Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Images of White Wings remained, as they always did, clear in my mind as I drove. The two wings that gave the house its name are connected by an outside passageway upstairs, reached by stairs from a long connecting porch that follows a neat woodpile. The house is all white clapboard, as opposed to White Pines, which had white wood but also stately stone.

The smaller wing, to the left when coming up to the house, had been Gaga’s study when he was in residence here, and even as a very small child I knew it was absolutely forbidden to speak anywhere near it, nor to walk near it except very carefully on tiptoes. Even as a very small child I knew of his status in the world, which became the family’s status, the family of a famous writer.

Peter and I had gone as often as we could to the old, unused outbuildings behind White Wings where, we imaged, all sorts of livestock had lived. And also regular people in the past rather than people like our family people. And we found there old non-electric flat irons of the sort you heated on live coals, as in pioneer days.

The bigger wing to the right has a stately living room, though it was not nearly so long as the even more formal one in White Pines. Like in White Pines there is a very wide paned glass window, with a green and white striped awning above it, that frames the official view of the Franconia range of the White Mountains.

Terri’s family had bought White Wings when I was turning 15 and she was a blossoming tanned girl turning 14 who wore two piece bathing suites. It was the first of the houses to go. Terri’s people were from a reportedly rich place called Grosse Point outside Detroit in the raw Midwest. Their money, it was said, came from a big laundry Terri's father owned in Detroit. This must mean, it was said, that they were connected to gangsters – but things like this were always being said about everyone. The way it was said that Terri’s carefully dressed, good-looking but graying mother was so proper it must mean she was someone “on the make,” which was apparently meant to be a damning term.

Terri’s parents had had the very inadequate furnace replaced so that this was no longer purely a summer house. And in the bedrooms they had, of all things, these modern electric blankets. But they kept the downstairs of the bigger wing exactly the way it had been when Nana sang to us French songs about the terror. The same wallpaper. The same books, getting older and older, in the same old built-in bookcases. Including uniform old black first editions put out by Macmillan of my grandfather’s works. Also, they kept the same very old wallpaper, now slightly yellow, which was patterned with repeated dark green Chinese pagodas.

So her parents did clearly want to fit in, it was said. But look what they did to the other wing! It was now light and bright and airy and – white walls and new light wood floors – something of modern times and, moreover, they had done this so that it would be a good place for their children, Terri and her younger brother, and her children’s friends, which meant me and my twin. Summer families here often had special places for children, but nothing so at the center of their houses as was this renovated wing.

And now Terri, no longer a child, is back to stay after some failed marriages, grown boys living elsewhere, and no real career, back to live in the White Wings of her childhood. The larger wing is still almost a museum piece honoring my grandparents. The other wing, which had first been Gaga’s dark study, then a bright happy place, had by now, I knew, undergone another change. It was now dark and cluttered and homey, with work by local artists on the wall. It was the way Terri wanted it now, which included bare boards, and some works by local artists, and a pot belly wood stove. The sitting room was also the kitchen. And there a special door, hinged at the top, for the many rescued dogs she honored. Also, there was a rescued local farm boy apparently in residence. A regular person’s place.

And, moreover, for some years now the old outbuildings
that had fascinated my brother and me were now in use again,. filled now with rescued farm animals. It all looked like how my brother and I had imaged it would have looked in olden days. And it also had the atmosphere of the roadside inn and store that in happy fantasy we decided we wanted to build by the side of the road.

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