Adventure is My Middle Name
That 'a great many years ago' is strange, in that its author shares said last name, doncha think? I found this curious sheaf of bound papers in my late grandmother's library, as I was cleaning it out. It was written by her grandfather, and purports to tell the origin story of the race of gods that comprise my family.
Curiously, there's even a Moses figure: 'a benevolent and kindly disposed gentleman, a Mr. Post as it were' (?) 'espied a tiny babe, wrapped in fleecy robes, lying in a basket beside the road.' He took it home, and named it Moses. Thus was my family forged from the fires of misfortune. I am descended from a foundling.
The rest of the damn thing strongly resembles that chapter of the Bible that tells you about the genetic lineage of the entire human race; the begat chapter. It takes you up to the time of my great grandfather.
The library itself provided me with lots of things I wanted (including what looks to me like a first edition copy of Boswell's Life of Johnson, still titled "The Life of Samuel Johnson", by James Boswell), and has reminded me both of my early love for James Thurber, but also how much I like the historian Barbara Tuchman. The Mencken of the Northwest, Stewart Holbrook, is represented, and there is also a World War Two-era atlas of the world, belonging to my grandfather, then in the Merchant Marine. But back to James.
"At all events the family is known to have resided in Derbyshire at a very early period. It was also the proud possessor of a coat of arms, viz: a 'white bull upon a green field'. Now while I am too democratic to be a lover of heraldry or an admirer of titled nobility, yet if a coat of arms was strictly necessary, I am profoundly thankful that the symbol was that of a bull instead of an ass."
He takes his time building up the joke, then delivers the payload. A man after my own DNA.
Note too that while he does not capitalize 'democratic', he also provides some basis for my own family's long-standing dislike of those who would rule.
Curiously, this came up in a strange way at the memorial service for Miz Ellie. A strange woman with a grating voice who mastered the ceremony (who had worked originally at our paper in Pendleton, ultimately ending up at the Washington Post) described my grandmother as "if nothing else, a Democrat".
Shit. Ain't that the way you wish to be remembered? A virulent partisan? Or a keeper of lovely houses, a business manager of great thrift and austerity, a possessor of a 'faint smile' that charmed (I think) those who loved her? A devoted lover of chocolate?
Matter of fact, a worthy view of this whole thing is available here. The note remains the same: at your memorial, are you remembered by your family as a loving person, a font of wisdom (she was repeatedly referred to as being the smartest person each of the eulogizers knew, which is both nice and true), someone you genuinely couldn't wait to see?
In a word, no. In three words, aww hell no. I had the sick revelation, yet again, that we must not speak ill of the dead (as is the tradition), and so we follow suit. However, according to a much older tradition that I follow; Of the dead, only the truth.
The things so often alluded to by the eulogizers as being worthy traits of Miz Ellie were also things that made her awful to deal with as a person. She was mean, basically disapproving and well too sure of her inherent superiority to others. She had passed on that last (and most poisonous) trait to her spawn, which is a source of bitter laughter to all who know my family.
The same things that caused her friends to like and admire her are the things that made me wish to never enter into business, or any other, relations with my father's side of my family.
My uncle, though functionally insane since 1990 at least, by my reckoning, apparently has written a eulogy to her of his own, in our Astoria paper, titled 'Matriarch'. I've not yet read it, but I'm told that he makes the same point that I'm making here: as a mother, she was a great business manager.
Or, as he a-little-too-tellingly puts it here:
"Newspapers are a continuum, especially those that have served communities for more than a century. Mother saw herself, my brother and me as links in that long span. Nothing delighted my Mother more than good writing in our products. That will be our tribute to her.
Actually, the aforementioned editorial was titled "My Mother Never Forgot the Great Depression", which is yet again, a tribute to her thrift, above all else. It's interesting, since on one hand my family eschews ostentation, but also considers it a worthy thing to travel the world, and maybe try to learn something, having many cocktails and meeting boon companions along the way.
One of the boon companions was the great Tom Vaughan, who was old when I was a kid, but is still alive, and gave what was easily the greatest of the eulogies at that funeral. He is the former (and still the best) director of the Oregon Historical Society, and is possessed of one of those beautiful, stentorian voices that allows their possessors to recite the fucking phone book, and we'll still be throwing our panties up on stage for them.
Did he like her? Hell, to hear him tell it, I suspect he nurtured a secret lust for her. Funereal hyperbole? Perhaps.
