Thursday, November 22, 2018

An Aberdeen Thanksgiving

(originally posted Thanksgiving 2013)

Ruth, circa 1932

    The longer I live away from the States, the less resonance I feel with Thanksgiving.  It is such a particularly American holiday, with all of its food and family implications, that when you are out of the context as I have been, living abroad these past 45 years, it is easy to get out of the habit, if not entirely out of the spirit.

Still, I do retain an early lifetime of memories associated with Thanksgiving family meals.   My Aunt Ruth could often be counted on to join us for the holiday spread, particularly after her own children had left home.   I remember how supportive she was of Dickie when he started shining as a cook.

Chef Dickie, starting out at a hash house
  Mother had a real knack for baking cakes, but for much of the rest, she was just so-so.   We liked her food just fine, that is after all what comfort food is all about; but when Dickie came along, that was something else!   

By the time Dickie reached twelve, he was already showing signs of a special talent.  Mother welcomed his enthusiastic participation in the preparation of holiday meals, to the point of gradually pretty well turning the kitchen over to him.  She sometimes had difficulty, however, in totally conceding the credit.

Ruth, Mother’s aunt, had reared her during most of her high school years and afterwards.  She was only ten years older, and although somewhere between sister and mother for her, was still a respected figure of authority.   A career school teacher known as a stern disciplinarian, she was tagged by several generations of Southern Pines students as "The Blade."  To describe her as outspoken would be an understatement; she had exceedingly strong viewpoints on most matters.

Mother and her aunt Ruth(r) in the late 1930's
To my brothers and me, Ruth was another grandmother and a special Auntie Mame.  We welcomed her non-conformist ways, compared with the more traditional Pleasants side of the family.  I spent many weekends with her in Southern Pines, and opening tins of pork and beans at any hour of the day or eating breakfast in mid-afternoon was then a special treat.

She knew Mother better than most, and she wasn’t apt to let her get away with too much.  I remember one Thanksgiving when Dickie was just coming into his own, and he outdid himself with a feast of traditional plates to which he added his personal touch to make each dish special –sweet potato “soufflé” (at least that is what we called it in Aberdeen), asparagus casserole, creamed carrots, wonderful coconut cake (though in that department, Mother’s was just as good), and of course the pièce de résistance, butterball turkey with good old Southern-style sage and cornbread dressing.  

Ruth with the ubiquitous Camel cigarette
 Mother was in a bad humor that year, I certainly don’t remember why, and Ruth’s repeated compliments to Dickie were not easing the atmosphere.  

“This is absolutely the best Thanksgiving turkey I have EVER tasted,” said Ruth to Dickie.  “Where in the WORLD did you learn to cook like that?  Why, you could open your own restaurant.”  

Dickie about that time ...
Mother tried to intercept in order to minimize.  In her very Southern manner, she said:  “Yes, he has certainly been a big little helper.” 

I remember Ruth’s reply, because she had this larger-than-life way of punctuating her ideas, of which I have a clear mental video, even today.   

She could be very argumentative, and had a tendency to take over conversations and get really passionate about whatever she was talking about, frequently jabbing her Camel cigarette in the direction of her interlocutor for emphasis.  She was a perpetual crusader against whatever she saw as injustice, and on this Thanksgiving she definitely saw that my brother was not getting his rightful share of the credit:  
Mother a few years later

“Help?  What ARE you talking about?  Did you say Help?  Why, it looks to me like Dickie has done every single thing!"  I can still hear her throaty, gravelly cigarette voice.  "Every single, solitary thing, and it is DE-LI-CIOUS!  All I can say is, bravo, Dickie!”   

Mother would rarely declare defeat, but with Ruth, she sometimes realized that to declench further argument would be counterproductive, and I recall her ultimately shaking her head in resignation, in much the way today one might say, “Whatever!” 

