A Day, a Dream
- Ellen Prentiss Campbell
- September 8, 2022
Conjuring a few magical hours of past meeting present.
The newspaper runs a feature called “DC Dream Days.” Each week, someone is invited to imagine a perfect day in Washington — with time travel allowed to revisit lost haunts. Shockingly, “Girl Writing” hasn’t yet been asked to participate. Here, I’m getting a jump on sharing my itinerary.
I’ve lived in the area most of my life and love the city despite its big problems and the real nightmares occurring routinely in this notoriously inequitable town. Please remember, I’m just dreaming here, fantasizing an impossibly perfect day cut loose from time and reality.
Let’s start my daydream at home, in the apartment we fell for while empty-nest-hunting after our kids flew the suburban coop. Autumn light fills the room, dreamy Sunday breakfasting with Harry. Reading the paper, eating French toast made with Bread Furst brioche, drinking fresh-ground Lost Sock Roasters coffee gifted to us by son Tim — he sniffs out great local beaneries.
Fueled, we bicycle Beach Drive to Rock Creek Park’s gorgeous gorge. Water splashes boulders; the great blue heron fishes; broad-tailed hawks — hatched here the first covid spring — soar above the amiable parade of runners, bikers, strollers, and skaters.
I cycle uphill effortlessly (daydream!) and north on the (promised) Connecticut Avenue bike lane. Near Chevy Chase Circle, I flash back into the Cheshire Cat Children’s Bookstore, closed more than 20 years. Founders Jewell, Greenie, Charlotte, and Pam are there. Jewell and company gifted me a boxful of books when daughter Rebecca was born — Goodnight Moon and books to grow up on. One entitled Period (not about punctuation) would be banned in some places now.
A trio of dreamy authors is reading: late children’s greats Tomie de Paola, Brian Jacques, and Beverly Cleary. I peek into the Rabbit Hole and find grand-niece Neviah curled up with a pile of Black Stallion books. She tesseracted in from Buffalo; I slip A Wrinkle in Time onto her stack before leaving.
Schupp’s Bakery is back on its corner. I pick up eclairs and meet friend Judy. We hop the L4 bus and inhale pastry all the way to the Phillips Gallery. Hunkered down in the tiny Paul Klee room — surrounded by paintings on burlap walls — we chat. Milton Avery’s “Girl Writing” watches from the landing as we step outside; I hear pianist friend Susie practicing for her concert in the Music Room 40 years ago.
The Janus is showing a double feature: “The Endless Summer” (1966) and “Elvira Madigan” (1967). Afterward, we drop into the Toast and Strawberries boutique. Judy browses Marimekko, I go back to the future and Teaism, hoping to find friend Louise upstairs where we exchanged manuscripts. No, she’s still late in every way. But Louise’s Own Onion Cookies are Teaism’s Dream Day Special.
Around the corner at Secondi, I pounce on the brown T-shirt (sequins spelling SHY across the chest) I foolishly passed up 15 years ago. Consignments are marked down weekly. The tee isn’t free; I’m paid to wear it away.
Red Line down to Metro Center (no delays, no construction). Amble to the Mall, cutting through the Sculpture Garden past Claes Oldenburg’s Typewriter Eraser. Hop on the carousel for a quick spin on the ostrich; my college roommate waves from the tiger. Neither Mary Catherine nor the animals have aged since our ride 50 years ago.
I want to show her the National Museum of African American History and Culture. But — it’s not built yet! We hear a ghostly echo of an unforgettable voice wafting over the reflecting pool, a great doer and dreamer whose dreams remain unrealized.
Our carousel steeds fly over the Capitol — still there, despite 9/11 and January 6, 2021. Touching down at Capitol Hill Books on C Street, we lose each other in the crammed warren. I find Rebecca. And she’s found a signed first edition of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, his Anacostia hilltop house near her old office. She’s homesick for blueberry buckwheat pancakes at Market Lunch in Eastern Market, but the line’s too long. Rebecca vanishes, magic-carpeting back to Sweden and its lingonberries.
I meet Harry at the Library of Congress for the Dream Day Only encore performance of October 2010’s reading by seven poet laureates. Even Mark Strand and Maxine Kumin show up, late and late. Librarian Carla Hayden has pull.
Afterward, we debate. Blues Alley in Georgetown for Stacy Kent or Twins Jazz Club on U Street for friend Theo on sax? We choose both, a daydreamers’ perk.
Time to turn into a pumpkin, but Harry finagles a moonlit dip in the off-limits-to-the-public Dumbarton Oaks swimming pool. Daughter Martha is lapping and soaking in the oasis before heading back to El Paso. Tim serves hot sake in the grotto.
Home again. Ninety-four-year-old Otis the elevator (retired a year ago) opens the bronze gate and whisks us upstairs. Sweet dreams, dream day.
Ellen Prentiss Campbell’s collection of love stories is Known By Heart. Her story collection Contents Under Pressure was nominated for the National Book Award, and her debut novel, The Bowl with Gold Seams, won the Indy Excellence Award for Historical Fiction. Her novel Frieda’s Song was published last May. Her column, “Girl Writing,” appears in the Independent bi-monthly. For many years, Campbell practiced psychotherapy. She lives in Washington, DC, and is at work on another novel.