Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Aqua Mustang 78 – PAST PERSON I

Living in that family and in those places was at times almost unbearably real and awful and wonderful, and at other times like living in the made up stories of a novel, which may or may not have been because at the center of all myths about that family was a novelist who sometimes wrote from life but also made up or altered his stories. That my grandfather has been a very successful novelist was always in the air, both when he was alive and after he was dead.

I am about to leave on my second morning staying here with Ellen, who in her marijuana haze was unreachable. I don’t smoke it much anymore and I do not drink at all, and now here with the smells of new mown hay grass and pine, and the sounds of northern birds, here in front of White Wings on a field leading to woods which now block to our view of the Franconia Range mountains, which I do not need to see to believe. And here with birds and fields and pines in the air I feel much as I would in a dark bar in which I would be the only one not drinking, the only one who notices the stale beer scent mixed with the scents of urine and vomit. Ellen has stopped drinking too, but she does it with the help of a drug, which most days she starts smoking when she awakes. So this morning I cannot reach her.

This is not a place for me. I leave fast in the Mustang, and all of a sudden forget everything except the beauty around me. I go past the Iris Farm, the most picturesque of all the farms, set against the mountain backdrop. I was taken there as a child to see the cows. And then I am in Franconia village, eating a big happy breakfast with a cup of coffee that gets refilled by one of those pretty local girls whom I could see when very young but the other missed because in the family novel the New England of non-summer people was the land of homely girls. She refills it before I finish it. And I can smell her.

I get gas at a gas station that is the successor to the station I used when I first had my license and was lectured by the craggy owner, Chuck Vintner, about my speeding. The stodgy maroon Plymouth station wagon I had borrowed from the family would, after the his lecture, never go as fast as I wanted. I suspected that Vintner had put a governor on the motor.

I go back now to White Wings, ready to pack up and leave for good. I see Ellen’s old Volkswagen convertible, left over from one of her marriages, is still here. And when I am in front of the house. I can hear her on the phone. She is carrying the phone on the narrow upstairs terrace that connects the two wings, her wing which has a woodstove and about a dozen dogs, and her always absent mother’s locked wing that is kept like a museum from my infancy when I spent two summer there, kept almost just as it was to honor my grandfather, who is the main celebrity in this region – not counting Bette Davis who was here for a time and actually rented the Farm House one summer, the Farm House, which is now my brother Peter’s house.

I hear Ellen saying “You’ll never guess who’s here.”

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