Nils Peterson: Talk in the Reading Room
About Nils Peterson

 The Reading Room
 Xmas Eve at the Big House 
 Christmas Mysteries 
Summers in Long Island 
 Father Arrives in the    Triumphal Car 
 Yankee Stadium Gone 
 A Thing of Beauty 
 Learning From My Father 
 Learning From My Mother 
The Bus


 Next Stop 
 Going to College
 My Lecture on Romanticism 
 A Story 
 Go Way From My Window 
• Singing in the Rain 
 On the Nature of Exposition 
 A Latin Class
 A Hero's Life
 Letter to Paul Cantrell
• Homecoming 
 The Moon and the Bulldozer


Summers in Long Island

In June, we’d go to the Deforests’ Long Island summer house high on a hill above a grand meadow before slanting down to go back to Goose Neck Road. Here we lived in a cottage. Driving from town, on our way to see the Melroses, Dad would try Snake Hill, seeing if the new car could make it in third gear. He honked at every curve.

At the top, we’d turn off onto the road to the house where Helen lived, passing by the meadow of Bless Me, a mare, dapple-gray, too old to carry even the smallest child, left now to crop the tall grasses along the white-railed fence, or stand in the green tenting of trees still and quiet as the first afternoon everyone is gone from the house and you hear, at last, yourself.

Helen Melrose was the daughter of the gardener of the even richer brother of my father’s boss and the only girl I knew to speak to for the first ten years of my life. Once we pretended the roof of an old root cellar perched in a field was a ship. We sailed her as a steady summer wind roiled the sea of tall grasses about us, and we swung beneath a sky shining in a great, blue bowl.

Helen had several brothers who my father hired to help with all the chores around the big house. This was before the big war, the depression still heavy across the land. My father was something of a hero. To me, he seemed big as the summer in his gray suit and flat black-billed chauffeur’s cap, when he had to be ready to chariot the Olympians about their mysterious ways. But even more so dressed in his work clothes, striding among the men, back in New Jersey, the unemployed Swedes whom he hired to weed the wide lawn, trim hedges, spread compost, pick pears, rake gravel — depression years — any work holy when every day was unwanted holiday.

But here, in Cold Spring Harbor, Helen’s handsome brothers spent the summer on their knees as if in prayer, prying dandelions and crabgrass out of the many-acred lawn of the rich man. Sometimes I’d leave the chauffeur’s cottage get a mat and a tool, and join them. We made a line across the grass driving the weeds before us like the beaters in films of the rich hunting. It was good to be with them under the young summer sun.

They all survived the war. Arthur became a test pilot. David a lawyer, I’m not sure about George. Oh yes, John, came back with souvenirs, a dueling sword and a three-barreled gun, shotgun on top, rifle centered beneath. Its engraving glistened as brightly as the rich man’s dollars.

And remembering this, I’m now six years old, riding beside Big Ted in a truck pulling a mower across acres of field on either side of the driveway that swept down to the road from the big house. On the high lawns, Helen’s brothers on their knees like scrub ladies scour the lawn of every weed, but today Big Ted and I rattle and clunk all day in a suspensionless pickup, I dozing a kind of jolting in and out doze, up and in and under and up like a flying fish on a sea, such a vast sea, such a long day, back and forth, back and forth, endless, endless, endless.


  © 2014, Nils Peterson

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