Just as that festive period from Thanksgiving to Christmas reminds me of my Grandma Helen so do the dog days of summer remind me of my Nana Rosie. I have so many sunny grass stained memories from times spent with her. Namely, Graeter’s French pot ice cream sundaes, vats of spicy gazpacho, tea lights at twilight and Edwardian themed garden parties.
The first time I flew by myself to see Nana (well almost by myself, my dog, Bailey Jane, came with), she instructed my mother to buy me a turn of the century lawn dress. I’d need it for the ice cream social her vintage dance society was hosting.
Nana loves vintage dancing. She loves it so much she built a studio in her basement. She’s performed at the governor’s mansion multiple times. She also travels to Europe most summers to dance the gavotte. If you couldn’t guess, Nana loves wearing period gowns.
A day before the ice cream social, Nana blued my dress and hung it outside. We passed the time by making gallons of gazpacho and going to the zoo. When my dress was dry the cotton smelled so clean and soaked with sun. Laundresses of colonial India couldn’t have hoped to do a better job. Wearing it transformed me. The moment I was buttoned in, my posture instantly improved. So much so that I appeared to have shot up an inch. Nana let me wear pale pink lipstick and that afternoon I paraded around like a peacock in Edwardian eyelet. A 13 year old peacock, but still . . .
The last summer I lived in L.A., Nana invited me to a ball on the now defunct RMS Queen Mary. Originally built in Clydebank, Scotland in 1936, this ship drips with ghost stories and art deco splendor. Some say it was the grandest ocean liner of its time. Even its passengers were grand: Clark Gable, David Niven, Mary Pickford, George and Ira Gershwin, Greta Garbo, Winston Churchill, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. During World War II The Queen Mary became a troopship and was dubbed “The Grey Ghost” as that’s the color it was painted for camouflage. Now the ship is a tourist attraction in Long Beach, California. It functions as a floating hotel with a spa and several restaurants, a museum, and multiple halls that serve as event venues. One such event is the Vintage Dance Week Ball.
While Nana dressed for La Belle Epoque, I went Thoroughly Modernly Millie. She was ready for Hesitation Waltzes. I was ready to fake my way through foxtrots. It was a brilliant evening and everyone hit the tiles with gay abandon just like Bertie Wooster would have in the P.G. Wodehouse stories. The orchestra was swinging and the only sour note of the evening was when one very serious couple chastised me for being in the fast lane when I shouldn’t have been during the Lambeth Walk. I just apologized and said I didn’t know there was a fast lane on the dance floor. Did you?
As I mentioned earlier, The Queen Mary, is known for its paranormal activity. In 2008, Time Magazine named it one of the ten most haunted sites in America. Since its retirement, there have been multiple ghost sightings. A sailor who died in the engine room, a fireman crushed by a door, children who drowned in the pool, and a mysterious lady in white. Cabin B340 was closed off years ago after hotel guests kept reporting that their sheets would fly off the bed and across the room or that their bathroom faucets would keep turning off and on. I had no such experience the night of the ball, though my heart did race as I walked down the long and majestically carpeted corridor to powder my nose and I realized no one else was around. That said, every photo I took inside the ship that evening came out a gilded blur. Each one had an ethereal quality I couldn’t explain. But there we are like ghosts gliding across the dance floor. Take a look and tell me what you think. Also, I’ve included several gazpacho recipes that Nana just emailed to me. She recommends taking your favorite elements from a few of the recipes and combining them to suit your tastes.