Thursday, October 9, 2008
The Aqua Mustang 47 – THE SMELL AND THE FEEL
The smell of blood. The smell and the feel of a woman’s soft skin. Somewhere far in the past. Neither ever seemed far away, wherever I found myself – as in this room for servants in the main part of the big house, White Pines.
I and my twin brother had been moved from the Boys’ Wing, where there were beaverboard walls and early century travel posters, to two separate bare floor upstairs bedrooms where the servants, who now slept in the village, has once been quartered. This area was sealed off from the upstairs of the formal part of the house, where there were fancy rugs and mountain view guest rooms, and the separate bedrooms, really suites, for our grandparents Gaga and Nana.
The Boys’ Wing was off beyond the kitchen and pantries. It included a room for a nurse or governess, and a big room for boys that had many beds and beaverboard walls on which were tacked very old travel posters for shipping lines and European places that had been family favorites before World War I but seemed contemporary in this place. Down below there was a dark bare room called a playroom that did not interest us much, and also a spacious garage, and behind the garage a large, high, thick-walled ice house from when refrigeration was not yet reliable.
On my last dark night in the Boys’ Wing that summer I had heard raised voices, maybe screams, certainly shouts, and the sound of people running and then car motors starting, and I knew it was as bad as or worse than anything I could image because the next day they would not tell me anything about it. They acted as if the seeming emergency was just something in my and my brothers’ heads. But they did decide to move us, so we knew better.
Now at least I was on the same floor where the others slept, though they came up on a curving carpeted stairway while I came up a steep and bare back staircase that led up from a pantry room where there was a wood-enclosed box in which, behind glass, a number would drop down if someone from one of the main houses’ non-servant bedrooms should ring.
Many parts of my life did not seem scary up here in New Hampshire around the houses and the woods owned by my grandparents. In fact I thought this place brought me comfort, or at least I thought I should think it did. We would walk with Gaga – he always had a cane, and a floppy sun hat with green isinglass in the brim. We would check the level of what they called our reservoirs, two reservoir off in different parts of the woods, big rectangular well tanks that had walls and roofs. Gaga would say everyone had to take only very shallow baths because soon there might be no water at all if we were wasteful.
Almost every day we also walked all the way to Sugar Hill Village where, after going along a wooden sidewalk on one side of the street, we would cross to the post office, which was also a shop, on the other side. There Gaga usually gave me a dime to get a comic book, and I would put myself right into the adventures or Little Lulu and the Little King, or Mickey and Minnie or Donald and Daisy and Scrooge McDuck and Huey, Dewey and Louie, and also some adult adventures, especially with Dick Tracy, whose world did not scare me because I did not believe in the reality of any of the funny criminals he tracked with his marvelous wrist radio.
And there was glamour not so far from the house and the servants' quarters. About a half mile away, but still on the property, my grandparents owned an attractively rustic brown shingled building that they called the Playhouse. It had a stage and small dressing rooms, and a smooth floor once used for dances. Peter and I would go there sometimes. It was deserted. But on the edge of the stage there was still an old box of corn meal, to be spread on the floor so dancers could slide easily.
We were to understand that all this was mostly something of the past, not for the present. But while I was in the servants’ quarters America entered the war and so a benefit dance was held at the Playhouse for the Red Cross. Japanese lanterns led to the reactivated entrance, the biggest of the glass doors from the porch that surrounded the building, a little like a miniature version of the town’s sprawling old Sunset Hill House Hotel. Peter and I were in bed, but Aunt Alice, who was shiny smooth and somewhat dark and was always laughing, came up to say goodnight to us. She was in a long summer dress that displayed her appealing skin, as was light-skinned Cousin Nancy, who was married to Cousin Tommy, who was now in the Navy and went around in a fancy white uniform with gold on the epaulets.
Betsy, followed by Nancy. And all the feeling that this aroused – which in memory had to do with a naked woman. I was seven years old. For years afterwards I could not remember why I remembered what I remembered.