Dawn Reader

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

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Words, words, words (continued) ...



Last week I wrote a bit about how I transformed to a word-nerd from a kid who was perfectly happy with a comic-book-level vocabulary--salted with enough profanities to have locker-room cred (not that cred was in the teen slang of my day). Knowing profanity, understanding dirty jokes--these were far more important to me than recognizing, oh, tacit on a page I was reading. My strategy as a young reader was this: If I encountered a new word and if I could not figure it out (quickly!) from context, I used the time-honored technique of ... skipping it. This served me well, clear through high school. Didn't work in college and beyond--though, by that time, I was morphing, as I said, into the word-nerd I remain.

Anyway, I began blogging on this subject because of a recent experience with the word patent--not the Patent Office thing but another meaning--patent meaning obvious. Or, as dictionary.com defines it (meaning #10: readily open to notice or observation; evident; obvious: a patent breach of good manners).

I've been aware of that definition for a long, long time. I learned it in the fall of 1961. I was a senior in high school and had auditioned for--and won--the role of the Judge in Hiram High School's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta Trial by Jury. I had a solo early in the show--"When I, Good Friends, Was Called to the Bar"--a song about how I became a judge in the first place. (Here's a YouTube link to a guy who does it incomparably better than I did.) Near the end of the song comes the word patent used in the way that was novel to me in 1961--and here's the line from the song:
JUDGE. It is patent to the mob,
That my being made a nob
Was effected by a job.
ALL. And a good job too!


The director of that Hiram High production--Mrs. Ruthana Dreisbach--had us listen to a recording of the show, and it was then that I learned that patent (in this definition) rhymes not with combatant but with latent.  Insight!

So ... ever since 1961 I've been pronouncing it so--rhyming it with latent when I mean obvious. Feeling superior.

Then, recently, I heard someone I respect pronounce it to rhyme with combatant. What?!

I checked. And found out that it's the Brits who use the latent pronunciation--and, of course, Gilbert and Sullivan were Brits. The dictionary says it's especially the Brits who do this, though we Yanks can do it, too. So I will continue to do so. After all, I am a Noble Lord, am I not?

PS--Mrs. Dreisbach, our director, left the Hiram Schools when they consolidated with Crestwood at the beginning of the 1964-65 school year. She joined the faculty in Aurora, Ohio, eleven miles west. In the fall of 1966 I joined that Aurora faculty, too, and I had the great honor of being her colleague and of speaking at her retirement some years later.
I'm the Judge ...
Trial by Jury, Hiram High School, Nov. 10-11, 1961
(PS--Nov. 11 is my birthday!)

TO BE CONTINUED ...


Monday, September 29, 2014

Frankenstein Sundae, 55


Betty was not so sure that she wanted to see my notes on Mary Shelley’s encyclopedia entries. In an email on January 17, she wrote about her gratitude—about my very generous offer. But she went on to explain: Here is my problem: your notes represent your view—what you think it is important to note, yes? Therefore, were I to accept your notes, I would in a sense be “using” your work … which would not be proper as you are writing your own book. She said some more nice things—but the message was clear: This is probably not a good idea.
I wrote back the same day—I gave her an example of the sort of thing I’d done with the notes, then backed off and went on to talk about Coleridge and his use of opium and laudanum. Nothing like drugs to get you to forget nineteenth-century encyclopedia entries! And a bit more, too, about Trelawny’s supposed swim of the Niagara River rapids. I’d been waiting to hear from an archivist at the Buffalo Historical Society about any possible news story at the time.
Betty wrote later and said, sure, send the notes along. I did.
As I read over this exchange now—fifteen years later—I am struck, of course, by one thing: Betty’s profound ethical sense. She was a true scholar—generous and encouraging to others (to me!), yet dedicated to the ethics of her profession and craft. This exchange made me even more humble—and more grateful than ever for her help, for her willingness to listen to me, and respond.

We moved on. Betty—to judge from her correspondence—was just sort of getting up to speed on using the Internet for research. I was happy to share the little I knew—like the good sites to visit for antiquarian books and the like. There were two waterways running between us, and the river flowing from her had a far more powerful current, so I was happy to float a few scholarly twigs on the little trickle that ran from me to her.
Within a day, for example, I told her that I’d heard from Buffalo: no newspaper confirmation of Trelawny’s feat. So, I wrote, the rascal escapes again!

Then … nothing for a couple of weeks. Betty, I learned later, had gone to New York for some meetings, and while she was there, she had visited her father in the nursing home where he was living. He is more stoic than I, she wrote. I have to … find a way to say this is okay—or at least be at peace over the idea that it is at least necessary …
On January 30 I wrote back, sharing some nursing home experiences of my own. I told her about Joyce’s wonderful book about her mother’s battles with Alzheimer’s—In a Tangled Wood. And, of course, I rehearsed some of my recent experiences with my own father, so recently gone. My father somehow endured it all, I wrote, I don’t know how (I was ready to scream much of the time) ….
I ended that note by telling her I was going to shuffle off to Buffalo in March: I’d learned from another source that there were some newspapers available from 1833, so I was going to stay with an old friend in the area and spend a day cranking through microfilm.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday Sundries, 17


1. A gender difference? Or just something going on in our car?

We are driving along ... While Joyce is changing her email password on her smart phone, she narrates aloud each single step. I'm the more silent type. I would execute the entire process without saying a word--unless something went wrong, of course, and then I would utter some grievous execrations.

2. On the TV news the other day a reporter, talking about a manhunt for some guy, said, "No one's put eyes on him yet."  Really? What's wrong with No one's seen him yet?

3. I had a moving experience this week, all courtesy of Facebook and some incredibly generous FB friends. Early in the week I got a "friend" request from a student from long ago. Not long after I accepted, he posted on my Timeline a fairly lengthy tribute to me--to some enduring effects in his life that he attributed to me. Well, that touched me. But then some other former students and colleagues weighed in, adding their own stories and/or "likes." Sometimes they credited me for things that my long-ago colleagues had done in their classes, but, hey, at this stage I'm going to soak up all the honey I can! Anyway, it soon trickled away--as all threads eventually do. But I cut and pasted it all into my journal. And I will read it again and again and again ... and feel, each time, an overwhelming gratitude.

Addendum: The "likes" included friends from my childhood, a favorite Hiram College professor from the 1960s, students from forty years ago--and four years ago, family, local friends ...  Wow ...

4. Do you remember Sundays with the massive Sunday papers spread out all over the room, all day, while various family members read various sections, then passed them on? I do. And I mourn their passing.

We take four newspapers here at home: the Akron Beacon-Journal, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the New York Times, the semi-weekly Hudson Hub-Times. The PD, of course, no longer prints every day for subscribers (several days a week it's online only), and the other papers--even on Sundays--are but thin reminders of their former glory. In fact, I think all four Sunday papers combined would not equal the mass of the Sunday PD that I knew in boyhood.

Anyway, I read the Times each morning online, then, later, clip anything I want to keep--or read stories that I'd rather read in print. The Beacon and the PD I look over as I'm preparing supper--though I also read through the PD each afternoon on my iPad. The Hub I breeze through when it arrives.

