To the summers of our childhood, which move like planets through a zodiac with figures of bull and snake, I often return to know their astrology. Somewhere in the blue streak of the kingfisher or the sound of Galli-Curci floating down onto the surface of the bay there is a meaning, or at least premonition, which I cannot discover. Mother and Grandmother, sitting throughout the summer by the petunia bed, have an immobile fated look, and in photos the children squint, seeing events beyond the camera. It seems as if something will happen, but as far as I know, nothing did.
A total eclipse of the sun (universally looked at through colored cellophane) did, it is true, occur, the icehouse disappear and the Villa bought in 1930 by the General Electric Company briefly seem to hold more promise. But as no one from that great company ever appeared, and plans to make the entire island into a golf course failed, the Villa with its shingled turrets, and arches which only led to one another, stood empty, having no destiny except to become a stone decoration against the sky. A new boathouse was built for the Bye-Bye, and in a small dining room behind the kitchen the children drank blue, unpasteurized milk from the farm. But, these were scarcely events.
Like the changing river level, which in some seasons caused docks and boathouses to be seen under water, the disappearance of island buildings
The summers shone yet did not, like the snakes moving in the long grass, glitter. Many things glittered victrola needles in round magnetic containers; gasoline on the river surface and in petcocks; and minnow pails, hung by the dock but the whole light of the summer was more aqueous and uncertain. We were in a watery microcosm, children and island in a great snake's eye, and, as remembered, its light contained things that do not ordinarily reflect Aida (either running down or speeding up), Sheik of Araby (soft and heard at twilight as gnats came into the air and the river freighters' lights went on) and The Prison Song, this, I suppose, especially dedicated to gangster immortal Pretty Boy Floyd,
Oh, if I had the wings of an angel
Over these prison walls I would fly,
Fly home to the arms of my darling,
And there I would live 'til I die.
Oh, please give me someone to love me,
Someone to call me their own.
Let me fly to the dear ones who love me,
For I'm tired of living alone.
Reflected too, oddly enough, were New Jersey voices; the images of young men who are all in love with Marg Williams; the soft pages of books from the Wellesley Public Library; the Point house with its lovely isolation and bare plumbing; the glorious Shirley in her flame-colored, handkerchief-linen dress (I have only lately realized that Shirley looks like Carole Lombard); the Shicks' mounted swordfish (the Shicks, disdaining the usual
When it is said that reality is only an impression, I remembering Carleton, its rocks, paths, river, crows, and sumac always agree. These are common things, but when brought into my mind, they become uncommon, transfigured in ways of hierarchy and perfection known to other ages but not to ours. That is probably why it is appropriate that the island had a great villa, a feudal life, a sunken frigate, ancient graves, old stones, and deep water elements, temples, and deities.
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So, dear Theodore, happy birthday. We who once read the Syracuse Post Gazette are still alive, and I can send love to the brother who has helped me so much and with whom I hold philosophic conversation, whether he is present or not.