“I can show you what is left,” writes Robert Penn Warren in his novel World Enough and Time.
“Here are the scraps of newspaper, more than a century old, splotched and yellowed and huddled together in a library, like November leaves abandoned by the wind, damp and leached out, back of the stables or in a fence corner of a vacant lot.
“Here are the diaries and the documents and the letters, yellow too, bound in neat bundles with tape so stiffened and tired that it parts almost unresisting at your touch.”
My brothers and I have had a year to clear out my parents house in Conway, New Hampshire, thanks to a sympathetic buyer, a family friend. Last week we made the final trip.
Among many treasures, I found an album my mother made in 1942 when she was 18 years old and had been given a Brownie camera.
There were pictures of her with her friend Lydia (Lydge) Thorne, and their older brothers Bob and Thad, both dapper in their new uniforms.
Some were taken at my mom Sally’s grandparents’ house in Littleton, but most were at the Thornes’ house, The Crossroads, on Conway Lake in South Conway.
All the horses and friends were pictured in the same stalls I knew as a kid when I went riding with Lydge’s kids.
I talked to Lydge about the album, and she said that she and her family kind of adopted Sally, that she was allowed to drive the cars and have all kinds of fun that wouldn’t be allowed at home, where her parents were kind of stern.
Sally’s parents were always wonderful to us grandkids, but she told me her childhood was pretty lonely. Her parents were always too busy for her and her brother was mean. Her best friend was their maid Willa Mae.
That’s why this album seemed so fraught with happiness, photos of my mom finding a new world of fun at The Crossroads. Lydge’s mom, known to us as Granny Thorne, believed everyone should have fun.
My brothers and I rode ponies there, and canoed out to the islands, and Granny always had sheep and geese and chickens — and pigeons. We used to take her pigeons with us when we climbed mountains to see how fast they could fly home.
I took my daughter there for a pony ride when she was a little girl many years later, and I’m ashamed to say I didn’t know how to cinch a Western saddle.
Granny Thorne, at the age of 90, came out and cinched it good and snug.
And in these old photos, there are some other guys in dapper uniforms besides the older brothers, notably a guy name Henry. And tucked between the pages is a rose, pressed between the pages, still pink after all these years.
“Puzzling over what is left,” Penn Warren writes, “we are like the scientist fumbling with a tooth and thigh bone to reconstruct for a museum some great, stupid beast extinct with the ice age.
“Or we are like the louse-bit nomad who finds, in a fold of land between his desert and the mountains, the ruin of parapets and courts, and marvels what kind of men had held the world before him.
“But at least we have the record: the tooth and thigh bone or the kingly ruin.”
This louse-bit nomad is happy to have found the still-pink rose.