A Man Of The Century


He was smarter than I—read all of Proust in French when I have never been able to do so in English—but was wonderfully supportive of my enthusiasms. He subscribed to American Heritage in 1955, too late to receive the first few issues, and when he saw the magazine (actually, its pictures) engaging my interest, he spent his lunch hours in the used bookstores that used to line lower Fourth Avenue until he was able to assemble a full set for me.

Toward the end, his elegant intellectual equipment began to slip. One day he started talking about the time the Model T had pulled its ugly trick of spinning the starting crank back around when the engine caught and broke my wrist. I nodded, but he pressed me with specific questions until I had to tell him that I was his son, Richard, not his brother Win.

“Oh, of course!” he said, not the least discomfited. He smiled past me from the place he was sitting, a promontory that overlooked a land populated with both the dead and the living: his grandmother who had heard Lincoln and Douglas, his grandfather who had carried the debate forward with Grant’s Army of the Tennessee, Penelope, Win, and his four-year-old granddaughter, Rebecca, lying at his feet deeply immersed in her Rugrats video. “It doesn’t matter. I love you all.”