Friday, April 8, 2016
Before and After
Before ... 9:15 a.m.
In about a half-hour I'll be heading up to Western Reserve Academy to visit a sophomore English class studying The Grapes of Wrath, a class led by former WRA colleague Jill Evans. Afterward, I'll walk over to the Chapel to deliver a speech--"Is Anybody Listening"--about our tendency not to listen to folks who are too young or too old. They told me to do 50 min; I timed it last night--47 (not bad). It's an annual lecture sponsored by the family of WRA grad Keir Marticke (2002), who died of a fierce and sudden infection in 2004 while in Vietnam. It was a great honor to be invited for such an occasion.
This morning I went over to Open Door Coffee Co., where I went through the text one more time (silently), and took some ribbing from the regulars because I'm wearing a coat-and-tie--not my usual costume these years of retirement. I'm actually pleased that I remembered how to tie a necktie ... it's been a bit of a while.
I walked home a little while ago to start on this post--and I'll do the After portion, well, afterward.
I'm kind of looking forward to a Grapes of Wrath discussion. I first read that novel back at Hiram College, my junior year, I believe (1964-65), with Prof. Abe C. Ravitz in one of his American Thought classes. It blew me away. It may have been one of the first "long" novels I ever read (or finished). And I related to it in a number of ways--principally, of course, because I grew up in Oklahoma, where the novel begins. I grew up about a dozen years after the Dust Bowl years, but I still remember those occasional dust storms that would boil red in the west (Oklahoma's famous for its red clay soil). I remember once that the teachers sent us all home from Adams Elementary School when a bad one was frighteningly visible in the west. That was fun. I was wearing my Cub Scout uniform that day, and I tied my yellow neckerchief around my face--like a Western outlaw--and battled the wind and the grit all the way home--about a half-mile away. (Just checked Google Maps: It's exactly a half-mile from our house to the school!)
All of Enid's elementary schools were of the "neighborhood" variety, scattered all over the city (yes, city: Enid is the seat of Garfield County, mind you!). So no one had all that far to walk. I'm guessing, though, that a few kids got home to an empty house--though the early 1950s was still the era when many mothers stayed at home. My mom did, at first, but then she got her teaching credential in the mid-1950s--and off she went on her career.
I've read a lot of other Steinbeck since Hiram days (though not all), and I've also read the biography by Jay Parini, who spent a day at Western Reserve Academy a few years ago (April 20, 2012: I helped bring him here), and sat at our dining room table and signed that book for me. A good man--a very good man--is Jay Parini.
The final moment in Wrath, of course, is a stunner--so much so that comedian Louis C. K. has a bit about it in one of his comedy specials. (Link to that segment.) (Kind of R-rated, kind of dances on the edge, as he is wont to do, so use your judgment.)
After ... 3:30 pm
I attended a fine class of sophomores, who were actually talking more about Emerson and the Oversoul than Steinbeck. I told them that it was in a course on the Transcendentalists, a course in which we read the very essay they were reading, that Joyce and I met in July 1969. I recited "My Shadow" and "Funeral Blues" (Auden) for them, then walked over to the Chapel a little early to make sure everything was ready; it was.
A lovely introduction from former colleague Sherry Chlysta, and then--there I was--facing a Chapel-ful of young people and their teachers and others.
And off I went, stumbling a few times, losing my place a time or two, but pretty much saying what I'd written. About forty-five minutes later ... it was over ... and I was grateful for the kind reception from the audience.
Then headed with Joyce over to the dining hall where we had a nice lunch with some of the Marticke family--Keir's father and brother--and with some of my dear colleagues from my recent years at the Academy. I was near tears more than once--most powerfully near the end of the talk when I recited one of Keir's poems.
And then ... home. Relieved. Exhausted. Grateful. I fell into bed and napped for about two hours. (Old Guys can nap!)
Awoke with even more gratitude for this day--and feeling a lot of what Keir talked about in that poem: hope.