Sunday, February 19, 2012

Another February, Another Snowdrop . . .

Oh, la, it is that time of year again!  The snowdrops are peeping out of the ground at Darlington!

Their appearance is such a favorite seasonal marker for both Boy and me.  We are excited with joy and anticipation.

The bulbs have awakened, right on schedule.  

Photograph (taken not fifteen minutes ago) by Boy Fenwick

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Saint Grottlesex Made Me Who I Am Today

Reggie is a firm believer in the benefits of a college preparatory boarding school education.  He feels most fortunate to have attended boarding school himself, and he believes that the experience of having done so made him the man he is today.  He believes that he is a better person for it, and better off than he would have been had he remained at home during his high school years.

But probably not for the reasons that a number of his readers might assume . . .

One of the buildings at Saint Paul's School
Founded 1856

Reggie grew up in a family where attending boarding school was the expected educational path to college.  Both of his parents had attended such schools, as had their parents before them, and it was understood that he and his siblings would follow in their footsteps.  It was what people of our class and background did.

A view of Saint Mark's School
Founded 1865

Reggie is the youngest of four children.  As a boy he watched with both interest and ambivalence as his older sisters and brother left home before him to attend boarding school.  He found it interesting because they were embarking on a journey that he was expected to someday follow, and he was ambivalent because he (mostly) missed their company when they were gone.  Reggie also found them to be near strangers when they returned home during school breaks, as they were different from how he remembered them.  They had become more worldly.

Over time Reggie looked forward to leaving home to attend boarding school, too.  It seemed like an adventure to him and the opening to a whole new world on the way to adulthood.

An aerial view of Saint George's School
Founded 1896

By the time Reggie reached ninth grade he was the only one of the children in his family left living at home during the school year.  While he had at times as a boy wished that he had been an only child—for the reasons that many children do—he found that when it actually came time for him to be the only one at home with his parents it wasn't the idyllic, cozy experience he had daydreamed about.

For by then ours was a less-than-happy household.  My parents' marriage had sputtered into a loveless stalemate, and when they were around at the same time, which wasn't all that often, they were barely on speaking terms with each other.  They were exhausted in their relationship and self-absorbed in their own lives, and they weren't all that interested anymore in the demands of parenting.  It's not that they were overtly neglectful of me, it's just that they didn't have much time or attention left over for me.  I was pretty much left on my own to fend for myself.

The gothic chapel at Groton School
Founded 1884

It was a solitary and lonely existence for young Reggie, with little structure or direction.  And it was a particularly frustrating one for him, too, because he is, by nature, a social animal, and he loves being around other people and in the thick of things.  Reggie is most definitely not a loner.  He likes being at the party.

When the subject of my applying to boarding schools came up I was stunned to hear my father, FD, say that he didn't think it was necessary for me, and wouldn't I prefer to stay at home?  The prospect of spending the next three years alone at home with my remote and distracted parents and attending the suburban country day school I was going to at the time was appalling to me!  So I mounted a concerted campaign to turn the tide.  I was determined to get the Hell out of Dodge and get on with my life, and I saw going away to boarding school as my ticket for doing so.

A view of a dormitory (or "house") at Middlesex School
Founded 1901

Through incessant cajoling, unbecoming near-tantrums, and never-ending churlish, surly behavior on my part I was able to convince my parents that it would be far better to get me out of the house and that everyone would be happier with me away at boarding school.  While I didn't get into Exeter, which was my first choice and where my brother, Frecky, had gone before me, and I was waitlisted at Hotchkiss, where FD had gone, I was admitted by a number of what my father rather snidely referred to at the time as "the lesser boarding schools," including one of the Saint Grottlesex schools.

I didn't get in to Exeter, much to my regret at the time

For those of my readers who may not be familiar with the term, Saint Grottlesex refers to a group of five college preparatory boarding schools established in New England in the latter half of the nineteenth century, all affiliated with the Episcopal Church.  The schools are Saint Paul's, Saint Mark's, Saint George's, Groton, and Middlesex—collectively known as Saint Grottlesex.  Which one of them I attended doesn't really matter, but what does matter, at least for me, is that when I arrived there I found myself, much to my relief, and then joy, in an environment where I now had boundaries that made sense to me, where there was a definite routine I had to follow—whether I cared to or not—where I was challenged intellectually, academically, athletically, and socially, and where hard work and determination to succeed were actually recognized and rewarded by those in a position of authority.  It also provided me with a religious education and framework grounded in the protestant Episcopal church that has been a sustaining force in my life ever since.  All pretty good stuff, indeed.

