Heading to Wales--to see the scene of the Shelley shootout ...
I loved Wales—even though I could not help but make a mess of pronouncing the names of towns and places that were, to me, unpronounceable. Several times I asked locals how to do it and was rewarded with sounds I could not duplicate. I’ve learned that international (and even national) travel creates in me something very like humility. And admiration.
In the Netherlands, for example (on an earlier trip relating to my Anne Frank obsession), I was astonished when virtually everyone I met—from all walks of life—spoke solid English. I found the same to be true in Germany. In those two countries I never had a problem with trains or cabs or hotels or restaurants or directions on the street—well, not a language problem (sometimes my intelligence failed me—as my parents always knew it would!).
But in Italy and France? Two other, sadder stories …
It was Monday, May 3, 1999. I woke up in my London hotel (The Phoenix—appropriate) shuddering from an odd dream. For some reason I was jogging—naked—down Derthick Hill (a large hill just west of Hiram, Ohio, where I’d spent my youth); a man I knew from a local coffee shop came out on one of the lawns lining the road and waved at me. I woke up before the embarrassments continued. (The interrogations by the Hiram Police. Sir, why are you naked? Sir, where do you think you’re going?)
I took my Sweet Old Time heading to Euston Station, where I barely caught my train to Wales—I had hardly sat down when the wheels began to roll. I enjoyed the southwestern English countryside—rolling, flowering farmland that reminded me in many ways of the Midwest terrain I knew so well. But this was unspoiled—uncluttered by strip malls and fast-food places and other emblems of American ruin. Just farmland. Compact small towns.
In later years, Joyce and I would spend a week every summer in Stratford, Ontario, seeing plays at the Stratford Festival. During our free time we liked to drive around the countryside of Perth County (and adjacent ones—Oxford, Middlesex, Huron, and others), for that region, too, reminds me of an uncluttered American Midwest. It’s a way to visit the past without leaving the present.
On the train—my journal reminds me—I was re-memorizing Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Shadow,” a poem I first heard from my grandmother Osborn; Enid, Oklahoma; late 1940s. One of my earliest memories is of her, sitting in her rocker, reciting that poem to me.
I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see. …*
I had memorized it back in the early 1980s when I’d taught a group of sixth graders at Harmon Middle School in Aurora, Ohio; I’d asked them to memorize it, as well. But I’d sort of let it slip away after that one year. And now I wanted it back. Our son was going to marry in August 1999—just three months in the future—and when their children arrived, I wanted to be able to recite it to them.
And I did. When I first held grandson Logan Thomas Dyer on the day of his birth (February 15, 2005) in the delivery room of Akron General Hospital, I whispered “The Shadow” to him.
And my grandmother’s rocker now sits in our front room.
*Link to Stevenson's entire poem. YouTube has a handful of recitations of it, as well.