May 15, 2014
I read a poem 40 some years ago called Mr. Flood’s Party by Edwin Arlington Robinson (no relation except for a love of the gloomy outlook on life). I just reread it. It tells the story of an old man walking home carrying a jug of whiskey he bought down in the village. He paused half way up the hill. The first four lines:
Old Eben Flood climbing alone one night Over the hill between the town below And the forsaken upland hermitage That held as much as he should ever know
He paused and raised the jug to his lips several times. Talking aloud to himself. Giving himself reluctant permission for each drink. He toasted past friends.
Below him, in the town among the trees, Where friends of other days had honored him, A phantom salutation of the dead Rang thinly till Eben’s eyes were dim.
Then, as a mother lays her sleeping child Down tenderly, fearing it may wake, He set the jug down slowly at his feet With trembling care, knowing that most things break.
I’m 76 and I do complain a lot — particularly about being afflicted with the ZATS. The ZATS? An old army friend told me about this thing when we were both in our sixties. You wake up feeling fine. You get out of bed and your right knee caves in on you. It goes away. You walk into the kitchen saying “What the hell was zat?” You reach for the coffee pot and you get a sharp pain in your shoulder. “What the hell is zat?” This is the zats.
When I do complain about my age I frequently get “it’s better than the alternative.” As I get older I’m starting to wonder how true this is. My cousin Adrian just died. He was more like my brother. We were born 12 hours apart and raised together after we were 14. Another string attaching me to my past has been cut and left dangling. I spoke at his funeral and his brother and I were the only ones who knew him as a boy or young man. I don’t anticipate anyone being at mine who knew me as a boy. Maybe my baby brother.
The strings keep getting cut. Dad, Mom, three brothers. I am in touch with just one person I worked with for 25 years at General Tire. I just lost the one person I was in touch with in the army. Almost all the singers whose music I loved, all the actresses I lusted after, the heroes I had, are all dead. I have so many strings dangling from me it’s a wonder I can walk. High school? Our 60th reunion is next year. I wasn’t friends with hardly any of the attendees at the 55th and they are mostly from Barberton, 250 miles away, but it is comforting in a way to be around people who lived in the same place in the same time as you, even if it was for only a few years and the reunion is only for a few hours. You get tired of trying to keep up. I liked the Beatles; a little after that I quit listening. It’s getting hard to do cross word puzzles. Who’s the lead singer in the Road Kill Zingers? Really?
We do have kids and grandkids. They are a big part of our lives. But as time goes by and they become grandparents and parents themselves we will become side bars to their lives. Loved but at a distance from their growing and complicated lives, inhabiting different worlds.
Edwin Robinson’s Mr. Flood’s Party is slowly becoming simply Mr. Robinson’s party. Someday if you are “lucky” and live long enough, you may have one too.
He raised again the jug regretfully And shook his head, and was again alone. There was not much that was ahead of him, And there was nothing in the town below — Where strangers would have shut the many doors That many friends had opened long ago.
Read more of Jack Robinson’s work at voiceforthe99percent.blogspot.com