Ruth with Mickie (left) and Dickie, Aberdeen 1957

CROSS REFERENCING … a look at other postings
"Mother" is also featured in blog No. 46, "Grandmother Vivian, Doc and the Others" and No. 51, "A Christmas Gift ... the little red lamp"; Aunt Ruth was featured in "Renata", Musings and Meandering No. 4;  she was also mentioned in the sidebar to blog No. 4, "Miss VFW 1951 at the Stork Club"   (to access, click on highlighted titles).

Your input is welcomed by email:

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Little Red Lamp

Mother and Daddy at the Fairmont Hotel, San Francisco, circa 1944

        When I was about eight, my aunt Frances had given me five dollars for my birthday in September of which I had saved some for a Christmas present for my mother.

       In those days, there were two dime stores in Aberdeen.  Mack's was the oldest and most popular; by the 1950's it was called a "5 - 10 and 15-cent store," and it was there that I went looking for a gift.  

       Mack's was an excellent store to buy candy, dish towels, can openers, baseball cards, and any number of other useful things.   As Aunt Frances (who was a particularly conservative interior decorator) would have been the first to tell me, it was not the best place to find a tasteful gift for the home.

That's me minus a few teeth in 1950

         I was confident I had found the perfect Christmas present there, a little red lamp.  I do mean all red.  Red glass "hurricane" globe, red imitation-crystal droplets, red base.  It cost $1.29, it was my own money,  and I was thrilled with the beauty of my purchase.

       Come Christmas morning when I brought out my prize find, I was proud to see Mother's absolute delight with her magnificent gift.  

       The lamp and her reaction became instant family folklore.  I don't know if she had any advance warning from my father, but she certainly didn't miss a beat.   She explained with great enthusiasm that it  was so special, so beautiful, that she was going to wrap it up and put it away safely in the attic as soon as Christmas was over, and then bring it down every year for the holidays.

        Which she did.  

       I don't know what ultimately happened to my little red lamp, but I do remember it was still out in its prime spot, surrounded by holly and mistletoe, when I returned home in 1997 for what was to be Mother's last Christmas.   

 The parents quite a few years later

Your input is welcomed:

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (or Brief Encounter with Mrs. Davis)

(This musing first appeared  28 August 2012)

Mrs. Davis 1970

    I probably wouldn’t remember her at all today, were it not for the photo still hanging on the wall.   Mrs. Davis is a quirky little memory from my earliest and poorest days in Paris, and she gave me my first peek at the Hotel Meurice. 

     I have always been interested in taking photos, though never motivated to learn anything on the technical side.  As a result, my pictures are more often than not quite unsatisfying, but when I manage to eliminate 99 percent of them, I end up with a few that are more or less what I was hoping to attain.

Vintage me (photo by Ann Gazères)

     In 1970, I had rented a small room in a large apartment off the Champs-Elysées.  It was just around the corner from the Hotel Plaza Athenée, though I didn’t know that at the time. It was a ridiculous neighborhood for a poor person to live in, but I didn’t really know that either.  

     I had just found a job which consisted of typing English and French translations of what I think were missile specifications.  They were destined for some middle eastern government, were certainly incomprehensible in any language, and my fairly liberal politics of the period didn’t go so far as interfering with my minimum wage paycheck.
     One Saturday morning I was walking about the neighborhood when I saw a glamorous older woman, elegantly dressed in what I now imagine was a designer suit and a snazzy wide-brimmed hat, with a tiny chihuahua cuddled next to her bosom.  She was strolling up the Avenue François Premier, looking to my mind very much like the latter day Vivien Leigh whom I had recently seen at the Cinémathèque in “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone.”  
A young Tennessee (Google)
       My Mrs. Stone turned into a local café, and as she entered, two young Mediterranean men reached over simultaneously from either side to pet the little dog.  It was  a provocative gesture, and it reinforced my association with  the Tennessee Williams novella.

     I was both timid and brazen in those days, depending on the moment, and perhaps on how much wine I had consumed (ultimately a bit of a problem that I came to terms with while still young).  I approached Mrs. Stone, who turned out to be Mrs. Davis, an American resident in Paris.  I explained I’d like to take her photo.

