Dear Family, June 9, 1926

Creator

Loring Whitman

Date

June 9, 1926 - June 15, 1926

Text

                                                                                                                                    1926

Dear Family,

            I am at a loss how to start. Hmm. – with many screeching of whistles the mighty steamer slowly oozed out into the river. – No, that won’t do. As the iron grayhound of the sea slipped silently from the dock, I realized with tears in my eyes and a sob in my throat that I was bidding adieu to the majestic turmoil of that marvelous city – New York – for years perhaps. I’m not so sure that that is an improvement. Oh, well, we are on our way. 

            It’s remarkable the way a farewell, a sunset, and the slow, almost imperceptible, roll of a vessel will loosen one’s tongue along romantic and idealistic lines.

            Harold and I sat on the afterdeck and conversed, or, to be more truthful, I did, while Harold listened. Nothing was brought up without my being able to discuss it with complete understanding and couched in brilliant phrases. I hadn’t had a drink either. We completely characterized and codified all the members of the expedition, we saw to it that our families did not have a shred left to stand on. Our acquaintances were hastily dismissed, though to be sure we lingered over certain ones. And that brought us to matrimony which of course is but a stepping stone for a complete discussion of ideals – and how we did compliment ourselves. Really there is no pleasure in the world that can equal the feeling that one’s own ideals are far superior to those of the common herd. Ah, we did have such fun watching the un slowly being swallowed by jagged clouds. And yet perhaps we both had a feeling, deep, deep down, that we were seeing our last sunset in our country for a long, long time. But I can’t mentally encompass a year.

            Fortunately one’s humor can never lie dormant for long and it was possibly a relief when I began to see the funny side of our conversation. I wonder how many thousands, nay millions, of people think themselves to be the only rational, philosophical, and at the same time, emotional beings on this earth, at the same time doubting the existence of inhabitants of other spheres. I’ve never met a person who didn’t at some time or other.

            But we finally went below to our cubicle and started to make a little room to stand in. Clothes were hauled out of boxes and trunks, which were cast into the aisle. Each little packaged had to be examined and its good qualities pointed out. Each photograph had to be placed on exhibition and discussed. Then a final discussion of the original and the day was over.

            We made the mistake of asking our steward, “ ‘Awkins” by name to call us at 8. I’ve rarely had such trouble in dragging myself up thru endless blackness to a heavy consciousness. However, we “drug” ourselves out and wandered aimlessly to our salt water baths, only to find them warm and decidedly soporific. Still the coffee won out and we were not removed from the tubs in a somnolent condition, and breakfast did help bring us to complete vivacity. Then came the mile after mile around the decks, up ladders, down ladders, thru drawing rooms, writing rooms, libraries, everywhere. Our only success was in the meeting a Miss Sharpe, with whom the two of us chatted for the majority of the afternoon and evening. Otherwise there is a lack of promising material, altho you never can tell. We discovered a perfectly devilish game on the top deck. It looks gentle, delicate and altogether charming but after operations have commenced the evil genii pops out and gets you. The ball is placed on the central point and the two combatants armed with sticks, as shown, stand at A and B. They touch their sticks together 3 times and then try to knock the ball into the opponent’s half and out thru the hole in the end. <Drawing of the game>

If it is in your side of the box you must put it back thru either of the two holes in the central partition before you are in a position to score. The sticks have no surface by which you can really get a grip on the ball and you vainly bat at the darn thing in an endeavor to get or keep it out of your territory. After getting completely worn out, with blisters on both hands, Harold and I decided that we had found the most violent of all deck sports, being superior to deck tennis.

            At 4:30 there was a horse race on B deck which was very exciting but for me a failure financially. Harold was more successful and came out all of a dollar to the good. In case of a tie the two winners are set back four places and race it off. I was in two of those and lost. Otherwise, I always came in straight second. However, it was very amusing to watch the crowd and make comments. 

            In the evening we listened to them auction the pool on the run. There are 20 numbers and the lowest sold for 9 £, while the highest went for 16 £. Most were 12 £ or thereabouts. Somebody may win some money. Then H., Betty (Miss Sharpe) and I went out on deck and played sweet music on the uke. Really a most touching party. I felt a “leetle” bit foolish.

