Charlie’s stuck on writing fractions as percents in his Saxon Math 76 and is yelling for your help. The twins can’t make head or tails out of diagramming sentences. Lizette is begging you to read The Tale of Three Trees for the third time that day. Henry, who has a cold and whose nose is running faster than an Olympic sprinter, needs to go to the potty NOW. The baby kept you up half the night. It’s past time to make the kids some lunch, your husband messages you he won’t be home until late that night, and you can’t remember whether you brushed your teeth that morning.
Most of us, of whatever age, by a simple act of memory and willpower can revisit distant summers in our imagination and discover there the bright, shining pleasures of being a child. Trips to the beach, recreating Civil War battles in the woods surrounding my house, playing badminton and roll-the-bat in our side yard: these will remain a part of my interior landscape until death or dementia erases them along with the rest of me.
One of my great delights in what F. Scott Fitzgerald called “my younger and more vulnerable years” was reading. Boonville, North Carolina, had no public library at that time, a sad circumstance since righted by my best friend’s mother, Mrs. Frieda Speer. Had that library existed fifty odd years ago, I have no doubt that I would have become one of its chief patrons. As it was, however, I stormed aboard the book-mobile on its once weekly visit to our street, rode occasionally into Yadkinville with my father to visit the public library, and spent hours in the front window of the Weatherwax Pharmacy, where there were comic books—Classics Illustrated, Sergeant Rock, and Superman—and several dozen different magazines. Mr. Weatherwax allowed me to read unmolested, perhaps because my father was the town’s only doctor, perhaps because he thought my presence provided a living advertisement for passerby to visit his store.
There is, I suspect, a link between the appreciation of beauty and the passing of time.
Time sweeps us ever onward, like a Swiss hausfrau with a broom, and we feel the effects of that passage of time more acutely and more poignantly the older we grow. The plodding summers of youth, when a day might seem a week long, race by as we approach Social Security and the twilight of the nursing home. Most of us who have staggered past a certain age realize ever more acutely that each sunset carries us closer to death and the grave, and some of us consequently marvel at the world like born-again three-year-olds. If we have our wits about us, we find beauty in places and weather paradoxical; the cool early mornings of Virginia in May and the blustery winds and biting sleet of a Carolina January. We look at a child and see a luminescent soul; we look into the face of an elderly woman seated in a coffee shop and find in that stitch work of wrinkles a tapestry of tragedy and comedy.
Yesterday I finished Volume VI, The Reformation, of Will and now to be Ariel Durant’s The Story of Civilization.
A good part of this reading in this volume, and the others, is a slog for me. To read of the development of ceramics and goldsmithing, of artists whose work is entirely unfamiliar to me, of architectural change, finds me lost most of the time, scratching my head, unwilling because of my adventure to skip ahead, but reading as fast as I can.
Another poem from a good while back.
After my wife's death in 2004, I began writing some poetry. A few years later, I challenged my AP Literature students to write a sonnet and promised I would do the same. I kept that promise, and then wrote a score of sonnets.
I haven't written a line of poetry in two years now, but a recent online correspondent mentioned she had read the few poems under the header at the top of this page. Her comment sent me back to look over those poems. Some are worthless. Some may deserve a readership. Below is one I remembering writing years ago. One great treat about writing poetry as opposed to prose is that you can carry the poem in your head, editing it wherever you go, changing a word, dropping or adding a comma. (Google Oscar Wilde and comma, and you'll see what I mean.)
At any rate, here it is.
It’s July 3, 2018, and I am in my local grocery store with a good friend from Richmond. John buys some sparklers and fireworks for my grandchildren, who know him as Uncle John, and a six-pack of Budweiser Light Orange. I buy some chocolate chip cookies and ice cream—cookie dough and moose tracks—for making ice cream sandwiches for eleven of the grandchildren; some California chardonnay; bagels on sale; some cream cheese; and some strawberry jam.
As we walk through this grocery store, which is similar to thousands more across the country, I say to John, “This is America.”
Every day I visit my usual websites for news and commentary, and every day since the election of Donald Trump to the presidency I see the crazies clamoring that Donald Trump is Adolph Hitler, that America is now a fascist nation of jackbooted storm troopers, and that the government of the United States is fast becoming a dictatorship.
By now, unless you have spent the past two decades living as a Venusian, you are aware that good manners in the public square and in social media are at rock bottom. In addition to the kooks attacking speakers in colleges, mobs surrounding and screaming at members of Donald Trump’s cabinet when they appear in restaurants, and movie stars throwing obscenities around like loose change, we find snarky, profanity laden comments online, tweets attacking people for innocent comments or photographs, and boors—or should that be boars?—who root out racism and sexism in the most innocuous of posts.
But here is the strange thing.
People don’t generally misbehave in this way in the flesh.
Meddlesome intrusions such as earning a living and illness—a summer cold and infected lungs—have kept me not only from slowing down on the Durant reading, but also from posting here. I am, however, two-thirds of the way through The Reformation and now expect to finish this tome in another week or so.