Kay’s Story, 1934
Betsy!” I cried, waving my arm wildly in the air. “Betsy! Down here!” Ever since the enormous steamship had pulled into Boston Harbor, I’d been craning my neck in hopes of catching a glimpse of my cousin, Betsy Northrop, and her mother, Beth Etheridge-Northrop. At last, the passengers had begun to disembark—and a good thing, too, because I couldn’t wait another moment to finally meet Betsy and Aunt Beth!
Mom slipped her arm around my shoulder, pulling me into a hug that made me stop waving. “I can’t wait to see them either, Kay,” she said. “But there’s no way Betsy can hear you—or even see you—all the way down here. We’ll just have to be patient for a little longer. I’m sure she and Beth will walk down the ramp as soon as they can.”
I smiled sheepishly as I leaned my head on Mom’s shoulder. I knew she was right, of course, and I knew that it really wasn’t proper for me to make such a spectacle of myself, waving and shouting on the docks. But patience had never come easily to me—especially not now of all times, when meeting Cousin Betsy was just moments away!
For years, we’d planned to visit Chatswood Manor in England for Betsy’s twelfth birthday. Not only would it be my very first trip overseas, but I’d finally get to meet my English relatives, and even attend Betsy’s spectacular twelfth birthday ball. Most intriguing of all, Mom and Aunt Beth had promised to tell Betsy and me a long-held family secret on Betsy’s birthday. For months, Betsy and I had written letters back and forth, trying to guess what it could be, since Mom and Aunt Beth wouldn’t give us a single clue.
But all our plans had unraveled six weeks ago, when Mom and Dad were on the brink of losing everything—including our home, Vandermeer Manor, which had been in the family for generations. Our situation was so dire that Mom and Dad had no choice but to cancel the trip, as well as my twelfth birthday
ball. It was such a terrible disappointment that I felt like I’d been on the brink of tears for weeks. But I always choked them back. If Mom and Dad could stay optimistic despite everything we’d lost, then so could I.
From across the ocean, Aunt Beth and Betsy were determined to help us. Not only did Betsy cancel her own birthday ball in solidarity, but they made arrangements to come to America to celebrate my twelfth birthday instead, which was just four days away. When I read the news in Betsy’s letter, I was amazed. It was an act of kindness I knew I’d never forget.
“Kay! I see them!” Mom cried. She pointed to the ramp, and even though I’d never met Betsy and Aunt Beth before, I recognized them at once from the photograph on Mom’s bureau: beautiful Aunt Beth, her gorgeous red hair gleaming in the summer sun, and Betsy following behind her, looking like a smaller copy of her mother.
“And there’s Nellie!” Mom said as she recognized her former lady’s maid.
At that moment, Aunt Beth spotted Mom; I could tell because she stopped suddenly and, leaning over to say something to Betsy, pointed in our direction.
When Betsy looked at me, our eyes locked for a long, wonderful moment, which needed no words at all.
Then Betsy stood on her tiptoes and started to wave.
“Hi, Betsy! I see you!” I yelled, completely forgetting Mom’s advice as I jumped up and down to wave back. I glanced at Mom—and realized that she was waving and jumping up and down, too!
“Go on, you two,” Dad said, laughing. “I’ll catch up.”
Mom and I hurried through the crowd to the base of the ramp, where we waited eagerly for Aunt Beth and Betsy to set foot on solid ground after five days at sea.
At last, they did!
“You’re here!” I cried. “You’re finally here!” And then Betsy and I were hugging and laughing and our mothers were crying happy tears as they embraced, and it felt like nothing in the world would ever be wrong again.
I stood back to get a better look at my cousin. Right away, I noticed that something was missing.
“Betsy, where is it?” I asked. “Where is the Elizabeth necklace?”
She glanced quickly at her mother. “Mum said I shouldn’t wear it so prominently while we were traveling. It’s in my trunk. And that’s not all—”
“Betsy,” Aunt Beth said in a surprisingly stern voice.
Betsy ducked her head. “Right. I know,” she said quietly.
Know what? I wondered. It was like Betsy and Aunt Beth were speaking in code. I was about to ask Betsy what she meant when she smiled at me—almost apologetically—and shook her head, leaving me even more confused.
