The Animals of Lilac Girls, Lost Roses and Sunflower Sisters, the Best Part

The animals, clockwise from upper left: Psina the pet chicken from Lilac Girls, Felka, Nadia’s dog from Lilac Girls, Jarushka from Lost Roses, Tum-Tum, Agnella’s Russian toy dog from Lost Roses, Saint Joan from Sunflower Sisters and Pico, the Woolsey’s mixed breed dog from Sunflower Sisters.

A lovely silver lining to the COVID cloud has been the huge numbers of pet adoptions from shelters. This just underscores what so many of us already know, that animals are the best parts of our lives. So I thought I’d round up all the animals from my three novels (or at least the photographic inspiration for them) and put them all on one page. Saint Joan the Siamese cat and Pico (real dog who belonged to Caroline Ferriday’s great grandmother) are from novel number three, to come next spring, Sunflower Sisters. Hope you enjoy hanging out with these lovely pets as much as I have while writing about them. They’re sweethearts, all.

P.S. Do you have a favorite literary animal? Leave it in the comments…

A Fabulous List of Rockefeller Center-connected Books

 

My lovely friend Jordan Rowley works at Rockefeller Center and sent me this wonderful list she put together for their employees to help them through this stay at home period. The books on this list were either published by the people at Simon & Schuster, who have offices at RC, or involve Rockefeller Center as a subject or setting (Lilac Girls was included since Caroline Ferriday worked at the French Consulate at the French Building at Rockefeller Center) or are written by NBC employees. It’s a great list and Jordan tells me her pick for me is American Eden by Victoria Johnson and I’m going to call my independent bookstore today and order it. Hope you see something here you like!

Caroline Ferriday volunteered at the French Consulate located in the French Building (cornerstone below) at Rock Center.

Three Lessons to be Learned from the Women of Ravensbruck That Might Help Us Today

Ravensbruck survivors at liberation in 1945.

 

In difficult times I often think about the prisoners at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp for women. My ten years of research for my novel Lilac Girls, focused on Ravensbruck, and how, when faced with horrific incarceration by the Nazis and separation from their families, cut off from normal life and routines, so many fought back and defied the odds. As our frontline medical workers and first responders show wartime-like courage and solidarity in the face of this new war, it’s awe-inspiring and deeply moving to see them so selflessly give of themselves in the face of this pandemic and I wanted to share a few ways we can all rally around them and show a united front by learning from history. 

#1. The Ravensbruck prisoners stuck together, regardless of nationality. Women from twenty different nationalities found themselves prisoners at Ravensbruck, Hitler’s only major concentration camp for women, and there were frequent squabbles between women from different countries. The French and Polish prisoners had their petty differences. When the Russian women arrived later in the war, they ruffled feathers with what some prisoners saw as overbearing behavior. But what success the women had fighting the Nazis came from their solidarity. The Scandinavian prisoners allowed to work in the camp’s front offices took Jewish and other vulnerable prisoners off lists and helped hide babies born at the camp. Polish women gave their smuggled-in medicines to help ailing Frenchwomen. The Russian women, who put themselves in charge of the camp electrical grid soon after arriving, saved lives by turning off the lights in the camp at key times, such as during nighttime raids to take prisoners to the gas chambers. This virus is a new type of enemy, deadly in a different way, but solidarity can be life-saving today, as well.
 #2. The women were creative in their individual relationships. As soon as prisoners arrived at Ravensbruck, they recognized the need to organize into sub-groups known as camp families. They bartered, took turns caring for the sick in their “families,” and shared the food and medicines from the packages the Nazis allowed some of them to receive from home. They identified those without families, found them help, and even sent representatives to appeal to the Nazi camp staff for prisoner rights. Risking punishment and possible death, many prisoners assigned to the camp “booty piles” secreted cloth and sewing kits to mend and sew lifesaving garments to help their at-risk family members make it through winter. Family units were so successful, when the Nazi staff realized they were keeping people alive, disbanded the units by separating camp families, to achieve their quotas of planned deaths by starvation. The thousands of people sewing masks and making plastic face shields from 3-D printers are inspiring examples of such war-time resourcefulness today, and each day, stories emerge of new people coming up with creative solutions from the safety of their own family units.
 
