Saturday, August 7, 2010


It is late in the day now and will be dark soon, but I want to swing back once more through the old summer places. And this can be done fast now on the interstate from Littleton to Franconia, where we get the road for Sugar Hill. We turn off to go up Davis Road, up again past White Wings and the Farm House and what had been the caretaker’s cottage, which after Mrs. Gilman’s death had been purchased by one of the many Mallory’s. And past the site of the Playhouse, which was above the Farm House and below the House on the Hill. The hill that now seemed to have a hanging tree. This time I turn into a narrow dirt driveway that starts on the other side of Davis Road from the Farm House. Old guard people don’t want to go down this long twisting drive because something unsavory is now at the end, though it is the same long driveway though the now high White Pine woods that Nana and Gaga planted. It is still so narrow that it seems like a good idea to honk in case someone was coming the other direction, though I do not honk now. This driveway had seemed to go on forever when the summer was beginning, with anticipation mounting till coming out at White Pines, stately and firm, stone and white clapboard, appeared. Gaga and Nana, who would have heard the honking, and would be out in front to greet us.

When I was in college, a few years after Gaga’s death, White Pines was sold to a rough youngish man that everyone hated, a rich man people somehow knew had been bribed by his family in Boston to stay far away from them. He had been married for a time to a local girl. Everyone said he abused her. And of course he had ruined the place. He was out to make money on it, so he divided the big house into apartments. And he let it go to seed so badly that now it needed paint and had an emergency tin roof where there should have been wooden shingles. And out the back, on the lawn above the wild blueberry field and beneath the panorama of the Franconia Range, the place Gaga had been wheeled out to each day after his stroke, the place with white benches and white bird baths and some white trellises, this new owner had done the unthinkable. He had put in a swimming pool. Something the wrong sort to people did, though there was one house on the way to Littleton that was inhabited by a big summer clan with close tiles to the Franconia and Sugar Hill summer clans, and they had a swimming pool, but they had had to do it because they were so rich, and anyway the other summer people vouched for their pedigree.

I do not honk, though I know this is taking a chance. I am using the headlights, for we are in twilight when I turn down the twisting drive and it is as dark as night under the pine trees. It is nearly that dark when we come out at the open area in front of White Pines. There used to be a circular drive here with a perfectly round lawn in the middle, but the owner has turned the lawn into a parking lot. On the end of the parking lot opposite to White Pines construction had begun on a rental house Stevenson was inserting here. In the dim light I was almost seeing the place before it has begun going to seed.

Quietly we talk around the house towards the mountain view, the now swimming pool, side. We pass what had been my grandfather’s study, a separate place with stacks of wood outside it for his Franklin stove. The Franklin stove has been by a circular iron stairway that let up through a trap door to his sleeping porch, where he could retreat if he saw someone coming to White Pines he did not want to see.

The big screen porch seems still intact, on a level below the house. We walk around to the screen porch. I wonder if the furniture is still white wicker, and what happened to a high indoor swing for children, and the skiing mural done on the blue inner wall by a dashing friend of Aunt Betsy’s when she was a teenager. I hear low voices. I see a glow beyond the screen which may be from candlelight. I hear ice clicking in what are surely standard highball glasses. So people from the apartments are out there having drinks. Time collapses again. I am a ghost passing through again. But I am not completely invisible, for in a raspy female smoker’s voice come the words “Who’s there?’

We retreat silently to the car.

On the way back to Vermont I tell her something I know but wished I didn’t. When we had our driver’s licenses kids from our gang – not me, not my brother, but kids from our circle
would drive over to the Notch and go into the souvenir stores for the Tramway and the Flume and Profile Lake, and pretend they were Jewish. They told us how they would finger the goods saying something that sounded like “Phee-yops” which was supposed to be something greedy Jews would say while fingering merchandise. And after that they would drive through Bethlehem and shout “Kike.’

Gillian says, “The kid’s from Bethlehem should have driven through Sugar Hill shouting things like ‘Your grandmother overcooks the vegetables.’”

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