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Funny

The Been Heres

           “Have you met them yet?” Sarah peeks through the lace curtains of my parlor window at the moving van parked in front of the house across the street. At another window I discretely watch men remove furniture from the truck and take it into the house that has stood vacant for as long as I can remember.

“Oooh. Look at that sideboard. Surely it’s Elizabethan?” Sarah turns to me for confirmation.

           “It is beautiful, but not a year before William and Mary, surely.” If I know anything, it’s antiques.

“Careful! We don’t want them to think we are nosy,” I cautioned. “There’s nothing worse than nosy neighbors. And, no, I haven’t met them yet, but this evening I’m going to take them a basket of breakfast breads, so they’ll have something to eat tomorrow morning. You know banana nut is my specialty.

Whoever they are, they’re fortunate to get a house on this street. I might be biased, but Mulberry Lane is, by anyone’s standards, the most beautiful street in the small town of Bingingham. In summer, the mulberry trees lining each side of the street are luxuriantly green, providing cool, lacey shade. In autumn, as it is now, the gorgeous colors of their leaves transform the trees into colorful parasols marching down each side of the street. Mulberry Lane is one of the oldest streets in our town, and there is certainly nothing like it in the ghastly suburbs that splay around the town’s outskirts.

Bingingham is divided into the two categories - the “Been Heres”, who can trace their history in the town back centuries and the “Moved Heres”, who have arrived within the last one hundred years. When a “Been Here” dies, the house either remains in the family or is discretely sold to another “Been Here.”  The houses are never sold publicly. Mulberry Lane is coveted among the “Been Heres”, who know and appreciate its history, which stretches back to before the War of the Roses. Indeed, when that conflict ended and the victor was proclaimed, residents of this street rushed to their gardens to plant bushes of red roses and remove any traces of white roses. Even today, each yard boasts at least one red rose bush. Not even pink roses are allowed as they are merely red grafted with white. The “Moved Heres” could never appreciate such history. For this reason, there has never been a “Moved Here” on this street.

           “Enough of this!” I declare. Come to the kitchen with me.”  The tantalizing scent of the baking banana bread tells me it is time to take the last loaf out of the oven.

Sarah follows me into the kitchen with its cracked grey linoleum floor and bright yellow curtains in the window. “Be sure and call and tell me what you find out. Then, I’ll call Holly Grantham, and she can get the telephone chain started, so everyone will know who our new residents are by morning. She looks toward the house across the street. “It’s such a stately old house. Isn’t it older than yours?” She is goading me because she knows I take great pride in having one of the oldest homes in the town.

           “Certainly not! Why, you know my ancestors were among of the founders of this town, right alongside Thomas Bingingham. We don’t even know for certain who built that house. It’s been tied up for years in some estate – or so my mother once told me.”

           “Haven’t there been workmen there recently?”

           “Yes. I tried to inquire of them who purchased the house, but they didn’t know. The supervisor told me they were hired by a barrister in London to take care of the repairs.”

           “Have you been inside it?”

           “Of course not. I don’t want them to think we are prying into their business.” I am a bit put out at her suggestion I would be so nosy. After all, a “Been Here” would never do such a thing. A worried thought passes through my mind. I anticipate many questions about the new residents of the house across the street. As the Lady Chairman of the BWS – the Bingingham Women’s Society, I need to device a plan to address these questions with the utmost rapidity, especially since the house is on my street, Mulberry Lane. It goes without saying that all members of the BWS are “Been Heres.”

           I turn to Sarah and decisively instruct her, “Have the ladies of the BWS join me here at seven o’clock this evening. At that time, I will announce who the new residents of Bingingham are and answer any questions they may have.”

           “Of course,” the usually compliant Sarah replies and hastens off to begin her chore.

***

           I discretely watch the house the rest of the afternoon as another van arrives, and its furniture is unloaded. I see a person, who must surely be the new owner, appear at the door to briefly direct the process, and I use the opportunity to walk Baxter, my six year old Pembroke Welsh corgi. Baxter is surprised at the unaccustomed exercise but accepts the task with royal patience. I was told his mother was a littermate of one of the queen’s corgis, you know.

           I catch a brief glimpse of a tall young man who appears to be in his mid-thirties --brief because he quickly disappears again into the house after shouting an instruction to the movers. I walk back and forth in front of the house two more times, but I see no more of the young man or any family that might be accompanying him. Frustrated, I return to my kitchen to prepare the basket of breakfast breads for delivery later. Another glance between the parted curtains confirms the noise I heard was the pantek cranking and leaving.

           I head across the street with my basket at a time I hope to be invited in for tea and knock confidently on the impressive oak door. No answer. Once more, I knock. This time I can hear footsteps approaching from a distance. A man quickly opens the door and sticks his head out, “Yes?”

