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Long ago: A dear departed sister July 31, 2012

Posted by Jenny in history, literature, memoir, poetry.
Tags: , , , ,

My grandmother Sybil (r.) and her sister Celia (l.), about 1891

This is taken from a memoir entitled “When I Was a Girl” by my grandmother, Sybil Crowninshield Kennedy Bennett. The series starts here and alternates every other post.

I can’t write much about Celia Mary. It is too sad for me. She was born November 26, 1890. I was born September 27, 1889. We were never separated until I was fifteen and went to Weedsport High School, coming home each weekend. Then after a year at home, I went to college. She was quite small, not much over five feet tall, and slender, except when a little baby. She had lots of dark brown curly hair which was worn in long beautifully kept curls down her back and tied with a bow on her left forehead until she finished high school. Her eyes were blue but had large pupils and were a softer color than mine.

She was as bright in school but more gifted than I. She could recite in public long dramatic pieces and poetry, which was the fashion then. She played the violin quite well and wrote poetry herself. Some of it was accepted by newspapers and magazines, especially “Poetry” magazine, edited by Harriet Monroe.

She was very frail and had many periods of staying at home to build up her health. She taught high school in Cato [NY], Port Washington [Long Island], and Long Branch, New Jersey. English was her subject and she was successful and happy when not sick. She died after an operation, April 26, 1924, the greatest sadness in my life.

[My grandmother speaks of her and Celia’s love of books, how they read many classics but also lighter material:] The Disciples Church had the Elsie books. Luckily Alice [their friend] went to that Sunday School and we could trade with her for that delicious trash. Mildred Mehan, the girl next door, didn’t care about reading but by persuasion and since she didn’t like to be left out, would go upstairs [to the school library] on a Friday and we could sign a book out in her name. So we had three or four to read each week and usually finished them long before Friday.

“Little Women” was the very best of all. We read and reread and lived with Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. I was Jo; Alice, Meg; and Celia, Amy. Mildred who was no good at that sort of play was Beth, who was too sick to do much and soon died, so we could go on without her. At times Celia did both Beth and Amy. The house where they lived was so vividly imagined that when I visited The Orchards at Concord, Mass. after I was married I couldn’t accept it. It was all wrong—I was nearly in tears.

[She describes a club formed by a small group of her friends:] The Secretta Society had at most five members, Mildred, Alice, Celia, and I, and later, Louise Taber. We met every Friday evening taking turns in our homes for a literary program and refreshments. We usually read aloud in turn from a book of poems and sang songs. Mildred and I could play the piano. Mildred had a beautiful singing voice and it was a pleasure to sing for quite a long time. Then we had fudge and popcorn and lots of fun. I can’t think why we had such happy times so simply but we did and felt well entertained….

Celia Kennedy. Photo courtesy of Corinne Lively.

*   *   *

Note from Jenny: After Celia died, her mother collected her poems into a book titled “Pinafore Poems,” of which I have a copy. Its cover has a charming red checked pattern with a title designed to look hand sewn. It was illustrated with silhouette pictures done by Laura H. Crowninshield, a cousin who became a fashion designer in New York City. Here is one that I especially like.


Clementine had a birthday cake—

A cake with fat pink candles.

There were little paper baskets, too,

With butterflies for handles.

Seven candies were in mine,

But the little Slater boy had nine!

Each of us had pink ice cream.

A plateful—a lot.

And a piece of frosted birthday cake,

With frosting birds on top.

The Slater boy ate his up fast—

But I kept trying to make mine last.

Then Clementine’s Uncle Jim came in,

And told us all about a bear!

But Billy Slater knew it first.

He said that he was there!

He said he killed bears quite a lot,

And drank their blood—he’d soon as not!

I brought my basket home with me,

With butterflies on the handles.

I wish I had a birthday, too,

With pink ice cream and candles—

And, mother, wouldn’t it be fun

If we had Billy Slater come?

Illustration for “Notoriety” by Laura Crowninshield


1. Jane - August 1, 2012

This is precious. I look forward to reading more! 🙂 Jane

Jenny - August 1, 2012

Thank you! Yes, there will definitely be more…

2. susanwbailey - August 2, 2012

Your story really touched my heart. It reminded me of my mom and her sisters. They loved Little Women too. I blog about Louisa May Alcott if you’d like to read more about her, I invite you to come visit – http://www.louisamayalcottismypassion.com. I shared the link to your post on Twitter and Facebook.

Jenny - August 2, 2012

Thank you for visiting! I have taken a look at your blog, and I plan to spend more time with it. You bring up a lot of interesting questions.

3. Brian - August 6, 2012

I very much enjoyed this post. Very touching.

Jenny - August 7, 2012

I’m very glad you enjoyed it.

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