Monday, March 1, 2010

Weighty Concerns!

  Here's a short piece inspired by the photo prompt found at the end of this post -- 
from Magpie Tales -- please visit to see how others responded
  Frank Manor House, Portland, Oregon
It has been so many years since I have been back to our summer house. Although the house is crumbling from the salty sea, it is still filled with the mystique, and continues to capture the essence of what is natural and wild and beautiful here.  Our home was named ‘Belle Mer Bleue’ or simply ‘Belle Mer.’ The azure blue and bittersweet colors of the ‘Belle Mer’ window awnings and window boxes reflect the brilliant hues of the surrounding rocky Cliffside, inviting you to linger on the back porch or soak up the sun on the terrace over looking the sea.... this serene oasis is perched high above the boiling seas and threatening rocks far below.  The cliff is subject to natural erosion caused by the sea, by rainwater, and by humans and some day the sea will claim ‘Belle Mer’ as well.
Belle Mer was brought over from Europe and rebuilt stone by stone- brick by brick to its original state, a little chateau in the Tudor style, by a wealthy American family during the 1920’s. 
My dad used to come to the island with his family as a young boy, during the summer months and ride his horse up through these hills surrounding this property.  One glorious summer evening, we were watching the sunset from the terrace and my father had a far away look in his eyes  "From the very first time I laid eyes on ‘Belle Mer’, he said, 'Someday I'm going to own that house.' We moved there in the summer of 1962 and we spend our summers growing up here and when my mother and father retired lived there the rest of their lives." Dad died in 1990 and mom just passed away. During those early years our summer home was a whirl of visitor’s and dinner parties. I remember a golden childhood filled with parties and laughter, my mother loved to entertain. The home's grand details, boast 20 foot high ceilings, a grand mahogany stairway and beautiful chandeliers, bathrooms with handmade European tiles and a pair of cast-stone peacocks perched above a patio door.
These now are but pictures of the past in our minds eyes. The reality is that for the last remaining years the dining room table once filled with laughter and friendly chatter with friends, the chairs at mother’s table are empty…her dear friends having died of old age some years earlier. Still, whether due to sorrowful dementia or pure loneliness, my mother liked to believe that her colorful guests were indeed present.   My younger brother believed they were present, he believed ‘Belle Mer’ was haunted.
Frank Manor House, Portland Oregon
I have lingered outside the house too long staring into the past and it is getting dark out and the wind is whipping up and chilling me to the core.  Even during the summer months the night air gets chilly here at Belle Mer, and here it is late October.  I have been living abroad for years now and I am not use to this northern Maine climate any more.  My brother who lives only about 100 miles away left the settling of the estate up to me and will not set foot back in this house.  This house that had occupied so much of his childhood, that was so hard for him to extract himself from the grip it had on him so he could live his own life. Well at least I will have company tomorrow when the auctioneer and his wife will come and stay and help with the estate sale.  But for tonight I have to brave it alone.  My brother doesn’t want anything from the estate, but he did mention one item he wanted with directions on the handling of this piece if I was even able to find it. There are so many furnishings and personal items and art objects, it will be difficult to say the least, but I promised I would do my best.  I was to contact him when I found it and he left it at that.
There is 8 years age difference between my brother and me and with me being the older one. When he was a young child, often times I would found him playing with an imaginary friend at Belle Mer.  One day, he was playing in his room chatting away – and I happen to enter and ask who he was talking to?  He said sit and play with Thomas and I.  My brother was always the sensitive one of the two of us – and I didn’t want to shatter his world – but both my mother and he believed there were some ghosts in this house and that they could see them and talk to them.  It is something I could not buy into – it stretched the limits of my pragmatic logical thinking world.  I said “that is just plain silly talk and I will not play with you and your make believe friend”  My  8 year old brother looked me in the eye and said calmly “for a moment stop believing what you think is true – just because you cannot see  my companion does not mean he is not real.”
 Oh I sensed something from time to time and even would feel an icy chill run down my spine, but when I looked it was I though a draft, or the noises the house made when I was alone.  But for years now I simply forgot about the ghostly wanderings and my brother’s invisible playmate.  I reasoned that I will turn on all the lights in the house when I enter encase my brother and mother were correct and it is just till the morning that I will be alone anyway.  A mere few hours away and I will probably fall right to sleep. 
Belle Mer comprises of two bedrooms on the main floor with the larger one providing a bedroom with an open fireplace and a four poster bed, and a kitchen on the other side of the house with a small quest bath room tucked under the second stairwell. When you enter the house there is a central mahogany staircase that connects the three floors and leads to a balustrade roof terrace, offering outstanding views of the countryside and the sea. My mother use to say the "The Gray Lady" use to appear there and watch her child play in the garden below. The house appears colder on the inside then it was when I was standing on the front lawn with the wind whipping all around me.  I immediately turn on as many lights as I can as I make my way to the first floor bedroom/sitting room with the antique four poster bed and an open fireplace,  this is the room I will occupy while I stay here.  I light the fireplace, turn on the central heat and head toward the kitchen.
I always loved this room the best in the house, the kitchen offers fine views through three full-length arched windows. During the day it is flooded with sunlight and magnificent views.  At dusk you see the deer come out and at night time clear skies promise a light show of stars and watch as beautiful moon moves across the night sky.  I turn on the kettle to make some tea and go to the pantry to see if there is any soup --- and right in that moment I feel an icy chill down my back and on my arms like someone was rubbing an ice cube on me.  I thought this can’t be good – an understatement I am sure.  I turn around and reach in my pocket for my cell phone – the room is icy cold.  My cell is out of range, drat!  I hope the house phone still works, I been remembering to pay the utilities till the estate settles, but I better check to make sure.  At this point I forgot about making the soup, but manage to fill the teapot and grab a cup.  Not wishing to turn the kitchen light off as I left the room, I start down the long hallway toward my room—I cannot believe my eyes – I drop the teapot and it makes a loud noise as it crashes to the hard wood floor, tea splattering every where. There she is walking down the stairs and there is a child with her who I can barely make out –I cannot move- she walks toward me and looks me in the eye for a moment then walks past me into the living room and disappears from my sight.
 The Brown Lady Ghost, circa 1936
I cannot believe what I am about to do- but I go after her and shout out loud, What was that?  Who are you?  What are you? This whole situation was incredible to me.  In an instant I am humbled, all those years I would not listen to my brother, would not believe him, I could have helped him get free; I could have insisted my mother come live with me after my father passed away.  I will stay up all night or as long as it takes till I found what my brother instructed me to find.  This I will do because now I know the stories he told me were true. I prayed the whole time asking for help and understanding as I went about the task at hand.
The weighty concerns of the night and all the work ahead of me was alleviated with the morning light.  Everything seems so different, or at least it is now more like the house as I remembered years past, filled with chatter, light, love and laughter.  The auctioneer and his wife brought quite a few helpers with them. Some of the neighbors came over, and brought food and stayed on to help.  My brother called and said he had a dream that the ‘little boy’ had visited him and said “thank you” and my brother will be there in the afternoon – he continued “we need to talk.”
There we were, my brother and I under the big oak tree, holding this small weight in his hand that I managed to find for him -- 1 kg was stamped on it – it belonged to the little boy, who died. We put it in a small box and said some prayers  for the dearest little one, and buried the weight in the ground whilst we plant daffodil bulbs for next spring.   I think of E.B. White's introduction to his wife's book "Onward and Upward in the Garden", which contains one of the most poignant scenes in garden literature. White evokes all the absurd optimism inherent in planting bulbs as he describes his wife out in the garden as always, planting flowers she'll never see...