Wednesday, June 9, 2010


August is coming to an end. At night from the kitchen in Rutland I phone in to check my answering machine down in the city. There is a message on it for Hal, who has been paying for use of the day bed. His message is a long stern lecture and plea from an apparent bank executive berating Hal for not completing a computer project. It looks like I can’t count on Hal’s rent money now.

I then call to the White Mountains, to my old friend Terri, who had once been the pretty girl of any summer and has now come back to live forever in a house called White Wings, which had been my family’s when I was very young and sometimes was where I spent those early summers. “Oh my god,” she says, “You’re in Vermont? Come right over. Come stay with me.”

I call my number in the city again and Hal picks up this time, and he immediately tells me he has decided he to move in with a girlfriend. And it sounds like he is angry with me. One more in this string of recently of severed relationships that included Donna, for awhile, and Mario and his wife, apparently forever, and even my old friend and host Peter Cooper, plus all those friends of a lifetime in the city whom I have stopped seeing this year. It is beginning to seem like now that I have interfered with the past and how it was supposed to be – not just the family past but the parts with friends and lovers of my own choosing – now the entire past will continue to get weaker, when not darker, the farther I go with my explorations.

But that’s not the whole picture of the past, I am sure, even the whole story in the darker areas. And anyway I came here to take a break in a beautiful and liberal rural place from what had been going as I pressed by explorations down in the city. And I came here also because Vermont, which I think of as the anti-new Hampshire, is so close to actual New Hampshire, where whatever went wrong led to so many awful things in the present. And ever so, I have not completely upturned memories in which the versions of the past were comforting. But I am making a literal search now, using my cheerful old aqua Mustang as a time machine vehicle to take me into the heart of what is there in that land where whatever it is I am searching for took place.

I start early in the morning and drive across Vermont again on Route 4, past the Killington Road and an hour later through Woodstock, the Rockefeller town with its sanitized model farm and crushingly genteel hotel, and strangely clean streets full of costly little non-New Hampshire boutique shops and aggressively understated white people in golf and tennis clothes that are not stained by sweat. And after this, I go through an old and somewhat decaying mill town, White River Junction, where regular people live but where there are also happy looking scruffy young people with guitars that I see on a green that also has an old-fashioned bandstand. And then across the line into the most un-New Hampshire part of New Hampshire, the pristine white brick town of Hanover, where I had so recently been to the Big Apple Circus, a town that held such memories from way back, including my first experience of fine music when driven over to Dartmouth from my boarding school to hear Artur Rubenstein and Marian Anderson. On childhood drives up to the White Mountains we would see an old ski jump ahead, which meant Dartmouth and the last leg of the trip.

And here I am driving out of Hanover and along a very familiar, and very rutted, old highway that cuts over from the Connecticut River to the mountains. I pass through through Orford, with its big square mansion-like white wood houses on a long green, one of these houses having been bought by the writer Charles Jackson, rich and famous then from The Lost Weekend, who quickly realized he was in a town where he could have no friends because he was Jewish. And with me still this picture of my Grandfather Gaga reading aloud at lunch in White pines what he had just written for a newspaper debate with Jackson, my grandfather actually saying there was no such thing as anti-Semitism in this part of the world, Gaga writing and then reading the piece in our summer town Sugar Hill, that had not a single Jew living in it, not and not a one permitted in its rambling old hotel.

But as I pass through tiny sugar Hill village, and go by the turn-off to the hotel, and at the small summer church turn down our old dirt road, I am thinking not so much of my grandfather but of this woman from the past I am about to see. This friend of nearly a lifetime who once set the standard for, in capital letters, Summer Girl.

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