This gifted young writer has been a favorite of mine since she called me, many years ago, and asked me to take her to church since her mother, a devout atheist, refused to do so. Whether the charming serious ten-year-old girl ever went to church again I don’t know, but that question and the brief contact in a great old dark Episcopalian warren of a church sealed our bond.
In the dim reaches of the Players Club, where I’d been giving my reading, Clara and I reminisced briefly about what is now called The Bingham Estate but in her childhood and mine was always called The Big House—like Sing Sing.
Her memories of childhood visits there are probably a good deal sunnier than my memories of seventeen years of growing up and trying to escape that grim manse, but one memory, with thorns, we share is of the Easter tradition my mother, bless her heart, instituted.
All the grandchildren, including Clara and her brother, two other granddaughters and my three sons, were commanded to memorize long passages from Shakespeare to recite to the grandmother who, on other occasions, blue-penciled errors in her grandchildren’s letters and sent them back.
The outcome of these memory contests, as Clara and I remembered, was a storm of tears on the part of the losers who not only forfeited the fifty dollar prize—a handsome sum in those days—but their grandmother’s esteem. Or so it seemed.
Now, the Big House is going through a transition that will, I believe, wipe away all those old shadows as its new owner, another beloved niece, a gifted young journalist of enormous enterprise, becomes its new owner.
What she will do with that enormous house, which seems to me mired in the past, will surely be different from what my parents did with it in the 1940’s and 50’s, when its prime function was to serve as a weekend roost for drunken Derby guests, who terrified me with their antics; I didn’t know they were drunk.
In one episode, a handsome young guest met me in the back hall—I was probably returning to my room after a sandwich lunch in the kitchen—sank to his knees, and proposed to me. We pledged some kind of troth—he said he would wait for me to grow up—probably the first, as well as the last, time I believed in such a set of vows.
Imagine my incredulous dismay when, a few weeks later, I saw a glossy black and white photo on my mother’s desk of this young suitor’s wedding…
All of that kind of thing is now safely confined to the past while the Big House, new winged with hope and enterprise, sails into a radically different future on its bluff over the Ohio River.