Threads string down from the left sleeve end of the thirty year old blue blazer sagging from the peg behind the office door. The hem is creeping out with age and wear. It has seen the pilgrimage of too many teenage searchers in the wilderness of prep school academics. How many exaggerated names have washed over the now dangling faux gold buttons during unremarkable services celebrating fleeting mini-glories founded on misinformed opinions from those who know better?
How many breathed and un-breathed howls and screeches of disappointed parents worked their way into the dark weave like so much smoke accumulating for three decades? Perhaps the pockets still echo with the cacophony of joy, pain, and boredom as competing valedictory addresses seek asylum from the curse of time. Yet, cycles serve the watched and watcher well. Persistence has its role.
The stained, picked, sagging blue played its role–perhaps better than the owner.
He was in the hospital. Seems like he spent too much time there between malaria, tuberculosis, and the birth of his children. The doctor said he had phlebitis, and they had to strip a vein in his leg. Later I would learn about that pain — diagnosed with it at the ripe old age of sixteen. (I did not need the knife)
My Dad was a reader of stories. Mama had purchased a small pile of paperback books, ammunition for the hospital duration. Somewhere during the phlebitis episode he handed me a small 1950s size paperback with an orange cover and the photograph of a hunter. He had finished the volume and was passing it on.
“You need to read this. You are going to think it is about hunting, but it is really a book of philosophy.” Uh, sure. Always wanted to read philosophy, but at least there was going to be hunting. A red-stocked, single-shot, Harrington & Richardson .410 shotgun was my first gun at age nine. It would be the only shotgun I ever owned until my grandfather died, and I got his a ragged .20 gauge double barrel he bought in a pawn shop. If I had to gag down a little philosophy to be immersed in the hunt, I was all in.
Robert Ruark’s The Old Man and the Boy became the epigraphical touchstone of my adult life. Revisited as a college student; annotated; passed on to adult friends; re-received in a new edition from those friends so I did not have to lend the precious aging paperback with my Dad’s fingerprints on it; and the forge of a bond with a colleague who shared Ruark’s and my experiences hundreds of miles from my youth. (Thanks, Jack M.)
Now much out of favor with many because it is built around hunting (thus killing) wild animals, echoes the racist, gender-biased culture of the 1930’s American South, and does not resonate with the hyper-speed, i-phone, non-reflective experiential learning culture of 2018. The book adheres to the soul of those who still wonder at Orion in the winter sky, wait for the green sky of hurricane season, and feel the curve of a hand built wooden boat. Ruark continues to speak to the pilgrims who know that the natural quiet of an estuary at dusk delivers a more profound sermon than the screeching brimstone hammered down from an American Express-driven mega church pulpit. To wit:
“As I remember the Old Man, he never said anything at all that you couldn’t walk away from three ways and still find a fresh idea in it. I got to where I could listen to him with only one ear, separating the meat from the philosophy, and it wasn’t until a lot of years later when I grew up to be a man that I found I remembered more philosophy than meat.” —-Robert Ruark, The Old Man and The Boy
When you were a rock, at the cryogenic moment you sensed your immortality what could you know?
Did you see it coming? The growing reaching shadow. The smut-black shade. The narrowing lightless margin of your unchosen world.
Did you hear the growing silence created by the rushed voices phrasing an indecipherable new language as your space moved off-center?
Did you feel the creep in the room? The silent floating, then slinking, then lightly scratching, effortlessly encroaching inevitable behind your back approach.
Did you touch the stretching hardening inelastic distance from the then to the now?
Did the smell of loss find you unprepared? Malodorous, old-weight imposing unsurvivable thickness to your air?
Did the taste shock you? Bitter, uplifting, alien to your palette, non-lethal but final.
It always comes, bringing the second cryogenic moment and the reality that you are not a rock. That damned human thing!
Seem like such a simple thing to follow one’s own dream
But possessions and concession are not often what they seem
They drag you down and load you down in disguise of security.
But we never had to make those deals
In the days that used to be.”
—-Neil Young, “Days That Used to Be”
“Now the years are rolling by me
They are rocking easily
I am older than I once was
And younger than I’ll be
But that’s not unusual
No, it isn’t strange
After changes upon changes
We are more or less the same
After changes we are
More or less the same”
—-Paul Simon, “The Boxer”