Write Again…Those were her happy years

Published 12:42 pm Wednesday, February 17, 2021

In my “first life” as a columnist (1970 to the late 1980s) from time to time I wrote about my growing up years here in the 40s and 50s – and especially about friends, many of whom remained so throughout our journeys.

That some, too many it seems, have passed into the next and higher dimension, saddens me. Truly. It’s life.

My special friend and fellow columnist, Harold, writes lovingly and perceptively of the days of his youth. His recall of those days is remarkable.

If ever there was one who could and did write of the days of her youth with passion and clarity it would have to be Nellie Miles Paul.

For those for whom the history of Washington is both interesting and important, her prodigious recounting of those long ago times is truly of archival value.

Her poetry alone has filled two full collections, compiled and published by her eldest grandchild, Paul. The quality of her writing, her word mastery, is second to very, very few.  

It’s not her poetry, however, that I share with you today. No, the following – simply a “tease” – is taken from the preface of her “Childhood Memories of Nellie Miles Paul,” also compiled by Paul. 

“’Tis said that when one begins to reminisce it’s a sure sign of old age. Nevertheless, regardless of the horrid implication, I’m going to look once down the vista of time and share with you in retrospect a few of the most memorable of my early childhood events which covered that period known as the ‘Gay Nineties,’ but forever inscribed in my heart as the ‘Happy Years.’

“To begin with I believe it’s customary when writing one’s memoirs to state where and when one was born, etc., so for the benefit of those that are not native Washingtonians, I was born right here in town – and the year is none of your business!

“My childhood home was on Second Street, situated on the property where the high school stood, and my only claim to distinction is that I was born across the street from the Cecil B. DeMille house, and went to school with Lindsay Warren (U.S. Representative 1925-1940, then Comptroller General of the United States.) 

“Our old home was a big white house next door to the Academy yard, which was on the corner of Bridge Street. There was a green space surrounding the school house, shaded with graceful elms and covered in spring and summer with a carpet of yellow buttercups and snowy daisies.

“This was the scene of most of the town’s festivities, and some of my happiest moments, as it was the neighborhood and playground, and where I first went to school…

“It was truly ‘Little Washington’ in those days and more like a sleepy village than a town.  Everybody knew everyone else back into the fourth generation, both white and colored.

“There were no paved streets, not even downtown – though they did have wooden sidewalks.  People had to wade through the dust in the summer and mud in winter.

“On rainy days it was a favorite sport of the young bloods of the town to gather on the corners and get a thrill watching the women pick their way across the streets with their long skirts daintily and circumspectly lifted out of the slush and perhaps displaying an ankle now and then to the hopeful, pop-eyed gazers. Poor frustrated boys. They lived a half a century too soon . . .”

So began Nellie Miles Paul’s “Childhood Memories,” literally dozens of pages in length.

  • Nellie Miles Paul. (Nov. 16, 1889 – Jan. 9, 1959) 

Such recall. Such command of the written word, almost non pareil. Such a gift of her memories of another time in the history of our “Little Washington.”