Childhood learning · Historic House Museums · Merchant's House · Museums

Here’s Where I First Encountered the Past

The William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art, 1939, Kansas City, Missouri

When I was eight years old and still an only child, my parents and I spent many Sunday afternoons at the William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art (now called the Nelson Atkins Museum) in Kansas City strolling through the cool marble halls, looking this way and that at the paintings. 

Not that my parents had any particular interest in art, but it was a pleasant place to be and it was (and still is) free—an important consideration in those days.

I don’t remember a single painting, But what I do remember with the utmost clarity are the period rooms. They were arranged in chronological order in a recessed area off a main hall, beginning with a colonial keeping room, followed by a bedroom, which I now know was from an antebellum Southern mansion.

I knew these were supposed to be rooms where real people once lived and I was absolutely enthralled. I tried to imagine the child who slept in the bed with the ruffled roof—a bed so high off the floor that you needed little steps to get into it. But I just couldn’t do it. It was like a magic trick I began well but kept fumbling. I wanted to climb under the ropes and get into that bed to see what it was like. But of course I didn’t dare. 

* * * * * * * * *

Fast forward over half a century. Recently retired, Herb and I had moved to New York City where like all newcomers we set out to visit all the tourist attractions. One day we happened on the Merchant’s House Museum, an urban row house constructed in 1832 which miraculously still existed complete with the family’s original furniture and many personal possessions.

And this time the magic worked!

Eliza Tredwell’s bedroom, Merchants House Museum, New York City

I stepped through the front door—not into a room but into an entire house where real people lived over 100 years ago! And this time the magic worked. I could easily imagine the Tredwell family in those rooms because by that time I had become acquainted with the Victorian era through my study of history and literature. I asked if there was a book I could buy that would tell me more. I was disappointed to learn there was not.

But my childhood passion had suddenly been rekindled, and I knew this was where I was meant to spend my newly acquired free time. So I volunteered and for the next 20 years I moved among those rooms,  conducting tours, training the guides, and eventually writing the book I had wanted to buy on that first visit. (See sidebar.)

And  yes, from time to time I was tempted to lie down in that big bed, but I never did for fear it might collapse. I confess, however, to once sitting on the sofa, just to see what it was like.

Childhood learning · paintings · Theatre

The Actress Daughter Weighs In On “Play”

Hopscotch, oil on canvas by Herbert Knapp

Last week Herb posted this painting of a little girl playing hopscotch all by herself on his blog. He talked about the nature of play and why it’s so important.

When Sarah read what he had to say, she was moved to respond. It seems to me her remarks are too interesting to languish in the comment section of Herb’s blog. So here they are:

This post got me to thinking. In the theatre, actors, directors, designers, all refer to what they do as “”work.” It legitimizes the play and the fun they are actually all having. I’ve always found it kind of odd to have someone say, “Your work in that play was brilliant.” I have been known to say it too, when I wanted to sound serious and smart. But lets face it; if we are any good at all, we are playing and having a grand time. And sometimes we even get paid for it. How lucky can you get?

So—that’s why they call it a “play”! It’s a game of Let’s Pretend. 

Sarah Knapp pretending to be Carrie Pipperidge in Carousel, North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly, MA. “All I can do is look forward to that wonderful day of days. . .when I marry Mr. Snow.”

Now Herb likes to quote the poet W.H. Auden, so I’ll quote him too:

My own conclusion is that the impulse behind play-acting is a longing to escape into a world of prelapsarian innocence . . . our actions are outside the realm of ethical judgment . . . when we imitate another human being, we imitate a sinner and at the same time we are not guilty of his sins.

Or to put it another way, “his shortcomings.” I hate to think of Carrie as a sinner.


Caveat Emptor

Let the buyer beware!  

I had never heard of the online retailer,, but I liked the shoes they advertised on Facebook. I checked their website and noted that they offered “30-day hassle free returns.” So I ordered the shoes. What could possibly go wrong?

I offer the following email thread because first of all it may serve as a helpful warning, and second because I think it is mildly amusing

July 1 2019
A shipment from order 8169 is on the way.

The shoes arrived on July 19. They didn’t fit. Since there was no invoice in the package, which bore the return address of a mailing service in New Jersey, I wrote:

July 19, 2019 Mary
I’m afraid I need to return this order—shoes don’t fit. Please send instructions for returning.

July 20, 2019
Dear customer,
Thanks for your order.Could you tell why return your order? Was the size small or big? Do you have any questions about our products? Could you talk to me? Please feel free to write us whenever you have questions. We’re always here to help. Best Regards

July 20, 2019 Mary
The reason I have to return the shoes is that they don’t fit. Unfortunately they are too tight around the toes. Please let me know how to return. Do I need a Return Authrorilzation Number?

