Dawn Reader

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

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 87

 1. AOTW--You're sitting in the middle of the intersection, waiting to turn left. The light turns amber, leaning toward red, but you can't turn because the AOTW, approaching you, wants to get through the light. You have to wait. You do. You turn. You've run a red light, earning the opprobrium of drivers who have the green. #*#*#$*Y#

2. Last week I mentioned that we'd watched (streaming Netflix) a new documentary about comedian Don Rickles (Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project), and I mentioned that Joyce and I had seen him at the Front Row Theater near Cleveland with our friends Ted and Sandy Clawson (I taught in Aurora with Ted, who was the band director). Well ... curious ... I got on eBay and found someone selling the program from that event ($6.92), and I popped for it. (See below.)

He was there for several nights (along with an opener, singer Jerry Vale). I'm guessing we four (all were teaching at the time) went on either Friday or Saturday night--so it was April 6 or 7 (Fri or Sat), 1979.

But then I realize: This can't be. Joyce and I were teaching at Lake Forest College in Illinois that year (78-79). Did we come back for spring break? Or was it another year? Damn! I just paid $6.92 for the wrong thing?!?!?!

3. This week I finished an early novel by John A. Williams (Night Song), a 1961 novel about the NYC jazz world, a novel that features a character known as "Eagle," a gifted but tormented musician based on Charlie "Bird" Parker (1920-55).

As the wounded Eagle falls through the sky toward his collision with death (drug OD), we meet some others who are trying to catch him. But can't. There are a couple of white characters--one admirable (a woman living with Keel, the black owner of a coffee shop), one less so, David Hillary (known as "The Prof" because he'd once been a university teacher), a man tormented by his own demon (alcohol). Hillary goes to work at the coffee shop ... complications ensue (including his passion for the white woman--unrequited). Hillary helps save Eagle from one near-fatal OD) very early in the novel, then fails to do anything later on when he sees a cop pounding on the musician.

The novel is very good, and I was moved by the incidents, the craft, the language. Williams was talented, and, once again, I can't believe I had not heard of him until I read his obit in the New York Times early in July 2015. I've read three of his books now. Plan to read them all! Next one is on order ...

4. Finally ... Writer's Almanac today had a fairly lengthy post about writer Norman Mailer, born this day in 1923 (link to WA). I mentioned on Facebook today that in 2007 (when Mailer died), I'd given a little talk about him in Morning Meeting at Western Reserve Academy where I was teaching at the time. Here it is, unedited.

