Monday, September 21, 2009

Grandpa At The PawPaw

Photo taken Saturday of a "Carlson totem pole," possibly so titled by my son whose older daughter Nina sits upon his shoulders as he holds his newborn Sophia

Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom.

---Theodore Rubin

At last I do not know how to draw!

---Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Between our two lives
there is also the life of the
cherry blossom.


I had written an empty-nest letter upon the occasion of my daughter's 18th birthday, celebrated with a boyfriend from OU but not us, in faraway Swannanoa, North Carolina. A much loved and slightly older friend here in town said it seemed intended to invoke a few tears but hopefully not sobs. Ilona herself concurred and sent us a laughing snapshot of herself with boyfriend. Dana's uncle saw us Saturday and joked with me about the "tear-stained letter." Richard Thompson's song played in my head the rest of the afternoon.

Friday evening brought us 3 or 4 calls from Ilona, and got the tone of the weekend rolling. The cake she had ordered from us actually was a Christmas plum pudding, complete with the necessary container of brandy. What rules did we break smuggling THAT into the school? Anyway, she knew she was supposed to get the stuff onto the cake somehow and light it---but how? So Dana was instructing her over the phone, cautioning that if it went wrong the whole place might blow up. The entire dorm had assembled to observe. She sent a teeny photo of the experiment and it looks as if they decided to take the thing outside. There are no charred remains or ashes in the picture, and she said there were oooohs and ahhhhs---which of course is what you want.

The rest of the weekend our son was to the rescue. With a subtlety with which is endowed and properly renowned, he got us to show up at the 11th Annual PawPaw Festival at Lake Snowden, just outside Athens. Everybody has heard about the "pawpaw patch," but few ever saw or tasted one. Since they grow around here, an enterprising fellow decided we needed a festival---and maybe eventually somebody could make some money with this fruit. If you look it up in the dictionary, you'll be sent to "papaw," where you'll find it next to papaya---and that's sorta what it is.

One of the features of the day is a cook-off, where people from everywhere try to figure out ways to use the thing. Everything from bottles of drunkenness to main courses to lots of desserts were offered to 3 food critics from Columbus and New York, and the chief chef from Ohio University. The leftovers were distributed to the audience. Jeroch had invented a pawpaw fudge concoction, using a bitter dark chocolate and cocoanut. It took all afternoon for the judges to get through the myriad of entries. The chef said afterwards it had been first. Jeroch took the loss graciously, with only a tinge of disappointment visible only to the trained eye.

The festival was packed with people this time, lots of terrific music---including a dance band whose version of Choo Choo Baby I liked a lot, and featuring my friend, former Interim Dean of the OU College of Music Professor Allyn Reilly blowing sax---every kind of food from a rack of ribs to Philippine noodles, medieval jousting, and tables and tables of folks presenting the latest in sustainable living. Our friends from Dovetail Solar And Wind were particularly impressive, with their booth's lovely fountain and the soundstage all powered by sunshine. Parked next to our car was a Civic sporting a North Carolina plate and identification that its owner was Warren Wilson alumni, which is where Ilona is going to school. What's the chance of THAT happening?

Sunday Jeroch didn't let up for a minute, making sure we had no time for moping around. We had sung John Tavener's The Lamb at church, which is satisfying to a choir even to make it through...and especially wonderful if it comes off, moving a congregation to pure and wondrous silence. Rain at last, so Jeroch's plan to crank up our new chainsaw didn't pan out...but in slickers down he and his mom went to the garden to harvest the chard, collard, and kale for a massive cook, package and freeze project. Those greens go in our soups all winter.

I had cleaned off the desk, prepared the weekly bills for paying and had turned into Scrooge when the computer decided to freeze along with the chopped leaves. While I sat cursing technology, I cleaned out a shelf of stuff on the table here...and there was a copy of Poetry from July-August 2006 that I thought I had recycled. Inside is a poem by John Updike that I considered classic---especially for men, and women too I guess, who are over 50. Updike was an absolutely clinical observer of American humanity, a trait he credited to a Pennsylvania Lutheran upbringing. When it came to his own mortality at the end, including the lung cancer that took him, he viewed his failing parts with the same wry wit---or as one reviewer termed it, "with the reaction of a man learning his car needs a new tire." As you'll see this poem is not depressing: poignant maybe, but still funny~~~


Talk about intimacy! I'd almost rather not.
The day before, a tussle with nausea
(DRINK ME: a liter of sickly-sweet liquid)
and diarrhea, so as to present oneself
pristine as a bride to the groom with his tools,
his probe and tiny TV camera
and honeyed words. He has a tan,
just back from a deserved vacation
from his accustomed nether regions.

Begowned, recumbent on one's side,
one views through uprolled eyes the screen whereon
one's big intestine snakes sedately by,
its segments marked by tidy annular
construction-seams as in a prefab tunnel
slapped up by the mayor's son-in-law.
A sudden wash of sparkling liquid shines
in the inserted light, and hairpin turns
loom far ahead and soon are vaulted past
impalpably; we float, we fall, we veer
in these soft, pliant passages spelunked
by everything one eats.

Then all goes dark,
as God intended it whenever He
sealed shut in Adam's abdomen
life's slimy, twisting, smelly miracle.
The bridegroom's voice, below the edge of sight
like buried treasure, announces,
"Perfect. Not a ployp. See you in
five years." Five years? The funhouse may have folded.

---from the Updike collection "Endpoint." Ah yes.


Quinty said...

Updike was a great artist up to the end. The poems he wrote describing his hospital experiences - up to a couple of months before his death - are magnificent. And can be found in the first section of "Endnotes," which was published very soon after he died.

Too bad he didn't stick around to get the Nobel.

Too bad he didn't show up at the PawPaw to describe it. King of the mot juste that he was.

Ghost Dansing said...

"3 months ago Rabbit Angstrom ran out to buy his wife cigarettes. He hasn't come home yet."

i heard somewhere "Rabbit, Run" was written in response to "On the Road"........