I’m amazed and gratified to learn that my niece, who grew up in the Big House, a generation after my childhood there, is buying the place, with her long-time partner and their little girl: the house will be reborn when the child’s laughter rings through those long halls.
The transformation has already begun: the East terrace with its distant view of the Ohio appears in a graceful sketch on the new owners’ note paper.
How different that view seems from the same site as it was photographed in the 1950’s and used on the cover of my memoir, Passion and Prejudice!
The same tall Corinthian columns appear supporting the porch roof, the same snatch of lawn and distant river, but the people who inhabited that earlier photograph have all moved on, some into death, others into different and separate lives…
I wonder if this little girl will perhaps sleep in my old bedroom, at the top of the stairs on the second floor, or perhaps in the room that was my sister’s, and before that, our grandfather’s, where Lizzie Baker, my father’s cook and later the abiding spirit of the house, was photographed by Cecil Beaton in front of a glass-doored cabinet built to hold guns but in the photograph filled with stuffed animals and dolls.
Will she slip out of the house early on summer mornings, as I did, to run barefoot down the long drive, picking up the fallen petals of the Japanese magnolias or, crossing the lawn to her grandmother’s house, feel the lush long Kentucky grass under her feet?
The practical problems of running the enormous house would dismay most buyers, but these newest owners, with their memories of happy times and their commitment to creating more happy times there, seem to have the stamina to take the place on…
I wonder if the shade of Mary Lily Kenan Flagler Bingham, the unacknowledged founder of the family fortune who died mysteriously in another big house a few miles down the road, will find surcease in this new incarnation of a house she never knew.
As William Faulkner wrote in Requiem For A Nun, “The past is not dead. It’s not even the past.” But perhaps the past can, with will, imagination and love, be at least partly transformed.