Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Friday, May 2, 2014

Frankenstein Sundae: 3

View from Castle Frankenstein,
29 April 1999
In July 2011, I look online and find the menu for that restaurant at Burg Frankenstein.  I look for the sundae and find it:

Unser Klassiker
›Frankenstein‹ Eisbecher
Vanille- Joghurteis mit Waldfrüchten,
Sahne und Schokoladensplitter

Our Classic
Frankenstein Sundae
Vanilla Frozen Yogurt with berries,
Whipped cream and chocolate chips
$3.50 (approximately)

As I type these words, I feel my pants—32 again!—tighten at the waist.

This April day in 1999, looking out over the Rhine Valley, I am also bemused.  What am I doing here? Fifty-four years old, I have only recently retired from the Aurora (Ohio) City Schools, where I taught middle school English, off and on for about thirty years. In the fall of 1996, fed up with Ohio’s dunderheaded determination to homogenize the curriculum, to administer procrustean “proficiency tests” at more and more levels, I decided to retire the first day I was eligible—16 January 1997. And so I did. By that time, I was already so immersed in the story of Mary Shelley and Frankenstein that when I walked out the doors of Harmon Middle School for the final time as an employee, I drove home and walked right upstairs to my study, where I continued working on Mary Shelly, full-time, seven days a week, 365 days a year (including Christmas), until the fall of 2001, when I began teaching again at Western Reserve Academy, just two blocks from our home. One of the reasons I went back to work: I’d been raiding our savings like a cokehead, like a compulsive gambler. I’d become a domestic embezzler, silently shifting funds to finance my obsession. It was time to be a responsible adult again.
Just as school was starting in 2001, I was finishing a late draft of a young adult biography of Mary I was calling The Mother of the Monster: The Life and Times of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. The first draft had been 713 pages long—perhaps a bit much for an eighth grader to read? By late August 2001, I had cut it to 463. Better, but not by much. And I was still reading everything I could find about her, her family, her circle. I was reading books about the history of London, London’s bridges, burial and funeral practices, carriages, religion, clothing styles, volcanoes, hot-air balloons. I was reading books about every monarch who ruled England during her lifetime. George III. George IV. William IV. Victoria. I was reading … well, every fucking thing there was to read. Soon, I realized, I was spending hours reading and typing notes on books that bore only the faintest relevance to her and her story, books yielding information that would never find its way into a biography for YA readers. But on I went, hacking my way more deeply into the tangled wood, never looking back, never wondering if, later, I’d find my way out. I didn’t care.
So now as I now sit thinking about all of this—about the ruins of Castle Frankenstein—still debating the wisdom of a second Frankenstein sundae—I realize that Mary Shelley has created another Victor Frankenstein and another monster. And this time, they both have the same face.
I am profoundly happy about it. And I realize that my life in recent years has itself been a Frankenstein sundae.

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