Last week, I was at my mom’s house, our family house on a lake in Wisconsin–a frozen lake, I might add. “January in Wisconsin” isn’t exactly what most people think of when they contemplate a vacation, but when it comes with family hugs, shared history, and family treasures, there’s no beating it.
Readers of Emilie Loring’s novels already know some of her family’s treasures. There’s a red, Coromandel screen, for example, that appears more than once in her books.
She could care for that gorgeous screen before the door leading, she presumed to another cabin; it must have come straight from the Orient.”Lighted Windows
Her glance fell on the Chinese Coromandel screen of vivid red lacquer which stood at the entrance of the garden room. She prickled with imagination. Always it had that effect upon her. Always it seemed to whisper mysteriously: “Dare you to look behind me! Dare you!” And always she had forced herself to look before she dashed away as though a legion of imps were at her heels. Of course she had outgrown that foolishness now, but–that bit of Oriental color still exuded an aura of sinister mystery.The Solitary Horseman
The original didn’t remain with the Lorings, but can you picture it?
Coromandel is a stripey wood that is native to India and Sri Lanka and widely used in China. Victor Loring’s brother might have brought back such a souvenir when he traveled from Hong Kong to India and Egypt in the 1870s. Or it could have come from Emilie’s great-uncle, an early 1800s sea captain who traveled many times around the Cape of Good Hope.
A kindred keepsake is this tea box, intricately decorated outside and with an air-tight tea container inside. What stories would it tell, if it could?
I struggled with how to include Emilie Loring’s treasures in her biography. Items she wrote about could have been hers, someone else’s, or simply made up. I worked to figure these out and have included some in the book, some in blog posts.
But how about the items she kept but didn’t write about, the personal treasures that she kept for her own enjoyment and their meaning to her? By their very keeping, year after year, aren’t they important to an understanding of Emilie? And how might they enter the narrative? When she acquires them? As she ponders them later? Both?
Historic New England devotes a portion of its website to family treasures–theirs and yours. Emilie Loring saved examples of each of their categories.
On the wall was a shelf of books. She smiled as she recognized an old, tried and true friend, The Swiss Family Robinson. She must have thrilled over it an hundred times.Swift Water
It’s no surprise that books were among Emilie Loring’s favored keepsakes: her father’s books, her siblings’ plays, her own books, and her son’s. But she collected books, too, like her Everyman’s Library volumes that she kept in Stone House and added to, year by year. If we had them all, we could see when she read them by her penciled notations at their ends.
As happens with collections, though, these have been divvied up over the years. Some were spread among Lorings, some went with the Slavens who lived in Stone House after her–a few of which came to me as gifts from Captain Bob Slaven–and some may yet remain where they started in the nineteen-teens, in the old, granite house on the East Blue Hill Road.
I wish I knew who made this crocheted dresser scarf for Emilie. There are hours and hours of work in it, and how precious, that it has survived the years.
I also wish that this miniature, silver horse and cart came with a story. Even without that, it is dear–so detailed, so quaint. Does it date to Emilie’s days as an Arts and Crafts metalworker?
“Handmade” is an interesting category when you remember that everything was handmade before a certain time in history. As such, early items represent individual craftsmanship often not seen today. This grandfather clock spent decades in Stone House, then Lexington, and now the North Shore of Massachusetts.
Post update: Karen recognized this as the Grandfather’s clock in The Solitary Horseman (see comments below–Great job, Karen!). A monkey jumps onto the clock and then:
… a brass ball on top of the clock caught his roving eye. He worked it free… [Peter] flung up his arms to protect his head as something round and hard and shiny whizzed past his ear. His mother struggled out of a nightmare of amazement:
“Anthony! Nick! Peter! Don’t let him ruin Grandfather’s clock!”
She ducked as a second ball pitched with the precision and despatch of a big-league outfielder struck her shoulder. The monkey, who looked as though his face had been lathered for a shave, chattered and mouthed horribly as he seized the third ball.The Solitary Horseman
We know that Emilie liked her rings “splashy,” but this ring, nevertheless, spent a good deal of time on her right hand. I have found it in photos of her from several time periods. Does it look like a lobster to you?
The dragonfly pin appears to have pink tourmaline eyes and small pearls along its back. I remember Prue Schuyler’s description:
“Enamels. Transparent and opaque. They are ground in a little water to salt-like consistency in that mortar, washed thoroughly before they are applied to metal, and heated until they melt. When I want them especially jewel-like, I use them over gold leaf.”Hilltops Clear
Real prizes to find, of course, would be her pearls. Over time, she had single, double, and quadruple strands, but I have only seen them in photos. Would she have given them to her daughters-in-law?
Sir Peter had given her the pearls when she was married. They had been worn by his wife and before that by his mother.The Trail of Conflict
Encounters with Fame
Emilie Loring, herself, was pretty famous in her time, and she and her family had first-hand dealings with many celebrities you would know. The stories would take days to tell…
A particularly unusual story had to do with Victor Loring’s cousin, Fred W. Loring, a young poet and feature writer who traveled west in 1871 to write jaunty stories for Appleton’s Journal. I won’t give it all away here, but suffice it to say that a mule, a stagecoach, and a pretty prostitute are involved in young Loring’s untimely end.
In Their Own Words
In a family of writers, published works abound, but especially dear are the handwritten notes, corrections to manuscripts, and occasional letters. This is one from Emilie’s mother to Emilie’s grandmother in 1854, two years before she would marry George Baker. She had gone to Baltimore for a cousin’s wedding and had a very pleasant day with a Mr. Cushing.
Still sparking joy
Late in her life, Emilie thought about her belongings, their meanings to her and what they would–or could not–mean to the next generation. In her last, full novel, she wrote:
Gay boxes held hats in which she and her small friends trailing their mothers’ long skirts had fared forth to call on the neighbors. An old-fashioned dressmaker form in front of the narrow door that opened on the secret stairs had an uncanny resemblance to a human watching her. Framed pictures, a motley score, were turned faces to the wall; the head and foot boards of a spool bed leaned companionably close to a dark chintz-covered wing chair. Vases in infinite variety, plates, colorful dozens of them, vegetable dishes of her great-grandmother’s set of Canova were loaded on an oak dining table…To Love and To Honor
She was the last of her family, there were no relatives to whom it would mean anything…To Love and To Honor
Would she be surprised to know how many of us remember the Canova dishes, her silver boxes, and the red, Coromandel screen? Would she be surprised to learn that her books are among our meaningful keepsakes? Could she have imagined that someone would spend years researching her life, looking for just these sorts of personal details?
When my granddaughter was born, I gave her a few, small treasures in a wooden keepsake box. Her name and birthdate are carved into the lid and framed by a circlet of cherry blossoms, because her town was pink with the happy blooms when she was born. I don’t know what she will keep in the box as she grows older, but already she knows that special treasures are inside, and she wants to see them. You can be sure I’ll tell her their stories.
Happy Landings, everyone!