                Norman Mailer, R.I.P.
                Let me tell you a story …
                It’s not my story—I didn’t write it—but I’ve always liked it, and it’s not very long … so here goes …
                A man and a woman are walking along a city street.  They have been lovers.  And now they are breaking up.  Here’s the first sentence in the story: The writer was having a fight with his young lady.  They don’t walk far before she says, “I’m sick and tired of you being so superior.  What do you have to be superior about?”  The writer quietly disagrees.  Later—even more angry—she says he’s like a mummy, all wrapped up in himself.  As her anger deepens—and as her accusations become more bitter—he begins to feel uneasy, not about her anger (though that does bother him), but about the notebook in his pocket.  He had just thought of an idea to put into his notebook, and it made him anxious to think that if he did not remove his notebook from his vest pocket and jot the down the thought, he was likely to forget it.  He tries to resist the impulse.  But can’t.  He stops in the street, pulls out the notebook, starts writing an idea for a story, a story about a writer breaking up with his girlfriend.  The young woman, seeing him, begins to cry.  “Why, you’re nothing but a notebook,” she shrieked, and ran away from him down the street, her high heels mocking her misery in their bright tattoo upon the sidewalk.  He stares after her.  Soon she’s a block away.  He starts jogging after her, yelling that he can explain.  And as he ran the notebook jiggled warmly against his side, a puppy of a playmate, always faithful, always affectionate.
                Norman Mailer published that story in 1951.  He was twenty-eight years old; I was seven.  He would publish much, much more over the years—novels, long works of nonfiction, essays, screenplays, poems, plays … you name it, Mailer probably wrote it.  He made films.  Ran for Mayor of New York (he lost).  Married four times.  Sired nine children.  Carried on feuds with some of the great names in American letters.  He won the Pulitzer Prize.  He won the National Book Award.  And countless other literary honors.  He never won the Nobel Prize, and that irked him, for Norman Mailer had an ego, a titanic ego that constantly crashed into icebergs of all sorts over the years.  He hit those icebergs, head on.  But he never sank.
                Here are some of his best-known books.  … [show them]
                His most recent novel is this one.  It’s a story about Hitler that came out earlier this year.  It’s been tottering atop the Tower-of-Pisan pile beside my bed, but I’ve not read it.  Not yet.  I’d read that he was sick.  And I had a feeling this would be the last novel he would ever write.  And I wanted to save it.  To savor it.  To remember it.
                Norman Mailer died last weekend.  He was 84 years old.  He was one of the heroes of my youth.  Several times, I have dreamed—actually dreamed, at night—of meeting him.  It never happened.
                I do have his signature on this book, The Time of Our Time [show it], a collection of pieces he published back in  1998.  It will have to do.  His name scrawled on the title page.
                So as I think this morning about that little story “The Notebook,” a story now more than a half-century old, I think how fitting a way it is to remember him.  Norman Mailer charged through his life, barging uninvited into rooms, banging into polite people, making rude noises and ruder gestures, taking swings at enemies, celebrating, loving ferociously, enjoying every second of his life.  Standing up for Civil Rights.  Protesting the Vietnam War.  Going to jail for his beliefs.
                And we should be grateful—all of us—that through all those years he carried that notebook with him, and even at the damnedest, most irritating times, he pulled it out.  And took his pen, whose ink mixed acid and fire and blood and even sometimes poison, and wrote those words that sometimes made us shriek and cry and run away.  But could also comfort and agitate and shame and inspire and chide and enrage.  And even make us weep.
                Which is exactly what I did last weekend when I read that he was gone.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Surprising Joyce

poet Richard Wilbur (1921-)

Joyce is not too surprised by me anymore. We were married in December 1969, so she's had a few decades to figure me out, and most of the time there's not a lot to figure. As I've posted here numerous times before, I am a Critter of Habit, and she pretty much knows where I am and what I'm doing all the time.

But just this week ... I got her!

On New Year's Eve, she had told me that she'd loved the poem posted that day on Writer's Almanac--Richard Wilbur's "Year's End" (link to the poem).

We have a little history with Wilbur. He lives in Cummington, Mass. (not all that far from my mom's and brothers' place in eastern Mass.--about thirty miles northeast). We had gone there on July 10, 2002, part of a massive trip around the East looking at literary sites--Poe, Frost, Longfellow, Dickinson, et al. I had just completed my first year back at Western Reserve Academy (after a twenty-year absence!) and was gathering material for teaching American lit (my task at WRA). Anyway, in Cummington is the former home of poet and journalist William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)--a home of course, that we visited (outside only: it was closed!).
Bryant's home in Cummington, MA
We knew that Wilbur lived there, too--but not where, so we drove off in search of other literary notables.

Wilbur also has edited (and written an introduction to) a collection of poems by Edgar Poe (1959), and I've long been interested in that dark dude--and have written about him.

And then I learned that Wilbur attended the same Episcopal church in Lenox as my mother did. Well  I sent her some Wilbur first editions, which he graciously signed for her.

Over the years I'd also memorized a few Wilbur poems--“Ecclesiastes 11:1,” “The House,” “April 5, 1974” (all easy to find online).

So ...

I decided to memorize "Year's End"--and surprise Joyce in the process.

It took me a while. It's fairly long. The diction is unusual in places, the ideas a bit complicated. It took me most of January, in fact, though (to be honest) I didn't work on it every day.

And then--a couple of days ago (the 27th)--I got home from my morning stint at the coffee shop. I walked upstairs to Joyce's study to chat (another of my habits), and while we were doing so, I handed her the raggedy print-out of the poem I'd been carrying around for a month. She looked at it. Saw what it was. I launched into it (made two mistakes ... sigh).

