Friday, September 02, 2011
Morning Thanks: Fred's pears
I've never seen the tree, but I know exactly where it stands because I know where the old man lived before that brain tumor took him, what?--17 years ago. He had a spacious place with huge rooms, a place up above the Rock River, the only house I've ever been in that had a urinal.
He built the house himself, some good part of it at least, built it to specs that he drew up so that it felt somehow like the home of a giant, which he was--6'9" in stocking feet because he mostly left his shoes at the door, like a good Dutchman, huge slip-ons I can see yet in my memory, docked at the mat.
He lived tall above the land he loved, the place he claimed to name "Siouxland"--rolling hills and grasslands, the emerald edge of the Great Plains. Here. The place I live too.
His daughter has it right, and it was a joy, this morning, to find her own dear portrait of her father in my in-box, passed along by Garrison Keillor. I don't believe I ever met Freya Manfred, but I certainly knew her father, knew him right there at the pear tree, right there at the top of that hill where he could sit and see for miles.
Green Pear Tree in September
by Freya Manfred
On a hill overlooking the Rock River
my father's pear tree shimmers,
in perfect peace,
covered with hundreds of ripe pears
with pert tops, plump bottoms,
and long curved leaves.
Until the green-haloed tree
rose up and sang hello,
I had forgotten...
He planted it twelve years ago,
when he was seventy-three,
so that in September
he could stroll down
with the sound of the crickets
rising and falling around him,
and stand, naked to the waist,
slightly bent, sucking juice
from a ripe pear.
Fred Manfred wasn't T. S. Eliot, but it's almost impossible not to think of Prufrock with that last line because Manfred was not a man afraid to eat a peach. His daughter is right, I'm sure. Her father would have planted that tree with just that vision in mind--on just such a September day, to be able to take a few long strides down there, pull off something plump with life, and have at it.
Manfred was no saint and he knew it, Calvinist-reared as he was. I like to think that he died as did Thoreau, whose saintly aunt asked him, on his death bed, if he'd made his peace with the Lord. "I wasn't aware we'd quarreled," Henry David told her.
Maybe I'm wrong.
This much I know--my friend Manfred prayed.
If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be sitting here right now because it was his work, his novels, that made me think making meaning out of words was as good and juicy as a ripe peach in early September.
I don't know the tree, but I know the place, know the hill it stands on, and I certainly knew the man. I could take you there. I swear, I know exactly where it must be.
And it's September, isn't it? Those pears must be sweet and ripe.