“Well, I can’t wait to see it when we get home,” I finally said. I’d heard lots of stories about the Elizabeth necklace. Just like the Katherine necklace that Mom used to wear every day, the Elizabeth necklace was the stuff of family legend. Long ago, our great-great-grandmothers, twins named Elizabeth and Katherine Chatswood, had received the precious necklaces for their twelfth birthday. Like the twins themselves, the necklaces were almost identical: a golden pendant in the shape of half a heart, which hung from a delicate chain. Each necklace glittered with gems in the girls’ favorite colors: sparkling red rubies for Katherine
and shimmering blue sapphires for Elizabeth. The twins’ mother, Lady Mary, had selected the necklaces herself for their twelfth birthday. Sadly, Great-Great-Great-Grandmother Mary had died before Katherine and Elizabeth’s birthday. The necklaces were her very last gift to her daughters, which made Elizabeth and Katherine cherish them all the more.
The twins never took off their special necklaces, not even on their wedding days. As the older twin, Elizabeth was destined to marry her cousin Maxwell Tynne and live her days as the lady of Chatswood Manor in England. Katherine’s life had charted a very different course when she married another distant cousin, Alfred Vandermeer, and immigrated to America. As the decades passed, the necklaces had grown even more precious to our families as they were presented to the firstborn daughter of each generation on her twelfth birthday. From Great-Great-Grandmother Katherine to Great-Great-Aunt Kathy to Great-Aunt Katie to my own mother, Kate, the tradition had continued, growing stronger with every passing year.
But not this year. Not for me.
It was still hard to believe sometimes that it wasn’t all a terrible dream, part of the long nightmare we’d been living ever since my parents told me that we’d lost control of Vandermeer Steel, the company my great-great-grandfather Alfred had founded. One by one, the familiar parts of my life had started slipping away—first most of the staff had been let go; then we’d moved out of Vandermeer Manor and into the groundskeeper’s cottage; and then, to our shock, Dad had pawned the Katherine necklace to make an urgent payment that kept Vandermeer Manor out of foreclosure. The money from the Katherine necklace had saved Vandermeer Manor . . . for now, at least. Though we couldn’t afford to live there anymore, Mom and Dad had decided to open the house for tours and rentals. The extra income from rental fees could’ve been used to buy back the Katherine necklace. But someone else had bought it first . . . and now it was gone forever.
I’d never forget the night that Mom found out what Dad had done. I’d heard upset words—from both of them—followed by hours of crying. By the next day, though, Mom had forgiven him. And I couldn’t stay mad at Dad, either. Not when he worked so hard, each
and every day, to save our family from ruin. There was nothing I wouldn’t sacrifice for our family, and I knew that Mom and Dad felt the same way. I would’ve sold my art supplies and my collection of movie magazines in a heartbeat if they’d been worth anything.
“If you ladies will excuse me, I’ll go see about the trunks,” Dad was saying.
Mom squeezed his hand before he left. Then she turned to me. “Kay, I’d like you to meet someone. This is Nellie.”
“It’s an honor to meet you, Miss Kay,” Nellie said as she dropped into a curtsy.
“Oh, Nellie, you don’t have to do that!” I exclaimed as I took her hand. “I’ve heard so much about you—Mom’s been missing you for years and years, and Shannon and Hank, well, they sing your praises all the time! Taking Shannon’s place in England all those years ago so she could stay here after she fell in love with Hank is just about the most noble, most selfless—”
Nellie flushed with pleasure. “Miss Kay, you speak too well of me.”
“Come along. The car is this way,” Mom said.
“You can sit next to me,” I promised Betsy as we
walked toward the car. Dad soon joined us, followed by a porter who was pushing a heavy cart piled high with luggage.
“Five trunks, correct?” Dad asked Aunt Beth.
She nodded. “Yes, thank you, Joseph.”
Dad grinned at her. “One of these days, you’re going to have to start calling me Joe,” he said as the porter began to load the trunks into our car. “After all, we’ve been family for almost fifteen years.”
After Dad tipped the porter, he held open the back door for us. “Next stop, Vandermeer Manor,” he announced.
Betsy glanced around. “Where’s Hank?” she asked.
“He’s at work,” Mom told her. “You’ll meet him later.”
“Work?” Aunt Beth asked.
“Yes. He’s a foreman for Vandermeer Steel now,” Dad replied. “We had some good luck when a position opened up at the same time we realized that we couldn’t keep Hank on as a chauffeur anymore.”
“Then who will drive us home?” Betsy asked, looking confused.