     “Are you with a magazine?”  Unfazed, appearing to me the epitome of sophistication.

     I then had to explain what must have seemed odd, that I didn’t actually have my camera with me.  As it turned out, Mrs. Davis was very pleasant, as well as patient, and said if I would hurry, she’d wait with her coffee until I returned with camera.

     I did take the picture which is the one above. She said she lived at the Meurice Hotel across from the Tuileries Gardens (as did Salvador Dali that year), and suggested I could perhaps drop a copy off there.

Salvador Dali (Google archives photo)

     I’m sure I had never heard of the Meurice in those faraway days, but probably didn’t admit it.   The following week I went there with my folder of photos, hoping she would be there and thinking she might become some sort of glamorous friend.  When I entered, the hotel was so unexpectedly grand that I was seized with a kind of stage fright, and I hurriedly left them for her at the desk.  

     I never saw Mrs. Davis again, but I’ve always kept her picture, framed with others all these years in my bathroom.  It was the first time I had ever set foot in a Parisian Palace hotel.    It took me a few years, but I soon made up for lost time.

Entering The Meurice today 

click above to enter My 1970 Paris Album
Your input is welcomed:

[Photos are mine unless otherwise credited]


Monday, August 24, 2015

The Caldwells Come To Paris

(originally appeared in March 2014)

An unchanged Parc des Buttes Chaumont, Paris 2013

      When I first settled in Paris I officially lived off the Champs-Elysées, but I worked in the 19th Arrondisement on the edge of the city in the more village-like ambiance around the Buttes Chaumont Park.

     My office was in the apartment of Jean and Nancy, and as I explained in an earlier musing, I connected with far more people around my work address than on the more impersonal Champs-Elysées.

     Though I was barely making minimum wage, and it was never enough to quite see me through until the end of the month, I --like most all the other single people I knew in those days-- ate all my meals out.  Workdays found me generally at the Laumière, a huge, teeming, dirt-cheap restaurant within the neighborhood’s unique hotel.

Lunchtime at Hotel Laumiere 1970
     It was there that I learned the rudiments of what French food was all about.   The menu changed daily, and I remember that most of the main courses cost three francs.  It’s hard to imagine just what that would be worth today, but at the time it was about a half a dollar.  For that amount, I could choose between stuffed cabbage, beef bourguignon, grilled chicken, cow’s liver, etc.  

     Edith Caldwell had been my second grade teacher, and her son, Frank, a friend back in Aberdeen.  Frank brought his mother on a vacation to Paris in 1971, and I served as guide.

     The Caldwells stayed at the Hotel Moscow, which was ironically located on the rue Leningrad (unless it was the other way around, my memory being a little hazy on those details).

     It was still the cold war, and I recall Edith (who had a strong personality and was not above a bit of provocation) commented with a certain humor that she’d hate to see some of the Aberdeen townspeople’s reaction if they learned the name of her hotel.  The insinuation being, it didn’t always take too much to shock in a small southern town in those days.
Edith behatted for the Stoneybrook Races, Southern Pines 1972

     Although I had been in Paris for over a year at the time, my French was still far from accomplished.  I was fiercely motivated, however, and carried a little blue English-French dictionary around with me at all times.   It was unfortunately of limited efficiency, as it was ultra abridged, and the translations sometimes misleading.

     Jean and Nancy, who were wonderful employers and very good people, proposed I bring my friends by for a coffee at their home after lunch at the Laumière.  I was thrilled to be able to share with the Caldwells a glimpse into real Parisian life and to show how well I was integrating into the French world.  

Jean and Nancy Gauthier, rue Cavendish 1971

     Before arriving with my guests, I looked up “school teacher”, so as to introduce Edith in correct French.     The normal translation for a small child’s teacher is “maitresse d’école” or school mistress.  Only my little dictionary just left it at “maitresse"!

