The Codman Place
"Had Seven Hundred Here"
The attic was serious territory. No one …had been in that space. My grandmother knew this. Actually; she didn’t know it: SHE COULD SMELL IT. In hindsight I now understand that her sense of smell didn’t need to be too keen for …relativistic-ally… HOW was an antiquarian gonna get “up there”. They’d ah have to go (“talk their way”) through the downstairs, wangle into the upstairs and then PUSH ON to the attic. The logistics of this maneuvering without… little bundles of money with rubber bands around them… being dropped every few feet… did not seem… something one of the hammer-head door-knocking antiques pickers could “pull off”. And they hadn’t.
We moved back to the storage room above the kitchen. My grandmother presumptively opened the attic stair door …without asking… right away. (This is a tactical action worth remembering for I have used it, meeting no resistance, for years. The promptness and grace of execution extended to an “OBVIOUSLY we’re going THERE” demeanor binds it’s success ratio.) A short, dark and enclosed with… lush Maine 19th Century pumpkin pine… staircase shot straight up to a dim light above. Again, in line, we all bumped up this stairs. I followed my mother who went first. At the top of the stairs was a small open area but this quickly closed down as rows of boxes and trunks formed long double lines back under the eves of each side of the …room. It was neat. It was, as attics go, clean. There was just light enough from the small windows at each end, to see “everything” in one extended gaze. My mother promptly walked down the center isle between the lines of boxes and trunks. ALL of these appeared to be FULL. This is unusual.
I knew everything was full because I walked behind my mother and she reached toward any container she thought might be empty only to find, with a slight tug, that it was full. These rectangular cubes of dark antiquarian color stood like silent monoliths equally spaced from each other as if to form… in their own pattern… a Stonehenge or antiquarian chevet… ! Even with my weakness as youth I recall precisely my captivation with the precision of this standing formation AND it’s hallowed ground of “OLD”. Further, and unappreciated by me at this time, but denoted in private by my seniors, was that as these aged containers stood, it was very evident that what was “up here” had been “up here” “a long time”. AND… excepting a very few cardboard boxes at the head of the stairs… nothing had been put up here in “a very long time”. Even the “head of the stair” items held urgent fascination. My grandmother had already picked up an odd house shaped pine box; in the shape of a reliquary, that was covered with decoupage paper engravings of American military heroes from the War of 1812. I can offer this precise a description of this object because I… kept it in my bedroom for the …next decade. At the time… she simply sat it back down without comment.
By the time my mother and I had returned from the far end of the attic, my grandmother had come back from the near half. My mother went up that way but I was held back by that reliquary passing up from the darkness into the light for a moment and then, much to my urgent dismay, BACK into darkness before I could requisition a moment with it. My eyes had seen “soldiers” and… at the slight noise I began to make next to my grandmother, a jab on my side shut that sound off. I learned the hard way to “shut-up”.
When my mother returned from her quick walk up the isle, almost NO conversation followed. A mutter from my grandmother about “no furniture” and “dirty enough” clattered into my mother’s “old clothes” and “much of it” being “to far gone”. This last was touched with the “new roof?” phrasing that I have seen deployed by other skilled pickers. A “back-off from the subject” or false trail of chatter is formed by offering the “When did you… PUT ON… a new roof” even though it may be pathetically evident that NO new roof was EVER put “on”. This verbal suggestion of proper property management plays off a homeowner’s persistent phobia of “needs a new roof” and that means… spending “a lot” of money and… well… that DOES change the subject AWAY from “the stuff” …most of the time. Here it worked like a golf ball being putted in from the very edge of a hole for… NO “new roof” had become “sell the house” WITHOUT ONE “we decided”. Clunk went the ball into that hole and… down stairs we all went; all the way DOWN TO THE KITCHEN.
How is that for smooth? Them two had just looked at a “LOADED” attic and … managed to not only NOT look at anything but had NOT discussed it in any but the most vague terms with the owners. AND already LEFT without these principals making the slightest effort to suggest in anyway that… the stuff “IS SOMETHING” and they… should look at it if they plan to make an offer on it? OH is this a wicked skill perfected! And few can do it with the slither of a snake shedding it’s skin that my grandmother would do it. HER snake skin IS PROBABLY STILL on the floor of that attic where she shed it with SUCH grace that… she glistened with a glow of monetary intent when the whole group of us caucused about the kitchen table.
Using the motions of placing the rubber banded bundles of money on the “These are one hundred dollars and those are five hundred dollars… each” kitchen table she, inclusive of “RE-ADD that won’t you please” to my mother of the …little slip of paper and then… bending over it again herself after placing it in plain view before all… . “I don’t have enough in my purse here won’t you get the LITTLE RED BAG out of my glove compartment” to me and I did that like the “good boy” I received when I returned.
I had missed a final number? I had, I supposed for Richard had hundreds of dollars in his hand and his wife was counting her handful of money and saying “This is right”.
“NOW AS WE GO ALONG,” said my grandmother “You must tell me WHEN those rooms are READY and we will make up for what ELSE you decide (note the deployment of the two words) you DON’T WANT but that is as near as I think we can figure it today from what you have settled”. (Note the affirmation of the contents…to be understood… to be resolved and… therefore… no further need to “view” it. The specific and intentional shift is to presume “all” is “sold” except what THEY “else” “decide” and …must bring up as “themselves”.) “I will go and get (her man) and why don’t you get your car while…” and she paused… “I DO think there IS some paper and boxes in the back of my car so IF you would start to pack in the UPSTAIRS of the barn. MIND Richard for he will TELL YOU what is HIS.” She said all this in the round to the room, then to my mother, then to me and then… to Richard. He nodded his approval of the directives. His wife had reached to him for the bundles of money but he had put her aside with one hand and the folds had been put into two side pockets with his far hand. The wife still held on to the last bundles and said to no one in particular the she “had seven hundred here”.
 : The warmth of this wood; a wide, smooth, mellowed to a full, often times dimensional in it’s appearance, surface, enclosed in …centuries of protective darkness (as here found) WITHOUT the chance for repeated regular surface abrasion is not “a wood” encountered outside of or… far from… it’s original setting. One may be “shown” “authentic New England pine paneling”, etc., but… outside of it’s original and… preferably forever undisturbed (by, for example. “being painted”) placement… it rapidly looses it’s unique grip on the eye. Here, as in many other “first contacts”, I, as an antiquarian, am enveloped within the elegant and…. desperately difficult to actually find these days… only true way to fully enjoy “why” “people” “relish” this “wood”. More off then not MOST PEOPLE cannot understand what I am mentioning here because THEY HAVE NEVER, ever, BEEN NEAR such an “original setting” so “think I’m crazy”.