I didn't get in to Hotchkiss, either

Another aspect of boarding school that I benefitted from is that it was (at the time, at least) a sink or swim environment where there was no mollycoddling of the students, who were expected to get with the program, and where slacking off was not tolerated.  Saint Grottlesex wasn't exactly a cold-shower-and-fifty-pushups-before-breakfast kind of school, but it was a rigorous enough place where one was expected to learn and abide by the school's social, academic, and athletic codes and hierarchies.  I quickly realized upon my arrival that I had entered a whole new league and that I needed to rapidly acclimate myself to the rhythms of the place or I would find myself sitting on the sidelines, which is where I most decidedly did not want to be.  Fortunately, through a combination of hard work, perseverance, and the helpful mentoring of one or two of the school's admirable schoolmasters (that's what they called the teachers there), I was able to learn and master the skills I needed to successfully navigate Saint Grottlesex's highways and byways.  I emerged from its halls a better disciplined, better adjusted, and far better socialized person than I would have been had I not gone there.

Some of my readers may have assumed at the outset of this post that I was going to write that I most appreciated going to boarding school because it provided me with entrée to an elite and socially advancing world and paved the way for my Ivy League education and a career on Wall Street.  While I will admit that these may, in some cases, be pleasant side benefits of such an education and experience, it is most decidedly not why I am most grateful for having gone to boarding school.  No, it is because attending Saint Grottlesex was a lifeline to me—as it was to many of my schoolmates who also came from less-than-happy homes.  It freed me from a difficult and horizon-limiting situation at home and gave me the framework, support, and tools for managing my life's journey that I was not getting from my parents or at the school I was attending when I lived with them, and that I desperately hungered for at a vulnerable and formative time in my life.

And for that I am most fortunate and grateful.

All vintage postcards, with the exception of the ones of Saint Mark's School and Hotchkiss School, courtesy of; Saint Mark's and Hotchkiss postcards courtesy of USGenWeb Archives

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Reggie Review: Super Bowl XLVI

Last evening Boy and I decided to watch this year's Super Bowl.

Yes, Dear Reader, you read that correctly.

Although neither of us is what I would call a football fan, we are both appreciators of popular culture, and since one in three Americans watches the Super Bowl, we decided to get off our high horses this year and join the fray (for the first time in many years) and see what it was all about.

Here are my observations:

(1) Not one of the professional ball players or coaches appeared to actually know the words to the National Anthem, and at best mumbled along to it, slack-jawed, if they even bothered to make any pretense of singing it at all.

Kelly Clarkson sang a rousing rendition of the National Anthem

This is an outrage!  If I were the coach of a football team (the very concept of which is so alien to me that I can't believe I'm even writing a sentence that begins with such words), I would order my players to learn the words to the anthem by heart (as every American should), and I would demand that they sing it loudly and with fervor at the opening of every game.  No exceptions!  Are you too cool to sing the National Anthem with feeling and reverence?  Then get off my team, Buster!

(2) The coaches were shockingly under-dressed.

If I were a coach I wouldn't even consider not dressing appropriately and respectfully for the Super Bowl, the pinnacle of the football season, and for me that means—at minimum—wearing a jacket and a tie, if not a suit and a tie.  And if I were one of the owners of a team playing in the Super Bowl, then you can believe me that I would require my coaching staff—from the head coach on down to the water boy—to, at the very least, wear jackets and ties.

The Patriot's Head Coach—I've seen people better dressed at airports!

The hoodies and nylon parkas I saw worn by the 50+ and 60+ year old head coaches during yesterday's Super Bowl, not to mention their constant spitting of phlegm during the game, was appalling.  You have an image to keep up, Gentlemen, and you have an example to set.  Show some respect!

At least the Giants' Head Coach was wearing a parka with a collar

(3) The game itself was dull and over-televised with too many cuts between camera takes, making the action (what little there was of it) difficult to follow.  As far as I could tell, it was little more than too many multiple instant replays of boring, incomplete maneuvers.  The game appeared to be mostly spent devoted to time-outs focused on fellows bumbling and milling about separated by further time-outs, at a rate of one every six to twelve seconds.  Yes, there were some interesting moments in the game, but they were few and far between.

"Can we talk about this, again?"

(4) I have to hand it to Madonna. She really rocked the stadium at half time and was a lot better than I expected.  She put on a fantastic show.  Thank god it wasn't something awful, like Mötley Crüe.

What a spectacle!  Miss Ciccone may not be quite as young or limber as she once was (and who is?), but she's a real hoofer and did some remarkable moves that people half her age would find daunting.  My hat goes off to her.

(5) The ads, which are often the highlight of the Super Bowl for many, were mostly clever-ish, but nothing to write home about as these things go.  I did like the Budweiser ad that showed the time warp of celebrations from the end of Prohibition to Brooklyn raves, which was fun and rather sexy.  Otherwise, would the Agencies responsible for coming up with Super Bowl ads please lose the focus groups, who are sucking most of the originally out of them?

