Thursday, January 8, 2009
Billy Ray Barnwell here, okay, before signing off for good I am going to pass along one last piece of advice, if you are feeling down in the mouth, and don’t we all at times, or if you just want to have a good laugh, you don’t need to spend your hard-earned money to listen to some foul-mouthed comedian in some sleazy nightclub tell raunchy jokes, all you need to do is run your written work through your computer’s spelling checker program, I’m telling you it will absolutely make your day, it will lift you out of that funk, it will turn you around completely, it will put a smile on your face, because the computer will give you some of the most outrageous and absurd suggestions that ever came down the pike on how to improve your writing, such as change Flavill George to Fluvial George and change Consolidated Vultee Aircraft to Consolidated Vulture Aircraft, I first learned this several years ago when I worked for a woman named Mary Alice Haynie and the computer suggested that maybe I meant to say Mary Alice Haystack. It’s not the computer’s fault, a man named John Kemeny who was a professor of mathematics at Dartmouth University up in New Hampshire when he said what I am about to tell you and who went on to become president of that very place, Dartmouth University I mean, not New Hampshire, once said that A the computer is incredibly fast, accurate, and stupid and B man is unbelievably slow, inaccurate, and brilliant and C the marriage of the two is a force beyond calculation, and while this is prolly true it’s also true that if you put garbage in, you get garbage out, I’m talking about whoever it was that programmed the spelling checker, not my own work.
I don’t know when or even if I’ll ever write that book about my family, which as I told you by family I mean my wife, my children, and my grandchildren, there are so many things I left out of this book, to tell the truth a lot of clutter is still rolling around inside my head when I thought it all was out, I mean I never wrote one word about A Julius LaRosa who sang “E Cumpari” which is pronounced ay-koom-PAH-ree, he’s the guy who got fired on the air by none other than Arthur Godfrey for his alleged lack of humility which certainly seemed to be a case of the pot calling the kettle black or B Durwood Kirby who was the tall, thin announcer for The Garry Moore Show which is where Carol Burnett got her start on television after singing “I Fell In Love With John Foster Dulles” on Ed Sullivan’s show or C Dorothy Kilgallen who was the chinless wonder on What’s My Line? every Sunday night along with Arlene Francis and John Daly and Bennett Cerf, yes kiddies, there was life on this planet before you came along and God willing there will still be after all of us are long gone, or D William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy saving a couple of whales named George and Gracie in one of the many Star Trek movies or E Paul Anka who not only sang “Diana” but also wrote the theme music to the Tonight show that Doc Severinson and the Orchestra played every single night or F Mr. Neal Sedaka who sang “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” in that funny little high-pitched voice of his or G those crazy songs Groucho Marx used to sing like “Hello, I Must Be Going” and the one that began “Lydia, oh Lydia, say, have you met Lydia, Lydia, The Tattooed Lady?” and ended “You can learn a lot from Lydia” which by the way when Robin Williams sang that song many years later in a movie called The Fisher King he changed the line “when her muscles start relaxin’, up the hill comes Andrew Jackson” to “up the hill comes Michael Jackson” which makes no sense at all when you think about it or H how much fun a bunch of ukulele players can have wearing leis and grass skirts and singing “I want to go back to my little grass shack in Kealakekua Hawaii, where the humuhumunukunukuapua’a which is pronounced HOO-moo-HOO-moo-NOO-koo-NOO-koo-AH-poo-AH-ah go swimming by” or I Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride who played Ma and Pa Kettle in a movie called The Egg and I which I believe starred Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert or even J Muhammed Ali who originally was Cassius Clay of Louisville Kentucky, he was called “the Louisville Lip” and said “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” I’m sort of like him, I float like a Butterball and sting like Aunt Bee, ha ha ha, that is not original with me but it’s so funny I just had to put it in, they say Milton Berle had a whole file cabinet full of stolen jokes, I just don’t know what I am going to do about all this stuff in my cranium just screaming to get out, it’s not just about TV and movies either, for instance back in Not Grapevine Texas I took Edna Rainwater to the Not Grapevine Junior-Senior prom the year we were both juniors, some of the girls in our class decorated the gym with crepe paper streamers and the night of the prom they sang “Dream, Dream, Dream” by Phil and Don, the Everly Brothers, the girls did I mean, not the crepe paper streamers, and because I couldn’t drive a car yet we double-dated with Travis Murchison and Doris Ann Bradshaw, Travis came by and picked me up in his Dad’s car and then we picked up our dates, and a good time was had by all, after the prom we drove around town for a while and got something to eat just as Flurry’s was closing but there wasn’t really much to do except go out to the lake and watch the submarine races as my Dad and stepmother used to say, well Edna and I just sat in the back seat and watched Travis and Doris Ann