Dawn Reader

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

Saturday, February 28, 2015

An Exchange with My Mom



When I was a snotty high school kid--and was at my very snottiest--I (for a reason I can't recall) stopped talking to my mother, a situation my dad remedied very readily by tying my vocal cords to the car keys: No talk to Mom? No car. (A swift and certain cure.)

My earliest memory is talking to my mother. We were living in the upstairs apartment at my maternal grandparents' house--1609 E. Broadway Ave.; Enid, Okla. (our address was 1609 1/2). We had a large window in the front of the house (see picture), looking out over Broadway, and I remember sitting there with Mom, looking out, talking about the traffic--vehicular, pedestrian. There was a lot of the latter in those days (this had to be in the late 1940s) because many people didn't own cars; most people owned only one; everyone walked a lot more. Enid also had a bus system that serviced the entire city (and, yes, those buses had signs that said "Colored" in the very back--this was pre-Brown v. Board of Education, 1954).

1609 E. Broadway
My mother was never a loquacious person. She was quiet. Intelligent (she would earn her Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh when I was a snotty high school kid). Highly organized. She always did our family income taxes. She would close the door to the study, and Dad would warn us throughout the day: Keep it down ... Mom's doing the taxes today ... she's on the peck.

On the peck. Probably not a very PC thing to say anymore about a woman! The OED does not seem to know the expression--but there are some meanings of peck that relate to anger and churlishness. And peckish can mean irritable, peevish, touchy, says the OED. That was Mom at tax time.

She was not on the peck all that often--despite her living with four males who could be, well, snotty in various ways.

The daughter (and, later, brother) of a Disciples of Christ minister, Mom was very ... conventional ... in her views of human behavior. Puritanical, really. We did not swear in our house (on very rare, on-the-peck occasions she might say, "Hell's bells!" But that was the extent of it). We ate three family meals together every day--yes, including breakfast (that was a pleasure for my parents during our Snotty Periods). We went to church together. We boys answered the phone like this: "Dyers' residence ... Danny (or Dickie or Davi) speaking." We held our tongues when company came for a meal. We made our own lunches for school. We did our own laundry. Etc.

When I was in my forties, she told me to change out of my bluejeans before we went to a Dyer family picnic out in Oregon. I did--though not happily, I can tell you. My brothers and I were the only ones there not wearing bluejeans.

Later on--in a period becoming less Snotty--I talked to Mom about teaching. She was a career teacher (as was my father), and she was a talented one. When I began my own career (with 7th graders),I needed ... help. In my first year--1966-67--I would call her from my pathetic Twinsburg apartment (they were living in Des Moines--both teaching at Drake University) and ask for advice about various pedagogical things. Also ... money. I was raking in $168.42 on the 1st and 15th of every month--not a fortune--and every now and then I would need $20 or so (never more did I ask for). I bought groceries. Cigarettes (yes, I was smoking in those early Aurora Middle School years). Paid my phone bill. (I could not afford a single extension; the only phone was on the kitchen wall.)

Later, retired, my folks moved out to Oregon, and we called back and forth about once/week. Mom was on the Internet early (she had one of the first computers in the family), and soon we were emailing regularly, too.

But all of that has ended. At 95, she can't use her laptop anymore (she's forgotten how to turn it on, how to use it, how to turn it off). And she's incapable of calling me--or anyone else. She can't write letters.

And so I call a few times each week; write her snail-mail letters. During our calls, she is invariably chipper (never on the peck), laughs at herself, her inabilities. She has to struggle to find words now. She knows what she wants to say, but sometimes the words just aren't there. So I wait ... or help her out.

She can still zing me now and then (she's always been good at that!). Here's the latest:

On Thursday this week, I was telling her about her great-grandson Carson's recent performance in a play in kindergarten--a play about the alphabet. He played letter C (because of his name). I quipped: "I would have been D, Mom--and I had a couple of those on my high school transcript."

"That's not funny!" she said in her Death Voice.

And so I stopped laughing, fearing that Mom was On the Peck.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 102



15 April 1999. Horsham, Sussex, U. K.

During my lengthy spring trip to Europe I am trying to see as many Mary Shelley sites as possible on my limited budget and time. But I cannot resist the Bysshe Shelley sites, either. And so several places I visit—like some of my reading—relate principally to him. Example: his family estate, Field Place. Bysshe was born in this house that dates back generations before him (though Shelleys had lived there less than a century), and, much later, Mary and her son Percy Florence Shelley would inherit the property—though they declined to live there (a complicated story for another telling).
English law embraced the principle of primogeniture, which Webster’s Legal Dictionary defines as follows: “exclusive right of inheritance; specifically: a right to take all the real property of an estate belonging under English law to the eldest son or eldest male in the next degree of consanguinity if there is no son of an ancestor to the exclusion of all female and younger male descendants.”
This legal provision would enrage Bysshe’s father, Sir Timothy, who felt betrayed by his radical, wayward eldest son—expelled from Oxford! for atheism! marrying without his father’s permission! adulterer! father of children out of wedlock!—and he no doubt would have swiftly disinherited Bysshe if he could have legally done so.



Field Place still stands near the small towns of Warnham and Horsham in Sussex—and I have decided to go see what I can today. After enduring the morning crush of commuters aboard the Tube, I take a train to Horsham from London’s Victoria Station, and when I arrive, I have one of the great pieces of traveler’s luck that I’ve ever had. I don’t know where I am going (there are other sites I want to see in the area as well), but the cabbie next in the queue at the station is Brian B., a knowledgeable local. I show him the old sketchy map I have of the region (it focuses on the Shelley sites), and he knows right where to go.

Field Place (back when)
When I tell Brian I am a writer, his first question is  “Are you famous?” And as I write this, I’m reminded of something that happened about a year and a half before my European adventure.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Danny, the Bad Little Boy



"Go over and sit in the corner."

This is a sentence I overheard at the coffee shop this morning--a young mother was telling her two little ones to go over and sit at a corner table and wait for her to bring their food. But the sentence had other resonances for me.

Sitting in the corner (or standing in the corner--face into the corner) was one of the punishments favored by my elementary school teachers in Enid, Okla., and Amarillo, Tex. And so I'm rather familiar with the sound of it.

In Enid, at Adams School, there was an even worse punishment: "Go stand in the cloak room."

It wasn't really a room, the "cloak room." In the back (or side) of each classroom was a wooden partition that ran partway across the room; it did not reach the ceiling; it did not reach the floor. Behind it (between the partition and the wall) we hung our coats in the seasons that required them. Getting sent in there to stand while class went on was both humiliating and liberating. (No classwork!)

There was one problem, though: The teacher could see your feet and ankles. That meant you had better not be moving around/fooling around in there, for the next punishment was "Out in the hall!"--a place of some danger since passing teachers could give you grief, as could the principal, Miss Hinshawe, who, as everyone in the school knew, kept in her office desk a Rubber Hose, which she used to flail into bloody submission the worst offenders. (I was not one.)

I never knew anyone who actually felt the Rubber Hose (or even saw it)--but it was there, believe it! (Wasn't it?)

