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Uncle Bobby never married.  He came home from his grueling tour in the South Pacific, sold insurance for a  brief time and  became a teacher.  He lived his entire life with his widowed mother and unmarried older sister, Rita, in a duplex on Kingston Avenue.  He taught sixth-grade History for nearly four decades, and spent many bachelor summers on Cape Cod as a bartender at The Chart Room.

He had a small boat he named “Call me Ishmael”.  He loves to tell the story of the name of that boat.  He loves to quote Melville:

“ Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth;

whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul;

whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me,

that it requires a strong moral principle

to prevent me from deliberately

stepping into the street, and methodically

knocking people’s hats off- then,

I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

I’m quite sure that he knows he leaves chunks of Melville’s words out, and I never correct him.  When you are nearly 90, and find yourself with a bit of an audience, and the prompt is just right, why not give your limited gusto to the meaty beginning and end?

And, yes, he sits a little taller when he recites.  I only need to prompt,  “Uncle Bobby, tell me the name of your boat again”, and Melville’s words come alive.  His inflection and annunciation are perfect and when he recites I wonder if acting may have been a missed calling.  Uncle Bobby loves history and literature, but no longer has the stamina to read at length.  It tickles me when he recites the great writers.

I know the longing for the ocean and for too long it has been a “damp, drizzly November in my soul.”   In lighter times, and especially the heady days of college, I had no patience for Melville.  I found him dark and overwrought.  I veered toward F. Scott Fitzgerald for sparkle,  Jane Austen for Romance, and Charles Dickens for optimism.  Imagine finding a happy ending for Oliver Twist in a dark and haunting London?   Of contemporary writers, John Irving made me swoon with cleverness and complexity.  No Melville for me, only the Cliff Notes on Moby Dick.

I suspect I would appreciate Melville now.  

Ironic that the year of Uncle Bobby’s arrival would mark the only year in my 53 that I have not so much as put a toe in the Atlantic Ocean.  When I need it most, I have no time for languid mornings near the sea.  I have no time for day trips, let alone what I long for; a week by the shore in a cape cod house with my dog, a copy of Moby Dick,  and a comfortable chair to set in the sand.   Uncle Bobby would love the same. 

3 thoughts on “Ishmael

  1. As a history lover, I want to know what he taught. Did Bobby love a particular period? Or did he just love spinning tales of the sea, reciting Melville, and pouring stiff drinks? I bet he enjoyed a shenanigan now and then. Tell us more, Bobby…

    Liked by 1 person

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