     A very young child just might call his teacher “Mistress”, but never, never would a grown man present a much older lady as I did: 

     “Nancy, je vous présente ma maitresse.”    

     Nancy was a professor at the Sorbonne and a no-nonsense lady.  She didn’t show any surprise, just smiled warmly, shook Edith’s hand, and without missing a beat said discreetly in French to me, “Oh, most assuredly not!”

     I immediately blushed with the realization of my faux pas, but the Caldwells were undoubtedly  never the wiser to what extent my French was so lamentably lacking.  
With Edith at the Buttes-Chaumont Park 1971

[Photos above are mine, below from family archives ]

SIDEBAR:  Back to the second grade with Edith and Little Polly

Aberdeen School before the fire (photo by E.S. Eddy)

     I have particularly vivid memories of Edith Caldwell as a school teacher, because it was at the beginning of my second grade in 1949 that the Aberdeen Elementary School burned to the ground.

      It was in the dead of night, so there were no casualties.  My father was a volunteer fireman, and I remember waiting for him to return, standing outside our home with other neighborhood children at three in the morning watching the sky lit up from the blaze on the other side of town.

       Little Polly, who was also in Edith's class that year, had a much better view, as she lived just around the corner from the schoolhouse.
Edith at school 1950
Little Polly
     After the fire, Edith's second grade settled into an annex to the Baptist Church on Main Street until a new school could be constructed a year later.

     I sat on the front row next to Little Polly, and the clearest memory I have today of Edith's class is of Polly and me singing at the top of our lungs, "Frère Jacques."

     I doubt if I even realized it was French at the time, and it certainly  was not until about the time of Edith and Frank's Paris visit twenty years later that I actually began to understand the words.

Your input is welcomed:

CROSS REFERENCING … a look at other postings

"Little Polly" and Aberdeen were also mentioned in blog No. 26 "Babe Ruth's 60th Home Run"   (to access, click on title).

Sunday, August 2, 2015

John and Yoko 1969

(originally appeared in February 2014)

Early Beatles (Google archives)

      The Beatles hit international super-stardom the year I finished school.   In 1964 I was in my last year at Campbell College in Buies Creek, North Carolina (the only place I've ever lived which was even smaller than Aberdeen),  and I recall their record being played on the radio virtually non-stop.  It was Love-Me-Do, and it was the first time I had been aware of what was being described as the "new sound."

      Whenever you awakened in the morning,  got into an automobile, or crawled into bed in the evening, it seemed Love-Me-Do was within earshot.  In my teens I had been an Elvis fan, and had followed all of the Little Richard-Fats Domino-Bo Diddley rock and rollers throughout the fifties.   I loved the early Beatles hits, but for some reason I never evolved with any pop music after that.

      I not only completely missed the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and everything else that followed, I kind of lost all notion of the Beatles, themselves, after their first couple of years revolutionizing pop music.

      By the time I had moved to London at the end of the Swinging Sixties, I was aware that the Beatles were taken seriously, not only by the kids, but also by musicologists and intellectuals.  Further than that, I didn't really have a clue, and I didn't much care one way or the other about their later, more ambitious music.

     At UPI, there was an older guy who manned a special United Kingdom desk.  He was the established rock music specialist, and cultivated close contacts --probably on his own time-- with many of the top rock stars.  He wasn't generally a very friendly person, and I didn't normally have occasion to work with him, but one day he proposed that I go to pick up a statement from one of the Beatles.

      It turned out to be John Lennon who was just on the point of marrying Yoko Ono.  There was a lot of talk of dissension and infighting within the Beatles, and Yoko was thought to have added to the bad vibes.  It was 1969,  and although the group had not performed for over two years, no one would have dreamed at that time that they were never to appear together again.

Yoko and John 1969 (Evening Standard photo)

     The fact was that John Lennon as an individual entertainer held little interest for me.  Yoko even less.  Had I been scheduled to meet the entire Beatles quartet, I would have been thrilled, but just one of them (and I wasn't entirely sure which was which) meant nothing.  With hindsight today, I find my attitude bafflingly ignorant.

