Last week we travelled back East to my first visit into Ben’s world and quietly made it through Connecticut. Although it was culturally shocking to all my senses, I was glad that my husband was so eager to share his life with me.
Gracias a Dios que I spent my introduction to the Greene family with just my mother in law and Ben at first. The rest of the cousins I’d meet at the Manse. Another tweak, Ben called everyone except his brothers, cousins. Asi es, either first cousin Will or second cousin Bankcroft and so on. Muy diferente than our classifications of familia. In large Mexican families it can get complicated. You’ve got tios y tias, then come the cousins. So my brothers and sisters are my kids’ uncles and aunts and my first cousins are also their tios y tias, get it?. Maybe I shouldn’t stir that pot huh?
The Mysterious New Englanders
With so many new waters to tread, I wasn’t sure how well I handled it all, and my suegra? Well she was just like a New Englander, cool, calm and collected no matter what she thought of this spicy or feisty latina! Aqui, right here, in the beginning of this post, I’ll confess that even after almost 33 years of communion with my Benjamin, New Englanders remain a mystery to me.
Maybe Nancy, y no me juzguen, it’s actually very appropriate to use her first name, she encouraged it, no disrespect intended. In spanish I would probably have called her Doña Nancy.
Anyway, maybe she just put herself in my shoes. A young pregnant wife, away from her comfort zone. I’m very much like my ama, if I feel it I show it, if I’m not feeling it, I show it more. Then drench my culture shock with pregnancy hormones, hijole! I felt like Ben needed to school me or warn me about the “New Englander ways,” but he didn’t. Nancy was gracious and patient as I discovered this new world.
In the fews months of marriage I knew from pictures and Bens descriptions that he came from an “upper middle class”. Imaginate! I didn’t even know there was an upper and lower deck to the middle class, and to be fair to Ben, he never really thought of it or considered what “class” he was in. I mean the family pictures on the boat in the ocean was a natural occurrence to him.
Through the house in Connecticut, I saw that Ben’s family was comfortable with money, but it wasn’t like I imagined or saw in movies. Their money comforts were not necessarily in rich clothes or new cars or showy things. My suegra drove a small white honda accord, Nancy was no showy lady.
The Greenes appreciated history, personal history. “Rich” things were items passed down through the generations. They were “rich” in talent and displayed it and yes, they were quite comfortable in their material possessions but they didn’t make a grand affair of their stuff. This helped me to relax…poquito.
After a few days in quiet Connecticut I was glad to be on our way to New Hampshire, I needed some distraction and activity, nature was too noisy for me. It was another beautiful drive of winding back roads lined with huge trees. Everytime Ben turned around to point out a childhood memory, he’d have to wake me up. I was ripping him off of his reminiscing delights with my first trimester, I was nodding off with every curve we took.
It was almost time to meet some more Greenes at the family meeting. They came from everywhere to gather time every summer. We pulled up into a long driveway in front of the huge house. I had already been seeing the white wood siding and green shutter trimmed houses with lots and lots of windows along the way, but this one was different. The Manse was personal, it’s where the Greenes reconnect. Que suerte, the house was empty. Well maybe not luck, but God’s grace, as I needed time to absorb it all.
Acuerdense, los Greenes, they go all the way back to England, before the New World. Pero, no se asusten, I’ll only go back a couple hundred years 😉.
In the late 1700s Laban Ainsworth, the family patriarch, travelled with his wife, on horseback from Woodstock, Ct. to Jaffrey, NH. There he established his ministry and parsonage as the new appointed minister of the small town. Sounds pretty straight forward verdad que si? According to history and family stories it was a very hard time, but when I’ve heard the accounts from any “even keel” Greene, it seemed like no kind of trial ruffled them. I’m trying to tell it just as a Greene, without drama. Pero, surviving scarlet fever, enduring the American Revolution and escaping your house burning down es bien dramatico!