So what did I do that earned me a place in the corner? The cloak room? The hallway? A partial list:

  • I messed up another kid's drawing during art period while he (she? can't remember) was at the pencil-sharpener. I--and this is painful/embarrassing to admit--drew a group of ... please forgive me ... turds emerging from the character he/she was drawing. He/She told on me; I visited the hall. Later, I saw that the teacher had cleverly converted the ... items ... I'd drawn into a fence. The character was now sitting on a fence--a rather thick one.
  • During penmanship class, we used actual dip-and-write ink pens. With points. I wondered one dull Oklahoma day if it would stick in the back of the kid in front of me if I threw it like a knife. Young scientist that I was(n't), I threw it. It stuck. For a moment. The kid cried aloud. I went to the hall. (Why not to Miss Hinshawe? I might have found out if there really was a Rubber Hose.)
  • I went down the up stairs (no kidding), an infraction so grave that the Authorities removed me from the Safety Patrol--a horrible punishment, mostly because we Patrolers got out of class a few minutes early in the afternoon to go stand at the crosswalks, dressed with a white Sam Browne belt (with tin badge), to wait for the big kids to ignore us.
  • A bunch of us got in trouble at recess for dividing into two "armies"--Rebels and Yanks--and charging each other across the field and engaging in all sorts of violence.


I never received any corporal punishment at elementary school (I did, however, at home--well earned), but I also once got whacked with a paddle in ninth grade at Hiram High School.

Scene: Study Hall. Rows of desks. An empty desk separating each student from the one in front and behind. DANNY is seated behind his older brother, RICHARD (a senior). MR. WOLFE, the Study Hall supervisor is out of the room (cigarette?). DANNY, armed with a long rubber band (brought to school by an EVIL FRIEND), decides to nail RICHARD. DANNY draws the rubber band to its full length and ... sudden silence in the Study Hall. DANNY looks over toward the door. MR. WOLFE has returned and is looking right at DANNY.

MR. WOLFE: Out in the hall. [MR. WOLFE gestures in case DANNY does not know where the hall is.]

SOUNDS of imminent doom coming from some of the OTHER STUDENTS.

MR. WOLFE [out in the hall]: Take everything out of your back pockets. [DANNY does.] Bend over and grab your ankles.

DANNY [complies easily--so lithe at 14]: Please ...

SOUND: WHACK! WHACK!

MR. WOLFE: Now get back in there.

DANNY [fiercely fighting tears]: Yes, sir.

Back in Study Hall, DANNY sits--gingerly--while every eye in the room is checking to see if he will cry. DANNY is wondering, too. But he doesn't. He bends his head and focuses ferociously on his English book--perhaps the chapter on predicate adjectives?

Later, RICHARD tells DANNY'S PARENTS what happened. DANNY endures some cross-examination--but no subsequent punishment. 




Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 101



Thursday, 27 July 2000. Hudson, Ohio.

I am up early today—six o’clock—to drive to New York to the University of Rochester, whose Rhees Library holds a copy of an 1811 pamphlet, The Return to Nature; or, A Defence of the Vegetable Regimen; with Some Account of an Experiment Made During the Last Three or Four Years in the Author’s Family. The writer—John Frank Newton (1770?–1827)—had an early and profound influence on young Bysshe Shelley, barely 20, who first read of Newton’s theories about vegetarianism in 1812.
On 5 November of that year—Guy Fawkes Day—during a trip to London from Wales, Bysshe met Newton in the city. Shelley had been visiting the Godwins, but the sounds of the Fawkes fireworks sent him out into the streets in company with young William Godwin, Jr., age 9. Godwin and Newton were friends, so when Bysshe showed up at the home of Newton, who was firing off rockets and other celebratory explosives, the older man was pleased to meet Godwin’s new disciple—and impressed with the erudition of one so young.[1]
Later—in 1813—again back in London, Bysshe and Harriet and their friend Hogg regularly visited the Newtons; the visitors were initially stunned but soon eager supporters of the Newtons’ practice of having all five of their children run around naked in the house.[2] And eat only veggies. Bysshe, of course, would soon write his own pro-veggie tract, A Vindication of the Natural Diet, 1813, which rails against “the unnatural craving for dead flesh.”[3] Near the end of his Vindication, he devotes a footnote, in part, to Newton: “His children,” writes Bysshe, “are the most beautiful and healthy creatures it is possible to conceive; the girls are perfect models for a sculptor; their dispositions are also the most gentle and conciliating; the judicious treatment, which they experience in other points, may be a correlative cause of this.”[4]
So today I am driving 274 miles to Rochester to read Newton’s pamphlet because no copy is closer. I hope to beat the rush-hour traffic around Cleveland, but by the time I get on I-271, so have thousands of others, and I am not able to make good time until near Wickliffe, where I-271 terminates in I-90, and most vehicles surge west toward Cleveland. I flow onto I-90 East and find little traffic to trouble me for the next five hours.
The reference librarian at Rhees, Kathy McGowan, has already set aside the item (it was published in three parts), and I spend a few hours typing pages of notes into my laptop, six single-spaced pages. I spend the night in a local motel and am on the road by 6:15 the next morning. On the way home—fully in the thrall of these Romantics—I memorize Keats’ sonnet “When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be.” That evening I recite it for Joyce, my best, dearest—and usually only—audience for the poems I memorize.




[1] Holmes, Shelley: The Pursuit (New York: Flamingo/HarperCollins, 1995), 174.
[2] Reported in vol. 1 of Newman Ivey White’s two-volume Shelley (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1940), 302.
[3] 85.
[4] 88.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Winter Woes


No, I'm not really talking about the weather--especially the weather we've "enjoyed" here in northeastern Ohio during the foulest February I can recall. I'm talking about a different winter. Mine.

Oh, I know: 70 is the new 40 (or 50 or whatever), but 70 has already delivered some unwelcome gifts, gifts that--I know--will keep on giving. This winter of my discontent (to borrow some words from the wordy Richard III) threatens only to deepen and darken.

I mentioned in an earlier post the ... instability ... I've been feeling. Dizziness when I change positions (or speeds) too quickly. My family physician--after doing some blood pressure tests on me a couple of weeks ago--concluded that it's just, you know, getting older. The fluid in my inner ear (like the rest of me) is less youthful. Less supple. More "sticky" (my doctor's word). So when I suddenly swing my head one way or the other, when I stand up too quickly, when I segue from a swift walk to a slower one, when I bend over to tie my shoes too quickly (or stand up after having done so), I feel a kind of vertigo. So now--for the first time in a long, long, long time--I have to think about what I'm doing--before I do it. Otherwise, I will slump to the floor/ground/couch/bed and sit still a moment until the discomfort dissipates.

And here's something that's become truly annoying, something that hasn't bothered me since I was a toddler. Getting dressed and undressed. In recent months it's become a hassle to put on and remove clothing. (I'm beginning to understand why some (older) folks wear simple track suits--though I've not yet decided to make that move.) I think I want my mommy.

Just think about all that has to go on--especially in the winter: underwear, socks, pants, shirt, sweater, indoor footwear, outdoor footwear, scarf, coat, hat, gloves ... Freud would smile right now, by the way: I just typed hate when I meant to type hat. It's gotten to the point that I dread dressing/undressing.