As I look down the street in the early mornings, I don't see too many people who seem to be subscribers (their driveway aprons are bare). Changing times. And ... changing Times. I never could have imagined/never could have dreamed that the daily newspaper would become an anachronism, certainly not in my lifetime.

5. There's too much clutter in my life. Where do I find the energy to deal with it? I have a former student from long ago who told me recently that he throws away/recycles/donates something every single day--it's a routine for him. Maybe I should give that idea a whirl? If I did that with two things a day, that would be more than 700/year; three would be more than 1000?  I'm going to try it! Updates in future posts!

6. At 7 a.m. today (Sunday): an oddity. All three of our antique clocks (a cuckoo and two mantel clocks) chimed/struck/cuckooed simultaneously. Never happens ...










Saturday, September 27, 2014

Words, words, words ...


I've not always been interested in words. When I was in junior high, for example, my parents, alarmed at my vocabulary (or lack thereof), bought me a book--30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary--a book (I just checked) that is still in print, still available on Amazon. I tried it for a day, was bored, quit, turned to my comic books, where my vocabulary was in no need of any additional power.

I should add that my parents' method was always sort of ... indirect. They tended not to give us things and say, Here, read this! Or: Don't get up until you've finished this! That was not their style. They just sort of left things ... lying around. Religious pamphlets. Evelyn Millis Duvall's Facts of Life and Love for Teenagers (no, we never had "The Talk" with my parents--at least I never did). Duvall's masterwork is still available (used copies) on ABE and Amazon.


My grandparents subscribed to Reader's Digest, and I would sometimes check out its long-running feature "Word Power" (I think). I never did too well on those monthly quizzes ... not for a long, long time.

My parents were both highly educated (both would eventually earn a Ph.D.), and my older brother (by three years) had/has an enormous vocabulary, some of which, in youth, he employed on me. Cretin is one word I learned from him.

My only high school teacher (as I remember) who routinely made us learn vocabulary was Mr. Brunelle, whom I had my sophomore and junior years at Hiram High. I did pretty well on the quizzes (didn't study--just remembered how my parents or brother used the words).

My interest in words finally began to grow in college when I quickly learned that if I wanted to read any of my assignments with any comprehension whatsoever, I was going to have to, you know, "look over some words." (This quotation is from my favorite Billy the Kid movie--The Left Handed Gun, 1958, with Paul Newman as the Kid, who utters the phrase I just quoted. He's been learning how to read.  Link to trailer for the film)

I know I've mentioned this before--too bad: deal with it--but I can remember some specific words I learned from one Hiram College professor, Dr. Ravitz: lycanthropy, proem, noetic, apotheosis, and some others. We had no personal smart (or dumb) phones in those days giving us nearly instant access to dictionary.com, so if I couldn't figure out a word from context, I would go back to my room and look it up in my college dictionary--learning, by the way, that if you're not sure how a word's already spelled, it's kind of hard to look it up!

Throughout grad school (and on into today) I would write down unfamiliar words that I wanted to know--or needed to know--when I encountered them. Today, I subscribe to several online word-a-day services--and I have a word-a-day tear-off calendar in the house (actually, two of them: one upstairs, one down).

When I began teaching English myself (seventh graders, Aurora (Ohio) Middle School, fall 1966), I did not immediately teach vocabulary lists, but as the years went on, I did. The final twenty years or so of my career I constructed the lists from words I'd drawn from the literature the students would be reading, so I knew they would see these words again--and I hoped they would experience a jaw-dropping shock of recognition when, reading, say, The Call of the Wild (as my eighth graders did for years), they would come across this in Chapter One--He was a gloomy, morose fellow--and cry aloud in wonder and joy: "Morose! I know that word!"

I'm pretty sure that never happened, but at the time, I liked to imagine that it did.


TO BE CONTINUED ...

Friday, September 26, 2014

Frankenstein Sundae, 54


But who was Edward John Trelawny? And how did he get into Mary’s life? I think I’ll hold off on him—maybe give him his own chapter. He would have loved that. He associated himself so much with the Shelley circle that he arranged to have himself buried alongside poor drowned Bysshe in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, nearly sixty years after the poet died. Betty, commenting a few days later on all the information I was accumulating, noted that she also had massive piles. How to decide what actually goes into a biography? A form of torture, she wrote on January 12.
About that same time I wrote to her about having recently finished reading Mary’s Lives of the Most Eminent Literary and Scientific Men of France, 1838–1839, a two-volume contribution to Lardner’s Cyclopedia, a standard reference set of the day. Mary had already written three other volumes for the series—Lives of the Most Eminent Literary and Scientific Men of Italy, Spain and Portugal (1835).
As I told Betty, I had not looked forward to reading these works and had put them off to the very last—well, the very last of Mary’s works. I was still reading many other things in related areas. But how eager could I—or anyone else?—be to read a bunch of encyclopedia entries from the first third of the nineteenth century about people, who today (with some notable exceptions) are forgotten.
But I’d acquired the Lives via OhioLink, the academic library consortium among colleges and universities in the state, and in early January 2000 was taking notes on Mary’s contributions. And I told Betty how wrong I’d been in my worries.
I had DREADED reading these volumes, I wrote on January 13, but now I’m so glad I waded through them.  … As you know, she loved to editorialize in those entries, and in them she revealed so many things about her attitudes, about people …. And she had lived and suffered enough by then that there is a poignant resonance to so many of her descriptions of the deaths, elopements, infidelities, successes, failures, and inadequacies of her subjects.
A couple of quick examples: Of Petrarch, she wrote, He believed that traveling was the best school of learning.  She believed this, as well. And Machiavelli: There is no more delightful literary task than the justifying a hero or writer, who has been misrepresented and reviled ….
Mary, by this time, had embarked upon just such a voyage to restore the reputation of her late husband, also misrepresented and reviled (in her view) for his radical politics, his unconventional lifestyle, his atheism, even his poetry.
Anyway, at the end of that email I offered to send Betty some photocopies of my notes (I’d typed them), and I was more than surprised—and more than a little concerned—when I got her reply a few days later.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Banned Books Week


I learned on Facebook that this is Banned Books Week. Someone had posted a link to the site that lists some of the titles that exercise enough folks that they decide no one--usually, no young person--should read.

Mark Twain was delighted when he learned that some libraries were banning Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885). Here's a link to some information about that. As you'll read there, Twain joked that these bannings would be great for sales of his book. People would flock to read it just to see what all the kerfuffle was about.

Huck still has his problems. The original objections were to Twain's portrait of a delinquent who smoked and spoke improperly. In more recent years there have been objections to Twain's frequent use of our most proscribed word--objections that prompted one recent editor to replace all of those words with slave. Too bad. The best discussion of this that I know remains the footage that Ken Burns devoted to Huck Finn in his 2001 documentary Mark Twain. Chunks of it are on YouTube, and it's otherwise easy to acquire.

I had a kerfuffle of my own fairly early in my career (late 1960s, early 1970s) when I read Hemingway's story "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" with my seventh graders. I got some calls (at school, at home) complaining about Hemingway's language (there is some mild profanity in the story--far milder that what I heard uttered by kids on the playground), some marital infidelity, a bullet-to-the-head (not graphic). My experience was, in a word, unpleasant.