July 22, 2019
We apologize for the later reply. For the item not fit, we need to inspect it firstly. Could you please send us the clear photo of item you received?  It would be better that you wear them. 
And then we would strive to offer you the solution. 
Any questions, please feel free to contact us.
Best Regards

July 22, 2019 Mary
I am not sending a photo. I have told you they are too tight—uncomfortable. Request for photo is ABSURD.
You claim to offer a “no hassle return policy.”  So send instructions for returning immediately. Otherwise I will report this as a fraudulent charge to the credit card bank.

July 24, 2019
Dear buyer, 
We apologize for the later reply. We can only do the full refund when the item is back.The shipping fee of return is high and would be charged on your side so we don’t recommend you to do that.Could you please keep the item yourself ? You can wrap them as a gift for others. We can also give you $10 off gift card for next order as compensation. Can you please consider it?   
Any questions, please feel free to contact us.
Best Regards

July 24, 2019 Mary
Question: Do you refuse to accept the return of this order?

July 24, 2019
Dear buyer,
We apologize for the later reply.
The return address locates in China so the shipping fee must be high. 
Could you please keep the item yourself ? You can wrap them up as a gift for others. We can also give you $15 off gift card for next order as compensation. Any questions, please feel free to contact us.

July 31,2019 Mary
I understand the shipping costs will be high. Nevertheless, I would like to return the shoes (which do not fit) for a refund. Please send address and any other information needed to return for a refund.

August 1, 2019,
Dear customer,
Good day.Thank you for your reply. Would you please check the postage that from your country to China? It’s very expensive to return the parcel, we will really appreciate it if you can receive the $15 gift card as compensation, you can keep the product and get the big discount. We much apologize for all trouble and inconvenience caused. 
Best Regards

August 1, 2019 Mary
I am through writing to you. I take this as a refusal to accept returns and will apply to my credit card company and ask that the charge becanceled.. No doubt you will be hearing from them.

August 7, 2019
Dear customer,
Good day and thanks for your mail. Here just checked our system again and this parcel was shipped correct (size/color) as per order. In this situation, we have not rights to refund full amount to your account. Thanks so much for your understand and wish you have a nice day.
Best regards

So I called Chase, hoping that this would qualify as a fraudulent charge. It did. They cancelled the charge. 


They’re On Their Way to the Ivy-covered Halls!

Lehigh University

Today many tearful mothers and stoic fathers will pack the car and for the first time haul yesterday’s babies off to an “institution of higher learning.”

Tonight the babies will sleep in a strange bed; tomorrow a stranger will make their breakfast. But no one will wake them up or do their laundry when the time comes. They will have unaccustomed responsibilities. No one will nag them to do anything; they will be expected to get to class on time and to the infirmary if they are sick.

A few lucky ones know exactly why they are there; they have known since they were children what they wanted to be when they grew up and now they are ready to learn how. 

Others will figure it out in the next two years before it is time to declare a major. 

But four years from now, some will be wondering “Now what?” And others will have made a false start only to discover that what they thought they wanted to be was in fact not what they wanted at all.

But for all of them, the four-year college will serve as a half way house on the road to independence. And that’s no small thing, although in most cases, it’s a pretty expensive way to learn to do the laundry.

The fact is that college today is too expensive—absurdly expensive. Young people (or their parents) should not be burdened with debt in order to prepare themselves for the adult world of work. Last year, 69% of graduating seniors took out loans, graduating with an average debt of $29,800. That’s just not right; it’s really wrong. It can’t go on—and so it won’t. 

It will take a long time, of course. Cultural change happens slowly. Still there are already signs that the four year college as a necessary path to the adult world of work and social status is undergoing slow transformation.

But for now, for families who can swing it, it seems the obvious course of action. 

So good luck to all those young people who are starting the four-year journey. May you choose wisely and make your parents proud.


Flying Solo—Again

Herb’s easel calls; he’ll be spending most of his time painting and also posting in a separate blog titled “Paintings and Poems.” The first post is up. Go here if you’d like read it.

As for me: this blog made its debut on May 3, 2012. One of our colleagues at the Merchant’s House Museum had died prematurely and I wanted to publicly acknowledge the contribution she had made to the Museum. It occurred to me that I could do that if I had a blog . . . .

Since then there have been 242 posts, about any number of topics, some of them contributed by Herb who joined me two years ago. They’re all still here—tucked away in the archives, retrievable by category in the right sidebar. Almost all of the posts have had to do with the way the past affects our present lives as well as what’s coming in the future. And that’s why the blog is called “Hints and Echoes.”

When you reach a certain age (and by 2012 I had certainly reached it) you begin to see the truth of Shakespeare’s observation “What’s past is prologue,” as you look back and see how the events of your own life fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. It’s remarkable, really.

Tomorrow begins the new chapter of observations. I hope you’ll join me. Sign up above if you want to receive the posts in your email. And join the conversation. Just click “leave a comment,” and we’ll talk.