Franconia, Part Three

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  • ** Our summer series journey continues in Franconia, NH at Gale Cottage as we experience the Cottage (including the train ride) through Elisabeth’s perspective. She shares in rich descriptive and poignant detail her childhood memories of her beloved Cottage.

    In his beautiful book For the Life of the World, Alexander Schmemann says that time is the first “object” of our Christian faith and action… Through time on the one hand we experience life as a possibility, growth, fulfillment, as a movement toward the future. Through time, on the other hand, all future is dissolved in death and annihilation… By itself time is nothing but a line of telegraph poles strung out into the distance and at some point along the way is our death.  

    All my life I have been acutely conscious of time, having grown up in a family where six o’clock meant five fifty-five, and because my father was superintendent of the Sunday school we got there as much as an hour early. In the past ten or fifteen years I have become more conscious of it, not only for the obvious  reason that when one reaches middle age he knows it’s running out, but also because as a speaker I’m used to being told how much time I’m allowed (ten minutes, thirty minutes) and I try to  stick to it. (I am agonizingly aware of time when the speaker who precedes me is cheerfully unaware of it.)…

    But if time is the first object of our faith and actions as Christians we need to learn to redeem it, to say with the psalmist, “My times are in Thy hands,” and to realize that it has been once for all transformed. God incarnate entered time. Jesus Christ  “suffered under Pontius Pilate,” a particular Roman procurator  in a particular place at a particular point in history, redeeming us and the world we live in, transforming forever that bleak “line of telegraph poles strung out into the distance.” Nothing is meaningless. Nothing, for the Christian, is a dead end. All endings are beginnings.  

    I need to remember this just now, because the Cottage is about to go on the market. ”The Cottage” is a summer place in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, built in 1889 by my great-great uncle and aunt, and the scene of gloriously happy family vacations ever since. It was to me as a child the very vestibule of heaven. We would leave Philadelphia on the night Pullman, the “Bar Harbor Express,” and I remember the delirium of joy with which I settled into the berth, my clothes safely stowed in the little hammock, and fell asleep, to be awakened in New Haven by the shifting of the cars as the train was divided into different sections. I would lift the blind and see the brakeman passing with his lantern, watch the baggage trucks rolling by, and try to read in the dim light the thrillingly romantic names on the freight cars in the yards–“Seaboard Airline,”  “Lackawanna,” “Chicago and Northwestern,” “Route of the Phoebe Snow,” “Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe.” I remember the jerking of the uncoupling and the satisfying crunch of the  coupling, the loud hissing of steam and then the gentle rolling out of the station, the giant engine building up speed until the clickety-click reached the rhythm that once again put me to sleep.  

    In the morning I woke to see the Connecticut River valley, and it was not long before we pulled into Littleton, where we were met by my grandfather’s Buick and driven the eight miles to the Cottage. My stomach tightened with the joy of that first glimpse of the two brick chimneys, visible as we crossed the Gale River Bridge, and then, as we turned up the driveway, I could see the beloved house, the breakfast table set in the sun on the front quarter of the porch. (The porch ran all the way around the house, which was rectangular, built stockade-style, with six-inch spruce blocks for walls in the lower portion, shingles above.)  

    The sound of footsteps hurrying from the kitchen on the old boards. The creak of the hinges on the massive door which had a key eight inches long. (It was said that Uncle Will had the big iron lock and key before he built the house, and had to construct a door on a comparable scale.) A race around the porch to see if the little cart we played with was still in its place, to look into the separate cabin which was the kitchen at the back of the porch, a pause to look at the mountains—Lafayette, Artists’ Bluff, Bald,  Cannon, Kinsman—blue against the sky, always dependably the same, strong, comforting (“So the Lord is round about them that fear Him”), waiting for us to climb them once more. In the living  room, the huge fireplace with its three-foot andirons; the green china clock on the mantel, the guns in their niche; the fishing rods cradled in bentwood hooks suspended from the ceiling; the Texas Longhorns, the deer head; the portrait of Uncle Will on the wall; the rocking chairs where Grandpa and Grandma Howard always  sat by the heavy writing table which Uncle Will had made with his own hands; the converted kerosene lamps; the little melodion which we used for accompaniment at our Sunday-evening hymn sings (the “natives” came to these, including a little old lady who claimed she couldn’t sing “half’s good’s a crow”); the  cushioned settee with a lid which lifted to reveal a furry mechanical bear, a black lace parasol, a music box, and a mummified human child’s foot, brought from some ancient tomb in Egypt by Uncle Will back when he was scrounging the world for things to put in the then new Metropolitan Museum in New York.

    Continued next week…

    **Excerpt originally published in All That Was Ever Ours, pg 62-65.