Terence, This is Stupid Stuff

Last night, my husband and I were sitting at our fire-pit drinking wine, talking about how people eventually get what’s coming to them. And he said, “That reminds me of a poem I memorized by A.E. Housman.”

Seriously?

He memorized it in high school without being assigned to do so. “I just liked the poem.”

Well, I too memorized poems and Shakespearean monologues when I was young. I got an A on the hardest exam I ever took – 10th grade English, when we had to identify a long list of obscure quotations and say what texts they came from, which author, and why important. I was in multiple plays. I only missed a line once, but in that play, I was actually Head of Costumes, and only because I had memorized most of the lines in Annie Get Your Gun, I was a last-minute understudy.

But I no longer remember any of it. That monologue by Puck in Midsummer Night’s Dream? Nope. My favorite quotes from F. Scott Fitzgerald? I’ll have to check the book that I used to keep by my bed. The really hard-to-memorize …ugh… what was the name of that poem… Canterbury Tales. Nope.

I only remember one line, “It’s like the ladies’ restroom at the Oriental Theater.” From Auntie Mame. I was the nanny.

Meanwhile, my husband, the science guy, sitting at the fire-pit at least thirty years later, recited – almost flawlessly and without pause – the second half of Housman’s Terence, This is Stupid Stuff.

And I felt stupid.

So, inspired by my husband with the memory of an elephant, I pulled out my – yes, I kept it –  10th grade Norton’s Anthology, and today, I’m going to re-memorize an old favorite.

Hopefully, it stays in my head long enough to recite it around the fire-pit.

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The Stars Were Out Tonight, and…

At dinner tonight, we watched the sun set over the water after exploding from behind a single cloud near the horizon.

We watched the lights come on along the quiet dock.

In a clear sky, we looked for constellations, the usual suspects but strikingly obvious. Big dipper. Orion…. A son’s sarcasm, “There are two stars in a line. They must be some god’s belt!”

While night came on, and my husband and I sipped our wine, our middle school sons debated the meaning of “infinitely small.”

Does “infinitely small” exist? Or do you eventually get to zero? Arms flailed. They argued during pasta and continued to debate over chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream.

Their third grade brother jumped in with “as the universe expands, which it is always doing, what’s small gets smaller.”

I was impressed that he had the confidence to leap into the fray.

And then he grinned, “They think close to the box. I think way outside the box.”

“Seriously?” said the oldest, “I am measurable no matter what happens to the universe.”

And then the two older boys returned to their debate, stars winking at us, lights reflected in the water, and a warm breeze barely whispering above a calm sea.

When I was in middle school, we talked about tv shows, boys, politics. I do not remember considering the universe or its infinite possibilities.

Third Grade Interpretation of the Strumbellas

“I got guns in my head and they won’t go. Spirits in my head and they won’t go.”

Tonight, while his older brothers were doing the dishes to music, our third grader was thinking hard about lyrics playing by the Strumbellas. He doesn’t know it, but the album is entitled “Hope.”

“This song is about Abraham Lincoln,” he said.

“Really?”

“He wanted to end slavery, but really wanted for everyone to just get along. You know? The guns in his head wouldn’t go. And the spirits of all those soldiers.”

“I’ll be a dreamer ‘til the day I die.”

“And Lincoln,” my husband added, “was a dreamer.”

“Yeah, and the guns wouldn’t go. Get it?”

Not when I was in third grade!

Too Many Calvins, No Hobbes

At lunch today, our sixth grader quoted Calvin and Hobbes for the millionth time.

“It’s funny. Every time I build character, he saves a couple hundred bucks.”

He knows the comic strip so well that he can now take a real one (like that one) and alter it slightly to fit the current circumstance so that you don’t know if it’s Bill Waterson’s version or his. He uses it most often at the expense of his parents… always grinning… blue eyes twinkling… somehow coming off as innocent… like Calvin.

Laughing, I pointed out that the benefit of reading the same thing over and over is that you can quote it at just the right moment.

“That’s because Calvin and Hobbes is the perfect guide to childhood,” added his big brother.

“Many before you would say that’s what the Bible is for,” said Dad.

“But you are such a Calvin,” we all agreed of the sixth grader.

“What about me?” asked his little brother.

“You’re Calvin too.”

“Then who’s Hobbes?”

Silence.

“Dad?”

Nope. Another Calvin at the table.

The Certainty of Youth

My sons have never:

  • Voted
  • Voted for a winning candidate and regretted it later
  • Voted for a losing candidate on principle
  • Voted for the lesser of evils
  • Aligned with a political party
  • Voted for the loser and the winner turned out to be outstanding

That’s why I miss half of what is said in this winter’s increasingly heated political debates – my kids won’t shut up. They opine through every minute of every debate.

At twelve and thirteen, they are the color commentary. Opinionated. Sarcastic. Utterly confident that they know best. Eager to comment on anything – the candidates’ ties, their hair, their intellect.

“He doesn’t know anything about the Klu Klux Klan?!”

They borrow catch-phrases from adults, other twelve year olds, ad campaigns on the side of a bus as if they were time-tested facts.

Sometimes I shush them, “I want to hear this.”

But most of the time, I like listening to them.

“He’s a crook.”

“She’s a liar.”

“He’s a socialist, and socialism never worked anywhere, any time.”

“I mean, mom, he’s going a build a wall?! He might as well take down the Statue of Liberty while he’s at it.”

Unable to hear what the candidates are saying above the din of my boys’ joyful, humorous political certainty, I remember a day when I was sure I had all the answers… and voting was easy.