Veiled… (a chapter from my feminist novel “whitegirrrl”) memoir

bridalveil“Someday you will make the most wonderful wife,” she says.

“I want to show you your hope chest.”

Your grandmother has ordered a chest for you, the year you turn fourteen. She opens it and you see bolts of lacy antique fabric. These are tablecloths and linens and napkins and doilies. This has been her legacy. These date back generations.

She explains the gilded plates and goblets and the settings and all the tiny silver forks. She teaches you to set the table and arrange the flowers as if these are things that you are going to need to know.

“It’s beautiful,” you say, arranging centerpieces.

You pull her wedding dress from the box where it has been saved in tissue. Beige lace and hand beading almost like a flapper’s dress. It must have been the epitomy of taste in 1918.

Actually it was modern.

You wonder if she had a veil.

Your grandfather tells you tales of his Harley Davidson with a sidecar.

You imagine her breathless in the snow, cheeks shining. The flutter of love in the air. She was 15 and he 18 when they met.

You trace your hands along the lace over the thousands of beads and exquisite workmanship from a time when craft still mattered.

You expect he was dashing.

And she beautiful.

She shows you all the delicate porcelain plates his sister amused herself by painting.

Sea scenes of tiny crabs and fishes.

Ladies’ work. Like lacemaking. Like ladylike. Like Bullock’s Wilshire when she takes you to the tearoom for tiny cakes and watercress sandwiches and petits fours or to the juice bars you frequent on her shopping trips.

In the afternoons she lies on a slantboard and gets her beauty sleep.

She gets treatments and she studies Gayelord Hauser.

You have two realities in childhood. Your grandmother’s and your mother’s.

“She’s trying to steal you from me,” says your mother.

“I can’t stand her and that life she leads.”

“She had to give up everything to be married,” your mother says later.


“Her own life.”

Your grandmother tells you about her aunt Cecee and how she had married the dashing Uncle Wilson. You study the photographs of him abroad, and study all the patterns in the Oriental rugs. He’s on camels, riding. He is in Japan at a tea ceremony. He is off traveling the world riding elephants while her aunt takes her to the club every day.

The club where society women go in big cities for luncheons.

You imagine she must have seen him and thought of a way out at fifteen.

You want to give her more credit than you mother’s disdain.

“She hated me,” your mother says.

“She only loved my brother.”

“I never even had a baby book, and he did.”

It’s a feud that goes on for years with you in the middle.

Your grandmother carries a series of little alligator bags that click open and shut. She carries elegant enameled cases for her powder and a golden tube for her lipstick. She is never without your grandfather’s handkerchief when she needs it.

He encloses her in a series of cars, because she doesn’t drive.

When you are fourteen she is reading Gift from the Sea, and writing little notes to herself about spirituality and survival or how to keep one’s spirits up when faced with unruly children like her daughter.

It seems as if she is always trying to discount or control your mother. She wants you to tell her everything as she sips her aperitifs before the crackling fire in the afternoons.

You go silent.

Which one will you be forced to defend against the other?

Your grandfather and your uncle provide the relief at holiday dinners. Your uncle sitting quietly behind his newspapers with a cigar — and your grandfather drawing, perpetually drawing little things on paper. Little scenes of tranquility perhaps to keep his nerves at bay.

He draws the logo for his Mercedes over and over again.

“If you have nothing pleasant to say at the table, then don’t,” snaps your grandmother. This silences everyone.

The air fills with unspoken hostilities. Another round of cocktails is ordered.

You go and sit with your grandfather and his magical world of elsewhere as he draws. The two of you have the means to escape it. It only takes a pen and a little piece of paper.

Years later you open the hope chest and it is empty. Your mother has dispensed with all the lace and all the silver. At her passing you begin to see what she had wanted to rid herself of.

It was her mother.

“She always told me I was too tall or too clumsy.”

“Don’t be vain about your hair,” she’d say.

“You must brush it 100 strokes a night.”

She hands you a little set of silver -backed brushes.

It will be your grandmother who decides you can never see your best friend again.

“She isn’t a good influence,” you hear her tell your mother.

