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JACK SMITH ON SUNDAY

A Memoir Sent Cross-Country Shows a Grandson's Promise as Essayist

February 05, 1989|Jack Smith

AFTER OUR TRIP to New England last fall, we arrived back at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City to find a long, faxed message waiting for us.

It was the story of my 9-year-old grandson Casey's life.

Faxing is a facet of the new technology that I don't yet understand.

Evidently, my son had taken his son's memoir to The Times, and my secretary had faxed it to me.

My grandson's memoir reminded me of one of those long Christmas messages that people write to bring their friends up to date on everything that has happened to them in the past year.

Most of them could use a bit of editing, and my grandson's message was no exception.

Nevertheless, it is interesting that a 9-year-old would look back on his life as a life and think of encapsulating it in an essay, a summation, an autobiography.

I get the impression from his tone, however, that he has a large capacity for life--a zest--and that when he is 90, his memoirs will look back on a life of fulfillment and accomplishment.

Actually, his life did not begin at the beginning.

"It all started," he tells us, "at the 1986 Dodger game against the San Francisco Giants.

"That was the first Dodger game I ever went to. When I got into the stadium, we ordered our food and went to our seats in the reserved level on the right-field side. I enjoyed watching Dodgervision on the screen and singing 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame.'

"Innings past very quickly until the game was over.

"Then we left the stadium."

As you can see, his spelling, grammar and syntax are excellent. Writing past for passed is a common error, English being as exasperating as it is, and he will soon correct it.

He does show a beginning essayist's tendency to put in details that the reader may not care about.

For instance: "Then we left the stadium." The reader can assume that they left the stadium.

Of course, knowing what to put in and what to leave out is the hardest task a writer has. It undoubtedly bothered Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson, and I have an idea it bothers George Will and John Updike.

We soon see that Casey is not devoted only to spectator sports. "About a week later I started going to a summer camp called Mar Vista Camp. I had lots of fun at the camp playing caroms, battle ball, baseball and lots of other games."

I was happy to see that his interest is divided between the playground and the classroom:

"At school I found out what room I was in, went there and met my teacher. Her name was Mrs. Pecora.

"She was a pretty nice teacher. When spelling started, Mrs. Pecora played a game with us with two teams. She'd ask a person from one of the teams to spell a word. If you got the word wrong, you would be out. Every time she asked me a word, I got it right except for one word."

He doesn't say what that one word was. It might have been passed .

"Months passed by," he then writes, proving that he mastered that little problem and demonstrating that he knows how to condense time, as every good writer must.

He takes us through his tribulations in Little League, and finally the school year is over. We are approaching the climax: The Dodgers are heading for the playoffs.

"Every game passed by and the Dodgers were getting closer and closer to the playoffs. Dodger pitcher Orel Hershiser had 59 scoreless innings to break Don Drysdale's record. Finally the end of the season came and the Dodgers made it to the playoffs. I was so happy when I found out the Dodgers clinched the division title, I woke up my dad to tell him the news. That was the best time of my life!

"I was never so happy in my intire life."

I think he deserves an A-minus for spelling. There was only past and that little slip on intire .

Obviously his memoirs were written before the Dodgers won the World Series.

He must have thought it was the best of all possible worlds.

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