Now that is a house befitting a man of stature,
He said while surveying his new home, his bride,
The second in a series of dark haired beauties
(Her predecessor having died giving birth
To the third of a trio of daughters, she later to be succeeded
By a younger, sultrier approximation of herself),
Demurely nodding in agreement.
It had been designed, all gables, cornices and gingerbread,
By a locally renowned architect (and built by employees
Brought to the project through small bonuses and veiled threats),
And all involved agreed it was the equal of anything
That any firm in New York or Boston could have devised.
The lord of this particular manor had made a fortune in corsets,
Aided by a handful of managers and clerks,
Young men long in promise but short in opportunity,
Their prospects stunted by penury and geography,
As well as any number of Helen Tripps, Mary Donlons, and Anna Nabozcznys,
Girls sweating and sewing and coughing away sixty hours a week
To keep the wolf from their parents’ door
Or perhaps in the hope of building a nest egg of their own,
But in any case waiting for the eventuality
Of finding one of the factory’s laborers
Who possessed an acceptable combination of sobriety and civility,
Or meeting a farm hand from out in Freetown or Texas Valley
At some weekend barn dance who would have enough gumption and brains
To be able to eventually scrape together enough for a down payment
On some small home in one of the more acceptable neighborhoods
Hard by the river.
There was, at last, a son; and so, the patriarch set about the process
Of a making him a man, an heir (though he did make one grudging concession
To the notion of childhood, adding a small cupola to the top of the house
In order to provide the boy with a haven from the tyranny of his sisters),
And so in short order there were boarding schools,
A cut below the Andovers and Grotons
As they were nobility but small-town nobility, and he came to the realization
That there was the rich and the rich, and that his garden-variety affluence
Was no buffer against cruel pranks and the indignity of being the “new boy.”
Indeed, he came to believe that were limits as to what one could possess,
And he began to question whether he possessed anything at all.
There was, after the boy’s second year at Dartmouth, a scandal;
Such a thing would not have turned a single head in Vienna or Berlin,
But this was no Continental metropolis, and there was a factory girl involved,
Which, combined with the usual resentment of the leisure class,
Made the whispers and grumbles louder than usual.
Though any tangible outcomes of the peccadillo were expunged,
And sufficient silences were purchased, the entire imbroglio
Proved both embarrassing and bad for business, so much so
That there could no question of son succeeding the father.
Thus, a son-in-law was plucked from the half-hearted practice of law
To take his place as the heir apparent to the company,
And the son floated quietly westward—Buffalo, Chicago,
Eventually even farther away in mileage and memory,
Until such time he was mentioned only in connection
With rumors of his demise, be it gunned down manning the front lines
Alongside Big Bill Haywood and the Wobblies
Or brought down by weather and wolves
In the search for gold (or perhaps something more ethereal
Yet equally tangible in his own mind) in an unforgiving Yukon wilderness.
The corset factory eventually fell victim to the demands of unions
And the fashion sense of flappers, limping along in pain and desperation
For a few decades before it closed,
A stunted hulk of dirty brick and broken windows
Standing forlornly until it was razed and removed,
Becoming just another chain-linked gaping wound on a corner lot.
The firm’s founder had long since said his good-byes to the cold little city,
Opting to spend his latter years
With sunshine and shuffleboard in St. Augustine.
His grand house passed through a series of families
Who proved unable to meet the demands, fiscal and otherwise,
Of such considerable square footage, and later it was carved up
Into a warren of apartments until it came in to the possession
Of a fraternity from the state school in town, though the building codes people
Would not let them reside there until the add-on cupola
At the top of the building was removed,
As the scrubby fir trees surrounding the property
Had grown to such a height that it had no access to sunlight,
Leaving it to the mercy of damp and decay until it became no more
Than a respite for rats, a haven for silverfish.