      So it was that with a minimum of enthusiasm and even less preparation, I went off to Apple Headquarters on Savile Row, where the group had its London offices, to pick up the press release from John and Yoko.  

     I was ushered into a large office with white leather sofas around an executive desk.  John sat on one of the couches, I on another, and Yoko kind of draped herself on a cushion more or less at the feet of her future husband.  I don't think she ever opened her mouth, and I erroneously assumed she was overcome with some sort of Asian timidity.

      John handed me the press release which because of his special friendship with my UPI colleague was  to be an exclusive.  He explained that he would be waiting twelve hours before releasing it to anyone else.

Wedding day (AP)
      It was the time of the Vietnam War.  The Lennons (along with most everyone else of my generation whom I knew in London) were vehemently anti-war, and they were announcing a seven-day "bed-in" at the Hilton Hotel in Amsterdam to celebrate their imminent marriage and to protest U.S. participation in the Asian conflict.

     I cannot conceive today that I would have had no further questions, but I think I found all the information I needed in his prepared announcement.  So after a few banalities of which I have little memory, I thanked them and left.

      Today I cringe when I think how out of touch I was, how oblivious I was to his importance in 20th Century music.   Lennon was very relaxed and friendly.  He may well have been intrigued that I showed so little interest in them, but he undoubtedly knew that his project would be reported throughout the world via United Press International, so he was probably not displeased.

     The only part of the day that has left a really vivid memory occurred after the meeting.   Lennon accompanied me to the door when I left, and as he ushered me onto the courtyard, I heard little squeals  coming from behind the gates.  Just then we came face to face with a group of five or six excited teen-aged girls who proceeded to release a flurry of rose petals in our direction.

      It may have been boringly routine for John Lennon, but it definitely made my day!

Apple Headquarters, 3 Savile Row

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Teensy Misbehaves At The Connaught

(originally appeared June 2013)

The Connaught seen from Carlos Place (photo courtesy of the hotel)

     The Connaught has always held a special place in the London Hotel firmament.    Historically the most elitist and probably the most snobby, it tended towards a more staid and older clientele, guests often coming as much for its discretion and privacy as for its understated luxury.

Grant in Hollywood circa 1938

It was always more where famous people went when they didn't wish to be seen.  Cary Grant (him again!) might have stayed at the Savoy if he were promoting a movie, but he definitely returned to the Connaught for some more anonymous peace and quiet.

I doubt if I had even heard of it the two years I lived in London.  It wasn’t until about 1990 that I discovered the Connaught Grill with its enticing prix-fixe menu.  It was a particularly amazing value for money at Sunday lunch, when a good English chef prepared some of the simple, old fashioned family-style dishes (like lamb roast or steak and kidney pie, and above all their spectacular bread and butter pudding).  It was always packed, and people-watching was as entertaining as the food.

A unique Connaught restaurant highlight was the mid-meal changing of the table cloth.   Every time I would imagine it just wouldn’t be possible.  Then before you realized what was happening, there were two, three or four waiters ever so discreetly removing plates and cutlery, then replacing –one corner at a time—the entire table cloth (albeit with a hidden, second cloth laying in wait underneath the first).

Each time it seemed like an extraordinary feat.  I’m afraid that after many decades of this tradition, the new guard seems to have abandoned this signature tour de force.

I only stayed at the Connaught once.  Needless to say, I had found a special promotion which made it somehow possible to justify the extravagance.  Unfortunately, that trip remains connected in my memory with a particularly negative experience.  No fault whatsoever of the hotel.

The Connaught's imposing stairway  (Trip Adviser photo)

I had an old college friend from North Carolina, later transplanted to Texas, who has remained close through most of my adult life.  He was very much like a brother, and I think the fact that he was born in the elegant Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia (a fluke of wartime requisitioning, but still what a sensational start to life!) was no small factor in cementing our long friendship.

