My Dad, Cornell, and a Lecture by Diane Ackerman

14 Jul

I don’t want my whole blog to be about my father, but certain things happened last night that made me think of him again.  Last night Mom and I went to hear Diane Ackerman at the David Call Auditorium on the Cornell campus.  I sat in my dad’s chair in the middle back of the auditorium  and looked down at “Barth Mapes 1949.”  He bought the chair for $600 about twenty-five years ago as part of a campaign that Dave Call started.  His name is somewhat worn.  I wonder how many people read his name as I sit there.

Mom and I are early, so we cast our eyes around the auditorium.  Already there is a buzz of persistent talk around us.  Mom exclaims rather loudly that the girl who is sitting in front of us is the same one she sat behind last week.  Apparently she played with her laptop during the entire lecture.  I’m sure she can hear us, but she soldiers on.  I mention a colleague of mine who used to shut his students’ laptops on their fingers, when they were not paying attention in class.  No sign that she’s heard, but she does indeed continue with her laptop all the way through the lecture.  As she moves from address to address, there are splashes of color that distract us.

Diane Ackerman finally begins.   I have read her book on her garden, _Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden_, have read some of her poetry, and once ran into her when Mom and I were buying plants at Stewart Park.  Tonight she’s discussing her book about her husband, _One Hundred Names for Love_.  I am immediately captivated by her voice and the way her words slip across her tongue.  The laptop in front of me only catches my attention every fifteen minutes or so. Ms. Ackerman’s long black hair, dyed like mine, and touching story pull me in.  “Touching” is probably a word  that is overused, but that is what I think as I listen to her.  She compels me.

The beginnings of our romantic stories, hers and mine, are very different.  She definitely met her match when she met the fellow wordsmith who became her husband.  I wonder what it feels like to meet someone who is your equal and to feel you have met your soul mate.  The aspect of the relationship I do not envy is the gap in years.  She is a baby boomer, while her husband experienced World War II in England, no small thing.  They are twentysome years apart.  I have always been aware of an enormous divide between those of us who are baby boomers and the World War II generation.  How can you love someone who did not experience the Beatles at a tender age? How can you identify with someone for whom World War II was a formative memory.  Still, she bypassed those awkward undergraduate years–no unwashed, immature boys for her.  That must have been a plus.

Like my father, her husband was the victim of a stroke.  At one point his only word was “mem.”  He had to discover new pet names for her and they often had their best moments in bed when he first woke up in the morning.  Later in the Cornell garden near Alumni Field and in the car on her way home, my mother expresses some envy.  What would it be like to be able to afford that kind of care? Mom has always wondered why she couldn’t have  received better physical therapy for Dad.  “Think what it would be like to have people come to your house,”  she says. “And swim in a pool.” We pass a monstrous white building named after the malignant Weill, he of Citigroup fame.  She frowns as she explains who he is.  I ask her why a building can’t be named after my father.  “What about a building that says, “Barth Mapes, I say.”  She laughs.  We look up in the sky to see a helicopter hovering over Alumni Field.  On the ground an ambulance awaits its landing.  Both of us wonder who is hurt or dying.  We always think there are more and more things we can do for our loved ones, but sometimes they fade away despite our best efforts.

One Response to “My Dad, Cornell, and a Lecture by Diane Ackerman”

  1. annamapes August 1, 2011 at 7:20 pm #

    Kathy, I only just read all of your blog posts and I love them! The ones about Grandpa made me cry. I miss him. Keep writing, I like reading your stories. Love and miss you!

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