Three siblings deal in different ways with threats to the family land. A story about connections: to family, to the land, to the past.
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Joan L. Cannon, Novelist
This is a story about love--of people, home, past, and future.
By 1966, the Adams familyy is assembled because the fate of Maiden Run must be decided once and for all.
When in 1935 they find their land and way of life threatened , the three children react in different ways. Julia, the eldest, tries to mediate between her brother and rebellious younger sister. They all face their father's death and the resulting need to make decisions without him.
Estelle discovers more than she wants to know about her friend and ultimately runs back to New York; Tom falls in love with a mysterious young woman who seems to know things the rest of them do not. By the end of the fateful summer, Julia has agreed to marry a young engineer in order to escape her narrow life.
During World War II, Julia and her sister-in-law and their children wait it out at Maiden Run, which continues to reveal its hold on them all.
Now, all those years later, the family must deal with the fate of their beloved property.
Julia is on her way home for the first time in many years. There's a nagging voice in the back of her mind that she tries to hush telling her it's probably for the last time. It's this sense of an ending that makes her want to preserve whatever she can by recording it. She's thinking of her brother and sister and the children, and for their children. She wonders besides if what she intends to set down might provide material for stories she hasn't written yet. These might, in turn, lead to entertainment, if nothing more, for readers who won't know any of the actors. The notion occurs to her that such narratives might grow like accretions in a stream, taking shapes that look more random than perhaps they are. Like most writers, she's always afraid she'll let an opportunity escape. As memories unfurl across her mind's eye like the miles on the odometer, she resolves to do her best to preserve them—even those that are incomplete, even with the imagined details there's no way she could have seen at the time.
She had read that the sense of smell is the most effective one for reviving the past. She thinks that soon she'll be able to test that theory. It isn't as if she'd never come back here over the years, but now there seems every likelihood that if Maiden Run is still here in ten years, it will be all but unrecognizable, at least to the Adams family—her brother Tom and Marian and their children, and to her and her Eric and their daughter. As for her sister Estelle, Julia wondered what to expect when she appears among them again. Her affinity for their home place was always ambivalent, and Julia thought, sometimes seemed to be nonexistent.
A journey like this is fraught with an amorphous burden, not just of the past, but of the unknown. She recalls Roberts Frost's wonderfully sad and true poem in which he said, Home is the place where, when you have to go there,/ they have to take you in. Like a Jungian memory, that knowledge had persisted with Julia all her life, at least until now, when she recognized it.
Eric will be coming by train tomorrow with Catherine, which is why she's alone. She enjoys this brief solitude without guilt, unusual in their increasingly demanding lives. Julia has found the unconscious activity of driving seems to free her mind so it can rove in a way that sometimes even generates insights than she would not recognize with her feet planted on the ground.
Supermarkets and car dealerships have sprung up along the highway, where once there were only pastures, corn fields, and woodlots. In the nearly twenty years since she's seen this village, it has become a suburb. Even though she was prepared for it, the sight disheartens her. She fears it might be just a foretaste of what the whole family is going to have to adjust to. Julia is old enough to know how futile resistance to what the world likes to call "progress" is, and she knows that all change isn't necessarily a personal affront to what she treasures, but even so, the unforeseen banality of the roadside view emphasizes her fear that nothing about this visit is likely to be less than painful.
Julia is concentrating on that fateful summer when she felt as if the farm were being invaded by strangers—strangers who threatened the Adamses because they threatened their home, and by extension, them. She muses at how often she is amazed at how little people perceive during the times when they're most in need of perceptiveness. That was a time when so many changes overtook them, they effectively separated the siblings from each other, as well as from Maiden Run. One of the worst parts about this trip is that Julia is wondering if now, at last, they may find some of those rifts will be permanent.
