I’m still working away on the next installment of my adventures as a wayward harpist, slow and naughty blogger that I am. But today, whilst searching for stationary, I came across an old letter that my grandfather wrote to his brother years and years ago, before my mother was born.
My grandfather died in an airplane accident when my mother was very small, so I never had the chance to know him. Everything I know about him, I’ve learned from family stories and old photos. He was a painter. He met my grandmother while they were both studying at the Art Institute. He toured Europe during the Great Depression, where he rode a motorcycle over the Alps, saw Nazis marching in Germany, and painted monks on an island off the coast of Greece. He was in the navy during World War II.
This list of facts is intriguing, but it never gave me more than a ghostly image of him. The loss of him was a phantom at my grandmother’s house, and as a little girl, I thought that he haunted the back bedrooms. But I could never quite picture him as a real person.
My mom gave me this letter when I was a young teen, and it made him real to me. He had a real flair for description… I wonder if it was the style then to describe foliage at such length in family letters, or if that impulse was purely his own. In any case, he does it beautifully. Here are a few excerpts:
“The October color in these hills is really nothing less than sensational now. Each humble tree and vine, so lately massed in the common viridian of summer, is crying out its own personal manifesto. Rows of shrubs and trees march off down the hills with all the pageantry of a Venetian festival in the great piazza of Saint Mark’s Cathedral. In the visual sense the spectacle has the abandon of All Fools Day in the Middle Ages, when the populace turned its back on society to mill through the streets for a day of riotous joy, noise, pranks, dancing and masquerade…
Pines and spruces point their dark amours up against great splotches of red and yellow maples. A lone ash stands like a goblet of burgundy against the facade of carnival color bordering the woods behind it. There and there an austere telephone pole has been chosen for adornment by some fiery vine that rises like a proclamation of faith along the highway…
It’s really no use talking about autumn. You just have to go out and get drunk, for only the inebriate can know the happy glow of the senses which enthralls him. At this season of the year all talk of a sick world – all viewing with alarm – ought to be silenced. It is too much like admitting a specter to the feast, or having the chairman of the Watch and Ward Society snatch us away from Giorgione’s glorious painting of Venus in all her best voluptuous nudity.”
He goes on to describe shaking an apple tree, and gathering up the bounty in his sweater. I feel like by reading his letter, I get to take that autumn ramble with him through the woods of upstate New York. I can taste the apples.