(I deal with this incident a bit in my memoir Schoolboy, available on Kindle Direct: link.)

Anyway, the lists of banned books always reveal some surprises--as you'll see if you peruse the one I've linked above.

Teachers do need to be circumspect about the texts they select--and, in retrospect, "Macomber" may have been a bit much for twelve-year-olds. But kids know at a very early age that life is complex, complicated, painful--and not at all an idyll in the Hamptons. (That, by the way, is one of the reasons I liked the Harry Potter books--Rowling knows that kids know a lot more than we like to credit them for.)

Reading challenging texts--challenging in all sorts of ways--shows readers that they are not alone. That their feelings, worries, experiences are unique only in the variety of circumstance. Shakespeare lost his young son, Hamnet. Emerson buried a beloved young wife. Longfellow lost two wives--the second in a horrible, freakish fire at home. Mary Shelley lost three children; her beloved husband drowned. Stephen Crane lay dying of TB at 28.  And on and on. Great writers deal with pure humanity in powerful ways. To the extent that we deny students access to these works we limit their horizons--which is quite the opposite of what education must do.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Grrrrrrr ...


I think I'm fairly close to normal again.

It's been a wild morning. When I got back from the coffee shop this morning, my laptop decided not to boot up. I handled it well. Kept the volume low on the vile profanities issuing from my mouth. Fussed and fussed and raged, raged against the dying of the light. Was glad that I don't own firearms because my machine would now be in bits all over the room.

Meanwhile, I tried repeated re-boots.

Nope.

More obscenities.

Then ... off I went to get a new one ("But what about a repair?" you ask--hang on; we'll get there), and soon was home re-installing programs, etc. Cursing some more. (I'd bought so quickly I'd neglected to realize that this new one has no DVD player--had to order an external one. Not that I used it all that much, but not having it at all is not an option.) Anyway, Joyce uses a desktop, and when she travels, she uses my previous laptop. So ... my previous previous laptop was no longer working well--slow as an inebriated stink bug. (And they, trust me, are slow.) So ... we both now have "new" laptops, though hers is now sitting in the repair shop, where we took it after lunch. I'm hoping not too much is wrong and that it's not a total hard-drive failure because I have some single copies of things on it. (I know, I know.) Nothing too critical, but still ...

Fortunately, I've been saving Word and other files lately on OneDrive as well as on my hard drive--and on a flash, so I didn't lose any writing. That would have elicited from me every fouler oaths. And made me even more ashamed. In retrospect. Not at the moment.

So, the words you're reading right now cost me about a grand to deliver to you. Surely, they're worth it?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Back to the Oncologist

Seidman Cancer Center
University Hospitals
Near Chagrin Falls, OH
I'm hanging on.

Last week I had my quarterly PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) blood test and, after a day or so of the usual anxiety ("usual anxiety"--that's a comforting phrase), waiting for the results, I learned that my PSA remains undetectable more than a year after my first quarterly injection of Lupron (July 2013). So, the Lupron appears to be doing its job: zapping my testosterone so that my prostate cancer has no "food."

Then, yesterday, I had my follow-up session with my oncologist, who remains encouraged. My case was an odd one, back from the earliest diagnosis in early 2005. My biopsy then showed a medium-range cancer and did not seem to worry anyone. I had a prostatectomy (removal of the gland) in June 2005, and then things got dicey. The post-op pathology showed a much more aggressive cancer, and suddenly everyone was more attentive--especially my family and I.

But my post-op PSA remained low for a while, and when it started elevating again, I went through thirty-five daily radiation treatments at the Cleveland Clinic. Again, my PSA plummeted for a while. Then began rising again--and soon rising quickly.

Thus the quarterly Lupron injections.

As I've written here before, Lupron is not a cure; it is a finger in the dike. But my oncologist assures me that they have other drugs already waiting for me. And who knows what advances will occur in the next few years?

He told me today that this "undetectable" PSA could go on for some years. But maybe not. Still, he seemed encouraged by how my body has been battling the disease.

There are some other issues we're dealing with, Joyce and I: Lupron-related side-effects. Lower energy. Periods of depression. Periodic suffusions of heat (sometimes, I am soaking wet afterwards). Loss of libido. Can you imagine being in love--profoundly in love--but not being able to do much about it  but say so. We talked about some alternatives today, a discussion that, for TMI reasons, I'll not "share" just yet (if ever).

Meanwhile, I'm grateful that my numbers remain low, that I feel well enough to do many things I love, that I'm not yet in the miserable condition of other cancer victims whom I see every time we go up to Seidman. My "suffering" is minor, comparatively. And I grieve for those who must endure so much, much more.

But--most of all--I remain grateful for Joyce, who has held my hand in the twilight as we make our cautious, fearful ways through the tangled woods of human frailty.

**Amusing note: this site's spell-checker just suggested prestidigitator (one skilled in sleight of hand) for prostatectomy!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Frankenstein Sundae, 53


Last time--I'd just discovered that my framed autograph letter by Washington Irving was the property of Marietta College!

That sent a surge of worry through me. Am I in possession of stolen property?
On January 4, I sent an email to the library at Marietta College, explaining. And waited. A day later, here’s what I wrote in my journal: nice e-mail from Marietta College (the letter is mine! it had been sold at auction at Sotheby’s in 1992 to raise money for [the college] …).
How do you spell relief? That framed Washington Irving letter remains on our wall, and I still think about Marietta every time I walk up and down the stairs and see it hanging there—and muse about how I once thought it would hang me.
Betty replied a day later with some comments about death and loss in her own life. At the time, she was not in what we so superficially call today “a Happy Place.” But soon we were back in our usual mode—sharing information about Mary Shelley. I wrote on January 6 to tell her that I’d photocopied up at Cleveland Public Library the three plays that Mary had seen on her “date” with Washington Irving. I offered to send copies if Betty didn’t have them. She didn’t; I sent them. And, responding to some comments she’d made about our emerging friendship, I wrote, it’s wonderful to know you’re only a click away.

Every now and then there was some humor in our correspondence. On January 10, 2000, I wrote to tell her about how I’d planned to take a course in Italian at a nearby university so that I could function more intelligently during my trip Italy to see the relevant Shelley sites there. I registered for the course, paid the fee, and then … But when I walked into the room and saw it full of folks who looked like my grandchildren, and when the teacher spent the entire first hour explaining how we ought to organize our notebooks, I marched over to the Registrar and retrieved my tuition and went ignorant to Italy.
That’s something I regret, by the way—dropping Italian. I had my most difficult time there. Unlike Germany and Switzerland, where most of the people I dealt with knew enough English to help me (and probably a lot more), I had a difficult time in Italy—beginning with my getting on the wrong train in Florence, where, of course, right outside the station, a Gypsy woman picked my pocket cleanly, then, flashing a wicked smile, handed my wallet back to me. I was so upset I went back to my hotel and took a weepy nap.
As January rolled along, I was becoming more and more deeply mired in the claim of the Shelleys’ friend Edward John Trelawny that he had swum the rapids of the Niagara River, just below the Falls, in 1833. Mary had written a novel—Lodore (1835)—that has a key scene at the Falls, so, of course, I had to go and check things out. (She had never seen the Falls, however—had never been to America.) Perhaps her connection with Trelawny had given her some information? Or not. There were many published accounts of that natural wonder.
Anyway, I’d been to the Falls, had looked at the rapids (somewhat calmer now because of hydroelectric and other uses of the Niagara River), and had figured there was no way Trelawny could have done it. No surprise, really: He was a notorious liar.
But who was he? And how did he get into Mary’s life?