The real world forces her out of such musings and displaces these notions when she turns off the highway between stone gateposts, one of which bears the farm name on a bronze plaque. The gloss of sunlight on the letters Maiden Run shows how well Tom and Marian keep it polished. Now, however, she thinks the mile-long drive lined with alternating maples and catalpas no longer seems as wide as it used to. She drives very slowly until she rounds the last curve that reveals the house.
Immediately she sees that the huge sugar maple that used to shade the east side of the rose garden is gone. When they were children, they used to soar on the swing that hung from a horizontal branch till they were high enough to catch a glimpse of water in Brave Brook, which runs in a little gully below the garden. Even the long, low brick house, shaded by shagbark hickories and blue spruces seems to have shrunk. Julia thinks, Can it really contain the airy rooms I remember?
Then she sees Marian standing at the top of the steps leading to the wide front door, that stands open. When Julia stops the car, Marian runs quickly down and around to the driver's side. Julia already has the window down. She is still a little overwhelmed by the clustering memories that swarm into her head from what she is looking at.
Marian opens the car door. "You made good time!"
Julia gets out with a groan. "Not good enough." She rubs her back. "I'm stiff as a board. Getting too old to sit so long." She steps back from her sister-in-law's embrace. "Marian, you never change!" Her hair is still crow-wing black; her dark eyes, fringed with heavy lashes, retain their mysterious depth. Her figure is still supple, though no longer willowy as it still was when the two saw each other the last time in a lovely post-war reunion filled with the pleasures of showing off their children and getting reacquainted.
"You look pretty much the same yourself," Marian says, "except for a few grey hairs. Here, I'll help with your bags. Tom's gone over to the barn."
Julia sighs and unlatches the trunk. "That's okay. This is all I have." She hefts her single suitcase out, then turns to look out across the lawn. Purple shadows fall from each tree trunk along the grass. Golden light edging every object reminds her of the Maxfield Parrish print that used to hang in her bedroom. She inhales, savoring the incomparable scents of country air in September, all the sweeter for belonging to Maiden Run.
Marion says, "They just cut the grass this morning. It smells good, doesn't it?"
"I don't know another place that has as many lovely smells." Julia smiles, warmed by her pleasure in being here. She remembers standing in full sun on just such a day as this, during the war, but earlier in the summer. Maybe just the smell of freshly-mown grass has brought the scene back?
Marian is already on her way up the four steps to the door. Without turning her head, she says, "Have you forgotten manuring the fields and cleaning turkey pens, not to mention the pigs?"
Julia pulls herself out of her reverie and laughs. What kind of farm would be without those indispensable smells: insecticides, fertilizers, cow manure? She never did learn to appreciate the fumes of silage or ammonia in the cow barn, but she thinks how she still loves the smell of horses.
The Adams family is gathering for the last time in this house where they were born. Julia is saddened, thinking how this must be agonizing for Marian and Tom, who have given their lives to the care of the place. They met and married here (as she and Eric did), and reared their children here. Hugh and Connie are due to arrive tomorrow morning, along with Julia's Catherine and Eric.
As she walks along the wide upstairs hall toward the room she'll be using, she thinks of the happy vacations the cousins have spent here. She is aware that Catherine is as distressed as the others doubtless are. As for Eric and her—they've talked themselves out, and she hopes have accepted the inevitable. Julia is convinced that Estelle will probably feel this less than any of the rest of them. She sets her suitcase on the stand at the foot of the bed and stands, looking around the familiar room. She can't help wishing she were less aware of what this situation means to Tom and Marian.
Marian has followed her into the room and is opening the closet to check for hangars. Julia turns to her. "Have you heard from Stella?"
"She called last night to say she'd be coming, but I don't know when to expect her." The two exchange a brief glance of complicity. They don't know what to expect from Stella.
By the time Julia finishes unpacking, Tom is back. Marian is a wonderful cook, and has filled the house with delicious aromas that waft through from the kitchen. Julia comes quickly down the stairs to Tom, who waits for her at the bottom. They hug. He's looking thinner, a little weary, otherwise much the same. Tom has a head of thick brown hair, now grey at the temples, and a wiry body that looks much less strong that it is. He has eyes, like the rest of them, that change from green to hazel and back again.
