Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 33 - CHANGE?

I thought of how for some people I knew the settings for their most cherished memories had been bull-dozed for K-Marts and condominiums. Not so my part of the White Mountains. People from long, long ago, even of my generation, not least Terri in White Wings, not least my twin brother in the Farm House, were still there in ‘86 in the same rarefied places, either looking at the same old views or furious because the state would not let them cut down enough of the forest to preserve the views.

As I drove in 1986 it was as if I were entering an old time movie sound lot where everything had been constructed to look like something from another time. The big old houses. The rocky fields of poor but picturesque farms. The white picket fence village places of the more stable real New Englanders. The ponds where I had fished for sun fish and perch, the small rocky, rushing streams and rivers. And also the Flume and the Aerial Tramway and the Old Man of the Mountains – looking just as they looked in the 1930s when I first saw them.

And what had appeared in the sixties that I saw in 1970 was long gone by ‘86 when I came in the aqua Mustang. The hippy store that had replaced the Aldrich family’s old IGA store in Franconia Village was just a vacant building now. Beside it the Aldriches had erected an actual little supermarket – the only visible change of any size. There were no young stockbrokers-in-training posing as bohemian artists, as their had been at the end of the sixties. Franconia College, one of the more outlandish of the nation’s new little hippy colleges, was gone; the the old hotel it had taken over, Forest Hills, had burned down, and anyway the college had no more been a part of things here than had the hotel when it was functioning, for the hotel had been full of something unacceptable dating back to other eras – rich South Americans. Too much money. Too dark. Too Catholic.

And the college president, Leon Botstein, had moved on to something like greatness. I had met him in ’70 in that sad time at Lovett’s when he was a raw young man in his mid-twenties, maybe younger, a humorless, pallid grad student sort of person. But he had abandoned New Hampshire just in time. He had gone over to Bard, a calm little arts college, in New York state’s pretentious Dutchess County, where he became a demon fund-raiser and an expert on advanced classical music, which he conducted himself, and Bard was doubling and redoubling in size and scope,which was something never done now in the White Mountains.

One evening in 1970 in Lovett’s formal dining room I was approached by a pleasant balding guy who said he was Henry Marshall, though he did not look at all like the Henry Marshall I had known and thought of as a romantic prince of darkness sort. Henry had been a little older than us, and we appreciated the contempt he showed us. He had had a blatantly sexy, angry girlfriend named Michelle who was from a very rich family and wore the shortest shorts ever seen at the Profile Golf Club in this land where grim Bermuda shorts were a fixture of summer. We, who had not yet had sex, had fantasized about the sexual life Henry and Michelle must lead, presumably doing all sorts of things to and with each other of the sort we could only dream of in our part of the 1950s. But now it was over. Now, Henry said, he was a high school English teacher in Westchester County. How sad, I thought, but I did not go so far as to think that there but for the grace of God go I. Henry was a first Cousin of Ellyse. His sister, an invalid who had been married to Rich before Terri, had died young as everyone expected. Rich said Henry should quit teaching and get a manly, moneymaking job. He had said it in the much the same way he had told me that I should take Ellyse away from her husband.

When I still thought of myself as a writer, as I still did recently, I had to battle dyslexia. Looking up a word once did not do it. Each time the word appeared I would have to look it up again, and it was confusing, trying to remember how many m’s and how many t’s to use in commit, committing, committed, commitment.

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