When you walk down the street in the small town you grew up in, you are never merely yourself. You are you, but you are also your affiliated multitudes: yourself at five, your mother, yourself at twelve, your father; one person smiles at your Aunt Matilda, another nods to your father’s cousin Lazarus. You’re the sum of every year you’ve toddled or walked or limped down the street, an inheritance of bloodlines and family alliances and feuds. Mr. Bern at the bakery still slips an extra chocolate chip cookie into your bag for ten-year old you. Miss Gloria at the paper shop still narrows her eyes at the fourteen-year-old you. And at the Reynolds’s anniversary party, Mrs. Welland regards you with feline hauteur, like a Persian on a tasseled pillow. But it’s your mother she’s despising, whom Dad went ahead and married despite what Mrs. Welland considered to be her very prudent advice.
I despise libraries.
Where other people see shelves of treasures, I see a gallery of horrors. Just look at the west wall of our library as an example; it’s lined floor to ceiling with books. Up on the top shelf (which sags slightly in the middle, under the weight of the tedium it must support), The Cabinet of Governor Elbert Lee Trinkle, 1922 – 1926 leers down like a human skull. Protruding over the lip of the third shelf is Flora of the Amazon River Basin, its leather binding dry and cracked like the shriveled carcass of a spider monkey. Hideously ill-conceived, Miss Bridget’s Guide to Raising Little Girls and Boys for Jesus is a slim volume wedged between two larger books, where it floats like a curled fetus in a jar of cloudy formaldehyde.
Nearly every room in Acorn Hill has one or two items of furniture that look a lot like chairs, but actually aren’t. Many is the time we’ve thrown out a hand and stopped someone with “Oh, sorry! That chair’s not for sitting in.” The unfortunate someone will quickly straighten and look behind himself in bewilderment at the not-chair, and then back at us with a hairy eyeball, as if to say, “Well, that’s fine, although where I come from, a chair is a chair, and not an upholstered riddle.”
Immediately after stepping through the front door of Acorn Hill, a visitor will be fixed in the Cyclopean glare of a grandfather clock. It is one of three on the first floor, a triumvirate attended by a court of nine wall and mantel clocks, and the stealth assassin hidden in the garden: the sundial.
Welcome to our home, Acorn Hill.
Acorn Hill was built for a Great Man nearly two hundred years ago. Most people see the house as a monument to him; its columns uphold his legacy, the tall windows reflect his vision, the walls of rosy brick were fired of the same red Virginia clay he was born of. He’s long gone, though. Now my family, the Stewart family, lives here, in thirty-two rooms under a vigil of oaks.