In Dreams and Memory
There’s a picture under the glass on the desk where I work of my sister and me in high school. From the trees in the background I’d guess it was taken late October or early November. We’re only wearing turtlenecks, so it could have been an unseasonably warm day, but we were still tough New Englanders back then, and a single-layer might have sufficed into the low 40s. Now when I visit I've been spoiled by warm New York City winters, apartments with heat blasting that you can't control. I wear a winter jacket now in Massachusetts while locals barely think to grab a fleece. It is a sign of weakness to be cold, something I hate to admit to.
Today Wally asked where the photo was taken. I told him “Drummer Farms, where we used to live.” He was there two times, as an infant, and of course has no memory of it. I don’t miss it I but still-- in my dreams—whenever I picture being home I picture I'm there. I wake up from these dreams with a cozy feeling. It was a fairly small condo; my sister and I always shared a bedroom. I loved it. She hated it. It was the master bedroom, and a pretty good size. She tried various divisions over the years, consenting to give me the bigger half as long as she could have the inside half meaning I’d have no reason to ever cross the boundary into hers. She walked through my half to come and go. I remember we once had a bamboo shade hanging between the two beds that gave an illusion of some privacy. Another time we had a stack of yellow plastic tables we used as bookshelves erected as a kind of wall. She couldn't really escape me.
When she went to college, I mostly took over. She got rid of almost everything except a few VHS tapes of her dance recitals, some photos and books. I had boxes of stuff to sort through and get rid of all through college and the years that followed. A gray stuffed animal kitten “Twinkles” in a little cardboard box made to look like a cat carrier was one of the last things to go.
Wally asked, “Can I go there some day, to Drummer Farms?” I said sure – it’s easy enough to go back there, in fact I have driven through a few times since my parents moved. For condos these ones were always considered pretty – four units together spaced well apart from each other with lots of land and trees. And there was always that lovely moment I’ve described earlier on this blog where friends driving me home would think at first glance that we lived in incredible mansions, that the four units were in fact one.
Why did that matter to me, to have them think that? In that posh town where we’d always had the smallest house among our friends, the only ones with a shared bedroom, the second-hand clothes, the used, breaking-down cars, (I remember even being mocked for getting a winter coat one year for the first night of Hanukah because a winter coat was a requirement and shouldn’t be considered a gift), why did it feel good, just for those few seconds, for new friends of mine and their moms to think otherwise? That we weren’t just equal to them with their grand houses in Patriot’s Hill or on Strawberry Hill Road, or even the nearby Silver Hill (it’s really not all that hilly), but that we lived in an even bigger house, that--in that fairy tale moment of watching their amazed faces--we were somehow superior, the subject of envy.
Even though I knew compared to most of the country let alone in the world we were rich beyond imagination and even though I had everything I wanted. That's what's so strange about it. Even given that I wasn’t immune to that toxic American dream of having the biggest house on the block. I don’t think I would have wanted it, none of the decisions I’ve made in my adult life would indicate that I do, yet the fantasy was there.
Drummer Farms was nice for a condo complex but not an elegant place. It wasn’t run down or decrepit like “Sin City” (I don’t know the real name) and it was a step up from the Briarbrook apartments where we’d lived before. You didn’t have your own land, but the land you had to use – just the backyard even – was immense. And we had plenty of places to wander. Through woods, fields and pathways, and before another development came, a wonderful wild rocky expanse full of weeds and a million hiding places.
Today I thought about what Wally, judging from the name, and the picture—with the land stretching out covered with leaves, the stretch of empty oaks and rows of luxurious pine trees—will imagine it to be. Drummer Farms – does it have animals? Apple orchards? Blueberry vines? Hayrides? A pumpkin patch? Christmas trees? Long ago, it had likely been farmland, but now Drummer Farms is just a group of condominiums, not a particularly attractive neighborhood for anyone moving to Acton these days. A developer had a list of possible names, at one point, and selected the one that would most appeal to homebuyers, that would best suit their vision of climbing up another rung on their ladder from rags to riches, best signal an advance toward some mythic day in the future when they'd accomplish that enchanted dream of owning their own home.
The fantasy of a giant house wasn't what pleased me about living in that place; it was a momentary satisfaction, but hardly factored in at all. What I loved were the paths through the woods, the railroad tracks, the mournful sound of the commuter train, the lawns to play frisbee on, the back porch to read on, the pool, the stone steps, the little mail house, the hill we sled down in winter and shouted echos from in summer, the cozy basement, the tiny kitchen, the view of snow-covered trees, the room I shared with my sister.
Maybe what Wally imagines it to be is what I imagined it to be, a place much grander than it is. "Drummer Farms" sounds like a more charming and picturesque place than it is, but not than more it was--or is still--in dreams and memory.