A Reminiscence by Ruth Tobey Hampson

I asked my Aunt Ruth if she would provide a reminiscence of her mother, Susan Colby Tobey, at Lucknow.—RonTobey.

Left to right: Ruth Tobey Hampson, Elizabeth Tobey Gonnerman Erb, Milli Tobey at the Tobey Family reunion at Lucknow, July 2002.

At first it didn't seem right to begin a story about your Nana—my Mother—at the very evening of her life. Shouldn't I, to clearly portray her, begin at the beginning (or at least as far back in her life as I can remember)?

But no, these last years were her best ones—her very best ones—and I want to show you how perfect she was for the role she finally achieved; how much she loved it. And in the showing, perhaps your curiosity about her earlier years will be awakened, and you'll find the groundwork that she laid for the last of her life truly amazing.

It may, also, give you an awareness of the deep depression she suffered from having to leave the Castle, the displacement she experienced during her last year or two of her life on earth. It was her true home.

When her husband had taken her over to see the enormous acreage he had purchased, she had taken one look at the Castle, moved in and commenced its restoration. You, her grand children, remember her at the Castle (which we Tobey's, and Tom Plant before us, called "Lucknow"), and your children, too, will associate her life with that. That is where I shall begin.

Sometimes when I think of her the first memories that come are of her sitting in a corner of the long love seat that is built in below the huge plate glass window at the far end of the living room. Do you remember that window? It looked out upon the grounds and the flower-lined walk which meanders from a door to its far right out past the window to a little pagoda and continues on under grape vines to an overlook of Lake Winnepesauke. By sitting in the far right corner of the love seat she had a great view of the results of much of her gardening efforts.

The living room was set up differently in Nana's time. Its entrance was separated from the huge reception room by heavy damask draperies which were usually drawn completely across, but sometimes drawn back a little or a lot, (depending upon the formality of the occasion). Entering, one was immediately surrounded by Napoleonic reminders (Tom Plant was surely an admirer of Napoleon—maybe that is where the name "Lucknow" came from—and small iron statues graced tables and table lamps. The walls were beautifully covered with French silk; and as you made your way to the living room part you were aware that it had been carefully decorated to honor him). One tread heavenly carpets all the way to the window. You would pass on the left the French doors which lead out to Lucknow's front garden.

Nana had arranged the farthest half of the room so that it was a formal yet comfortable living room of large dimensions. A long table set against the back of the huge sofa, and carrying an assortment of magazines and a handsome lamp, was the dividing line. One would usually find her seated beyond all that, on the far right of the love seat by the big window, always with needlepoint or knitting in hand either glancing out often to enjoy the grounds which she had restored to vibrant life, or alternatively, as evening came, sharing her attention by watching wrestling matches (dear heaven—it seemed so out of character!) or Lawrence Welk on her television set.

By the way, I do not recall ever seeing my mother sit in idleness. She was always doing handwork of some kind. After visitors were settled she would pick up her needlework and resume. At the same time, she always seemed so pleased that we had come.

Your Nana, my Mother, was an aristocratic figure, erect, self-contained, obviously equal to the situation. She did not share her emotions often. She was a stable, competent, lovely white-haired lady. And I do mean lady.

Ruth Tobey Hampson