And on those days when I go to the health club to ride the exercise bike (ever more slowly), I get to do it all again! I think I expend as much energy dressing and undressing as I do cycling. Maybe that could become a popular new class at the club: Getting Dressed and Undressed. (No one under 70 admitted: Otherwise, other issues will ... arise.) Seeing other 70s undressed would certainly motivate me to get dressed and out of there as quickly as possible. Good cardio, right?

Anyway, other people have it much worse, I know. So I feel a bit churlish, whimpering about the recent changes in my life.

So I'll stop ... until the next somatic failure declares itself and I will once again rage, rage against the dying of the light.


Monday, February 23, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 100



Shelley—The Pursuit: From Field Place to Tan-yr-Allt


Hail to thee, blithe spirit!
Bird thou never wert—
That from heaven or near it
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.
                        —“To a Skylark,” Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1820

… Shelley’s life seems more a haunting than a history.
                        —Richard Holmes, Shelley—The Pursuit, 1974.

In mid-April 1998, I read Richard Holmes’ magnificent Shelley—The Pursuit (1974), the first biography of Percy Bysshe Shelley I’d ever read. I had only recently learned, as I mentioned earlier, that Shelley’s middle name rhymed with fish, not with fishy, the way I’d been pronouncing it since my first required reading of  Shelley's “To a Skylark” in high school and had suffered a first-stanza collision with the word wert, a word that convinced me, first, that poets could just make up any old word they wanted to and, second, that poets were, well, not like Real Men. I mean, really, in our literature anthology the picture of Shelley (Hey, isn’t that a girl’s name? And Percy isn’t much better!) showed a soft-featured young man with long hair, and long hair in 1961 meant only one thing to my crude crowd and me: Queer. Shelley’s use of thou and thy and pourest confirmed it. (We were—I was—very, very dumb and bigoted in 1961.)
Thirty-seven years later, in Holmes, I started to learn that I could not have been more wrong about him—in many ways. Shelley, for one thing, loved women—oh, did he!—so much so that his percolating libido contributed to the suicide of his first wife, Harriet, and made Mary, in the last years of his life, desperately unhappy about his attentions to other women in their circle—and even to a young woman living in a convent.
He was also a ferociously curious and gifted young man. (Dead at 29, he never got to be even middle-aged.) His father—Sir Timothy—was a far more conventional and conservative man, and his son baffled him (eventually angered him) in just about every way possible. One example: In his first months at Oxford, Bysshe, 19, and a friend (Thomas Jefferson Hogg) composed and published (anonymously) a pamphlet they called The Necessity of Atheism. The Oxford authorities were not pleased and, after discovering the authors’ identities, promptly dismissed the two young men. Can you imagine Sir Timothy Shelley’s shame? His outrage? It would get worse.
Anyway, Shelley’s story began to interest me so much that I found myself engaged in my own pursuit, charging around to places related to him, places that had no real direct connection to Mary, whose life I was supposedly researching and writing. I’d gone off on a tangent—a detour that, like many other unexpected routes, traversed terrain sometimes more scenic and dramatic than what lay along the main road.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sunday Sundries, 38



1. Joyce and I, married late in 1969, were SNL fans from the beginning. In the days before video recording was widely available, we stayed up late on Saturday nights to watch the Not Ready for Prime Time Players (Gilda, Chevy, Garrett, et al.) and loved the show--if not every skit (later in the 1.5-hour production there were usually some ... losers). When we became parents (summer 1972), we were often too tired to make it all the way through, but VHS and DVR eventually changed all that. We still watch SNL regularly--via DVR, usually over a two-day period.

So, of course, we watched the 40th anniversary special last week (via DVR over four viewings! it was long--3.5 hours), and we were both very moved throughout. Yes, there were some doggy moments, but it was live (most of it), and, well, stuff happens. The one moment I wished they'd showed again: that wonderful dance between Gilda Radner and Steve Martin to "Dancing in the Dark."




2. This week I finished reading The Quick (debut novel by Lauren Owen, 2014), a novel that earned some very strong reviews and blurbs. Among the latter, this one from Hilary Mantel: "A sly and glittering addition to the literature of the macabre ...  As soon as you have breathed with relief, much worse horrors begin. It's a skillful, assured performance, and it's hard to believe it is a first novel."

It's a vampire novel ("the quick" = "the living"), and I wasn't as thrilled with it as HM. I felt it needed another journey through the typewriter, although, of course, there ain't no more typewriters. Another cutting and sharpening, though? Definitely. I did admire some moments, some of the characters she created.




3. This week I ordered our season tickets for the Great Lakes Theater Festival next year--always a very hopeful thing to do (at my age). (We do the same thing with the Stratford Festival in Canada--buying many months before the shows.) They're doing Lear and Love's Labour's Lost (one of my favorites) at the GLTF next year--I just hope they don't modernize the language at they did with this year's Merry Wives of Windsor, alterations so egregious (in my view) we headed home at intermission. Sure, set the Bard's plays in any time and place you want--but, geez, don't add trendy dialogue and current cultural references. If I want that, I'll turn on the TV.


4. This week I also finished Joyce Carol Oates' most recent novel, The Sacrifice, a story based on the controversial Tawana Brawley rape case in 1987. (Brawley was 15 at the time.) Oates' is a dark, dark novel about poverty and greed and celebrity and mass media and so much else.Throughout, she gradually lets us know about the veracity of her young woman (Sybilla)--but I'll not tell you where Oates lands her narrative helicopter.



5. Both Joyce and I loved Kingsman, the new film with Colin Firth as a James Bondy character. There were many allusions to other Bond films (even to Get Smart), and the playfulness was what was most appealing. The violence is graphic but, oddly, funny--sometimes very funny. I saw the first Bond film (Dr. No) at Hiram College and was immediately hooked (I've seen them all, multiple times)--and Kingsman brought so much of it back.



6. Finally, a former Harmon School/Aurora High School student--Cori McCarthy--is now a writer. Her 2nd novel, Breaking Sky, is just out (I've ordered it!), and she's at work on a 3rd novel. On Facebook the other day she said that she's going to have a scene at Geauga Lake Park (RIP) and solicited memories from her Fb friends. Well, here's one, Cori ...

At the end of my 8th grade year in the Hiram School, a group of us went to Geauga Lake to celebrate. It was June 1958. I don't remember a lot about the rides (other than the roller coaster, which scared the hell out of me--a terror I barely concealed from my coevals), but what I do remember was seeing a couple of high-school lads (from some other school) in the most ferocious fistfight I'd even seen (I've still not seen a worse one). No one was blocking anything, and blood was literally flying from the face of each guy as punches landed. A circle of "fans," of course, had formed around them (reminding me of the dogfight between Buck and Spitz in The Call of the Wild). I don't remember how it ended, but I do remember this: I was terrified that it would somehow escalate, that other, satellite fights would break out, that some behemoth would take a look at me, see an easy opportunity, and knock me into Next Week. And so I hurried away in search of cotton candy.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Gift Not Opened for Fifty Years


A few days ago, writing about our grandson's tenth birthday, I mentioned this book, a gift on my own ninth birthday, a gift from my maternal grandparents, Edwin and Alma Osborn. I mentioned, as well, that I'd published an essay about it in the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2003. Here's that piece, unedited, the way I sent it to the paper ...