            Today there is a nice breeze with fog in the distance tho’ the sun is shining. There are small which caps which give an added sparkle to the sea and which make the surroundings brighter and more lively. I sat in my deck chair and read “The Private Life of Helen of Troy”, occasionally letting my eyes rove over the dancing spray in an idle fashion. But what was that splash! It couldn’t have been a wave. No – there he comes out again – a big porpoise, clear of the water to crash at the surface amidst a sparkling halo. Time and again he jumped – as far back as I could see him, apparently in a frenzy of delight at the thought of putting himself above his surroundings. And yet, even in the distance, I could see a look of earnest endeavor in this countenance. This was a serious porpoise an even the pleasures of life were not to be treated in a light vein, though to be strictly truthful I did detect a look of cynical humor lurking around the corners of his mouth, which showed far better than his actions, that perhaps those foolish people in their little steel cockle shell are not quite as wise or important as they are wont to think. With that he crashed back to his element flat on his side, sending up a contemptuous shower of spray as an offering to the lords of the sky.

            And that reminds me, for no reason at all, that it was very amusing receiving the presents which had been sent to us. First a package would come for Harold, then one for me. Each was greeted with an exclamation of surprised pleasure and was hastily divested of its wrappings. Two of these gifts stand out from the rest – one for its dimensions and one for its originality. The first, for H, consisted of the cream of Sherry’s offerings, chocolate, caramels, cakes, jams – everything that could be thought of, all in tin boxes with ribbons. There was so much that its outside container only acted as a tray, the contents rising high again as the open cover would permit. H. does not eat candy. The other present was from George Humphreys and started with a letter. He hoped to send me gifts for my mind, body and soul. For my mind there was a book (Beebe’s Jungle Peace) – for my body o rather somebody else’s, there was a beautiful necklace “To grace the ebony throat”, and for the soul, there was music – an organ (of the mouth variety). It was cleverly thought out and done in that complete Humphrerian style – a gem of purest ray serene.

            In the afternoon I met Donia (Smoluchowska) and that’s another story. She is, as you might guess, Polish but after that – well, we shall see. After a year’s study in London she came to Barnard, where she has been interested in early Christian archaeology – especially manuscripts. After two years at Barnard she received her ØBK Key (last week, to be sure) and is now on her way home for the first time in three years. She has already taken her M. A. exams. And is going to Vassar next year to write her thesis. She also has the job of giving eight exhibitions of paintings for the benefit of the college and is planning to have plenty of modern art in hopes that it will inspire thought among the onlookers. The college gives the chosen victim $600 to pay for the transportation of the pictures which must be procured as temporary loans. I can foresee a busy time. She is only 22. But one thing, she doesn’t pose as an intellectual – no, she is perfectly normal and friendly and very much wide awake. We asked her to join us at our table, both for our pleasure and mayhap, for hers. She had three elderly ladies to sit with before, whose horizon, at least during meals, was apparently limited to the dining table and the culinary art.

            In the course of the afternoon Donia and I played that devilish game – already described – until we were completely exhausted. Then H. joined us and we sat in the smoking room and chatted until it was time to dress for supper. In the evening we gathered together Betty and Donia and had our first lesson in Swahili, between dances. But the day is over and our partners have left us, so we much Zu Bett Gehen. 

            Our steward, Hawkins, is a philosopher – always with an apt quotation, if we ask for it. Polite, cheerful, and in consequence, always in demand, he guides us on our maritime way. One boat he was on went ashore, another torpedoed, but still at the game. Married but no children, etc. In the morning he wakes us with coffee and hot water, a real luxury. I am afraid, however, that our joshing may occasionally seem a bit too personal and we are forced to modify our remarks to remove any possible sting which might be lurking unconsciously in the background.

            Donia had breakfast with us this morning. Of course, we were late and were forced to start the new regime with an apology. But we’ll improve. The amusing part is that heretofore we have had breakfast at least an hour earlier. Oh well – there’s no justice in the world!

