A graceful, touching memoir--fiction only in the sense that ""remembering is often a creative process""--of a childhood rooted in the warmth and security of having a firm place in the love, the pasts, of a ""first family"" of lively eminences in Atchison, Kansas--all part and parcel of a child's emerging self. Yet there were puzzling threads of sadness and tragedy, understood only in adulthood--and one grandmother and aunt forever lost. Grandmother Henley's house ""held us all together. . .Each night in the darkness we lay in our rooms, doors open. . .to each other, linked by the living that had brought each to this place, this time, secure in our parts, sheltered by the house that defined us all."" Ellen Paulsen reaches back through family anecdote to the youth and forebears of both maternal grandparents, whose fortunes grew along with Atchison's. Ellen has a fleeting memory of Great-grandmother (""vast and white""), but calls the roll of uncles--from one with his own railroad car, to a black sheep delivering eggs. The courtship of Frederick Paulsen, dashing lawyer and athlete who would be a fighter pilot in WW I, and Elizabeth Henley was a triumph of happily ritualized romance with amateur poetry and a social whirl of balls and soda-fountain hilarity. Ellen chronicles her own childhood adventures and affections--both before and after her parents' move to St. Louis. But apart from the beloved known was that other house--with an unknown other grandmother and aunt. Ellen ventures a meeting and daydreams a reconciliation that can never take place. Years later she will recognize a dark knowledge she must share with the grandmother, the aunt, her father. An attractive addition to this publisher's American Places of the Heart series, one that encompasses the exuberant joys and then the intimations of mortality absorbed through and beyond the ""summer days of childhood."" Illustrated with drawings by Robert Alden Rubin.