Below, the first two and last stanzas of a poem by Derek Walcott, “Black August”
So much rain, so much life like the swollen sky
of this black August. My sister, the sun,
broods in her yellow room and won’t come out.
Everything goes to hell; the mountains fume
like a kettle, rivers overrun; still,
she will not rise and turn off the rain.
I would have learnt to love black days like bright ones,
The black rain, the white hills, when once
I loved only my happiness and you.
I don’t know if I understand all the poem, but I do deeply, desperately understand black days and bright days. Perhaps you do too, the black, the white; the drought and the rain.
My Dad died in May ’76, a few days short of his 76th birthday. My family and I had gone for a short vacation and came back, I think the end of April. Sister Karen had been trying to reach me on the phone in Coopersburg, of course in vain back in the ’76 days; land line only.
Here is a scan of the Frantzen Family in about 1908. My Grandfather is at extreme left, my father in the middle, blond hair already darkening. The tall teenage young man is my uncle Carl. I had not looked at this photo in years and first thought it was me. The beautiful young lady next to him is my aunt Martha and the handsome middle-aged woman is my grandmother. So, that’s my immediate heritage. Below is my SU yearbook picture. See the resemblance? Then right below a little more family in these snapshots, left my cousin Larry, son of Aunt Martha, and Dad and I about 1938.
Karen did reach us, I recall dimly now as the years, the water of life drift, dawdle, and diverge slowly by. Dad was in a hospital in Plattsburg, not expected to live long. What a surprise, I didn’t know he was even ill. So, we made hurried arrangements. Marge’s mother, Dorothy, agreed to drive up and look after the girls. Marge and I drove to Plattsburgh, spent some time with Mom who filled us in. Dad was diagnosed with a virulent form of leukemia, not expected to live. We spent a bit of time together, Marge stayed with Mom and Karen, and I drove back home. I had a job to do, and there was no such thing as compassionate leave then, just the way society was. Dad hung on for a week or two, then went into the whirlpool spinning spiral of death. Another long trip for me, Dad had a transfusion which provided short-term relief. His greeting to me was “how was the trip, and how is your car running?” Really, thinking back, that was good, a practical, pragmatic rational question. No sloppy saccharine sentimentality just a rational reasonable question. Marge later said that during her time at the hospital, seeing how Dad faced his death, she a much fuller concept of him as a person.
I remember, recall somewhat dimly being in a room with Marge, Mom, Karen and the doctor. His message, Dad did not have long to live and he died shortly after. The Walker Funeral home, as then referred to, took care of the details. We had a viewing with an open casket as was the custom at the time. Marge and I left the next day for home. I think I did have a benefit of funeral leave and had pushed that a bit.
I didn’t have any grief, as such that I recognized, neither then nor 4 decades later. Just tired from the trips, Mom’s grief, the ritual of death.
My father was not demonstrative neither in life nor approaching the end of it. He could, at least to me, become unreasonably angry at the most trivial of events. His evening nightcap was a spoon of mineral oil. It was not until Marge’s death when I was discussing family that I developed a mature understanding of Dad and my relationship. I now appreciate my father for what he was, a good stable provider, not projecting on him my idealized image that he failed to live up to. I have failed as well; I accept my failures, I accept my once buried grief for Dad.
Yes, love the black days like the bright days. Difficult, demanding, dark; just do it.
We did take a trailer trip with a group to the Pocono Mountains for Memorial Day. It was a good change then, a good time. Very nice.
June busted out all over; yes it did. We went out for a few weekends in the trailer but the Trip of the Month was to Lake Placid. PP&L had authorized a stay for a conference at the Whiteface Inn on Lake Placid.
In the ’50s our Whiteface neighbor was Kate Smith, a famous singer in the 30s and 40s. The village of Lake Placid, of Olympic fame, is actually on Lake Clear. One would think that a clear lake would be placid, and vice-versa. Both charming mountain lakes, refulgent blue waters glistening glittering in the sun from dawn to dusk.
June is the time in our hemisphere of the solstice, our earthly apogee. We look forward to the fertile fecundity of the ground supporting us with the fruits of planting in spring. On a human level, assuming an average age of 85, our physical and personal growth reaches our personal apogee in mid-forties. Our fecundity past us, now in our own black August of decay leading to death, new generations repeating the cycle. Finality, natural, normal, despite the various mythological, superstitious trust in dogma and doctrine, clinging to hope of an eternity. To me, we in the dusk of life can appreciate the birthdays before us, not the past ones.
