******loaded as I was flooded … have to find the final stuff …. & will
We have this tradition of marking occasions with books –inscriptions being breadcrumbs and rough notes of passage. Continued with my son Christopher. The thought of the book; the thoughts in our books: talismans. S.
Correspondence #4: note the cousin Jane on dad’s birthday
It’s dad’s birthday. Hundred and 11 years ago. Morning is cool. Not the harsh, oppressive steam heat of the last 4 or 5 weeks. Inhaling only out of a need for any available Oxygen. Of some sort. To think of summer and the dry heat I grew up with in eastern Pennsylvania is like trying to remember a movie seen in Black and White ,n childhood. On the TV … Maybe Jean Tierney’s Lara with Tide commercials.
Any cool left from night burned off, sunshine blow torch yellow. Grass to be mown … Dad, sweat sheened, labored would remove it from the mower bag, put it in his wheelbarrow with steel pipe handles and wheel it down, thru the orchard, to the compost heap to broil for next year’s garden. In the orchard, aka “the field”, it just lay there, evaporating under sun, the scent of its fermentation the smell of August.
Was summer morning. Life without fear. Life with ordinary promise. Like today, the sunlight arrived a friendly morning yellow. Mostly stayed that way.
Behind it all… most importantly… We were all there. All of us. “It’s not a life we are living, it’s life’s reward, beautiful because it seems eternal & because we know, quite well, it is not.” (James Salter writing in “There and Then” – Immortal Days). Read James Salter as my dad was failing. Actually we exchanged letters, notes. Sat beside the little creek that formed the bottom end of our property where I also wrote letters to Jane. A winding pool with trout attacked by snakes. Symbols of time passing .. more condensed than the time itself.
So the other Thursday, waiting at the vets, outside for three hours in 104° heat, I opened a letter from Jane. Saved for a good day, her handwriting, an artist and teachers – notes from my friend, joyfully received. Elegant and graceful. Alas, there was some news, unpleasant news, from less than pleasant times, curated by unpleasant graceless people.
Jane apologized of course, which was not necessary. I would want to know. Two nights ago, the little cat stayed out in the rain. Stayed up, went to the door in intervals, rang the brass bell that mom rang to tell dad dinner was ready. She always comes in, Mlle. Pernod or Coco… been a much involved naming, as Over- EZ always did. That night she didn’t. I would see her of the bushes becoming more and more wet. Finally when she came in, I dried her with my towel. Back, top of her head, each leg and tail. That night she slept on my parents bed in the in the other room, where I sometimes sleep myself when uncomfortable. The important books are there. Memories needing reorder on shelves made from pine … and stained. .
Usually Margarita Beatrice and she are on my bed. Where I can touch them. And they rollover on their back. Spiked with a Twist runs around in the morning to wake us … Carrying his Christmas pipe cleaner. Sometimes on the bed too, when I’m lucky. A Scottish wildcat. Big, fast, strong.
Checked on her a couple of times (Pernod, that is), wishing she could tell me what her troubles are. Be good to know. Something might be done to help, large or small.
And there abouts along comes Patti Smith. And M Train … Well known to me as a route to Brooklyn. Which I mentioned to Jane when I asked if I could send her a copy. We grow old finding ourselves somewhat alone, more so with the plague. Patti Smith knew something about this … Before it happened. A fellow traveler through her own life, experiencing amusement perplexity. Then again, so did I.
The book was here. M Train A signed first from an edition party in the village, if memory serves, when I was invited such things … and a second copy for reading. Though small, it had the feeling of proper weight, the elegance of unpretentious but direct intentional production. So carefully, quietly perfect. Devoid of noisy marketing . Often read with James Salter’s collection of his magazine travel stories, subjective memoirs, from time past.
Earlier, I offered my it to my friend Evelyn, from the old New York days, now in Florida, when she mentioned how much she missed her grand kids – this plague lock-down stuff. There was that feeling of something unseen, there but missing. After taking it out, and becoming involved, read it several times. All and in pieces. Made notes. Underlined. It is a quiet book, that joins me when needed, resting on my upstairs shelf with other first editions, talismans for safety in long nights.
Like her reminiscing in: “Hill of Beans”, something shared, the company of coffee, her mother’s ever present pot and cigarette… a signature of working families I knew … Very well . Seymour with the ever present Corning pot of coffee in the railroad flat at Bleeker and MacDougal (Benson & Hedges hundreds); my neighbor Dick with the coming home coffee after a shift in the Mack truck line (Marlboro). Coffee is a companion possibly a cultural inheritance from Patti Smith’s mom, small but ever present. I came to like her, she appears to have earned every millimeter .Its replacement on order. A quiet book that joins one as needed, even now… Talisman. Still find myself browsing, back to the underlining lines above and below. Yes I remember that – how could I have forgotten? Like Aunt Celia’s fried potatoes with egg, steaming the scent of lard on the red and white checked oil cloth. On the farm kitchen table. Once again: coffee.
While reading that morning, the small espresso machine, making with cayenne and chocolate, steaming. One of my potters cups, Cracked, broken, glued together, repaired scars blended with gold leaf … In the Japanese manner celebrating the Zen of it survival. And thinking of watching Mum sitting on the bench. Dead center. Alone. Watching the Creek … Surely thinking of dad. The irrigation Dam he built, mixing concrete by hand A gift to our home. And Family. Good reason to be sad and fair reason to paint the memory with gold-leaf… Celebrating all the years in the Zen of companionship. Little kitten, Mlle. Pernod wants out… yes little girl, I promised.
Small occurrences in life, demonstrate value and effort. Part of joy. It’s not the purchase but the effort and use that remain long after the hucksters are selling more expensive slop, unnecessary and without meaning. So I thought of Patti Smith, her memories of her husband, the past that wanders to and from. It’s good to find the clean first edition … with which to send my love. In times like this it’s almost a piece of work that rises to conversation. Also mentioned it to my friend Evelyn, when she said from Florida, how much she missed her grandchildren. These are meals eaten alone. Sitting in the middle of the bench. People understand or not worth explaining.
Both Salter and Smith have their own values, reflected in their writing … Not only the words but their manner. His careful and cerebral; hers learned early, the knowledge of a world out there to get to, a simple world, but drawn together for purpose; saved sans pretense. The order of the filing cabinet of memories.
Once received a postcard from Salter – a nice one… Tiny writing, he added a clarifying word with the proof reader’s carrot, apparently added upon rereading the small postcard. Being clearly understood was important. What good are values if misunderstood. Both write the stories of their own values. For the with enough money, value systems come with the inheritance. They need not be checked, they just go on collecting, by computation, like interest on poor. Smith and Salter’s writing is better, rings truer without that faux certainty. The writing has truth. One way or another it happened.
Patti, so rarely do I use the familiar with someone unmet, she has a less formal structure … And more chaotic pattern. Less uniform… But in the end they both come to conclusion. Small occurrences in life, demonstrate value and effort is part of joy. It’s not the purchase but effort and use that remain long after the hucksters are selling more expensive slop without meaning. To someone who has done who knows what to buy it.
So the book was there … On the shelf, waiting. I returned to it once again, to send to them, once yet again.
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Please note: This is a work in progress that my combine work from multiple projects over multiple years and many technologies. (and programs plus pens). Working to make all compatible, sometime making corrections a programs are open across multiple publications. Work in progress means still correction and gathering. All rights and ownership of the material itself has been mine from the beginning and remains so today.