TIME TRAVEL WHILE HOUSE-HUNTING
My husband and I stumble upon houses frozen in time—
pink-tiled powder rooms, paneled walls, and mod
basement bars mirrored as if Hugh Hefner were expected.
In one bright orange and green kitchen, all that is missing
is the big sunflower smiley-face clock my father made,
ticking time away. Our neighborhood, all Sears & Roebuck
houses from the ‘20s, but inside firmly lived the early ‘70s
where we collided against each other in optimistic outfits:
my flower power velour dress, my sister in her white
GoGo boots zippered in back, my brothers’ striped
bell-bottoms, my father’s fat ties big as his belly.
We never had the ubiquitous green shag carpet
because my mother liked wood floors. And upstairs,
my hard-won bedroom, purple-draped, for royalty
or Lent, I was never sure which.
Before it became “Dr. Bull’s House,”
as everyone in town calls it, it was
the country home of Thomas Gray, 1929-‘47.
At a crowded dance, room spilling in rhythm,
my husband huddles with an older woman. I thread
my way to them. He introduces her, saying,
“We’ve just moved into her grandfather’s Victorian.”
She talks of the steep hill over the Hudson,
the narrow servant stairs, chasing his dogs
up and down, their nails scraping the wood.
We can still see the marks.
It was the Faulhaber house 1925-‘29
and before that, the Sudbrinks from Manhattan—
Charlie and Ella on swinging Saturday nights
motoring to Harlem, bourbon bottles rattling
under the floorboards.
They bought it from William P. Garman, here a short year,
end of the war, cusp of Spanish Flu. He purchased it
from Ed Lewis, who inherited it from his maiden aunt,
Elizabeth, along with $500 and $100 to his wife,
Mrs. Edward Lewis, her own name lost to history.
Who was Elizabeth Lewis? How did a single woman,
corseted in steel stays, become unbound in 1864
to buy land from the slave-owning DuBois family, famous
in our county, and later build our 1877 Victorian?
I like to think I also inherited from her.
When we plant the garden, we unearth bullets
we trace on Google to the Civil War era, and today,
a tiny unbroken glass vial of morphine
that must have fallen from Dr. Bull’s black bag.
In the attic we find the wine stash of his teenage son
who died in Vietnam. A wing shot sent Robert Bull’s C‑7A
spiraling. We clean and stack the colored bottles
from the town winery that is no more.
Cracks slither up and down the walls of our Victorian.
Its plaster cannot contain its past.
No matter how often we scrape and patch and paint.
THE OLDEST BOOKS IN THE HOUSE
I collect Edith Wharton, so there
are those, thick on a shelf, a journey
through old New York, and a time
I would have been called “Bridget,” the lowly
scullery maid whose real name the mistress
never bothered to learn. Bent over steaming
water, carried and boiled, dipping my raw,
red hands into the vat slowly turning black
with the day’s washing, lye burning into ridges
the pail’s metal handle had grieved. But always
dreaming of more as was the promise of America.
On my shelves, too, sit old masters in modern
covers, first editions in proper jackets, names
on spines uncracked. Propped is “The Little House”
my favorite childhood book, and “The Gondolier of Venice,”
with my mother’s handwriting.
But one book: its red blanket frayed, peeling
like Gypsy Rose Lee, the glue unglued,
the title once gold-embossed now lonely
Merriam-Webste, the “r” long gone,
and its first fragile page,
caught in some long-ago wrinkle,
now reads: Nith New Cegiate Dtionary,
a cruel joke on itself. But articulate
alphabetical tabs summon my fingers,
open to “G” and a stamp-size illustration
of a grand touring car—
n. (1970), 2‑passenger coupe—called also
grand tourer. And pressed rose petals
from some long-forgotten lover,
maybe even the one I briefly married, brittle
and faded to a burnt mustard—were they ever red?
I am looking for Google, which doesn’t exit,
but Yahoo does— 1. A boorish, crass, or stupid
person. 2. A member of a race of brutes in Swift’s
Gulliver’s Travels who have the form and all
the vices of man.
Linda McCauley Freeman is the author of the full-length poetry collection The Family Plot (Backroom Window Press, 2022) and has been widely published in international journals, including in a Chinese translation. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize 2021. Recently she appeared in Delta Poetry Review, Poet Magazine, Amsterdam Quarterly, and won Grand Prize in StoriArts Maya Angelou poetry contest. She was selected by the Arts MidHudson for Poets Respond to Art 2020 and 2021 shows and was a three-time winner in the Talespinners Short Story contest judged by Michael Korda. She has an MFA from Bennington College and is the former poet-in-residence of the Putnam Arts Council. She lives in the Hudson Valley, NY. Follow her at www.Facebook.com/LindaMcCauleyFreeman