Christmas at Toad Hall

cc2.jpgI first saw Toad Hall on a feast day in 1983.

We bushwhacked up from Stolte Grove–a mile of uphill pushing– arriving wet, covered with leaves and mulch, and famished. The house itself was invisible until we scrambled up the creek embankment, and suddenly we were standing on the driveway of a building fifty feet high.

ULP!

I looked up and counted five rows of windows. A zig zag staircase led to a front door that had probably come from an old convent, and out came the lady of the hall, my future mother in law.

I had wanted to meet the people who made Charlie, since my previous amour kept me from meeting his mom, and now I felt like this part of the picture was more important than ever. I requested a place at their Thanksgiving holiday table.

I’d had no idea that Charlie hadn’t been back himself–at least not for holidays— for ten years. When Bruce and Carol met us at the door (les bra zouverts), I could tell there was not only delicious food, a place set for me, but also peace and tolerance within those stucco’d redwood walls…

A hundred feast days have come and gone, and the man of the house is deeply missed, especially when the wind blows against the windows. The mere fact of the bombproof Hall is his lasting legacy.

And the lady has stayed on.

This Christmas repast Marcie Collin came too–partly because she’s tired of long distance holiday travel, and partly because we need her there, another Very Wanted Person.

The table had all corners pinned down, and a half dozen dripping black tapers flickered through the evening.
We mostly yakked about the incredible trip to France of 1972 , when Carol researched every possible Loire Valley castle, and along with Bruce, Marcie and Diane Weiss they had the trip of a lifetime.

But since I wasn’t there I listened like it was a fairy story with unguarded castles, friendly Frenchmen: “and these days, I doubt anybody gets to have a whole museum to themselves , while the guard has lunch!”

Three pairs of hands impressed me (mine were the odd ones, featuring cann-nibblized digits). Marcie’s strong ceramicist hands, deft with dolls and painstaking with paint….Carol’s have lost some of their strength but none of their character, and there’s that huge gold ring that got thrown out, then found in the compost heap…hands that made more than eighty editions of fine fine books…and of course Charlie the mollifier of all things shitty and fabricator of all things beyond fine. …

To be with a real family even a bit smaller than usual, was enough. It is more than enough… to let me dwell even temporarily in this castle on this night, knowing full well that it can’t be like this forever, and I might as well just take it all in.

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