Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Aqua Mustang 86 – JEWS

It was like living in the underground, as if I were in occupied territory and could not let on what I thought of the occupiers. The occupiers in this case were the nicest, sometimes wittiest, always correct members of the summer crowd here in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Most but not all of them were Republican. But none seemed to have any social connection to the other Republicans, the year-round people, whom they sometimes ridiculed by imitating their Yankee accents. And moreover, all of the summer people, it seemed back then, were anti-Semitic.

My non-identical twin brother Peter, known in the family then as the good boy, the smart boy, the boy whose “cute sayings” were passed on by dignified old Southern ladies to each other, starting with our material grandmother, who unlike our paternal grandmother was not a full-scale landed member of the old summer community but was, rather, one of the old Southern ladies on the porch at the sprawling Sunset Hill House Hotel, whose clientele had been basically Southern since Southern ladies started coming here in hay fever season in the previous century. This Southern grandmother would pass on
little Peter’s latest, and it would go from wicker chair lady to wicker chair lady. I tried not to let them see how shy I was, much less how hurt I was to be overlooked, and this included trying not to let my face show what I was really thinking.

On Sunday at mid-morning the ladies of the Sunset, with white cloves and lace-lined print dresses and fine summer hats, would walk down the hill to a small Episcopalian summer church, St. Matthew’s, where my parents – my father from the landed people, my mother from the hotel guests and renters – had been married, and which was the bailiwick of my other grandmother, who was so far from being Southern that she talked with an English accent, that mysterious affectation that passes among those who use it as American upper class. This other grandmother ran the church’s affairs. And Peter and I would be dressed each Sunday in ties and pressed shorts and sent along with her so that we could take up the collection. I think I knew what was going on the first time I realized that, in a part of the service, the tune from My Country T'is of Thee was used with the words to God Save the King.

Peter and I would go for walks with our grandfather, Gaga, each of us carrying canes we picked out of the cane rack at the spacious entry room to White Pines, the biggest of the family’s’ formal houses – these places set well apart from the overall rural poverty, these places where they dressed for dinner in tuxedos to and evening gowns. We would go up our long twisting driveway through White Pine woods that had been planted by our grandparents and then continue along Davis Road, a dirt road on which the other three big family house’s, plus the caretaker's barn and living quarters, were situated, and on through White Birch woods, past the driveway to the estate of Gaga’s old Princeton roommate, Otto Mallery, a place where they had apartments above their long garage for the many black servants that they brought with them each summer from Philadelphia.

Yet the road still felt to Peter and me like it was in the wild North Woods until, at the top, it reached St. Matthew’s summer church, and then a paved road that quickly came to a turn for the Sunset Hill House.

I was only 10 then but I knew what was going on a when a nice looking couple stopped there and asked my grandfather for directions to a good hotel and he told them there were no hotels in the area, even though this was right by a sign pointing towards the Sunset Hill House.

Perhaps this was the beginning of my life in the underground. Because my grandfather saw what was on my face, and he arranged for a rare one-on-one session with me the next day to explain that it had to be this way because, he said, a Jew will be unfair, he will work harder than another fellow and take that fellow’s job away.

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