Friday, May 09, 2008

Crazy 8's

What is it about years that end in 8? Nothing, as far as my legions of faithful readers are concerned, perhaps; but for me, years ending in 8 are epochal.

2008: I become a Christian, and I expect to marry before the year is out. 1998: I cremate my first wife, as I must now call her. 1988: I marry my first wife. 1978: I decide to flunk out of law school (which I fervently believe has spared me immeasurable amounts of agony in the years since) and meet the woman who found me the job I've had ever since (which I fervently believe has caused me immeasurable amounts of agony in the years since). 1968: I meet my second wife.

But what of my first 8: 1958? From that year, I remember one event: at the tender age of four, I bested my grandmother in an argument over geography. It happened thusly and vizwise:

My father was taking a business trip to Dayton, O., in November of that year. By that mysterious process of consultation and consensus that adults have, he decided to take me with him, hand me off to my grandparents, who lived near Waverly, O., and push on to The Client. Once business was concluded, he'd retrieve me and take me home.

The trip to Ohio was the first flight I remember. I seem to recall that we had to change planes, and that Delta, an airline I'd never heard of until then, carried us on the second leg to Cincinnati. It was during the trip that my father taught me the mysterious mantra, Défense de Fumer, which appeared at the foot of the porthole next to which I sat. For the average flier of that day, I suppose, there was nothing mysterious about it; everyone who flew in those days probably could speak French. But on the off-chance that the airplane might carry an ignorant little boy like me someday, some foresighted airline employee had added No Smoking. Lest I light up out of ignorance. (I suppose the signs didn't apply to total illiterates.)

As we made our approach to Cincinnati, my father pointed out objects of interest through the porthole and revealed a curious fact: Cincinnati was, of course, in Ohio (that much I knew); but the airport was (get this!) in Kentucky. He took longer to explain it than I've taken to tell it; for my infant mind had difficulty grasping the idea of a municipal airport being in an entirely different State from that of the municipality it served. I simply couldn't fathom a not-in-Ohio Cincinnati Airport. Nevertheless (my father gravely declared), Such Was Indeed the Case. I was forced to accept his word on faith. But I refused to understand it, and nothing was going to make me, either.

But mark the sequel: during my sojourn in Waverly, my grandmother took me to Portsmouth for the day. Did we shop? Did she have her hair done? How can I tell, fifty years later? But I do remember that she took me along the bank of the Ohio River, and directed my gaze across its waters to the land beyond. That, she told me, was Kentucky.

A light went on in the infant dome, and, in a childish treble, I replied, "That's where the Cincinnati Airport is!" My grandmother was having none of this. She perceived Error, and was determined to squelch it. The Cincinnati Airport, she told me, was in Cincinnati. Cincinnati was in Ohio. The Cincinnati Airport, therefore, was in Ohio. Q.E.D.

I tried to contradict; she brooked no contradiction. I soon yielded, but not before we had ruffled each other's feathers a bit. And how could I not submit? I saw the utter illogic of my position; it was indefensible. And my grandmother was so certain. And she actually lived in Ohio.

When my grandmother learned the truth, she apologized. It must have been the first time in my life that an august personage had condescended to acknowledge superior worth in me, a mere egg. I've never forgotten it, and have endeavored to live up to her example in dealing with today's mere eggs, now that I'm an august personage myself. And, many years later, when I learned the expression noblesse oblige, I at once divined its significance. Thanks, Grammie!

Or did all that happen in 1959? Let me call Mutti . . . whose diary confirms that (a) it was 1959 (drat!), and (b) Dad's business was in New York. So when did he do Dayton, whence I learned that there was such a place as Dayton? Hmmmmmmm.


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