Opening a 50-year-old Present

            Fifty years ago, in November 1953,  my grandparents gave me a birthday present I never opened.  Oh, I unwrapped it—I was nine at the time, and among the things even the most dense nine-year-old knows is this: Unwrap presents.
            So, yes, I unwrapped it.  But when I saw what it was—a book—I thanked them with faux enthusiasm and with several tacit queries (Where’s the cap gun?  The baseball mitt?  The new bicycle?).  After the cake and my grandparents were gone, I put the book on a shelf and forgot about it.
            And it has sat on a shelf in various houses the past half-century but has so gradually become surrounded and overwhelmed by other books that decades have passed without my even thinking about it.  When we packed for our moves, I guess I must have noticed it—“Oh, there’s that old book,” I might have said.  And there must have been something about it that prevented me from discarding or giving it away.  I’ve kept precious else from my ninth year.
            So why didn’t I read it in 1953?  (Or 63? or 73? or …?)  For one thing, back then, I’m pretty sure the title bothered me: “Greyfriars Bobby.”  A book about a dog in Scotland.  That didn’t fit with the sorts of titles I was reading.  “Buffalo Bill” and “Custer’s Last Stand” were more up my arroyo in those days.  I wasn’t even sure what “Greyfriars” meant—it suggested, maybe, something about hair or whiskers?  I wasn’t sure.  And “Greyfriars Bobby?”  Well, that sounded like a sissy book.  No question about it.
            Another reason: The cover.  It pictured a little hairy dog (I’ve since learned it is a Skye Terrier), the sort of cutsie-pooch that real boys like me disdained.  At home, we had a real dog, an All-American, melting-pot mutt—a “Heinz dog,” my dad used to say (57 varieties!).  The kind of dog that chased cats and cars, fought much bigger dogs to a stand-still, ferociously defended us against mail carriers and milkmen, killed vermin in the basement and proudly dropped their limp bodies at our feet.  So to me, that little Skye Terrier on the cover of that unread book looked like something an old woman would hold on her lap.  It looked, well, like a sissy dog.
            Finally, “Greyfriars Bobby” had been one of my mother’s favorites stories in her girlhood.  She’d lived in Scotland for a time while her father was in graduate school.  And, well, that proved that the book was for girls … or sissies.  I was steadfastly neither.
            But the other day—for no real reason—I thought of the book and went looking for it.  It took awhile, but I found it after a bit, down on a low shelf behind a piece of furniture, out of sight.
            I opened it—and taped to the inside cover was the gift card from my grandparents, both long dead (my grandfather in 1965, my grandmother in 1978).  Here’s what it said: “Nov. 11, 1953  Dear Danny  We hope you’ll enjoy this story as much as your mother did when she was about your age.  Grandma & Grandpa.”
            And so I decided to read “Greyfriars Bobby,” to open that gift I’d unwrapped 50 years ago.
            As I turned the first few pages, I realized that even if I had started reading it, I could not have made much progress.  It’s too difficult.  All the dialogue is in Scottish dialect, which would have been impossible for my newly nine self to translate.  “Ilka body aboot kens Auld Jock,” comments a character (72).   In 2003 I can figure that out (Everyone around knows Old Jack).  But in 1953?  No way.
            The sentences are often long and complicated.  Like this one: “The view of the heaped-up and crowded mounds and thickets of old slabs and through-stones, girt all about by time-stained monuments and vaults, and shut in on the north and east by the backs of shops and lofty slum tenements, could not be said to be cheerful” (8).  That one would have lowered my nine-year-old eyelids like window shades.
            But this time, I read on, propelled by the desire to repay a 50-year-old debt.  The story is a touching one, based, it seems, on the actual instance of the incredible loyalty of a dog named Bobby to a departed master, a poor shepherd named John Gray (“Auld Jock”) who passed away in 1858 and was buried in the Greyfriars churchyard in Edinburgh.  (The “grey friars,” by the way, were the Franciscans, who wore grey.)
            And for 14 years thereafter, the dog Bobby stood guard over Auld Jock’s grave, sleeping on it at night, and earning his keep at the church by dispatching rats and keeping cats away from the low-nesting birds.  He became a favorite with the poor children who lived nearby and with a friendly innkeeper who fed him and with various ecclesiastical and civil officials who declined to enforce assorted “no dogs allowed” postings.
            There are only a few moments of tension in the novel.  (Will Bobby’s actual owner, the man who employed Auld Jock, reclaim him?  Will the church officials expel him?  Will Bobby have to get a license?  Will Bobby escape from Edinburgh Castle, where he once follows some soldiers, who decide to keep him?)
            And, of course, will Bobby die?
            Not in the book, he doesn’t.  By the end he is older and more sedentary (his teeth are not so sharp), and folks have already planned a memorial to him (which still stands—check the website: http://www.greyfriarsbobby.co.uk).  So, when young readers reach the end on page 208, they do not weep at an actual but at an imminent death.  Reason enough to cry.
            There is a real social consciousness in the story—a sympathy for the poor, a recognition that dignity cannot be purchased, a contention that those who are well off should do a better job of helping out those who are not.  These are the sorts of beliefs my grandparents cherished and worked to instill in their children, and grandchildren.  At times, as I read, I could almost hear their voices.
            Eleanor Atkinson’s book was first published in 1912, and on the web I recently found (but could not buy) a mint first edition for $1500.  Mine is a 1949 reprint but still has a very good dust jacket which bears the image of the little dog, staring right at me.  It is a sad, even reproachful look that seems to say: “Why haven’t you opened this book before?”  And his mouth is ever so slightly open with just the faintest flash of teeth, as if to warn, “You’d better read this soon, big guy.  You’re no spring chicken yourself!”
Since 1912, there have been other books about Bobby by other writers: David Ross, John Mackay, Lavinia Derwent, Forbes Macgregor.  Disney made a film in 1961.  And now, from the website, you can order all sorts of Greyfriars Bobby-abilia and even subscribe to Greyfriars Bobby Magazine (a quarterly).  I didn’t see a bobble-head doll, but I’m sure one must be on the drawing boards.  One of those I just might buy.
            I remember only one other gift my grandmother gave me, and this one she presented me every single birthday and Christmas.  A packet of thank-you notes.  And one of my dreary tasks each November 12 and December 26 was to sit down and scrawl my grim thanks to my relatives for all those things I thought I’d deserved simply by virtue of being a child.
            And now … how I wish I had read that book in 1953.  How I wish I had one of those thank-you notes.  How I wish I could sit down and write, “Grandma and Grandpa, thank you for the book.  I loved it.  I love you.  Your grateful grandson … Danny.”


Friday, February 20, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 99



—There were other writers whose haunts we saw flashes of—August Wilson, Sherwood Anderson, Edward Bellamy, Walt Whitman, and on and on and on. As long as I was teaching, there seemed an endless supply of places to go, sites to see.
And then in June 2011, I retired.

Now what? Am I doomed to endless hours on the porch swing reading publications of the AARP?

