Rereading some of the old entries on this makes me want to write. How egoistic. I did tell Kate I’d write about the trip to Ohio though, so I have double motivation.
So Robyn came with me! It was such a great girls’ trip. I picked her up at her house after I’d got the rental car, which was four door with a cd player and climate control. I told Robyn that it’s a misnomer because if you want to nitpick, my car is truly climate controlled. I can’t drive it in the rain. The wipers don’t work, despite an old post I just reread in which I waxed eloquent on the virtues of fixing your own car and crescendoed violently with a promise to fix my wipers. That never happened. This car was gorgeous and smelled new. It was new. I picked up Robyn who was fine until she got in and then the new clean smell overwhelmed her and she said she had to take a shower because the car was making her feel dirty. So then I felt dirty and we went back to my house, which is on the way to Ohio, and we took showers and I let her use my new Chanel wash which came with lotion and perfume. We were very liberal. Robyn likes to say that nice perfume smells like money and we wanted to match the car, which, truth be told, was only a compact Chevrolet. It was new though, which counts for a lot. We set off exactly at ten with exactly one baby, two cds, and ten pairs of shoes.
It was bound to happen. All those factors. New perfume that smells like money and a new car and climate control and Patti Smith. I was trying to explain this to Rebecca, Ashley’s sister, but I was shrieking with laughter and she didn’t understand my garbled explanation. What happened, I suppose, was that we attained a superhuman level of ego. There’s this track on Patti Smith’s Horses called Horses and it’s like eight minutes long. You might have to listen to it to understand. It crescendoes right at the beginning, practically. Johnny in his leather jacket is smashing his face into the locker when suddenly (suddenly) he’s surrrounded by.. HORSES! HORSES! Black, shining, coming in/from all directions.. etcetera. So we were on the interstate, screaming HORSES! HORSES! and being generally a danger to society. There was a dinner planned for that evening by Ashley’s mom, a fancy dinner party (which turned out to be 1920’s themed but I missed that memo) and we were all supposed to be dressed to the nines. Well I was all for going to a thrift store and buying ugly frilly dresses and packing nothing else so that we’d have to wear them all weekend, but Robyn pointed out how fun it would be to go to a department store and get nice dresses. So we stopped at a Dillard’s on the way up and by that time we’d probably listened to Horses three times and we had this rich person complex directly attributable to the perfume/car. We were a couple of lunatics in the store. We bought two gorgeous dresses and we veered round to the perfume section where we distracted the saleslady so we could spray tons of perfume from the samples while she wasn’t looking. Robyn hissed, “Get my bag!” and we sprayed everything within reach. The woman came around the corner while I was spraying my scalp and Robyn lurched into the counter laughing. Back in the car we reeked. It was almost unbearable. We had to roll the windows down and I got a headache. I told Robyn that no matter how rich we become, I never want us to lose that tacky edge.
It was a beautiful ride up. We had The Evens as well as Patti Smith, which matched the landscape well. It was fairly slow going, actually, because even though I drove fast we kept stopping for things. Like when Robyn spotted the horses in a pasture and we freaked or when she wanted a picture of us in front of the mountain tunnel and we pulled off the road. Or all the toll booths littering the Blue Ridge Parkway. The leaves were just starting to turn and I can’t wait till autumn.
This is supposed to be about the weekend, not the drive up there, so I’ll skip to the part where we got fantastically lost and finally ended up at the top of the lane on top of a mountain in Pomeroy, a little town just across the Ohio River from West Virginia. There was Tony, Martha’s husband, who is very quiet and very creative. He makes flowers in the garden out of old glass dishes and is fond of Delft blue but you wouldn’t know it to look at him. And there was the butler!! He was some 17 year old high schooler she’d engaged to serve dinner and I was expecting a boy who thought it was all beneath him but as it turned out, he was this big solid young man with a big grin on his face and he just chuckled happily the whole time and Martha called him Mr. Wagner. They took our luggage down to the house which is the most beautiful house, it’s old and has all the original wood and a long deck and crooked stairs and all the girls were there in the living room. Martha, Ashley’s mother, and Rebecca, his older sister who’s pregnant and glowing, and his stepsisters Anita and Melita. Anita is blonde and thin as a rail and Melita is bigger but favors Helena Bonham Carter, who is an absolute beauty. Everyone except Rebecca was in black, with feathers and boas and high heels. Martha had a beaded headband with her hair curled over it and two long curls from above her ears that looked sort of Hasidic but really worked quite well with the theme. Rebecca wore a long beaded shift the color of night with a turban which was amazing. Her belly is enviable for two months in the family way. You can’t hardly tell.
