(Mom, Bob & Me)
AUNT FANNIE – LAKE BOONE
My Aunt Fannie was not your ordinary Aunt Fannie… well, actually she was my mother’s Aunt Fannie - my Great Aunt Fannie (I’m digressing already). Like many Aunt Fannies, she came to America, crossing the Atlantic in steerage, and passing through the gates of Ellis Island near the turn of the century. Also, like so many Aunt Fannie immigrants she worked as a domestic… a cook… even a nanny (though I think the term was ‘governess’ back in her day…). But unlike many of those other Aunt Fannies who worked for wealthy families, she worked for a real WASP 400, wealthy (that’s redundant, I know) banking family. Whether this patriarch was the founder of Chase (which seems stuck in my brain) or some other mega bank, I can’t recall. But it was definitely one of those banks too big to fail… til 1929. He owned mansions in Manhattan and Newport, Rhode Island. And, he owned a yacht. A real yacht with many staterooms, a Captain and crew, and servants. As the cook and nanny, Aunt Fannie traveled the world on that yacht, taking care of his children and catering his lavish parties. Her reward? Investments! Aunt Fannie didn’t need much to live on because she lived with the banker and his family, so Mr. Banker invested her salary and her money grew and grew and grew.
As legend has it, she retired fairly young and divested all her investments before that fateful day in ‘29, stuffing all that cash into shoe boxes under her bed. Was she forewarned by her former employer? I don’t know. I don’t know if anyone knows. But she was shrewd with money and may have read the seemingly never-ending bull market accurately on her own.
She bought a large two-story house on Lake Boone in Massachusetts. A 'spinister,' and like Elizabeth the lst (the spinsiter queen), Fannie was queen of her kingdom.
The house, named Camp Massasoit after the great New England Chief, was located near her brother (my mother's father) and his seven off-spring, two of whom were my beloved mom and my wonderful Aunt Fritzie. Sadly, I don’t think I ever knew my grandfather’s name. Isn’t that weird? But I do know that he hanged himself when my mother was eighteen. Not the best memory. (I know… digressing).
As Fannie’s myriad number of nieces and nephews grew, they spent endless days at Lake Boone swimming and boating in the summer… ice skating in the winter… often joined by cousins from various parts of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. For most of the winter, however, Fannie lived in Florida supplementing her income by playing the dogs. Greyhounds, that is.
Eventually, the nieces and nephews went off to college or Boston or New York to find their own way in the world, married and had children of their own… my thirteen cousins, my brother and me. It was now our turn to while away summer days at Camp Massasoit.
(the cousins & Aunt Fritzie - I'm in the yellow shirt)
One of my most vivid memories is the camp itself. The kitchen, with its long farm sink, led into the long (almost the length of the house) screened-in porch where the ice box proudly stood. In the living room was a large stone fireplace
(Bob & me & the fireplace)
and a piano covered with framed black & white family photos. On the walls were dusty and fading banners of Dartmouth where my Uncle Aarne (my mom’s oldest brother) was a football hero and other college banners where other nieces and nephews attended. The large slip-covered sofa was literally covered w/ souvenir pillows from her travels and the travels of her family and friends. You know the kind. The brightly colored satin pillows w/ tassels that proudly displayed a map of Atlantic City or the Lincoln Memorial or a deer in Yellowstone Park… I loved those pillows, especially a fading shocking pink, chartreuse and yellow one from Las Vegas! On the distressed wooden floor was an enormous “Oriental” rug, faded and threadbare. But that rug still seemed ‘important’ to my young eyes. Adjacent to the living room was a sun room/bedroom where favored relatives could sleep. Usually a nephew or bachelor uncle (she favored the ‘boys’).
The stairs in the living room led to the pitched-ceiling attic which had two small bedrooms – one for Aunt Fannie, where her false teeth floated in a glass of water at night, and one for the ‘favored’ visiting married couple. Some summers that bedroom was my parents.’ Other summers it was Aunt Fritzie and Uncle Martin’s room. And, some summers it was neither couples', but my grandparents (on my father's side) who got that little room (well, that is until my grandmother and Fannie got into a 'to do' over one thing or another - then they had to sleep w/ us kids). We almost always spent our vacations with Fritzie and Martin and my cousins Linda and Bruce. But the main room of the attic was an enchanting, cavernous space (at least to me) that we kids shared. The room was filled w/ antique iron beds and ironstone chamber pots under each bed. At the far end of the room were two floor-to-ceiling wooden ‘doors’ which opened out high above the backyard. I remember sitting there at night with some of my cousins, our legs dangling out of the attic, watching fireflies and waiting for Peter Pan to come and get us. We never tried to fly. We knew we had to have Tinkerbell’s fairy dust to do that.
