Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Abortionist in the Basement, Part II

Woodward & Lothrop & Trouble

When MD arrived at the police station she had no idea what she would find.  What could Marta have done?

MD approached the desk.  "Good afternoon.  I am Mrs. Darling.  I received a call that my maid Marta has been arrested for heaven-knows-what and that I should come to the station and get her.  Do you know what this is about?"

The flagship Woodward & Lothrop department store
in downtown Washington, D.C.
Affectionately known as "Woodie's"

MD was ushered into a small office where she was asked to wait.

Several minutes later a man entered the room and introduced himself as Detective Stuart.

"Mrs. Darling, thank you for coming to the station today.  I'm very sorry for this inconvenience.  Do you have a woman by the name of Marta in your employ?"

"Yes, I do, detective.  She is one of my maids.  What has she done?  What is this about?"

"Well, I'm afraid we picked your girl up shoplifting at Woodie's.  She was helping herself to some of the merchandise.  She had quite a stash of it, too, in fact."

"Oh, dear!"  MD said.

"Mrs. Darling," the detective continued, "how long has this Marta been in your employ?  Do you know her well?"

"Marta has worked for me for six months or so.  I'm really quite surprised that she's been arrested for shoplifting.  I haven't had any trouble with her to speak of and, as far as I can tell, she's honest.  I'm very surprised about all of this."

"Mrs. Darling, do you know how long your Marta has been here in the States?"

"I think maybe a year or two.  Why do you ask?"

"Well, we find these girls who come up from south of the border just aren't accustomed to life how we live it here.  Most of them are from small towns in the country, and the shops they have there, well, everything's under glass, so no sticky fingers can get to it.  These girls get here and go into the big department stores and they just can't help themselves.  Well, they help themselves, that's right, to what's spread out on the counters.  That's what happened here, I think, with your girl Marta."

"I see."

A postcard of the main floor of Woodward & Lothrop at Christmas,
ca. 1964, around the time Marta was picked up there for helping herself

"Now, Mrs. Darling, your little Marta doesn't strike me as a bad girl, and she's been scared out of her wits by all this.  She's been crying like a baby for the past couple hours.  She's all shook up."

"I would imagine she is, Detective Stuart."

"Here's what I propose to you, Mrs. Darling.  I'm prepared to let her off this time, and so is Woodie's.  But before we do, Mrs. Darling, I'm going to give Marta a real talking-to, and I'm going to scare the daylights out of her about what could happen if she gets caught again helping herself to something she has no right to.  She'll get the message loud and clear, believe you me.  I'd like you to sit in on this conversation, Mrs. Darling, so you know what I'm saying to her, and so she can watch you hearing it, too.  And if that's okay with you, Mrs. Darling, I'll let you take her home with you afterwards, and we'll let the matter drop, so long as she doesn't get caught again, which I hope she won't.  What do you say to that plan, Mrs. Darling?"

"I believe it is one, Detective.  Thank you."

And so Marta got a talking-to by Detective Stuart about the perils of shoplifting and what happens to the bad girls who do it here in America—particularly those who get caught doing it more than once.  And, true to his words, he did "scare the daylights" out of poor Marta, who sat in a chair in his office, blubbering with fear and remorse.

Afterwards, in the car, Marta tearfully promised MD that she would never, ever shoplift again, and she pleaded with my mother to give her another chance.

"It's all right, Marta," my mother said. "I'm not going to turn you out for this.  But you must promise me that it really will never happen again.  Do I have your word?"

"Yes, Señora, I promise," Marta said, crossing herself. "You have my word in the name of La Santa María!"

"Okay, Marta, I believe you—you don't have to get carried away about it . . .  Now, for more pressing matters: What are we going to do about dinner tonight?  It's late, and Mr. Darling will be home in only half an hour.  We had better be ready!"

With her reprieve in hand, Marta was on very good behavior for the next several months.  There was not one bit of trouble to be had with her.

That is, until her gentleman-friend returned to the scene . . .

