Sunday, July 10, 2016

`Suddenly Death Was Larger Than Life'

Two blocks from our motel, streets are still cordoned off with police cars, barricades and yellow crime-scene tape. There’s a cop on almost every block. The woman at the desk downstairs was on duty Thursday evening when the shootings took place. Her boss, ex-Army, had been observing the protest and called to tell her to lock down the building. She hadn’t heard the shooting but saw police cars speeding past the motel and crowds running in the opposite direction. “I didn’t know enough to be scared,” she said. We had just toured the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, which seemed unexpectedly familiar for a place I had never visited.

I recommend Jean Stafford’s eccentric little book A Mother in History (1966), based on the three days she spent with Marguerite Oswald, the assassin’s mother. It is Stafford’s only nonfiction work, and more memorable than her stories and novels. This passage, reread here in Dallas after nine years living in Houston, which I suppose makes me a naturalized Texan, is true to my experience:

“I thought of a joke one of my drivers had told me. A Texan, visiting Niagara Falls, was asked if there was anything like that in the Lone Star State and he replied, `No, but we’ve got a plumber in Houston that can fix it.’ Just about anything can happen in Texas; while I was in Dallas, I heard of curriculum for pre-pre-school children that included a course in `Remedial Creeping and Crawling.’”

The humor recalls that of her husband, A.J. Liebling, the wittiest American writer. He died a month after the president, a loss that colors A Mother in History. Here is Stafford’s final paragraph:

“After Joe died, a few weeks later, as I was clearing out his office I got rid of pounds and pounds of newspapers that he was using in writing his `Wayward Press’ piece, and the headlines freshly flabbergasted me and my rage came back. Suddenly death was larger than life and suddenly it was terrifyingly twice as natural.”

No comments: