Saturday, December 14, 2013

Remembering Ulysses, Chatting with Dad

We stayed up all night Friday night playing Husker Du covers on banjo.  When I finally got to the airport the next day, I had missed my flight to Houston to see dad.  The A train was slow TSA staffer gave me a long grope after I opted out. I would spend the day in the airport as the world passed me by.   

The rides through cities, airports and ways of being – these are never quick or simple. But seeing dad was lovely. As he's  gotten older, he's taken a quiet, easier disposition.  We chattered for hours, recalling songs and journeys long past.

“There was that old song by the Beatles, Marrakesh express… I loved that one.”
We dug up an old video of the song, sung by  Nash and Crosby.  For a guy, who for long seemed to resent so much of the radical edges of the sixties for so many years, he sure remembers a lot. 
“Whats next for you?  Whats left unfinished?”  I asked.
“The remaining years to be enjoyed.”

We usually read a bit together on our trips.  For many years, it was Dad's greatest joy.  These days, he can't read too well.  But he can remember, comment, and react, as he did when we started reading from J.M Synge's 1907 Irish drama "Playboy of the Western World."

"All art is collaboration,"declares the author in the preface, "and there is little doubt that in the happy ages of literature, striking and beautiful phrases were as ready to the playwrights hand, as the rich cloaks and dresses of his time.  It is probable that when the Elizabethan dramatist  took his in-horn and sat down to his work he used many phrases that he had just heard, as he sat at dinner, from his mother or his children."

These stories and conversations, they are everywhere.   We are certainly part of all the places we have been.  Certainly, Dad is.  He started reciting works from Tennyson, reveling in his memories of a life spent between South Georgia and Cambridge, Chicago and California, and decades in Texas, as if channeling an accumulation of experiences. 

“This decrepit old fool has run five miles on the plains of Troy," looking up at his old objects from years of travels, four and five decades ago. "Why, because it was there by god.”

And Dad started showing me treasures from his travels through Afghanistan and Iran, recalling his days past,  connecting with them, holding them, showing me a broken vase from Persia, blowing a pre-columbia whistle, showing a Greek sculpture.

"What a pleasure to hold history in your hands."

We read most all of Ulysses, several times, as if summing up a life.  I bolded areas we dwelled upon.

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy'd
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

         This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

         There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

My flight out of town was canceled so we came back.  When I walked back in, he was watching Cassablanca.  We watched together.

"Round up the usual suspects," Captain Renault declares, in an homage to friendship and a struggle against fascism. Dad and I cheer. Its my parents' favorite movie.  All through it, he talked to me as if I had been in Harvard Square with him watching it in the 1960's, his memory fading into a blur as the day wore on.

"This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship," Rick nods at Renault, who has given a nod to friendship and the struggle against Fascism, rather than turn in his friend. Dad and I cheer. "The theater goes wild," he explains, recalling his days in Harvard Square five decades prior, recalling the moment with me as if I was there with him.  Vising Dad is an homage to that friendship, those memories, stories and poems.

Next we watched the Big Sleep.  And Dad started to lose the thread.  "Its all an homage to underground Los Angeles," I explained.  "You don't need to understand the plot."  He felt better after that.

My flight the next day got me back in time for a cup of coffee, snow, my two o'clock class  and the happiness of seeing the lights all over New York City.  Its always lovely coming home, especially when the journal has been well spent on friends. 

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