I worked in the Whiteface Inn for two summers almost 20 years before this conference. Surprisingly, I did meet a few people I knew in the old days and we chatted about then and now. Marge and the girls came with me and I requested rooms in the hotel. Due to some misunderstanding, we were instead given a “cottage” a cabin outlying the hotel. Ours had two bedrooms and a splendid sitting room with a fireplace. A treat for us all. the conference had arranged local activities for the families and a special ice skating exhibition in Lake Placid, the village. It was a mini-vacation for Marge and the girls. The conference was interesting though not a good fit for PP&L. There was a hitch in the billing as we were billed full price for the cottage. I showed the clerk a receipt for the down payment to hold a hotel room and the matter was resolved amicably in a civilized manner.
I have not seen a travel trailer on the road for decades, RV or recreational vehicles do still sell them, as well as 6 figure motor homes, driven by old men straining to see the road. For us, trailer travel was a way to go places, do things as a family unit. We owned two over a period of ten years. The girls had grown up, Ingrid married, and the terrain here in and around Vegas does not lend itself to short trips for a weekend outing. We did in ’76 belong to a club, working class people, not complex. They were very fundamentalist but not in your face with “Have you accepted Christ, etc. etc.” So, a way to socialize with very good people in a safe environment for a few days a month or slightly longer.
Comes the fourth. Of July, the day prior to Louise’s birthday. I think sometime that month we did again go to the 1972 movie “1776” We spent the holiday on a camping trip. there was a parade in the little village nearby which we attended. Some of the campers really were in the spirit and made floats, while we observed. Small town Americana, as it was then, it may be so today. At the end of the month, we went to Ocean City NJ again.
We took two cars since I did not have enough vacation time to stay. The trip is only 3 hours long, so not difficult and I came back for another short stay. I managed to get too many rays, the sun came out of its yellow room with a vengeance and I was sunburned, yet again. I still pay the price for that today with regular trips to my dermatologists. Ah well. Perhaps next year we will go elsewhere, we have seen everything of interest near Ocean City at least, and it became boring.
House painting, a room at a time was my divertissement all summer. As did Sisyphus, I finished one room only to be tasked with doing it again. OK, another room yes, but the spirit is the same, and I like the Greek God who persisted, pressed on and persevered.
I have been studying for an amateur Radio license. I enjoy technology and also learning, per se, well, just things; who knows when they may be useful. I passed the code exam previously, took the theory test in July and dutifully wait for the FCC to grant me the license. I was, in my own way, waiting for Godot, a.k.a the FCC.
My college roommate throughout the Syracuse years remains my friend still. He and his second wife visited us for dinner one day. He lives in the Washington DC area, about 4 hours away. His first marriage to Marina ended in divorce and he remarried. I hadn’t seen him in years and it was very pleasant to see him again, and his new wife for the first time.
Louise had been asking for a microscope. I told her that was a good idea, I would pay at least half of the cost if she could pay some. We bought her a decent student microscope at a now long gone store dealing in home electronics, and scientific toys. Louise did use it a bit. Once we went and obtained a sample of stagnant water from a very slow stream nearby. The experience of viewing the hitherto invisible animal life thriving on the microscopic plant life in a drop of water. Wow!! I was a kid again, secretly I believe I was more enthralled than Louise.
Late summer brought with it an unwelcome guest from about mid-May to mid-June. Hay fever, my nemesis from the plant world. Ingrid also was so affected. July found me feeling weak and sick to my stomach one day. I did go to work at PP&L, shuffled papers, dictated that which was necessary but not taxing. I left early and the next day felt fine.
School starts shortly, Ingrid will start High School, another mile marker in the convoluted complex confusing road of her life.
The clicking timepiece of life and death quietly stayed in the background of our lives. Dad died and for years I was superstitious about my at least reaching the 76-year-old mark. Ridiculous. Divorce and remarriage of my old friend, Ingrid now in High School. Transitions perhaps not clearly recognized then as they are now.
I started with a fragment of a poem so I will end with one by Robert Frost. I think I did and am traveling on the correct one for me. Quoting Piaf again “I shall have no regrets.”
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.