IBID, page 6
I hope all is well with you and Father. Has his elbow healed?”
6. Jonathan displayed a knack for making easy friendships with some of the other students. Jonathan befriended even the terminally friendless among the residents of Orville House. This group included Jiminy Crutch, a mestizo who lived in fear of squirrels, and thus found himself constantly confronted by them in his bed, wardrobe, and dresser—placed there by the more mischievous among his dormitory mates. Young Jiminy won abundant sympathy and support from Jonathan, who encouraged the quaking, stuttering young man, to shake hands with his fear and turn it to positive use. Following Jonathan’s advice, Jiminy went on to become the nation’s foremost expert on squirrel aggression, and in 1941 was awarded the prestigious Van Weems Small Mammal Research Prize for his paper on the infamous 1826 Hamilton County, Indiana, squirrel migration—an aberration of nature that residents of Noblesville still speak of today. Contemporary accounts note that thousands of squirrels one morning decided to move en masse across the county. Swimming like otters across the picturesque White River, and foraging voraciously along the way, the squirrels were met by angry club-wielding farmers at every turn. The devastation wreaked by the two-week rampage took months to repair. Cordell Glover, Three Legs, One Heart, 45-48; Belva Curry, “On the Move” Sciuridae; Journal of the American Squirrel, 1952, No. 4, 366-75
7. Jonathan sold ads for the little literary journal; his friend Finley Sanders offered illustrations. A passionate anti-war socialist, Jonathan’s artistic college chum Finley Sanders was to gain some notoriety in later years through his opposition to what he referred to with great disdain as “The War to Trump All Wars,” “The Industrialists’ Carnage Party,” and “The International Killing Machine Wilson Lubricates with His War-lusting Salivations.” A political cartoon in The Worker’s Brow in which Sanders depicted President Woodrow Wilson gleefully dining on a goulash of roasted miniature American soldiers while Lady Liberty tearfully serves him heaping seconds, resulted in a lengthy stay for Sanders in a federal penitentiary. He passed the time by forming a barbershop quartet with fellow anti-war advocate Eugene Debs; Philadelphia bond forger Gordon Roman; and Dubuque serial ax murderer Eldred Jorguess, whom the others nervously allowed to carry the melody even when he seemed to be making it up as he went along.
Incidentally, Sanders’s equally rebellious brother David was a stowaway on the ill-fated “Peace Ship,” a Scandinavian cruise liner that had been enlisted to transport a disparate group of American pacifists to Europe in November, 1916 with the ambitious goal of convincing the warring armies that human bloodshed was an expensive price to pay for national hegemony. Though bankrolled by Henry Ford, the most recognizable member of the delegation, the effort was doomed to early failure. Pope Benedict XV, the ubiquitous Helen Keller, and Ford’s lifelong friend Thomas Edison all expressed early interest in joining the international diplomatic venture, but backed out long before the ship left port. Helen allegedly confessed that she had always been a poor shuffleboard player and, besides, Edison generally got on her nerves: “His lips never stop flapping; my fingers get so tired.” (Helen Keller, At Ease [Indianapolis: Three Senses Publications, 1988] 238). Ford himself bailed out of the endeavor as soon as the ship reached Norway. In his uncharitable, self-published biography of the automobile titan, Henry Ford, Jew Hater, Garner Qualms surmises that Ford hadn’t realized until he was already at sea how many of his fellow neutralists were Hebrew deniers of the divinity of Jesus Christ, and this discovery left him irritable and unmotivated. David, for his part, spent the trip rolling matzo dough in the ship’s galley while happily debating the merits of the Zionist movement with the many shipboard followers of Theodor Herzl.
8. “I promise to stop being so sesquipedalian.” Jonathan’s Diary, 4 April1906. A difficult task, it would seem, since the word itself means “given to use of long polysyllabic words.” The irony was, nonetheless, lost on companion Crutch, whose attention had been diverted by the sudden unsettling appearance of a tree squirrel upon the open-window sill.
9. By Jonathan’s second year, correspondence with his mother had become comfortably routine. The following is typical of the many letters Jonathan received from his mother during his years at Devanter—brimming with chat and reportorially framed gossip. JBP.
October 3, 1906
I am so proud of you I can hardly express it. You are now a college sophomore! No one in our family has ever been to college before except for your Great Uncle Phineas and it still isn’t clear whether he was actually enrolled or merely pretended to be—a situation similar to that in which he pretended to be an assistant of Mathew Brady’s—the one in charge of photographic portraiture of the “unencumbered female physique.” While he was in prison I do believe he even pretended to be a guard at one point, but only in an odd exchange with a brain-addled sentry who on occasion liked to pretend to be an inmate to break the daily monotony. This is why your great uncle was able to walk out the front gate of that place to attend the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.
