Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Fireside Stories, by Abe Kurp

Dum loquor, hora fugit --Ovid *

The hours always flew by: Grandfather in his arm chair by the fire, his little grandson on his lap. The old man would tell stories and the boy would listen. They were fanciful things, cobbled-together bits of classic tales, weaved together by some universal thread. Meandering things, these stories were, full of inconsistency and repetition. But he was a storyteller by nature, and the child loved it.

Grandfather was an old and skinny man, converging on 70 years old, who wore thin-rimmed spectacles and a well-trimmed beard; he spoke in a low and gravelly voice, and had only a few, yellowing teeth remaining. He carried about him an eternal air of great dignity --despite the thin wisps of white hair that fluttered upwards of five inches above his head --despite the drooling --despite the rickety, toddling manner in which he walked.

He had been a professor at the local college. Now he lived in the house of his youngest son, in a big tan-colored house, the finest amongst the fine. This son -- a surly little thing from birth -- was rarely around, usually away on business; how else could he pay for the house? As for her, the mistress of the house, when she was not out socializing with the neighbors, she kept herself quite locked up in her private chambers. She employed a woman, in fact, whose sole employment seemed to be the deterring of unwanted intrusions.

So the old man was often left alone with the boy, his only grandchild. Their relationship had begun without promise, with befuddlement and bewilderment on both accounts. But one day, Grandfather set aside his newspaper and began telling a story. The boy, a little surprised, set down his toys and did his part as a listener. That first day he sat on the far end of the rug, at least ten feet away from his grandfather. But the next day, he sat in the middle, then on the other side, and so on, until the end of the week, when he sat on his grandfather's lap.

Grandfather stole from all the greats: anything to keep the story afloat and keep his grandson happy. Virgil, of course, and Apuleius, and Homer and even Hesiod. Amongst the epic tales of these grand old heroes he mixed in tales of his own experience: from his time in the war, his young manhood, his several attempts at love. As for the boy, he only listened and stared into the fireplace, ever fascinated by the endless undulations and alterations.

One day, it was story time -- the boy was ready, but the old man was not. There was no sign of him; of course he was not in his usual spot by the fire. The boy checked the other rooms: the kitchen, the hallways, his grandfather's bedroom, and every other place in the house to which he ready access.

He asked two maids. They ignored him. He walked out to the stables, to inquire if, by some fluke, Grandfather had gone for a ride, but the stable hands abruptly and rudely brushed him aside.

He was forced to do it: to see his mother. He spent the next few hours in his room, playing listlessly with his toys, his mind always wandering. He tried to gather strength, to face the dark dread in his stomach. His few previous attempts to see his mother in her room had all ended the same: boxed ears, a horrible scolding, the loss of one meal. But maybe today would be different; besides, he had to know.

He slowly and solemnly approached the big French doors of his mother's room. He lifted his little hand and knocked, defiantly, three times. The hoarse voice of the maid said, "Coming... Hold on a second, please."

She opened the door. His appearance brought a look of disgust to her face. A voice from within --his mother's-- ordered the woman to "let the man in, you ninny. I swear, the small hand of a clock moves faster than you." The maid reluctantly did as she was told.

The boy entered -- his mother was surprised, but only for a moment. Then she welcomed him to her room, like any good hostess. She did not offer him to sit or have a drink. She asked, "What would you like, dear?" in a soft, placating voice.

"I want to see my Grandpa." The boy returned her frigid terseness.

"Oh, dear me," she said. "I had a feeling it was something to do about that. Your father -- I mean, your grandfather, is away. He went away dear, and he won't be coming back for a very long time."

"Where?" said the boy. "Why?"

"To London, dear, on his business trip," was her only response. The interview was soon over after that. The boy returned to his room and cried.

Three weeks later, the boy was playing in the kitchen when he heard a noise at the back door. The door opened and closed while he went to investigate. Standing there was his Grandpa, wearing a brightly colored shirt, with deeply tanned, leathery skin. The old man stooped, arms wide open, beaming a smile, as his grandson ran into his embrace.

* For more on the above-cited Ovid quote, including a little background, its meaning, and an audio reading, kindly visit the appropriate post on the Latin Via Proverbs blog.

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