Next: Hello, Big Daddy!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Abortionist in the Basement, Part I

Morning Coffee

One of the interesting things about growing up in a house where there was staff, as Reggie did, was the relationship that one developed (or didn't) with the individuals so employed.  As I have written before, there were times in my boyhood that I spent more of my hours in the company of the Annas, Ninahs, and Henrys in my parents' service than I did with my own mother and father.  I'm not complaining, mind you, Dear Reader.  I'm merely stating a fact.

Just as today it is difficult to find and retain reliable household help, so it was in the early 1960s when my mother, MD, was responsible for staffing and running the various houses among which we divided our time.

MD was always on the lookout for a good maid.

One day, when speaking with one of our neighbors in Washington, D.C., MD learned that a maid at the Guatemalan Embassy was looking for a live-in position in domestic employment.  Apparently she wanted to leave the embassy because the hours were long and the wages were low.  She could be had at a very attractive rate.  MD jumped at the opportunity to hire a maid who was trained at a level of service expected in a Washington embassy.  And so into our lives came Marta.

Today's Embassy of the Republic of Guatemala in Washington, D.C.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Our house in Cleveland Park was a commodious, rambling structure that contained several servants' rooms.  One of those rooms was in the basement, with its own separate entrance, as our house was built into the side of a hill.  This afforded whoever lived in the room a degree of privacy that she would not have otherwise had, as she was free to come and go without disturbing the upstairs occupants.  It was in this room that Marta came to live.

Our house in the Cleveland Park neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
The door to Marta's room can be glimpsed in the
bottom right corner of the photograph, under the plate glass windows.
(Note: Young Reggie is pictured standing, to the left, next to the
front steps, possibly on a very early PDA.)
Photograph likely taken by MD around the time Marta came to live with us

Marta quickly made herself indispensable.  She was a diligent worker.  She cooked and cleaned like a dervish, served at table beautifully, and had a good nature and jolly sense of humor.  First thing every morning, Marta cooked and fed a hot beakfast to me, my siblings, and my father.  She then walked me and my sister Hermione the three blocks to our nearby school, Beauvoir.  After the return walk, Marta would wake my mother by bringing her a cup of hot coffee and the morning newspapers—to consume while propped up in bed—before MD would rise for the day.

MD, who was not a "morning person" (to put it mildly), was in Heaven!

Not long after Marta entered our employ, she asked MD if she could bring her teenage daughter, Telma, from Guatemala to live with us.  A month later Telma arrived and moved in with her mother.  Telma was probably thirteen or fourteen at the time, only spoke a few words of English, and was soon enrolled at the nearby public school.  She was a nice, well-mannered girl.  After school and on weekends Telma helped her mother about the house, where she quickly made herself a happy fixture.

It all seemed too good to be true!

And—as it turned out—Dear Reader, it was . . .

Several weeks later my mother received a telephone call from one of the neighborhood ladies.  The woman called to ask MD if she was aware that a large, black Cadillac limousine was routinely parked overnight on the side street next to our house.  Did MD know that a man would emerge early most mornings from the basement door of our house and drive away in the car?

MD was flabbergasted.  She had no idea what this caller was talking about.  But that's not all that surprising, Dear Reader, since she usually didn't rise much before nine in the morning anymore, given her morning coffee-and-newspaper-in-bed routine made possible by the oh-so-helpful Marta.

The next morning MD asked Marta about the neighbor's inquiries.

After a certain amount of hemming and hawing, Marta admitted that she was, in fact, seeing a man who worked at the Ecuadorean Embassy as a chauffeur, and that he would "occasionally" visit her at our house, but never during the working day, and only for a several hours at a time, and certainly never overnight.

"But Marta," MD asked, "why is it that Mrs. Westerfield said that she sees a man leaving your room through the door almost every morning?"

"It is not true, Señora.  I would never allow such a thing.  I am a good woman!"

"Well, Marta, I was concerned when I heard this, particularly since Telma is living with you downstairs.  And for now I will take your word for it.  But, please, Marta, I don't want to hear any such stories again.  Am I very clear on this?"

"Yes, Señora, you have my word."

And for the next several weeks the limousine was no longer seen parked on the side street next to our house.  All was quiet and in good order.

