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Here is the next excerpt from Beatrice Allen Page’s unpublished manuscript, Landscape with Figures:

“The tide was too low for swimming when I went to the beach this morning so there were few people there, but presently two little girls appeared, sisters obviously from their resemblance to each other. The older, about eleven, carried a shallow cardboard box about a foot square, and the younger, about five, was clutching a naked doll.

The older one clearly felt her responsibility – she took charge of the situation with a very purposeful air. First she picked out a place for them to sit, making sure the sand was not damp, then she brushed her little sister’s blonde hair away from her eyes with a maternal gesture, and apparently granted her permission to take off her little red sneakers. Throughout their getting settled, there was quite a conversation in progress. I was too far away to hear but had the impression it consisted mostly of questions from the smaller one and answers from the bigger one to their mutual satisfaction.

Then while the little one, scrounging her feet contentedly in the warm sand, watched every move, the older one made a dress for the doll. I, too, watched with admiration the competent way she went about it. She opened the box, removed her sewing things and a piece of candy-striped cloth a little smaller than a man’s handkerchief, closed the box again so that she could use it as a table, spread the cloth on it, folded it over once, and then without benefit of pattern or even a glance at the doll to estimate size, sh cut out what might be called a sleeveless shift: a semi-circle cut in the middle of the fold for the head to slip through and two straight lines for the sides. It was just a matter then of turning up the hem and stitching up the side seams, which she did with a careless confidence and without any bother of pins or basting. She felt no compulsion to finish off the neckline or armholes. When she slipped it onto the doll, her little sister squealed with admiration.

It reminded me of what my mother used to say about her sewing: ‘It won’t bear close inspection but I can get an effect.’ It was true. She made most of my clothes on a sewing machine which she ran as if she were driving a hook and ladder to a three-alarm fire, cutting corners and taking curves recklessly. She did have a sense of style, however. Teachers and parents of my friends used to comment admiringly on my clothes. I was quite unappreciative of her efforts. I hated the periodic bouts of sewing because of the trying on. I was excruciatingly bored and could not or would not hold still while she stuck pins in the proper places, sometimes accidentally in me when I gave a sudden twist or jerk. My impatience evoked her impatience and frustration, and the scene usually ended in scoldings and reproaches on her part, tears or sulks on mine.

Nevertheless, there was one compensation. Whenever she made me a dress or a coat or a bathrobe, or occasionally a dress or a negligée for herself, or sometimes a slipcover for a chair, there were always scraps of cloth left over. These I could have for my collection. I saved only a sample of each, about four inches square. It was variety I was after, and by keeping only small samples I could stuff more into the hatbox in which I hoarded them.

Some of my friends collected scraps of cloth, too, but for the purpose of making doll clothes. I envied them this ability, having learned at an early age that sewing was not a talent of mine. Still, although I could not do anything useful with my swatches, I derived much pleasure perhaps just from their colors, designs, and textures. It gave me great satisfaction to smooth my hand over different materials, particularly the more sensuous ones, of course, like velvet and satin. However, I like the rough feel of tweed, too, by contrast, and the homely, comforting softness of flannel.

Just to sit and let my gaze linger on the colors and patterns was keep delight. Occasionally I had the illusion that I knew just how some shade would taste if I tried it. There was a green, I recall, that had a tart and slightly bitter taste which was no unpleasant, and a pinkish-lavender that at first tasted light and sweet, like a necco wafer, but which became so sweet after I’d looked at it several times, that I didn’t like the taste it left in my mouth and threw it away.

I’d more or less forgotten all this until my memory was stirred up by that little scene on the beach. I wondered if those two children, when they got to be my age, would remember this particular day. I looked into my own mind for what I had sifted out to keep from one or two summers when I was about the age of the smaller girl.

Summer then was going to the beach, of course, with a red and yellow pail and shovel. It was the dazzle-bright specks of sun on the water, and the sound and smell of gentle waves breaking on a quiet morning; it was walking into the water up to my chin while holding tightly to father’s hand.

Summer was sitting on the front steps stringing big wooden beads painted red and green and blue and yellow. It was the man with the big black moustache who came around with a hand-organ and a monkey, and Mother gave us pennies to put in the monkey’s hat when he held it out, and giving us two peaches, one for the man and one for the monkey.

Summer was running away to talk to the men who were working on the road and spoke a language among themselves I couldn’t understand, who had dark eyes and were very strong and lifted me up to sit on one of their work horses. And it was being fetched home by Mother and warned not to run off again and never to speak to strangers, and then doing it again the next day anyway because they were my friends.

Summer was being allowed to bring the pet rabbits into the house on a rainy day and lying on the floor with Don and Cynthia and giggling hilariously as the rabbits hopped over us. It was the distant sound of the train bell in the afternoon which meant that Father would be home soon. It was dancing on the lawn to the music of the hurdy-gurdy. It was being taken as a special treat to an amusement park and riding on the flying horses and buying molasses popcorn balls.

But most of all, although I didn’t appreciate it then, it was the enjoyment of ‘useless’ activities for their own sake, without a nagging sense of guilt about wasting time. We could waste it lavishly in those days because we had not yet developed that bedeviling sense of time passing.”

 

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