#3. They banded together to help the weakest among them. Ravensbruck prisoners showed incredible selflessness toward the young and the sick among them. In order to protect the vulnerable, many, even knowing they would be sent to the punishment bunker or executed, volunteered to take the of ID numbers of the “rabbits,” women, many just teenagers, who had been experimented on by the Nazi doctors. They knew they could survive a week in the punishment bunker, but the young women who’d been newly operated on could not. Older prisoners who’d been at the camp longer showed younger prisoners the ways of the camp and taught those who didn’t know German the life-saving phrases, since all commands were given in the German language. Prisoners also devised ways to remove the tattooed prisoner numbers from the arms of those newly arrived from Auschwitz, and held religious services in their blocks to keep prisoner morale up, for depression was often as deadly as typhus. Empathy saved lives at Ravensbruck and can do so today as well.
Hopefully, looking back at how a group of women facing a scourge they couldn’t control can shed a bit of light on how we can all work through this new war. As Ravensbruck shows, if we work as one to have the backs of our supremely courageous front-line responders, and support our own individual units with grace and resourcefulness, we can face the unknown together, and emerge stronger than any enemy.

Need Some Reading/Viewing Suggestions for Our Time in Isolation?

If you feel like you’ve read and watched everything of interest to you these days, try a few of my “If you liked” suggestions. If you’d like to support your local bookstore, many are delivering or mailing books. Feel free to try my local bookstore, The Hickory Stick:  https://www.hickorystickbookshop.com/

If you liked Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, read her unfinished novel Sanditon. (Gets extra points for a wonderful BBC miniseries of Sanditon you can binge watch after reading the book.)

If you liked The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, known as one of the all-time-best thrillers, (and a terrifying series) read The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Hard at work on a suspense novel, I’m reading The Turn of the Screw now for inspiration and let’s just say I’m sleeping with the lights on most nights. So, beware, but if you like suspense, it’s so good and also a great limited series with Michelle Dockery and Chloe Sevigny AND Dan Stevens, Matthew Crowley from Downton Abbey.

If you liked Sense and Sensibility, another fabulous Jane Austen, try Jane’s Love &Friendship. When you’re done reading, you can lose yourself in the Amazon series starring Kate Beckinsale.

I hope those get you through a few days of seclusion. Just think how well-read and well-watched we’ll all be when this grave chapter in our lives is done and we can emerge.

 

Like to Read A Lost Chapter of Lost Roses?

 

To celebrate the new paperback edition of Lost Roses, I thought it would be fun to share a lost chapter from the original manuscript, cut for word count. This is a chapter from Eliza, Caroline Ferriday’s mother’s perspective. The first scene takes place at the Plaza Hotel at a real-life event, a dog show where Eliza bought her cherished Pekingese puppy. A second and third scene in the chapter take place up at The Hay, where we meet Mary Tobin, another real character who never made it into the final version. I love revisiting these lost scenes and hope you do, too.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 14

Eliza

August 1916

 

On my birthday, Caroline and Julia convinced me to accompany them to the Plaza Hotel for The Specialty Show of Pekingese hosted by the Pekingese Club of America. Not being a fan of little dogs, I was lured by Caroline’s argument that it was for a good, albeit unhealthy, cause– The New York Sun’s tobacco fund for our allies at war. Though staunchly opposed to ingesting tobacco in any form, who was I to deny soldiers headed into extreme harm’s way a smoke?

Overnight, the Grand Ballroom, usually only accustomed to the occasional lunchtime lap dog, became a sea of show rings and wire cages, the flat-faced little inhabitants of which happily accepted brushing by sterling silver combs and slurped sterile water from pretty china dishes. All those shining tresses made me nostalgic for Father’s slobbery old spaniels.

Julia, Caroline and I stood watching the pups trot around a ring, going before the judges. The announcer via loudspeaker called out names. Greenacre’s Pee Wee. Nala’s Prince Ching. Benjamin’s Ding Dong.

A man approached Julia and held out his program.

“I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed your Juliet,” he said.

Julia pulled pen from pocket and poised it above his program. “That will be one dollar.” The man, only slightly non-plussed, reached into his pocket and handed her the bill. She then signed, most charmingly, and sent the man on his way.

Caroline smiled. “Well done, Aunt Julia.”

“Julia, really,” I said. “Must you?”

She tucked the dollar in the crocheted purse she carried just for this purpose. “Lilly Langtree only gets fifty cents an autograph.”

Caroline craned her neck to see above the crowd. “Which one is he, Aunt Julia?”

“That little one with the arrogant walk. He knows he’s worth $6,500.”

We all craned our necks to see The Phantom of Ashcroft, the British import Pekingese all of New York City was buzzing about. Mother’s friends, Mrs. Haley Fiske and Mrs. Franke Clark were the judges and peered silently at the dogs as they trotted around the ring, their silken tresses fanning out behind them.

“The Phantom of Ashecroft, best in show,” Mrs. Fiske called out and the crowd around us erupted like the crowd at steeplechase.

