Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Two Queens of the Mississippi.

I have learned a new word. Well, KINDA. It’s a word I’ve always known, but I assigned it a different source, thinking that my derivation MUST be the one.

I’d always loved the idea of a STATEROOM. Traveling by train would be my first choice in the world of all travel, with those lovely compartments with their everything-in-its-wee-place demeanor and the air of mystery and luxurious accommodations and ventures into the unknown. Even one of those climb-in berths with the pull-together curtains and strangers stacked around like books on shelves would be an adventure, because you're ON A TRAIN, clacking through the night, to wake in different places, different climes. Not to speak of the elegance and luxury of visiting the DINING CAR.




Every one bespeaks adventure and luxury and vistas of things unknown. Those faraway places ARE calling, call---ing me. And though thoughts of all those exotically-named rail lines outclass plain old AMTRAK by a country mile, I’d take it any day, just for the going.

But traveling by SHIP, now. If I had the nerve to do it, THAT would be most luxurious of all, with all the foofaraw about seatings and Captain’s Tables and mezzanines and lido and following the strains of music from dancing in the ballroom to jazz in the lounge and the sway of As Time Goes By in the piano bar, with wonderful food piled forth at all hours of the clock, happy people of leisure and wit to mingle with, and those charming fittings of the bedchambers and baths.

And to me, having never really thought of it any other way than first impression, Staterooms were for people of STATE, the STATEly people, people of eSTATE and those who made STATEments for others to heed and obey.
I’d seen movies, and those folks in the furs and top-hats stayed in rooms you could get a grand piano in (and some HAD one), with shining crystal just sitting there on the bars, and beds all-satin-draped and cushy, whilst the raggedy crowd, the fleeing-to-another-country types with their slouch-hats and kerchiefs and baggy pants (and you could TELL they didn’t have a bath between one port and the next)----THOSE had the one-room-for-all with the dingy hammocks and bunks.

So, I took my definition as gospel, and left it so, though I never once thought what that fact might ascribe to those of us whose families arrived by STEER-age.

And then just this past Saturday, as we do often, we had early-morning tea, still in our night-clothes, with barely a lamp lit save the bright little one over the breakfast table. Chris had been re-reading one of his Louis L’Amour books---he’s always said that there are Westerns, and then there are Books About The West, but these books are for everybody, for L’Amour wrote such fleshed-out characters and such evocative stories, that his books are about PEOPLE who happen to LIVE in the West.

Chris often calls out to me from whatever part of the house he’s in when he’s reading, to share with me an especially beautiful paragraph or phrase or thought, or a memorable description or incident or something about an old custom or idiom which he finds interesting.

And so we sat there in our little isolated pool of light, with his deep rumbly voice reading me the beautiful words, and presently, the estimable LL mentioned the building of several riverboats---sternwheelers and sidewheelers, with their ornate lacework and gingerbread, their promenades and balconies and bright paintwork and gilt.

And it happened that Mr. Shreve, founder of Shreveport, LA., was one of the part-owners of quite a sizeable fleet of the boats, and his notion was to paint the name of a state on each cabin door, instead of a number---hence the name “Staterooms.”

Well, O-KAAAY, if History insists. Mine was way classier.



Chesapeake said...

I could not disagree with Mr. L'Amour wihout checking with Brewers Dictionary of Words and Phrase Origins, and don't own one, so it will have to wait. I suspect your explanation is closer to the real origin of the word.


Anonymous said...

And then, there are "staterooms" at the funeral home, where the body "lies in state...." for viewing, etc...

racheld said...

Well, of course, I'm inclined to agree with both of you. Perhaps we'll all find a solution to this little contretemps which will satisfy all meanings and all interested parties.

Keetha said...

I'm with you. I like your version much better.