Saturday, November 02, 2013

`Perhaps Just a Sliver, Wedged in Between'

My oldest son and his wife have started their trek by truck from Brooklyn to Austin, their new home and the first for both of them outside of New York State. They expect to arrive on Sunday, when I’ll meet them to help set up the new apartment. I’ve moved so often the idea of “home” remains a little tentative, though it suggests refuge, a place to rest, where you can feel comfortable making assumptions about the feelings and intentions of others in a way you can’t at work or on the street. At twenty-six, my son’s age, I hadn’t yet lived outside of Ohio, but had resided at roughly twenty addresses. Only at age thirty would I leave my native state and start hopscotching among four others. It’s easy for me to envy their drive across half a continent. At my age, the miles are no longer daunting. 

O. Henry moved to Texas in 1882 at the age of nineteen, and two years later settled in Austin, where he got in trouble at the First National Bank. One of his earliest Texas stories, “A Departmental Case,” begins like this: 

“In Texas you may travel a thousand miles in a straight line. If your course is a crooked one [significant choice of phrase for a man later convicted of bank embezzlement], it is likely that both the distance and your rate of speed may be vastly increased. Clouds there sail serenely against the wind.” 

O. Henry saw virtue in Texas and Texans. The state represented the frontier, “the Territory ahead,” a place of potential where an ambitious young man might fulfill his dreams, legally or otherwise. After Texas, the North Carolina native moved on to New Orleans, Honduras, then back to Texas, then to prison in Ohio, and on to Pittsburgh and, finally, New York City, where he died in 1910. Ben Downing has a poem, “Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait,” in the November issue of The New Criterion: 

“`If youth only knew,
if age only could.’
O saddest of proverbs,
describing all the good 

“we squander early on
by being so crude
and later cannot get
for decrepitude 

or weight of burdens.
What, no golden mean?
Perhaps just a sliver,
wedged in between.” 

My son and daughter-in-law are not by nature squanderers, I know few young people who are less crude than they, and my decrepitude remains at the incipient stage. I like to think we’ll go on inhabiting that precious little sliver down here in Texas.

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