Caroline pulled me by the hand. “Come Mother, they are auctioning off the puppy.” We followed a sea of people to a raised podium on the opposite side of the arena.

“I already have my paddle,” Julia said, waving her numbered sign glued to a flat stick. “Number four. My lucky number.”

My friend Dr. Mary Cotton, who’d brought the first Pekingese to this country, stood on the platform where she served as auctioneer, a clock the size of a manhole cover next to her on a stand.

She waved toward a miniature silken creature another woman held aloft, cupped in her hands.

I felt a great jostling as bodies moved through the crowd and settled near us, Electra Merrill and Anna Gabler among them. Of course Electra would be there. She’d recently let it be known that she wanted a Pekingese and had become quite an expert on the breed. Thank goodness Mother was not with us or she would have dressed them down for stealing our roses.

“Oh, good afternoon, ladies,” she said, giving Julia a cool look. Electra put actresses, no matter how much they could charge for an autograph, somewhere between clairvoyants and prostitutes on the social ladder.

“Did you see Phantom win?” I asked to make conversation.

Electra waved a hand in his direction. “Of course he has a good head but his legs are too straight.”

“And his sides are too flat,” Anna said.

Julia leaned toward them. “I suppose you would have drowned me as a pup, for not being perfect.”

Anna turned her back to Julia. “Now Dr. Cook’s pup up there is an extraordinary dog. She brought just one. Everyone will want him.” I knew from Eudora’s look at her that she wanted Anna to keep quiet. She had her eye on the dog?

Mary Cotton waved and blew a kiss in my direction. “You have one minute, people,” she said as she flipped a switch to start the clock. It tick-tocked as the oversized hands jerked around the dial. “This is my finest pup. Can we start the bidding at—“

Anna held up her paddle like Lady Liberty herself. “Five dollars!”

Julia raised her paddle. “Ten!”

“Julia, you already have six dogs,” I said.

“Eleven,” Julia called out.

Caroline pulled on her arm. “Don’t bid against yourself, Aunt Julia.”

“Fifteen dollars,” Electra called out.

“Hurry ladies!” Mary Cotton cried.

“Twenty—two!” Julia said.

Electra raised her paddle. “Twenty-six!” she said, a triumphant look on her face.

The hands of the clock snapped together with a loud buzz.

Julia turned to Caroline with a tragic look.

I raised my arm. “Twenty-seven!” I called out over the buzz.

Mary Cotton turned to me with a smile. “And the winner is Mrs. Henry McKeen Ferriday.”

Julia surged to the stage, towing Caroline and me behind. Caroline beamed as she

took her first bow and Mary handed the pup to Julia.

“Caroline and I would like to present this boy dog…’” Julia said and paused for effect “…to Eliza Mitchell Ferriday in honor of her birthday.”

In the crowd I glimpsed Anna and Electra, wearing most pained expressions, while every other patron there clapped and whistled. “I would like to appeal,” Electra

tried to call out to Mary.

“She didn’t even have a registered paddle!” But Mary Cotton turned a deaf ear.

I basked in the applause. I would have bid on a bag of snakes to snatch it from the clutches of Electra Merrill. I looked down at the little Peke’s face, his silken

body quaking in my arms. What had I done? I could barely look after myself and Caroline, never mind a dog.

“Let’s call him Lord Byron,” Caroline said. “He’s just as handsome.”

We walked from the stage, past Electra and Anna, Lord Byron in my arms, members of the crowd reaching out to pet the pup.

“There are plenty of dogs better looking than he,” Electra said.

Anna nodded. “Not a well shaped head. And the runt of the litter. Too small even for a puppy.”

“Mother has notified the police, Electra. If you set foot on our property again—“

“But wasn’t it you who said “Taking a cutting from a wild rose is not stealing and no worse than eavesdropping.”

“You stole the whole garden, Electra.”

Anna laughed. “All this plant stealing is very funny. Have you nothing better to do with your time?” She reached out to pat the pup’s head and a low growl came from his throat, causing

Anna to step back.

“Nasty temperament,” Electra said.

I smiled. “You two have that in common, I said, smiling and went off in search of Caroline and Julia.

“Good boy,” I said, petting the pup’s silky back. “We are going to get along just fine.”

 

 

#   #   #

 

 

   Two weeks after our  success at the Plaza, sweet Thomas drove Caroline and me four hours north of Manhattan, up to Connecticut to The Hay. The little town seemed frozen in time, with its neat, shaded town green. Perhaps Mother was right. Would the trip help heal the rift between my daughter and me?

“Nice town,” Thomas said, a little too brightly. “All they need’s a general store.” Was he trying to smooth over the gaping hole of Henry’s absence?

“A good restaurant would be nice.”