And enjoyed the surprise in her eyes, saw some dampness there, dampness that matched my own.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 201

On August 12, 1823, Mary and her son, Percy, arrived in Paris, where Mary received a letter from her father that brought some surprising news: Frankenstein (sort of) had reached the stage. On August 14, she wrote a long letter to her friends Leigh and Marianne Hunt, still in Italy, about the news—news she’d also heard from a friend in Paris:

The playwright and producers, she said, vivified the Monster in such a manner as caused the ladies to faint away & a hubbub to ensue […] and it is having a run ….[1]

In another letter to Leigh Hunt a few days later, she communicated some further news—and alterations of the “old news”—about Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein:
I found out, she wrote, that it was not true that the ladies were frightened at the first appearance of Frankenstein— [… but] that the first appearance of the Monster from F.’s laboratory down a dark staircase had a fine effect—but the piece fell off afterwards—though it is having a run.[2]

(An aside: It’s interesting to me to see that Mary Shelley herself referred to the creature her as “Frankenstein”—something that remains common to this day. In her novel, the creature has no name, but Victor Frankenstein was, in a scientific way at least, the father—so the creature’s surname is, in fact, Frankenstein.)

Yet another Frankenstein knock-off appeared on the London stage (the New Surrey Theatre) on September 1—a parody (the sort of thing filmmaker Marlon Wayans has been doing; as I type this, his Fifty Shades of Black is in the theaters). Entitled Hungumption; or Dr Frankenstein and the Hobgoblin of Hoxton ran for six performances only, and yet another one, Presumption and the Blue Demon, had a two-performance run at Davis’ Royal Amphiteatre.[3]

And there was yet another surprise: Her father had arranged for the publication of a new edition of Frankenstein, a decision most Shelley scholars agree was motivated by the various stage versions beginning to appear on London’s stages.

[1] Letters, vol. 1, 369. The friend was Horace Smith, a writer and stockbroker who was a strong ally of Bysshe Shelley.
[2] Ibid., 374.
[3] Martin Garrett, A Mary Shelley Chronology (New York: Palgrave, 2002), 64.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

What I Ain't Gonna Be Doin', Part 2

A couple of days ago I wrote here about the process of discovery--a sometimes painful process: learning in youth--and beyond--the things I was not going to be able to do in life: draw, master a musical instrument, play in the Major Leagues, the NBA, in competitive tennis, ad infinitum.


Oh sure, I was adequate (is that a word accurate enough?) in many things--and I've always been glad I went to a very small high school, for I was able to participate in so many things that would not have been possible had I gone to a larger school (band, choir, school plays and musicals, baseball, basketball, et al.).

And now I'm also learning that there are places I will not go, experiences I will not have. Here's an example. In the late 1990s I decided that I was going to climb Oregon's Mt. Hood. My own father had done it in 1937 (he was in his early twenties) and had often talked about it with pride. I wanted to do it, too. To honor him. And so I commenced training at the local health club, contacted my cousin out there (who led climbing expeditions and had done Hood numerous times), arranged flight plans, motels ...

And then, running, I hurt my left knee, a joint I'd originally damaged when I'd climbed the Chilkoot Pass between Alaska and Canada a few years before. I'd thought the knee had healed; it hadn't. And now I know I'll never make that Hood ascent. I can't. Perhaps my son? Or grandsons? That would be great.

Just a decade or so ago I was able to think of going somewhere--and then I'd just do it. To Alaska and the Yukon for Jack London research. To England, France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany for Mary Shelley research. All over the US visiting literary sites (and writers' graves!).

But those days are moving farther and farther behind me. I hate flying now--abhor it--so I doubt I'll ever do it again. And the demands of driving have become more troublesome--especially in the past couple of years because my cancer medication, Lupron, has absquatulated with much of my energy. I still picture myself doing things. And I guess there's some pleasure in that.

Here's one journey I'm hoping still to make. I want to drive back to all my boyhood homes in Oklahoma and Texas and visit with the people who are living there now. Three places in Enid, one in Norman, another in Amarillo. I would love to see those places once more--would love to write something fairly extensive about them.

But will I?  Maybe this summer? (I said the same thing last winter ...)

