Friday, March 04, 2016

My Reading Life: The Old Man and the Boy (Ruark)

The draw to read The Old Man and The Boy came to me by way of a mention of it in Pat Conroy's My Reading Life. (After I read Conroy's book, I went back and listed all the books he had mentioned with the intention to seek those out and read.) When I got about twenty-five pages into the book, I began to wonder if, indeed, Conroy had mentioned this, so I went back through MRL for confirmation. Yes, he had mentioned it, but not that he had read it. The mention of it was made by a used book dealer in a discussion about the condition of collectible books. My mistake:  It wasn't a book that Conroy had read. (I have this quasi-quest to read the books Conroy has loved.) But since I had this pristine and apparently unread copy secured through PaperBackSwap, I would read it anyway. 

The Old Man is the boy's grandfather who he calls "the Old Man." This grandfather takes it upon himself to teach his grandson all about fishing and hunting, life in the fields and woods, dispensing measures of sound advice and direction along the way. Set in coastal North Carolina during the early part of the twentieth century, The Old Man and The Boy is a memoir of author Robert Ruark's boyhood. 

The grandfather sprinkles his life experiences and wisdom to his grandson in most every activity they attempt.
"A fish, which you can't see, deep down in the water, is a kind of symbol of peace on earth, good will to yourself. Fishing gives a man some time to think. It gives him some time to collect his thoughts and rearrange them kind of neat, in an orderly fashion."

I laughed at the accurateness of this one:
"One thing you will learn. . . is that you must never be lazy in front of anybody. Loafing is fine, but energetic people get mad at you if you take it easy in front of them. That's one of the troubles with women. They got a dynamo in them, and they run on energy. It pure riles a woman to see a man having any fun that doesn't involve work. That's why fishing was invented, really."
After I was about one hundred pages into the book, I looked up Robert Ruark online. I wondered what other books he had written, eager to possibly add those to my longer-than-I-can-live-to-read list. Ruark had penned some other books, in fact, a sequel The Old Man's Boy Grows Older. But, as I read a summary of his life, I was disheartened that it seemed he had chosen a loose and hard path -- an abundance of alcohol and women. 

In The Old Man and The Boy, Ruark writes of his introduction of whiskey, the sips he was allowed by the grandfather on the fishing trips, and as he got older, the allowance of drinks as part of a reward of manhood. Evidently, the taste stuck and drove him to his grave through cirrhosis of the liver brought on through alcoholism. After learning this, I really didn't want to finish the book. But I did. I'm saddened at the burden the grandfather would have carried had he lived to learn the end of his grandson. 

Anyway, some the Old Man's wisdom in quote snippets:

"Now, then, son, . . . we ain't goin' to talk any, because fishin' is a silent sport and a lot of conversation scares the fish and wrecks the mood. What I want you to do is set there and fish, and when the fish ain't bitin' I want you to listen and look and think. Think about heaven and hell and just how long is hereafter. Look around you and don't take nothing for granted. Look at everything you see and listen to everything you hear, just like you were brand-new come from another world, and think about all those things and how they got there."
"It was main late when we hit the landing. The stars had crept out bright now, and a little wedge of moon was slipping sneaky-like up over the trees. The frogs, the bugs, the night birds, and the animals were making a din. I got to thinking about eternity, and how long something that never ended would be, and I got to thinking about how much trouble Somebody went to, to make things like cocoons that butterflies come out of, and seasons and rain and moss on trees, and frogs and fish and possums and coons and quail and flowers and ferns and water and moons and suns and stars and winds. . . .I feel awful little and unimportant, somehow, and a little bit scared."
"Knowledge is an accumulation, like a pack rat hides things. Things you never knew you knew have a way of popping up later. You're supposed to fill your skull with a lot of things, against the day you might need one of them."
"Then a strange and wonderful thing happened to me in the schoolroom.I discovered reading. Real reading." And he goes on to mention Shakespeare, Walter Scott and Ivanhoe, Ernest Thompson Seton, Gibbon, Defoe, Wyss, and Chaucer.
And within a dozen pages of the end:
"I sipped slowly on my first legal drink of illegal whiskey. . . I grinned and smacked my lips. The Old Man looked stern. "You hold in your hand," he said, "man's best friend and worst enemy, depending on how you use him. He's been a firm friend of mine for over fifty years, but I never saw too much of him. Any friendship goes sour if you overdo it."

I think this is where I became so sad. Evidently, the friendship soured, and one overcame the other. 

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