A Visit to an American Home

Whilst in Chautauqua, Jim clearly enjoyed meeting Americans and forming an impression of them:

The Americans all claim English descent. They are more emotional than we are. Their educational system cannot be as good as ours – they attend these summer courses and gain credits towards their graduate examinations.

She extended her knowledge of American life on a special visit. She recorded it in her diary and wrote it up for publication once she was home.

The Niagara Falls are the Mecca of most English visitors to America; so when we were invited to an American home in order to see them, we were delighted. We motored through busy Buffalo with its great grain elevators, smoky steelworks and handsome buildings into a green well-wooded countryside with gentle hills and quaint wooden  houses. Every house has its shady verandah and no divisions separate the gardens.

The car now left the road and took a steep tortuous route up a rough mud track, over a creek until we drew up outside a large pine-wood house built on the hillside in a wood whilst the creek ran below.

When we entered the house, the most enchanting surprise awaited us.  We walked into a long room with walls of leafy trees. The room, built out from the rest of the bungalow, resting high on piles, had, instead of sides, panels of gauze so that the thin trunks of young maple, beech and elm trees made the room into a cool green sanctuary away from the dusty heat of the day.

Later, in the dusky twilight, we motored over the hills to dine at a farmhouse inn, fitly called “The Old Orchard”.  Here we ate delicious unfamiliar things such as hot scones with maple syrup, blueberry tart with whipped cream, and drank iced coffee in tall glasses with clanking ice.  This last cooled us down for the next drive to an open-air theatre to see “Petticoat Fever”. The audience sat at little tables in front of the stage. The highlight in the performance was when the curtain dropped suddenly in the middle of the most dramatic scene to allow the local train to shunt off with much hooting. When the curtain rose again, the actors continued unperturbed amidst much laughing from the audience.

We drove home in the glare of car lights, so strange after blacked-out England, and slept the night in a pine cabin whose only sides, too, were of gauze so that the trees of the spinney closed in all round. There was a feeling of enchantment in dropping off to sleep breathing in the woody smells and the faint odours of wild flowers and hearing the flutter of moths’ wings against the gauze. We wakened to the rain pattering on the leaves and the far-off hammering of woodpeckers.

Later we drove to Buffalo, passing through its beautiful park where the children were playing baseball along wide streets lined with trees until we reached the border of Canada. Here we had our British passports examined whilst the Americans merely stated their birthplace. Then we drove over the Peace Bridge where the boundary of each side in the middle of the bridge was marked by the Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack.  At the end of the bridge there was more passport formality before we were free to enjoy the magnificent Falls from the Canadian side.

Stevenson has said, “To travel hopefully is better than to arrive”, but he was wrong this time. We had travelled hopefully but the Falls did not betray the arrival. Their greenness, their creaming foam, the eddying whirlpool, the mist of the spray flung far up and the thunder of their waters linger with us yet.

Jim’s postcard from 1940 showing an aerial view of Niagara Falls
Aerial view of Niagara Falls taken in 2007