That is, until my mother received a telephone call one afternoon from the police with the news that Marta had been arrested.  Would my mother please come to the station and bail her out?

Next: Woodward & Lothrop & Trouble . . .

Thursday, August 23, 2012

My Sophia Loren Story

Well, actually, it is not my Sophia Loren story, but rather my Grandfather Darling's story of a chance encounter with the beautiful and talented actress.

Sophia Loren in 1958
Publicity still for "Houseboat" released that year
Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

In 1958 my grandfather retired from a long and satisfying career as the minister of a large and robust protestant congregation in Grosse Pointe, Michigan.  As a retirement gift the church gave him and my grandmother a six-week, all-expenses-paid vacation in Europe that included round-trip first-class passage on the S.S. United States, the fastest and most luxurious American ocean liner on the seas at the time.

The S.S. United States (bottom) and its sister ship, the S.S. America (top),
passing each other in New York Harbor in the 1950s
Image courtesy of City Noise

The S.S. United States' passenger list included a number of notables during my grandparents' voyages, including the young actress Sophia Loren on the outbound trip from New York.  In 1958 Miss Loren had already become a glittering superstar.  Her presence on the ship created a sensation among the passengers and crew.

Sophia Loren in 1958
Publicity still for "Houseboat"
Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

One afternoon, while my grandfather was strolling the liner's decks, he paused at the railing to gaze out over the Atlantic Ocean.  As he stood there he reflected on his life leading up to the voyage and how fortunate he felt to be standing there, looking out to sea and forward to his retirement.

Grandfather Darling in 1956
Photographed for the Detroit Free Press
Image courtesy of GSL

My grandfather became aware of the presence of a woman standing near him, also gazing out at the ocean.  He turned to look at her and she turned to meet his gaze, and smiled.  It was Sophia Loren.

"How beautiful it is to see the sea like this, is it not?" she asked him.

"Yes it is," he responded, "it is lovely."

"We are fortunate, no?"

"There are none so fortunate as I, Miss Loren," my grandfather answered, "to have the pleasure of sharing this view at this moment with a lady as beautiful as you."

Sophia Loren in 1958
Publicity still for "Houseboat"
Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

She laughed, touched his arm, and said, "You are too kind, thank you."

He responded, "Thank you, Miss Loren, you have made this old man's day."

She smiled again, turned, and started to walk away.  As she did so she looked back at him, smiled once more, and said, "No, sir, it is you who have made mine.  Thank you."

My grandfather told me this charming story one day over lunch when I was a teenager.  I had completely forgotten it until only several months ago, when I had lunch with a cousin of mine who reminded me of it.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Saucer of the Week: English Transferware

Well, Dear Reader, it has been a very long time since I last posted a "Saucer of the Week" post.  In  fact, it has been almost a year!

Herewith I remedy this sad situation.

Today's "Saucer of the Week" is an English one dating from, I believe, 1820 to 1830.  It is decorated with a pink-lustre foliate border and a transfer print in the center of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of— among other things—procreation.  She is accompanied by her two sons Eros and Anteros.  They are depicted in an Arcadian setting and all are staring intently at a just-gathered basket of eggs.  It is, in a word, charming.

The saucer is reminiscent of, and was very possibly made in the one of the same potteries that produced the pink-lustre and transfer print Sunderland jugs that I own and wrote about in an earlier post.

I have four of these pretty little saucers in my collection, and they are a sentimental favorite of mine.  They were a gift to me long ago by a former paramour who, sadly, died a number of years ago, and whose memory I will fondly treasure for the rest of my days.

I promise to be more regular in my "Saucer of the Week" postings going forward.  I have, in fact, a number of them in the queue that I look forward to sharing with you over the next several weeks.

Photograph by Boy Fenwick

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Reggie Roadtrip: Baltimore and Washington, Part II

Well, Dear Reader, it is now time for me to share with you the second installment in my series on Reggie's roadtrip this summer to Baltimore and Washington, D.C.  Herewith, I do so.

After reluctantly checking out of the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Baltimore we loaded up the family buggy with our luggage and dear Pompey, and hit the road for our next stop: the Nation's Capitol.