Anyway, I'm not feeling sorry for myself. I do not resent the Facebook photos that show friends prancing all around the world. I am grateful for all I've been able to do--yet like the kid who'd really like just one more piece of pie--really! I'd like to hit the road again with Joyce. We began our marriage with a journey (to New Orleans), and the hum of tires, ever since, has been, for me, the loveliest music of all.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 200

By late spring, 1823, nearly a year after her husband’s death, Mary was ready to return to England. She’d fallen out with former friend Leigh Hunt, who’d come to Italy to edit the failed journal The Liberal. The reason for the tension, as you may remember, involved Bysshe’s heart, which Trelawny had snatched from the funeral pyre (Mary was not present) and given to Hunt. Mary, learning of it, wanted it. Hunt resisted. Conflict.
But now she had reconciled with the Hunts—but had soured on Lord Byron for uncertain reasons. She even refused to take money from him to pay for her journey home, but, surreptitiously, he arranged to do so anyway.
In mid-July, Byron and Trelawny set sail for Greece to help in the revolution. Mary would never see Byron alive again, though, as we’ve seen, back in England she viewed his remains when they arrived from Greece, where he’d died of illness on April 19, 1824.
On July 25, 1823, Mary and her surviving son, Percy Florence Shelley, not yet four years old, began their long journey back to England. That same month Mary wrote a poem—“The Choice.” It’s a long work, consuming about four-and-a-half pages in The Journals of Mary Shelley, written in heroic couplets.[1] It is a poem full of deep grief. Of suffering. Lines dripping with the acid of loss. Just a few examples of how she rehearses her life, the deaths of children—and of her husband.
• My choice, my life, my hope together fled …
• Grim death approached—the boy met his caress—
And while his glowing limbs with life’s warmth shone,
Around those limbs his icy arms were thrown …
• Methought thou wert a spirit from the sky,
Which struggled with its chains, yet could not die …
It’s evident, of course, that Mary was not a poet of immense gifts, but throughout the years following the deaths in Italy she tried all sorts of ways to cope, to struggle on. And words were her favorite vessel.

While she was on her journey home, a new play opened at London’s English Opera House.[2] It was called Presumption; or, the Fate of Frankenstein.[3] And at the time, Mary Shelly had no idea it even existed.

[1] 490-94.
[2] Now called The Lyceum. rebuilt and reopened in 1834 after a fire in 1830.
[3] Written by Richard Brinsley Peake in 1823. Available in Steven Earl Forry, ed., Hideous Progenies: Dramatizations of Frankenstein from Mary Shelley to the Present (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1990): 135-60. Also available online in a number of locations, e.g., http://www.rc.umd.edu/editions/peake/

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What I Ain't Gonna Be Doin'

Throughout my life I've discovered (and eventually accepted, more or less painlessly) all sorts of things I'm never going to be--or do. In kindergarten I learned I was not going to be an artist. When the teacher (Mrs. Dugan--a great one) passed out the rectangular sheets of manila paper and the crayons ("crans," we called them) and had us draw things, I could see--right away--that other kids in the class could come up with things that actually resembled the assignment. And mine? Well, let's just say that my mom was probably pretty grateful that the refrigerator magnet had not yet been invented. No need to generate upset stomachs in the kitchen.

I sucked at art.

I sucked at music, too. Oh, sure, I could sing on pitch (usually) and hack away at the piano and, later, a banjo and guitar, I knew what a musician really sounded like because there were a couple of them in our house. My dad had a wonderful tenor voice--I mean wonderful (I'm certain it was one of his attractions that had originally drawn Mom into his orbit). And my older brother, Richard (by three years), played the piano with passion and with a talent far beyond mine. (And he went on to become the music critic for the Boston Globe for many years.)  I quit piano after a while, to the relief of pretty much everyone. And my guitar, unplayed, has lived in my closet for decades.

Later on in high school, I learned I was not going to be mathematician. I could sort of keep up (mostly), but other kids zipped through the assignments, caught the teachers' errors, and in general seemed to be of a different species than I--a smart one.

In the summer between high school and college I learned, playing baseball for a team in nearby Windham, Ohio, that I was not going to make the Majors. Windham had a catcher who was just a lot better than I, in every way (even looks: He was tall, handsome, ripped; I was small, homely, accelerating toward pudgy). That summer I heard pitches I could not see; I swung in hope rather than in confidence. And my baseball career was soon over.

