26 December (1939): John Cheever to Elizabeth Ames

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Below, John Cheever writes to friend Elizabeth Ames, recounting his “rousing” Christmas holiday at home with his family in Quincy, Massachusetts. “The local squire showed up with a jar of aspic, the children began to destroy the tree ornaments, and driving home the moon was as bright as day and people were skating on every pond,” writes Cheever. “So we remember the Prince of Peace, may it please Him.”

December 26, 1939, Massachusetts

Dear Elizabeth,

Here I am again in what grandmother used to call the house of plenty, sniffing the conflicting aromas of roast duck, Yardley’s bath soap and the fir balsalm pillows maiden ladies distribute at Christmas. All in all it’s been a rousing holiday. A class-mate of mine had a party on Christmas eve and we sat around a kitchen in Norwell and drank egg-nog out of tennis trophies until two. Many of the kids I had been to Thayer with were there, wearing eye-glasses and escorting pregnant wives. Then back here, a horse-back riding Monday morning in the blue hills, dinner with mother and dad and in the late afternoon we went down to Norwell again and collected a lot of plaid socks, spotted ties, and bright yellow gloves. The house was full of people, there was a lot of champagne, three small children kept circling the living room, breaking the springs in mechanical toys and hollering at the top of their lungs, and a cable came from blacked-out Southampton announcing that auntie Dess (one of the south african aunts) had arrived safely on the blacked-out Scythia. The children played store, played house, played tea-party, the women played bridge, the men played darts, you could see a light in the sky that is unlike anything I’ve seen at the foot of New York’s cross-town streets. The local squire showed up with a jar of aspic, the children began to destroy the tree ornaments, and driving home the moon was as bright as day and people were skating on every pond. So we remember the Prince of Peace, may it please Him.

  I return to New York on the 30th to see Peg Worthington marry Marshall Best and sail for Guatamala. They want to go to Yucatan but “there is a great deal of unrest among the lower classes in Yucatan,” they said. The fact that I’ve been able to do more work in my three days down here than I did in three weeks in New York is proof I guess of how quickly I respond to rural, or at least semi-rural surroundings and I don’t look forward to returning to the musty interiors of the Hotel Chelsea. I may even come up to the Worden for a week. The work I did in the city is no good, the amount of money I spent was crazy, and I haven’t even got any memories. There’s a lot to be learned by me about living.

Love,
John

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