Friday, September 17, 2010


On the thruway I have a second thought about my route. Even though I am on a deadly serious mission, I want to make the most of the trip. It could be a mistake to not go up through Connecticut, as in the familiar route from childhood days. There would be a purpose to doing it that way, for surely new memories would appear.

Then I have a better idea. I pull in to read a map at the rest stop where Gillian had picked up vending machine trinkets. It has been six weeks but it seems like years – a familiar sensation in this time still in which a whole lifetime is moving along in compressed form.

The map shows I can take the Mass. Pike east to connect up with Interstate 93, which has exits for Plymouth where, before there were interstates, I had been in boarding school. And from there I can head up the dramatic way through Franconia Notch.

The bare trees and the now brown hills on either side of the thruway are still startlingly vivid in this late autumn air. It is as if I have never seen such a tree, such hill, before. The billowing look had been replaced by an eternal look. And the sky is as blue as remembered skies of winter.

It is getting cold. I turn up the heater. I play my tapes. I think of my days in boarding school. Of Kitty up for the school dances. I think of St. Mary’s. I think of bright summers, striped awnings, the vistas when you get above the timberline.

I think of the only recent time I was above the timberline. It was when my wife’s son had just arrived from the Philippines and I had taken the two of them up to the White Mountains, which at that time still seemed like a threshold to a full life. I had decided to take them up the car road on Mt. Washington, not the full experience they would have had in climbing Washington but a taste. There had been no warnings about weather, but when we were above the timberline it started to snow. There were no other cars. I managed to turn around, and inch back down the mountain. There were no guard rails
Mama bears and rusty nails and lightning and winter storms in summer.

In the evening my wife and I and her son went to a spontaneous gathering of the old gang. A number of us happened to be there. We were at a pleasant simple house that Terri had just rented. For the first time she was going to stay in the mountains year round, and her then husband, a vigorous and open man, would remain in Bedford. The reason was dogs. Terri had about a dozen rescued dogs, too many for Bedford, where her husban had a champion spaniel he took to dog shows. (Also in Bedford he kept a copy of the Social Register at hand. He said it was useful because so many of the people he knew were included.)

My wife did not like it in the mountains. She kept saying she wanted to go back early. We stayed in the basement at my Aunt’ s House where on a long ago Christmas trip I had first made love to Christina. My Aunt, whose Anglophile ways included 1940s British cooking, had made a shepherd’s pie for us that seemed to be filled with sawdust rather than meat. We surreptitiously brought Burger King burgers to the basement. A bonding experience.

Thinking ahead, I go past the exit for Plymouth that would come out right at my old boarding school. Normally thought of Playmouth would set off sparks in my mind, for this school down here in the lake country of New Hampshire was where I had first realized I could go beyond what my parents and past schools seemed certain was the limited life I would have. But thinking ahead, I continue on to Franconia Notch. I am thinking of the notch now as a route into something soft and affirming though I have been billing this last leg of the trip as the entryway to the belly of the beast.

That feeling of hope and pleasure and excitement I had when pointing the car north is back again. Maybe I have been unfair to this influential old place.

These two places, the place of perfect summers, the winter place where I came to myself.

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