Nope. John O’Hara rode to the rescue.
For a number of years I’d taught a short story by John O’Hara—“Do You Like It Here?”—a story about a new kid at a prep school, a kid whom the headmaster accuses of stealing a watch. I’d first read it back in college in a creative writing class taught by my favorite professor, Abe C. Ravitz. We were working on dialogue at the time, and dialogue is one of O’Hara’s strengths. But I didn’t really know much about O’Hara (1905–1970). I knew he’d written BUtterfield 8 and From the Terrace and some other racy and popular novels (novels my parents did not read, did not have in the house), but I knew virtually nothing about his life, his career.
So I’d bought Geoffrey Wolff’s 2003 biography, The Art of Burning Bridges: A Life of John O’Hara, and consumed it. Then I thought I’d read O’Hara’s first book, the short novel Appointment in Samarra, 1934, just to see. I liked it. So I moved on to the next title, The Doctor’s Son and Other Stories, 1935.
And then I was hooked. I was ordering all his titles, driving—several times—over to Pottsville, Pennsylvania, where he grew up (and which is the “Gibbsville” of much of his best fiction), to Princeton (his final home is there, his simple grave at Princeton Cemetery), and to State College, Pennsylvania, where the Special Collections Library holds many of O’Hara’s papers—and where they have re-built O’Hara’s study from his Princeton home, Linebrook, using his original furniture, books, knickknacks, wall adornments, and so on.[1]
I’ve missed my students, my colleagues, the classroom colloquies. In some ways, retirement has meant a painful separation.
But I always remember a line from the mouth of Macbeth: “The labour we delight in physics pain.”
And so it does. And so, in some ways, I continue the “labour” of my career, “labour,” which of course, also goes by the name of “love.”

“The affectionate recollection and admiration of the dead,” wrote Godwin in Essay on Sepulchres, “will act gently upon our spirits, and fill us with a composed seriousness, favourable to the best and most honourable contemplations.”[2]
Or so we can hope … and so I’ve always found … and so I hope always to find.




[1] All of this culminated in a monograph—“Do You Like It Here?” Inside the Worlds of John O’Hara—which I published on KindleDirect in November 2014.
[2] 47.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Ten



Our grandson Logan turned ten on February 15--an event I find impossible to believe. Wasn't I just ten? Wasn't our son, Steve, just ten?

It seems not.

On Sunday night, we went to a little birthday dinner for Logan at his house (Green, OH--about forty minutes away), and there we ate his favorite foods (he has a recent fondness for roasted chicken), including some doses of my sourdough bread, which he's loved since infancy. He is one of the principal reasons I keep baking every week.

There were gifts. Some Facetime with his other grandparents (who are in Arizona for the winter). Some singing of "Happy Birthday."

Each year (beginning with his second birthday) we have given Logan a little book we've written . Until this year, all of them had been "children's books"--pictures (thank you, Google) and a sing-songy story in a sort of faux Dr. Seuss rhyming style.

But he's now in fourth grade and has been reading "real books" for quite a while now. And so this year we wrote him a short story (featuring, as always, Logan as the principal character), had it professionally (Kinko's) turned into a little booklet. As we sat at the table, Logan read it aloud (with his dad and grandfather occasionally reading a little). I found myself unaccountably moved as I realized Logan has been moving into, well, into a New World.

My father turned ten on March 9, 1923. He was living on the family farm near Milton-Freewater, Oregon (north central--just across the Washington border from Walla Walla). He'd already lost the little finger on his left hand--chopped off by a brother (accident) while they were readying firewood. Dad lived to see so many changes. In boyhood he sometimes rode a horse to school--and lived long enough to see men walk on the moon.

My mother turned ten on September 9, 1929. In October '29 ... well, all know what happened then. I'm not sure where they were living that year. Her father was a minister (Disciples of Christ), and they may have been in Richmond, Va., by that time. Mom would go through school in Richmond, then, her senior year in high school, move to Enid, Okla., where her father preached at University Place Christian Church and taught at Phillips University (RIP). At Phillips, Mom met the man who would be my father--and the father of my brothers, Richard and Dave. (I'm in the middle--explains a lot, doesn't it?)

I turned ten on November 11, 1954. We had recently moved back to Enid from Amarillo, Tex., where my dad had been serving as chaplain at the Amarillo Air Force Base during the Korean War. (He'd almost gone to Korea; then, at the last minute, the Air Force decided to open the air base in Amarillo, and they needed a chaplain.) Dad had served in World War II (both theaters), had stayed in the reserves, got called up for Korea ...

My parents didn't believe in birthday parties, so I know I didn't have one. We did have "birthday dinners," though--cake, ice cream, presents (one of which, always, was a check from Grandpa Osborn; in 1954 that check would have been $1.10, a lot of money, really, when 5 cents bought a candy bar, a bottle of pop in the machines, a cup of coffee, etc.). I can't remember a single other gift. But here's a likely list: some clothes, maybe a new cap gun (one year I got a b-b gun ... was that the year?), a pack of thank-you notes (I would have to write a note to thank everyone who gave me something), a book or two--maybe a record.

I still have a book I got for my ninth birthday--a gift from my Osborn grandparents: Greyfriars Bobby, a book about a dog in Scotland. Inside, taped to the cover, is a note from my grandfather:
Nov. 11, 1953  Dear Danny, We hope you'll enjoy this story as much as your mother did when she was about your age.  Grandma & Grandpa.


My copy from 1953.

I didn't read it for fifty years, till December 2003. I wrote a piece about the experience, a piece that ran in the Plain Dealer on Dec. 21. (I don't see it online--I'll repost it here one of these days.)

I was in fifth grade that 1954-55 school year at Adams Elementary School ... my mother had gone there (so maybe they were in Enid when she was ten?). It was not my favorite year of school. I'd really liked my third and fourth grade teachers (Mrs. Ziegler and Mrs. Rockwell, respectively), but in fifth grade I had a teacher who--we all thought--looked like a witch. (I will not name her, but she had a twin sister who taught at another Enid school; she, too, looked like a witch.) I was afraid of her, all year.

My friends were Jim Gritz, who lived down at the end of our street (Elm Ave.) and Pete Asplund (who lived a couple of streets over). I was already ... noticing ... the opposite sex. At Adams, we (both boys and girls) had numbers for our significant others. Girl/Boyfriend #1, 2, 3, etc. I don't recall that I was #1 on anyone's list, but there were quite a few who interested me, and I seemed to have had several 1's, 2's, 3's. Linda, Myrna, Sue Ellen ...

Mostly, though, all I cared about at ten was riding bikes, playing baseball, staying out (on summer nights) until the streetlights came on--then we had to race for home. I loved the movies, too (Enid had four downtown theaters and two drive-ins). My buddies and I would sometimes ride the bus downtown and see a Western. On Saturday mornings you could hang in the Esquire all morning for ten cents and two RC bottlecaps. See cartoons, the newsreel, a serial, a couple of B-Westerns (Johnny Mack Brown, the Three Mesquiteers, Hoot Gibson, et al.).

I liked TV, too, though we had only a couple of stations. In the 1950s Westerns were the most popular shows, and so I was supremely happy. I wanted to be a Western hero. A Wyatt or Range Rider or Cisco or Wild Bill or Hopalong or ... anyone, really, as long as I got a horse and a six-shooter and a range to ride (and maybe a goofy sidekick). And no homework.

My world-at-ten was very different from our son's (he was ten in 1982--he craved an Atari) and impossibly different from that of our grandson, who, by the way, has already taken more standardized tests in school than I did, K-12. Face-time at the dinner table. Gift card to GameStop. Things that didn't exist when anyone else in his family was ten.