The lonely little hamlet made Southampton look like a metropolis and needed more than a general store. The only activity came from the rise across from us at Bird Tavern, an inn and post office. We passed a woman driving an elegant buckboard wagon, her little dog seated next to her like a passenger. She gave us a suspicious look as we passed, for autos were not fully accepted in rural spots like Bethlehem then.

Thomas pulled through the opening in the stonewall into the gravel driveway of The Hay and came to a stop at the side porch door. He helped us from the car and we stood looking up at the façade through the hot sun. Any strength I had gathered wilted as it all came rushing back. Henry’s kiss in the barn. His love of that decrepit place. In the weeks since Henry’s death the house had only fallen into deeper disrepair. The yellow paint peeling off the clapboard like giant pencil shavings. The lawn choked with crabgrass and dandelions. Where was Peg to greet us? She had come up two days before to get the place habitable. Hornets flying in and out of a dark gash under the eave overhead were the only signs of progress being made about the place.

A young girl walked around from the back of the house, as if waiting for us, her hair plaited in two thick black braids, a sprinkling of cocoa freckles cast across the bridge of her nose. She looked to be Caroline’s age, though Caroline was a hand taller.

“I’m Mary Tobin,” she said in a soft Irish accent. “I thought you would never come. My mother died in Ireland and my father trained horses here for the Hulls, but he left and the Flynns at Bird Tavern next door there are my parents now. They run the post office in case you want to get your mail there.”

“You don’t keep much private, do you?” asked Caroline.

Mary shrugged. “It’s good to talk about things. Want to see a nest of baby owls?”

We stepped to the back of the house under the shade of a generous maple tree and Mr. Gardener walked up the steep rise of lawn toward us.

“Got the remains of a great apple orchard out there,” he said, waving toward the meadow. Some Sheep’s Nose apples. Virginia Crabs. None better for pies. Great spot for a garden back here, too,” he said with a rare smile. “Course this old maple would have to come down.”

Caroline turned to me. “Oh please, Mother. I’ve always wanted a garden. With sweet musk-roses and eglantine. I could look out my window every morning and see it.”

I swatted away a tangled tornado of gnats hanging in mid-air. “No tree shall be cut down, Mr. Gardener. I’ll never take down what God has put here. We have bigger fish to fry inside the house, Lord knows.”

“What you said, Caroline. About the sweet musk roses and eglantine. That’s from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. My new mother read me that. Can you recite the whole of it for me?”

“We’ll both perform it in the meadow,” Caroline said. “We can make a stage in the orchard, with a sheet in the apple trees for the curtain.”

She and Mary ran off toward the orchard Lord Byron on their heels. How wonderful Caroline already had a friend. And what a comfort Lord Byron had been for us. Though he was often inclined to bare his teeth at strangers and possessed an oddly human tendency to hold grudges, he was a dear thing and slept in my bed at night, his smooth, outstretched body warm against me.

A man dressed in faded blue overalls stepped around the corner of the house. “Saw you were home, M’am,” he said, without removing his cap. “March Farm. Have a delivery for you.”

I looked at Mr. Gardener who shrugged.

“By all means bring it.”

The man rolled his eyes. “Be right back,” he said, adding, “It’s about time,” under his breath.

Were all the locals so surly?

Peg burst out of the side door, under the porch. “I was just putting apples up in the attic on straw,” she said, holding up one in each hand. “Best way to store them for now.” Taking them up there two at a time?

Peg bit into one of the apples. “Found some notes on the front door when I got here but tossed them out since they’re old. And there’s a leak in the kitchen sink but I’ll fix it. My uncle was a plumber and I watched him fix a million.”

Caroline and Mary came running from the direction of the meadow. “He remembered, Mother!” She pulled my hand. “Come quickly.” She led me to the back meadow the dog at our heels.

He? Henry? Remembered what?

Caroline really was a whole different child up here in Bethlehem. With a little fresh air and time away from the city things had just worked themselves out, after all.

We rounded the house and I saw in the far meadow beyond the orchard, a small white house placed in front of the long stonewall. All three of us were out of breath when we got to the little house. We stepped up the porch steps, opened the shiny black door and stepped in. It was a charming place, the perfect sized playhouse for Caroline, a tall girl by then. The snug space was arranged in quite a pleasant way, swept clean and furnished with a kerosene lamp, a bowl of yellow and pink apples on the child-sized table and even pretty gray curtains at the windows.

“Look, a wood-burning stove and a desk and a sofa. Father had it moved here. Books, too. Just like he promised.”

I stepped to the little bookshelf and ran a finger down the spines of the books. Shakespeare mostly, some Dickens. Had Henry told someone to include them? Tears clouded my eyes.

