Silence for a couple of weeks—from both of us. A silence I finally broke on September 21.
I wrote a newsy letter about my recent reading (Shelley-related and book-reviewing-related), wondered if she could tell me more about the smallpox vaccination that Mary and Bysshe had arranged for their little boy, William (less than a year old), in that Frankenstein summer in Geneva. And I wrote excitedly about an imminent trip to Oregon. I’m hoping, I wrote, for a day or two out on the coast, too, near the place where my parents lived their happiest years, at Cannon Beach.
Those years, at least at first, were happy for my parents. Both had recently retired; they had—as I think I’ve written earlier here—one of the most glorious views in the world, overlooking Haystack Rock out in the Pacific surf; they were both still fairly healthy. Dad was still making his way to the beach every day a couple of times to take walks. Mom was very active with community groups and had found some friends to hike local mountain and beach trails with. They were far, far away from their three sons (I was in Ohio; my brothers were in Massachusetts), but maybe—just maybe—after decades of dealing with us, it was kind of refreshing to be out in the Oregon air, the two of them.
Of course, their idyll could not last … whose does? Soon, Dad’s health would fail, his mental acuity soften (some minor strokes), and they would have to leave their Cannon Beach paradise for a “senior-friendly” place they built in nearby Seaside (no view of the Pacific). And not long after that, they would return to the East, to a retirement community in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, not far from my brothers’ summer place (an old farmhouse in Becket). And then … more decline.
Mary’s relations with her father that Frankenstein summer of 1816 were nonexistent. William Godwin had not forgiven her for running away with a married man in 1814, for bearing two children by him (the first had died after only a couple of weeks). Even when Mary—with great hope—had named her son William, her father did not soften. He refused all forms of communication with her, and it was not until the suicide of Harriet Shelley (Bysshe’s first wife, late in 1816) and the subsequent marriage of Mary and Bysshe (December 30) that Godwin relented and once again embraced the daughter whom he loved so profoundly.
Betty wrote back a day later with a letter that surpassed in newsiness even my own. Her computer troubles, her reading, her planned journeys and family gatherings, her teaching and administrative duties and the political situations at American University—all filled an entire single-spaced page and a half.
Silence for a week.
Betty sent a little inquisitive note—just, she said, to check to see if all is well with you and yours.
It was. But was I starting to show signs of the inattention that would eventually end our correspondence?
I wrote back the next day (September 29) with word about my writing progress (I was into 1817—the year Mary turned twenty). Shared some news—including an announcement of our son’s performance (in the chorus) of Pirates of Penzance with an Akron (Ohio) opera company. It was great to see him onstage again (he was now twenty-eight), and he always had a fine singing voice—from his boyhood soprano to his adult baritone/bass. I’d directed him seven times in middle school productions, and he had continued performing in high school. But as far as I know, he did not audition for any shows at Tufts University (he’d graduated in 1994). At the time I wrote this note to Betty, he had completed his master’s in journalism (Kent State) and was a reporter for the Akron Beacon-Journal. He would earn a co-nomination for a Pulitzer Prize before leaving journalism for law school.
After a couple of exchanges dealing with merely quotidian matters, there was a two-week silence while I was out on the West Coast.