Fourteen is the year you have to part for a time. Her parents are splitting and her brother is leaving to live with his friends on the Drive. He’s only seventeen and he has to go. Her mother leaves the hill and the teak and the blueberry pancakes for a series of young lovers.

Your best friend is forced to bounce back and forth, and forth and back like a dandelion puff on the wind.

You can’t stand what has happened.

She is alone in that Victorian house her mother bought and she has to fend for herself. She does this by baking loaves of wheat bread and taking up typing. The lovers come and go.

Her father makes himself a bachelor pad and finds a girlfriend.

It’s at the beach.

Your best friend plants a garden for him. He gives her a little couch in the living room.

There will never be another sleepover. There will never be another childhood bedroom full of toys to save and pass on to the next generation. These are the years when everyone decides they will do what they want. They will have what they want no matter the cost.

These are the years where there aren’t any parents.

* * *

“Veiled” — copyright 2009 by Valentine Bonnaire — all rights reserved.

*authors note on the scoring — old songs like Al Jolson? Or these things…

15 thoughts on “Veiled… (a chapter from my feminist novel “whitegirrrl”) memoir

  1. song, thanks….

    ps: I just joined that facebook thing, there are people I know in real life in there!
    how wild — but just like with all this stuff it just is more stuff to maintain —
    ah well…


    thanks for all the comments on this memoir — I decided yesterday to open it in slices? Of time. So that each chap is an entrance to the characters in a way, or that by the end one knows the characters?


    I seem to be in the teen years right now….


  2. great Bonnaire! Just great about Facebook. I am happy for all the people who will get to know you there!

    love the slices of time.

    weaving the threads…


  3. today’s is about age 13 — era of Janis, Hendrix and so forth —

    it’s really interesting to me the difference in experience we had — you in the private lessons and me in the socal sweeping social change the 70’s wrought…

    this one is about kids and their basements and what went on — we weren’t old enough for what the 60’s gen was going through?

    one thing I feel, many will understand this memoir?
    from my gen?

    I hope so…

    again, thank you for the support, always!
    it means so much to the writer, it does!


  4. Never went there Bonnaire either to Hendrix, Janis..

    Can barely tell you one thing about them. well, except they’re dead, and my classical musician friends are alive.
    i guess that says something.

    My lunch hours were spent, I believe I told you this. Practicing. that’s how i was accepted into Eastman.

    Rene Fleming went there 2 years after I was supposed to attend. That’s where I got, from where I began.

    bluegrass to Opera.



  5. Yes, it is rather so, even if I say so myself, which I just did. Your writings make me Remember these things..which i don’t look at too often…

    Thank you so much.

    I don’t go back there often, because i was teased mercilessly by my peers…Mercilessly…….lol
    (who would want to remember that?)

    one day going to school, i made up my mind, that I would either bow to the pressure, or hold my head up as they waited in the halls for me in little groups.


    I held my head up, threw my shoulders back? and walked right through them Bonnaire.

    Yes I did.

    Hell mother and older brother teased me too

    geez what’s wrong with people? lol


    1. after writing this? the teasing.

      Suddenly I had tears in my eyes…

      i’ve never cried about it….

      not at all.

      i just went to the practice rooms, and put the tears in the songs that needed them.


  6. I was always teased too. For being different. But you know what?o
    We were the artists?

    This one took you back into your own experience of that time?

    I know this is going to sound strange but — if I can somehow help people release tears by this writing? That will be a good thing? Or laughter, or any emotion?

    If I can help people to feel, my work as a therapist is working!

    In a way, we are each other’s history? We are. No generation has ever been like ours was. In the times we lived out.

    That is ours, alone, and no one has written it out?

    hugs —

    you see, if you wrote that out?

    would you ever help a YA reader who was struggling with that same feeling, dunno.

    it was merciless back then.

    we made it, we are the grown ups!


  7. “one day going to school, i made up my mind, that I would either bow to the pressure, or hold my head up as they waited in the halls for me in little groups.”

    yes, like that!

    it was.

    All artists are outsiders?

    their feeling is what goes into the artform?


    1. absolutely the feeling goes into the artform…

      i was perceived as very aloof…

      bet you were too.

      I never was and neither were you.

      Anyway, gotta go, to dinner.

      glad I know you Bonnaire.


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