But I loved my year of being ten (my teacher notwithstanding). I was certain I would never be hurt. That I would probably be a cowboy. That I would ride my bike and play baseball forever--that I would live forever.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 98


William Godwin--Mary Shelley's father--advised us all to go see the graves of the notable ... a continuation of the (partial) list of such places Joyce and I have visited ...


—Flannery O’Connor (birthplace in Savannah, Georgia; home and farm, “Andalusia,” and grave in Milledgeville, Georgia); Thomas Paine (sites in New Rochelle, New York—there’s a statue there and a cottage and the site of his original grave; his body has disappeared; sites in Bordentown, New Jersey, where his former home is now a dentist’s office; not far away, near the Delaware River, is a statue; another statue is in Morristown, New Jersey); Edgar Poe (Richmond, Virginia, where he grew up and where his step-family, the Allans, are buried; Charlottesville, Virginia, where Poe briefly attended the University of Virginia—his room there is now a memorial, and there’s a statue of a raven sitting near a window; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where the National Park Service maintains an apartment building where he lived; Fordham, New York, where preservationists moved into Poe Park his final home, a cottage, recently restored; Baltimore, Maryland, where he died, where he is buried, and where, earlier, he lived in rooms with relatives in an area that fans of HBO’s The Wire would recognize; John Crowe Ransom (Gambier, Ohio, where he taught at Kenyon College; his grave is on the grounds of Kenyon’s Chalmers Library); Edwin Arlington Robinson (Head Tide, Maine, his birthplace; Gardiner, Maine, his hometown—the “Tilbury Town” of his poems—the town where he is buried)—
            —25 April 2003, Western Reserve Academy. I spoke to the entire school about Robinson’s career, wondering how it was that this wonderful poet—a three-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize—could have so thoroughly disappeared from America’s literary landscape. My guess is that most people have never heard of him. I showed lots of slides from Robinson’s world—including Head Tide, the tiny rural Maine town which boasts only a few houses and a small bridge. Afterwards, a freshman girl approached me, smiled, announced: “I’m from Head Tide.”—
—Henry David Thoreau (sites around Concord, Massachusetts, including Walden Pond); Mark Twain (sites around Florida, Missouri, his birthplace; Hannibal, Missouri, his boyhood home—including a ride on the tourist riverboat the Mark Twain, including a tour of the Mark Twain Cave, immortalized in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; Buffalo and Elmira, New York; he’s buried in Elmira with his wife’s family; he wrote some of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn there; Hartford and Redding, Connecticut, where his final home, “Stormfield,” burned to the ground in 1923, thirteen years after his death there)—

            —On our honeymoon in late December 1969, Joyce and I went to New Orleans, a city where neither of us had ever been—that was the idea: to begin our new life in a new place. While we were there, we took a riverboat up into the bayou country described so artfully by Kate Chopin, whom Joyce was already considering as a subject for a Ph.D. dissertation. On our way back to Ohio, we decided, instead, to head up the Mississippi River and then west to Des Moines, where we would surprise my folks, who were trying to recover from our wedding on 20 December. On our way up the banks of the Big Muddy, we stopped in Hannibal, Missouri, and saw the Twain sites for the first time. I think now of a possible film: Nerds on Honeymoon!


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Curiosity Killed the Cat, but ...


Curiosity killed the cat. (Nine times?) Curious George is continually in trouble. And yet ... we want our children to be curious. (Well, most of the time--sometimes we punish them.) We praise others for the trait. (Well, most of the time--sometimes we put them in prison--even execute them.)

Any culture is a collection of contradictions.

My Dictionary of American Proverbs (Oxford UP, 1992) says that the first published use of the expression about curiosity and cats occurred in 1909. The Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings (1996) confirms that 1909 date--and notes that it's "one of the 101 most frequently used American proverbs" (48).

So ... the saying is more or less the age of my father and mother, who were born, respectively, in 1913 and 1919. Of course, the saying was certainly in conversational circulation before someone published it.

The Oxford English Dictionary traces the use of the word curiosity to mean the "desire to know or learn" back to 1384.

So what?

Well, hang with me a minute ...

Curiosity certainly can be a perilous trait--especially uninformed curiosity. (Think: sticking a paperclip into a wall socket--just to see.) Especially risky is curiosity about things that (powerful) others wish to keep concealed--everything from the location of Dad's extra cigarettes to Edward Snowden-ian political secrets. As all watchers of mob movies know: Asking the wrong person the wrong thing in the wrong place at the wrong time can result in a long walk in a set of cement shoes on a short pier.

History has shown us as well that being curious, say, about the movement of celestial objects--or about the origins of life--can be risky, even fatal.

And, so, yes ... curiosity can kill all sorts of cats, feline and human.

Anecdote:

Not too long ago, in search of something to stream, Joyce and I settled on HBO's 2012 miniseries Parade's End, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Christopher Tietjens, the central character in Ford Madox Ford's tetralogy (Parade's End), a series of novels (published in the 1920s) dealing with events before, during, and after World War I.

We loved the miniseries, and after it was over, curious, I decided to read Parade's End, among the most famous works I'd never read.

Yesterday afternoon (Monday) I finished the final page (#836) in the single-volume edition of the novels. Novel four is called "The Last Post" (1928). And when I read the last word ("I"), I felt the sorrow I've always felt when I've finished something I've grown to care for--e.g., the last book by Jack London or Mary Shelley or Edgar Poe or Dickens or Thackeray or Trollope or Rowling or Raymond Chandler or Robert B. Parker or ...

And that sorrow lingers until my curiosity arouses me once again--until I once again dive into an unfamiliar stream, hoping it will carry me somewhere miraculous.

For I learned long, long, long ago that curiosity may well kill a cat. But it keeps me alive.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Falling off the Wagon


It didn't last all that long, my ride on the wagon. The wagon named No Facebook.

Yesterday--Sunday--I announced (via my DawnReader blog) that I was inactivating my FB account for (my words) "days, weeks ... forever."

I guess I lied. I lasted barely a single day.

I would guess that many FB users--especially somewhat heavy (addicted?) ones (like me)--feel that the site sometimes sucks from you the very nectar of life. I know that I found myself posting more and more and more, found myself checking FB often--so often, in fact, that when I was doing my extensive stints of reading during the day (first thing in the morning, right after lunch), I would not let myself check FB until I'd read at least twenty pages. (That's kind of like saying I'll not have any scotch until after 5 p.m.--not that I drink (I don't), but I've seen the movies ....) Then I could not check again until I'd read another twenty pages ... Noble of me, eh? Such self-control!

Some things about FB just flat depress me, of course--I don't need to say what they are. I think they flat depress lots of folks. And as I grow older, as depression lies ever more close to the surface, I think, Well, maybe I should try to eliminate some sources of depression? And so I'll quit FB forever--or maybe a day. (Yes, I've done it before.)

But FB also makes me feel good now and then--almost every day in fact. I like being in touch with people I've known at every stage of my life. My brothers are on FB (not too much--but they're there). Friends from junior high, high school, college. Former colleagues. Hundreds of former students--from my entire teaching career--1966-2011. Joyce is on FB. I know: I could walk upstairs and see her, but it's fun to read her posts (she's not nearly the addict I am), to surprise her with mine. This one will surprise her, I know--because she doesn't yet know I'm going to re-activate my account in just a few minutes. I'll go upstairs and watch her reaction ... oh, the subtle pleasures of marriage!

