Monday, January 13, 2020

January 13: Continual Rearrangement, Outcast, Green Bay Packers

Merton moves to Bermuda with his father:

That summer was full of low sand dunes, and coarse grasses as sharp as wires, growing from the white sand.  And I saw the breakers of the grey sea come marching in towards the land, and I looked out at the ocean.  Geography had begun to become a reality.

The whole town of Provincetown smelled of dead fish, and there were countless fishing boats, of all sizes, tied up along the wharves, and you could run all day on the decks of the schooners, and no one would prevent you, or chase you away.  I began to know the smell of ropes and of pitch and of the salt, white wood of decks, and the curious smell of seaweed, under the docks.

When I got the mumps, Father read to me out of a book by John Masefield, which was full of pictures of sailing ships, and the only punishment I remember getting that summer was a mild reproof for refusing to eat an orange.

By the time we returned to Douglaston, and Father left me with my grandparents, where John Paul had been all the time, I had learned how to draw pictures of schooners and barks and clippers and brigs, and knew far more about all these distinctions than I do now.

Perhaps I went back to the rickety grey annex of the Public School for a couple of weeks, not for longer.  Because Father had found a new place where he wanted to go and paint pictures, and having found it, came back to get his drawing boards and me, and there we went together.  It was Bermuda.

Bermuda in those days had no big hotels and no golf-courses to speak of.  It was not famous for anything.  It was simply a curious island, two or three days out of New York, in the Gulf Stream, where the British had a small naval base and where there were no automobiles and not much of anything else either.

We took a small boat called the Fort Victoria, with a red and black funnel, and surprisingly soon after we had left New York harbor, the flying fishes began to leap out of the foam before her bows and skid along over the surface of the warm waves.  And although I was very eager for my first sight of the island, it came upon us suddenly before I was aware, and stood up before us in the purple waters, green and white.  You could already see the small white houses, made of coral, cleaner than sugar, shining in the sun, and all around us the waters paled over the shallows and became the color of emeralds, where there was sand, or lavender where there were rocks below the surface.  We threaded our way in a zig-zag between the buoys that marked the path through the labyrinthine reefs.

The H. M. S. Calcutta lay at anchor off Ireland Island dockyard, and Father pointed to Somerset where, among the dark green cedars, was the place where we could live.  Yet it was evening before we finally got there.  How quiet and empty it was, in Somerset, in the gathering dusk!  Our feet padded softly in the creamy dust of the deserted road.  No wind stirred the paper leaves of the banana trees, or in the oleanders.  Our voices seemed loud, as we spoke.  Nevertheless it was a very friendly island.  Those who occasionally came by saluted us as if we were old acquaintances.

The boarding house had a green verandah and many rocking chairs.  The dark green paint needed renewing.  The British officers, or whatever they were who lived in the place, sat and smoked their pipes, and talked, if they talked at all, about matters extremely profane.  And here Father put down our bags.  They were expecting us.  In the shadows, we sat down to dinner.  I quickly adjusted myself to the thought that this was home.

It is almost impossible to make much sense out of the continual rearrangement of our lives and our plans from month to month in my childhood.  yet every new development came to me as a reasonable and worthy change.  Sometimes I had to go to school, sometimes I did not.  Sometimes Father and I were living together, sometimes I was with strangers and only saw him from time to time.  People came into our lives and went out of our lives.  We had now one set of friends, now another.  Things were always changing.  I accepted it all.  Why should it ever have occurred to me that nobody else lived like that?  To me, it seemed as natural as the variations of the weather and the seasons.  And one thing I knew for days on end I could run where I pleased, and do whatever I liked , and life was very pleasant.

Merton is a child who adjusts to change easily.  Living with his grandparents in Douglaston, New York, one week.  Bunking with British officers in Bermuda the next.  And he doesn't seem to find this arrangement at all strange or unconventional.  He takes it all in stride.  Of course, it's what Merton is used to.  He has an unconventional father.  Had an unconventional mother.

I suppose that Merton would have been somewhat of an outcast in a public school setting.  Maybe, because of his worldly upbringing, he might have been considered interesting by some.  However, any little thing that smacks of individuality pretty much spells doom for most kids in a school setting.  You don't want to stand out.  You want to blend in.

I don't think that the adult world is much different, either.  I can vouch for that.  For example, I live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  If you are an adult male from the U. P., you are supposed to have two pastimes--watching the Green Bay Packers, and deer hunting.  During the fall and winter months, Sundays are pretty much all about talking about the upcoming Packer game, watching the Packer game, and taunting Vikings' and Lions' fans after the Packer game is over.  And the month of November is all about shooting whitetail deer--getting ready to shoot, shooting, and eating what you shot.

I don't fit in.  I could care less about football, and I don't like the taste of venison.  My biggest nightmare--having to watch a Green Bay Packer game where someone is serving venison meatloaf.  This past Sunday, as everyone else in the U. P. was watching the Packer game, I was reading a book of poems and having a battle of wills with my eleven-year-old son.  Now, I know Green Bay won, but only because it was all over Facebook this morning.  The battle with my son ended with him screaming, crying, and an apologizing.

The most important part of the night wasn't the Packers beating the Seahawks.  It was my son getting his homework done and not smashing anyone's head in with a shovel.  That is a real victory.

So, you see, I'm not normal.  I don't even know what normal is.  Wouldn't recognize normal if it spit in my face.  Normal is tedious.  Normal is unexciting.  Normal is boring.

Saint Marty will never be normal.

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