I think it’s because I work here year-round that I tend to forget that Blithewold was built as a summer retreat. The Van Wickle/McKee family came up from Pennsylvania and later down from Boston and spent the entire summer here, from late May to October. Unlike most of the grandiose Newport mansions which were occupied for shockingly short periods of high society socializing, Blithewold was lived in: It was their home – and probably all the more precious and beloved for being their summer home.
I don’t know if it’s a universal tradition but around here – up and down the Eastern Seaboard at least – it seems like nearly everyone has a summer home-away-from-home, whether it’s borrowed or bought, really rustic or extra schmancy. These houses (or mansions or villas or camps or cabins) are often shared with extended family and passed down through the generations and the more we move around in our lives, the more these places become the constant. And the summer place (the shore, the lake, the island, the mountains) has all the blissful associations of endless summer days with absolutely nothing to do (besides swimming, reading, sailing, drawing, napping, eating, playing cribbage or cutthroat Trivial Pursuit, and laughing with family – to name just a few nothings) to give it even more significance and giant chunks of our hearts. When I think about how attached I am to the place my family rented for a couple of weeks every summer for 70 or so years, I can only begin to imagine how much the Van Wickle/McKees must have loved Blithewold.
I’m way off the garden topic today because I’m about to go off on my own summer vacation and I can think of nothing else! I wonder, do you get away with your family to the same place every year? Where does your heart live?
I’ll be away for 2 weeks and I hope you’ll return when I do to see how dramatically the gardens have changed in the meantime. Happy summer – wish you were here!