• Bats in the Belfry

    by Jane Roland

    I first met Skip Hollins in the early 1950s when we were visiting my Uncle Sam in Pebble Beach.  She was a strange, wizened, homely little woman with a wicked sense of humor and great penchant for spirits (hard). I liked her enormously, because she was delightful and thoroughly enjoyed young people at any hour of the day or night. My friends and I would often call on her well after midnight and she was ready to receive.  At that time she was in her early sixties and we in our late teens and early twenties.  Her history was one of novels, tragic novels, riches to rags stories.  She was born to the affluent Chase family and taken under the wings of her famous uncles, Addison, the renowned Palm Beach architect, and Wilson, playwright and raconteur, both were nefarious; although talented. In the research I have found fascinating history, but this story is not about the Mizners, it is about their niece, Ysabel Chase Hollins.  She was listed in the social register, where her marriage to McKim Hollins was duly noted. Hollins, the brother of famous golfing champion, Marion (the designer of the famed 16th hole at Cypress Point and Pasatiempo golf course). He was always in trouble, never sober, and, it is said, they married on a dare. How long they were together I don’t know…Long enough to have a son, upon whom “Skip” doted; although I didn’t meet him for many years. I recall hearing of McKim’s death, how and where I don’t recall.  Who raised Kim Jr.? I cannot remember; surely neither of his parents.  Later, when he returned from a tour with the Merchant Marines, Kim Jr. and I became good friends.

    In 1924 Addison bought a prime lot, designed,and had built for his niece, a Palm Beach mansion, in the Spanish style for which he was famous. It is on Padre Lane in Pebble Beach overlooking Cypress point, a view that does not stop. The house was created for entertaining, and entertained did Ysabel and later Kim, constantly. They also had a house in Virginia City where they hobnobbed with high society, as it were, such as Lucius Beebe.  Most of us today cannot imagine the hard living and drinking that existed in the twenties.  Fortunately we have The Great Gatsby and other stories from that era to enlighten us. Kim and Ysabel ran through their fortunes, he disappeared. Some time in the forties, everything was gone including her house. Uncle Sam (Morse) bought the guest house on the property for his friend and there she lived until her death in 1967.  I have learned, doing this research, that he also took care of Marion Hollins who had lost everything, to whom he referred as “a good Joe”. Although, Sam was not known for his benevolence, but for his business acumen, he was truly one of the better people in the world, never forgetting his friends in high or low places.

    Skip’s tiny house was charming and also had the magnificent view of Cypress Point from her patio which hung over the Pacific.  She entertained in a simple fashion, as she had little, but always seemed to produce a bottle of bourbon and put together a little meal. Her garden was gorgeous, and there she spent most of her days, tending and nurturing. Her companion was an Australian shepherd, named Shiner ;( I still can hear her “Shiny, Whiney, and Woo”), who terrified delivery men, but adored his mistress and anyone she sanctioned… In her yard above rested a rusted out, dilapidated Plymouth coupe, which somehow managed to get Skip to the grocery store by the Lodge. A few of the old guard still visited her, Elinore Work, Jane Hunt, Ruth Crocker, Marion Whitcomb, my uncle and Mother when we moved to the Peninsula. As far as I know the others could no longer be bothered.

    By 1952 the house had been purchased by mutual friends of Skip and Mother, Chatty and Pembroke Brauner.  Whether it was the propensity of the owners or the spell of the doomed house, Chatty and Pem fell into the same pattern of drinking obsessively. They spent their time in the master suite at the end of long logia. Off to the side of the hall was a smaller bedroom for “Deary” Chatty’s mother. Her room smelled of brandy, theirs of bourbon. The place was in disrepair and not very clean. Our friends were spending a month in Belvedere and asked Mother and me to stay at their place. We accepted with pleasure. Mother hired a cleaning woman and they did what they could to bring a cultivated touch to the premises. We cut the ivy that was taking over windows and rid the glass of spider webs, the peeling paint and chipped masonry remained.  Our room was a tower room reached by a small circular staircase from the hall below.  It was cozy and pleasant with the same glorious view from a little balcony.  We saw a great deal of Skip (and Shiner). Mother was able to have large parties, and, at one such soiree, she introduced Uncle Sam to her friend, a recent widow, Maureen Dalton. He, also widowed, courted and married her some months later.  I still think about the beautiful house, because, despite the disrepair, it was marvelous, a lady who had fallen unto hard times with scuffed heels and torn clothing, but, none the less, stunning. I heard that the hand carved paneling in the dining room was either painted over or removed by subsequent owners.

    I would lie in bed before falling asleep and read. One night I was deep into Bram Stocker’s Dracula when I dropped off.  Suddenly there was a scratching on the window pane to the balcony, I awoke with a start and lay there listening as the “scratch, scratch, scratch” persisted.   There were few winks for me that night. Exhausted I started down the staircase in the morning and heard the cleaning women say to my mother “Mrs. Christian, do you know there are bats in this house?”

    jane bats2 jane bats1

    posted to Cedar Street Times on September 5, 2013

    Topics: Animal Tales and Other Random Thoughts


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