Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Life lines 5


When I was a teenager I read a small novel by Rumer Godden called Take Three Tenses. It was a story told by a house of the families that had lived in it for about four generations. It told the stories of loving, fighting, laughter, illness, death, and weddings, of children scampering up and down stairs and each room had a secret to tell. I thought of that as our house on 19 Mud Road went up for sale, and if we sell, we shall be moving to Bloomington, Indiana, to a smaller one level home, easier to manage for two old folks who are creaky with arthritis. Frank Erk, who helped me look for houses after I joined the faculty at Stony Brook in 1968, first took me to this house. This was about the tenth house I had seen and as soon as I saw the large L-shaped living-dining room with its huge cathedral ceiling, I fell in love with it. After we moved in and guests began to arrive it was called the Ross house. Dean Stanley Ross had lived there with his family before moving on to the University of Texas. About a year after we arrived friends from California visited. They collected bitters bottles and I told them that when we moved from Sunnyside Avenue in Mar Vista California to Mud Road, we learned that the street was named for the path to the town dump, the site of Gelinas Junior High School. Their eyes lit up and soon with our shovel in hand we marched to the border of the field and the woods east of the junior high building and they dug for not more than fifteen minutes before hitting a trove of purple, brown, and amber bottles of various sizes that held what in the old days was patent medicine or what is today called snake oil. It took five years before our house was no longer called the Ross House. New faculties have no historical knowledge of their predecessors.

We added on as the years went by and our family grew. We added a library downstairs. We added a deck in the back. We enlarged the kitchen. When our daughter Erica lost her job and brought her large family and my mother in law came to live with us, we added on behind our house. One innovation was a sewing room for making quilts, as both Nedra and her mother and our daughter liked to sew. Shortly after the construction on the large addition began our daughter got a job as a toy designer in Florida and our home was now too big for only three occupants. But we were still working so we each made an office out of a bedroom. Nedra added up the statistics as her village of 3000 IVF babies grew in numbers and I designated my upstairs office as my computer room and happily composed my lectures, articles, and book drafts. As I got older I thought of Rumer Godden and her novel. Setauket goes back to the 1650s and the first settlers here were evicted by a forged document bearing King Charles’ seal by a swindler who fomented the war against New Amsterdam. He sold the land to British investors using other forged documents. Setauket housed an enclave of supporters of George Washington in a Tory territory. Often when I used to walk from my home to the Emma Clark Library, I would commune with those patriot feet that trod this path two centuries ago.

The day may come when we leave our beloved home on Mud Road and begin the final leg of our journey through life. I will imagine in my Bloomington moments of meditation that a new occupant with a young family resides on Mud Road and guests of that family who are getting to know them will prepare to visit the Carlson house, a name that will bemuse the new occupants for some five years, before the past is embraced in the silent walls of the house we live in.

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