Friday, April 25, 2008

Words


The cool evening air envelops me as I step out onto our front porch, "Hornblower and the Hotspur" in one hand and a rusty nail in the other. I listen to birds as they fly about, chirping loudly while on the next street a neighbor is using pruning sheers. The sounds of evening. As I settle into my Adirondack chair, I place my drink on the arm of the adjacent chair while I remove my glasses from their case and settle them on my nose. Outfitting complete, I start reading where my bookmark tells me to. Soon, I am lost in the Atlantic, late in the season, hunting French ships with Horatio Hornblower in command.
His new wife, Maria, has given birth to their son, Horatio, yet still Hornblower yearns to be at sea. He gets his wish as new orders come down from the admiralty. England means to keep Boney caged up in France and Hornblower is assigned to the naval front line. I can taste the salt on the air and feel the tension from the crew on the Hotspur as she braces for battle once again.
I read for some time when the sound of the approaching train registers somewhere far away in my thoughts. I continue reading as cars that have waited at Bellevue station for their loved ones to return cluster together and race down our street, heading for home. The log jam at the end of our street quickly passes. The pedestrians stroll by a few moments later. Most have a beaten look about them. Yet every tired step brings them closer to home.
From my seat on the porch I am a silent observer, eight feet above the street and hidden behind the porch rails. It would take an effort for someone to see me when I sit here. My neighbor across the street leaves his house to get into his car. He sees me; he always does. We exchange pleasantries but Billy seems to be in a hurry so its a short conversation. As he speeds away I nestle down in my chair and climb back into my book.
I absentmindedly sip my drink throughout the evening. The warmth of the scotch is in stark contrast to the cool breeze. Both are welcome sensations.
A couple walks by; one that I have never seen before. It looks to be an elderly woman and a younger relation. Her son, maybe? She stops to look at our daffodils, tulips and the emerging perennials. As she does so she notices me sitting on my porch watching her and she seems flustered. I smile and wave and she returns the gesture, all evidence of fluster is gone. I hear snippets of her conversation as they walk by. She likes our flowers. That makes me happy.
Before I return to Hornblower I look over our garden. I am surprised to notice that the rogue tree - growing in the spot where a Rose of Sharon once stood - is flowering. This is unexpected. I walk over to them and touch the buds gingerly.The small white petals have a reddish-brown center and are beautiful in their delicate simplicity. I have no idea what type of tree this is. I'll research it tomorrow, For now, I just want to enjoy the tree and its blooms.
Billy returns home again with his wife in the car. He obviously picked her up at work. As she heads for the house he locks the car. She looks at him with surprise. "I'm in for the night," he says to her. "Oh, okay," she answers. "It was a beautiful day, wasn't it?"
"Yeah, it sure was," he replies as they walk through their front door. They leave the inside door open so as to enjoy the cool, Spring air. I've already opened our windows. Inside I can hear Callie and Doyle rampaging around the house while Malcolm lays near the door, snoring gently.
I love a Spring evening.
Thirty minutes later the next train from Boston arrives and we repeat the dance. Cars. Log jam. Pedestrians. This time a woman is walking by. She's on the opposite side of the street. There is a jauntiness to her step; one full of vim and vigor. Why is she so happy? Good day at the office? Maybe she had the day off? Whatever the reason, her whole self radiates.
"Hi!" she says as she smiles and waves.
"Hi," I respond.
"Have a great night!" she chirps.
"You, too!"
Back to the Atlantic.
After Hornblower is placed in a position where he can make easy prize money by capturing a large shipment of Spanish gold, he instead takes on a stronger enemy frigate sent to warn the convoy. Through his superior seamanship he uses the fact that his sloop is smaller and more maneuverable than the frigate in the battle to his advantage. This allows Hornblower to keep it from accomplishing its mission. Eventually, he drives it away. Thanks to the skill of C.S. Forester I am in the thick of it all. I can feel the ship move beneath my Adirondack chair. I can smell the gunpowder from the deck guns (or is it car exhaust?) as the cannonballs tear through the rigging of the frigate.
However, I am crushed to read that, in doing his duty and engaging the frigate, Hornblower is unable to claim any of the war prize, and he stands defeated. Soon I learn that no one is able to claim the war prize because, technically, war with Spain has not yet been declared. The prize money will go to the crown, and for his actions against the frigate Hornblower is recommended for promotion to Post-Captain, by the retiring Admiral Cornwallis. My chest swells with pride as Hornblower receives this news and the novel is ended. I close the book.
With a few sips left of my drink I remain outside and sit in silence. The trains are arriving further apart now and the sun is silently beginning to slip below the horizon. I close my eyes and listen to my neighborhood. The bird calls have diminished with the onrush of sunset. The neighbor on the next street has stopped pruning his hedge and for a moment, all is quiet.
Words from the novel swirl in my head. I can't escape them. The words from Forester, much like my new tree buds, are beautiful in their delicate simplicity. There is power and majesty in them. In his words.
I have re-learned all about the power and majesty of words at Northeastern University, under the tutelage of two giants. Professor Joe DeRoche and David Tutein have left me enthralled with the words that they have taught me. That they have infused in me. Words from Hemingway, the unknown author of Beowulf, Donne, Milton, Byron, Tennyson swirled about the air in the classroom of Tutein, as his every quirk and foible was concentrated on teaching us the magnificent words of others.
Joe DeRoche had the more difficult task, I think. Besides being my Lit professor he was also my writing professor. In his classroom, in his shadow, I learned that words are a craft - a gift - to be honed, sharpened and implemented. Most importantly, he taught me that words - my words - were just as important as the words of all those who came before me. When I first realized what he was teaching me, I was supercilious and humbled in the same instant; mostly humbled. I continue to be so to this day.
These men recently retired from teaching. I was fortunate enough to attend their retirement celebration and I personally thanked them for their words in the classroom. Before I drank the last of my scotch I raised my glass in honor of C.S. Forester, Joseph DeRoche and David Tutein; men that I wished I had been and men that I hope I can still emulate.
With my own words.

3 Comments:

Blogger Cynthia said...

I live for poetry the way you live for prose. Although, as Jane Austen said in Persuasion, I do make an allowance for prose, for too much poetry can be dangerous.

Right now I'm reading Maurice by E.M. Forster.

Excellent post, Andy.

2:47 PM, April 25, 2008  
Blogger Letera said...

Andy, You are great w/ your words. Wow. I truely love reading your posts. You learned well! Toast to your former teachers. Have a great weekend.

10:28 AM, April 26, 2008  
Blogger FoxInDetox said...

Nicely done my friend! I salute your words.

8:34 AM, April 28, 2008  

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