In college, it was basketball. In 1962, I'd been on the county all-star team (2nd team, as my friend and former WRA colleague Tom Davis always reminds me), but when I joined the freshman team for Hiram College, I learned that I was too slow, short, unskilled, maybe even too dumb to play at the collegiate level. As I've written elsewhere, I slowly moved down the bench that final season until I was at the end, where I became a sort of hybrid fan + player. So I stopped going to practice by the end of the season, and no one--I mean no one--asked me why. (Look up self-evident in the dictionary.)

I played on the varsity tennis team in college--got four varsity letters--but I knew I was really not much good (I got weekly confirmation at our matches--and in practices, where my teammates generally whupped me). One college summer I worked at a tennis camp in the Adirondacks, where I saw a nine-year-old kid who could beat me (I didn't give him the chance to do so), and I was the worst player among the counselors.

As I, uh, aged even more, my pale athletic abilities faded commensurately. I used to run 4-6 miles a day. Not no more (knees, ankles).

Then I did a combination of exercises at the health club: StairMaster (20 min), exercise bike (20 min), jogging around the track (20 min). Not no more.

Then I did the exercise bike only--thirty, sometimes sixty minutes. Not no more.

Now I do the exercise bike for twenty minutes (with a rest break after ten) and walk ten fairly brisk minutes around the indoor track, carrying 12-lb weights in each hand for a few of them (doing curls for a few laps).

Soon I'll have to write "not no more" about this activity, too.

Such is entropy.

My mom, 96, who, well into her 70s, used to swim every morning and hike trails on the Oregon coast with her friends, now sits in a chair all day and requires help for everything. And I mean everything.

As I indicated at the outset, I'm beginning to realize (and accept) that there are things I am never going to do, places I will never go, as well.

And on that Happy Note, I'll pause. And continue on Thurs.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 199

I see in the front of my copy of Mary’s Collected Tales and Stories (edited by Charles E. Robinson) that I read them all in July of 1997, in the infancy of my Mary-Madness that would consume ten years of my life (and that still takes nibbles, even bites, from me from time to time—witness: this memoir).
my copy
I had retired from public school teaching in January 1997, was slowly moving away from an earlier ten-year obsession with Jack London and The Call of the Wild, and had settled on Mary Shelley (as I probably wrote earlier) because in my final few years of teaching eighth graders I’d started talking with them about Frankenstein around Halloween, started having them write little Frankenstein-inspired narratives of their own. (I even showed them Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, 1948, a hoot of a film I still enjoy watching (link to trailer).) I was slowly reading about Mary and her most famous novel, and the more I read, the more interested I got. Jack London dissolved into Mary Shelley, and a new fixation reigned in my imagination.
There are twenty-five stories in Robinson’s edition, and although they demonstrate that Mary was not the greatest of short-story writers, each one presents tangible evidence of her scholarship, of her habitual use of places she knew in her fiction, of her facility with English, of her recognition, even at an early age, of the sorrows of life. As Robinson says in his Introduction, It is also possible to read Mary Shelley’s fictions as idealizations of her own life.[1]
As I sit here now—nearly twenty years after I read those tales—I cannot remember much, if anything, about any of them. Fortunately, I took (and kept!) many notes—did my usual underlinings and annotations in the text itself—and so, flipping through the pages today, I’m amused (sometimes touched) by what I underlined, what I wrote in the margins. A couple of times, for example, I wrote tale within a tale, a device Mary’s father had used in his fiction, a device she herself would use over and over again, perhaps most famously in Frankenstein when Victor confronts his creation on the (once-) vast glacier, the Mer de Glace, in the French Alps near Chamonix. On that surface, frozen as hard as Victor’s emotions, his creature tells the story of the miserable life he’s had since Victor, after bringing his creature to life, fled from the sight in horror. And then the creature himself fled.

[1] Ibid., xv.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 85

1. AOTW: An oldie-but-no-goodie. The AOTW who pulls out  right in front of you from a side street or driveway when there's no one behind you for, oh, 1000 miles. Brake. Slow Curse. Plot revenge.

