Do not think that you are going to escape here, for you were the boy who nearly cut your finger off with an automatic can-opener, which is essentially impossible, but you came perilously close, and what sort of writer would you be with only one forefinger? It would take you twice as long to type your books, isn’t that right, Jim?”
by brian doyle
I recently was sitting with my mom and dad who are collectively 189 years old – “we would have been born the same year that Beethoven died, poor soul, if we had been born consecutively, which we weren’t, and a good thing too, for what a complication that would have been as regards our marriage and children, not to mention your children,” says my mom, in a classic Mom Sentence, which makes your head sizzle for a while after you hear it; when I was a kid my brothers and I would sometimes jot down a particularly delicious Mom Sentence as soon as possible, and then pore over it together for a while, marking the leaps and sudden swerves and junctions with pencils of different colors.
This time, though, I was asking them about the particularly loopy things that their many children had done over the years, excepting me, of course, and my mother instantly bristled and said, “Well, with total respect to your brother Tommy, who is the unquestionable king of loopy, do not think that you are going to escape here, for you were the boy who nearly cut your finger off with an automatic can-opener, which is essentially impossible, but you came perilously close, and what sort of writer would you be with only one forefinger? It would take you twice as long to type your books, isn’t that right, Jim?”
My dad made a heroic effort to get one whole word out in response but the window slammed shut right quick and my mom went on with an almost unseemly glee to recount how my younger brothers and I had once purchased a dozen glass eyes and pretended to lose our eyes all at once at a school assembly, which event was particularly memorable, she said, because when she and my father were summoned to school that afternoon by the principal, a forbidding nun with the brawny forearms of a stevedore, my father, who tried to stay stern and straight-faced during the interview about what should be done as punishment for this egregious prank, totally lost it laughing when the principal described how the eyes had bounced and bounded everywhere in the auditorium because of the linoleum floor, and he, my dad, could not get his equilibrium back, and had to leave the office, with his eyes watering, for which my mom forgave him only slowly, “in increments of her own calculation and device,” as he said, smiling. According to my dad he stepped into the boys’ bathroom that afternoon to dry his eyes with a paper towel, and found a small boy, perhaps age seven, building a statue of New York Yankee center-fielder Bobby Murcer out of carefully shaped spitballs. “Bobby Murcer was about a foot high, and almost finished, too, and he was a work of surpassing art, not that I am a serious student of spitball sculpture,” says my dad. “That boy must have worked on that statue for weeks. You wonder if he spent all his time while at school working on his art, and had been forgotten altogether by the teacher and by the other kids,” said my dad. “Could he have slipped into the bathroom on the very first day, and so was never registered at all? Had he done statues of other Yankees in there? Had he sculpted the entire American League? And why the American League? Why not the National League, which of course is the senior circuit? And did he sell the statues, or worship them, or what? If your mother and I had been born consecutively, relative to our collective age at present, which we were not, we would have been born the same year that Ellen Gould White was born, and she started a religion, so the fact is that anyone can start a religion, and who is to say that there are not religions devoted to the divinity of Bobby Murcer? One thing I have learned at this age is that anything is possible, even, for example, one or more religions devoted to Bobby Murcer. Imagine the inevitable controversies. More tea?”
Brian Doyle was the author of many books, including the sea novel The Plover, which has, no kidding, music printed in it, not to mention Mink River, Martin Marten, The Wet Engine, and more than we can recall. He won the 2017 John Burroughs Medal for distinguished nature writing for Martin Marten, which was plenty cool and much deserved. Brian passed away peacefully at his Lake Oswego home on May 27, 2017. Faced with the prospect that Brian will not be here to support his family, there is an effort underway to pay off the mortgage to sustain Mary and their children: https://www.gofundme.com/doylefamilyfund
More, much more, from Brian Doyle can be found in the Vault of Smoke.