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sunday Sundries, 16


Bridges & Garcia
8 Million Ways to Die
1. Friday night we went to local Regal Cinema in Hudson and saw A Walk Among the Tombstones, a film based on a 1992 Lawrence Block novel with the same title. It's another story featuring recovering alcoholic investigator Matt Scudder--memorably portrayed in a much earlier (and much better) film by Jeff Bridges-8 Million Ways to Die, 1986, with another dynamite performance by Andy Garcia. I think it was the first time I'd seen/noticed Garcia in a film. There are quite a few "Scudder" novels by Block (there are seventeen of them, I think).


Lawrence Block
In the early-mid 1990s (shortly before I retired from the Aurora City Schools in January 1997), I liked taking groups of kids around the area to book signings. One night--June 24, 1995 (I just found a confirmation of the date!)--I took a carload up to see Lawrence Block at the Barnes & Noble on Mayfield Road near Cleveland. I took a bunch of his books with me for him to
sign, but at the reading/signing, I felt he was kind of ... dickish. He told us he would sign only (what? 4? 5?) from any one person--a problem easily solved: I gave copies to the kids who were with me. But his manner was kind of ... dickish. And my enthusiasm for him sickened, nearly died. I still read him now and then--but not with the avidity of my pre-signing days.

Oh, and, yes, my copy of A Walk Among the Tombstones was one that he signed that night.



The film was so-so, Liam Neeson playing a version the character he's been playing a lot lately. Minor characters were all, well weak. Lots of blood and gore and misogynistic terror. Didn't care for it.

2. A couple of nights of bad dreams ...
  • A vicious dog walks into the kitchen (I'm there--but I don't recognize the place), bites me above the left knee, and hangs on. Enter son Steve with a baseball bat. Then some gunfire (better not to get into the details, there being so many dog-lovers in the world, me, generally, among them, except when a vicious one has a death grip above my left knee). I look down: My femur is exposed. I cry out. A doctor (I don't recognize) is there but, seeing the gravity of my injury, covers his mouth and walks away. Wake up.
  • I'm in another kitchen (do you see a pattern? it's different from the first one--but I still don't know where I am). I come in with another guy (who?) who's supposedly been attending to my sourdough starter. But when I look at it, I see he has mixed into the starter a bunch of shredded blueberry muffins. I scream obscenities at him (yes, I remember what they were; no, I am not sharing) and tell him to get out of my house--though it looks nothing like any house I've actually ever lived in. I wake up angry.

3. Speaking of dickish behavior (as I did in #1 above): I see a lot of it in coffee shops, people complaining--sometimes angrily--if their drinks aren't exactly perfect. I will hesitate here ... will not say something about spoiled Americans, especially ones able to pay $2 for a cup of coffee (5¢ in my boyhood) . (This is an example, kind of, of the rhetorical device called apophasis: the device of mentioning a subject by saying you won't mention it.) Anyway, there was a guy I saw this morning who was about to have a stroke because the dark brew wasn't quite ready. He paced around like the bull who's just been told that the cow will be a little late this morning.

4. Saturday night we saw the Jason Bateman-Tina Fey-etc. film, a death-in-the-eccentric-family story, This Is Where I Leave You. It was funny in a kind of I've-seen-this-before-but-it's-still-amusing kind of way, and it was fun to see Jane Fonda--though I wish someone would give her a real part one of these days. Also in the cast, playing very much off-type, was Timothy Olyphant (Justified, etc.), and his screen presence is so remarkable that when he's in the shot (and he was not in a lot of them), you just don't really notice anyone else. Poop jokes and predictability--but I laughed a lot, too.



5. Finally--in the category of What? This week the City of Hudson re-seeded the village green, which throughout the summer, experiences heavy traffic--especially on Saturdays at the Farmers' Market. So, I thought, seeing the seeding, the markets must be over for the year. Nope. One's going on right now as I type this (Saturday forenoon) with half of Hudson walking all over the once and future grass.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Buh-Bye, Mark Twain Stamps

I'm a little sad today.

For the past few years on my snail-mail I've been using--exclusively--the "forever" stamp featuring the image of Mark Twain--with a bit of a Mississippi River steamboat in the background. And I've used quite a few of them. Since my mom (95) can no longer use email (and hasn't been able to for several years), I write snail-mail to her twice a week--Sunday and Wednesday--and all of those letters (372 by my last count) have featured Twain's stamp on the envelope.

I have a long and happy history with Mark Twain--as some earlier posts here have described--beginning when I was in Adams Elementary School (Enid, Okla.) and listened every day after recess (if we were good) to our fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Rockwell, reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to us while we cooled off (it was Oklahoma) and settled down (we were fourth graders). Later, I learned that Mrs. Rockwell, dear soul, had done some bowdlerizing as she read--probably a good idea in the Oklahoma of 1953. Probably still a good idea in Oklahoma!

Later, I read more Twain in high school, college, grad school, and spent some happy years teaching Huck Finn at Western Reserve Academy from 2001-2011 (when I retired). Post-retirement, I settled in and read all of Twain's books, including the weird ones he wrote near the end of his life (e.g., Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven (1907--just three years before he died with Halley's Comet in the sky, just as it had been at his birth in 1835).


I've been several times to Hannibal, Missouri, his boyhood town on the Mississippi that in some ways now resembles a Twain theme park. Our first visit? On our honeymoon in late December 1969. We had spent most of our time in New Orleans and had decided to drive back up along the river, stopping at Hannibal. (English-major nerds!) We'd already taken a riverboat ride back in New Orleans, up into the bayou country. Joyce was working at the time on Kate Chopin, who lived in Louisiana for a while and wrote many stories set there--including her fine novel The Awakening (another book I taught at WRA). So ... we spent a day in Hannibal in the early weeks of our marriage--now approaching forty-five years ago.

Later on--much later on--we returned to Hannibal, then drove to Florida, Missouri (not far away), where he was actually born. The tiny birth house is now inside the local Twain museum in Florida. (See below.)



So I was sad when I got on the USPS site the other day and discovered I could no longer buy those Twain stamps. (I settled for some that celebrated the Emancipation Proclamation.)

My mom was an English teacher, and I knew she'd appreciated the Twain stamps. I'm sure she did, though she never actually articulated that appreciation. Things change at 95.

And nothing is forever--not even a "forever stamp."