smooch in the front seat, we were not sweet on each other like they were so we didn’t want to do anything like that, we just attended the local Methodist Youth Fellowship together and neither of us wanted to sit at home on prom night, I did buy her a lovely Dutch Iris corsage to wear, blue to go with her dress, Doris Ann attended the Methodist Youth Fellowship too but Travis didn’t, he was either Catholic or Church of Christ one, I forget which, not that it matters, so anyways around one a.m. after a lot of heavy breathing from the front seat we left the lake and Travis dropped me off at Edna’s house while he took Doris Ann home which was less than two miles away and then he was going to come back and pick me up and take me back to my house which was about three miles away in the opposite direction, well Edna and I sat on the front porch and talked quietly because we didn’t want to wake her parents who or rather whom we could hear snoring in their bedroom, after a while we ran out of things to talk about so we just kind of looked at each other and we waited and waited but no sign of Travis, and after another very long while during which the silence grew almost painful Edna went inside and called Doris Ann’s house and came back out and said Doris Ann’s mother said Doris Ann hadn’t come home yet so we knew she and Travis wanted to make out in the worst way, Doris Ann I mean, not Doris Ann’s mother, and when they dropped us off so they could get on with their evening’s activities they must have lost track of the time, finally about two-thirty Edna went back in and woke up her father and asked if he would take me back to my house so he got up and got dressed and did, we never did find out what happened with Travis and Doris Ann but we had a pretty good idea and we never even got so much as an “I’m sorry,” I don’t think Travis and Doris Ann ever dated again, apparently after Travis got what he wanted he moved on to his next conquest, or maybe it was Doris Ann who moved on, we were never quite sure, and about two years after we all graduated from dear old Not Grapevine High School I played piano or organ one, I can’t remember which, at the wedding of Edna Rainwater and Curtis Eberhardt whose job was cleaning out septic tanks all over the Fort Worth and Dallas area which is now called The Metroplex, a long time ago the famous country duo Homer and Jethro, not to be confused with Lum and Abner, sang a special version of The Yellow Rose of Texas that went “she’s the sweetest little rosebud, the fairest gal on earth, her right eye looks at Dallas, her left one at Fort Worth,” it was a regular knee-slapper, and in case you didn’t know it Fort Worth is where the West begins and Dallas is where the East peters out, I mean you can’t just let this stuff go unrecorded, by the way I’m currently thinking of calling this book Whatchamacallits, Antecedents, but when I find a publisher the title may change again, and if I can’t find a publisher I may just publish the book myself, I really don’t want to let any editor change a single word I write, in that respect I’m a lot like a writer named Iris Murdoch, although in other respects Iris and I are completely different, the most noticeable difference being that she’s dead and I’m still very much alive and kicking, when you publish your own work it’s called vanity press but I don’t believe I have a vain bone in my body, I mean I may well have one, I just refuse to believe that I do, well I want to have a memorable ending to this book, in Mr. Morris’s class back in Not Grapevine Texas we read Mr. Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables which is pronounced LAY-ME-so-ROB, at least that’s the way Mr. Morris said it, and the character Jean Valjean which is pronounced ZHAWNH-val-ZHAWNH said something very famous at the end of it, gosh I sure hope something in my book turns out to be famous, what he said was “It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done; it is a far, far better place to which I go than I have ever known,” you talk about vain, wait a cotton-pickin’ minute, hold the fort, that isn’t LAY-ME-so-ROB, that’s A Tale Of Two Cities by Mr. Charles Dickens, you know, the one that begins “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” well I have been through some very good times and some very bad times myself, Brother Rathbone says some people will never know that Jesus is all they need until they get to the place where He’s all they have, he often ends his sermons by quoting a stanza of an old hymn or maybe a poem, Brother Rathbone I mean, not Jesus, and if it’s good enough for Brother Rathbone it’s good enough for me, he’s been to seminary and all and I never even finished college, but that’s okay because another preacher I used to know down in Florida named Dr. Torrey Johnson whose doctorate was earned and not honorary said he knew people with lots of degrees but no temperature. Some beginnings are better than others, for example there’s A “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” which most people know is from the Holy Bible and if they don’t they should and B “Call me Ishmael” from Moby Dick by Herman Melville and C “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York” from Richard III which is not a book but a play by Mr. William Shakespeare or maybe it was Mr. Christopher Marlowe but my very favorite beginning is D, actually it’s two sentences and it’s not from a book either, “General Sash was a hundred and four years old. He lived with his granddaughter, Sally Poker Sash, who was sixty-two years old and who prayed every night on her