- Winter Dreams
Early in December, a dream so cheered me that I woke myself. The dream was a story, and I wanted to remember it. In the dream a nice but diffident and socially awkward man had a secret life writing comic novels under a pseudonym. Anonymity freed the man from shyness, and on the page his personality expanded into confidence and laughter. The novels made me guffaw, and I mulled turning on the bedside light and recording two or three of the man's good-humored quips. I resisted the temptation, however, because I suspected the dream would have a happy ending. I was right. For years the man had loved the girl who grew up next door. They had played Kick the Can together and attended the same kindergarten. The girl wasn't beautiful. She was short, and her face was too round, but she was good natured and bright, a lover of smiles and smiling books. She was high spirited and popular, and when the man mustered the courage to ask her to marry him, he was so pessimistic that he was afraid to look into her eyes and stared at the ground. When he finished speaking, the girl snuggled against him and, taking his hands in hers, said, "Of course I'll marry you, you goose. I thought you'd never ask. Only one person in the world could lure me away, and I'll never meet him. He's a novelist." And here the girl mentioned the man's pseudonym, not knowing that her old [End Page 61] friend and new fiancée wrote books and was, of course, the man of her literary dreams. "Isn't that a great dream, perfect for Christmas," I said to Vicki. "Yes, a bell-ringer," Vicki said, rolling away and pulling the covers tight over her shoulders, irked because I broke her sleep to describe the dream.
Apollo sang Troy into being, its towers in Tennyson's words, "rising like a mist." Apollo was young when he created Troy. The songs of the old rarely rise to illusion. Instead they are dirges. In "Tithonus," Tennyson captured not only age's resignation but also its weariness, the febrile exhaustion that makes one long for the murmuring snows of oblivion, writing,
The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,And after many a summer dies the swan.
The hereafter of my comic novelist remained a happy, unconsidered illusion. Actual hereafters are not so rosy. During Christmas people write letters describing family doings. Optimism bubbled through paragraphs when my friends and their children were young. Although the activities of a grandchild sometimes wheel silvery down a page, age has tarnished the effervescence of Christmas letters. Martin's dementia had worsened, Lynn wrote, recounting that he had almost no short-term memory. "His long-term memory is a little better. He remembers songs. His favorite is 'Danny Boy.' He's still a passable Irish tenor, and he sings 'Danny Boy' throughout the day. When he gets up at night, he sings it. That lets me know where he is, and I can stop him from wandering out the front door."
"For Lynn's sake I wish the call of the fields was stronger," I said to Vicki. "What fields?" Vicki asked. "Poetically the barrow but in everyday words, the graveyard," I said. "Enough," Vicki said. "You need to go to bed, have another happy dream, and write about it." "The trouble with writing is that it leaves everything out," I said. "If leaving things out makes you gayer, leave them out," Vicki said. Happy dreams are the stuff of winter nights, not days. Christmas letters have turned funereal. Moreover, Vicki is not as cheery as she once was. Like everyone's offspring, our children have grown apart from us. The sweet, gentle intimacy of childhood Christmases has vanished. The prospect of Christmas no longer makes [End Page 62] our hearts leap in spontaneous joy. Instead good mood needs a kick start. To get through decorating the tree Vicki had to slug down...