But more importantly, he spoke of the ideal of Public Service, which you just don't hear enough about these days. The idea that journalism is the reportage of the Truth, in as much as it can ever be objectively observed by anyone, and that the People need it, lest they live in a society that can scarcely be described as Free. His was the only eulogy that nearly provoked tears from me, as journalism is dead.
(Sorry. Was that a bit terse? I do mean it, though.)
You know? The ideal of the journalist as crusader for the common good has been thoroughly undermined by Republican partisans who would rather destroy everything about civilization for short-term political gain than devise their own decent alternative. The market, as always controlled by-let's face it-humans, has followed suit, and an ugly darkeness settles over the kingdom of letters.
I walked up to Tom afterward, and said, "You always could spin one hell of a yarn."
He blinked at me from under fuzzy, beetly brows and said, "But there is a great deal to be said for knowing when to sit down."
"An overrated trait, to be sure," I responded. He walked away with a smile, clearly having no idea who I was. Dude hadn't seen me since the '80's.
My skin was crawling, as I was surrounded by family and long-time friends of family that I did not like. Our long-time business manager, Pat Patterson, was there though, and he was always a favorite person of mine. He never bullshitted me, and that comforted me. His eulogy had been warm, but it wasn't florid. It also reminded me that she had been his greatest antagonist during the entire twenty-or-so years he worked for my family. Or, as he put it to me twelve years ago: "I serve at the pleasure of your grandmother."
So, if his words were carefully couched to conceal how he actually felt, what the hell were the rest of these people actually saying? He is glad to be retired, I think.
I mean, this was the purview of people like my genuinely awful aunt Brenda (current Head Pest In Charge), who had said to me at dinner the night before, upon hearing extensively what it is that I do for a living; "So you're gainfully employed?"
"Have been for years," I responded. Why do we coddle the worst among us? I at least should have said, 'Awww. I love you for things like that.', or 'Good God, you're awful', then walked away. But no. We forgive them, or at least put as much distance as we can between ourselves and them.
The thing is , there's a fair chance that the genuinely awful actually think they're delivering compliments when they say things like that, but I doubt it. My only problem is that she comes from a long line of Southern Belles who will always have the drop on me, as my insults tend to be of the so-honest-they-floor-you variety, and hers are, by definition, those incredibly well crafted miracles of malice that leave you unable to comment, lest you appear to be Losing Your Composure. The Smile of All Awful Women Everywhere inevitably follows.
From James again:
"Some verses have been handed down that are ascribed to Henry Adventure of that time, who seems to have been of rather a convivial nature, setting forth five reasons why we drink, beginning thus:
Good wine's a friend because I'm dry
Or but I should be bye and bye
Or any other reason why."
This is truly worthy of sots everywhere, and indeed of most poetry of the Elizabethan age. I'm imagining that if he feels the need to celebrate Booze, there's a sonnet to Pussy in there, as well.
I left that day without saying goodbye to anyone. There was a PowerPoint presentation put together by my stepbrother, that featured many shots of us, in earlier, brighter times when we all thought we'd be at the helm of a smarter, better informed electorate. She spent so much of her time smiling, did Miz Ellie, and it made me sad to reflect how little I saw that smile bestowed on me, for reasons of necessity to me, my sanity, and those who I love, who I always want to protect from the silly bullshit that is being a Bachelor.
I also came into possession of the entire archive of my grandmother's photos, including this one, described in the much earlier post titled "Destiny's Red Headed Stepchild":
"Nonetheless, the picture of myself at age seven speaks volumes. My grandfather has just explained to me where our family money comes from, and pointed out that the whole enterprise falls apart without people who are willing to sustain it. The picture, taken by my mother, has me pausing, tongue literally in cheek, before I say what I said.
With gravity far beyond my years, I explained to him that none of my family members seemed happy with their lives, and that I could say in particular that I knew that their family lives suffered due to the long hours, harsh deadlines and time spent travelling. That above all else, I considered it far more important to be happy than it ever was to fulfill the role that destiny had, for some reason, felt like throwing me."
And with the further proviso that, again, I'd have to be a moron to wish to throw in my lot emotionally and in business with a bunch of people like my father's family (he himself takes a great deal of time to remind me, these days, that they just aren't worth it).
As my old joke goes, my middle name is adventure! Or is it Customer Service? It all becomes less clear beyond here, and sleep well, Miz Ellie, for all the damage you did.
Labels: my personals