MY FATHER’S SHELF LIFE
Mike Frank was, and I guess still is – my dad. He lives in a box on the third shelf of my library. He has no real choice; he never asked to be put there; in fact he never asked to be put anywhere after he died.
During his adventurous life he did not profess to be a well-read man, in fact he did not profess at all; he left that to my younger brother, the lecturer. Yet he was a prolific author, and smart beyond his years – he was only 93 when he died. So I figured by locating him on a heavily worded wooden shelf of my library it might remind him of his early days, with words hanging as leaves from the canopy of trees.
Here, with his new found shelf life I imagined he might have the opportunity to brush up on a few musings that, during his busy life, passed him by. Nestled amongst 6 world atlases, 3 David Livingstone first editions and a few volumes of eloquently wry Mark Twain, I figured that by residing in a community of words, he might yet get a deeper insight as to what made him and his two sons tick. Certainly his two sons don’t have a clue. And given that he was now parked in a lively community of villains, playwrights, drunkards and explorers, in the company of the finest femmes fatales, I couldn’t begin to fathom his dilemma in deciding how to begin his new found shelf life.
His first foray on the shelf, I think, would have been in the direction of the refined Duchess of Gloucester, from Shakespeare’s Richard ll, a well-used volume off on the left. The Duchess was one of his favorite all-time women. Maybe he favored her because the Duchess epitomized the difference between the way men and women view family matters. And he was always about women and family matters.
On the matter of women, he probably next bumped into Mark Twain commenting on the matter of marriage, “I want a good wife. Two of them if they are particularly good.” A belatedly wry tip for Mike.
So after Mike expired, instead of dispatching him to the winds as stardust (a little too final, although quite poetic) I figured I’d keep him around the library awhile; as a watchman so to speak, to make sure all the grammar stayed on the shelves within the confines of their creative intent. And most importantly, to keep the much maligned malapropisms from a misery of misappropriation. For example, we could not bear to have one of the fine female protagonists offer up her “suppository” as a place to keep official documents. This might have occasioned an inebriated Twain to offer up the “suppository” as a place of keeping more slippery records. Nor could we believe the quote from a murder mystery where the villain was stabbed by a penknife and died of punctuation wounds.
But we desperately needed Mike at midnight, for we could not abide any nocturnal activity by the grammar ghosts, slipping in split infinitives while we were asleep. Nor could we stand for the madness of mixed metaphors greeting us in the morning when we least expected them. Mike would eventually encounter Ambrose Bierce, one of the greatest satirists of our time. He would have met a wily writing match in Bierce. After all, Bierce’s definition of GRAMMAR is: A system of pitfalls thoughtfully prepared for the feet for the self-made man, along the path by which he advances to distinction. No doubt, with Mike pounding the margins of malapropisms, he would be grilling Bierce on the family “pedestool” in the wee hours of the morning.
I recall one morning on which Mike did not appear. I realized he must have spent a couple nights with Hemingway in the Snows of Kilimanjaro, sipping rum in the Kenya foothills. Mike finally emerged from the covers of Karen Blixen and Mata Hari none the worse for wear. I suspect he would have found their sensual company more to his liking. And I can guess in which pages he would have preferred to be found nestling.
The “words” on my shelf have a valuable place in my life, beyond the shelf. They have been written and composed by individuals whom, like my dad Mike, played a great part in forming much of what I’ve become in my adult life. I am very nostalgic for the days when the impressions they made upon me as a young boy were like food and sustenance to a starved youngster, hungering for knowledge, inspiration and discovery. Given that my dad, who was well attuned to the “inspirational” role a father could play in his son’s formative years, never stopped inspiring, I thought it most apt to let him rest amongst the eloquence of the great sapiens, with whom he shared so much passion and love of life and its many journeys. Maybe he could teach them a thing or two, and maybe, after he stayed there long enough, I’d read a new undiscovered chapter or two. I don’t see why not. As he used to say, “all we have is time and inspiration.” And this is most certainly a recipe for exploration, excitement and fun – which was really what all these guys – and Mike were about anyway.
I suspect that now, after two years on the shelf he’s a bit tired of the banter on my bookshelves. I’m certain he’s yearning to come with me again on one of my wayward journeys into the African bush. I will be leading my 52nd climb up Kilimanjaro in early 2015. My plan is to raid his box and take some Mikey stardust in a backpack to the summit where I will release him to the winds of Africa. Here he will, once again, commune with the gods, the rocks and the smell of the African plains – the plains which drew him there in his youth in the first place. I’m looking forward to the conversation we’ll have on the way to summit.
And afterwards, maybe I’ll extend his shelf life to my jazz collection, where he can start prowling the tunes “around midnight.”