**

Good news: Just found some Twain stamps on Amazon.com. Plunked down the plastic ... cost a little more ... who cares!?!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Frankenstein Sundae, 51


The year 2000 commenced. The first year of my life when I did not have a father. A couple of weeks earlier, 20 December 1999, Joyce and I had celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary. I’d called ahead at a pricey restaurant in the area—being careful to let them know that this was a special day for us. They assured me they’d be attentive.
Fat chance. An excerpt from my journal: Instead, we were plunked down in a small room where there were two birthday parties + a large collection of raucous/drunken young businessmen arguing about the Browns, the Internet … my fillet was tough, the potatoes were watery and tasted as if they’d been on the warm-up line for a while ….
Nice.
Throughout January I was sticking to my research routines—reading books for Kirkus I would later review, continuing to read about Mary Shelley and her circle (I was reading about actress Fanny Kemble early in the month), going to movies and plays. I also had a scholar’s horrible experience: I read and took notes on a book—then discovered I’d already read and taken notes on it. Advancing dotage? I also had started reading biographies of Coleridge, who had been friends with William Godwin—and who had visited the Godwins when Mary was just a little girl.
I notice, too, that I was also active on eBay, bidding on and buying items related to Mary and friends—for example, a nineteenth-century engraving of Villa Diodati, Byron’s place in Geneva, the place where Mary began to conceive the idea for Frankenstein that summer of 1816. And now—nearly fifteen years later—I’m trying to figure out how to get rid of all those things I was pursuing so vigorously.

On January 4, 2000, Betty Bennett and I resumed our correspondence. I told her the story about re-reading, re-note-taking that book (it was Richard Church’s 1928 biography, Mary Shelley). Betty wrote about her discouraged frame of mind—about life’s losses, she said. Sometimes, she added, the solitary writing life feels like solitary confinement.
I wrote back about my own continuing grief. My father’s loss.  Death ended it all, I said, put a period at the end of a wonderful sentence. … Old age brings an awful anonymity; once you enter a care facility, you become like everyone else. And then some updates on my contacts with agents and publishers—not much happening—and the news that I would be giving a talk on Mary Shelley at Hiram College.
A day later I wrote to tell her that I’d recently bought an autograph letter written by Washington Irving. I was acquiring things about him because he’d had a relationship with Mary—after the death of her husband—and I was very curious about the choreography of that dance. (I will devote a chapter to this—later on.) Anyway, I told Betty that I’d been unable to read some of his handwriting, so I’d gone to the scholarly edition of his letters to see what it all was. Found out. Then also discovered, in the notes, that the framed letter hanging on my wall belonged to Marietta College.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Memorizing ... Realizing ... (Final)




Last summer I was memorizing a poem by Emily Dickinson, a poem that I'd first read back in English 101 at Hiram College in the summer of 1962 with Prof. Charles F. McKinley. (By the way, via my fellow Hiram College Terrier and long-time friend David Anderson I have some of the late Dr. McKinley's daylilies in our garden--and one bloomed this morning: an omen!)

As usual, though, I sort of ... digressed ... for a few posts, then got interested in something else, and never did finish saying what I wanted to say about that poem--"I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died"--and about the experience of memorizing poems by Miss Emily.

By the way--here are three links to those earlier posts in case any of you have nothing else to do today: First Post, Second Post, Third Post.

I noted in those other posts that I've memorized quite a few of ED's poems, and I talked about about using ED with students, as I recall (Hey, I do not have time to read my old posts!).

Okay, some general thoughts about memorizing her. First, her favorite form--the old ballad form--uncomplicates the process quite a bit: quatrains, iambic rhythm with alternating lines of tetrameter and trimeter. Rhyme scheme: abcb. She wrote most of her poems in this format--and teachers for years have realized that they can wax wise about Dickinson by noting that you can sing her poems to such tunes as "Yankee Doodle" and that Coca-Cola song ("I'd like to teach the world to sing ....").

Her poems are almost always short, as well. Easier, one would think, to memorize a short poem (like ED's "They Say That Time Assuages") rather than a long one ("My Last Duchess," The Odyssey).

Okay, those are the easy things about memorizing her. Rhythm. Rhyme. Brevity.

But there are some things that complicate the entire enterprise. For one, her rhymes are not always perfect. Take a look, for example, at "Because I Could Not Stop for Death"--one of her justly celebrated ones:

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then –’tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads

Were toward Eternity –

First stanza--no problem. me and eternity.  But from then on?  What I'll call "imperfect rhymes"--though there are "official" terms for what she does.

away = Civility
Ring= Sun
Chill= Tulle
Ground = Ground (!)
Day = Eternity

Now, granting some lenience for varying pronunciations over the years, I still see ... well ... oddness here, don't you? And the boldness to rhyme a word with itself--as if she were saying, That's right--I rhymed a word with itself. And perhaps you can hear her saying (demurely, to herself): Better to use the same word than one that rhymes but just isn't right. Besides, in a poem about death, why not pound the word ground into the stanza?

So ... unpredictable rhymes complicate memorizing. A stanza with perfect rhymes is easier to memorize: remember one of the rhyming words, and you've got a great chance of remembering its partner(s).

But another complication is her unusual diction--choice of words. Not all that strange in "Because I Could Not Stop for Death" (though my Tippet - only Tulle is a choice one!).**

Now ... let's take a look at "I Heard a Fly Buzz" and see how she reached out from the nineteenth century to slap my face a little, to say: Wanna learn this? Do a little work!

I heard a Fly buzz - when I died -
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air -
Between the Heaves of Storm -

The Eyes around - had wrung them dry -
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset - when the King
Be witnessed - in the Room -

I willed my Keepsakes - Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable - and then it was
There interposed a Fly -

With Blue - uncertain - stumbling Buzz -
Between the light - and me -
And then the Windows failed - and then

I could not see to see -

As you can see, the only perfect rhymes occur in the final stanza: me with see. The rest are imperfect.

And her diction: the heaves of storm ... What portion of me be / Assignable ... I could not see to see ...

This is amazing Miss Emily at her best. By saying something in an unusual way (The Eyes around - had wrung them dry - = people had cried themselves out) she requires readers to stop, to think. And by using ambiguous words--King--she prompts you again. Is this a religious reference? Or, here, is Death the King? And how about that last line, I could not see to see - ? Awesome.  And have you ever heard the behavior of a fly described as Blue - uncertain - stumbling Buzz - ?  Not I.

So ... memorizing Emily Dickinson? Deceptive. Difficult. So much seems so simple (those short lines, those short stanzas, that brevity), but her genius has loaded into each line her unique vision, her profound insights into the world, and it is those things that make memorizing her work a combination of hard work and revelation.



**tippet = a scarf, usually of fur or wool, for covering the neck, or the neck and shoulders, and usually having ends hanging down in front.

tulle = a thin, fine, machine-made net of acetate, nylon, rayon, or silk

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

I Didn't Blog Today

At lunch, I realized, then said to Joyce, "I forgot to blog today."

"You've had a lot to do today," she said--as always, trying to make me feel better about a failure. This, as you can well imagine, keeps her very busy.

Yeah, sure, I had things to do. I was at the coffee shop by 7:45. By then I'd already caught up on my email (such as it is these Days of Retirement), done my online banking, posted my Daily Doggerel on its separate blog, checked out Facebook.

At the coffee shop I read the New York Times and about 70 pages of a novel I'm preparing to review for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  I left a little sooner than usual: I had to drive the Prius over to the dealer in Kent for the 40,000-mile inspection. While I waited, I worked on the text of a speech I'm giving in late October and also wrote one of my semi-weekly letters to my mom--these two tasks accomplished via iPad and OneDrive.