As I noted above, one thing I learned early on was that Aunt Fannie preferred men. She was a fairly homely woman and never married, but she flirted shamelessly with the men in her life. (I wish I had a picture, but sadly, I don't - only her picture in my memory.) The women, on the other hand, were there to do her bidding: cleaning, shopping and cooking. But they knew she loved them and it was little price to pay for the fun they (and we kids) had.
Of course, it wasn’t all fun for the grown-ups. One year Fritzie and Mom decided they were tired of cleaning the floors and Oriental rug with Fannie’s carpet sweeper, so they went into town and bought a brand new Hoover – only the best would do for Aunt Fannie. I still remember the roar that came out of my great aunt when Fritzie and my mom proudly unveiled the shiny new vacuum cleaner. Fannie hated it! I mean truly hated it. No way was she going to allow that ‘thing’ in HER house she yelled. The carpet sweeper worked perfectly fine, thank you very much, so get that ‘thing’ out of here! The same outrage was repeated when one of my ‘second’ uncles (like a second cousin) bought her a refrigerator so she wouldn’t have to rely on the ‘iceman cometh.’ Nothing doing! Get that monstrosity out of HER house. Her icebox was perfectly fine, thank you very much. So much for some modern amenities.
And then there was the outhouse. Did I forget to mention the camp had NO bathrooms and sometimes there were ten, twelve or more people staying there at one time? The adults conspired to have one installed, but again Fannie Would. Not. Hear. Of it! The outhouse was perfectly fine, thank you very much. And if you didn’t like it – you didn’t have to come and visit. Period. End. Of. Discussion. Somehow the adults managed, even on the rainiest days, and we kids never noticed that we were living so ‘primitively.’
So, now I imagine you might be wondering if we bathed since we had no bathroom. I’m happy to report we did. There was the kitchen sink for 'sponge' baths and we had a makeshift garden hose shower for quick ‘clean-ups.’ But mostly we washed in the lake. Washing our hair was the most fun… suds-ing it up, then diving underwater to rinse the suds away… sometimes we’d suds up each other’s hair, then all of us would hold our noses and dunk each other over and over again…
Aunt Fritzie taught me how to play cards at Lake Boone. Specifically canasta. And Aunt Fannie was so proud of the way I played (we’re a card playing family and play whenever and wherever we can)...
(uncles looking for floating pinochle card)
she had me sit in on a game w/ the ‘grown-ups’ one evening before I had to go to bed. I was so proud, I ‘dined out’ on that special treatment for the rest of my vacation by recounting my tale of ‘favoritism’ at every meal much to my cousins’ annoyance.
Once, before cousin Bruce could swim, my beach ball floated out in the lake. Bruce -- always my hero -- went to save it. But he couldn’t swim, right? Well, he was feeling invincible because he was in one of those colorful plastic tubes we kids used to float in (the ones w/ orange gold fish and green starfish painted on them… d-i-g-r-e-s-s-i-n-g…), so off he paddled and kicked. His mom (Aunt Fritzie) was watching us from the screened-in porch above and called out, but Bruce had made up his mind. He was getting that beach ball! But as he reached for it, he somehow slipped out of that little plastic tube and floundered. Before he had even a mouthful of water, Aunt Fritzie flew down the porch stairs, across the dock and dove in the water in her shirt-waist dress and saddle shoes. A few fast strokes later she had her son locked safely in her arms and began to swim ashore, but not until Bruce grabbed the beach ball and brought it home to me. I don’t remember her scolding Bruce for his gallantry, but I do remember her mourning the destruction of the permanent that my mother had given her earlier that morning. Remember Tonis -- the DIY home permanent??
Lake Boone was also where my brother Bob first got “married.” It didn’t matter that he and his ‘bride’ were only five and the marriage wasn’t legal.
