Simanaitis Says

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AN AMERICAN CHILD’S YEAR IN EUROPE

“WHEN I WAS a little girl of six,” author Louise A Wallace has Ruth write in 1914, “father and mother decided to take my brother and me, and spend one year in Europe…. Mother talked with my teacher about taking school-books along, but she said we would get more out of the trip by keeping our eyes open than by all the school-books in the world.”

An American Child in Europe: The Impressions of a Little Girl, During a Year’s Travel in the Old World, by Louise A. Wallace, 1914. 

This book has had classic reprints and the like. My edition is a rare original, indeed, inscribed to a Miss Stringer—“With every kind thought for the Christmas season. Louise A. Wallace 1915”

Its charm lies in Wallace’s imagining Ruth writing the book “now that I am ever so much older, and with brother’s help and mother’s diary to refer to (about dates and things) I am writing down all I can remember about our travels.”

Here are several tidbits gleaned from this charming narrative. 

On Board Ship. “Brother and I had breakfast and luncheon with mother and auntie, but at night we had a light supper, just for children, at half-past five, and soon after that we went to bed. Then mother and auntie would go to their dinner, because ‘grownups’ ate at seven o’clock.” 

The Life Preserver Caper. “I remember one night,” Ruth says, “after they had left us in the state-room to go to their dinner, we decided to put on life preservers. We had a hard time getting them down from the rack on the ceiling from our perch in the upper berth, but we finally managed to get them loose and strapped them around each other.”

Ruth continues, “We had a fine frolic for a while, but bye and bye we got very sleepy and decided to take off the clumsy things and settle down for the night. Alas! We could not get them off. Edwin struggled with mine and I tugged at his, and as we could not lie down with them on, we were obliged to just sit patiently and wait until mother came.… Our eyelids were drooping and our spirits were anything but gay as we sat there like graven images in the top berth, but mother said afterward we were a very funny sight.” 

On a Berlin Balcony. “I remember one afternoon we were all in the pleasant drawing room listening to the music. There was a small balcony with long French windows opening from this room and I was sitting out there by myself, when one of the gentlemen of the company stepped out there to smoke.”

“When he saw me he said, ‘Pardon me, do you mind if I smoke?’ And he meant it, too, and I was only six, but I shall remember that all my life. When I think of Berlin I always think of that balcony and the polite gentleman.” 

Ruth’s Roman Holiday. The family celebrated Ruth’s seventh birthday in Rome. “That night,” she remembers, “I was allowed to remain up much later than usual and we sat visiting in the salon we called the ‘Throne Room’ because it had so many beautiful high-backed, gold chairs….” 

“After we had gone up to our rooms, I ran to the balcony to see how it looked out of doors so late at night, and heard the strains of a mandolin and guitar. There were two men, and a little girl about my age (who should have been in bed two hours before). Both men were playing, one was singing, and the little girl was picking up coins that were thrown from windows and balconies.”

On Bambinos. “In Italy,” Ruth says, “babies or young children are called bambinos and sometimes mother called me that, and I liked it, but I was very proud when the flower girls and shop-keepers and the waiters at the hotel called me Signorina. It always me feel so grown-up, like when the man on the balcony in Berlin asked me if he might smoke.” 

I imagine, and author Louise A. Wallace may have agreed, that Ruth grew up to be a charming young woman. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022

2 comments on “AN AMERICAN CHILD’S YEAR IN EUROPE

  1. Bob Storck
    March 14, 2022

    My maternal Grandparents were Americans working/with family working in Berlin before and during WWI. They met and married there in 1916, leaving when things became tense.
    Thirty-some years later, my dad was assigned to post war Paris, and we stayed in various places in Europe without returning ’51-56. Gram and Gramps came to visit, and while they flew (luxurious PanAm Boeing StratoCruiser Clipper of the Skies), we had come on a military conscripted liner. We compared journey notes with grandparents, and they had changed little in near half a century … and matched Ruth’s almost exactly.
    In our Uncle Sam sponsored ‘Grand Tour,’ few things had changed from Ruth’s day, and we had similar experiences.
    I’ve been back many times since, and those old days, the Continental grace and manners are largely a memory.

  2. sabresoftware
    March 15, 2022

    A charming little tale, especially considering all the ugliness that was shortly thereafter to be launched upon the world. Maybe children should run the world instead of adults.

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