His second wife, Teensy (well, we’ll call her that anyway) never quite appreciated my presence, and it was often fairly mutual.  I guess I didn’t always make the best effort, and she certainly didn’t either.

They were to be in London with their three teenaged children, and my old friend talked me into arranging a trip at the same time.  That was when I found the Connaught special.  They were close by at a friend's apartment off Grovesnor Square for the week, and I took the Eurostar over for the weekend.

It had been several years since I had last seen them, and as the trip was shortly after Christmas, I launched out on a special invitation in guise of belated Christmas gift.

I invited the family to join me at the Connaught for lunch, though with a couple of important stipulations: 1) that we all limit ourselves to the luncheon prix fixe menu and 2) for the three teenagers, no coca-colas (need I point out the financial ruin of a few soft drinks in that calibre of restaurant?).  Instead, I invited the group to my room before lunch for drinks, including cokes for the kids, which I had purchased from a neighborhood grocery store.   

I was immediately aware of a certain tension in the air.  Teensy was clearly unhappy that I was there, which was particularly unfortunate since I was the host.  I got the distinct impression that she saw me as ruining her London holiday.  Sensing disaster, I made a silent vow to remain as dignified and polite as I could possibly manage.

I think I did quite well, and after a few minutes of extreme tension, I told myself I would turn this bad moment into a game whereby I would react to the negative vibes with a maximum of grace, act as though everyone was cordial and happy,  and that I would undoubtedly never have to receive her again.

Once in the restaurant, Teensy, in her first moment of vocal aggresivity, suggested that she might prefer to look at the more expensive à la carte menu just in case something else might tickle her fancy.  Ultimately, she didn’t quite dare go any further, and opted like the rest of us for the luncheon menu.

As I ordered wine and water for our party, she burst forth with a new defiance.  Turning to her youngest daughter, who began to squirm uncomfortably in her chair, she asked, “Wouldn’t you like a coca-cola?”  When the little girl, who knew exactly what was going on, replied in the negative, Teensy kind of lost her cool, and reiterated a bit louder, this time to the rest of the family:  “Are you sure you don’t want any soft drinks?”

That’s pretty much the end of the story.  The point was made.  No one actually had soft drinks, and it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if they had.  Suffice it to say we lunched under a certain strain.  Between the lamb and the dessert, the tablecloth was miraculously changed, but no one was in much of a mood to appreciate this special sleight of hand.

It’s all far in the past now.  I never saw Teensy again, and my college friend has since gone on to another wife. 

The Connaught seems to have successfully moved with the times.  The bars and lobby areas are now generally packed with exceedingly young, under-dressed, blazé whiz kids who probably excel in the worlds of finance and computers.  

A kind of social democracy arrived in London way back in the Swinging Sixties, but it took quite a few decades before finally reaching the Connaught.  The Grill has since changed names, with a new, very French restaurant in its place; and in the process it has lost much of the special charm it once held for me. 

The Connaught bar (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

Your input is welcomed:

Friday, July 10, 2015

En Route To Miami With The Farrells

(this posting originally appeared in May 2013)

The Fontainebleau Hotel, the early years (Library of Congress)

The same year of my first trip to New York with Aunt Frances, I traveled to Florida with the Farrell family.

Graham was my best friend in grammar school, and he often accompanied us to the Carthage Hotel for Sunday lunch (see Musing N° 2 of Sept. 7, 2012).   In fact, it was he who first mutilated those plastic table coverings.  Alternatively, I was regularly invited after church for fried chicken with the Farrells on Poplar Street.

In February or March of 1955 the Farrells --Cecil, Catherine and Graham-- planned their annual drive to Miami, and after a great deal of cajoling of both families by Graham and me, I was finally included in the trip.

It seems odd that I would have been able to miss so much school, but times were different, and I do remember my mother speaking with Mrs. Funderburk, my seventh grade teacher, who enthusiastically encouraged her to let me go.

