February at Blithewold “I Remember”

The Christmas decorations are put away for another year, and Blithewold enters a hibernation of sorts — taking a well-earned rest before the activity and commotion of preparing for another season.  An icy wind is howling around the Mansion, rattling the windows on the third floor.  My mind turns to springtime and my favorite time at Blithewold — Daffodil Days.  I try to capture in writing the pleasure and joyfulness that we all experience at that time, and then I remember that someone wrote very eloquently on this subject many years ago, and I re-read a heartfelt essay written by Eleanor Rae Gladding in 1986.

Eleanor’s father, Arthur Rae, was hired as head coachman at Blithewold in 1906.  He lived first at the Gardner House, and later in the south cottage of the garage complex with his wife Ingrid and their children.  They would come down to Bristol from Boston at the beginning of the season, once the family was in residence.  In 1933, when Bessie and William McKee sold their Boston home and moved to Blithewold year-round, the Raes moved with them, and Eleanor saw the daffodils in bloom for the first time.  Here are her recollections:

I Remember
By Eleanor Rae Gladding

Whenever I dream, I find myself in Bristol and at Blithewold.  Perhaps this is because of all the happy years I lived there.  Or perhaps it is because of all the beauty that surrounded me there.  It seems to want to be lived over and over again.

For example, there are the daffodils.  When I see daffodils anywhere, I am at once reminded of Blithewold.  Why?  If you’ve been to Blithewold in the spring, you will understand why! My first glimpse of the Bosquet in the spring was in 1933 after Mr. and Mrs. McKee had decided to make Blithewold their year-round home.  That meant that we would also be there during all the seasons.  I had seen bunches of daffodils brought from Bristol to Boston each spring.  Now I would be able to see them growing in the Bosquet.

During my summers and falls at Blithewold I had discovered many delightful spots.  Wild strawberries grew in the long grasses of the abandoned golf field.  Mushrooms popped up all over the big lawn.  Beach plums ripened near the Sunken Garden.  Mulberries hung down inside the “hide-in” trees in the Enclosed Garden.  However, I could only imagine how the daffodils looked in the Bosquet.  Their foliage told me that there had been many.  At last I was going to be able to see them in bloom there for the first time.

I can remember getting up early one morning, skirting the Big House, and entering the Bosquet from the Enclosed Garden.  There in the quiet of leafless trees were scattered dozens and dozens of bright golden heads that seemed to be smiling and beckoning to me.  It was lovelier than I had imagined.  As I walked along the path I also noticed spring beauties, may apples, and jack-in-the-pulpits as well.  Ferns were standing by in question marks.  But the daffodils were stealing the show that day as they lifted their bonnets and seemed to dance.

I walked on out of the Bosquet towards the water, and as I turned to go back I saw hundreds more daffodils massed against the edge of the woods.  The sun was touching them with even more radiance.  That sight was worth waiting for, and I can still see it in my mind’s eye.

Each spring thereafter I continued to enjoy this lovely sight.  The thrill never dimmed for me.  “A thing of beauty is a joy forever,” and it becomes part of your being.