knees that he would live until her graduation from college,” it’s the opening of a short story called “A Late Encounter With The Enemy” by the one and only Flannery O’Connor, I won’t give it away except to say he did and he didn’t, live until her graduation from college, that is, Sally Poker Sash’s graduation I mean, not Flannery O’Connor’s, we never do find out why Sally’s middle name is Poker, but the point is you just know when you read a beginning like that, this is going to be a story worth reading, you can feel it in your bones, of course everyone knows it’s not where you start that matters, it’s where you finish, several years ago I ran across a little four-line poem by Ogden Nash that wasn’t written in his usual humorous style, it was sweet, sweet like a persimmon, and maybe I will end my book with it, it goes like this: “When I remember bygone days I think how evening follows morn; so many I loved were not yet dead, so many I love were not yet born,” hey maybe I should call this book So Many I Loved. On second thought that title wouldn’t really be true because I haven’t loved many at all, I may have liked many and been fascinated by many but I’ve loved only a few. Mama, Eleanor, the children, their mates, the grandchildren. A few others like my aunt and my grandfather and a lady I called my “other mother,” I can’t believe I never even told you one word about her, her name was Mrs. Sally Huffman, out of all the Sunday School classes in all the towns in all the world I walked into hers when I was seven years old and it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship to coin a phrase, she was the wife of the superintendent of schools in Not Grapevine and one year they were Worthy Matron and Worthy Patron of the local Order of the Eastern Star, Mr. and Mrs. Huffman I mean, not the schools in Not Grapevine, her favorite color was orchid and she called her husband Lloydie but a lot of the kids at school called him Beaky behind his back because he had a humongous nose, I wish I could get into that now, their part in my story I mean, not his nose, but I can’t because this thing is about over. A man named John Donne said a long time ago that no man is an island, well that may be true but some people are definitely peninsulas. Take me, for instance. I do not feel involved with mankind. I’ve been more of an observer than a participant. I’ve been more caught up in remembering the past than in experiencing the present. I’ve been more involved with images on screens and words in books than with flesh-and-blood human beings. Dear God, Florabelle Oxley was right. I’ve been blind, as blind as old John Milton who wrote a sonnet called “On His Blindness” over four hundred years ago which Mr. Morris made us memorize in ninth-grade English and stand up and recite in front of the whole class back in Not Grapevine Texas, it went “When I consider how my Light is spent ere half my days in this dark world and wide, and that one Talent which is death to hide, Lodg’d with me useless,” the sonnet did I mean, not the whole class back in Not Grapevine Texas, although in a manner of speaking the whole class did too, one person at a time. I don’t remember the middle part, something about God I think, sorry Mr. Morris, and then it ends “Thousands at his bidding speed and post o’er Land and Ocean without rest; They also serve who only stand and wait,” gosh I haven’t thought about that poem in years, I think I may have been posting o’er Land and Ocean without rest and not necessarily at his bidding either when maybe what I should have been doing was standing and waiting, well as Chester A. Riley played by the famous actor William Bendix used to say at the end of every episode of The Life Of Riley, what a revoltin’ development this is. Maybe I should call this book Lilies That Fester, or maybe We Shall Not Cease From Exploration which would be a nod in the direction of Mr. T. S. Eliot which by the way I have decided that J. Alfred Prufrock was prolly a jerk, a pathetic one maybe, but a jerk nonetheless. Or maybe, just for fun, I might call this book What’s The Frequency, Kenneth? which would be a nod in the direction of Mr. Dan Rather who used to be a nightly news anchor on CBS-TV, well as my dad used to say, cheese and crackers got all muddy, the hardest part of writing a book seems to be coming up with a title. Now I know what Howard Griffin and Tallulah Bankhead went through, and speaking of Howard Griffin, I believe I’m having another satori, he’s really the one I’ve been as blind as, not old John Milton at all, I have been walking through fields just like Howard with his collie dog, and a blood clot seems to have suddenly dissolved behind my optic nerve, I’m seeing things clearly for the first time in years. I haven’t fully appreciated the treasure that’s right here beside me and that treasure has a name and her name is Eleanor. Mrs. Brockett, I have changed my mind, I’m not going to dedicate this book to you after all. I have decided to dedicate it to my Eleanor instead, and the dedication is going to be in the form of one more poem that sums up my feelings about her, she is a living saint. I do believe she is what has kept me sane all these years.
The moon, falling softly on the sea;
The wind, moving gently through the grain;
And you, turning quietly to me –
......You three bring joy, silent joy that stills my pain.
The sea, which receives the moon’s caress;
The grain, which receives the wind’s soft touch;
And I, who receive your quietness –
......We three are blessed. No one else can know how much.
and this is Billy Ray Barnwell, signing off.