Sunday, June 10, 2012

Local essayist on roads taken and not taken


"I was a senior in high school," writes Daniel Thomas, "when Dwight Eisenhower was elected to a second term, the musical Carousel was playing at local theatres, the stock market had surpassed 500 for the first time, and Elvis Presley was singing 'Heartbreak Hotel.' It was also the year my dad asked me if I would be interested in becoming a full partner in his neighborhood grocery store, Tommy's Superette."

Taylor said no because he wanted to teach. "Looking back," he says, "I suppose that it was jut as well that I was ignorant of the struggles my parents were having, or I might never have left Willows."

"Wanderings: Book Five In A Series Of Essays" ($9.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing) presents brief reflections on some of things that happened next, including an Army stint in Germany. Thomas' previous books ("Essays From The Ten," "Evening Country," "100 Miles," and "Pastiche: An Essayist In Search Of A Theme") have looked outward. "Wanderings" looks back and takes stock.

It was a circuitous route to a career as a teacher and high school principal, winding through marriages and divorces, Amtrack travels ("an opiate separating me from a reality that I chose to ignore"), bouts with the bottle and ill health, and feelings of worthlessness and loneliness.

Yet resilience pervades these essays, especially in a piece called "Hey, He's Seventy!!" "As my life continues to unfold," Taylor writes, "I find myself focusing more on what is good and less and less about my setbacks. I had my first heart attack when I was forty-seven and retired from my professional life much earlier than most. I consider myself fortunate that, by moving away from what was a hectic, demanding lifestyle, I was able to 'reboot' my goals in life." Though increasingly suspicious of those who "gain immense power however and wherever fear is pedaled for their own aggrandizement," he can still pause to celebrate a rainy Valentine's Day with his wife, Marilyn, at Broadway Heights.

He ends with questions: "Who called me to be seduced by ambition?" "Who called me to discover the gift of adversity?" "Who calls me now that I, a season older, want far more than to silently expire from the starvation of an undernourished soul?"

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