And Lake Boone was where the 'old' folks and we kids would fish off the dock in the morning w/ bamboo poles, using bits of white bread for bait…
(grandpa fishing at sunrise)
catching little sunfish-like fish that everyone called pumpkin seeds. It’s where my brother stepped on a rusty nail and had to have tetanus shots and where we all listened at the top of the stairs as the grown-ups played cards, drank highballs, laughed and sometimes argued (Finns and their politics!) til the wee hours of the morning. It was during one of those nights that I learned one of my mother’s and Aunt Fritzie’s girlfriends, on a drunken tear some years earlier, grabbed her son out of bed in the middle of the night and dragged him - still in his pajamas - to some seedy hotel where his father was in the midst of a tryst with some “other” woman. I wasn’t sure what a tryst was or exactly why this was awful, but my parents, my aunt and uncle and those at the card table certainly made it clear that it was.
And it was at the lake where we all gathered at the long table in the screened-in-porch that served as the dining room for fried fish breakfasts made w/ fish we had caught that morning (filleted by the ‘men’) and dinners made by my mom and aunts. It was there on that porch my older cousin Linda (Bruce’s sister) played Johnny Ray records and “Earth Angel” with other older cousins and their lake friends, and where Fannie’s neighbor with an antique Model T would give us kids rides. It’s where we all learned to row a boat
(Bruce & me)
and to swim and where we spent quality time w/ our parents.
(mom & me)
(dad & Bob)
(the water-wing wonder)
It’s also the place where, spying through a crack at an older cousin as he changed out of his wet bathing suit in the little dressing room under the outdoor stairs, I saw my first penis other than my dad’s or brother’s. And, it was then and there I decided I didn’t want one. Sorry, no picture!
The lake was where we kids would stop what we were doing and run into the camp when we smelled Aunt Fannie's deep frying donuts! They’d still be hot, draining on a dish towel (paper towels? – not at Aunt Fannie’s) when we’d grab a few and go out on the un-screened-in porch and sit on the floral cushioned swing hanging from chains and eat donuts til our stomachs nearly burst. Years later, my mom said that Fannie had lost her donut ‘touch’ by the time Bruce, Bob and I had them. She said they were too greasy and heavy. But to us kids… well, me at least… they were the best donuts in the world.
The summer I turned nine was the last summer I would spend at Lake Boone with Aunt Fannie because Fritzie and Martin had bought their cottage on Alexander’s Lake in Dayville, Connecticut and my family would continue to spend vacations with them there. But the memories of Fannie, her home and Lake Boone have never left me.
Until she died Aunt Fannie continued to spend every winter in Florida going to the dog track and betting on the races, supplementing the income from her investments (she did finally take her money out of those shoe boxes and return it to the bank sometime after WWII – or so the legend goes). And when she was at the lake, the camp was still filled with friends and relatives. She never did put in a bathroom, though I think she finally broke down and let someone buy her a vacuum cleaner. To this day, I have no idea where anyone did laundry. In the lake?
(Mom going I don't know where to do laundry)
Bruce and I, w/ our cousin Mike, did make it back for a brief visit the summer Mike and I turned 16. Fannie flirted with the boys and decided that I would be a perfect match for one of her favorite neighborhood boys. His name was Eric and we had played together when we were kids. Our parents had been friends in their youth. He was 17 or 18 that summer and drop-dead gorgeous. Fannie egged us on. She wanted Eric in the family, but I was a big disappointment to her because I hadn't developed her 'knack' for flirting. After we left the lake, I never saw him again.
In my early twenties, I went back to Lake Boone one more time when I accompanied my mother to Aunt Fannie’s funeral. I don’t remember who was there, but there seemed to be a lot of first cousins and second cousins and third cousins, most of whom I hadn’t seen since I was 8 or 9. The funeral remains in a fog - maybe because I only want to remember Fannie as she was when I was a kid… taking out her teeth at times to scare us… applying a burning antiseptic on a cut I had on my leg that she’d been using sparingly since before ‘the’ war so many years ago. (Why? Because Uncle Aarne had brought it back for her from Dartmouth so it must be special so she only used it for special occasions. And, I felt special, even if my leg burned for an hour, but I’m back to digressing). I wanted to remember only those things, as well as sneaking into her sparse, whitewashed bedroom seeing those teeth floating in the glass… eating those warm donuts… listening to her yell at her nieces and flirt with their husbands… bossing us kids around… I still wanted to believe that Aunt Fannie would never leave us. And in some ways, she hasn't.