And then—the very next day—I got the news that a Harmon student, an eighth-grader, had committed suicide, and suddenly my self-absorbed, self-pitying emotions tumbled into a chasm of irrelevance. I’d not taught the boy, but I knew who he was—knew his family.
That same day—June 7, 1997—I have this note in my journal: Joyce found a house in Hudson she kind of likes, so we’re going to look at it tomorrow at noon. And the next day I wrote this: over to Hudson for 12 noon appointment to see house on Church Street; we both liked it; at home decided to investigate obtaining a bridge loan until we sell this house (asking price is $219.9K for the Hudson place); if it works, okay; if not, that’s okay, too; staying here is certainly no penalty.
I am typing these words right now in that very house in Hudson we first saw when I was reading Lodore. We had been living in a great place in Aurora—a lovely brick home built in the early nineteenth century. We’d invested a lot in its restoration. Convenience was one of its great virtues: Harmon Middle School (where I taught) was about two blocks away, and Joyce’s mom, deep in her struggle with Alzheimer’s, was living out at Anna Maria, a care facility just a couple of miles away. And Joyce was teaching at Hiram College—just eleven miles east with only one stoplight between our house and her office.
But now I was retired; Joyce’s mom had died; we missed Hudson (where we had lived for twenty-one years, 1979–1990), especially being within easy walking distance of the downtown area. This Hudson house we were looking at, also a century home, was barely even a block from the village green. And right next door—the funeral home, which I began referring to as our Stage-Two Retirement Facility. Joyce found that locution far less amusing than I did.
For the next few days my journal was full of new-house business. Talks with realtors, bankers. We made an offer (barely below the asking price) at 5:30 in the evening; the sellers accepted it with alacrity (which, of course, made me wonder, wonder, wonder).
On June 10, I attended the sad service for the Harmon student—saw many former students, some of whom had written poems for the occasion.
On June 12, I biked up to the Aurora Mickey D’s and read more of Lodore. I biked home and finished it in my study, where, as my journal reminds me, I had tears streaming down my face as Ethel finally discovers her mother, who has surrendered everything for her daughter;MWS needed a good editor (PBS would have done well!), but she has the power to animate emotions, that’s for sure—romantic, to be sure, but I’m an old softie anyway, so I love it ….
One of the things I’d been thinking about—even so very early in my Mary Shelley research—was how the loss of her husband, grievous in many ways, had an additional dimension: She lost the best reader and editor she would ever have. There has been some foolish talk here and there about how Bysshe “wrote” Frankenstein, foolish talk that withers after you look at her manuscript. He has some suggestions—good ones—but it’s her writing, all the way.
But having some very bright and able eyes in the house is—as I can testify personally—a tremendous advantage for a writer. Joyce looks over almost all of my work before I do anything with it (I do the same for her), and her ideas have had an incalculable effect on my work—and, of course, on me. So Mary, who had had Percy Bysshe Shelley in the house to look at her work, to talk with, to share ideas with, would suffer in the ensuing years from his absence—in so many ways.
And by the way … we sold our Aurora house very quickly, too, that summer of 1997. And the buyer was one of my former students. And now it’s been about twenty years that we’ve lived in the house we were considering while I finished Mary’s Lodore.