Monday, March 10, 2008
Tip of the Straw Boater to Walker Percy
My friend Brain and I were driving around west-central Mississippi a few weeks ago when I made an off-hand but sincere comment. Dotting the roads in that rural and sparsely traveled part of the world are a profusion of historical markers. And, while passing one of the many we saw that day, I confessed my life-long love of them. I told Brian that historical markers had to be one of my 20 favorite things. The number 20 was sort of thrown in to make clear that they were not in my top five but still held a place close to my heart.
I think I like historical markers because they represent a basic hopefulness about the curiosity of man. I use the term “man” to include all of humanity. But, if we are honest with ourselves there is something about the terse, cast-iron ordinariness of historical markers that is distinctly masculine. Who but a man would think that five sentences about a long forgotten event would be enough to express the vastness of history?
For a certain sort of person, historical markers are the movie trailers of long ago. You stand in front of them, read their briefest summations and look out, more often than not, onto an open field where only the imagination can construct the events, people or places described. They let you fill in the details from a barely sketched scaffold of fact. And in this they are inherently hopeful. The impulse that leads to the erection of historical makers is the same one that included a Beatles record on the Voyager space probe before it was launched into space, racing to points unknown. It is the impulse that leaves mementos on mountaintops and plaques on rediscovered shipwrecks at the bottom of the sea. Someone might come along one day and want to know a little about what happened on that spot but until then these relics of relics stand as mute examples of our basic belief that strangers will give a damn about us.
Brian has the sort of mind that does not let shoddy logic sit on its hands. So, as I tossed out the unconsidered thought that historical markers were one of my 20 favorite things he immediately asked, “Oh yeah, what are the other 19?” I am often guilty of both half-baked commentary and silly responses to serious questions. When Brian asked me this I admitted that I did not know but was sure that girls made the list. Later in the day I tried to catalog my 20 favorite things but a review of my notebook from that trip reveals only the cryptic entry “Pecans.” I am not sure if “Pecans” was meant to be on the list or a reference to the rotten one I had picked up under a tree somewhere out side of Port Gibson, cracked open, eaten and spend the next 40 minutes trying to wash from my mouth but either way I have excluded them from the inventory to follow. So here they are, a list that would change every five minutes and inevitably excludes many of the little things that give me joy. And I submit them to you in the spirit of the builders of historical markers, with the vain hopefulness that someone might pull off to the side of the road, read a few lines and imagine something else.
20 Favorite Things
for Brian Baiamonte
Black and White Movies
Winter in North Louisiana
Jelly Roll Morton
My Mothers Secret Love of Science Fiction TV
The Half Hour Before the Band Starts to Play
Waking up in a New Place