My dress was a bit scandalous but since it was only women and Mr. Wagner, I wasn’t worried. Robyn had this grecian looking gown, red with one strap. We were teetery on matching shoes that we’d bought earlier in the throes of Horses/perfume egomania. The dinner table was gorgeous. Martha had her real silver out and cloth napkins and placecards and menu cards. And she and Tony had made everything themselves (although we pretended not until we’d changed out of our costumes.) There were shrimp cocktails with garlic and herbs served with sweet heavy cream– such an ingenious idea. Tomato bisque and white fish with butter and ravioli with cheese and the first brussel sprouts I’ve ever enjoyed and cinnamon orange ice cream which she’d concocted out of her wizardry. It was, without a doubt, the best ice cream I’ve ever had. I want to make it for winter. And at the end, flourless chocolate cake, which seems to be a fancy name for chocolate. We’d forgotten to get Annie a ballgown so she ran around on the carpet in her diaper and a string of pearls obligingly donated by Anita, who has children of her own. Martha asked Mr. Wagner to snuff one of the candles at one point, and he chuckled and grinned and went to the piano and snuffed it with a candle snuffer!! It was perfect.
Around the time of the cinnamon orange ice, Martha told us that she wanted to relate the latest scandal of Pomeroy. Everyone leaned forward on their beaded boas in attitudes of intrigue and I remember wondering how it could possibly be pertinent to us. She said, “My old friend Captain Diderot, a steamboat captain” –cries of delight here from me– “was recently waylaid by pirates and his bounty stolen.” –gasps from me– “Since it is during Prohibition, it wasn’t liquor that was stolen.” Which was when I realized it was make-believe, the preamble for the treasure hunt that was planned for the morrow. Martha continued, “It is your quest to find the missing treasure of the good Captain, and all I have are some love letters with which he entrusted me.”
Love letters! From his darling Lily! Each of us had one, and they were sealed with red wax and embossed with a nautical button, leaving the anchor imprint. We had retired to the living room and were drinking coffee and amaretto liqueur. I was horribly fat in my clingy gown, which had fit before we ate dinner, so I reclined on the couch and sipped amaretto cordial. I noticed that my letter smelled of perfume (which I realize, now, is a huge clue, but we just thought it was a good touch at the time.) We read them out loud. Each letter had a clue; for example, mine was reminiscences about the dances they’d been to and the salty air and I believe a reference to the frontpage news about a steamboat crash which was featured in the Pomeroy Gazette. The next day, Martha suggested, we ought to go investigate these places around town and see what the good townsfolk had to say.
Robyn and I were spoiled with the biggest bedroom. Martha and Tony had let us use their room for the weekend. It had rosy and white wallpaper and long windows and they’d even put a little coffeepot and granola bars out. In the morning, we went downstairs and ate breakfast at the kitchen table (before I forget, isn’t a houseful of girls the best thing in the world? I love the cluttered bathroom with both outlets occupied by hair curlers and bobbypins in the sink and a thousand face creams and clothes all over the floor.) We had breakfast and got dressed and gathered up our love letters which Annie had tried to eat, and we walked down the steep lane to the town proper. On the way was a little bar and we stopped in. Rebecca’s letter had mentioned the Bungtown burger, so we had to inquire about it. I wasn’t about to say Bungtown burger to the two men in the bar, so Rebecca did and they said to try the bar next to the courthouse. They were very admiring. It was flattering. My ego could use the occasional trip to bars in rural Ohio.
We came to a church with German stonework on the front, which may have been in Melita’s letter. There was a small manilla envelope tied with a white ribbon to the rail. First clue! It was a piece of a puzzle with writing on it which I identified as the shape of West Virginia. Fortunately I didn’t have to figure out the treasure hunt by myself, because it was nowhere near the shape of WV and furthermore, WV had nothing to do with it. The other girls were much more practical and it got us a lot further. There was a holiday in Pomeroy that weekend and lots of people were around and there was a chili cookoff and oh, we did find the Bungtown burger bar, and the bartendress had never heard of Captain Diderot, but someone spotted an identical manilla envelope and so we had another piece of the puzzle. We ate chili and I had a funnel cake which Annie ate with great gusto and we found the other clues.
We had lunch back at the house and took an intermission to visit the Victorian manse that Martha and Tony want to buy. They’ve made an offer on it which seems absurdly low to me, being from Chapel Hill, but really, honestly, it’s the house of my dreams. It’s about halfway up your shin high with rubbish from squatters and druggies. There was a long driveway that was mostly collapsed and a carriage house (!) and further on, the house itself. Can you imagine showing visitors your carriage house?!
The pictures say more than I could. It was gorgeous. Three stories high (four if you count the basement) and the ceilings were twelve feet and the living and dining rooms (both huge) were connected by pocket doors, these sliding heavy wooden doors and the parquet was intricate and the original fixtures were all still there. The kitchen was the size of my house almost, this huge airy kitchen with reddish tiles and long windows that went upstairs on a servants’ staircase in back. There was so much trash in this place. Old mattresses with cat hair and pee and it reeked of cat spray. On the porch Robyn saw powder and spoons and a syringe. I thought it was crack because of the spoons and the blackened soda can bottom, but Shady thinks it was probably heroin. All I know is that we were so careful of where we stepped. In one of the bedrooms upstairs, the biggest and prettiest– it was flooded with light from the original windows which are gigantic and wavy with age and pink wallpaper and a fireplace with a white painted mantel– in this room of light and beauty there was graffiti over the door and mantel from the squatters, all about weed and being high, and we saw a huge Gladware box about halfway high with white powder. What I want to know is how come it’s still there? The people are gone because there was a raid on the house, but wouldn’t you think that their friends would’ve come afterwards and gotten all the drugs? Thoughts on what it was? What they had done to that house, though, was a real shame. I do know that if Martha gets the house, I will go through that grass outside with a fine-toothed comb before I let Annie play in it.
