I am in the dining room, my back to a standing clock and an opening to the entryway where on the right when going out there is a big staircase going up past the telephone room to the bedrooms and dressing rooms and also on the right the small staircase going down to the downstairs bathroom, and to the left past the walking stick rack the door leading into my grandfather Gaga’s study – the place where on a door turned into a desk, his back to a Franklin stove and a corkscrew iron staircase leading up to a trap door, he writes his books on yellow foolscap.
To my front at the table, past Mrs. Gillman, Nana’s distinguished old friend, who like her has perfect posture and who is the widow of the Herald Tribune’s music critic, and Aunt Peggy, wife of Uncle Nick, looking quite smug and quite pretty in a dress that shows off skin, soft and slightly freckled and appealing but not quite so appealing as Aunt Betsy’s darker, clearer, more shiny skin. For a long moment I fantasize that Mother, who spends very little time up here in the mountains, is dead and I am living with Aunt Peggy. And then I am looking past her to the long horizontal pane glass window that follows both the sweep of the long dining table and the sweep of the mountains. It is comforting that the mountains are always here and also that there is no sign of human activity between them and this house from which I look out at the dining table. It is even more comforting that way up inside the mountains there actually is a sign of life: the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway, which is far removed from ordinary life, even the rarefied version of everyday existence that we live here at White Pines.
I have to watch closely, for the Tramway car, tiny at this distance, cannot be sorted out from the side of Cannon except during a few instants when it is near the summit and silhouetted against the sky.
The mountains take up as much space in my head here at the table as does this long room with its living room area down to the right past some Chinese looking screens and the Steinway and Nana's high desk, and to my left the swinging door to the kitchen, and to the left of the window the entrance to steps leading down to a big, airy light blue screen porch with white wicker furniture. I cannot see the porch, and I cannot see the kitchen or the pantry areas – nor beyond them to the Boy’s Wing with its steel-framed folding beds and its beaverboard walls that have very old foreign and steamship line travel posters on them.
The Tramway, the rooms, meld together, along with Aunt Peggy and Mrs. Gilman, and Uncle Nick, and also, at this table our very dark, laughing Great Uncle Prince Jehan Sesodia and Nana’s light-hearted younger sister, Great Aunt and Princess Katherine Sesodia, and my twin brother Peter, who seems much more confident than me, and also, though they are not actually present, Aunt Betsy, whom Nana says is with her young friends, and Mother, whose own mother is spending the summer not here but nearby at a big place filled with Southern ladies, the old Sunset Hill House Hotel, and Dad, somewhat inside himself like me, who is down in the city working at his publishing job.
They are here, just as is Gaga who is toying with his soup way down to my right at the head of the table, and to my left at the other head of the table Nana, who runs everything, including the servants whom she can summon with a buzzer she activates by pressing with her foot a bulge in the carpet that cover the buzzer’s activator. And in the far pantry there is a wooden box that behind a glass frame has numbers that drop down if people upstairs are in trouble or in need and press buttons.