A scene from the Budweiser ad that I liked

(6) Thank Goodness we taped Downton Abbey to watch afterwards.  So delicious and gorgeous to look at—even though it is devolving into soap-opera territory.  What a civilized alternative it was to the rather dull four hours we spent trapped in the relative purgatory of Super Bowl Sunday beforehand.

Tell me, Dear Reader, did you watch the Super Bowl, and if so what did you make of it?

All images taken from Google Images

Saturday, February 4, 2012


A month beyond which the Darlington Christmas tree is traditionally denuded and disposed of, its baubles secreted away in the cellar, Boy only this evening before cocktails broke down the set.  Yes, Dear Reader, our ornament-covered Christmas tree was up until just today.

We stayed in town the past several weekends enjoying the pleasures of City Living and the absence of Country Chores.  We were unconcerned about leaving our tree up at Darlington House, unattended, as this Christmas was the first in thirteen years that we did not set up a real tree that we sawed down in the woods.  As you may recall, this season we had an old-fashioned feather tree from Bunny Williams' wonderful shop, Treillage.  No watering required, and no worries about arriving at Darlington House after our extended absence to find a neglected, dessicated, tinder-box of a tree.

Even so, upon arriving this afternoon, we agreed that it was imperative that the tree be taken down immediately. 

Boy then made quick work of unhooking the more than two hundred ornaments hung on the tree and sorting them, by color and form, safely on a bath towel on the dining room table.  That will make the task—to be done tomorrow morning—of placing them in their correct, color-organized storage containers most efficient.

Although we were privately mortified to have had our tree up for so many weeks beyond the start of the New Year, we took pleasure in having one last luncheon this afternoon under its glittering magic.

Tell me, Dear Reader, do you have a strict timetable for making your Christmas tree vanish?

Photograph by Boy Fenwick

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Saucer of the Week: French Cornflowers

Bear with me, Dear Reader.  I promise that I will stop writing exclusively about ceramics.  But humor me, please, and let me share with you but one more ceramics post before I move on to more interesting topics.. . .

Here goes:

Many years ago, when I was in my twenties, I spent several memorable days in Charleston, South Carolina, in the company of my dear friend George Pinckney, a southern gentleman if there ever was one.  At that time, George and I were more than "just friends," and our visit to Charleston—a city he spent much time in as a boy—was a honeyed journey down the memory lane of George's then recent youth. It was a place he took pleasure in showing me, when we were callow young men starting out in the world.  I remember the trip with great fondness and pleasure.

A French porcelain cornflower-decorated saucer, ca. 1780s
Photograph by Boy Fenwick

During our visit to Charleston, George and I came across an old-fashioned antiques shop of the kind that is rarely seen anymore today.  It was a shop devoid of decorators' tricks or furbulows, and the interior was an unadorned, whitewashed shell containing the owner's wares on display for sale.  That's it.  It was all about the goods.  The shop was owned by a woman who seemed positively ancient to me at the time, probably then in her late seventies, a contemporary then of my grandparents.  Today she would be a contemporary of my parents, if they were still alive.  My how time flies.

A botanical print of a cornflower, ca. 1895
Image courtesy of Vintage Collectibles

In the shop I was captivated by a fine porcelain saucer, decorated with blue cornflowers, to which I had a visceral I-must-have-this reaction.  I learned from the dealer that it was probably French, dated from the late eighteenth century, and was in a pattern that was supposedly a favorite of Marie-Antoinette.  The saucer's marked price was well beyond my pocketbook at the time.  The dealer, however, graciously offered the ceramic bit to me at half the asking price, for—as she said—she recognized in me someone who had the potential to become a collector, and she wanted to encourage such an inclination.  So I bought it, and I was thrilled to have it, as I have been ever since.  It is one of my treasures to this day.

A similarly decorated bowl in the collection
of the Victoria and Albert Museum
Image courtesy of same

It is my understanding that Marie-Antoinette was responsible for the popularity of cornflower-decorated china, which became all the rage when the doomed Queen commissioned a service of it from Sèvres in the early 1780s.  It has been popular ever since, as can be seen in the following photograph:
A cornflower-decorated Corning Pyrocerama® casserole, ca. 1970
in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum
Image courtesy of same

I ask you, Dear Reader, to keep in mind the influence that you have on others who are younger and more impecunious than you, and I implore you to share your passions with them, as the Charleston antiques dealer did with me thirty years ago.  For, if appreciation for such objects is to continue beyond the madness of our times, it requires that we pass the flame of ardor for such things along to those who can carry it forward, when we are gone.  Not as a labor, mind you, but rather on the wings of love.  We are all but stewards of our possessions, and good fortune and responsibility come with them hand in hand.  It is our duty to ensure that they be well cared for during but the whisper of time we are fortunate to own them, before we pass them along to the next generation.

Tell me, have you engaged a younger person in discussions of your collections yet?  It is well worth it, I believe.
Related Posts with Thumbnails