Home, I had a few more things to deal with, including pasting some photos into Mom's letter before preparing the envelope for the carrier,who usually comes just before noon. A couple of books showed up first via UPS: a new book about slavery and capitalism (which I'd ordered for Joyce) and a new post-apocalyptic novel I'd read about in the Times last Sunday, a story that involves a group of actors performing Shakespeare in the ruins.  Sounded like my kind of book.

Then the mail came. A couple of other things to deal with.

And then came those twelve cuckoos from my great-grandfather's clock that hangs at the foot of the stairs, right by the front door. That clock has hung in my house since I was in 7th grade or so.

Lunch.

And sitting down with Joyce and realizing I'd not written a blog post for today.

Oh well, there's always tomorrow.

Oh, and by the way ... The postal carrier neglected to pick up Mom's letter, so I dropped it in a mailbox on my way over to Starbucks, where I now sit, where I now type and post this installment of DawnReader.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

An Evening with Mike Birbiglia


We stumbled quite by accident into the world of Mike Birbiglia (buhr-BIG-lee-uh). We had watched some comedians on Netflix, and that site gave us one of those If-you-liked-X-then-perhaps-you'll-like Y suggestions. It was a Birbiglia comedy special--My Girlfriend's Boyfriend (link to My Girlfriend's Boyfriend), which you can stream on Netflix. And we were hooked, both of us. (I wrote about this "discovery" somewhat earlier--here's a link to that previous post.)

I reported back in June that I'd scored some tickets to see Birbiglia's new show, Thank God for Jokes, part of his 100-city tour, at Cleveland's Palace Theatre.


We drove up there this past Saturday night and had a great time--nothing happened to diminish our fondness for him, but lots happened to increase it. After a short set by another (young--and good--comedian whose name I've already lost ... dotage), Birbiglia came out--a bit pudgier since the last time we saw him--but looking like an ordinary guy in most ways, except for his uniquely expressive voice and face. And those eyes. Pretty cool eyes. (Hope Joyce didn't notice!)


 I don't want to give away anything about his set (I hope it's on video soon). I'll just say that he talked about words, about religion, about jokes, about his gigs, his embarrassments (he is always very self-effacing about his failures, which seem almost to form a centerpiece for his sets). He breezily and easily interacted with the audience, gently drifting from left to right across the stage, even as he shifted subjects, then, unobtrusively, showed us how it was all interconnected.

He is not really a traditional comedian--not in the sense of being a jokester. He is a storyteller, a gifted one, who has learned what great storytellers have always known: It's a narrative that draws us in, that keeps us attentive. We wonder: What will happen next? What will it mean?

He uses profanity very sparingly (and, thus, very effectively), and often finds a clever way to suggest that it's someone else who used those words--not he.

I'd not heard of him before that serendipitous discovery on Netflix last June--and I'm guessing others have not heard of him either. I hope that changes.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Frankenstein Sundae, 50



I stopped this serialization of my memoir about chasing Mary Shelley when Joyce and I went to Stratford, Ontario, for the Theater Festival in mid-August. Travels and illness and ennui have kept me from this, but I'm back at it now--and will continue the serialization on M-W-F until its completion. The installment before this one (LINK to that earlier post) included the news I'd sent to the premier Shelley scholar, Betty Bennett, about the death of my father in late November 1999. And so we continue ...


I don’t remember if I did what I’m going to tell you next, but I’m going to assume I did. William Godwin, Mary’s father, died on 7 April 1836; he had recently passed his final birthday—his eightieth—on 3 March. Eighty is a lot of years in any human era, but in the first third of the nineteenth century it was highly unusual. The median age for a man at death was about forty-five. (For those of you whose statistics are rusty—this means that about half of men died before forty-five, about half after forty-five.) So in 1836, Godwin was an unusually old man.
As we’ve seen, the road he and Mary had traveled was a rough one at times. Godwin’s wife, Mary Wollstonecraft, died in 1797, shortly after delivering the child who would become Mary Shelley. Little Mary grew up with a father who adored her.
But near Christmas, 1801 (Mary was three), Godwin remarried—to Mary Jane Clairmont, who brought two children into the family—Claire and Charles Clairmont (the two children had different fathers); also living in the Godwin home was Fanny Imlay Godwin, the child of Mary Wollstonecraft and Gilbert Imlay (of whom I’ve written quite a bit earlier in this volume). In 1803, Mary Jane delivered William Godwin, Jr. So … by 1803 five children were living in that household, no two of whom had the same parents. It made for some complicated choreography.
By 1836, of course, death had been a regular visitor to the Godwin circle. Daughter Mary had lost three children—and her husband. And her friend Lord Byron. Fanny Imlay Godwin had taken her own life in October 1816. Harriet Shelley (Bysshe’s first wife) drowned herself in the Serpentine later that same year. William Godwin, Jr., still in his twenties, had died of cholera in 1832. And on and on.
So Mary knew about death.
She’d also had other conflicts with her father. She’d greatly disliked her step-mother (so much so that when she was a young teen, she’d gone to live with family friends in Scotland for nearly two years). During one of her visits home she’d met the dashing young poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. She was soon seeing him secretly, and on 28 July 1814, they eloped, her step-sister Claire Clairmont in tow. For two years Godwin refused all communication with his daughter.
But following Harriet Shelley’s suicide—and the subsequent marriage of Mary and Bysshe—things cooled off, and Godwin felt very comfortable borrowing chunks of money from his new son-in-law. And correspondence re-commenced between Mary and her father. He helped her with her publications—even wrote with pride to her about the first stage production (in London) of her novel Frankenstein, a play called Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein (1823).
Mary, in turn, helped her father. When he was stuck on his final novel—Deloraine (1833)—he told Mary about his problems with the plot, and she suggested using the device of the chase, a device he had used so wonderfully well in his early novel Caleb Williams—and a device Mary herself had used so expertly in Frankenstein.
Godwin immediately saw the power in her idea and finished his final novel, a story that is full of incidents and characters, slightly altered, from Mary’s life. In a way, Deloraine is a final tribute to his daughter.
But by the spring of 1836, he was ill. Mary and her step-mother cared for him, in shifts, and when he finally passed, they were both with him. In her journal she wrote on 7 June 1836: I have lost my dear darling father—What I went through—watching alone his dying hours. … O My God—I am too miserable to write—too ill—too hopeless to do aught but weep.
I think I read what Mary wrote about the death of Godwin not long after my mother called with the dark news about my own. I hope I did, for as I look over her words today, I know the nature of her despair, a despair shared by all who have lost a beloved parent. A despair I felt in late November 1999.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sunday Sundries, 15


1. Okay, something a little "rantish": Drivers, when your lane disappears on a highway, forcing you to merge left or right, you do not have the right-of-way--even though your car is bigger, more expensive, or whatever. Ditto, by the way, when you're entering a freeway: You yield to flowing traffic; you don't accelerate and hope someone nice (like me) will wimp out (which I always do--I drive a Prius, case closed) and let you in. Oh, and while we're at it, use your damn turn signal.

