I’ve been wanting to write about this and that--the birds, the garden, the usual stuff--but a short story by Joy Williams in a recent New Yorker stopped me in my tracks. It’s called “Stuff,” and the main character is a mildly ridiculous old guy who takes great pride in the column he writes for his local newspaper:
Henry wrote about the seasons—companionable winter, radiant spring, mellifluous summer, and the tinglingly vivid fall. He wrote about hydrangeas—though he was wearying of hydrangeas—and twice a year he was depended upon to write about the equinox (the moment when a precise division between day and night occurs should not pass unnoticed). He wrote about screened porches and baked-bean pots.
He enjoyed a modest but loyal following as one of the town’s steadfast and honorable lights….Only last year, he had been on the cover of the telephone directory, looking kind, fit, and comfortable.
Naturally he cannot be allowed to remain comfortable in his complacency, but he’s not well equipped to deal with mortality when it sticks out a leg to trip him up. Stuff happens! And when it does, hydrangeas don’t help.
Who wants to be remembered (or, more likely, forgotten) as the guy who wrote about screened porches and baked-bean pots? Surely there’s something more edgy and earth-shattering, more likely to expose injustice and inspire action!
But what I really want to write about today is how great my garden is doing, how much we’re enjoying the zucchini quiche, fried okra, broccoli salad, and kale, how remarkable it is to see the red stems of the Swiss chard glowing brilliantly in the sunlight, how much hope those little green tomatoes provide.
I have nothing to say about hydrangeas except to wonder why mine have not produced a single blossom this year, and I don’t even possess a screened porch or a baked-bean pot. I guess that means that unlike Henry I’ll never appear on the cover of the local phone directory, a sort of fame I’m happy to forego. There are worse fates than being mildly ridiculous, and if that's all I can hope for today, I'll take it.