The Saturday Morning Blogger – Moby Dick – and other classics

The Saturday Morning Blogger – Moby Dick – and other classics

James Barrington

 

One of my dad’s younger brothers taught honors English in the El Paso school district for many years. From everything I remember of him, he was one of those teachers who students loved to hate. They loved him because he challenged them and made them think. They hated him because he challenged them and made them think. Such is the life of most high school students.

My uncle Oliver’s favorite book was Moby Dick. On a number of occasions when our families were together he and my dad would get into conversations that were being led by Oliver. On more than one of those occasions the topic turned to Moby Dick.

My older brother worked through an assignment to read Moby Dick during his upper class years in high school, but by some miracle I was never given that assignment. As time passed, I came to realize that the Moby Dick comic book I had read as a child was probably severely lacking in the content available in Melville’s original book. About the time we moved from Florida to New Hampshire, I was in a bookstore in Jacksonville and discovered an unabridged copy of Moby Dick among the “bargain classics” for one U.S. dollar. Figuring I couldn’t go wrong for such a paltry sum, I invested a dollar and spent the next six months reading Moby Dick and writing my critical analysis that I knew Oliver would expect.

It turned out to be a really great “bonding experience.” I would write to him my observations and he would write back all of the thing I had missed. When his wife had died, about ten years earlier, I was the only member of his side of the family that made the trip to El Paso for the funeral. I stayed an extra day after the funeral; that was when the “bonding” really began. We talked about life, death, literature, and a lot of his memories about my dad’s childhood that I had never heard before. He told me about running away from home at 16 to join the army, only to find himself “held over” as a buck sergeant in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. When he returned home after touring Europe in pursuit of the German army, his high school principal help “recreate” his high school transcript from the ashes of the burned school house. With his A/B average he went to Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State) on the GI Bill and finished his master’s degree.

Born a couple of months before my mother, he died a couple of months after she did. He gave me his most prized collection of books, saying that they would be “pearls before swine” for his only child. The collection included such diverse titles as “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” and “The Epic of Gilgamesh.” Oliver’s life was a “classic” in its own right. Like all great classics, I think of him often and fondly.

 

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