Meeting the Lorings was serendipity. The Wellesley Hills Historical Society holds several items that belonged to Emilie Loring, including her orange-blossom wedding veil and a fringed shawl. When I told the director, Don Chaffee, that I was researching her life, he offered, “I went to high school with her granddaughter. Would you like her phone number?”
I dialed right away, unsure of what I would say but unwilling to wait a moment longer to speak to Emilie’s descendant. Eve’s voice answered, “Hello?” and I blurted, “Hello, this is Patti Bender. You don’t know me, but I love your grandmother.” We visited a long while, and soon thereafter, I received manila envelopes filled with photos, biographical summaries, and family information–an incredibly generous response that put so much more in motion.
I talked with all six grandchildren on the phone and then traveled to interview each in person. They remembered a lot about “Grandmama” (accents on the first and third syllables), and as their stories tumbled out, I scrawled in the margin of my tablet, “Patti, get a recorder!” Because that’s what we really want. Beyond dates and places and accomplishments, what we really want to know are the stories–what a person was like, the life behind the accomplishments, the things you’d know, if you spent time with the person.
If you have siblings, you won’t be surprised that they remembered things differently. I like this reminder:
“The fact is, that no man is the same under different aspects, and never the same to those who know him best and those who know him least.” (John Neal in Portland Illustrated, 1874.)
The eldest, Victor, said Emilie doted on him, “a nice grandmother… very nice, talkative,” while Valentine remembered her as “a little imperious,” not the sort who would hug a lot or have the grandchildren sit on her lap. Linda called her a “livewire” and admired her courage in taking off across the continent on a trip to Alaska in the early 1900s, while Selden remembered her thoughtfulness in sending him a Chrysler brochure, because she knew he liked cars. Sandy remembered looking at dresses in the Sears catalog with her, and Eve seconded, “She was always a good dresser.” On that final point, they all agreed.
In their homes, I saw precious keepsakes: Emilie’s monogrammed silver and linens, inscriptions in the books she gave to her sons, the lantern slides she took and developed herself on that trip to Alaska, her china teacup with a butterfly handle, an oil portrait of her mother, and a leather-encased miniature of Emilie herself. Selden had a particular treasure: a home movie shot at Blue Hill in 1928. It was amazing to see the living Emilie–not a still photo or written description–talking at the kitchen table, descending a set of stone steps, adjusting her watch…
I felt that I knew Emilie Loring before I started to research her biography. Her books raised me in part, gave me a model of what a girl might do, what romance might be like, how important it was to have both an inner core of unshakeable character and a buoyant sense of humor. I owed her this effort. Now, I feel a responsibility to her grandchildren, too. They have welcomed me into their homes for more than a decade, trusted me with their memories of “Grandmama,” and asked nothing but that I tell her story as I find it. I had no idea any of this would happen when I first picked up the phone to call Eve. I’ll let Emilie finish this one:
“You have come up against them, haven’t you? One of those moments upon which you look back, catch your breath and think, ‘Suppose I had let the chance pass? What rich experiences, what happiness, I would have missed.’”
Do you have Emilie Loring memorabilia? Please write and share.