Diggings: Level 12

On visits to the farm, Lyle chose to spend most of her time with Arle and me. She would sneak up to our room during a dinner party (held in her honor) and tell us stories and play cards. We loved her.

During the First World War, Lyle was one of the first WAVES and was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s secretary while he served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. She had marvelous anecdotes about him and always referred to him as “Frank”. Which became a problem, when, at the mention of his name by Lyle, Uncle Jay would mutter nasty things about the “evil man who inaugurated the income tax”…thereby depriving him (Jay) of his hard earned dollars selling Gude’s Pepto-Mangan tonic. I could write a chapter of Pepto-Mangan stories but will refrain at this time.

Another visitor of note was John Carroll, a dashing and gorgeous Hollywood leading man of the early 40’s. He came for dinner and Arle and I barely were able to swallow our food so awestruck were we by his handsome presence. It was love at first sight.

After the pool and tennis court were built, the weekend guests became a stream of fascinating people. Among them were Baltimore Mayor Jackson and his wife, their son, Carle, who had been recently married to Rosa Ponselle. Rosa would perform after dinner usually singing Old Man River, Old Black Joe, or Home Sweet Home. Rosa brought a guest with her a few times: Alice Marble who was, at that time or perhaps a touch earlier, the top woman tennis player in the country. She gave Arle and me some early instruction of the game of tennis and we were impressed by her fantastic playing skills. Alice went on to become a spy for the US during the Second World War which was just around the corner, and was shot, but not killed, while spying somewhere in Europe.

During this time, Rosa Ponselle purchased some property from Uncle Hugo in the Green Spring Valley and built a lovely home. She called it “Villa Pace” and I recall that after our first visit there we were struck by the predominance of white accessories and when we returned home to Thornton Farm we said resignedly, “Oh well, there’s no place like home”. She always had many dogs around, bred and raised Dalmatians and, in fact, gave us a female whom we called “Bubbles”. There was a dual reason for the name: she was covered with black bubble spots and had a large bubble for a brain. Rosa was a great influence in my life at this stage. She was a wonderful font of warmth and personality. On cook’s night off, she often came and took over the kitchen, producing marvelous spaghetti dinners.

During the rare times when Arle and I played together we would manage to create a degree of havoc. One of these times was when we brought all of the fireplace screens from around the house (about 6 or 7) and put them in our bedroom. Then we brought in all the animals we could find. These included Black Michael the Great Dane, Hansy the Dachshund, Pickles the barn dog, Bubbles the Dalmatian, Vicky the Whippet, two cats – Fujiyama and Tokyo and a pair of dyed Easter chicks (who were approaching teen-hood). We incarcerated them behind the screens producing a sort of compact zoo.

We played for a time, then, becoming bored, we left the room and went outdoors to continue our game of finding more animals for the zoo. Well…hours later, Martha the curmudgeon “governess” discovered that many or even perhaps all !! of the animals had left large parcels in their little cages. Arle and I were in big trouble.

During spring vacation, Arle and I went off to New York City to visit Aunts Lyle and Bea. Lyle and Jay lived at 1000 Park Avenue (scene of a current book about nannies) and Bea lived in lesser splendor at 10 Park. Bea was the sister of Burt and Lyle and was the guiding light in the “girls” leaving Chicago in the late teens and early 1920’s and striking out in New York City. Bea was a Ziegfield Girl and after a few years, met and married a man who was in the import/export business. In their many trips to and from the Orient, Bea became expert at bringing opium concealed in her cosmetic case to give to doctors who, unable to find a source of morphine for needy patients, were happy to have Bea’s help.

At some point, Bea became a widow and continued to live happily at 10 Park with her dog (I think was a Scottie) which, when it was raining, she would take for a walk in Grand Central Station.

Arle and I spent a few days with darling Bea, and as a parting gift she generously gave me her elderly copy of Victor Book of the Opera which I still have and treasure. Then off we went to stay with Lyle and Uncle Jay. Jay had a large room filled with ancient model trains. A stunning array. We did the usual visitor things: the Empire State Building, a movie at Rockefeller Center (Northwest Passage with Spencer Tracy) and the Rockettes.

Aunt Burt and Uncle Hugo drove up to fetch us home to Maryland and I recall seeing the steamship Normandie at the pier. Then back to school and play with springtime speeding by and summertime almost there.

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