Thursday, January 29, 2009

John Updike: In Memoriam

Driving home yesterday, I heard the talk-show host on NPR say that John Updike was dead. I couldn't believe John Updike was gone. His books have opened doors and windows for me for a long time. I feel like I have lost an old friend. He must have written around sixty books. But my favorites were his Rabbit books, Rabbit being Harry Angstrom. Updike takes Harry from a young fellow just barely married, from book after book through the stages of his life until finally Updike's last book in the series is called, Rabbit At Rest.

In this last volume, Harry has retired and moved to Florida. But he is not well and old age is creeping up on him. Once a year usually around April when the town is beginning its spring blossoms, he and his wife travel back North to Brewster. This is the town where he was raised. Where he lived most of his life. Arriving in his old hometown, he gets in his car by himself and drives around his old haunts. He sees the basketball court he played as a boy. He finds the house where he grew up. He remembers his bedroom and its yellow wallpaper. He drives by his old school, the church where he was christened as a baby and married for the first time. He passes the house he lived in with his first wife. The little house where they lost the baby. It is a journey down memory lane.

That night he tells his wife, "I saw the most beautiful sight today. I went down this street and on both sides there were these magnificent flowering trees with the whitest blossoms. They were in full bloom. I just stopped and looked and looked." He continues, "I never saw anything like it. It broke me all up." And his wife says, "Harry, don't you remember reading that when the old elms and buttonwood trees were dying off about ten years ago? They planted these Bradford pear trees. They have been there all along. You've driven by them I don't know how many times." And then she says, "You've seen them, it's just you see differently now." She means that he doesn't look at things quite the same since his heart attack when he almost died. Harry simply responds, "Oh..."

John Updike was a Christian and went to church week after week. I end this memory with a Benediction that comes from the Roman Catholic Mass for the dead. I lift it up for my good, good friend whom I did not know.

Into paradise may the angels lead our brother John, at his coming may the martyrs take him up into eternal rest and may the chorus of angels lead him to that holy city, and the place of perpetual light. Amen."

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