As readers of this blog may well remember, I grew up in Washington, D.C., and so—coincidentally—did Boy.  Thus we both looked forward to our trip to that fair city as a pleasant meander down memory lane.

The sign for the Baltimore-Washington Parkway
Image courtesy of AARoads

One of the joys (and sometimes the misery) of a driving roadtrip is the time one spends in one's car driving to one's destinations.  Fortunately we experienced the happier side of that equation on our journey to Washington via the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, a lovely tree-lined roadway that opened in 1954 and today blessedly retains much of its period, bucolic appeal.  The parkway is managed by the National Park Service, and is a much-preferred route between the two cities to the mind-numbingly pedestrian, congested, and ever-under-construction I-95 highway alternative.

The Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Image courtesy of

Upon our arrival in Washington, D.C., we checked into the city's swell Four Seasons Hotel.  Located in the heart of Georgetown on M Street along the B&O Canal, the Four Seasons is our preferred hostelry when visiting the Nation's Capitol for the reasons I have enumerated elsewhere when discussing the merits of this luxurious hotel chain.

The bar at the Four Seasons Hotel, Washington, D.C.
Image courtesy of same

One of our reasons for visiting Washington was to meet up with our esteemed fellow-blogger Maxminimus.  This was a reunion of sorts, as we had spent a most pleasant evening in his company in Manhattan but a year earlier, and we looked forward to spending another evening in his amusing and thought-provoking company during our visit to Washington, D.C.

Mr. Maxminimus Himself, taken in Mecca
(aka the Belgian Shoe Store in Manhattan)
Image courtesy of Maxminimus

We met up with the fellow-Belgians appreciating Maxminimus for pre-dinner cocktails at the bar at the Four Seasons, but decided to bypass the hotel's extremely-expensive, thronged-to-the-gills Bourbon Steak restaurant that evening, as the prospect of spending $54 for a New York strip steak (and that's a-la-carte—sides would have been extra) seemed a bit, uh, pricey for the three of us.  Instead, based on Maxie's considered and excellent advice, we stepped across M Street to dine in one of Georgetown's most-venerated restaurant landmarks, La Chaumière, where we had a delightfully yummy, boozy dinner that Maxminimus very generously hosted us to.  Thank you, sir!

The cozy main dining room at La Chaumière Restaurant
Washington, D.C.
Image courtesy of same

La Chaumière is the type of French restaurant my parents went to in the 1960s when out for a "romantic" (i.e., children-free) night together.  It is a classic, old-school French bistro known for homey, traditional cooking of the escargot/frogs legs/coq-au-vin school favored by the "Bon appétit!" generation.  Channeling that era during our lively and most-amusing dinner conversation, Maxminimus encouraged us to visit the installation of Julia Child's kitchen at the Smithsonian's recently-renamed Museum of American History (which I shall always remember as the Museum of History and Technology, which is what it was known as when I was a boy).  Maxie informed us that Mrs. Childs' kitchen was a "must visit" site, and a place that we would cherish the memory of having made a pilgrimage to for many years to come (and would kick ourselves for bypassing if we hadn't).

But before we were able to follow through on Maxie's advice and visit the Museum of American History we had a number of other places to visit and people to see first.  Stop number one for this writer was the extremely comfortable bed at the Four Seasons Hotel where I spent the rest of the evening sleeping off my most-delicious and well-lubricated dinner at La Chaumière.

The next morning, moving a bit slowly I must admit (do I notice a theme here?), we spent several sweet hours visiting old and dear friends of my long-departed parents.  We shared many happy memories with them of when the two couples cemented their friendships in the 1950s and 1960s, and we caught up on what had happened to many of the cast of characters in our respective families in the intervening years.  It is a visit, Dear Reader, that I will treasure for the rest of my days.

The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., ca. 1941
Image courtesy of same

Afterwards, Boy and I made a bee-line to the National Gallery of Art, where we spent the rest of the day revelling in the museum's supremely handsome West Wing and admiring its astonishing collection of art.  The National Gallery of Art (along with much of its contents) was a gift to the Nation by the immensely philanthropic Mellon family, and is one of the world's most astounding examples of human generosity, ever.

