This Flower, Safety - A Short Story by Mollie Panter-Downes- first published in The New Yorker July 6, 1940 - included in Good Evening, Mrs Crave - The Wartime Short Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes - published by Persephone Books 1999
Born August 16, 1906
At age 16 writes a best selling novel The Shoreless Sea
1927 - Marries
In August 1938 she begins to write for The New Yorker. From 1939 to 1945 she was their London Correspondent. All of The Short stories in this collection were published there. The New Yorker had first refusal on her work. Ultimately she would publish 852 items in The New Yorker.
September 3, 1939 England declares war on Germany
January 27, 1997 - Surrey, England - dies
Ten days ago I read a delightful short story, “Date With Romance”, my first work ever by Mollie Panter-Downes. There are twenty one short stories in the collection, all, I think, first published in The New Yorker. There are also two of her famous Letters from London. My plan was just to read through them all then possibly do a closing post. However after reading the sixth story in the collection “This Flower, Safety” I saw a connection between the lives of her characters, trying to survive World War Two, keeping their courage up but not knowing how things will end to millions of people now living through the Covid Pandemic.
Here is opening paragraph, I do over quote her perhaps because I just relish her style so much, we learn how the war initially changed her very comfortable existence:
“Miss Mildred Ewing had lived at the Hotel San Remo, Crumpington-on-Sea, since the beginning of the war. Her London house, one of those vast, dirty stucco fortresses of the past that are still to be seen in the squares of Belgravia, was untenanted except for an old caretaker living in the basement. Although the rooms had been put away carefully under dust sheets, their contents packed in newspapers or tenderly wrapped in baize, the dust had probably seeped in to lie in the dulling mahogany curlicues of the Chippendale chairs, the Georgian silver must be tarnishing slowly, the china cupids acquiring a film of grey on their dimpled pink thighs. Miss Ewing thought of this gradual disintegration of her property with calm, even with indifference.”
She now lives in the country accompanied only by her elderly maid.
“Miss Ewing was safe at Crumpington-on-Sea. She and her elderly maid, Sparks, enjoyed the security of that sunny little watering place, which was sometimes quite like the Riviera, really. Sparks enjoyed it a good deal more than the previous annual sojourns in Nice or Mentone.”.
I googled “Crumpington-on-Sea” but got no result. It is a great name for an English Town. The town was not near any targets of military value so there was no reason think the Germans would bomb it. Staying in a posh hotel, they listen to war News on the radio but it all seems remote. They feel safe. Then one day a German bomber, running out of fuel, has to drop their bombs on Crumpington-on-Sea. Miss Ewing feels she now has no choice but to Go stay with a nephew and his wife who live in an even more remote area.
As time progresses we see Miss Ewing becoming less concerned with her possesions, carefully used by Parker-Downes to illustrate social distinctions and more with just surviving, accepting her increasingly limited life.
As i finished this marvelous story, I thought of my life now. I live in Metro Manila. The per capita Covid Death Rate in The Philllippines is ten percent of The USA. Since March 3rd i have observed strict quaratine. People over 65 are not allowed to go out unless an emergency. Plus my Family does not want me going out. I, like Miss Ewing suffer no material hardship at all. I am totally taken care of by my Family but sometimes i feel a bit trapped. Like Miss Ewing i try to be, and mostly am, thankful for my comfort and safety when millions suffer.