            We actually settled down to work today. Harold and ‘Awkins went thru our “Library” and completely classified all the books, while I continued this semi-diary letter. I also checked over my accounts and had the pleasure of paying for a pool which I came next to winning. It was comforting to be second, never worse. I also walked the decks with Patsy, of whom we have seen too little, for which I feel truly guilty. However, she goes to bed early and spends a large part of her time reading so that we don’t run across her very frequently. Donia and Betty played together all morning and seemed to enjoy one anothers company so much that I am going to get Patsy into the gathering. The three of them are all entirely different. 

            After lunch we had a chat with the baggage master. The subject turned to missionaries and I am afraid that our friend, Mr. Egan, was perhaps a little too hard on them. The younger sons of business men who went to college and spent all their money in the west end of London – “or the east end” as an afterthought – and instead of going into law or politics – “as most wealthy men do” – they were thrown out by their families and were forced by circumstances and the lure of idleness to spend a year preparing for the ministry. Then they could live off the land and build special houses for their black ladies with sand around them which would tell whether anyone had been near. Of course they knew nothing of religion – and why should they when they can drink whiskey and soda? Mr. Egan thought the American missionaries to be a little better and have a neutral rather than deteriorating influence on the country. The police – ex-army men – who had failed to get their majority – wear monocles and talk with a broad accent to impress the natives. 

            I tried to read in our statesroom but boredom got hold of me and I took to the decks in search for amusement. I ran across Betty on the boat deck.

            Just before dinner I looked up the Baizley’s and spent an hour or so getting the daily exercise and all that.

            The trouble is, that we have, shall I say corralled, three young ladies for whom we egotistically feel responsible. Its really a very difficult position. Of course you gather from this that we consider ourselves the only eligible on board.

            After dinner I introduced Donia to Patsy while Harold wandered off. Then what could I do when it came time to dance? Donia disappeared below for a while so that I could dance with Patsy but when she returned we sat. Luckily Harold was conscious of my plight and returned to my assistance as soon as he could shake off his other friends. But enough for today.

            We are blessed with fog this morning – you might guess it was Sunday – and every few minutes the foghorn roars its message into the soft white mist which surrounds us, to be swallowed up and lost forever. While Harold attended church services, Donia and I walked the deck peeping thru the windows of those more conventionally inclined.

             We asked one of the officers on the bridge whether we could go out on the bow but he only said we might fall off. Of course on ship if they do not say No, you usually take it to mean Yes, so down the ladder we went and out into the bow. Soon a whistle blew and a seaman came out to inform us that we were treading forbidden paths. Still we got there. We continued our promenade until Harold found us and took me off to see the gyro compass. We were escorted by a very good-looking young officer who had come to the conclusion that it  was boring to be pursued by the ladies and that, oh well, there was nothing really interesting aboard on this run. After asking many questions about the compass we toured the third and second class. He talked of the good times had by all on the Mediterranean cruise, of the people, the places and the parties, all couched in a very quick and humorous vein. And he was young and good-looking, really I know he was sorry for them.

            I do hate to be cruel, but I have had the pleasure, if you will, of meeting the dummest – yes, it's the only word for it – girl that I have even dreamed of. Possibly when you realize that she has visited Riggs’ Sanitarium you will understand, altho I pity Riggs. I couldn’t make a single remark that required thought but that I had to explain it. Humor was a complete loss. Boy, wot a goil! This evening I watched her dance. Never did her expression show any signs of animation and even her feet moved with the same regularity and apathy which seems to have enveloped her.

            But to be more cheerful, Harold and I practiced shooting quickly, working the bolt of the rifle – getting into action and all that until the rain forced us to seek some less martial form of entertainment. We went down to our stateroom and overhauled an article which Harold is writing on his Alaskan trip. I had great fun trying to write a description of his guide whom I have never seen but of whom I was able to form a vivid imaginative picture. It was really very entertaining to describe a landing in Alaska when one has never been there or even heard it discussed. Dr. Timme was the next on our program. We cut in on his exercises and promenaded the decks. Our conversation quickly became medical so that for an hour we had the pleasure of the physiology of glands with a specialist in that line.