           I indicate my basket, “I want to welcome you to Bingingham and Mulberry Lane, Mr….”

I pause, hoping he will fill in the blank for his name.

           “Just call my Bill,” he instructs and takes the basket. I detect an American accent. Surely not! But he confirms it as he steps back and opens the door wider, “Please come in. I just found my coffee pot. Come have some with me.” Coffee at this hour? Uncivilized, I think. We settle in the kitchen for the tea routine, but with coffee. I pretend I like the bitter brew and wish he had unpacked the sugar as well as the coffee pot.

“I am Amelia Armstrong,” I begin.

 “Nice to meet you,” Bill says but again does not supply a last name.

           I sip my coffee and supply useful information about the town. Bill listens politely but does not add much to the conversation. Seeing his failure to introduce himself, I try my detective skills to draw him out. “And you moved here from?”

           “Yes,” he agrees, but gives me no specific location. Instead, he provides generalities, “I’ve moved around a lot. My father was in the service. Never in any place very long.”

           “Oh?” I sniff and try not to sound superior. Dragged from pillar to post. How could such a person appreciate our fine town and this lovely street?

           He looks around the kitchen. “I have quite a bit to do in here.” He gazes at the lovely ornate molding along the ceiling. “It’s all a little stuffy, isn’t it? I’ve called a designer in London to help me bring this house into the twenty-first century. I’m thinking mid-century modern. I definitely want to make the house more my style.”

           What is mid-century modern, I wonder? And which century is he referring to? I look around. The house probably began as an abode for a wealthy merchant, and over the centuries, it had grown into an impressive, stately home ringed by an ornate iron fence with climbing red roses.

           “And the yard, or course,” I realize I have missed part of what he is saying. Must catch up.

           “The yard?”

           “I’ll tackle it myself, I think. The first thing I will do is pull up the bushes that are all tangled in the fence, and I’ll cut down several of the trees as well. They just make a mess in the yard. I like a clean lawn. What kind of trees are those anyway? They seem to be everywhere.” He looks at me for an answer.

           “Mulberry,” I manage to choke out. “Mulberry trees.”

           “Well, they’re going to be Null berry trees soon,” he laughs at what he thinks is a clever joke.

           “I must be going,” I say in a rush, and leap up from the table. He follows me to the door. Before I leave, I will try one more time, “Bill, (I hate to call people I scarcely know by their first name) I didn’t quite catch your last name?” an open-ended question.

           “Sorry, didn’t realize I hadn’t told you. Bingingham. Like the town. My name is Bill, or rather William Bingingham.”

           I gasp. “Oh! Bingingham?”

           He laughs. “Yes, apparently one of my great-greats helped start this town. Family lore says he was beheaded for being on the wrong side of some war a long time ago – something to do with roses? What a silly thing to fight a war over, don’t you think? At any rate, my great uncle eventually inherited it and when he died, it came to me as his next of kin. None of the relatives who inherited the house previously were ever interested enough to move to England, but I thought I’d give it a shot.”

           My mind is reeling from all this information. The man our town was named for was beheaded for disloyalty to the throne? That would be treason, surely? How does this reflect on my family who, with the Bingingham's, helped found this town? No, this simply cannot be right. This American obviously does not know our history, even if he is a descendant of the original Bingingham.

I cannot think about this right now. I must change the subject to something more palatable. I look around the room where we are standing, “What beautiful antiques,” I say in appreciation of the impressive furnishings.

           “Yeah,” he acknowledges. “They’re old all right. All this furniture was in climate controlled storage until the house was occupied. I had it brought out so the designer can look at it when she comes. I’ll probably just sell it all,” he shrugs not realizing the travesty of his words. “Well, thanks again, Amelia. Nice of you to come over.”

           Amelia. Not Mrs. Armstrong. Such familiarity! Glad to end the visit, I hasten across the street and have just put prepared a pot of tea when the ladies of the BWS arrive. “Take a seat in the parlor,” I instruct them when I answer the door. “I’ll just be a minute.”

           I hear the women’s anticipatory chatter as I approach the parlor with the tray of tea. They have no idea of the gravity of the news I must convey. I have already decided that I cannot possibly share all I learned about our newest resident and his family. Subjects this serious must be approached cautiously. I set the tray on the table and solemnly announce, “Ladies, we have a problem.” The room grows silent as they realize the seriousness of my words. I indicate the house across the street.

 “We have a “Been Here” who is also a “Moved Here.” The room sits in stunned silence as I continue, “And what, in God’s name, is mid-century modern?”

                                                          ###

September 17, 2020 16:50

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