I can’t write any more about the house. It’s too perfect. From here on I’d just be saying how it’s my dream house and how you can see the Ohio River through the trees and how .. I have to stop. I swore to Martha that if they get it I will refinish every floor in the house for them.
We went back to Martha’s house so we could finish the treasure hunt. All the pieces taped together made a poem of how to get to a place. We drove to this electrical substation or whathaveyou and then got out and started hiking up the mountain. We made a wrong start into the woods and Martha was going along with it but Tony was grumbling and kept hinting that maybe we should think more.
I was hoping that I had a picture of the puzzle but I don’t think I do, at least, not so you can read the text. It was very poetic and I loved it. It had clues like, 35 paces from where the forest opens and the grassy knoll appears, look to the left for a singular sight. We hiked up this really steep trail and we made Anita carry the baby, Anita who’s pushing 40 and who is still thinner and fitter than all the rest of us. The map said, you will see a tree lying in another’s arms and the crown points towards the biggest vine you’ve seen today which is hanging from the locust. Melita, bless her, knows what a locust tree looks like. I didn’t. I was looking for an infestation. We got it wrong and Tony was getting antsy and told us to go back and recount 35 paces. Robyn and I, who were heading the party at that bit, were taking what we imagined were Diderot-sized paces, which turned out to be much too big. So we found it and found the tree that it was pointing at, and Anita and I careened down the cliff and found the TREASURE CHEST!!! A REAL TREASURE CHEST!!! It had brass studs and a lock and everything! So we pulled it up and everyone came around and in the top was a letter from Capt. Diderot to his darling Lily and it read that he hoped she liked it, love, your Captain. AND INSIDE WERE ANTIQUE PERFUME BOTTLES!!!!! Everyone had one; Martha (I mean Capt. Diderot) had selected which one for which girl. Melita, who loves dragonflies, had a glass bottle with pewter dragonflies swarming all over it and Robyn had a bulbous one with white raised spots that was funky and weird and would match her room perfectly. I forget what mine was but there were others in the bottom of the trunk that we could exchange for if we preferred, and I found one that was infinitely delicate, blush pink, with a stopper that you pull out to dab on your wrists and behind your ears and anywhere, as Coco Chanel said, that you want to be kissed. Diderot had been to Paris and bought Lily samples of Chanel No.5 in small bottles, so we each got one to put in our vintage perfume flasks.
There is absolutely no way to express just how this magnified Robyn and my newfound perfume/horse obsession. We were both kind of stunned with mania. I remember laughing with fanatical glee so hard I almost tripped and fell down the mountain. When we got home we all rested on Martha’s sunlit porch and read glossy magazines and played MahJong, a beautiful old set that belonged to Ashley’s grandmother.
We all wanted to see the fireworks that night so Anita, Melita, Rebecca, Robyn and I went out to the river and watched the show. I love the thick muffled bang they make and the way the smoke lingers, backlit by the next. I traded Robyn a sample bottle of Guess and an imaginary horse with a chestnut coat for her Chanel. We were so drunk on imaginary power that I don’t believe she realized the horse was imaginary. Neither did I, actually. We walked around the stands and lost the others, so we went to the very end to apply more perfume. I made her hold the velvet pouch while I applied it and she sniffed enviously. I’m laughing as I write this. It was extremely ceremonious. She held it like an acolyte, reverently. I tipped the tiny bottle against my wrists and stoppered it with my thumb, which I flourished in the air and allowed her to smell. People started looking at us then, so we went to go find the others. Anita and Melita had talked about going to a bar, so we went to the aforementioned Bungtown Burger place (I don’t remember the name of the bar) and there was this amazing blues band playing, Mojo something, with a black dude who was tearing it up. He wore a green suit with shell earrings and white leather dress shoes. They looked like that bumpy leather that you see in tiendas. Robyn and I danced in the corner with a little talent and a lot of verve and despite our semi-hidden spot, people clapped and the band oriented themselves a little towards us and an older man came and danced awkwardly with me. We called him Captain Diderot.
We got back late to the house and went to bed. Robyn and I fell asleep laughing. Sunday morning we went to a flea market down the road and I got Annie a couple Caldecott books and a sweet little Swiss polka-dot dress in blue. We drove Rebecca to the airport which was on our way home and I wanted to take Robyn to Tamarack, which Ashley calls the Worst of West Virginia. He always says if I’m good this year he won’t take me to Tamarack. It’s one of those old lady places with nice tiled bathrooms and sanitizer bottles and carved wooden canes and ugly pottery. We just went to the Burger King, where we ate disgusting food in a dimly lit glass room overlooking the highway and I became convinced that everyone there was a serial killer. We left in a hurry and escaped the killers. The sunset was gorgeous. Annie slept all the way home.