Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Long, Green Lawn

It began like any relationship - lunches out, talking on the phone, hanging out at each other's places. When going out to dinner, it was understood that most of the time they went Dutch. She drove a better car than him, a shiny new Accord compared with his beat-up, yellow Civic. They appeared to be equally matched in dress.

The first hint was the summer she was invited to join his family at Martha's Vineyard. Never having been to the Vineyard or even Cape Cod before, she wasn't sure what to expect. Trying to sense the tiny details, she noticed his luggage appeared modest and he wasn't packing fancy - just shorts, tee shirts, and a pair of boat shoes. Excited, she decided to go shopping and carefully chose a pair of white capris, a striped, bateau neck tee, and white sandals. The bathing suit presented a problem. Since it was meant to be a family get-together, she opted for a modest black tank, taking a little chance with the red trim.

All set to go, they boarded the plane together, eyeing the rear for their coach class seats.

His mother and father were waiting at the airport. Feeling keenly observed, she exerted energy to be polite, yet warm. He made simple introductions and the party clamored into in a rusty white station wagon, with bits of wood alongside. What are they called? Woodies? They drove slowly, for what seemed like a long time, with relaxed and friendly talk along the way. She looked out the window as they passed small, wooden houses with cedar shake roofs and other homes set back, too difficult to make out. When they pulled up to a stately white mansion perched atop a long, green lawn, it dawned on her what she had gotten into.

And she was right. There were golf lessons at the club in the morning, sailing and fishing for bluefish in the afternoon, boat rides to watch muted, watercolor sunsets, bike parties to pick wild berries, carefully packed picnics, special buckets set aside for digging clams. At night the talk was about politics, literature, and music - interjected with delicate probes into her family background. The brothers made up a trio and sang robustly, harmonizing salty-dog ballads for our amusement and pleasure.

Was it carefully orchestrated, this disguise of worn out tennis shoes, faded hats sporting frayed edges, not driving a showy car? What sort of people did this and why? She realized she was in the company of old money - solid, comfortable, and almost invisible. It didn't show up in the stuff of newer, less restrained wealth. Unfamiliar as it was to her, it was still such a pleasant place to be. Imagine living with such a long, green lawn.

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