September 2018: Memoir #2 from my Nonfiction Memoir Collection, 100 Wild Mushrooms: Memoirs of the ‘60s. “Write” of Passage
A Jill-of-all-Trades in the progression of life until I earned my Bachelor of Science and Master of Education degrees: a factory fatale gluing eyes on pairs of lion slippers at Capitol Heel Lining; collating booklets at Sidney-Higgins Bookbinding; getting downright dirty at H & H Screw Products; medical secretary; teaching in the third-grade classroom trenches.
Undergoing a midlife restlessness after retirement, I revived my dormant flair for writing.
I’ve published a Nonfiction Memoir collection consisting of anecdotes pertaining to growing up during the Sixties.
My primary genre is that of Contemporary Women’s Fiction–Lit with Grit, featuring flawed, feisty females over forty. My larger-than-life characters plunge the depths of despair prior to becoming empowered in seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
Ever since I submitted the manuscript of my second novel for publication, I’d been moonlighting by preparing for its debut. One of these ventures involved answering questions for prospective author interviews.
I find the process of peeling away autobiographical layers of Eva cathartic as though I’m reclining on a couch while in the midst of an expensive psychoanalytical session with the clock ticking before my half hour is up. Pandering to an author’s alter ego, I interpret each question as a nod for me to babble and blab about my humble beginnings as a wordsmith.
And, so, with little prompting, I’ve revisited my childhood and adolescence pertaining to my “write” of passage through those first forays of extracting pulp fiction from the enchanted forest of my wild imagination during the Sixties.
Under my mother’s tutelage, I became a proficient typist by the age of nine and soon pounded chapter stories on my girly-pink Tom Thumb typewriter at twelve years of age.
The very first story sprung to mind all because of a malfunction in our doorbell which would ring sporadically by itself until my father dismantled the wiring and corrected the situation. Nevertheless, I drafted a chapter story on my typewriter in the genre of mystery—The Mystery of the Midnight Doorbell, replete with dialog, secret codes, and a smuggling ring.
Hot to trot along the stubborn keys of a manual typewriter, I struck gold from mining a series of spy thrillers under the auspices of an agency I named I.N.T.R.I.G.U.E. Plucking the names of exotic countries from a map provided settings I knew nothing about. For me, it was all about the action, creating stereotyped characters dripping dialogue in broken English, good triumphing over evil, and gadgetry.
Rivaling the espionage devices in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the popular TV series created in 1964 which my thrillers predate, I employed ingenious gimmicks such as a radio in the guise of screw-back earrings, and a mini-camera concealed inside a carnation boutonniere.
In hindsight, I wish I had invented the shoe phone before the likes of Maxwell Smart, aka Agent 86, who worked for CONTROL in Get Smart, the comedy, spy-spoof series which first aired on television in 1965.
No surprise, all I wanted for Christmas that year was a ream of typing paper to further my “write” of passage. My parents did better than that by placing a manual Remington Rand typewriter for grown-ups under the tree for an aspiring young writer.
(Newport, Rhode Island) – “The Breakers”: The Grandest of Summer Cottages
The Breakers is one of several mansions of the Gilded Age on Ochre Point Avenue in Newport, Rhode Island. The grandest of summer “cottages,” it symbolizes the Vanderbilt family’s social and financial prominence at the turn of America’s twentieth century.
Newport, Rhode Island’s Bellevue Avenue is studded with opulent jewels—“in a manor of speaking”:
Signs point to the mansions’ secluded whereabouts along the main fare and side streets to the sparkle of: The Breakers, Chateau-sur-Mer, The Elms, Green Animals Topiary Garden, Hunter House, Isaac Bell House, Kingscote, Marble House, and Rosecliff.
A native Rhode Islander who has made her grand entrance in all of them, The Breakers remains my favorite. It happens to be the most-visited attraction in Rhode Island, with approximately 300,000 visitors annually.
An edifice of such magnitude needs an introduction for one to better appreciate the grandeur from which it sprang—the Gilded Age. This term referenced the process of “gilding,” intent on ridiculing ostentation adopted by filthy rich industrialists and financiers such as Cornelius Vanderbilt, lumped with other wealthy entrepreneurs accused of cheating commoners to make their money.
Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) established the family fortune in steamships and the New York Central Railroad, pivotal to the industrial growth of the nation during the late 19th century.
Grandson, Cornelius Vanderbilt II, became Chairman and President of the New York Central Railroad system in 1885, and purchased a wooden house called The Breakers in Newport during that same year. In 1893, he commissioned architect Richard Morris Hunt to design a villa to replace the earlier wood-framed house destroyed by fire the previous year. Hunt directed an international team of craftsmen and artisans to create a 70- room Italian Renaissance style palazzo inspired by the 16th century palaces of Genoa and Turin.
The Vanderbilts had seven children. Their youngest daughter, Gladys, who married Count Laszlo Szechenyi of Hungary, inherited the house after her mother’s death in 1934. In 1948, she leased the high-maintenance property to the non-profit Preservation Society of Newport County for $1 a year. The Society bought the Breakers outright in 1972 for $365,000. The agreement with the Society allows family descendants to continue to live on the third floor, not open to the public, and hidden from tourists who explore the rooms below.
A preliminary breakdown of The Breakers:
Costing more than $7 million to build during its construction from 1893-1895, this cottage/mansion has approximately 65,000 feet of living space. The edge of the 13-acre estate affords one a breathtaking view of the Atlantic whose waves break against sea cliffs. One enters the property through sculpted wrought iron gates, part of a 12-foot high limestone-and-iron fence which borders the property on all but the ocean side.
Since Cornelius Vanderbilt II stipulated his home be as fireproof as possible, the structure of the building consists of steel trusses and no wooden parts. The furnace is situated away from the house. The interior is accented with marble imported from Italy and Africa, plus rare woods and mosaics from countries around the world.
The library mantel was purchased from a chateau in France. The Gold Room was originally constructed in France, disassembled, shipped in airtight cases, and re-assembled in place in Newport. The baths have faucets for hot and cold fresh and salt water. This always impressed me!
Open for tourists year round, this architectural marvel enables one to step into the opulence of high society at the turn of the twentieth century. Slip on the headphones and tour this magnificent mansion from a bygone era at your own leisurely pace.
*For your convenience and pleasure, I’ve included a virtual tour of The Breakers for you to enjoy, surrounded by the comforts of home (4:56 minutes).