Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 57 – LIGHT FROM BELOW

But it is 1986 now and I am on the hunt, and I have just encountered Mrs. Miner, the energetic and kind old woman who I thought was old when she was still the cook and housekeeper and boss of other helpers at White Pines decades back – back when I was enjoying popularly in our summer gang such as I never knew before in groups of contemporaries, where most often I had been dismissed as slow or dumb or unattractive, nothing at all like my twin brother. And even when I was popular and had fallen in reciprocated love with Kitty, to me the most desirable of all the sweet tanned girls in our summer gang, it did not register at home. My maternal grandmother, not the grand dame paternal grandmother but the one we called Grandmother Clark and who lived with us in Connecticut, would wonder aloud why my successes in school, in a academics and in debate, weren’t my brother’s successes – he was always so studious, so if only he had put his mind to it like Fred did. And my mother would wonder aloud why it was Fred who was with Kitty or Sandie or even some other girl no one knew, and why couldn’t girls see how very much – much more was how I heard it – that Peter had to offer.

This was on my mind in 1986 – this time when my cousins, the first cousins, not the distant older cousins, had come of age and were in the course of dying off already, dying in great pain and usually under circumstances of violence. This time when my brother Peter was at large not just in family places but in the CIA, and I was for the first time letting myself really know what I knew and taking it a perhaps logical step further to the point where White Pines, formerly the most perfect place on earth, had become a chamber of horrors that was at the very least unsafe for children – populated, I was saying, by people who not only should not have had children but who were too narrow and bigoted to be entrusted with much of anything, much less my love.

A situation that seemed so clear in 1986 but before this had seemed so muddy – their anti-Semitism and other snobbery now far outweighing their distant past accomplishments as Socialists and other sorts of liberators. This even before dealing with them as actual or suspected molesters.

Yet even now when I was on the hunt, in a time when what had been white had become black, even now this landscape would be full of color and I could not forget what it had once been for me.

It was partly a place of enchantment. Dad and Uncle Nick and Peter and I rose before dawn the morning after hiking – with snacks for us and a flask of whisky for our elders – all the way up to the Greenleaf Hut at the timberline on Mount Lafayette – the highest mountain in the Franconia range – the official view of which was seen so clearly from White Pines out past the long, horizontal pained class window that followed the line of the long dining table, and out past graceful French doors that followed the formal sitting room end of the great room – through the French doors and outside among white bird baths and trellises on a perfect narrow lawn that ended at boulders laced with iron ore, and then after the boulders a thick, prickly wild blueberry field that ended at, still with no humans in sight, the deep woods my grandparents actually owned. That they owned the woods I had checked on some years back when helping a criminal lawyer coach a young cousin. Whatever you do, the lawyer said to him, don't tell the judge that your grandmother owns those woods, for neither a judge nor anyone else in a city courtroom would get the conception. Those woods that led to the grand mountains.

In the early morning we walked from the Greenleaf hut on a steep pathway up through rocks and scrub pine, carrying with us a small mirror. At the summit, under the direction of Dad and Uncle Nick, who had been doing it since they themselves were children, Peter and I tried turning the mirror in ways that maybe it would send flashes of light that could be seen as far away as at White Pines itself. Whether our small mirror worked, the wall mirror Gaga brought through the French doors at a prearranged time certainly did – great flashes of white light from the valley, like some sort of annunciation.

And Peter was right, and Gaga was kind, and so too was Nana, my stately grandmother, the one who knew the famous people and knew right from wrong in style as well as substance, Nana the one who struck people as cold but who often took my side – probably, I thought by 1986 when I was on the hunt, because, bigoted or not, straight laced or not, socially superior or not, she was so much more intelligent than the rest of them.

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