2. Whew. That felt good.

3. Our recent drive from Dorchester, Mass. (where we were visiting my older brother), to Hudson, Ohio, is, according to Google Maps, about 650 miles, door to door. It's the longest drive-in-a-day that Joyce and I have managed in quite a long time--more than thirty years, I guess. We used to drive a couple of times a year from Kent, Ohio, to Des Moines, Iowa (to visit my parents)--a one-way jaunt of about 700 miles. (Didn't think anything of it--whippersnappers that we were.) I once drove--pre-Joyce--from Des Moines to Lander, Wyo., to visit my college friend Charlie Rodgers--about 900 miles in one shot, by myself. (When I was an even dumber whippersnapper.)

So it was an adjustment, a long drive like that. Oh, to have a young man's bladder again!

We had only a couple of whiffs of Death along the way. A truck swerved into our lane without signaling. And then this--which could have been a real problem. On I-84 between Port Jervis, NY, and Scranton, PA, we came up over a hill--behind a truck, left lane--when the truck suddenly swerved to the right; immediately, we saw why: Stalled in the left lane--its warning flashers going--a car. With a guy sitting in the driver's seat! We were going--oh--about 70 and managed to avoid him. I hope the poor guy was able to get off the road before it was too late.

4. While we were in Dorchester, we took a jaunt into downtown Boston because Joyce and I wanted to see the statue of poet Phillis Wheatley that's part of the Women's Memorial on Commonwealth Avenue. It's a beautiful piece of work (as you can see), and we loved our walk to see the other statues--one of which featured Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. I remember that long ago student from WRA (early 1980s) Janetta Little (now Janetta Little Stringfellow) was working in a school near the statues. Couldn't remember the name of the school on Commonwealth Ave.--but Google reminded me: Commonwealth School (duh). After a few misfires, we caught up with her (she was walking from a classroom building where she teaches Latin I back to her office, where she's Director of Development & Alumni Relations). Hugs and whatnot (she'd known Joyce at WRA, too) and lot of memories flowed between us. Later, I kicked myself: No picture! All of us had cellphones; I had a digital camera around my neck on a strap, as well.







5. Finally--the most moving experience of the trip for me. As some of you know, the principal reason for our going to Mass. was to join in the celebration for my mom's 95th birthday. She now resides in an assisted living facility in Lenox. Anyway, on Sunday morning (last Sunday) we made our last visit to Mom before we drove to Dorchester. It was wonderful--but the best thing? Joyce noticed that Mom's nails had grown a little ... l-o-n-g. So she went out to the car, retrieved her "nail kit," and joined us back in Mom's room. She gave Mom a loving manicure--clipping, filing, then a little polish, all the while talking, talking, talking. Mom was so happy during the entire thing--and especially with the result. All I could do was sit there and be grateful that these two stunning women have been in my life for so long--and for so short--a time.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Daily Doggerel Moves On!



For several years, as many of you sadly know firsthand, I've been publishing to FB each day some "poems" I call "Daily Doggerel." I have a lot of FB friends (most of whom I never hear from--as they never hear from me), but I have some other friends (and family) who are not on FB and are thereby not available to be disgusted by my daily offerings. I want to remedy that.

And so I've begun a second blog, cleverly titled "Daily Doggerel," where I will be posting the daily drivel from now on. I will link that blog each day to FB, so those of you who feel sorry for me and read them every day (and sometimes comment--and sometimes "like") will still have no excuse for not reading them.

So ... today is the last day that the Doggerel will appear directly on FB; from now on--look for (or avoid) the link I'll post.

Here's a link to today's 1st post on "Daily Doggerel"--which features a little explanation about what I'm doing ...

Moment of silence ... for the (welcome) passing of an era ...


Friday, September 12, 2014

Mom at 95

Mom & Her Crew:
3 Sons, 2 Grandsons, Granddaughter
As some of you know my mother, Prudence Osborn Dyer (we share the Osborn name, her maiden name; son Steve (in blue-and-black striped shirt) shares it, as well), had her 95th birthday this week--September 9. Born in 1919 (World War I ended in 1918), she has lived through quite a lot. The Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War (Dad was on active duty for both WW II and Korea), the 1960s assassinations (JFK, MLK, RFK), Watergate, 9/11 ...

Born in Martinsburg, WV (her father was preaching there), she grew up the daughter and brother of ordained ministers (Disciples of Christ). Both her father (G. Edwin Osborn) and brother (Ronald E. Osborn) were prolific scholars and writers, too (you can check them out on Amazon or ABE), and her mother was a gifted, compassionate woman. Her father died in 1965--I was in college; her mother, in 1978--I was teaching at Harmon Middle School and, at the time she died, I was on strike!

Mom was extraordinarily bright and disciplined. While we were living in Enid, Oklahoma (my boyhood years), she took her first teaching job--English at Emerson Junior High School, where she quickly distinguished herself. She also taught the first black students in Enid, who'd previously been confined to separate schools until Brown v. Board of Education, 1954. Enid took awhile to integrate (they paid particular attention to that phrase all deliberate speed; they especially liked the deliberate part), but Mom was there when it happened.

We moved to Hiram, Ohio, in the summer of 1956. Hiram had hired my dad to be the Chair of the Division of Education, and Mom began what would be a ten-year teaching career at James A. Garfield High School in nearby Garrettsville. She finished a Master's degree while teaching--and then decided, with Dad's encouragement, to get a Ph.D. She would teach all day--then (on Tuesdays and Thursdays), drive the 100 miles or so to the Univ. of Pittsburgh for night classes, returning late, late at night to Hiram. She would then rise and head off to teach all day again. In the summer she would rent a little room in Pittsburgh and stay for the summer sessions, returning home for weekends. She was amazing.

In 1966--the year I graduated from Hiram College--both Mom and Dad took positions at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, where they joined their best friends, Rose and Paul Sharp. Dr. Paul Sharp, who'd been president at Hiram for a while, was now the new president of Drake. And he knew what Mom and Dad could bring to the faculty.

They had great careers there--Mom, especially, who came into her own. She taught herself Greek (she already knew Latin and French) and soon began taking groups of teachers to Greece each summer for educational tours.

When Mom and Dad both retired just before--and just after--1980, they moved to Cannon Beach, Oregon, where they built a home that Mom designed overlooking the beach. They could see Haystack Rock, the surf, the mountains. They had one of the loveliest views I've ever seen.

Mom and Dad's place was just on the other side
of the finger of land (Tillamook Head)
sticking out from the left in the near background.


Mom loved Cannon Beach. She had dear friends there, and she was very active, well into her 70s, hiking the local trails, swimming. She was fit and happy.

But then Dad's health began to fail. A series of strokes knocked him down; he rose--with a cane. But he had "lost something"--not just physically but intellectually, as well. Soon, he was reading only the newspaper and watching TV and sleeping.

When it became apparent that Dad could no longer stay in the Cannon Beach house, they built another place in Seaside--a more "senior-friendly" place with very different living areas for the two of them--at opposite ends of the house.

And Dad grew worse. My brothers and I convinced them to move back East where we could help out, but when they chose to live in western Massachusetts (Pittsfield), I knew I wouldn't be seeing them very often--though my two brothers, who lived in Boston, would be able to--and did.

