Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Inside "Ocean 1212-W"

892 Shirley Street, Winthrop, Mass. USA, photographed in 2018.
Sylvia Plath claimed her grandparents' house at Point Shirley as her true childhood home and spiritual nexus in a 1962 essay we know as "Ocean 1212-W." Prepare for a unique and savory treat: Aurelia's Austrian beau Karl in 1926 described in his diary his first view of and visit to the town of Winthrop and Point Shirley, and an evening in Aurelia's family home. Present were her parents (later "Grammy" and "Grampy" Schober; Karl culls a few new facts) and Aurelia's siblings, future aunt and uncle to Sylvia and Warren. More about Karl here. I discovered this passage in May and you are the first to read it. It's verbatim and I think beautiful. Thanks to the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute for granting access to the Karl Terzaghi diaries. Diary page numbers are in the brackets.

Diary 26.1, p. 104 October 24, 1926

Yesterday, Saturday, met A. at the [105] Public library, lunch among lights and colors at Brau Haus, a delightful, quiet hour. After lunch to Orient Heights, from hill above station one of the most beautiful views of Boston I ever saw. Beacon Hill in blue grey against the lighter sky, dominated by the Custom House tower. Chelsea: a series of drumlins with gentle skyline covered with grey houses. At the foot of the hill the red brown saltmarshes with wide, winding channels, mother of pearl; so beyond Beachmont N.E., the silver grey ocean, the horizon behind the flat, grey shape of Nahant Island on the horizon & in the East [106] the friendly hills and narrows & peninsula of Winthrop. From the Orient Heights we wandered across Winthrop, & on the Boulevard, along the beach, from Drumlin to Drumlin: Grovers Cliff, Winthrop Head and out to Shirley Point: the ocean calm, in color reminding the Persian sea, now and then a low, gentle wave breaking at the beach. Dark stone standing out of the water – low tide, a brown belt of sea weed stretching between the water and the seawall – the dominating white water tank of Winthrop [107] Head standing like the tower of a Sarazene castle – and the dear little girl with shining brown eyes, showing her treasures, the beach, and the walls and the sea she loves. An evening in her home at Shirley Point, remote from the world. Her mother a plump little lady with irregular features, brutish forehead, but lovable and kind and goodnatured. The father, who arrived somewhat later, serious, official, simple, but sincere, agreeable, regular features. Assistant manager of the Alston Manor. The light and [108] the beauty of the home: The children. Sitting at the fireplace, fed with driftwood, paved with cobblestones from the Drumlins. A., the oldest, with her gentle, lovable features, her sister, fifteen, a strong husky girl, with clear, open grey eyes, blond, straight hair and a strong nice chin, and finally came the little boy, warm from his bed, insisted to see me, tried to behave like a little man, and explained to me his monkey. – About storms in Winthrop, the breakers washing through the gaps between the houses, the children [109] spending days on the beach, in bathing suits, in direct touch with gentle and violent nature – the library in Shirley Point, grocery store a little world in itself. The father from Aussee, Gasthof Schober, wanted to study medicine, some time in Italy, met in London brother of his wife, both went over to Boston and settled. His brother-in-law headwaiter at Copley Plaza. The early days of the young couple, tramping up in White Mountains, since then living in this little home, no travels, except the family for short time [110] to Colorado Springs – her father.
            Towards eleven I left, went with A. and her father around the Shirley Point back to W. station beautiful moonlight, the ocean calm. The dear little girl tight at my side and while we walked behind her father, I told her silently how I felt, by a kiss.
            Today, a quiet day, still under the impression of yesterday’s evening. The picture of the girl was with me: her innocence, her happiness at her wealth in her modest surroundings, the [111] blessings of an education paid for by the self restraint of conscientious parents, a bud, on the point of becoming a flower – her lovable way of nursing the smaller ones of the family, the drumlins and the ocean as a background. I had the feeling as if I had found something I was longing for since years.


Robyn said...

Thank you!

lxv said...

How small is this world. My brother used to shovel snow for Mrs. Plath over on Elmwood Rd. And I knew Bear Terzaghi's wife Ruth. And, of course, how can I forget Mr. Crockett, my beloved English teacher. Sylvia was my mother's generation give or take, but my life has intersected with hers in many many ways.