Thursday, April 30, 2009

The last day of my favorite month

I don't think I'll ever forget him.

Dr. Robert Drake was my kind of character. I think I told you about him awhile back.

He was an English professor at UT, an old school type of guy, very Southern and very eccentric. He liked me because I loved history and old movies. We got along rather well.

I remember telling him, while he was having us read Margaret Mitchell's "Gone with the Wind," about a letter to the editor somebody from California sent to the USA Today taking the newspaper to task for writing about the film when it was re-released in the late 1990s. The writer said some bad things about both the film and the South.

"Who wrote this?" Dr. Drake asked.

"Some gentleman from California."

"That man," he said, looking at me over his spectacles, "is no gentleman."

Dr. Drake told me to never be afraid of somebody calling me a walking anachronism. He was a wonderful man and a great writer. He suffered a stroke near the end of that semester and never recovered. He died in 2001.

I thought about him Easter weekend because of his poignant short story, "By Thy Good Pleasure." In it, his beloved father dies on Good Friday. I couldn't locate a copy of the story that weekend, but I found it this morning at the Powell Branch Library. Something about it kept bouncing around in my brain. Here's what it was:

"Everywhere (after the funeral) the afternoon sun was streaming down into the back yard... . Everything was terribly, overwhelmingly alive. And Daddy was dead. He would never see those peach trees again."

I think that might be what Eliot meant when he wrote that April is the cruelest month. Because everything is so green, so beautiful, so wonderfully alive. Everything that real life usually isn't.

And then he writes something else:

"Daddy was maybe 18th century that way; he wasn't afraid of tears, and I guessed maybe it was because he wasn't afraid of love. Because you had to love in order to cry, and most people now were really afraid of love."

That last sentence is truer than most people can even fathom.

(Dr. Drake's collection of short stories is called "Amazing Grace." If any of you love old-fashioned genteel Southern literature, read some of his stories, if you can find the book. Most are semi-autobiographical tales of growing up in his beloved Ripley, Tenn.)

There is no real point here, no grand comment I want to make. Just a few things I thought about on the last day of my favorite month while driving to work in the dimmed light of an overcast morning.

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