A view of the National Gallery of Art's breathtakingly beautiful rotunda
Image courtesy of

The West Wing of the National Gallery of Art was designed by John Russell Pope (1874-1937), who also designed the nearby Jefferson Memorial and the National Archive, and also the Baltimore Museum of Art about which I wrote in the first installment in this series.  The museum's construction was paid for in its entirety by Andrew Mellon (1855-1937), who also donated the nucleus of the museum's art collection.  It opened its doors to the public in 1941.  The National Gallery was further and generously expanded less than forty years later by Paul Mellon (1907-1999), Andrew Mellon's son, who single-handedly paid for the construction of the museum's modernist East Wing, designed by I.M. Pei (b. 1917).

One of the superbly-proportioned halls at the National Gallery of Art
Image courtesy of APS

Unlike many of the world's greatest art museums, where the original architecture has been compromised over the years by multiple expansions and renovations, the National Gallery's West Wing remains true to the design of its brilliant architect.  In my view, it is one of the greatest monuments of modern classical architecture in the world.  Its modernist East Wing, while not as successful a design as the West Wing in my opinion, is nonetheless brilliant in its architectural bravura.

One of the handsome, art-filled galleries at the National Gallery of Art
Image courtesy of Virtual Tourist

Neither of the two buildings—unlike so many art galleries and museums today—attempt to compete with the art that hangs upon their walls.  Rather they complement it with architectural integrity and context.  All is understatement, all is refinement, all is appropriate.

The cover of the catalog for the Bellows exhibition
at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Image courtesy of same

One of our primary reasons for visiting the National Gallery was to take in the landmark exhibition of the works of George Bellows (1882-1925), on display through October 8th.  An artist of stupendous talent and prodigious output in his all-too-short life, Bellows is best known for his paintings of boxers in the ring and the teeming street life of New York City in the first decades of the twentieth century.  The show at the National Gallery, one of the most extensive I've seen for a single artist in many years, brings together scores of paintings from every sphere of Bellows' enormous and talented output, including landscapes, people of fashion at play, and gritty paintings of the horrors of WWI.

It is a breath-taking, jaw-dropping show, Dear Reader, and I highly recommend that you make every effort to see it before it closes in October.

After the intellectual and visual intensity of the Bellows show, we enjoyed a gentler change of pace by revisiting a number of our favorite paintings in the National Gallery's collection, including Gilbert Stuart's masterpiece, The Skater:

The Skater (Portrait of William Grant)
Gilbert Stuart, 1782
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Another stop was to admire John Singleton Copley's wonderfully dramatic Watson and the Shark:

Watson and the Shark
John Singleton Copley, 1778
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Of course we had to visit Edward Savage's The Washington Family, as we not only collect Washingtonia but we have an engraving done after this very painting hanging at Darlington House.  I'm always surprised that Savage's painting of the Washingtons is life-sized.  It is enormous!

The Washington Family
Edward Savage, 1789-1796
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

One of the (many) treasures of the National Gallery's collection is the Voyage of Life four-part series painted by Thomas Cole.  Immensely popular when painted in the late 1830s/early 1840s, over half a million visitors paid to see the series when it toured the country shortly after it was completed.

The Voyage of Life—Youth
Thomas Cole, 1842
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Not all of my favorite paintings at the National Gallery were painted in the eighteenth century, Dear Reader.  One of the jewels of the collection is Right and Left, by Winslow Homer, and was one of the last paintings the artist painted, in 1909:

Right and Left
Winslow Homer, 1909
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

I love this painting of the two ducks careening over the roiling ocean below.  Homer brilliantly captured their movement with the accuracy of a high speed camera, frozen in mid-air.

Afterwards we headed back to the Four Seasons to give Pompey a much-needed walk and to plot where to have dinner on our final night in Washington.  By this point in our trip we were satiated with expensive hotel and restaurant dinners, and craved an uncomplicated, straightforward meal.  The concierge at the Four Seasons recommended we dine at a recently-opened Mexican restaurant, El Centro DF, located in the city's trendy 14th Street/Logan Circle neighborhood.

