Monday, July 28, 2008

thirteenth september, nineteen forty

“In the case of liquor--the stuff doesn’t taste good, it has no real attraction whatever except for the oblivion which comes to those poor devils who do not have the guts to face their own reality. And the feeling afterwards is a little worse than anything you have experienced, once you have been properly “plastered” and develop a real honest-to-God hangover.”

My great-grandfather’s well-meaning warning didn’t work on his son, any better than his similar injunctions against smoking and sex did, at least in the long run. I suppose my grandfather may have made it through his years at Amherst unscathed by those delightful vices, but in truth, I doubt it. He wasn’t exactly the type to listen to that sort of warning. Plus, there’s a clear flaw in the premise: liquor tastes damn good.

But this is all digression. Packing up some old papers to move today, I came across this packed of letters, all from the fall of 1940 and spring of 1941, sent by my great-grandfather to my grandfather. So I started reading. After my old Hum notes they were fascinating, after the crazy lists an ex-boyfriend used to write for me in Genetics class, they were pretty dry. But plenty compelling either way, because even the most mundane questions gain a certain gravity in this particular context, and the personality conflicts are so clear from this distance.

The real morals here have, of course, nothing to do with drink or smoke or “very innocent-looking, sweetly appealing filthy harpies.” Instead, they are pretty simple: letters are worth saving, and fathers are always awkward about telling you how thrilled they are with you.

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