Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 29 – DINING ON RELATIVES

Before we went to dinner in Littleton that night in 1986, my first time over to New Hampshire in my Vermont summer, Cousin Carolyn and her husband Thor stopped by briefly.Thor was living proof since I was very young of how wrong that family could be. Carolyn always so level-headed, my parents and grandparents had said – so unusually effective for a woman in business. They said it silently clicking their tongues and tutt-tutting through pursed lips. So solid, they said, until that long ago vacation in Norway. Can you imagine it? Someone from our family marrying a young ski instructor?

And right now, like people way in the past, Aunt Betsy and Lawrence and Maya were being jovially disapproving of Carolyn just after she left. They were tutting about her and at the same time, right in front of me, about me because what had been so outrageous just now was her admiration for a very small and light piece of my writing. She and Thor had seen it in one day in an Airline magazine in the Far East. It was one of the big days of her life, Carolyn said. Lawrence now repeated the words in an impersonation of Carolyn.

With Carolyn and Thor gone, Lawrence and Maya and Aunt Alice and I went to dinner at Littleton’s newest restaurant which had the unlikely, in the far north, name the Clam Box. Lauryn’s son, who was staying with his grandmother, was working as a bus boy there.

Right at our cramped table – one of those family scenes I had been so good at avoiding for so many years – cousins and an aunt of whom I was suspicious – here up near Canada and about as far as you could get from any sea – right in our face at the table there was an aquarium tank filled with slimy monsters – a banded water snake, a sort of squid thing, small catfish sucking up something nasty at the bottom of the tank – a very slippery eel – all right here at the table where we were supposed to eat their close relatives.

And I was flashing on my last visit to New Hampshire, which seemed now to be years ago but was actually less than a year back. I had gone straight up here from a dismal travel writing trip to the Bahamas with a very blonde blonde. The reason for that rare visit last year was the celebration of my mother’s 75th birthday. She stayed in Sugar Hill with my brother, who had the last of the real family houses. The party was at my aunt's place in this mill town. There were my brother and his wife, whose English accent had come from being born English, and white, as an Indian Army officer's daughter in the colony of Malaya – and the people on the guest list did not get any more real than that. My aunt’s English accent came from the times she had spent in England, where she had gone to live at the end of the war in which her husband, an RAF man, had died at the beginning. And some new friends of my Aunt’s, a local guy who had gone to work abroad in the oil business, and was now retired and back in Littleton, and his wife, whose accent was thickly English, learned in Australia, and who talked in what seemed a little girl’s voice about the happiest days of her life, which were in boarding school in Melbourne.

And as everyone except me drank, my mother and brother were looking more and more pleased with the event, and they sounded to me to be adopting English attitudes and accents too. And then all of them were talking, as if I were not there, I whose own family, severed in a divorce the previous year, had been from the Philippines – all talking now in British accents that were mostly fake about how blacks and Asians were ruining what they called “our London.”

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