El Centro DF Restaurant on 14th Street in Washington, D.C.
Image courtesy of same

"What?" I wondered, "How on Earth can that neighborhood now be trendy?"  For I recalled that area as being nothing but burned out rubble, destroyed during the race riots that gripped the city in 1968 after Martin Luther King's assassination.  14th Street was the epicenter of the rioting, and over 1,200 buildings in the area were burned during the mayhem.

14th Street laid to waste after the 1968 riots
Image courtesy of ReadysetDC

Well, much has changed since then and today 14th Street is no longer the bombed out, desolated wasteland I remembered it as being for many years subsequent to the riots.  No, today it is a thriving neighborhood of restaurants, condos, and stores catering to hipsters and twenty-somethings.  My how times have changed . . . and for the better!

14th Street as it appears today
Image courtesy of

And much of the same thing can be said for Washington, D.C. today, Dear Reader, since I last lived there back when I was a college student.  The entire city appears to be a cleaner and much-better-cared-for place today than it was when I remember it.  It has always certainly been a lovely city, mind you, but it is now an even more beautiful one and a truly fitting location for what our Nation's Capitol really should be: a City Beautiful of broad boulevards, stately monuments, magestic federal buildings, leafy parks, and handsome neighborhoods.

Next: In the third and final installment of this series Reggie and Boy visit the Museum of American History and take their leave of the Nation's Capitol.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Plums of New York

Early August is one of my favorite times of year in the Hudson River Valley.  It is when the farmers' markets and roadside stands are full-to-bursting with the summer's bounty of locally grown vegetables and fruit.  It is glorious!

I always look forward to this part of summer because it is when plums—one of my favorite fruits—arrive.  I'm in Heaven.

Our copy of The Plums of New York,
published by the State of New York
Agricultural Experiment Station in 1911

Did you know that plums are native to America?  Unlike apples, which were brought to these shores by early European settlers, plums have always grown here.  Most northern geographies throughout the world have some form of native plums.  They are in the same genus, Prunus, with more than one hundred other stone fruits and nuts, including apricots, peaches, cherries, and almonds.

An illustration of Prunus Domestica "Belle" in fruit,
from The Plums of New York

Two years ago I wrote about one of the treasures in our library at Darlington House, the two-volume Apples of New York.  We are also the proud owners of The Plums of New York, The Cherries of New York, and The Wild Flowers of New York.  These books, along with others in the series focusing on the fruit and flora grown in New York, were published by the state in the first decades of the twentieth century.  The books are highly prized by collectors for their beautiful color plates and for the wealth of information they contain about what was once grown in the Empire State.  They were published before our mass-market agribusiness almost succeeded in destroying the domestic food source with easy-to-ship, long-lasting, chemical-soaked, gassed, uniform, and largely tasteless product.  Thank goodness that bait-and-switch connivance has since been rejected . . .

Mouth-wateringly tempting and ready to eat

Just as the soulless international style of "modern" architecture and the brutalist city planning of the urban "renewal" eras of the 1960s and 1970s prompted the explosion of architectural preservation and restoration movements in this country, so did the near-ruination of our food by corporations in the mid-twentieth century lead to the spectacular growth and popularity of the locavore, small-farmer, organic, heritage-breed food movement that has returned the concept of flavor to our tables.

But I digress . . .

An illustration of Prunus Domestica "Linnaeus" in flower,
from The Plums of New York

Our copy of The Plums of New York was published in 1911 and weighs a prodigious nine pounds.  It is a lengthy tome of 615 pages and contains over one hundred color illustrations of different plums that were once grown in New York, many of which have since been lost to time.

How marvelous it must have been to have the selection of plums that was commonly available here in New York one hundred years ago.  And how fortunate we are to have so many more choices available to us today than was the case but a mere twenty years ago.

           This is Just to Say

         I have eaten
         the plums
         that were in
         the icebox

         and which
         you were probably
         for breakfast

         Forgive me
         they were delicious
         so sweet
         and so cold

         Willam Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

Photographs by Boy Fenwick
Related Posts with Thumbnails