The Ainsworth Manse has remained in the family for 7 generations. The Greene name, that’s Green, with an “e” at the end, linked in when Ben’s great great grandfather, Admiral Theodore Phinney Greene married Señor Laban Ainsworths granddaughter. Mary Minot Ainsworth. From this point the lineage is easier to follow, mas o menos. Their son, Frederick William Greene inherited the Manse. In his lifetime, the early 1900s, he made additions and “modern day” changes as needed. Fijense, check this out, the family has worked hard to preserve the F.W. Greene estate and many of the items within. Remember I told you that antiques are a serious thing in New England? I need to plug in that the other family name is Torrey, which came in when the Torrey brothers married the Greene sisters. These were Ben’s grandparents.
The Greenes/Torreys have managed to enjoy and maintain the Manse in the 21 century, while hanging on to its 19th and 20th century heritage.
Walking Through the Manse
Pasenle, welcome to the Manse. The original house has a large dining room with a fireplace, where the cooking was done, a cooking pot hung in there. Hijole, I am glad the family didn’t insist on that much antiquity. The music room, off to the side, opens to a long patio. A long picnic table is there for dining during the nice summer evenings. It’s encased with a window mesh screen to keep the mosquitos out, but they come anyway! The foyer, a long wide hall where the staircase and front door are, separates the parlor and library. I imagine visitors waited to be escorted to the parlor, or perhaps the library? I’ve read about these scenes in books by Grace Livingston Hill. In my world, visitors called out their greetings from the yard, “Buenos dias Doña Chuy!” Sometimes, the whole visit took place right outside in the yard.
At the Manse, maybe a person was admitted into the foyer hung their heavy coat on the coat rack and waited on the settee. Asi es, pero I had only read about coat racks and settees. Upstairs, each of the 4 bedrooms all had a fireplace for those cold fall and winter nights. In New England people know what four seasons are. The Large bathroom had a deep clawfoot tub. Gracias a Dios, that Ben wouldn’t have to lug water to fill it. The window was small enough, and I wouldn’t have to steam up the bathrooms for privacy.
Then Ben showed me the “L” part of the house, this held the additions and improvements of the early 1900s. The L consisted of a kitchen, a bathroom, backstairs and a storage room. These are all part of a long and dark wide hallway. At the end of the hallway, there is the barn and a privy; an “indoor” outhouse, which I always avoid.
Upstairs, over the L are 5 more bedrooms, and a bathroom and way at end of that upstairs hallway is another privy, this one was a 3-holer, Wacala!
Did I mention that some of the rooms had names because of the people who originally used them or some other notable trait? The Cannon Ball room, The Nursery, The Prophets Chamber, The Boys room, The Canopy Room, Uncle Freddys Room (not at all scary for a California girl 😬). I used to wonder about that tradition, but now I find myself having names for the rooms in our home: Emerys Room, Citas Room, Tatas Room, The Office, the backroom…
The house scared me a little, ok, it scared me alot! It is creaky and dark and it has a deep earthy smell. The ancestors portraits hang on the wall and their eyes follow you when you pass by. Old pictures dan miedo! That first visit, I never went downstairs alone, I’ve grown accustomed to the old house now, but I do avoid those eyes still!
The Manse, in Jaffrey NH is our summer home. Bien huyuyui! We share it with the other branches of the family, dividing up the weeks of summer so that we can enjoy it personally. Every generation has added their modern day comforts, which for the next generation are considered “old fashion” as the years have passed. Horsehair mattresses, yup. Pot Belly stove, utensils and cooking ware from each century, of course the older the more valuable. The Greenes/Torreys believe in hands-on experiences so nothing is too valuable to deprive a family member from using it, eso si, con cuidado por favor. After all these years, I must admit that I’ve still got so much to learn about Ben and our kids’ rich History. Getting to family meetings in the summer has definitely helped my Greene growth and appreciation.
Its such a rare treasure to be able to pass on so much history to our kids. This perhaps planted the seed to research my own history. Years ago Dad and I were stuck in the hospital for days. Talking kept him calm, and the conversation turned to memories. I started writing down his stories. While it may not be as well documented and preserved, I’ve spent years picking my dads brain, documenting those memories and researching all I can. I now have my own treasure trove of history.
Next week I’ll tell you about the cousins and the family meeting.