We Have Always Been The Caretakers

timesphotoDear Goddamned Beagle,

Some weeks ago we received a letter in a small green envelope. Written on the outside was, “My parents were married in your house 42 years ago,” and inside was a copy of a New York Times article about the couple, one in a series of articles on long-term relationships that have lasted, and a note from their daughter asking if they might come and recreate their wedding photo, taken in what is now my office, a room I spend sixty to seventy hours a week in.

This is not the first time something like this has taken place. Some years ago, before you’d landed here, a woman and her mortified son knocked on the door one Sunday asking if they could see the place. They’d lived here during their “happy years” according to mom, and she wanted to see it one more time before they moved away. We toured the place, me stashing laundry and clutter under pillows, the teenager squirming in awkward ambivalence, as his mother touched the walls, opened the closets, sat on beds and couches, and recounted her decorations and renovations, most of which, the pickled oak and grey floral-tiled kitchen, the pink wall-to-wall carpeting throughout the house, I’d long since eliminated, as her social and decorating sense shared a similar lack of consideration. She cried and pet the Swissies, and told stories of the gatherings that had taken place before hard times and a younger woman had changed the direction of her life. “I thought I’d always be here,” she’d said.

Another envelope had arrived several years before that, this one large and manila, containing copiesdining-room of photos and a twenty-fifth anniversary announcement from 1922. The envelope was from the couple’s granddaughter; the couple had passed away and she’d thought to send a copy of the story and accompanying photos to the unknown (to her) owners of the house.

There is our dining room before the wood was painted white, while there was still a chandelier hanging in the middle of it. There, sitting on the hallway stairs, is a crowd we’d definitely want to know. I believe the man on the left is wearing a crown. The grumpy looking man on the right is being fussed on by a woman who was probably a helper, and there, in the middle according to the caption, is Kay, arms up by her scrunched up face, gangly legs in bright white tights. I get the feeling we’d have gotten along with Kay, Beagz.

kayThe Somerville Journal describes the anniversary party including their children – I wonder if Kay is “Katherine C Donovan, a student at Notre Dame Academy” described as dressed in orchid taffeta, which could explain the face. Orchid taffeta isn’t for everyone. The article goes on to say, “The house was handsomely decorated with a variety of cut flowers, smilax and potted plants. An orchestra furnished music. Mr and Mrs Donovan were liberally remembered with gifts of sliver, cut glass and bric-a-brac.

Perhaps the most highly-prized gift was brought from Washington by a friend a few days after the celebration. This was a fine large photograph of President Harding on which is subscribed in the President’s own handwriting: – 

‘To John G. Donovan, with felicitations becoming to the twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. With all cordial good wishes. – Warren G. Harding.‘”

Maybe Kay was wincing at the concept of a man with a crown (one assumes) being congratulated on single-handedly achieving twenty-five years of marriage.1922journal

And then yesterday the latest of our visitors arrived: the couple and their daughter. Mom came in teary-eyed, dad unable to focus on anything but the house. Theirs had been a trip from the seventies, living in a collective run and owned by poet Ron Schrieber and his cross-dressing friend Nico.  They walked through, touching the walls, going into every room, remembering how things had changed and who had been in and out of the scene and who’d lived in what room – Marge Piercy and Tillie Olsen had been around; Nico had worn a white dress at their wedding and then changed into red later on. This was a straight, traditionally-raised couple of twenty-somethings who found themselves in the heyday of the Gay 70s, in a house filled with creativity and all the lines blurred. What is now the dining room had been the dance hall, with dancing every night to music playing from the stereo stored in the leaded glass built-ins. The kitchen had been painted yellow and orange, with peg board walls and group cooking while the men’s group gathered in the living room. The couple would let the dog – the perfect dog – out onto the porch roof when they were too stoned or too lazy to walk him. Life was adventurous and daring and care free, and they’d be gone from it before Tillie would write about the how “having it all” meant choosing between writing and mothering, because you couldn’t do both without money and help, and before Ron would lose his soulmate John to AIDS, living out his life afterwards as a public university professor in Boston. Still magical in their memories, the couple pored through their meagre picture album from the event: grandma here, “some guy named Frank” there, pointing into the air at the corners of the rooms where people had stood.

Thanks to you, Beagle, the lucky couple has one more memory to carry with them from this house.

Apparently, me tidying up is cause for significant alarm in a beagle brain. You tried to corral me into sitting at my desk like I always do – like I should do, apparently – but I didn’t listen. I just kept cleaning. By the time our guests arrived you’d had it with all the “different,” and so you went with your go-to when the chips are down. You rutted, you ate and you attempted to steal.

I had set the dining room table with champagne, yellow tea roses, cheese, crackers, chocolates and strawberries. At least one of those items seemed extremely important to reach, and so you attempted to climb, pushing the chairs out and chewing on the table corner when progress was impeded. The table cloth was a maddening challenge, offering opportunity but lost purchase, and so you’d scale it just enough to pull it towards you until the weight of the items on the table stopped it, leaving you hanging for a moment until you crashed to the floor.

“May I offer you a truffle?” was followed by me peeling you off of someone’s leg. “Cheese?” Peel the beagle off. “Yes, this is a sunny room.” Peel the beagle off. “Oh yes, these big houses do take a lot of upkeep.” Peel the beagle off.

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“We love dogs!” subtly turned into, “What dog?” as they tried to ignore you, and I believe you hit your low point when the couple, trying to recreate the photo of them descending the stairs, had to unlatch you from the bride’s back side.

We’re going to have to work on this, Beagz. In case you haven’t noticed, we, too, have filled this house with many lives and sounds, meals and dogs, music and travelers from near and far. We are home or second home to many, as this house seems to invite, with moments held safe within these walls, some for more than a hundred years.

It would be nice if someday, many decades from now, visitors didn’t turn to their host and say, “We’ve always loved this house. This is where we got married. A beagle humped us all the way down the stairs.”

We need to class it up a little, Beagz. History is depending on us.

Love,

Your Person

6 comments

  1. This post caused the muscle within my chest to tighten, kinesthetic memories of bittersweet times in a different house where childhood was filled with animals, music, mystery, and sorrow. Often stirred with love, bewilderment, pain. Inadvertent drops of the ocean within my heart, spilled from my eyes.

    Beautiful that you, Marji, and Beagz have this as a truth you live within: “We are home or second home to many, as this house seems to invite, with moments held safe within these walls, some for more than a hundred years.”

    Thank you for writing.

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