I would stay away from that place, the White Mountains, for years, but I knew when I was staying away and when I was pulled back – unlike my father and his siblings, who had rarely gone back there but talked as if, and seemed to believe, they were there all the time – like these cousins of mine who talked that way too – these cousins, Anna who was about to hang herself, Mark who would later kill himself with a gun, Elizabeth just now dead in Sloane Kettering after wishing herself dead and hinting about what had happened to her in Rhinebeck – and others still trapped in childhoods they could not leave. And now Lauryn – my favorite – back in New Hampshire after being sprung from a battered women’s shelter, which was the immediate reason for this late November trip —that and this stimulating hunt I was on – which had ended my depression – this hunt to find out what had happened to them and to me – all of us, maybe, but certainly me this time.
November now and zero cold already. The next to last trip had been in August when I came over from Vermont in the aqua car I had just picked up. I had stayed at Elllen’s house – White Wings – then, as I did now in November. Ellen, this friend from very young days for whom I had still has great affection. White Wings had been one of my childhood summer homes. It had been bought by her parents when she and I were 14, and she was so pretty and nice I did not mourn the change of ownership Now she was an eccentric woman who lived in a wing of White Wings that had for a few years been bright and cheery but was now a place of peeling paint and splintery wood but with good paintings on the walls, a place where she lived with 20 dogs – also, a rescued cow and a pet pig on the premises – and a very young handyman who lived here too. Lived this way, while the other wing was kept shuttered and locked in musuem-like style just as if my grandfather the honored novelist was stil around. The local police, a very local force of basically one officer, had been told by her aged mother, who was bedridden a thousand miles away, to make sure she did not break in. All of which added to the affection I felt for her. Maybe she had no control over the family she had come from, but she had taken the handyman out of a farm – and away from a father who beat him – a farm so bare bones they could not manage silos and silage, rented their few near-worthless, rocky acres, produced milk which sold very low because it came from mongrel cows –
I was about to leave one morning when marijuana clouds were too thick for understandable conversation. But as I packed up I heard Ellen on the phone saying “Guess who’s here?” and it turned out she was talking to Mrs. Marsh, who had been the cook and head housekeeper at White Pines, where she made me special maple sugar cup cakes – and who I had assumed was long dead. Now Mrs. Marsh drove over, looking just like I remembered her from maybe a century back – maybe in her 90s now and as she got out of her car it was as if she were the one looking for the past – looking for me – I always felt so awful about what happened at that place, she said – what happened to you, she said – and she told me some of it – that perfect place, which she had always hated, it was so cold, she said – they should never have built it, should have stayed in White Wings, she said– these conservative people whose talk had been mostly about the past, World War I and earlier times – these people with their acquired British accents and proper schools – she told me some of it – mostly sexual matters in White Pines where sex was never mentioned – even words like stomach were banned as disgusting. And she also let me know why I remembered her so well. It was because I had spent so much time being punished for things , some real, some not – exiled, Thank God, I thought now – to the servants' part of the house – punished after being turned in –sometimes, she said, by my twin brother – who was the one they all liked, who remained in the other part of the house – my brother, who, she said now, she still could not warm to - he being the only one in the generation who had taken one of the family houses – “The Homestead,” which was a name rather than a description. It was in sight of Ellen’s White Wings, separated by a big cultivated white pine forest from White Pines. He was not here now at the start of winter, but he came often in summer.
Mrs. Marsh was joined here at Ellen’s by her daughter Dora, now very middle-aged, who had just pulled out of cancer – and Mrs. Marsh spurred my memory of the very young Dora in the big house, White Pines, where Dora was placed at the long formal dinner table more than once at Nana’s command when without her the number at the table would have been 13.
I still have a video Ellen made this day of this reunion. Mrs. Marsh and Dora are on it giving a run-down of who was buzzing who at White Pines and elsewhere in the very proper summer community --- “buzzing” being a local person’s word that the summer people would have enjoyed— a word used by quaint New Englanders – unless they had known, as now I knew, that the use of the word “buzzing” meant something much more forbidden than “ stomach.”