April Illusion

Fri, 03/04/2022 - 2:30am

Thirty years ago there was a snowstorm on the vernal equinox. I remember it well, I was transitioning from a typewriter to a computer with a word processor and misfiled the piece I had written and had to re-write it. Which, because it was all new, I could recall and still do, opening with putting down my book, turning off the light, and hearing the sound of the plow scraping its way down Mansion Road around midnight.
Time ago, St. Patrick’s Day was a solitary March “holiday,” celebrated by playing bingo in the club rooms above the fire engines in the core of the building that now houses various enterprises of the Leone family. It was the sole concession to the sin of gambling allowed in our house, that winding-down-of-winter
night of chance, run by St. Andrew’s.
The winter population was small and much of it crowded into that space where long tables had been set in the long rooms, and the caller’s voice, without the aid of a microphone, hoarsened as the night wore on. There was no alcohol, at least not in the hall, but part way through plates of treats appeared, pastries and cubes of cheese. There was a kitchen but I recall no bathroom, only an outhouse we all avoided.

One year I won a bust of a lady, painted ceramic with plastic flowers sprouting from her broad hat. I couldn’t have been very old, I loved it and proudly took it home and gave it a place of honor in my bedroom. My mother must have been horrified, she hated plastic flowers but she didn’t say anything, probably as I kept it out of sight and she was a mother and had faith I’d outgrow the fascination. Which I did.

My brother or father won cake mixes one year. We - my mother and I - made one of them. I’m not sure of my expectation, but it didn’t involve having to add so many things; it seemed as much work as the from scratch, to which I was accustomed, without the fun and with fewer dishes to be washed. The second
mix languished on a bottom shelf under the kitchen cabinet for years it seemed, a reminder of days gone by, something we all knew would never be used but
couldn’t be thrown away under some lingering Depression mindset.
There was a raffle but that was an alien concept, and it always seemed someone on the mainland won anyway, lessening the sting of gambling allowed if only by association. There were weekly summer bingos benefiting St. Andrew’s (a member of that parish who graduated from high school when I was in the primary grades said not so long ago words to the effect of “doesn’t matter, they’ll always be St. Andrew’s and the First Baptist Church”) but weekly crossed the game of chance line. Those summer games were held at the Ocean View Hotel, the once grand lady of the Old Harbor, the hotel my great-great-grandfather built but I never set foot in until a this-one-time exception with new friends.

The hotel was big, with a sweeping veranda, a place built for an economy that had died decades before I was born, a life of summering at sea, wearing clothes that arrived in steamer trunks. People comment upon the glory of those times and I see yards and yards and layers and layers of fabric and wondered how they survived wearing all that all summer.
Bingo was in the big ballroom with a stage at one end, the back wall of which was covered with a mural of the Southeast Lighthouse atop Mohegan Bluffs. It was fading but it was easy to see it had been glorious as I later saw in brochures, a fitting backdrop to an orchestra with a harpist. I remember it, and the Marsh family, vacationers who won fudge and shared it with us, and a souvenir metal plate/tray I won.
The Fire Barn was built, the old place that wasn’t even on a road, sort of off Chapel Street, was sold, the Ocean View burned, I truly do not know when the
bingo hosted by St. Andrew’s ceased and the summer games at the Fire Barn began.
But the old St. Patrick’s bingo was no more than a little bump on our way to spring. We left it returning to the cold damp of March.
St. Patrick’s began to change, from an afternoon of, well, green beer, at whatever venue could be found, to the respectable event it is today. It went from a bump to a crack to a milestone, summer cottages evolved into year-round houses and people throw the dice (still gambling!) and have their water turned
on and come for the weekend.
Today, the second of March, I drove around town, marveling at the activity. Front Street was a slalom course with wire stringing and construction lifts and
rows of orange cones. I swung around and headed east on Chapel Street, toward a view I feel is like a movie backdrop, whichever big white boat is at the landing filling the space between the two hotels/shops on the corners. Today I stopped and watched one of the big heating oil trucks, all shining and bright, pass by, then the omni-present red lumber truck, and a U-Haul Moving and Storage panel van from Danbury.
That was my photo and my story this week, the white vehicles and vessel against the blue sky, all framed by the old hotels and storefronts, there was
the on-going work at the Harbor Church and the striping on a part of the road that looks brand new and the general feeling of being on the far side of St. Patrick’s Day, the head-long rush into April.

Then, coming home in the early afternoon I looked over at the beach house and the ocean and the sky and the sand and pulled over, then went back, be-
cause the colors made me happy. Spring comes earlier every year but this is some crazy false positive, it is not real, it is will not last but for today it was, well, happy.