Title: Where All Past Years Are
Author: Joseph Allen
Genre: Family Life
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 2
Buy at: Amazon, Barnes and Noble
Saga of the sprawling Chadwick clan from 1954 to 2015. Highly emotional and affecting, the family will make you laugh and break your heart.
Starting on Thanksgiving Day 1954, the Chadwick family encounters wars, financial crashes, 9-11, and the Great Recession. As a family with a WASP history they discover the wider world that is America, marry across religious, racial and ethnic lines, live, love, laugh and celebrate Thanksgiving and Independence Day at the Old Home on the shore of Lake Champlain near the Canadian border in New York.
The love of husbands and wives, the closeness of relatives who are an increasingly rainbow-like group, the touching beauty of the Old Home on the Lake as some family members move back to the property into new cottages – all are major themes. Children running a three-legged race watch the young man, Gray Chadwick, drop to his knees to beg his pregnant girlfriend, Melissa, to marry him. Births, deaths, burials, 4th of July fireworks, boating and bass fishing, and the strengthening power of love lead to a final surprising and unexpected reunion of two branches of the family for the first time in over three hundred years.
As he headed back up the stairs from the basement with the first of three cases of a good St. Estephe, he could smell biscuits cooking, and chattering women’s voices. When he got to the top of the stairs he could smell coffee too, and in the warm hallway with the excited sound of voices in the kitchen, he thought to himself that it was at moments like this that he really loved being who he was and being there in the Old Home with the genially snobby but sweet-natured Chadwicks; even Pop, who had a sour side, but looked forward to holidays with the eagerness of a child waiting for Santa. It was as though he pumped himself back up and lost at least ten years driving up from Manhattan—which was a long, boring drive for most people.
He put the wine by the door to the dining room and went back and hauled the other two up, one at a time. Then he went back downstairs and finally found a case of Puligny Montrachet; a dry white for those who didn’t drink the hearty reds, especially the meaty, chewy St. Estephe. Then he staggered exaggeratedly into the kitchen and the women handed him a basket of biscuits and a mug of hot coffee. There were three kinds of jam open on the butcher-block table: marmalade, a reddish berry that was probably raspberry, and a dark one that almost had to be grape jelly. All home-made. There was something about Thanksgiving that dictated home-cooking and homemade everything.
It couldn’t last, he thought with a touch of sadness. This house, this time, this group, had more in common with the past than with Ike’s America. All but the children had been through the Depression and at least one World War, maybe two. There was actually a surprising mix of political opinions in the family (mostly Republican, spanning the spectrum), but everyone was agreed that Ike was the right man at the wheel. They learned from Truman, who couldn’t resist a war in Korea, that no one could keep the United States out of war better than Ike, who commanded the troops in World War II. And, he thought with the beginning of a smirk, Ike and the Chadwicks had one thing in common—a wife who at least seemed to be slightly tipsy a lot of the time.
There were no Christmas decorations, because usually there was no one here at Christmas other than the caretaker’s family. The winter around Lake Champlain could be severe, and since there were no mountains, there was no skiing. The house was used a lot in the summer, with Rich and Lizzie keeping a calendar of family members who wanted a week on the lake. There was an optional family gathering for the Fourth of July, with fireworks over the lake, but Thanksgiving was more or less mandatory. He looked around at the beautiful dark wood molding that ran along the tops of the walls, the enormous Persian carpets, and the probably hand-made Chippendale dining table and twelve chairs. Like a movie set. A world on the way out. It would be ruinously expensive to maintain a house like this, but fortunately Pop seemed to have an endless fortune.
“Penny for your thoughts,” a voice behind him called out.
He turned to see Jane smiling from ear to ear. “Just thinking how lucky we are to be here, year after year, and wondering...” He turned away.
“How long it will last? Me too. Pop is the one who keeps it going, and he’s certainly not young.” She put her hand on his forearm, kissed him lightly on the cheek and led him back toward the kitchen. He gestured at the cases of wine and she smiled again and took his arm. “Biscuits and jam in the kitchen, and you can help singe the birds.”
“Maybe Rich will step up when Pop gets too old,” he said.
“Or you,” Jane said, holding his arm with her free hand. “Maybe you’ll step up.”
The bottle of vodka was gone. He peered into the parlor as they passed the door, and a couple of the guys—Connecticut cousins—were sitting on a couch with tumblers of tomato juice. Good for you, he thought.
There were two big turkeys to be roasted, and two big hams. Pies were baking in the two ovens, and the cloying smell of mincemeat floated in the air. He looked over the first turkey to see where the pinfeathers needed to be burnt off. He found a stack of newspapers in the butler’s pantry and spread some of them on the back porch, shivering a bit at the chill. Then he rolled up about an inch of newspapers into a torch and lit the end with his lighter. As it flamed up, he passed it over the areas of the bird where the little hairlike feathers were, and they disappeared as the flame went by, with an unpleasantly pungent smell. Ugh. He tamped out the newspaper torch, took the carcass back into the kitchen and grabbed the other one, repeating the process. He was a little like Lizzie, he thought, a consort rather than a family member. Meant he had to work harder.
