Although I have reconciled myself to the fact that I may never have the life I dreamed about when I was very young, I am still trying to find a reasonable substitute for that spectral location. I can see snatches of this place very clearly in my mind; sometimes I hear it in a certain piece of music or I might smell it in the summer air. Once, I thought I saw a bit of it at a grange hall in Lincolnville, Maine. I saw it in a store window in Belfast. A man in Blue Hill writes a blog about old houses and when I read his posts, I am temporarily transported.
It is possible I am chasing something that no longer exists.
If it exists at all, it exists in my imagination. In that place, it’s late afternoon. It’s October and there are leaves on the ground on Bates Street in Lisbon Falls, Maine. I imagine I’m old enough to remember and appreciate the things I miss today. I’m wearing a wool skirt and a twin set. I have a fall coat and some sensible yet stylish suede shoes with a 2 inch square heel. I’m walking up the driveway and into the breezeway of a quaint Cape Cod-style house. It’s dark on the breezeway, but the lights are on in the kitchen. I can smell coffee percolating and the whiff of a cigarette. My two older cousins are sitting around the kitchen table doing homework and my two younger cousins are in the living room, watching “Dark Shadows.” Aunt (Tante) Anna is on the phone, smoking a cigarette and talking conspiratorially with some unknown friend or relative. When I knock lightly on the screen door, she peeks around the corner and says “Come in, Julie. Joanie, Kaye, your cousin is here.”
If I could go back in time, that house on Bates Street would be one of my first stops.
My Aunt Anna was born on August 7, 1925, in the sunny house Uncle Bob lives in today. She was stylish and animated. I don’t know a lot about her childhood and young adulthood; I guess I’ll have to start interviewing my cousins. She was 39 when I was born and my mother asked her and Uncle Paul to be my godparents.
I don’t believe in birth month meanings and horoscopes. I do know that Aunt Anna’s fashionable approach to life influenced my mother and in turn, influenced me. I am quite sure Aunt Anna went to a decorator show house or two and there always seemed to be paint chips and wallpaper books in the dining room. She loved beautiful dishes and antiques.
She was very generous. She gave me lovely things I still use, like a delicate pink serving dish and a stoneware soup tureen. Serving dishes and soup tureens are the kinds of things I’ll be using more often when I get to that place I’m trying to find.
There were always cookies at her house, too, on the kitchen counter, arranged in sparkling and attractive glass jars. There might have been Oreos and chocolate chip cookies, but I only remember the Vienna Fingers and the Sugar Wafers. My mother never bought these particular cookies.
These jars aren’t sparkling and attractive, like Aunt Anna’s.
The cookies taste just the same way they did at her house, though. They might not be “good for me” but if eaten in moderation, maybe I’ll be okay. They are delicious and when I get to that place I’m searching for, I’m going to keep cookies in air-tight jars on my cupboards. I’ll perk up a pot of coffee and invite people over at dusk on a cool October day.
I will let you know when I get there.
Until then, to all people born on August 7, have a cookie or two. Aunt Anna would want you to.