All three go to sit in the living room with drinks. Julia notices that some of the smaller furniture is gone from the huge room, but the couch that was too massive to fit in an ordinary house still enfolds her with legs curled up, the way she always used to sit in it, with her back to the triple window overlooking the sweep of hillside that rolls away down to the trees that conceal the river at the bottom of the slope.
Marian is leaning back in Jonathan's wing chair with its sagging seat. Tom has settled on the piano bench, which he has pulled out in front of the fireplace. Even without the full array of pictures, photographs, and ornaments that always used to stand scattered on top of the piano and on tables, the ambience is exactly as it has always been—like a mohair afghan—warm and weightless.
The flaming sunset shines on Tom's fine-boned face, flushing his skin so he looks like a young man. Behind Julia, the light places her regular features in shadow but burnishes her still brown hair with highlights. It makes Marian's dusky complexion glow. She and her husband are a handsome pair. Orange light reflects on polished walnut and mahogany and picks out jewel colors in the old oriental rug. Julia finds herself awash in nostalgia and affection.
Marian is following her gaze as she surveys the space around them. This room is large, welcoming, handsomely furnished with old things, and completely without pretention. Nothing in it fails to speak of hard and affectionate use and care. "What will you do with your piano, Julia?"
Julia hesitates, looking at the instrument, and sighs. "Sell it, of course. There's no room for a grand piano, even as small as that one, in our house. Besides, it would cost a fortune to have it moved." She shrugs, trying for a light touch. "I managed with a spinet in our apartment for years. I hardly play now anyway."
Tom drinks, ice clinking in his glass, then he rises and carries his glass over to the open French doors that lead out onto the terrace. Julia never had to explain or elaborate in conversations with Tom. She senses that he has decided not to voice a thought. He looks out over the western part of the farm, more than half a mile to the dense trees along the river, making it invisible at this time of the year. Beyond it lie humped purple backs of distant low hills, silhouetted against the blazing horizon where the sun's disk hangs flat just above them, its lower edge already cut from view by its descent. Inside, shadows are gathering fast.
Julia rubs her arms. "Shut the door, will you, Tom? I'm getting chilly."
Marian gets up, saying, "I'll get you a sweater."
"Oh, don't bother, thanks. It's just the draft, I think."
By supper time, Estelle has still not appeared. They're running out of small talk, burdened as their thoughts are with the reason they are here together at this time.
Tom looks at his watch. "Should we wait for Stella?"
He and Marian exchange a glance before she says, "If we wait for her, as you well know, we might not eat till ten."
Tom takes the tray in one hand, drains his glass, and starts out the door. "I'm starved. Let's eat."
When they have finished and cleared the table, Stella still hasn't arrived. Using her long drive as a pretext, Julia retires early. She lies in her old double bed, imagining she can hear the rippling of the Run, as the weight of sleep bears down on her. It's too far from the house for her to hear it, but behind closed lids, she can see the water gliding and sometimes tumbling between forest-shaded banks festooned with maidenhair fern and moss. She pictures the cascade where one margin of the stream is a sheer wall of perpetually seeping shale decorated with rare hart's tongue fern and tough polypody, where little beige snails leave stuttery trails shining behind them. As it flows to the river, out in the sun, it crosses meadows and cow pasture and curves in an ox-bow through grass and wildflowers. There are lush beds of dark green, spicy watercress. They used to stalk crayfish and make them scuttle for cover when they saw the children's shadows. There, the bottom is made up of stones as small and rounded and polished as beads. They used to find tracks of raccoons, mice, birds, and even otters on the miniature sandy beaches that lie glaring in the sun.
The placidity of home flows over Julia like the stream over its pebbles, and with an unheard whisper, sleep creeps up and claims her.