I think we took three days to drive down.  I had been looking forward to staying at motels, but Graham’s parents would inevitably have an argument about the price, and we’d end up staying in a private home with rooms for rent. 

St Augustine, America's oldest city, vintage postcard
 I recall a particularly heated discussion, arriving in Saint Augustine, where there were scores of really snazzy motels as we entered the city.  Graham and I were jumping up and down in the back seat, shouting to stop at each one we saw, particularly those with swimming pools.  

Catherine was usually on our side, but we didn't stand a chance. Cecil definitely held the purse strings, and none of the prices suited.  In those days (perhaps it hasn’t changed), the room rate at U.S. motels was posted under the neon signs, and they were inevitably deemed too expensive.   Even at that age, I was surprised that no hotels had been reserved in advance.   

Me in Parrot Jungle, Miami (photo Graham Farrell)

Once in Miami, we spent much of the first day looking for a place to stay, scouting out rooming houses of which there were an abundance in the 1950’s.   We finally found one, and it seemed perfect to me, but I was still disappointed we hadn’t chosen a real hotel. 

  Graham's father was not a big traveller, but he had a special  affection for Miami, and driving through the countryside, Cecil talked to us at length about the Fontainebleau.   We were mesmerized, listening to his description of this super-modern hotel of inventive, circular architecture which he said was the finest and most expensive hotel in the world.  It had had its grand opening just a few months earlier.

One of the highlights of our trip was to be a visit to the Fontainebleau, but as I don’t actually remember anything about it, I suspect we only saw it from the outside.  I don't much imagine that back in those days it would have occurred to any of us to just march inside.

After a brilliantly successful first decade when it was embraced by show business stars and featured in numerous films and television specials, The Fontainebleau was not always able to maintain its prestige.  For a number of years, it fell, along with most of the rest of Miami Beach, on seriously hard times.  Rival Colombian and Cuban drug lords took over large suites to carry out their business, and several were arrested in the hotel in highly publicized crackdowns during the 1970's.

The Fontainebleau declared bankruptcy in 1977, but never completely shut down.  By 2006, most of the hotel's rooms were closed, and their furniture put up for auction.  Repeatedly rising from its ashes, however, the old Miami landmark reinvented itself under new ownership, and expanded, enlarged and completely redid itself in a flashy rebirth in 2008.

I have wonderful childhood memories of that week in 1955 with the Farrell family, but it is as though they end in Miami.  I have no recollection of the long drive back to Aberdeen.  Childhood was drawing to a close, and I don't think there were any more Sunday lunches at the Farrells after that trip.  In fact, I don't specifically recall going there again until the late 1960's when Cecil died, or much later when I once visited with Catherine during a trip home from Paris.  

When Brenda and I stopped over at the Winterhaven Hotel in 2011 on our way back to France from Panama, I looked forward to a visit to the Fontainebleau ... just to see what it had become.

Crowded Fontainebleau pool today (photo Buenno)

What a disappointment!   Outside, it still had its unique architecture intact, but inside it looked much like a big city train station and just as impersonal.   With over 1500 rooms (!) and 12 restaurants, it embodied everything bad that you hear about Las Vegas …. or Miami hotels:  too big, too cold, too loud, too glitzy, too crowded!   On the plus side, we did eat a very nice hamburger there. 

Whatever it once may have been, at least in my eyes, The Fontainebleau is no longer.

SIDEBAR:  The Winterhaven

The Winterhaven Hotel 1945, as seen in vintage postcard

The Winterhaven is quite another story.  In fact, it would be accurate to describe it as pretty much the opposite of the Fontainebleau:  simple, attractive, and inexpensive. 

I discovered the Winterhaven in Miami Beach in 2003.  My father had been seriously ill and hospitalized for some weeks; he had recently returned home, and I was on my way to Aberdeen to see him.

