Monoo’s Attic

My mom’s mother was always “Grandmother” to my siblings and me, but to her friends she was known as Monoo. She was a world traveler, interior decorator, storyteller and collector of curiosities.

Photo by P.T. Sullivan

Our Christmas visits to her house were full of unusual (for us) formalities, like enforced table manners and a basic dress code, but the holiday’s wonders were somehow intensified by these alterations in our behavior. The trip down the stairs on Christmas morning by my brother and me was delayed until every member of the extended family was present with a cup of fresh coffee or juice and a slice of nut bread at hand. Of course, my dad would be set up with whatever recording device was popular at the time: A Super 8 movie camera chronicled our dashes for the heaps of presents.

But for all the excitement (and sometimes disappointment) of discovering what was in those gaily wrapped boxes under the tree downstairs, it was trip up the stairs to a secret door near our bedroom that I remember.

By the bookshelf on the second-floor landing was a framed opening, just large enough to stoop though, that led to Monoo’s attic.

There were only a dangling bulb and a single window to illuminate the angular space and, with so many layers of the past boxed and stacked, the attic took many Christmases to explore. We’d pour over old books and letters, unzip ancient military uniforms, and poke through envelopes packed with cruise ship menus and photos printed on cards from exotic places Grandmother had traveled.

We learned that the formidable woman, who corrected our posture and grammar, had herself once been young, and had odd affections for paper crafts, dalmatians and Japan. On her voyages to distant lands were galas with “dance cards” where she made friends who left her sweet notes. It was a fragmented record of her life, but more revealing than the conversations that she would initiate around the table as we fidgeted our way through dinner. And it’s the contents of that attic that I remember best about her.

I think of that attic often when looking back on the quarter-century of holidays that have been covered by this magazine. When I scan through the bound editions in my office, I get a similarly fragmented (but enlightening) glimpse of our state and its odd affections.

Attics have given way to less interesting, though better lit, storage units in the modern world, and among the accumulations of my life is a collection of old copies of  New Hampshire Profiles magazine. During its 40-or-so years of publication, Profiles became a significant depository for the passions and puzzles of life in the Granite State, and flipping through those back issues reveals much about the personality and character of our state.

I suppose in some ways that my job as editor of New Hampshire Magazine is just filling an attic with memorabilia. Along with the classic keepsakes of our recent past, each year has its cast-off items, its fads and pretensions. It sometimes takes a longer view to see the soul that dwells within the busyness of our time and it’s good to know where to look.

A few months ago, I promised in my monthly note to pay more attention to some often-overlooked members of the New Hampshire family, to ensure that some of their stories, trophies, old garments and souvenirs get stored away in bound editions of this publication for posterity.

Our cover story this month, “Black Lives,” is a step in that direction. Like every effort to represent something as complex as humanity, it’s just a fragment, but we offer it to you to unwrap and enjoy. Once deposited, along with other treasures and curiosities, into the great storage unit of our shared life (now increasingly a digital unit), we hope it will inform and fascinate any future seeker who appreciates the mysteries of the attic.

Categories: Editor’s Note