The photo here is from a group shot including my great-great-grandmother, infamously known only as Nanny.
The caption lists Louise, Rose (aka Nanny), Fred, Alice, Family Friend and Baxter. Nanny and Fred had these two daughters (Alice and Louise) and worked hard to stay right where they were in Bladensburg. I spent a lot of time with Alice, but I didn’t have a chance to know her mother. Nanny and most of the others were long gone by the time I plopped into the scene.
The only story I know about Nanny is this: she would dependably come out on her front porch when the little kids came around for a visit, (as long as they were related to her). She gave each of them a penny, but not for their thoughts, she wasn’t interested in kid thoughts. Most likely she gave them the pennies to go away and come back the following week.
The exasperating thing–a monument to Nanny in many minds–is that she gave one cousin, who I’ll call Dolly, a nickel . For someone with dozens of great grandchildren to so openly and dependably favor only one child–that fascinates me in its tiny cruelty.
It’s very difficult for us to understand the 19th century mind. In my writing I like to focus on the things we have in common, the thread the weaves through time to connect someone like Nanny with her thirty great-grandchildren and me with my zero grandchildren. I’m sure she enjoyed her beer and having other people bring her crab cakes. So do I.
What I cannot understand is that damned nickel. In horror, I have to admit that maybe it wasn’t a simple gesture of public favoritism, but something sharper and meaner. Maybe Nanny really wanted Dolly to get beaten up by all the other kids. Maybe she thought Dolly was too soft for a world where being angelic and looking angelic was only going to lead to sorrow. I mean, yikes, that could totally be the 19th century way of looking at a cute little girl. I cannot know!! I really wanna know!!
What we can deduce from the photo is that either it was Christmas or Nanny tossed tinsel at evergreen house plants with a generosity she didn’t show most children. We see Louise, who at fifteen was an Amazon who could fill up a Mission rocker from Sears. She and Family Friend seem to be watching some other party goers, although Louise seems to think they are likely to get up to no good. She’s vigilant. Her Paw shares her attitude, while Alice is clearly delighted with whatever nonsense is off-camera. Baxter is not minding any of it while displaying his nice wedding band and not strangling a puppy.
Nanny, however, is definitely having some thoughts of favoritism. Look at that expression. It’s exactly the way I look at a big, stupid bowl of ice cream. Mmmmm says that look. Family Friend–were you just flirting with Nanny right under Paw’s mustache? What the hell? Is that why Louise looks like she’d rather be somewhere else? She’s so sick of her mother giggling about how, “I’d sure like to mend his curtains!”
Wait. No. She’s also quite possibly looking at the puppy!! Of course. Puppies and ice cream and lust, oh my. It’s so hard to know what’s going on right now, much less a much earlier now when we weren’t.
That nickel, though. For me, behaving like that would be a kind of torture cooked up by aliens who where studying human anguish. I couldn’t do it.
Maybe we could all keep in mind the downside of favoritism. It’s a pretty dark downside and it is incredibly patient.
Note: I saw “The Favourite” with some of my gals and heartily endorse it; even with its inevitably sad trajectory and embrace of anachronisms. Why not just make up some dance moves? Fiction should be fun.
THANK YOU to all the UK folks who picked up my book recently. It’s been hard for authors like me to keep up with all the way the big kahuna is reorganizing our offerings internationally. Your patronage was extra reassuring!!
Oh dear. Did I just do a favoritism? I’m sorry!!
Further, further reading:
Undertakers, Harlots and Other Odd Bodies is out now. A free preview is available and all electronic formats are priced at a very reasonable US
$3.99!!(Still $1.99 this week!!)