Monday, June 28, 2010


Almost everything was the same. I cut over from Rt. 10 through Bath by the rapid water that becomes a waterfall in a gorge below a very high and surely precarious looking covered bridge. I came along the edge of the old town of Lisbon with its stately street lamps and formal looking bridge and vacant stores. Past a lumberyard that was sometimes in operation. Followed a hill that dropped off to my left down to the Sugar Hill station, which had been tended so carefully by a station master they talked about him in a manner both admiring and dismissive as if he were just a silly little figure but also as if what he did was touching; he had kept flower boxes blooming, even by the old Railway Express sign. For a time after the railroad died the station had served as a hamburger place, and now it was deserted, but the frame was there and the open land around it was the same and this 1986 Labor Day could as easily, as eerily, have been another Labor Day back when the timeless-seeming trains were still running and we would all gather at night to welcome one of our gang up from some distant suburban place. The grownups tended to come by Pullman sleeper, which would arrive the next morning.

Once again, my third foray into the White Mountains this year, I realized that I had never completely gotten away, Sometimes there would be an urge to see the old places, more often there would be a counter-urge to stay away. I go now though Sugar Hill village where village people live possibly warm lives in neatly tended houses with shrubs and actual white picket fences, and there is still a general store that is also a post office, plus a cheese business run by a retired ad man from Boston who sells here New York cheddar that tourists believe is a local product.

I go past the turnoff to the Sunset Hill House, and then instead of turning down Davis Road at the little summer church I keep going around on the paved road that before turning toward Franconia loops around to the other end of Davis. I pass what has been Sugar Hill's Hildex maple sugar place, run by the Aldrich’s, who ran the IGA store in Franconia. And who for many years have operated a profitable tourist place called Polly’s Pancake Parlor on the site of Hildex, a tradition that started after my time.

Hildex maple sugar which was nearly white in color, was the official maple sugar of our childhood. I would have to sneak the more golden kind that came from across the border in Vermont. Both versions were the forms of maple leaves and little maple sugar men.

Then I hit Davis Road and it looks the same except for a couple of small summer places on it, one of them an A-frame, which must mean alien skiers. Despite these new near cabins the road is mostly deserted until I come to the big old houses of the old established summer people, meaning the Poole family, and a man named Mr. Hamilton and eventually the big place of the Mallory’s.

The first of our houses is White Wings, which was also the first to leave the family. It is set back from the dirt road by a scruffy field in which an elderly cow Terri had rescued from slaughter is grazing. Below her mailbox is a metal silhouette cutout of a Greyhound. I soon learn this is a hopeless attempt to make the current owner of our main house, White Pines, feel guilt, for he had shot one of Terri’s dogs, a rescued Greyhound, just for the hell of it, apparently. He had said it was to protect the deer, though he was the sort person who would tempt deer with apples and then shoot them. This rough man who had been given money by his family to stay away, and had put this money into what was generally seen as ruining white pines.

Terri was in the wing she had made her own when she moved back. It was filled with dogs and splintery wood walls now, and was a very dark place, in its regular person's way as dark as when this the wing had been the silent place where my grandfather wrote his books when in residence at White Wings. Dark in the past, and dark in the present, with that era in between when it was bright and open, polished light wood floors, white walls, the wing set up so that Terri and her brother would have a happy place to live and entertain their friends – that period in the past when it was not dark.

Terri has stopped drinking, not through AA but rather with the aid of marijuana. She told me more than once that she never forgot the kindness of my grandmother Nana, who had stopped her on the road one day when she was a young woman just out of a dull marriage to a man her Grosse Point family favored who worked for General Motors. After the divorce, prettier than ever, she was back in White Wings for a summer and had a pet lamb who would follow her along Davis Road. White Wings was in sight of the old Farm House, which was a summer house name as much as it was a description of what the core of the place had once been. From both houses you had a clear look at the dirt road. Nana spent her summers in the Farm House after White Pines was sold. It was from the Farm House, set above the road, that she saw Terri walking with her lamb, and Nana went down to speak to her. Terri said she never forgot the kindness of my grandmother, the kindness that consisted, so far as I could tell, of Nana's once spotting Terri on the road, and coming town to tell her she should be careful not to get to close to any of the local people.

Which Terri still seemed to consider a turning point in her life – “The best advice I ever had” – even though she played bingo at lodges, surely had sex with local people in the long winters, and when broke worked as a house cleaner – which of course were all things unheard of in this class-bound place.

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