The following blog post was contributed by Tour Guide Wendy Gash.
Being a guide at the Mount is similar to the job of doorman at a hotel – you are a captive audience for people who like to chat. We must be prepared to compare the weather from where we are to where they were and be sympathetic over health issues, while giving directions to the rest rooms and advice on nearby restaurants. Yet sometimes between the stories of travel woes and difficult relatives, a few nuggets surface. Here are a few from this season.
When he was fifteen and in high school, a retired professor had “Ethan Frome” as required reading. It made a profound impression on him. He saw for the first time that adult life might not run smoothly, and the confident grownups around him could possibly have a few problems. That had never occurred to him.
At the end of a tour a quiet grandmother who had been standing at the back came up to tell me that she had downloaded a group of over thirty Wharton stories on her iPad for about ninety-nine cents and read them all. She was looking for more.
I don’t know how the subject came up, but a tall, and yes, distinguished, Englishman mentioned casually that his great aunt at one time had a villa in Hyeres near Saint Claire Chateau. She and Edith Wharton were quite friendly, and Edith gave her an amethyst necklace. It now belongs to his stepdaughter. Why didn’t I get a name!
Settled comfortably in a chair in the Drawing Room, a visitor noted that this was the first museum he’d ever been in that when he sat down, an alarm didn’t go off.
A couple from the mid-west were on their annual visit to New England. On a previous trip to Old England, they rented a cottage on a National Trust property and on the well-stocked bookshelf was a copy of “Gardens To See Before You Die.” Many of them were in exotic places, Indonesia for example, but listed was Edith Wharton’s Estate and Gardens. And here they were, having a fine time.
A tall man claimed special knowledge of “The Age of Innocence” because he was the brother of Michelle Pfeiffer, the actress who played Ellen Olenska in the film. I looked it up.
For many years, from 1942 to 1976, the Wharton property was owned by the Foxhollow School For Girls, presided over by the headmistress Aileen Farrell, an Oxford graduate and very strict and proper. The girls were allowed to have dances with neighboring boys’ schools. One of them was The Berkshire School, and faculty members would chaperone jointly. A man who was a teacher at the time told me he would often sit with Miss Farrell, and one evening she leaned over to him and said, “Can you tell me, is the would f—k still in common usage?”
Who knows what Things They’ll Say next year. Stay tuned.