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His way with words

March 08, 2003

From John Sanford's unpublished book, "A Dinner of Herbs," completed last summer in the author's 99th year:

Sonny: 1929

She was waiting for you at the far end of the portico, near the ballroom door. Between you, along the hotel wall, ran a row of wicker chairs and rockers, and there sat elders gazing at the summer night and through it at a host of ghostly summers of the past. There must've been talk, music, laughter, the resonance of footsteps on the porch, but sight diminished sound (the white dress, the black sash, the red rose), and you went seemingly amidst a silence toward the pleasures of the season. In the autumn of that year, there'd be a silence more profound, and mighty men would drown in their deliquescent chink, sink and scream but make no sound, as in a dream of falling. But that time was still in the making, this was the season of sin, and its pleasures wore crepe de Chine, a velvet sash, and a red red velvet rose.

Harriet: 1881-1914

You were 10 years old when your mother died, and memory returns only scattered images of her from different times and different places, but all the same in this -- the face you see is sad. That look is always there when you recall her, and it may have shown the effect of an outside world so unlike the world of her dreams. She wore it till the Merry-Widow days ended in the Great War, and she with them. Ten years were all you had of her, hardly enough to make real what you'd lost, let alone that it was never to be found. Ten years, and then she was gone, leaving you amid the rocks.

You've often thought, though, that there was more to the look than sadness over what she saw around her. You've come to wonder whether she sensed that she hadn't long to live, that she'd not have time to learn how you fared amid what had cast her down ...

"Would she have liked me, Johnny?"

"She'd have seen in you what I saw. She'd have adored you."

"A Christian girl for her Julian, the apple of her eye?"

"The girl was Julian's. That's all she'd have to know." And then after a moment, you said, "Would you have liked her, my dreamland mother?"

"Of course, Johnny darling. That's where you lived too ... "

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