Saturday, November 7, 2015
John Updike, Who Never Knew
This page from my book-nerd calendar yesterday reminded me of a story ... hang in there: It's got some Love in it!
Mid-July 1969. I was twenty-four years old and had just finished my third year of teaching at the middle school in Aurora, Ohio. I was taking two summer school classes at Kent State University, just a dozen miles away, one in the philosophy of education, the other in American Transcendentalism. I had not wanted to take the latter course--the period was not one of my favorite in American literature--but my first choice (whatever it was) had closed by the time I got to registration, so ... there I was with Dr. Kenneth Pringle in Satterfield Hall reading Thoreau and Emerson and Jones Very et al.
This was the room where I first saw Joyce. But, as I've written here before, I had made that Male Calculation (the ancient one whose single rule is this: She's out of your league; don't break your own stupid heart). The class was rolling along, and we had not spoken or made eye contact. (Well, confession: I sat behind her, to the side, and I'd looked at her--plenty.)
On this particular day we had just met--and I mean just met. She had spoken to me on the way out of class that day, had asked me where the library was (she'd been going every day for weeks), and I said I would show her (no dummy, I). On the way from Satterfield Hall to the old KSU Library (now the School of Fashion--go figure) we passed the old student union, which contained the bookstore. I suggested a stop. She agreed.
Browsing the shelves, she pulled out John Updike's recent novel Couples (1968--it had just gone into paperback), and asked me what I thought of Updike.
Well ... I had first read him in Dr. Ravitz's class back at Hiram College (The Poorhouse Fair), and I had already read Couples! (This is an image of my copy, much tattered, the very one I'd read and spoken with Joyce about that long-ago day.) So ... I waxed wise about Updike, and I could tell Joyce was surprised (maybe even impressed?), an inference which she confirmed some years later.
She'd been looking for a guy who liked to read--and although her mental picture was probably not someone who looked like me (another impression later confirmed), well, you can't have everything in a relationship, right?
Things progressed between us. Within a few days--yes, days--we had agreed to marry, and on December 20--just five months later--we were man and wife. So this year we will celebrate Anniversary #46.
Thirty years after this Event in the KSU Bookstore, I would begin reviewing books for the Cleveland Plain Dealer (a prospect I could not possibly have considered in 1969), and I would have the chance to review some of Updike's books. Some I liked; some I didn't. But every time--and I mean every time--I read one of his (whether for a review or not), I remembered that summer of 1969, that young man who spoke earnestly about Couples and The Poorhouse Fair, that young woman who listened and asked great questions and made me think in ways I'd never thought before, who still does so, every day, just as she has done throughout our forty-six years together, our forty-six years that, in a way, I owe to John Updike, who died in 2009 before I could tell him of my gratitude.