Topical Guide 35
History: Nature of, Alternative Versions of, Distortions of, Personal Version of
“Let me tell you about Black Jacques,” my father said. He drew a long breath and took a pull at his beer. He glanced at Grandfather. When he looked back at me, I looked hard into his eyes, and I said to myself, “He’s going to make this up.” May put her hand on my knee and gave it a squeeze.
“Black Jacques,” my father said, “was a clammy. He was a short, fat man with black hair and a black beard. That’s why he was called Black Jacques. He worked hard, when he was sober. You have to give him that,” he said, to the others, turning from me for a moment. “Now, as far as beer goes, he was well known for drinking it, and I imagine that he did make quite a lot for his own use, but he was not in the beer business, and there wasn’t any Leroy Lager, and Black Jacques didn’t hang around with poets and that kind of crowd.” . . .
“When Great Grandma was a girl, she liked Black Jacques better than Fat Hank,” I said.
“You said it,” burst from May.
“Peter, go to bed,” said my mother.
I started sniffling.
Little Follies, “Do Clams Bite?”
The course of history was therefore not that of a billiard-ball, which, once it had been hit, ran along a definite course; on the contrary, it was like the passage of the clouds, like the way of a man sauntering through the streets—diverted here by a shadow, there by a little crowd of people, or by an unusual way one building jutted out and the next stood back from the street—finally arriving at a place that he had neither known nor meant to reach. There was inherent in the course of history a certain element of going off the course. The present moment was always like the last house of a town, which somehow no longer quite counts among the townhouses.
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities, “The Like of It Now Happens” (translated by Eithne Wilkins and Ernst Kaiser)
What would happen if history could be rewritten as casually as erasing a blackboard? Our past would be like the shifting sands at the seashore, constantly blown this way or that by the slightest breeze. History would be constantly changing every time someone spun the dial of a time machine and blundered his or her way into the past. History, as we know it would be impossible. It would cease to exist.
Grandfather had been eating throughout my father’s talk, contributing only the one snort noted above. He was passionately devoted to the fried clam. He ate them slowly, with his fingers, as we all did, for that was the only effective way to eat the clams he cooked, which crunched spectacularly and were likely to snap in two and fly off the table if you tried to cut them or stab them with a fork. Every time I fry up a batch of clams now, following Grandfather’s instructions, and sit down to eat them, I take on his single-mindedness.
Little Follies, “Do Clams Bite?”
I know that Kraft’s paternal grandfather, Edward Daniel Kraft, often made fried clams, and I know that the fried clams he made are the originals of the clams in the passage above. I also know that Kraft asked his grandfather for the recipe, many years later, and received a handwritten response that he found astonishing in its simplicity. I know, too, that at my request Kraft has tried to find that handwritten recipe and failed. (Make that “at my request Kraft says that he has tried to find that handwritten recipe and failed.” See “History: Nature of, Alternative Versions of, Distortions of, Personal Version of,” above.) Pressed, Kraft claimed that the recipe was nothing more than: “Put a couple of handfuls of flour into a brown paper bag. Add some pepper. Add a handful of shucked clams. Shake well. Drop the clams, one by one, into a deep pot of boiling oil. Fry until brown and crunchy.”
[more to come on Wednesday, June 30, 2021]
Have you missed an episode or two or several?
You can catch up by visiting the archive.
At Apple Books you can download a free eBook of “My Mother Takes a Tumble,” the first novella in Little Follies.