Wednesday, April 29, 2009
The Aqua Mustang 79 – PAST PERSON II
“So you and Gracie come right over,” Ellen said, then called down to me, “Mrs. Miner’s coming.”
And there was no way I could leave now. And I remembered why I was here – this search to discover what had happened in the deep dark past in this formal community of big Waspy summer house compounds – the hunt I was on, like an avenger, to get the goods on those people of the past. And find out why the cousins who had been there with me in the deep past were now coming to such horrible ends – suicides and molestations and incesting – it had to be connected to things way back then.
I had not thought Mrs. Milner would still be alive. It was forty years since I had seen her, forty years since her mysterious disappearance from our lives, this rock solid figure of my childhood. She had been at While Wings the two summers I had been there when I was five and six years old, long before my grandparents sold it to Ellen’s Grosse Point parents. But mostly I remembered Mrs. Miner from the biggest, most formal house, White Pines, remembered her as the cook and the woman who ran everything. And was always nice and always had snacks for me and never with lectures about being too thin or too fat. This local New England woman who, I suddenly thought now, was the equivalent of those black nannies in the South who were more like mothers to the segregated white children than were the children’s birth mothers. My mother’s family was Southern, and although she grew up in Long Beach, Long Island, she had told me the only thing she could remember from the first decade of her life was a servant looking down at her in her baby carriage.
And in my mind now, while standing in front of White Wings, I was suddenly in a scene in the area in the back of the commodious White Pines kitchen, on the way to the Boy’s Wing where male children were meant to stay, this area with a big round oilcloth covered table where the servants ate and joked, beside a pantry stuffed to the ceiling with non-perishable food, and containing the glass enclosed box where a number would drop down if someone in the non-servants part of the upstairs pressed a button. I knew that 20 something years ago Ellen, when between marriages and denied more family funds, had worked with Mrs. Miner one season closing up summer people’s houses for the winter. But I never thought that now she would still be alive, much less that I would ever see her. And there was immediately something very familiar and even comforting about her. And I was in another scene back there at the oilcloth table where the servants ate. It was at a point in mid-summer when my mother, whom I had not seen since they dropped us off at the summer’s start, had just arrived back up in the mountains, and came in looking for me, and I could not think of who this woman was.
Mrs. Miner, vital still though probably near 90, appeared now in this present with her daughter Gracy, a quick-witted wiry recent cancer survivor, whom I did not remember until I was reminded that when the guest count at the big formal dining table reached 13, Gracy would be brought in and seated at place number 14 so that no one would have to eat at a table that might carry bad luck.
And I remembered why I remembered what I did, for Mrs. Miner spoke now of how much of the time I had been banned from the family part of the house, usually she said for being blamed for things I had not done but often were done by my brother or not done at all. ( She never liked my brother, she said she said now, and she also said that she’d never liked two of my first cousins, Robin and Fitz John, each the good little boy in his family
And she said, here in mountain sunlight in front of White Wings, “I have always wanted to find you, I have felt so bad about all the things that happened back then.”