2. This week we streamed on Netflix a recent documentary about caustic comic Don Rickles--Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project (link to video available on a number of streaming sites). The film, directed by John Landis (The Blues Brothers, Beverly Hills Cop III, Michael Jackson's Thriller, etc.), shows us Rickles then and now, still performing much the same routine he did when I first saw him back on Johnny Carson decades ago. In 1979 Joyce and I went with our friends Ted and Sandy Clawson (Ted was the band director in Aurora, where I was teaching) to see Rickles perform in Cleveland--the Front Row Theater (RIP). We didn't want to sit near the ... front row ... because we didn't want Rickles zeroing in on us (he didn't), but I remember having a lot of fun, laughing when I knew I shouldn't, watching/listening to Rickles get away with bits that no other comedian could. Landis' documentary brought it all back.

3. I finished a couple of books this week ...
  • Some months ago I decided to work my way through some (most? all?) of Wallace Stegner's novels. (Stegner: 1909-1993) I'd not read much by him (maybe some stories?), so I decided it was time. This week I finished his early (and fat!) novel The Big Rock Candy Mountain (1943--published a year before I was born).It's a family saga set out in Rocky Mountain West (USA and Canada). A guy named Bo, a woman named Elsa, two kids (Chet and Bruce). Bo struggles to get rich in a variety of land, farming, booze-running schemes; Elsa hangs on; the boys grow up; Death visits. I was sort of reading-it-just-to-be-reading-it for a while, but then I got sucked in. Stegner changes points of view throughout and shows the Dark Side of the American Dream (and of American masculinity). When tragedies struck--as they surely must do, for all of us--I found myself profoundly moved.
  • I also finished another Billy the Kid book by Robert M. Utley (1929-), a Western historian of some note who's written about the Kid before (and Custer!), and this one is a dual biography, Wanted: The Outlaw Lives of Billy the Kid & Ned Kelly (2015). Kelly was an Australian outlaw whose life somewhat paralleled the Kid's. Also met a violent end--at the end of a rope. I didn't learn a lot about the Kid (as I've written here before, I was a Kid Freak for some years back in the 1980s), but I guess the latest research about his birth family remains ... uncertain. Utley says he doesn't think we'll ever know for sure. Utley, now in his 80s, is, I fear, weakening as a writer. Although Yale UP published this, I'm not sure any other writer could have slipped this manuscript past the first reader. The final chapter--comparing/contrasting the two "heroes"--is right out of an English 101 how-to-write-an-essay-of-comparison manual. And at the end I found myself ... sad. 

4. Last night (Saturday) we saw the terrific film Spotlight about the efforts of the Boston Globe to uncover the priest-abuse scandals--the horrific abuses. Good performances all around--an exciting film about investigative journalism. About corruption. And power. And let-sleeping-dogs-lie. (Only these dogs were manifestly not sleeping!) On the way home, Joyce and I talked about another sadness--the decline of the American newspaper. Who will do this kind of investigation in this new age? Who can afford to commit the resources that the Globe did to cover such a story?

We take three Sunday newspapers now: the New York Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Akron Beacon-Journal--and all three combined do not equal the former Sunday heft of the Plain Dealer. We are retreating into a brainless wonderless land of stories about sports, celebrities, and polarized politics featuring folks who bray and rage and accuse but seem to have no real ideas about how to improve the lives and hopes of Americans. I can't decide: Is this more sad or dangerous?

5. Some interesting words from my various word-a-day providers:
  • selenology (sel-uh-NOL-uh-jee) noun
    the branch of astronomy that deals with the nature and origin of the physical features of the moon.
  • aposiopesis (ap-uh-sahy-uh-PEE-sis) noun
    Rhetoric. a sudden breaking off in the midst of a sentence, as if from inability or unwillingness to proceed.
  •  oniomania,  (oh-nee-uh-mey-nee-uh) noun  
    A compulsive urge to buy things; an uncontrollable desire for acquisition.

6. Finally--you see the signs everywhere in the grocery stores: "gluten-free." This item from the most recent Consumer Reports. Of course, as a baker (of sorts), I'm biased ...

Saturday, January 23, 2016


Sooner, Aug. 1958
11917 Garfield Rd.
Hiram, Ohio (our home)
In the coffee shop this morning, I glanced outside and saw a man walking a couple of dogs, one of which looked remarkably like Sooner, our family's dog from my boyhood. (I've written of his fame here before--though not recently.) (Link to a post I did about him in 2014.)

