful example you gave us all.....that we can all copy in one way or another!

    Thank you for that treasure!!!


    thank you so much for that post! I have seven grandchildren........now I will have things for their children to see long after I am gone!!

  3. I hate to correct you--but I think that book is by Alivilde Lees-Milne. I have that book at home and it is absolutely one of my favorites of all time. Lees-Milne lived an interesting life, too. One of my favorite posts of all was the one you included on the dowager Duchess of Devonshire's current home. Is there a more perfect room/hallway? In the book, "The Englishwoman's House," the Duchess is also featured. Of course, she was the duchess at that point--yet she says, quote, "I'll be expected to leave--pronto."

  4. Mary and Penelope- Nothing is more important than family, nothing.

    Mrs. Olsen, don't ever hesitate to keep the record straight. The Duchess of Devonshire's house is charming and what is wonderful about her- she felt comfortable in the finest of places. You are so right the book was written by ALM and while I did not cite her- I did cite the photographer-Derry Moore. My wording was the awkward confusion there and I've changed it to clarify. thanks, Gaye

  5. Oh! I just happened upon this again!

    I am quite proud of what I said....and I agree with it!

    that is always a good sign when one is aging!!


    You are the BEST!!!



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