The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."

A Memory of Childhood.

Volume 15, 1904, pg. 59-61

Nothing in life is so unsatisfactory and so sad as the sudden snapping of a thread which seemed essential to the weaving of the complete pattern and which in itself is beautiful. The pattern goes on being woven, but the dangling thread is left behind, an eyesore and a heartsore to the completed design. And in childhood, even more than when we are grown up, the inevitableness of it strikes us like a sharp frost and numbs all feeling for a time.

Letting my thoughts stray down the canvas and taking up one of the brightest of the broken threads someway down, I see that for many of our child years, our greatest pleasure, our ultima thule, was to get the consent of our parents to go and see the people in a certain large white stucco house on the southern outskirts of our town, where everything seemed bigger and fuller than in our lives at home. Sometimes the great carriage, with two fat horses and two big men, would fetch us all the way from our house, and that way of going seemed to us so much more in character than taking a train or driving in a cab. We had, however, come by train to-day and walked from the little station, altogether about a mile. I can see us now, two little children, brother and sister, walking up the long carriage drive to the house, such a long drive, past the funny little round lodge in which it seemed impossible to have a proper-shaped room; past the beautiful specimen fir trees, which in those days we had not learned to differentiate (what an amount of pleasure is gained when we learn to recognise their separate faces), their long graceful branches sweeping the grass. And beyond the trees and the rhododendrons, we catch a glimpse of the fields and try to see the new calf of whose advent we had been told, or the ponies we would catch in the morning and ride round the field barebacked. And all the time the joy that we had come, rose in our throats and made us sing with happiness as we walked along. The dairy, the carpenter's shop, the cow sheds--how we loved it all after our narrow terrace house, and what agonies of dread we endured till we were actually in the cab and started. The smallest lapse in our conduct was made an excuse to rob us of our trip to fairyland--such a real concrete fairyland, as we thought few possessed. Sometimes we stayed at our house beautiful for two or three days, and whether we liked it better in the summer or the winter we could never decide.

At the open door the friendly butler welcomed us and took us up the wide stairs to the nursery, which was furnished on the same liberal plan as the rest of the place. Six children, bigger and finer-legged than ourselves (the result of always eating up all their rice pudding as we were told at home), gathered round us; and after tea, when our hair was smoothed and our hands washed, we went in twos and twos to the holy of holies, the lady of the house. Her room was called the blue room, and there was always a faint scent of violets about it. To our childish eyes it seemed most beautiful--soft rugs, soft cushions, bright fire and brasses, and heaps of flowers and big palms, and in the centre of all, pervading all, the lady herself--so gentle, so quiet, so kind and so contained. We scarcely dared to touch her, and spoke instinctively in a gentler way before her, a way we know was not our way, but which we hoped was her way. She seemed to us so far from every-day things, like a fairy lady who sits in a tower all day, and spins beautiful nothings for no one out of nothing. Coming from a home where a certain amount of austerity and a large amount of strenuousness were the key-notes of our lives, it struck our senses with a sensuous delight to see nothing done, so elegantly. She never went out of her way to amuse us or entain us, she was just there. We sat at her feet and looked at pictures while she told us stories or talked to us with her gentle musical voice. Her room was always restful, the light subdued. It was in the after-teatime that we usually saw it. Later on, of course, as we grew older, and joined her in the breakfast-room or the sitting-room, we saw more of our lady, but we never quite lost the feeling we had formed of her in our childhood--the feeling that a different atmosphere surrounded her, which caught us in it when we were near her, so that in her presence all noisy, dirty, vulgar things were beautified and refined.

As we grew older our love for the place and the people did not grow less. Other elements and other complications arose, which added further interests to our visits. The last of the six children, a round pink baby when we first knew her, grew into sweet girlhood in, as it seems not to us, a ridiculously few years, and the first of the six, then a boy at Harrow, home for his holidays, was later on a man down from Oxford; and we two, one loved and the other was loved, and, wonderful to say, in neither case was it returned. The pink baby whom I had nursed on my knee when but a bigger baby myself, and whom my brother now loved, the youngest at home, would leave it, and cared for no man as much as she loved her mother, and as for me, I cared for no one of them as much as I loved them all; and, strange to say, what hurt us most in this fiasco of two romances was the impossibility that our dear lady could now be our mother-in-law!

This all happened many years ago. There were financial difficulties and they dispersed, leaving their beautiful shell which fitted them so perfectly. Some married abroad and some away, the house and grounds were let to an enterprising sports club, and our dear lady--died.

I made a pilgrimage to the place the other day. How it hurt me. The thread was there, its jagged end showing where it had been broken off. The carriage drive and the round lodge seemed unaltered, though unkempt and unswept. On the quiet, shady lawns, where we had dreamed many an afternoon away, noisy youths and maids were calling "love" something over tennis; in the spacious rooms many couples were taking tea: and our blue room, still dignified, silent and subdued, was labelled "members' reading room! Dear blue room, dignified and deserted in its distress. I sat there and peopled it again, till blistering tears blinded me at the thought of my impotence to call forth aught but shadows. Gone and wiped out is that whole happy chapter from our lives, and even its place will soon know it no more. I heard on my return that an improvements commitee will now improve away the club, the lodge and the old trees, and on the land, model dwellings are to be erected for greater London.

Typed by RettaDet, November, 2022; Proofread by LNL, June, 2023