Anyway, I guess I'm back on Facebook now--at least until the next time I get depressed and close my account forever.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sunday Sundries, 37


1. I'm no longer on Facebook. Don't know whether it will be for days, weeks ... forever. My activity on the site long ago crossed the boundary between having fun and wasting time, and I've realized--as my energy continues to wane--that I probably ought to do something else with that hour or so each day I've been devoting to posting pictures of my sourdough bread and the latest newspaper cartoons featuring Frankenstein's monster or Moby-Dick.

Still ... it was fun for a while.

Oh, and I'm still doing Daily Doggerel (not so daily)--and posting them on another blog site. Here's a link, in case you're feeling deprived!

My Twitter account (danieldyer44) is also still active--and there I post links each day to this site & to the Daily Doggerel.


2. Yesterday, I finished A Man Could Stand Up (1926), the 3rd novel in Ford Madox Ford's tetralogy, Parade's End, a dazzling series that deals with an Englishman, Christopher Tietjens, and his experiences before, during, and after World War I (a war that Ford knew well: He'd fought in it, too).



As I posted here before, I've known about Parade's End most of my adult life, but--till now--I just had never got around to reading the four novels. But when Joyce and I recently streamed the 2012 HBO miniseries based on the novels (screenplay by Tom Stoppard) and watched Benedict Cumberbatch inhabit the character of Tietjens, well, I knew the time had come to read them. A decision I've not regretted.



I've also posted here before that I'm so impressed with what Stoppard did in his screenplay--so loyal to Ford's fiction. But I love watching Ford inhabit the minds of his principals: Tietjens; his disloyal (and very clever) wife, Sylvia; the young woman he's fallen in love with, Valentine Wannop (what a name!). Here's a little sample of how he shows us the thoughts of his characters. The ellipses are all straight from the text. This is Valentine, thinking about Tietjens, just back from the war, which has just ended (and the source for the title of vol. 3 is in this passage):

Ah, the dreadful thing about the whole war was that it had been--the suffering had been--mental rather than physical. And they had not thought of it. ... He had been under fire. She had pictured him always as being in a Base, thinking. If he had been killed it would not have been so dreadful for him. But now he had come back with his obsessions and mental troubles. ... And he needed his woman. And her mother was forcing him to abstain from his woman! That was what was terrible. He had suffered mental torture and now his pity was being worked on to make him abstain from the woman that could atone.

Hitherto, she had thought of the War as physical suffering only; now she saw it only as mental torture. Immense miles and miles of anguish in darkened minds. That remained. Men might stand up on hills, but the mental torture could not be expelled (Knopf, 1961; 659-60).

Yesterday (Saturday) I was sitting in the Open Door Coffee Co. here in Hudson, and a young man sitting near me asked me what I was reading. He's a senior at a local high school (I learned), about to head off to college. I told him about Ford, about the novels, about Cumberbatch (he was really interested in that datum), and maybe, one day, he'll see the volumes somewhere, remember that Old Guy at the coffee shop in Hudson, pick up the books. And read. And be glad he did.


3. I reported last week--I think--about the dizziness I've been feeling when I change positions (lying to sitting, sitting to standing, unmoving to moving--changing speeds). If I behave as if I'm twenty (or thirty or forty or fifty or ...), I can easily stumble and/or fall these days. Alarming.

I saw my family physician this week; she did some tests (involving blood pressure, among other things) and concluded that it's just ... getting older. The fluid in the inner ear (a key in our balance) becomes, she said, more "sticky" as we age, and so we (older folks) must be more careful as we move through the world.

Yet another joy in the autumn of life ...

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Poetical Evening



Last night (Friday) I walked up to Western Reserve Academy (where I taught: 1979-81, 2001-2011) to serve as one of the four judges in a poetry recitation contest--called Poetry Out Loud (a national contest for secondary school students--here's a link to more info). The English Department Chair, Matt Peterson, organized the event and invited me. I couldn't think of a way to say "No"--not to something like this. So ... there I was.

Fourteen young men and women had each memorized two poems (from a list provided by POL); here's a link to the list.

One judge did nothing but check for accuracy (points deducted for omissions, changes, etc.); the remaining three (including me) rated each contestant on Physical Appearance, Voice and Articulation, Dramatic Appropriateness, Level of Complexity, Evidence of Understanding, Overall Performance. We did not confer; we filled in our sheets, handed them to another person who tallied the scores.

I actually knew some of the poems--had memorized some of them myself--and so I greatly appreciated what those young men and women had accomplished. Yes, some of them froze now and then and stumbled (a prompter was there, too), but I could tell that all of them had put in quite a bit of time to reach the levels they did.

Who hasn't frozen in public?

One of my most memorable ... 1962 ... my senior class play at Hiram High School (Ever Since Eve), when one of the other performers gave me a cue from a couple of pages back (yes, I'm going to blame someone else!), and I just flat froze. Couldn't remember a damn thing. I walked over to the wings where a character was waiting to come on and told her to come on now! Which she did. Otherwise, I'd still be standing there rambling on about a bird cage, which is exactly what I did that night (and, yes, one was on the stage--I'm not completely daffy).

Anyway, the young folks who had a little trouble last night handled it with far more aplomb that I did (or would have), and the others were very supportive.

I was so impressed, as well, with the patent understanding every contestant exhibited. Although some were better thespians than others, even the quiet and relatively undemonstrative ones just nailed the sense of the verse. Had the poets been in the audience, they would have smiled with gratitude.

I've always loved seeing young people perform--putting themselves "out there" (as we used to say--do we still say it?). My career in public school (1966-1978, 1982-1997) was filled with play productions (I directed/co-directed over 30), and every one of them ended in tears. Mine. (And usually for sentimental rather than rueful reasons!)

And last night--once again--a roomful of young people moved me with their efforts, their accomplishments. Their caring.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 97


William Godwin, Mary Shelley's father, urged people to visit the graves of the notable. Joyce and I have done so for a long time. I began a list yesterday; the list continues with Hemingway, in Ketchum, Idaho, where he took his own life (via shotgun) on July 2, 1961, the morning after a final meal at a local restaurant ...

