Just a Taste (to wet your whistle)
I turn the key in the lock and open the front door. It was last closed in 1978 by Stuart Marryat, my first cousin once removed and the final owner of the Marryat Island Ballroom and Lodge. When I told him why I wanted to go back, Stu gave me the key and said I could go in and look around before the wrecker’s ball did its work.
Not much has changed in fifty years. When I step into the spacious front hall and breathe deeply of the musty air, time snaps shut like a paper fan and I’m young again. Young and idealistic. And smug, though back then I didn’t know it.
My grandson walks through the front hall, head bobbing like a pendulum, looking left and right. On the one side is the vast dining room, still furnished with tables and chairs and the large buffet table from which we served and refreshed drinks during meals. Across the hall is the sitting room, where guests reclined to read, converse, play cards or board games or simply to rest. Straight ahead is the front desk, the mail slots, the rows of hooks that still held an odd assortment of room keys. “Wow,” Sean says. “Cool place. Why are they going to tear it down?”
“Too old to pass code,” I say.
“Too bad.” He shrugs.
“Yes, it is.”
“So how old were you when you lived here?”
“Well, I was seventeen when we moved here from Minnesota.” Seven years older than Sean is now. He probably thinks I was all grown up. I thought so too, at the time.
“So what are we looking for?”
“Something I left behind when I moved away. I’m pretty sure it got packed up with some of my other things and was stored away in the attic.”
“But what is it, Grandma?”
“A wooden box. My parents gave it to me for Christmas one year, when I was very young.”
“Just a box? After all these years, why do you want it now?”
I pause and smile. “I’m a sentimental old fool.”
He laughs lightly. “No you’re not, Grandma.”
“Well, there’s something in the box your grandfather gave me. I’d like to have it again.”
“All right. So how do you get to the attic?”
The attic is a large room with a low slanted ceiling and windows across the front and on both sides. With the electricity off in the lodge, the attic is dim and stuffy and smells heavily of must and of things that have been stored for decades. Sean and I go about unlocking and opening the windows to let in both sunlight and fresh air. Then we turn to the task at hand. We are surrounded by an eclectic collection of dusty furniture, old steamer trunks, floor lamps with tasseled shades, wooden crates and cardboard boxes.
“Where do we start, Grandma?”
I turn on my flashlight; he follows suit. “Well,” I say, “we might as well start with these boxes right here.” I shine my light to indicate the pile.
Sean shrugs. “Okay.” He settles his flashlight on the seat of a ladder-back chair and pulls one of the boxes off the pile. He opens the flaps. “While we’re looking through all this stuff, why don’t you tell me about what happened here?” he says. “You know, the summer you moved in.”
I step to the box and move my flashlight beam over what’s inside. “Do you really want to know?” I ask.
“Yeah. You’ve never told me the story, Grandma. Tell me now.”
I think about that a moment. I suppose it is time for him to know. “All right, let’s see,” I say, searching for the place to begin. “You know we moved here in 1931, right?”
“Yeah. But that’s about all I do know.”
I nod. He pulls another box off the pile. Taking a deep breath, I say, “Well, I’ll tell you what, had I known what was waiting for me in Mercy, Ohio, I might not have been so eager leave Minnesota….”
3. Which couple, after years of robbing banks together, finally died together in a hail of machine gun fire?