Why I Love Boardwalk


boardwalk nucky & margaretSpeaking of TV shows as we were the other day, the show I find I like best is Boardwalk Empire.

Not, I suspect, for the usual reasons. 

I don’t like it because I find Gillian a fascinating character.

Though I do.

jillian darmody gretchen moll

She ran a house of prostitution but really did seem to insist in maintaining an atmosphere of courtliness there. Think how appalled she was when Lucky Luciano’s men were seen to be taking their pleasure right there in the drawing room.

I also don’t like it because of Steve Buscemi  with his wildly protruding eyeteeth, though I’m a big fan of those teeth. Without them could he possibly have risen in the world of film? Back in 1990’s in The Usual Suspects they made him seem only laughable. Then in The Sopranos when his character Tony Blundetto was getting out of prison and trying to start his life over as a massage therapist they seemed strangely sweet. Now as the corrupt, icy-eyed puppetmaster Enoch Thompson the teeth make him seem above all petty concerns like vanity. Nucky has his eye on the prize; with his wife and child long dead, nothing else even appears on his radar.  

The truth is, I like the show for its interiors.

nucky in his study

I practically faint with nostalgia at the sight of those living rooms. The wallpapers alone! The davenports and easy chairs! Even the draperies, as they are properly called. (My mom would narrow her eyes with contempt if anyone in our house dared call them ‘drapes’.) 

I love the rooms in Boardwalk because they look just like the rooms I grew up in.  

My grandfather purchased our family home for his new wife Grace, three long years after the sudden death of his bride Carrie  who was Grace’s loving sister. Carrie had wide cheekbones and electric blue eyes and she died at 31 carrying the couple’s fifth child. This new bride Grace was older when she came to marry my grandfather. She was 30 and a dedicated schoolteacher. She didn’t want to leave her students – she said so in many a letter to this man who was courting her but in 1913 no teacher could stay in the classroom once she had married.

This is my grandfather Michael Sullivan:

mhs-home-from-work-c-1905


He bought this house for that former schoolteacher and his four little children, who were 4 and 5,and 6 and 8.

Then two years later they had a child of their own

grace maloney w her new baby 1915

….and with five little ones together and a house with such a nice front porch life was good. I know because I have read all the diaries.

Then, tragically,  this happy wife Grace died just after turning 40,

And the house? The house fell under a spell.

Thirty-five year later, when I came to live there, with our grandfather an old man by then, and his two ancient sisters-in-law still there and now my big sister Nan and our mom, the place looked exactly the same as it did around 1920, because, as I believe, no one had the heart to redecorate it.

And so in some crazy way, when I see the interiors on Boardwalk I think “I’m home!” I think that  my  gentle grandfather is reading one of his many histories of the Republic in his wing chair, and the two great-aunts are shuffling about, making jam and clucking over the news of the world. Our mom is working from home every day trying to prop up a failing business and Nan and I are happily lowering baskets of stuffed animals suspended by a string of tied-together scarves from the third floor banister clear down to the entry hall so many steps away.

This was the ‘best’ living room as we called it in the late 1950s. Maybe you can see what I mean.

the living room dorchester

Where is the past then? Where are those faces? Washed away now, like the footprints Atlantic City’s Nucky Thompson leaves in the sand just off his boardwalk.

And yet I have that circular mirror you see on the wall, and  Nan has that desk. I have that little round tip table and my girl Annie has those chairs I even have all the books in the bookcases even, and the very same pink paper on my walls. Everything, in short but those people and how I do miss them. How I do miss them today.