Franconia, Part Four

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  • **This week we continue to explore Gale Cottage through Elisabeth’s eyes…

    In the back parlor were crumbling leather-bound books, a set of bells, a stereopticon with magic pictures of ice caves and frozen waterfalls, astonishing in the perfection and depth of each gleaming crystal, the glass cases of moths and butterflies which Aunt Annie had lured by stretching a bedsheet in the light of a lantern on the porch at night. And upstairs were books and more books, brightly colored stuffed birds from foreign lands, Aunt Annie’s flower press, a vial of attar of roses from a forgotten tomb, and life-sized paintings of improbably large brook trout that Uncle Will had caught, painted, and pasted to the door panels. There was the little room with the bird’s-eye maple and bamboo furniture where I slept, snuggling down under a feather quilt and listening to the wind in the white pines, the sound of the river flowing over the stones, and there was a poem tacked to the wall: “Sleep sweetly in this quiet room, 0 thou, whoe’er thou  art …. ”  

    And oh, the smell of the place! Year after year it was the same.  Year after year we rushed in and breathed that sweetness—old wood, old leather, old books, the perfume of pine and balsam and wood smoke. There is no accounting for that fragrance, but it is still there, still the same, intoxicating to us who know it, still redolent of all the years of happiness, and now someone else will breathe it, someone who doesn’t know its meaning at all.  

    How shall we say good-bye to the glory of that house, how accept the sadness that it is no longer ours? By making it, as Schmemann says, of time, the object of our Christian faith and action. By recognizing that time has two dimensions—it brings things to an end, and it gives us always new beginnings. Christ  is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, and we bring to him all of our beginnings and endings, all the hope and sadness that they cause us, all of the work done and the pleasures enjoyed as well as all our plans for work to be done and pleasures to be enjoyed.    

    So, through life, death, through sorrow, and through sinning,
    He shall suffice me, for He hath sufficed.
    Christ is the End, for Christ was the Beginning,
    Christ the Beginning, for the End is Christ.
                                                                   F. W. H. Meyer  ”St. Paul”  

    We give thanks, then, as we bring these things to him, and in the giving of thanks we signal our total acceptance of his will for us.  

    We are also granted temporary reprieves. Aunt Clara called the other night to say that it’s not going on the market after all. Not exactly, anyway. She has figured out some kind of plan which may make the place available to family members for a little while longer.  

    There is a storybook sort of attic in the Cottage, with two bedrooms built into it originally as servants’ rooms. As our family expanded I slept in one of these instead of in the bedroom on the second floor with the bird’s-eye maple and bamboo furniture. This room had an old-fashioned bed, bureau, and wooden washstand on which stood a great brown-and-white china basin, a soap dish to match, and two pitchers, large and small. Inside the little door that opened at the bottom of the washstand was a matching chamber pot. The most interesting feature of this room, however, was what my aunt called her rogues’ gallery, a long row of black-and-white photographs of her female college classmates, all with demure waves dipping low over the forehead, all with the peculiarly ill-fitting blouses of the thirties, all with the same bland and trustful expression, gazing mildly down at me as I lay in the bed. My aunt called them girls. To me they were most certainly not girls. They had been to college, they were old, they were unknown and unapproachable, and the unrelieved sameness of hairdo, expression, and costume created in my mind a distant strange world of which I would never be a part.  

    . . . Continued next week

    **Excerpt originally published in All That Was Ever Ours pp. 66-67.