I was a voracious reader as a child. I pretty much taught myself to read between 3 and 4 and was pretty solid by the time I entered kindergarten, having graduated from picture books to chapter books. I started in on adult literature around age 10 and anything that was left lying around I was likely to pick up and try. I don’t think my mother was amused when she found me reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions at that age or Mario Puzo’s the Godfather a year later. My mother was, however, relatively shrewd so she figured out that if I was going to read adult material at a young age she was going to guide me and soon she was handing me paperback editions of various classic novels and modern literature for me to read and discuss. By fifth or sixth grade I had worked my way through Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, A Tale of Two Cities, Brave New World, 1984, and Auntie Mame among dozens of others.
One of her selections for me was Richard Llewellyn’s story of a Welsh coal mining community, How Green Was My Valley. I don’t think anyone reads it much anymore but the film version with a child Roddy McDowall in the central role is still played on Turner Classic Movies as it was a Best Picture winner back in the early 40s (now chiefly known as the movie that beat Citizen Kane). I read the novel several times as the child protagonist of roughly my own age, the themes of the tight knit family and community being ripped apart by forces beyond their control, and the degradation of the landscape by the byproducts of industry all spoke to my still developing mind. I hadn’t thought about the book for years but today, while wandering the streets of Seattle, it came back to me in full force.
The city of Seattle I grew up in peeks through here and there but the city that is now is unfamiliar. Landmarks have been bulldozed, the rapid increase in population has led to more and more single family homes being replaced by multiunit dwellings, usually cheaply manufactured and ill maintained, the parks and green spaces have been allowed to deteriorate. The city just feels dirty in ways that it didn’t in the past. There’s less care of private dwellings and yards. There’s graffiti everywhere. The streets are full of pot holes. There’s probably very good socioeconomic reasons and stresses behind this that I’m not fully briefed on, not having lived here for thirty five years. But as I was musing on this, I had a sudden recollection of the last line of that novel I read nearly fifty years ago: “How green was my valley; the valley of them that are gone.” It’s a brief sentence that combines the ideas of you can’t go home again with wariness of childhood nostalgia. So I guess that’s where I’m at. Feeling on one level that I am home and this is where I belong and on another level that it’s moved on without me and that Birmingham is where I need to be.
Not much has happened in the few days that I have been here. The weather has returned from Alabama heat and humidity to Pacific Northwest room temperature and breezy. I attended a birthday party at one of the parks on Lake Washington this afternoon and looked out over the blue waters thinking of my endless childhood summers at the Laurelhurst Beach Club where we all spent our time digging in the sand, swimming in the lake and flinging ourselves off various diving platforms. The crows in the trees were eyeing the picnic goodies and the ducks from the lake were intent on my Cheetos. (I gave in and fed them a few. I know you’re not supposed to but I’m a sucker for a soulful glance from any sort of animal). I did not swim.
My talk to the residents of my father’s senior living facility was a success. I’ve figured out just the right balance of stand up, story telling, medical information, and common sense to hold a senior audience for ninety minutes. I just hope they all buy a copy of the new book when it comes out. I did meet my editor/publisher briefly and we should be on track to have it finished and available by the end of September. At that point, I will take a little break and start thinking about Volume III of these Accidental Plague Diaries around New Years. I am hoping that will be volume the last. If enough people will get their boosters and the virus doesn’t have a a particularly nasty mutation in the next few months, we may be at the end of the pandemic and firmly into endemic territory by the end of the year. We shall see.
Tomorrow, we have a gathering of the clan at my brother’s house so we can all catch up with each other for a few hours. Then I have one more day of unstructured time before returning back to the Southeast on Tuesday. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do with Monday yet. Something will present itself, it usually does. In the meantime, to bed. I have more sleep to catch up on.