Sep. 8, 2007

The Dreams of the Old

by Tim Nolan

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Poem: "The Dreams of the Old" by Timothy J. Nolan. Used with permission of the author.

The Dreams of the Old

So they are around our table—my mother,
my father, an uncle—and we begin to talk
about our dreams—with some urgency—
as if our dreams could pinpoint our psychic
dangers—our unrealized goals—our
ordinary fear of death and the future.
My mother talks about her dreams of flying
over the little town where she grew up—
over the old Opera House—down Main Street—
with all the people she knew below her—
then towards the gently flowing river—
that seemed to flow into the sunset—
toward which she soared—she lingered
with us on that image—as if she had said
enough—then—my uncle talked about
his recurring dream—he's going to be
in a play—but no one's bothered
to rehearse the scenes—he's standing
in the wings waiting to go on—he doesn't
know what he will say—all through this
my father is silent—he is closest to death—
we all know this—we forgive him his silence—
his silence—has his presence—as in a dream.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist and playwright Michael Frayn, (books by this author) born in London, England (1933), who's best known as the author of the play Noises Off (1982), about a group of amateur actors performing a sex comedy called Nothing On. In the first half of the play, the audience sees what's happening on the stage; in the second half of the play, the audience sees what's happening backstage. Some of the actors are alcoholics and some are having affairs with each other and everything falls apart. One of the characters says, "That's what it's all about. Doors and sardines. Getting on - getting off. Getting the sardines on — getting the sardines off. That's farce. That's the theater. That's life."

It's the birthday of Ann Beattie, (books by this author) born in Washington, D.C. (1947). Her work has been compared to other so-called "minimalist" short-story writers like Raymond Carver and Bobbie Ann Mason. Her stories have been collected in books such as Distortions (1976), Where You'll Find Me (1986), and What Was Mine (1991). Her most recent book is Follies: New Stories (2005).

It was on this day in 1952 that Ernest Hemingway came out with his last novel, The Old Man and the Sea. He had been working on a long novel that he called The Sea Book, about different aspects of the sea. He got the idea for it while looking for submarines in his fishing boat. The book had three sections, which he called "The Sea When Young," "The Sea When Absent," and "The Sea in Being," and it had an epilogue about an old fisherman. He wrote more than 800 pages of "The Sea Book" and rewrote them more than a hundred times, but the book still didn't seem finished. Finally, he decided to publish just the epilogue about the old fisherman, which he called The Old Man and the Sea.

The novel begins, "He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish." It tells the story of an old man who catches the biggest fish of his life, only to have it eaten by sharks before he can get back to shore.

It was on this day in 1900 that the worst hurricane in American history hit Galveston, Texas. At the time Galveston was a beautiful resort town on the eastern end of a barrier island, just off the Texas coast. But the highest point of the island was only 8.7 feet above sea level, and when the storm approached all the bridges off the island were flooded and people were trapped on high ground. The storm hit that evening and by the end of it, more than a third of the entire city was gone. There was barely any trace of the houses or even the streets that had been there before. In total, more than 3,600 houses were completely destroyed. About 37,000 people were on the island when the storm hit. More than 12,000 were still missing weeks later. The official death toll was about 8,000, but most historians think that number is much too low.

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