Thursday, December 3, 2009
#34 – BACK TO THE MOUNTAINS
We got back that summer in time to go to the White Mountains in August. Nana was still abroad and White Pines was shut down but we had an invitation from Old Mrs. Gibbs, who had a big, raised summer house that had steps leading up to its porch, with lattice work covering the empty area from beneath the main floor down to the ground. Her property adjoined that of the Sunset Hill House and had the same view of the Franconia Range, which was also the view from all our family houses.
Mrs. Gibbs came each summer, bringing children, grandchildren and loyal old Irish servants with her. One of the servants slept in a small separate house for the children, used now by her four grandchildren who were in my age group. From Baltimore, the Bowdoins: cheerful Harry and sweet faced Alice, on whom I had had a crush when I was 11 that I never quite shook off, though by now she was an out of reach good girl. From Boston, the Perkins: dapper Jimmy and his tanned patrician sister Louisa, with whom I had had a correspondence, her boarding school and mine, when I was 15 and had not met Kitty yet – nor for that matter girls in the winter from our north country sister school.
Gibbs and Pooles had know each other forever. I was amused that on the back door of the telephone room in White Pines a genealogy chart showed that Peter and I were some sort of cousins with these kids who had been our friends since we were very small. I had wondered fleeting if maybe cousins should not date. And I had flashed on the seemingly inbred farm kids in the isolated township of Landaff, where everyone looked hangdog and alike, these poor kids who came, open mouthed, to stare at us when we summer kids arrived at their tumble-down house-barn complex for our annual hayride.
I was less than a week away from Paris and here I was back beneath these mountains. It was not as if Europe had never happened, but more that it did not relate to anything else. And here I was, looking out on the same unchanging view of the Franconia range – this the reality I could cling to. For now without Mother and Dad and Grandmother Clark to back up Peter, I was popular again, though this time it did not seem so secure.
We opened the Playhouse again, our summer gang. And soon Kitty was in Sugar Hill with her parents and brother, and it was almost what it had been the previous summer. Not quite so safe as before, and also not quite so uncritically appealing, for sometimes now I had to strain to make myself feel it was the best place in the world. Still, we were using the Playhouse. And we and the whole gang hiked up to the Gibbs cabin to cook over a campfire and play capture the flag, which had been one of our childhood games up there.
The same but not the same, for now teasing was something sexual as we boys chased and were chased by these girls on a summer night on a sloping field in mountain woods. It felt fine that I was back in my element, though not so fine that I was so impossibly far away in time and space and maturity from the Rue de Capuchins.
One night at the Playhouse, a couple of days after Kitty had been taken to Canada by her parents, I met a tall, dark visiting girl with sweet lips and I necked with her out the Playhouse porch. Little Peter Mallory, Grandson of Gaga’s old college roommate, followed me about afterward, his eyes and voice full of admiration, asking an irrelevant question for which I had not answer: “When did you know you were in love with that girl?”
We all went to the regular Saturday night dance at the Sunset Hill House, where Grandmother Clark was installed for the end of the summer. The old people sat on chairs in a circle around the brightly lit dance floor in the summer white room they called the ballroom. That night, as often in the past, there was also entertainment. This time a hard looking, slick looking, aging pair of professional dancers who worked the summer hotel circuit put on a demonstration of the rumba and the samba, none of which seemed to have anything to do with us. The woman wore a backless dress and she had plenty of fine skin even though she was not young. The skin was tight and as smooth as I it were a wax version of a girl’s body. Paris seemed so out of reach.
On the big circular terrace outside the Sunset’s ballroom college boys who worked as summer bellboys and college girls who were summer waitresses necked greedily with experience that we were just building up to when we maneuvered in the dark on the Playhouse dance floor. And after the Sunset dance, which never went later than 11, Kitty and I and two other younger couples made our way down across the street and down a dirt drive to a low lying shingled building called The Pioneer. It had a juke box for dancing, and served soft drinks, mainly as setups for the slightly older kids who brought liquor. The neckers from the Sunset passed a bottle to us so we could turn our ginger ale into real drinks, just like real adults, though adulthood seemed was almost as out of reach as Paris.
On another evening we went with our host friends over to the movies in Lisbon, a town with a formal bridge over the stream that ran through it. We were driven by Connie, Alice’s sister who was old enough to have a room now in the main house. We saw 12 Angry Men with Henry Fonda.
One day we hiked to a big pond halfway up Cannon Mountain. One night we went swimming in Echo Lake down below Cannon. Our meals were carried over to the children’s house, where we had a tabletop hockey game with figures you could maneuver with handles on the side batting a ball down towards the enemy’s goal or protecting your own goal. Peter got a lot of laughs whether he was behind or winning by saying, in a Negro accent, “Bring up de colored troops!” I hated such prejudice, “nigger eyes” and all the rest, as much as I hated the never ending anti-Jewish jokes and slurs. But I was not sure what the real world was.
So I thought a lot about Paris. It was as if I had to compartmentalize my thoughts. There was Manet and Monet and Renoir in the Jeu de Paum, and the sweep of grandiose marble on the Place de la Concorde outside of the Jeu de Paum. There was the walk up the Rue de Capuchins to the Casino de Paris and those girls who had not clothes on, especially the happy looking girl who danced over to touch a boyfriend waiting in the wings.
Family would appear in my thoughts of Paris. Mother and Dad and Grandmother Clark and Peter. Dad had been in London most of the time on publishing business. I peeked at a letter Mother was writing talking of Paris as a city of love, so out of context, it seemed, this unlikely flirtation between my parents. Mother spoke French. She had spent her junior year from Smith at the Sorbonne (before something happened – running out of money?) – and she had had to become a day student at Barnard in the city.
One day in Paris she had her old landlady around for drinks. A fat women dressed in black who spoke mainly of the war, and said if the Germans came again she would kill herself.
It was mother who has taken us the first time to the Jeu de Paum. She knew the impressionists from her junior year. Strange that I had never heard of them. She also led us to an exhibition of people called Fauves who came a little later and painted in unrealistic bright colors, great slashes of paint, maybe more real than if they had been realistic. But mother had no history with the Fauves.
There was an American man with a big mustache who was full of energy escorting a group of American women through the exhibit speaking enthusiastically about how the Fauves gave up all “the past crap” and were something new and exciting. He was worked up. He seemed like one of those bohemians I had read about and wanted to be. Even so, it was as if I were being pulled to the side I wanted to reject, for I heard in my head family voices saying this exuberant man was just too, too pleased with himself.