Your father is doing well, and the farm is on a slightly better footing. That new heifer had a beautiful twinkle-eyed calf we have named after Pastor Stoddard’s daughter Igraine. (Remember the way the reverend would rub his temples and say, “That troublesome Igraine! She gives me such a migraine!”) We may even make a nice profit at the end of the year.
Aunt Lindy sends her love. She had a nasty altercation with the butcher. She accused him of placing his hand on a part of her body men generally should not touch without a marriage license. If she had been the one holding the cleaver, I don’t know that he would be here right now. I think that your Aunt Lindy needs a doctor’s care and some strong medication. Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound is not doing the job.
I have seen little Mildred and she wishes to let you know that she is “doing quite well, thank you.” There was an edge to her voice that belied the sentiment. She must have heard about your friend Jane.
With all my love,
10. Jonathan’s experiences at Devanter shaped his politics for years to come. One individual, in particular, made the strongest impression of all. His name was Andrew Bloor and he was a young history professor who had taken an instant liking to this intellectually curious three-legged student. Ostracized by most of the Devanter faculty and subsequently sacked by the school’s administration for his liberal views on race and gender, Bloor obviously recognized Jonathan’s nascent early progressive tendencies and sought to encourage and nurture them.
His employment terminated only a week before Jonathan’s graduation, Bloor wrote the following letter to his favorite student from a rooming house in Oberlin, Ohio, where he was in the process of applying for a faculty position with the famed liberal arts college there, a paradigm of progressive pedagogy. The letter has been preserved in Jonathan’s papers.
May 27, 1909
My dear Mr. Blashette,
Congratulations on arriving at this special juncture in your promising young life. I am confident that you will take what you have learned from your matriculation at Ol’ Devanter and make of yourself a man most exemplary among men. The loam of your character possesses sprouts of greatness, to be sure, but a species of greatness born of humanitarian compassion. You understand as do I the frailty of man and the ever-present need to repair human inadequacy with the sutures and dressing of tender respect. Man is a flawed creature, to be sure, yet has the potential for great healing, aided by the ministrations of the knowledgeable and well-tooled physician of the soul. I hope that I have taught and supplied you well.
I have observed your thoughtful intercourse with the other students, the friendship you have formed with the pocked erstwhile prostitute they call Great Jane. I have watched you spend one particularly long evening pulling our alcohol-intemperate janitor Charlie Royce from the puddle of his own vomit, cleaning him up, and secreting him within your very own dormitory room to prevent his discover
You are poised for great things, my dear young friend. I will stand in the wings and prompt if needed, but will mostly, I daresay, commend your time upon this world stage. It was a joy to have you as student and it will be a joy to have you as lifelong friend.
With sincere affection,
11. Jonathan unfortunately missed his graduation. There are several theories as to why Jonathan was unable to attend graduation ceremonies at Devanter. His diary is strangely silent, stating only “I did not go.” Some, including Glover and Cyril in his unfinished biographical manuscript The Story of Jonathan Blashe—, believe that Great Jane was so distraught over the fact that Jonathan would soon be returning home and thus out of her life, that she made a clumsy attempt at suicide which Jonathan had to foil. Lucianne Flom theorizes that Jane probably chose the then popular arsenic-incremental method—a painful and ultimately harebrained way to kill oneself—which involved taking larger and larger doses of the poison over a period of several hours. Flom imagines that Jonathan’s heroic efforts involved intermittent dashes to the kitchen to restrain Great Jane from stirring arsenic into her freshened tea, followed by an ebb of casual conversation, and then another mad dash for the kitchen, upon Great Jane’s sudden announcement, “I believe I’ll have another spot of tea.” Flom and Furman surmise that this pattern played out for hours and did not end until Jonathan thought to toss the vial of arsenic out the window.
Another theory, this one posited by Odger, is that Jonathan got his third foot caught in a loose floorboard and it took several hours to pry it out.
I find both theories ludicrous. My guess is that Jonathan was making a statement of protest regarding Bloor’s dismissal.
SO BEWARE, SAY A PRAYER
1. For Jonathan it was a summer of disappointment. Cyril Furman, The Story of Jonathan Blash—[ette]. With the family farm back on uncertain financial footing due, in part, to Addicus’s latest accident and Emmaline’s not infrequent participation in a local quilting circle in which morphine was freely dispensed by the wife of local physician R. J. Blanton, it is no wonder that Jonathan sought emotional solace through reconciliation with Mildred. It came as a severe blow, then, for him to learn that his high school sweetheart had been secretly married to her alcoholic cousin Clyde for two years.
The threads of the rich tapestry of personalities and events that draped Jonathan’s early years were tightly interwoven during this period. Within six years, Dr. Blanton would earn national notoriety as perpetrator of a scandalously unsuccessful experimental tran-species organ transplant—one that involved none other than Mildred’s cousin/ husband Clyde. Clyde Haywood became, for three days, the proud owner of the liver of a chimpanzee, introduced by the morphine-careless Dr. Blanton for purposes of reversing many years of alcohol abuse.
