Thursday, July 8, 2010

#125 – MRS. MINER

Gracie, they say, has had cancer and survived it. She looks a little unfinished, a little disheveled, as opposed to Mrs. Miner’s finished, comfortable look, but she is alert and animated and as present as her mother. The two of them still live in the Miners' house in the village which they seem to assume I will know. One of those tidy New England village houses with the picket fences and neat plantings, in this village that looks just the way it did when I was a child except that the wooden sidewalk is gone.

They are full of memories. “You were forever being sent back to eat with us,” says Mrs. Miner. And I remember the round table with an oilcloth cover back in an open pantry area, with a door leading to steps to the outside, between the kitchen and the room for a nurse or governess at the start of the Boys’ Wing. And she says I ate many of my meals back there because I was forever being punished for something and banished to the back. And they did not much like my brother, who was forever turning me in. He lied, she said. 

They also didn’t like our cousin Fitz John, who was billed as a perfect boy, a budding scientist, it was said, for he captured small snakes and put them in a jar.

Mrs. Miner and Gracie are now looking at me the way in books and movies family people look at one of their own.

And I flash on a sunny day when Peter and I, practically pre-verbal, had been left in the mountains all summer. We were sitting at that table with the oil cloth when Mother suddenly appeared. For long moments I did not know who she was.

Mrs. Miner and Gracie say they liked Gaga. He talked with local people. This year I had been building up my picture of the aloof writer around whose study you had to tiptoe, and I had been stressing the anti-Semitism. But also there were his songs and stories. And also present at Pines sometimes was old Gaga’s friend since early in the century, Harry Lorbor, a warm-hearted immigrant Jewish doctor who had been with Gaga in the settlement house movement. Harry Lobar, Gaga and also a social worker from the time when social workers were rare. The social worker, long dead, was an invalid named Fred King, for whom I had been named and who had taken my father to spend a winter in an Atlantic City hotel, in the year Dad was recovering from near fatal blood poisoning

Gaga always talked with people in the village, Mrs. Miner said. He was popular there. I knew he was popular from our almost daily walks that wound up at the Sugar Hill village general store/post office where Gaga seemed to know everyone. It was a window into an outside world. It was where I was allowed to browse through, and sometimes buy, comic books. Dick Tracy and his two-way wrist radio and comic villains like Gravel Gerty. L’l Lulu with Slugger the regular person boy who wore a sort of workman’s hat much like the brown tweed caps Gaga wore for walking and motoring when it was cold.

And now Mrs. Miner is speaking of a time Gaga and Nana stayed in the mountains all winter and one day she and her late husband Ray came upon them on the long winding driveway to White Pines. Nana was on a small sled and Gaga, exhausted, was pulling the sled. They felt such sympathy for him, she is telling me.

She is saying she did not like Nana. She did like Aunt Betsy. I had been told once by Mother that the reason Mrs. Miner had left White Pines was that pretty Betsy had lured Mrs. Miner's son, Ray Jr., who was to die young, into a torrid affair. But the reason she left, Mrs. Miner says now, was that Nana was too cold and domineering. “And I never liked White Pines. It was much better here at White Wings. White Pines was a cold place. Your grandmother would reject guests. She would stay upstairs in her bedroom, have her meals sent up there. She would send out the lie that she was not well enough to receive visitors.”

And Betsy had fun at her expense sometimes, Mrs. Miner said. Once flowers from some man came for Betsy but she redirected them to Nana, who thought they must come from an admirer not of Betsy but of herself. And this story led Mrs. Miner and Gracie to the “buzzing” word which they pronounced with sly looks, buzzing being, it was clear without further explanation, old time New Englandese for fucking. Something for which there was no word in the main part of White Pines. Buzzing right here at White Pines.

And now Terri has produced a video camera, just the sort of thing people from outside might have, and she is videotaping Mrs. Miner and Gracie, who are telling about Nana buzzing other men, particularly old Mr. Hamilton, who buzzed a lot of the old-time summer people.

It seemed to me I knew Mr. Hamilton. Once when Mother and Dad were up in the mountains they took Peter and me to one of the few family houses on Davis road to see an old man everyone here knew. The old man sat very still by his fireplace, his hands hanging down limp. Afterwards Mother said that was very hard on our father. Those dead hands. It reminded him of Fred King.

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