“What’s next?” he asked the kitchen.
“Take a breather,” Jane said. “If we need help, we’ll yell.” There were too many cooks in the kitchen, but these women didn’t get to talk to each other often and they never ran short of news or breath. The youngest was about twenty, he estimated, and most of the worker-bees were, like Jane, closer to thirty. Two of the older women were punching bread dough on a flour-covered plank sitting on the counter. Looked like a Saturday Evening Postcover.
He ambled into the parlor and grabbed a newspaper. Premier Mendes France had struck a deal with Habib Bourguiba for Tunisia to be independent. He was set on getting rid of the French colonies.
He had agreed with Ho Chi Minh after the massacre at Dien Bien Phu to withdraw French troops from Vietnam and turn the government over to the locals. Of course he was a Jew, everyone knew that—he looked like a Jew, too—but he had been a fighter pilot in the war and the French liked him.
The French were always unpredictable. They had owned most of north Africa and he was just giving it away, back to the natives. Well, not natives like in the movies, you know, but the locals. Camel drivers or whatever.
Well, Britain was starting down the same path, from the greatest empire the world had ever seen, to a small island with some trade agreements with places they used to own. Look at India. Look at Burma. That Nehru, he was almost British, about as good as India was going to get.
“Where’d you get the tomato juice?” he asked the two men on the couch. “Hi, I’m Ted Semple. I’m here with Jane.”
“In the kitchen,” the blond one said. “I’m Eric Chadwick, and this is my brother Antony.” They stood up and the ritual of handshaking was taken care of. “We met a year or so ago, here in this room, I think.”
“I’m sorry, there are so many people here at Thanksgiving, and my memory of names from last Thanksgiving is faulty. I’ll try to be better.”
“Most people call me Ricky, and everybody calls him Tony. Don’t worry about it. We have an advantage. We’ve been coming to Thanksgiving here all our lives, so we grew up knowing a lot of the people here. Even so, I have a hard time remembering some people—even people I recognize. Just the names go away. We’re from the Massachusetts side of the family. Jane is the Virginia side, or what we call the Virginia side, even though she and her parents and grandparents and probably great-grandparents at least were all born around here. They’ve been living around New York City since before the Civil War.”
Ted smiled and nodded. An advantage, he thought. You bet. The advantage is being a Chadwick and being rich. Who was it said the rich are different from the rest of us? Fitzgerald. And Hemingway said, yes, they have more money. That gets to the bottom of it. He quick-walked back to the kitchen and one of the women poured some tomato juice into a tumbler from a quart can she took out of the refrigerator that had been opened with a churchkey. He headed back to the parlor and asked “Do you have the vodka?”
Ricky shook his head and looked puzzled.
“Oh, sorry. There was a bottle of vodka sitting on the buffet earlier and it wasn’t there anymore. I just assumed when you were drinking tomato juice that you’d picked up the bottle,” Ted said. He looked at the tomato juice and though, hmmm, I don’t even like tomato juice, tastes metallic. He took a swig. At least it was cold. He wandered back to the dining room and looked around. No vodka.
“Looking for this?” It was Sam, and she was holding the vodka bottle. She was always pretty and looked especially fetching with a ruffled apron on and her hair in a bun.
“Thanks,” he said, holding his glass out to her. “I was wondering if I would have to drink this plain.”
“Say when,” she said and started to pour.
“When,” he said. “Just a blessing, not a real drink. I don’t want to be drunk and I would be if I started drinking this early.”
She wrinkled her forehead and he realized what he said had been awkward.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…”
She smiled and wiggled her nose and smiled. “Don’t worry about it. We’re all drinkers, especially at the holidays. Comes with the genes.”
“I smell pies,” he said. And craned his neck around the corner toward the kitchen. The table by the kitchen window was covered with pies. He counted eleven pies. “Help me escape from the mincemeat; there’s something about it.” He shook his head with a shiver.
She tilted her head back and laughed. “Me too. Problem is you have no idea what’s in it, yesterday’s meat or last week’s meat, and could be anything. And so sweet and spicy. That’s why there are so many spices in it, and the raisins and the brandy, because otherwise it would stink. Here, have a dividend,” she said, and held the bottle out.
He poured more into the remaining tomato juice. “Just this once,” he said.
“Right,” she said. “Just this once.” She opened the cabinet door in the center of the buffet and put the bottle inside. “If it’s gone, I’ll know who took it.” And she swept back into the kitchen.
There was a sound of feet running in the hallway above the dining room, and then Lizzie appeared at the top of the stairs. “Help me,” she stage-whispered. “I can’t get Pop to wake up.”