            Betty joined us for dinner which was followed by bridge and dancing (and on Sunday, at that). At 11:00 Harold had to leave us so that I was left with the two of them on my hands. We ended up by going down to Donia’s cabin and playing soft music on the ukulele until after 12:00, when the party broke up. 

            Today has been, perhaps, the most pleasant of the voyage, yet I have absolutely nothing to write about. It would seem that outside of the very charming lunch I have nothing but sit in a deck chair with Donia – I mean beside – from (;00 to 5:00 – a good 8-hour working day , and I won’t try to give an account of our conversation. However, I can say something about our Brazilian friend who has by now proved his sterling worth as a table companion. Short, round of face with a small slightly turned-up nose, always peeking over the top of a Brazilian cigar, a florid complexion, and brown hair, and finally a foreign accent – this will gibe his type perhaps but will not enable you to discern the tact and humor that lurks behind his remarks which we now find all too few. Experience has given him a quiet, unassuming pose which, but for Donia, would have blinded us to his true value. He will enter a conversation when he has something to say and yet keep discreetly in the background if our chatter does not interest him. Always attentive he hears all but talks little. First he told us some interesting points about coffee plantations. Then we found Europe a familiar haunt for him. In fact, he is on his way to Paris to spend 57,000 francs (maybe the sun was larger). This was his reply to the question of how long he was going to be there. But at lunch he really opened up. He has made two trips to Africa hunting and on one of them he met Col. Roosevelt and joined up with him. He has also hunted tigers in India and wants to get back there again before he dies. And what’s more, he seems to be speaking the truth. Yes, Mr. Carnalbas, we are very glad to have you at our table.

            But soon our voyage will be ended – a most pleasant voyage and as it is my first, the most pleasant. To be sure we have met few people but we have been extremely fortunate in meeting them. New ideas, new customs, and new thought processes have been opened to us for an all too short length of time.

            We arrived at Plymouth at about 5:00 A.M. but were too busy sleeping to bid farewell to those of our fellow travellers who were leaving us there. After breakfast, for the first time ahead of the Brazilian, we started the long and rather sad job of packing. By the way, Mr. Carnalbas suffers from insomnia and in consequence a four hour sleep at night is a high average. At twelve we dined, Donia, Harold, and I for the last time together before the little tugs came bumping alongside to carry off the majority of our associates. Donia and I walked around the decks until the immigration men came aboard to deliver landing cards. We leaned over the rail in the sparkling sun to watch countless gulls wheeling, rising, falling, on motionless wings alongside the vessel. There was a stiff breeze which whipped the top of the small waves into flashing diamonds against a dark blue sea. The gulls, like giant snow flakes, weaved back and forth, without effort, tireless and undaunted and in the background were the green fields of France, hovering around the apparently tiny town of Cherbourg. 

            But we are re-crossing the Channel again and will soon arrive at our destination, Southampton, where once more we will dive headlong into the mad whirl of customs, baggage transportation, and dusty trains. Our brief vacation from worry is over and again we will enter the stream of life as an integral part rather than a spectator.

            I hope this has given you some idea of our journey and that it may give a slight hint toward judging and understanding the people with whom we have been travelling. But poor as it is, I am afraid that what muse I have has deserted me. Do not expect more than a travel diary in future – the kind that runs – “Breakfast at 8:10 – followed by packing and checking baggage – met an interesting fellow who is at our hotel – after lunch went shopping but was unable to get just what I wanted – after dinner the theatre and then weary to bed”.

            Harold has asked me to have this copied and sent to his family to give them some idea of the trip. Whether it will interest them or not I don’t know but I suppose that it will give them a different person’s ideas on the subject. 

            Give my love to Grandfather and Grandmother and to all the friends you may meet. Your affectionate son – LORING.

Type

Historical Documents

Identifier

VAD2036-U-00095A

Original Format

To

Mr. and Mrs. Whitman Jr.

Citation

Loring Whitman, “Dear Family, June 9, 1926,” A Liberian Journey: History, Memory, and the Making of a Nation, accessed November 23, 2017, http://liberianhistory.org/items/show/3626.