Tea with the High Mistress

Though I live mere blocks from the house I was born in, the story of my childhood isn’t that simple.  My family hopscotched around the globe, from Cambridge to Paris to Cambridge to London and back to Cambridge.  There were enormous gifts and privileges from this childhood, some immediately obvious and others that took longer to manifest.  There were also costs, which have mostly been in the longer-flowering category.  When Michael Ondaatje writes “Do you understand the sadness of geography?” I nod my head mutely, tears running down my face.  Yes, yes I do.  I understand the sadness and beauty of a childhood spent in the pursuit of new geographies, of adventures and cathedrals and experiences.

“My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call.” Pat Conroy’s words ring inside me too, with a painful familiarity.   In this flux of my childhood years there is an anchorage, a place I learned to hook the boat of my identity; I am from here, where I live now, but that’s not always been clear to me, and I’ve spent many pages, more hours, and even more tears trying to figure that out.  The only steadiness I knew as a child was change, and we moved with a fluidity as rhythmic and inorexable as the tides.  It’s no wonder that the ocean is an important metaphor for me now.  It’s also not a surprise that I’m anxious about farewells, haunted by the fear of abandonment, and terrified of ambiguity.

The point of this post, though, is the photograph above.  When Hilary and I lived in London we went to a school called St Paul’s Girls’ School.  It was an intimidating place, whose grand mahogany hall with a towering organ and black-and-white checkerboard marble floor still loom large in my memory.  The head of school was called the High Mistress, and she was a figure of authority and grandeur who inspired an admiration bordering on fear in her students.  We were supposed to curtsy when she walked by.  I’m not kidding.

Anyway, there was a tea recently with the current High Mistress in Cambridge.  I was sick at home with a fever, but Grace went with Mum.  Based on the photograph above (the High Mistress is in the middle), I’d say she’s almost ready to enroll?

11 thoughts on “Tea with the High Mistress”

  1. Not having lived such a life, I’m not sure I can relate at all. But I do know where I am from. I have lived my whole life in the same place, and I choose to raise my family there too. I am connected to the community in a figurative sense and I can’t seem to separate myself from it. I remember coming home on weekends when I was in university and feeling a palpable sense of comfort wash over me as we approached the first set of lights that lit the entrance to the community. That feeling has guided me every since.

  2. And those are precisely the kind of sturdy, tangible roots I always longed for. And that I hope to provide for my children.

  3. I think this is kind of hilarious (not your beautiful words about geography — you know me and my obsession with “sense of place”!). However the concept of the High Mistress and G’s face are great! Was G scared to go? 🙂

  4. I’ve always been obsessed with geography and believe to the core that it is the decider of our destiny. I lived in the same place for so many years and when we had to move, it was a shock to the system. My husband, on the other hand, has moved all his life and embraces the nomadic life.

  5. I can so relate to this life of scouring the globe (mine has been South of France, Tahiti, dead city, Angers-France-,Turkey, UK, back to Angers). It took me years to figure out I wanted to be where I’ve been the happiest. I’m trying to go against those previous nomadic ways (breaking free, breaking all when leaving a place) and root myself here. It is a long process. 🙂

    I wondered if the High Mistress looks the same than when you were at that school?


  6. Love the Conroy quote. And although I didn’t move throughout my childhood, I have find “home” to be a difficult place to figure out for myself.

  7. It’s funny Lindsey. We always seem to want what we don’t have. I grew up 10 minutes from where I’m living right now. The farthest I went was about an hour away when I was in college.

    I’ve always wished that I could go live somewhere else. I have felt trapped at times. I’d still like to go somewhere, but my mom is getting older…I want to be around to help care for her when the time comes.

    I love that I have my whole family around me and that we get together quite often. It is a blessing. But sometimes it would be nice to be somewhere else for a little while.

  8. Would not trade my bi-coastal, north-south, nowhere longer than 4 years in-a-row life for anything in the world! Except that I’ve now lived here (my Mother’s home town, guess I do want roots) for 7 years… how did that happen? And thanks for the FM mention!!!

  9. I’m still soaking in the Ondaatje & Conroy quotes. You are a marvel, how you tie your quotes and life experience into words that rise and swell on heartfelt waves.

    Hope your November is coming along well, it’s finally getting cold here in the desert, of that we are glad.

  10. Like Christine, I can’t entirely relate to this as my living places have been pretty steady. We lived in the same town for most of my life.

    Ironically, I wanted to move away and become independent. Something I did and wouldn’t change. Now Ben and I are looking at moving thousands of miles further away from our families, for school. Who knows if we will ever return.

    Sometimes I do want to have those roots you speak of. Of living close to the town my parents live in. Maybe some day.

    That picture of Grace is priceless. : )

  11. I’d only read your title here, and glanced at the picture, and I thought, “Wow! It’s just like Bryn Mawr.” Which made me laugh. We distinctly lacked the curtsying, though.

    This post made me think about my own obsession with landscape, and how our external landscapes affect our internal landscapes. I think landscape is different in some significant ways than geography, but now I probably need to write about it to find out why I think that. 😉

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