In 1919, two years after the death of her husband from massive organ rejection, Mildred, hearing of Jonathan’s own tragic personal loss (see Chapter 8, note 5), wrote her former beloved to express her condolences, as well as her desire to see him again and perhaps renew the ties that bound the two in their youth. There is no evidence that Jonathan ever replied, although Mildred’s letter is preserved in Jonathan’s papers, a hint of the fragrance she atomized upon it still lingering upon the page.
January 24, 1919
Once we were young and gay and life held such wonderful promise for us both. Then you went away to college to learn Latin and history and commerce, and I pined miserably until Clyde rescued me from my pit of self-pity and asked for my hand. Oh, Jonny, HAD I ONLY WAITED FOR YOUR RETURN! But where was the assurance that we would pick up where we left off when you, with diploma in hand and a bit more tuft upon your chest, finally strode back into Pettiville and back into MY LIFE? Especially after you took up with that prostitute and had all the tongues in town wagging from the SCANDAL of it, and it seemed that your reputation would be forever PUSTULED AND SCROFULOUS itself from the association. Do you blame me, Jonny? Had I a choice? With Clyde’s arms opened wide, his warm smile inviting me to share my life with one so kind and gay and morally unimpeachable?
For, yes, Clyde did treat me well. He gave me a beautiful little girl, Clydette. He gave me a spinet piano and a new living room suite with beautiful appointments. He never found need for the arms of other women.
He did, however, drink. Too much. He drank so much that his liver SHRIVELED UP AND DIED and he was forced to submit to an operation that would end his life after three short days, because the odds were too great that his body would ever accept a transplant from a monkey, much less a liver lifted from the body of a chimpanzee named BOPPO which Dr. Blanton confessed after the deed was done and the brown hepatic slab securely fixed in its new home, was a heavy drinker himself! Yes, my Clyde traded his cirrhotic human liver for an EQUALLY CIRRHOTIC PRIMATE ONE! Or perhaps one even more diseased than his own, for Boppo had a thirst for Brandy Melange that was nearly UNQUENCHABLE!
All this leaving me with a dead monkey-livered husband and murdered hope.
That is, until I read that you too had suffered tragedy and now lay sprawled single upon the marital bed. Until I came to know the hard facts about this bumpy road we call life. Facts acknowledged by us both. Fate has dealt each of us a losing hand, Jonny. But the game doesn’t have to be OVER. We are permitted another deal, count on it. Yet we must move quickly. That quicksilver dealer of second chances will clear the table and depart if we tarry.
Shall we play that other hand? Shall I see you again, you successful entrepreneur, you! I have heard of your grand business plan. You will wave your magic wand in the marketplace and men will be wiped clean of the noisome odors of hard labor and sporadic ablutions, and I desire that a wand be waved over me as well. By your hand. Bringing me back THE LIFE I ONCE LIVED. When we were both young and you made me laugh and feel beautiful and much loved.
Am I wrong to write to you in this way? If so, please forgive my effrontery.
I have no way of knowing if Jonathan ever responded to her offer, even with only a polite decline. Mildred moved to Boston in the mid-twenties and lived there until her death in 1975 when she was struck by a school bus. Ironically, the fatal accident took place at the height of the citywide donnybrook over court-ordered bussing.
2. Izzy and Moe shot straight with their new
3. “I feel as if I have stepped into a deep furrow from which I cannot remove myself.” Working at the haberdashery for twelve hours a day in a struggling attempt to infuse operating capital into his parent’s floundering farm left Jonathan fatigued, depressed, and more estranged than ever from the life that he had hoped to build for himself in the world outside of Pettiville. This low point in Jonathan’s young life is articulated by the following entry from his diary.
August 15, 1909
Hee haw. Hee haw. I’m a work mule. A plow pony. A damned beast of burden, that’s what I am. Mildred is married and Great Jane is a connubial impossibility and I see nothing on the horizon but nose-to-the-grindstone bachelorhood for me.
The silver lining: I am getting very good at selling. Suits and ties and shoes and spats. These days I can pretty much sell any fellow who walks into the store. In fact, there’s only one person I can’t sell: Father. And I’m not talking about clothes here. When it comes right down to it, Father’s getting far too old to run that farm with so little help and with that fractured pelvis and I am just barely able to keep all of our heads above water, but will he listen to my pitch? If only I could make Mother and Father see that the best thing they should do now is liquidate the acreage and get themselves a nice little place in town. I’ll be happy to help out as needed. Because I’ll have no family of my own to place a drag on my income. Nose-to-the-grindstone bachelorhood for me. If that’s my fate, I will reconcile myself to it.
by Mark Dunn / Fiction / Humor / Young Adult have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes