The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy
The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy
🎧 709: When my grandmother . . .

🎧 709: When my grandmother . . .

What a Piece of Work I Am, Chapter 30 concludes, read by the author

WHEN MY GRANDMOTHER FELL ILL, she and my grandfather talked more and more about a trip that they had always hoped to make, someday, when they had the time, when there wasn’t so much to do, when they had some extra money—someday. They wanted to go to Rarotonga, one of the Cook Islands, in the South Pacific, west of New Zealand. Why Rarotonga? Well, my grandfather had always been an enthusiastic sailor, and sailors love distance, so the long voyage must have been part of the appeal, and Rarotonga was the subject of a silly, charming, romantic song that was a hit for the Mills Brothers during my grandparents’ courtship, and one of the old tales told in Babbington was about the adventures of Mortoni, a titanic clamdigger who voyaged to Rarotonga on a clam boat, but they may also have chosen Rarotonga because it was so distant and whimsical a destination that it made for fine daydreaming uninhibited by the likelihood of their ever actually going.
     However, as Grandmother grew weaker and the trip to Rarotonga became less and less likely in fact, it seemed to become more and more likely in their conversation, and by the time all hope for her recovery was gone, when both of them knew that they would never make that trip, their false hopes were stronger than ever and talk of the voyage to Rarotonga filled most of every day, a happy fiction that made reality endurable. They had become actors in an elaborate improvisation, each performing for the other. Grandfather would spend a good part of Sunday morning with the classified section of the newspaper, reading ads for boats, and circling the best of them, as if he intended to buy one.
     Together, my grandparents would dispel the melancholy of their Sunday evenings by discussing the possible boats. My grandfather would read the descriptions aloud, and my grandmother would compare each one to others he had read to her. She held them all in her mind. She was able to weigh each new boat against all the others they had considered, even weeks earlier. This newly listed boat might be large overall but lack the beam of one that had caught her fancy at another time. A word might arouse her suspicions: reliable was one of these. “Ah-ha!” she would cry when she heard it. “Not likely!” She was convinced that reliable was one of those words that people use most often to mean their opposite, like interesting.
     After they had read the ads, they would take one or another of the boats on a mental shakedown cruise and fall asleep happy, but when they woke up on Monday morning the fiction would seem awfully thin, and the week ahead terribly hollow.
     On one of those Monday mornings, though, my grandmother said, “Jack?”
     “Mm?” said my grandfather.
     “That yawl that we were talking about last night.”
     “They didn’t say much about the galley.”
     “It’s hard for me to picture it. Hard for me to decide whether it would work for us.”
     “Well, it’s probably—”
     “ ‘Probably’ isn’t really good enough,” she said. “If I’m going to be cooking in that galley every day, under all kinds of conditions, I’ve got to be sure that it’s—” She had meant to sound stern, to convince Grandfather that she simply had to know more about the boat and its galley, but her strength began to leave her. She settled back in her chair. “I have to know if it’s workable,” she said, quietly.
     “I guess I could—”
     “Oh, would you?” she said. “Would you go and see it? And come back and tell me all about it?”
     So Grandfather began spending part of each day looking at boats, and each evening he would tell Grandmother about them, draw sketches for her, discuss modifications until she began to doze. He would lift her out of her chair and settle her on the bed, and in the quiet room, with only the sound of her breathing, he would begin to feel the fictionist’s remorse and reproach himself for avoiding the truth, evading real life, running away to sea in an imaginary boat. Then he would get his hat and walk the mile and a half to Corinne’s.

[to be continued]

In Topical Guide 709, Mark Dorset considers Places, Real and Fictional: Rarotonga; Reality: Making It Endurable; and Sailboats: Types: Yawl from this episode.

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The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy
The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy
The entire Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy, read by the author. "A masterpiece of American humor." Los Angeles Times