Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘city of Alton

“The tears of dad” by late John Updike

I am reading the French translation of “The tears of dad” by late John Updike. The title is one of 18 novellas, a compendium of reminiscences of an 80-year old writer, of younger periods during Junior and High school friendships in the city of Alton (Pennsylvania) and how life unfolds through various characters and alternative courses.

Most of the stories have common denominators:

First, they start during the Great Depression in the 20’s and 30’s where families could not afford to have but one child.  The child grew up among four pillars of grandfather, grandmother, father, and mother.  This unique child was the progeny of all of these people and they cared for the child as the most precious possession.

Second, many families of well-to-do ended up broke but behaving as if they were better off than the neighbors.

Third, teachers are described as constantly worried and not able to feeling happy or spreading happiness in the family. (Even now, teachers are the lowest paid salaried working people, regardless of their dedication and continuing education process…)

Four, religious differentiation among the Christian sects of Unitarian, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist…are clarified through the living cases of marriage behaviors.  For example, the girl friend is visiting the family of her prospective husband and mixes her underwear with her boyfriend in the suitcase, which drives the mother of the boy from Pennsylvania  into a silent rage that lasted for many years.

Fifth, the stories end up in describing the feeling and changes in old ages.  You are left with sad questions, sorting out where your life have gone wrong and what alternatives might have made a difference.

The story of “Elizanne or the forgotten stroll” struck a chord in me and I wrote about it in a previous post. A side story in “Elizanne” recounts a visit to the hospital to Mamie Kauffman, a classmate terminally ill of bone cancer.  The author is in Alton for the 50th reunion of the class of 1950.  He was 17 of age then, and it was impossible for these kids to figure out how the year 2000 might turn out, loaded with doomsdays predictions. Mamie was a round-faced passionate and dedicated student; she was the spokeswoman of the class and a natural gentle leader.

Mamie had three grown-up children; her husband left the house 40 years ago and she had to raise a family on her meager salary of teacher of primary classes. Mamie said: “I was inundated with demonstrations of love after my invalid state.  The night my hip let loose, the male nurse in emergency turned out to be one of my students. Occasionally, I am impatient with the Lord, and later I feel ashamed: The Lord gives us enough strength to just endure”

In big cities, you witness many atheists who prefer to die in silence, like animals hiding to die stoically.

Mamie resumed: “Shirley Mac Laine said that life is a book: All we have to do is to guessing which chapter we are reading. I know that I am reading the last chapter of my life, and all I should be doing is reflecting and…but I don’t believe.  I am not scared of death.  Deep in me, I know everything will go fine…When I die, I’ll still be here.  It is the trip that means nothing to me.  The funniest part in my life is that soon I will be transfered to the rehabilitation center, where my 90-year old mother is confined. Mother was a heavy smoker and never missed or refused a drink.

In the story “Free”, you have married Henry having extramarital affairs with married Leila.  Henry’s mother, not suspecting an affair, said: “She has such beautiful eyes!”  Henry decided to stick with his lawyer of a wife Irene.  Irene is dying of cancer and Henry never left her bedside for the duration of the illness.  Irene said: “I knew that you found me boring, but I didn’t know how to be otherwise.  I guess that we failed to buy tickets for paradise”.  Henry decides to pay a visit to Leila in Florida, after 40 years of separation.  Leila had married several times and is older than he knew her.  Henry spent the afternoon with Leila chatting and then Henry said: “I have to return”.  “return to where?” said Leila.  “To the same hotel in Florida that Irene and I used to spend our vacations” replied Henry. “You always returned to her.  But today you are free” said Leila.  “What is to being free?” retorted Henry, “a state of mind.  Our story was as free as it could have been”

In the story of “Fragile wives” married Les Merrill is also having extramarital affairs with the energetic, lively, and beautiful married Veronica Horst.  Les sticks with his wife because he has to care for his two kids.  Veronica is stung by a bee at age 28 and almost dies of anaphylactic chock, and saved by her short and darker skinned husband.  Les is jealous:  He had wanted to be the one to have saved Veronica, but he knew that he would have been helpless in this case.  Veronica turned out to be fragile of health and suffered from many physical illnesses.  Les is about to divorce his wife Lisa as he learned that Veronica is divorcing.  Lisa discovers that she has a breast cancer; the legitimate bee sting counterpart.  Les felt soiled by these body things, and was sure that it was impossible, he had this urge of running away.

And many more stories to read before you reach 80.




June 2023

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