My Dad loved the Beatles. He used to say that he was the first person in the United States to listen to them. I believed him. A couple of days before he died, he told me: “The Beatles grabbed a hold of the international mass consciousness in 1964, and never let go for the next six years.” He said that John Lennon (kaput!) “synthesized all that was good about early rock and roll, and changed it into something original and even more exciting.”
We listened to his favorite song: “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window.” On Abbey Road, it is linked with four other songs without pause, creating an eleven-minute medley of what Father called “musical bliss.”
It’s a funny thing, about time. The essence of time is that it cannot be recaptured for substance. It may very well be imperfectly recanted through the illusion of memory, but each second — once realized — is gone, leaving only pieces of joy, reflection or decay. Perhaps it takes looking through the eyes of a dying man to realize how precious our time really is… Because pretty soon, it’s gone.
After “bliss,” we listened to the Mac Davis tune, “Oh, Lord it’s Hard to be Humble (When You’re Perfect in Every Way)”.
Oh, the irony of it all.
My father’s father grew up in Milledgeville, Georgia. The author, Flannery O’Conner (kaput!), lived there, too. They were friends. My grandfather was the town’s doctor (like his father and his father’s father) and Flannery O’Conner was the town’s fiction writer. It’s been said that the character of Mrs. Freeman from “Good Country People” is based on my father’s aunt, Emily. I have no evidence that this is true except for the fact that my great aunt was indeed a good, country person (kaput!).
I do know that when Flannery O’Conner died in 1964, my father went to her funeral. He was a high school senior. He sat next to Kurt Vonnegut, and he had no idea.
Soon thereafter, my grandfather moved the family to Atlanta where he became a very successful business man. Like me, he was a Democrat. My father was a staunch Republican. In fact, the only two faults I ever saw in my father were the fact that he had no idea who Kurt Vonnegut was, and that he voted against Jimmy Carter in 1976.
I’ve been to Milledgeville twice in my lifetime. The first time was to see my Great Grandfather (kaput!). We arrived at his house on Mildred Street a little after lunchtime. As we pulled down the gravel drive canopied by Kudzu-covered Pines, I remember feeling like I was in a movie. Maybe I was Paul Newman in “Hud.” There I was riding in the back of that pink Cadillac thinking, “…you know, buddyro? You just can’t get out of life alive.”
And then I saw him: Julian Cannon. He stood about 5 feet-2 inches tall. He was dressed in a starched, white Sunday shirt and gray flannel pants held up by bright orange suspenders. He had a head full of silver hair and his cigar rested confidently between his pearl-white teeth. He waved to us from the roof.
He was on the roof. He was 92-years-old, and he was on the roof.
“Would you look at that beauty,” he yelled. “Spent all morning on her. I liked to never get the goddamned thing painted. But just look at the way she shines…”
Julian had, that very morning, painted his car. He painted it black, with a 4″ Ace Hardware paintbrush that he picked up at, well, Ace Hardware… and an old roller he found in the shed that half-stood behind his house. He climbed to his roof to get a better look at her. He said he needed “a new perspective.” He was no longer a doctor. He was an artiste.
The only other time I visited Milledgeville was to attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Julian Cannon Memorial Library just a few years ago. I couldn’t understand – I still can’t – why they named a library after an old, senile doctor; and all Flannery O’Conner got was the side street connected to Third Avenue beside her old house.
Oh, the irony of it all.
Julian did, however, love to read. His favorite book was The Grapes of Wrath. It seems he could relate, or something…