—In Ketchum, Joyce and I ate in the restaurant, Michel’s Christiania, where Papa had his last meal that summer night in 1961 before he went home and blew his brains out. His menu order?  New York strip steak, baked potato, Caesar salad, Bordeaux wine. We sat at his table—but did not order the same meal. We have standards!—We are principled stalkers.—
—Oliver Wendell Holmes (grave in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Old Ironsides, anchored in Boston Harbor); Zora Neale Hurston (hometown of Eatonville, Florida; home where she died in Fort Pierce, Florida, and where her grave—which we saw—lay unmarked until identified and restored by Alice Walker in 1973); Martin Luther King, Jr. (the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was shot to death, now the National Civil Rights Museum); Sinclair Lewis (hometown of Sauk Center, Minnesota; houses where he lived in St. Paul, Minnesota, and outside Williamstown, Massachusetts); Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (boyhood home in Portland, Maine; home and grave in Cambridge, Massachusetts)—
—And, oh, were students affected by the Longfellow story that prompted his poem “The Cross of Snow.” How his wife, one July afternoon in 1861, accidentally ignited her dress with a candle that tipped over, how she screamed, ran through the house to find him, how he looked up, saw his beloved Fanny in flames, how he leaped to wrap her in his arms, how he extinguished the fire with a small rug but burned his neck so severely that he later grew a beard to conceal the scars, how she died in agony the next day, how, eighteen years afterward, he wrote the poem in her honor, never published it, put it in a drawer, where his grieving family found it after his death in 1881; how it remained unknown until Samuel Longfellow, a brother, published a biography in 1886—
—Herman Melville (home—Arrowhead—near Pittsfield, Massachusetts; grave in the Bronx, New York; whaling museum in New Bedford, Massachusetts; Nantucket Island; Monument Mountain in Massachusetts, which Joyce and I climbed on 29 June 2007, the mountain where Hawthorne and Melville met on a planned hike in 1850; along with them—Oliver Wendell Holmes)—
            —As we neared the summit, some hikers were heading down; I asked them, “Any sign of Melville up there?” Pause. One replied, “No, but we saw Hawthorne.”  New England’s trails are alive with literary dorks!—
—Edna St. Vincent Millay (sites around Rockland and Camden, Maine, the towns where she was born and grew up; Mt. Battie, site of her poem “Renascence”; her final home near tiny Austerlitz, New York, where she tumbled down the stairs one night to her death in 1950)—
            —On my first visit to Rockland, I sit with my camera in my car, just across the street from the house where she was born, now in private hands, now absent its former historical marker because, as a Rockland librarian has just told me, the owners are sick of people—like me—bothering them. I am waiting for traffic to clear so I can get an unimpeded shot. I notice a flutter of activity on my hood, glance over, and see a pigeon has landed right in front of my windshield. He (She?) waddles closer, eyeing me carefully. Immediate fantasy: It’s the spirit of Edna St. Vincent Millay!  Slowly, I swing my camera around to get a photo of this phenomenon, but at my first move, the bird wings away, and I am left only with a story to tell.—


Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Most Expensive Cups of Coffee--EVER


On Monday evening Joyce and I were in Kent, and we decided to stop at the Starbucks there next to the KSU campus--the place that once was Captain Brady's when we first met back in 1969. We used to take our infant son there for a treat.

When we pulled into the parking lot on Monday, we saw it was full (and there were cars circling the lot, waiting for the next opening). So I did what we generally do in that parking lot--which is often full, especially in the evening when KSU is in session. It's supposed to be a lot dedicated only to the businesses there, but, hey, this is America! Freedom! Park where I want!

So, as I said, I did what we usually do: park illegally (for a few moments) in a space next to a legal space while we race inside, get our coffee, race out, head for home. Our parking in that fashion, by the way, does not inconvenience anyone; we do not block anyone--plenty of room for cars to get by us.

Joyce, for some reason, was not too sure we should do this. She is, of course, far more ethical than I and is uneasy about even my smallest infractions and transgressions. Still, she was somewhat mollified by the thought that it was my turn to pay for the evening coffee.

In we went. Not much of a line. Good.

Then a young woman came up to us. Are you the people with that Prius out in the lot?

We were.

Well, there's a tow truck ...

Coffee forgotten, I headed out to the lot, where I saw, indeed, a young man was hooking up our car to his tow truck. (Insult to injury? The truck had a AAA logo on it; we've been AAA members since our marriage!)

I walked up to him. Uh, this is my car, and--.

He turned around, a sorrowful expression--with some sort of smile as well--on his face. Well, he said, I can unhook it for $45. It would be $90 if I'd hauled it away. Blocking a fire lane, he added with some gravity.

I tried to be genial. We can get a receipt for that?

Sure. Down at the Safety Center.

I had $45 in cash on me--barely. So I paid him; he unhooked us; off he rolled. I decided not to go to the Safety Center, where, I was certain, other problems would surely ensue.

Joyce--bless her loving heart--said nothing even in the same galaxy as I told you so ...

The only good thing? She'd bought the coffee while I was outside dealing with The Gov'ment.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 96



—Arna Bontemps (birthplace in Alexandria, Louisiana; home and grave in Nashville)
—Willa Cather (birthplace and sites in Back Creek Valley, near Winchester, West Virginia; sites in and around Red Cloud, Nebraska; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she taught; Grand Manan Island, Nova Scotia, where she had a summer cottage; her grave and other sites in Jaffrey, New Hampshire)—
            —Checking place names for Cather, I find online a story about her birthplace being up for sale; the story originally appeared on 9 March 2010, coincidentally my father’s birthday—he would have been 97. I printed the story, copied the photograph, posted the item on Facebook—
—And so many others: Kate Chopin (home in Cloutierville, Louisiana; relevant streets of New Orleans; Grand Isle, Louisiana (a principal setting of The Awakening), grave in St. Louis and other sites there); Stephen Crane (many sites around Port Jervis, New York, where he grew up; Asbury Park, New Jersey, where he lived with his family; his grave in Hillside, New Jersey); Emily Dickinson (home and grave in Amherst, Massachusetts; her grandfather Samuel once worked at Western Reserve College—now Academy—where I taught; he died here in Hudson, Ohio, in 1838); Ralph Ellison (all his youthful residences in Oklahoma City are gone, but we saw his grave in Trinity Church Cemetery and Mausoleum near Riverside Park in New York City); Ralph Waldo Emerson (home and grave in Concord, Massachusetts; also Concord Bridge, where his poem “Concord Hymn”—with its famous line “the shot heard round the world”—lives on a stone marker)—
            —My students were always moved by the story of Emerson’s despair over the early death of his first wife, Ellen, in 1831, how he walked four miles, each way, to her grave every morning, how, finally, more than a year later, he asked the cemetery caretaker to open her grave; only when he saw her corpse, he believed, could he finally accept her death. “29 March [1832]. I visited Ellen’s tomb & opened the coffin,” he wrote in his journal.[1] It was all he could say—
— William Faulkner (home and grave and sites in and around Oxford, Mississippi; we drove and photographed the route described in As I Lay Dying, a book I regularly taught late in my career); F. Scott Fitzgerald (sites in Mobile, Alabama, Zelda’s home; sites in Chicago and Lake Forest, Illinois, his girlfriend’s houses; sites in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he grew up; Buffalo and Rochester, New York; his grave in Rockville, Maryland); Robert Frost (homes in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts; grave at Old Bennington Cemetery in Vermont, one of the few cemeteries we visited where signposts point toward the author’s grave); Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (sites in his hometown of Piedmont, West Virginia, which we visited a photographed when I was teaching his memoir, Colored People); Nathaniel Hawthorne (Salem, Lenox, and Concord, Massachusetts; Raymond, Maine; grave in Concord’s Sleepy Hollow Cemetery); Ernest Hemingway (sites around boyhood home in Oak Park, Illinois; setting of “The Killers” in Summit, Illinois; sites around their summer cottage, “Windemere,” on Walloon Lake in Michigan; sites in Key West, Florida; his home and grave and other sites in Ketchum, Idaho)—



[1] Library of America edition, 191.