And Dad grew worse. They soon had to leave their little cottage and move to an assisted living facility in Pittsfield. Mom didn't need it, but Dad most certainly did, so they got two units there.

And Dad grew worse. He'd declined from cane to walker to wheelchair (he was wild in his motorized chair--banging into walls and people at the facility; my brothers and I didn't know whether to be alarmed or amused). And soon he was down and in a nursing home, where, mercifully, he didn't have to endure much more.

My father died at 11:15 a.m., November 29, 1999. He was 86. Mom was with him. My brothers and I had been back and forth throughout the fall--many times. But only Mom was there at the end--something I profoundly regret.

Meanwhile, as soon as Dad had left assisted living for nursing, Mom got ready to move out. She was still active and healthy (she turned 80 in 1999). She got her own condo in Lenox and enjoyed a few years of independence there. She was doing so well that we twice took her with us for a week of plays at the Stratford Festival in Canada. My brothers took her all over the place, too.

But soon it became clear she could not live on her own. She had a terrible car accident, breaking her neck (but suffered no paralysis), and, fortunately, she had not hurt anyone else. But she was having quick periods of blackout, and my brothers and I knew we needed to do something. So we helped her move into Kimball Farms, a stages-of-care place where she remains. She was in the independent wing for quite awhile, then a few years ago moved to assisted living, which she really needs now.

Gradually, her abilities have abandoned her. She can no longer use a computer (she was really quite adept with it at one time; now, she can't remember how to turn it on and off). She can't read books anymore (she was a voracious reader), though, the other day, she was reading the newspaper when Joyce and I came by to see her. She flips through magazines. Because she took so many falls when she was using a cane and then a walker, she is now in a wheelchair and is--as she well knows--close to another move--to the nursing wing. She has been there several times already for rehab. And she does not like it. (Who would?) She still keeps a few books piled beside her on her table in her living area--but they're the same books, in the same order, that have been standing there for a couple of years. She kind of knows, I think, that she ought to read--but she just can't.

I'd been worried about her the last couple of visits. Her ankles were badly swollen and blue (we all know what that means), and her energy was fading fast, along with her ability to find the words she wants to use. She can no longer carry or really initiate a conversation; she listens (though her hearing is bad), replies.

But this most recent visit, things were better. Her ankles look much better; she was more adept in conversation. Joyce and I, for instance, were talking about the "plank" on a pirate ship, and Mom quipped: "There were times when I could have used one." Thinking, no doubt, of the noxious me of teen-agery.

And I told her that I'd been invited to give a little talk at Western Reserve Academy in October (I retired from the faculty in June 2011), but I was not sure, even though I'd accepted, that I was feeling up to it. And she said, "Danny, the time will come when no one will ask you to speak, so you probably should do it." And so I will--mostly (entirely?) for her.

As my brothers have noticed, one of her enduring traits is her sense of humor. She still loves to laugh--at silly things, at herself. I wrote the other day about her laughter while she was struggling to eat Japanese noodles at her birthday bash. It's quite a trait, her humor. I'm pretty sure that if I were in her position, I'd be screaming obscenities until they sedated me into some profoundly pacific state.

Not Mom. She endures. Nods and naps. Pages through magazines and newspapers. Waits for her sons to write or call or appear. Laughs whenever she can.

Such a wonder is my mother, Prudence Dyer, 95.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Visiting Edgar Poe at Castle Island (sort of)

Castle Island, Boston Harbor
In late 1826, Edgar Poe (he never used the name "Allan" on his published works), 17, was having yet another confrontation with his foster father, John Allan, in Richmond, Va., their home. Since Poe had entered his teen years, the tension between him and Allan had boiled and bubbled in a witch's brew that soon overwhelmed all. Poe had recently messed up at the University of Virginia--though he had done well in some courses. Drinking. Gambling debts. Embarrassment for Allan, who was publicly virtuous, though privately? Another matter. He had affairs outside his marriage. Children. He would leave money for them in his will--but nothing for Edgar (or "Eddie," as the family called him). At the time of his death, Allan was one of the richest men in Virginia.

Anyway, Allan was angry now with his foster son--those embarrassing incidents at university--so he refused to allow Edgar to return to school, and the young man, always very emotional (a good thing for literary, if not personal, history), left home early in 1827. His foster mother gave him a little money, which he promptly used to sail to Boston. There, he fooled around for a few months--arranged for the publication of Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827)--and then, on May 26, 1827, enlisted in the U. S. Army as "Edgar A. Perry." Early in June, his first assignment: artillery, Battery H at Fort Independence overlooking Boston Harbor from Castle Island.

On Halloween that year (appropriate for Poe!) he was transferred to Fort Moultrie, Sullivan's Island, Charleston (S. C.) Harbor. This is not the place to expatiate--but Poe loved the military (and had since he was a boy). He would eventually go to West Point, where he was doing well--until another flameout with his foster father. Poe showed him by behaving in such a way as to force West Point to dismiss him. A good thing, again, for literary history.

Okay.

This past Sunday--September 7--my older brother, Richard (who lives in Dorchester, Mass.), escorted Joyce and me to Castle Island, now a historical site/museum. It was a gorgeous sunny day, and crowds swarmed all around the fort--not the fort that Poe knew, but its next incarnation (Civil War era). Still, the views from the fort give the same perspective--if not the same sights--that Poe would have seen. (I'm sure EP, who died in 1849, did not get any glimpses, as we did, of airliners landing at Logan Airport.)

We arrived just moments before the final tour began (at 3), so we were lucky: In the fall, tours are only on Sundays. The tour took about an hour and was conducted by a man who had taught high school English in the Boston Public Schools for more than thirty years--so we immediately established a good connection. We went up onto the ramparts, circling around the fort, then into its bowels where we saw an approximation of the spot where Poe would have bunked during his time there.

The guide--and the guidebook I purchased there (Castle Island and Fort Independence, Boston Public Library, 1995)--offered the claim that at Castle Island, Poe had heard a story about some soldiers who had once walled up an obnoxious fellow--and thus provided the source for Poe's masterful story "The Cask of Amontillado."

Good legend. But just a legend. The scholarly works on Poe point to an 1844 piece in the Columbian Magazine (in the same issue appeared Poe's story "Mesmeric Revelation") called "A Man Built in a Wall," a piece about a skeleton discovered in a church wall in Italy. Some other sources are likely, as well, but the scholarly collection of Poe's stories edited by Thomas Ollive Mabbott mentions nothing about the tale from Castle Island.

But such things happen. When I was in Santa Clara, Calif., some years ago doing research on The Call of the Wild, a city official told me that Buck (the hero of Wild) had pranced around Santa Clara in the control of the Bond brothers, who had met London in the Klondike and whose dog (oddly named "Jack") had been the inspiration for Buck. Just one problem, though: The Bonds had bought Jack in Seattle on the way north and had lost him on the way home. He'd never been to Santa Clara.

Anyway, we had a lovely afternoon at Castle Island--as the photos show--and I was glad to have had the chance--thanks to my bro--to visit one of the few Poe sites I've not seen.

Next ... Sullivan's Island?!
view from ramparts
"Poe's area"
Fort Independence
Dickie & Danny