I no longer remember by what fluke I found my route from Paris to North Carolina via Florida.   I had re-discovered Miami a few years earlier, and the Winterhaven had then been recommended as an inexpensive old hotel of a certain charm overlooking the ocean at the northern tip of South Beach.  

It is considered to be part of Miami Beach’s special art-deco architecture, though for purists, the Winterhaven like most of the others is a little late and more of a post-art deco, at least by European standards. 

Built in 1939, it has very pure lines.  It appears to have weathered the decades with grace, though I understand it was in a pretty dismal state by the 1980’s.    Like so many sea-front hotels there, most of the outside is white stucco, and it has enjoyed the revival of Miami Beach in the last decade or so.   Brenda and I recently  ran across an old picture book of art-deco architecture with a nice 1945 illustration of the Winterhaven (see photo).   

Unfortunately, I have a particularly sad association with The Winterhaven, as it was here just before leaving for Aberdeen in 2003, that I was informed of the death of my father.    Although I had enjoyed my stay, it left me --though of course through no fault of the hotel's-- with ambiguous memories.

I didn’t ever expect to have an occasion to return, but when Brenda and I decided to stay a couple of nights in Miami in 2011, it seemed an appealing choice to go back to.   It was almost as if I had a family connection there.  

The Winterhaven today (Photo Brenda P.)



Vintage Ava (MGM photo)

Few celebrities made their way to Aberdeen Eleanor Roosevelt passed through fleetingly the year  before I was born, and I once posed with my boy scout troop alongside Adlai Stevenson at Styers’ Filling Station during one of his unsuccessful presidential bids.

With Adlai Stevenson, me bottom right (photo Sandhill Citizen)

Townspeople did once get a peek of Ava Gardner, though I may be the only one left to tell the tale, admittedly second hand.  It was recounted to me and Graham during that road trip to Miami.  It was a tiny story of little consequence, but it fascinated us children, as Ava Gardner seemed like the biggest movie star in the world back in 1955.  [Cecil would undoubtedly be pleased to know that I have never forgotten it.]

Cecil Farrell had been a member of a local business owners' association during the Second World War.  Ava Gardner, as everyone may not know, grew up in a little hamlet a couple of hours away from Aberdeen, called Grabtown. 

With Rooney 1942 (MGM)

Cecil had been tipped off by a railroad official that Ava Gardner would be on the southbound train on a certain day, and that her train would actually be stopping, however briefly, in Aberdeen.

It had been her first visit back to North Carolina after marrying Mickey Rooney, and even though she had yet to make an important film appearance, the trip coincided with the considerable media attention she was receiving as an MGM starlet.

She, too, was on her way to Miami, before making the five-day train journey west back to Los Angeles.  

Cecil, along with other members of the Aberdeen business group, prepared to greet the North Carolina “girl-made-good” with a few words of welcome.  They were accompanied by several members of the high school band.

When the train pulled into Union Station, the delegation got a close look at the young Ava who was looking curiously out the window of her private drawing room.

Cecil said the band launched into a hearty rendition of “California Here I Come”, and he tried to motion for the actress to open her window before delivering his few words of welcome..

Ava Gardner looked at the unexpected welcoming committee,  made a little grimace, probably at the noise; and then, with not so much as a smile, she pulled down the shade. 

“And that was the last anyone in Aberdeen ever saw of Ava Gardner in the flesh,” Cecil concluded with a chuckle, and Catherine, who had heard the story many times, joined Graham and me in much laughter.

Aberdeen's Union Station at the turn of the century, unchanged today (Malcolm Blue Historical Society photo)

Your input is welcomed:

  [Photos are mine, unless otherwise credited]

CROSS REFERENCING … a look at other postings
My first trip to New York with Aunt Frances was featured in blog No. 4, "A Two-Dollar Hamburger Under a Silvery Dome" Dec. 21, 2012, and blog No. 2 "Sunday Lunch with Grandmother Pleasants and Mrs. Kennedy" Sept. 7, 2012 (to access, click on title).