“Mary said she saw Peg sweep it all out and add the apples,” Caroline said with a smile.

Suddenly, shouting came from the direction of the house and we all turned. “Miss Eliza, delivery’s here!” Peg called.

Caroline, Mary and I ran back across the meadow to the kitchen to find the doors under the kitchen sink wide open and a weak arc of water spraying from a pipe there. Peg had attached brushes to her boots and was skating about the floor scrubbing it while sweeping dirty water out the door with a straw broom.

We arrived at the kitchen door and Peg stopped her work, leaned on her broom and grinned. “Fixed the leak but figured I’d use the water. Delivery man’s out front.”

A honking horn sent Caroline, Mary and me hurrying to the front of the house, again at a trot, proof that country life is not a bit restful.

We found the deliveryman I’d met earlier climbing out of the driver’s seat of a black truck with May Farm written across the side in white letters, beneath it the words Say it with flowers.

He stopped and wiped his brow. “Where we drop it, Ma’am?”

“It?”

“A month overdue. I came by here so many times and left notes. Just about give up. Not charging you for my time but it’s been a hardship.” He walked to the rear of the truck, opened the doors and pulled out two planks of wood, which he arranged at an incline from the back of the truck. “Talked to Mr. Ferriday on the phone and he liked the sound of this guy.”

Mr. May led a pony down the wooden planks, its hooves clattering on the wood. Caroline gasped.

“Just one moment, Sir. This isn’t ours.”

Mary locked arms with Caroline. “Lucky girl.”

“Only gelding pony with pinto markings in all of Connecticut. Mr. Ferriday was sure glad to find him. Bought and paid for.”

I stood, stunned, a rush of emotion cursing through me. How lovely of Henry to do such a kind thing for Caroline, but a stab of longing for Henry swept through me. A craving bubbled up, to be at home in New York in my apartment, my fortress.

Mr. May held out a paper bill. “Of course I need to charge you for the hay he’s et these past weeks. He’s a hungry boy.”

I took the bill and he pushed the planks back up into the truck. “Next time do me the courtesy of returning my messages?”

“One pony is enough, thank you, Mr. May.”

He stepped into the driver’s seat of his truck. “People in these parts aren’t too proud to treat each other with consideration.”

Mr. May drove out of the driveway, leaving Caroline holding the pony’s reins.

I followed as she and Mary walked him to the meadow, where he took off with a start, running circles in the tall grass, the rope flying behind him.

Caroline started toward him but I held her back with one arm. “What’s wrong with him?”

Mary Tobin laughed. “Nothing much. Just where he was raised.”

I watched with disbelief. “Where for heaven’s sake?”

“In the circus, it looks like. Only place he’s ever run is round a ring.”

Mary helped us grab the rope and get the pony into the barn with a pile of hay.

It was as if Henry was still right there with us. How he would have thrown back his head and laughed to see that pony run in circles that way. A wave of sadness came over me as I walked back to the house as darkness descended.

 

#   #   #

 

Peg helped me make the beds and roasted a chicken we’d brought and some baked apples and some dandelion greens Mr. Gardener taught her to cook. I walked out toward the playhouse to call the girls for dinner, the scents of chicken and butter and cinnamon trailing me. The stars were coming out, a great mass of them overhead, and in the distance the kerosene lamp glowed in the playhouse. As I grew nearer I saw Caroline standing, reciting something while Mary watched. The playhouse windows were flung wide and Caroline’s voice came from within.

“”Not Aunt,” cried Oliver, throwing his arms about her neck: ‘I’ll never call her aunt -sister, my own dear, sister, that something taught my heart to love so dearly from the first! Rose, dear, darling Rose!'”

Mary applauded and Caroline bowed.

“How wonderful Oliver finally has a happy family,” Mary said. “I love Oliver Twist and Oliver is by far my favorite character. Perhaps because I’m pretty much an orphan, too.”

I stood in the near darkness, close enough to hear them, a twinge of guilt nipping at me for eavesdropping.

“I’m practically an orphan, too,” Caroline said.

“How did your father die?”

“Pneumonia.”

“My mother, too,” Mary said.

“He called for me but they wouldn’t let me near him.”

“I’m sorry,” Mary said, genuine sadness in her voice.

“And now my Mother doesn’t care about anything anymore, certainly not me. She hasn’t laughed or cried once since it happened. Seems she died with him.”

I stepped away from the little house, hidden in the darkness. Perhaps Mother was right, things would not just work themselves out after all.

Creeping back toward the main house I planned to have Peg call the girls from the porch. It wouldn’t do to have them see me cry.