Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Better Smile

When I was a little girl, this hung framed in my grandparents’ bedroom, in the house where my mother and I lived. I believe it is from the 1920s, not just because of the wonderful design, but because my grandparents bought that house about 1925, and my grandmother was the type of person who put a knicknack on a shelf or hung something on the wall or purchased a chair and set it in place once, and never moved it again, ever. She set up her little house in the beginning, and that was that until she died 50 years later. I have it in my room now, and some days I know I should run in there every five minutes and look at it.

I always attributed the choice of this particular item to my grandfather Mac, because he would have believed in every word. He smiled a lot, and I never heard him complain about anything, ever, including dying of lung cancer. He was also fond of reciting Rudyard Kipling’s poem If, which he had copied out in his beautiful handwriting. I wish I had the handwritten copy today, but I have the words, and I know Mac lived by them, too:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

There was only one exception to Mac’s good nature, and that was any politician who did not agree with him. I know Mac was a yellow dog Democrat except for Ike, whom he supported, and I don’t know specifically which politician(s) he yelled about, but yell he did. That is how I happened to ask my grandmother what a son of a bitch was. She’d be making dinner, and I guess he'd be in his room listening to the evening news on the radio. Suddenly, he would appear in the kitchen door, arms waving and voice rising, carrying on about some politico or other. After a brief rant, he would disappear, only to reappear momentarily with furthermores.

I did not inherit many of Mac’s wonderful qualities, but I do share these political rants, becoming more vociferous the older I get. I thought I was through yelling when George W. departed, but these days I get terribly exercised over the fools who want my Barack to fix everything except the common cold, and then attack him for having having too ambitious an agenda. The other night, some Republican idiot mouthed off while She was watching TV at the kitchen table and I happened to pass by, catching the remark. I yelled back at the TV, but leaned right next to her ear to do so, and the poor woman shot about ten feet in the air. Oh, Mac. I miss you so.

1 comment:

  1. I've always liked the poem "If." I wish I could live up to it.

    I rant, rave, and rail, too (very likely about some of the same things you do). And my family sits patiently, listening---the way you'd wait out a summer thunderstorm.

    Great post, with wonderful detail.