Dad made a funny bow. “Yours truly, Betsy. I’m at your service!”
Mom and I laughed at Dad’s silliness, and after a moment Aunt Beth and Betsy joined in, too. But a faint blush had crept into Betsy’s cheeks. I wanted to reach out and squeeze her hand. Don’t be embarrassed! I’d say. It was an honest mistake. How were you supposed to know that Dad would be driving when you’ve always had a chauffeur?
Then I noticed the look Aunt Beth was giving Betsy. I knew that look. I’d seen it plenty of times on Mom’s face.
It meant: Be careful.
And that made me feel embarrassed, too. Embarrassed that Aunt Beth and Betsy were so sensitive to our hard times that they felt like they had to walk on eggshells around us, minding every word they said.
I ducked into the car. “Sit here, Betsy!” I said, pretending I hadn’t noticed anything.
“I can’t wait to see Vandermeer Manor,” she said as she climbed in after me.
“Nor can I,” Aunt Beth agreed. “After all these years, it will feel like coming home again.”
The drive back to Bridgeport, Rhode Island, wasn’t
too long—only a couple of hours. When we were nearly there, Dad turned off the main road.
“Just a brief stop,” he called over his shoulder as he pulled into a filling station. We waited in the car as he pumped the gas, whistling a cheerful tune under the watchful eye of the attendant. But I wasn’t feeling very cheerful inside. What must Aunt Beth and Betsy think of Dad pumping his own gas? I wondered. But if they were concerned, they didn’t let on.
“Won’t be long now,” Dad said when he got back into the car. He took a sharp turn onto Miller’s Pond Lane, a dusty road that traveled right by Memorial Park. Not so long ago, the flat, grassy field had been a place of quiet reflection, dotted with statues and tributes to soldiers who had fallen during the Great War. But in the last few years, Memorial Park had transformed into a Hooverville—a shantytown, named for President Herbert Hoover’s failure to stop the Great Depression. Tattered boards and boxes had sprung up like weeds. They were a poor excuse for houses, but they were better than nothing—which was all that many people had left.
Aunt Beth peered out the window, a frown of
confusion on her face. “Who are those people?” she asked. “What are they doing there?”
“They’re the unluckiest of us all,” Mom replied. “They’ve lost their homes and their livelihoods and have made shelters to live in as best they can.”
Betsy’s mouth dropped open. “They live there?” she said with sorrow in her voice. “In boxes?”
Aunt Beth reached for Betsy’s hand. “It’s such a shock to see,” she said to Mom. “We’ve read about your country’s struggles in the papers, of course—but they haven’t done justice to the level of suffering.”
“You shouldn’t have come this way,” Mom murmured to Dad.
“I didn’t have a choice, Kate,” he replied in a low voice. “The other route is longer, and we can’t afford the extra fuel.”
Aunt Beth stared out the window as if she hadn’t heard them, but of course she had. Every word. I snuck a glance at my cousin’s face and saw that she, too, was looking out the window. After a few more agonizing minutes, we left Memorial Park behind, though I knew that it was still present in everyone’s minds.
Dad was the first to break the silence. “Better times
are on the way, thanks to President Roosevelt’s New Deal,” he said.
“I’m glad to hear you say that,” Aunt Beth said. “I’d like to hear more about this New Deal, Joseph. Does it contain any provisions to help Vandermeer Steel?”
Dad sighed. “Well . . . yes and no,” he said. “It’s a little complicated. I’ll tell you all about it at dinner, Beth. As you can see, we’re just about home, and I’m sure you and Betsy and Nellie will want to—”
“Is that it?” Betsy suddenly cried, leaning toward the window. “Is that Vandermeer Manor?”
A sense of pride surged inside me at my cousin’s reaction to my family’s home, the place where I’d been born, the place where I’d lived my entire life. “Yes,” I told her. “We’re almost there.”
“It’s beautiful,” Betsy breathed. “So grand! So stately!”
“I’m happy to see it again,” Aunt Beth said, smiling as she gazed up at the tall gables. “Those few days I spent here when I was a girl were some of the happiest of my life.”
“And mine, too,” Mom said.
Betsy and I grinned at each other, and I knew that
we were thinking the exact same thing: What would happen to us during her visit, to fill us with the same sort of wonderful memories that Mom and Aunt Beth shared?
I could hardly wait to find out!