Like so many others in the last week, I’ve been watching the Ken Burns 7 part series on the Roosevelts. I’m familiar with most of this material on one hand, because I’ve read a number of books about my esteemed ancestors, but also because I’ve heard many of the stories from my father, my uncle and my grandmother.
My great-grandmother was Corinne Roosevelt Robinson, TR’s younger sister. Anna Roosevelt, TR’s older sister or Auntie Bye, as she was always called in the family, introduced my grandfather, Joseph Wright Alsop IV to her niece, Corinne Robinson.
They married in 1909 and lived in Avon, Connecticut near Auntie Bye. In the summers when I stayed with my grandmother in Avon and later when I attended a nearby boarding school, I was in and out of the house in Farmington which was then owned by Auntie Bye’s son and his wife, Sheff and Bobby Cowles.
Growing up in Washington, D.C., I had a weekly tea date with TR’s daughter, Alice Roosevelt Longworth,
who we always called Mrs. L or Cousin Alice. Her granddaughter Joanna, and I attended the same Catholic school, and Thursday was my day to ride home with Joanna and Mrs. L in the ancient black Cadillac driven by Turner who we used to say, “drove by ear.”
“Turner,” Mrs. L would remark, leaning forward from her corner of the back seat. “I believe you hit something back there.”
Turner would nod, keeping his eyes on the road ahead. “Yes Ma’am,” he’d say. “I believe I did.” But he didn’t turn around to investigate.
On we would sail at a stately pace down Massachusetts Avenue, weaving slightly from side to side, and leaving behind us a small trail of bent rear view mirrors or dented bumpers.
Mrs. L really did have a pillow on her couch that said, “If you have something nasty to say about someone, come sit by me.” I was a budding writer and a gossip, so over the tea tray, I’d pass on guest lists from my parents’ dinner parties or tidbits I’d overheard while passing the hors d’oeuvres in my robe and pajamas.
As a fiction writer who’s finally attempting to tell her own story of growing up in cold war Washington, it’s a strange thing to have so many writers get there first. My journalist father wrote a memoir of dying, called STAY OF EXECUTION. My uncle Joe and my aunt Susan Mary, were writers and memoirists. The family is awash in writers, starting with TR himself who wrote 35 books. And now playwrights and historians and biographers are looking back and interpreting the past. Authors like Linda Donn, David Auburn, Betty Boyd Caroli, Robert Merry, Gregg Herken and many more have focused on one or more aspects of this large and tangled family. I’m not saying they haven’t gotten it right. In many cases, when these writers have contacted me, I’ve been happy to help. But I’m a slow writer myself so naturally, I’m getting worried that by the time my small piece of the story finally gets published, readers will roll their eyes and moan,”Oh, please, not one more word about those people!”
Never mind. God is in the details and in every family, rich or poor, famous or obscure, there are a million stories. All I can do is what I’ve always done. Ass to chair. Sit down every day, turn on the computer and keep writing.