In Littleton that night, after Cousin Carolyn and her husband Thor had left, those family things stayed on a tape that went round and round. Even though Thor and Carolyn were living proof since I was very young of how wrong what was on that tape could be. Those words repeated over and over about how Carolyn was always so level-headed, so unusually effective – for a woman – in business, so happy alone. So solid, they said, until that vacation in Norway (which was 40 years ago now). Can you imagine it? Someone from our family marrying her young ski instructor? And yet Thor had become increasingly impressive, distinguished and warm, as he grew older, looking, I thought now like a James Taylor (whom I had discovered this month many years late) who had aged well, and he had been a huge success, making money designing and building houses and boats, and they now had a number of their own places, ranging from a house in the very social town of Southport, Connecticut, to another on the rather obscure island of Carriacou in the West Indies.
After Carolyn and Thor left we went off to dinner at Littleton’s newest restaurant, the Clam Shell – here in the far north, just below the Canadian border – beneath the highest mountains in the East. On the way Aunt Alice said only half joking that it made her furious how lovely and appealing Lauryn still looked as she crept up on 40. Just the way she looked at 18.
Aunt Alice’s grandson, Lauryn’s son Dan, greeted us at the Clam Shell. He came out sweating from the kitchen, where he had a part time job shucking clams and oysters. He looked less hearty than I remembered from when he and my wife’s son had briefly been friends in the city. Two months ago, I had just learned, he had been thrown out of the White Mountain School for drinking, which sounded like not a bad thing. There was also some silent family style tongue clicking about Lauryn, who had another child by another marriage, her third marriage now, and let her mother take care of Dan.
Dan back in the kitchen, and right at our cramped table one of those family groupings I had been so good at avoiding for so many years – a cousin and an aunt of whom I was suspicious – and right in my face at the table an aquarium tank filled with slimy monsters – a banded water snake, a sort of squid thing, a small cat fish sucking up something nasty at the bottom of the tank. a very slippery striped eel.