Sooner--a mixed sort of terrier breed (Dad always said he was a Heinz: 57 Varieties!)--was not "my" dog really. Or my brothers'. (And certainly not Mom's!) He was Dad's. Dad had a way with animals that puts Dr. Doolittle to shame. Was it his boyhood on an Oregon farm? Or were animals just able to see in him a gentle soul?

A gentle soul, who, yes, liked to hunt. He always came home with rabbits or quail. And I wonder if they simply sacrificed themselves to him, knowing that he'd treat them with respect?

Anyway, Dad could calm a roaring dog that would have eaten me. Birds and squirrels ate out of his hand. That sort of thing.

We acquired Sooner as a puppy when my Osborn grandparents found him whining at their door (1609 E.. Broadway Ave.; Enid, Oklahoma) and drove the dog to 4242 W. 13th. St., Amarillo, Texas, a couple hundred miles away, where we were living during the Korean War. Dad, a chaplain, had been called back to active duty and was serving at Amarillo Air Force Base.

(I just checked: It's 259 miles, door to door.)

I spent all of 2nd grade in Amarillo, part of 3rd, before the war ended, and we moved back to Enid. So I was 7, 8 years old when we acquired that little pup that grinned his way into my heart--though he would obey me only when no one else was around. I was not the alpha male, not then (not now).

But I did love that dog. Sometimes he would follow me to school (I always walked--all the way through high school). He hated cats, feared nothing, would roll over and grin for Milk Bone dog biscuits. He was an "outdoor" dog--spending the nights in our basement in Hiram, where he soon cleared out all the vermin.

I've written about Sooner's exploits earlier (and will write more another time), and I want to focus on what happened this morning.

Sooner died when I was early in high school (10th grade, I think). So he'd been with us about a dozen years. I wept relentlessly.

And this morning, when I saw that Sooner-clone tugging at his leash (our Sooner despised the leash; we rarely used one), well, my heart suddenly surged ... could it be? ... and then, realizing it could not be, I slumped in my chair. And, sixty-five years later, the tears returned.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 198

Her tale “The Heir of Mondolfo” told of a young man named Ludovico, son of a territorial noble.[1] Ludovico has no apparent skills or interests (he hates reading). One day—hunting—he comes across a remote cottage, where he sees a young woman, Viola. To say he’s smitten is a bit of an understatement: She might have been mistaken for the angel of heaven waiting to receive and guide the departing soul to eternal rest ….[2]
Soon, people begin to notice that Ludovico is changing—for the better. He and Viola secretly marry, have a child. This does not make Daddy happy when he learns of it. He arranges to have the wife and child kidnapped and shipped off to Spain so that Ludovico can marry someone more … appropriate. She escapes in a storm, but Ludovico believes she and their child have been lost at sea. He decides he might as well kill himself. And off in the woods, about to Do the Deed, he notices, sleeping nearby … Guess Who?
Well, the families reconcile, and Daddy does not repine that the violet girl should be the mother of the Heir of Mondolfo.[3]
Once again, Mary’s own life pulses through the arteries of one of her stories. She knew about the fracture of families. When she’d run off with Bysshe in 1814, her father froze, hard, and had refused all communication with her for two years. (Not until she married the recently widowed Bysshe did he thaw.)
And now? Sir Timothy Shelley, Bysshe’s father, was horrified by their relationship, a union that had gone against all he had believed in. As we will see, he came to blame Mary for his son’s death and for the rest of his long life (he would live some twenty years beyond the composition of Mary’s tale, dying on April 24, 1844, at the age of 90, an almost unthinkable age at the time) he refused all direct contact with her. All communications between them came through a third party. He was deeply frustrated because Bysshe and Mary did have a legitimate living child, Percy Florence Shelley, and English inheritance laws recognized PFS as the heir to the Shelley estate. (Though, as we shall see, the Shelleys managed to find every loophole in the law—and to dance gleefully through it.)
Mary’s story about the heir of Mondolfo was not published until 1877, long after Mary and all the other principals in her story were dead. The story’s editor, Charles Robinson, notes that the manuscript appeared among the papers of Leigh Hunt, family friend and prolific writer. It’s possible Mary had sent it to him for suggestions. And he had filed and forgotten it.

[1] Ibid., 308.
[2] Ibid., 312.
[3] Ibid., 331.