No , this is not another high school or college reunion memoir. The old friends of whom I write---approximately 575 of them---are books! A few other inanimate objects were part of the reunion and I prize them as well.
In 1992 there were a number of upheavals in my personal life and the details are neither here nor there for the purposes of this essay. Suffice it to say that I had to scale down an apartment in Philadelphia which was enormous to one that is probably referred to as a “studio.”
For many years I had served on the board of The Athenaeum in Philadelphia. This is a private library on the east side of Washington Square and I am still a stockholder in the grand old lady.
Several times each year I would clear my bookshelves of books and cart them on a dolly over to The Athenaeum as a donation to their book sale. The Executive Director of the library was and is Dr. Roger Moss and a great friend of mine. Whenever he spied me trundling across Washington Square from where I lived on the south side in the Hopkinson House with my dolly full of books Roger would exclaim “Ah, Mr. Lang is once more clearing his shelves of ephemeral fiction.” I had to do so as there would have not been enough bookshelves in my apartment to permit all of us to live there at once.
Fortunately for me, when I was scaling down big-time in ’92 a great friend came to my rescue where books were concerned. Jim Connelly, a master woodscraftsman who had built much of my furniture for me said he would store my “keeper books” at no cost out in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania. He had cool, dry storage space galore. In the final move, I packed up about 40 boxes of books and miscellaneous other things.
Any way one counts, 1992 is fifteen years ago. For those fifteen years, while I lived in Philadelphia, Washington, D. C., Alexandria, Virginia and finally returned to Galveston, my hard cover friends slumbered comfortably at the Connelly's in Bryn Athyn.
Back in Galveston, I first lived in a small garage apartment and then moved to the house I now occupy which is quite spacious and has plenty of bookshelves. Just about every third Scotch and water I poured would get me thinking about my friends and how I wished they were here in Galveston with me. I was always just about to pick up the phone and talk to Jim Connelly about sending all the boxes down to Galveston. Something---usually a speaking engagement or a part in a play---always intervened. There was a real false start after the terrible hurricane in New Orleans. My friends, the Teichmans, were doing lots of work in Philadelphia raising a sunken barge in the Delaware River. They volunteered to pick up all my friends in Bryn Athyn and bring them back to Galveston. Alas, fate stepped in once more sending the Teichmans down to New Orleans (where they are yet working) and my friends slumbered on in Pennsylvania.
I changed brands of Scotch this March and that must have done the trick. Suddenly, I could no longer bear to be parted from my friends and I made the necessary arrangements with Jim Connelly to get them shipped to Galveston posthaste.
As luck would have it, Jim was able to locate a large truck going from the Pennsylvania area to Utah and then California which would swing by his place in Bryn Athyn and pick up all the boxes. The truck driver would detour through Galveston on his way to Utah. It cost a nice little bit to get this done but, my, was it ever worth it! I had help to unload the truck when it arrived and put all the boxes and miscellaneous pieces in the garage. I knew I had to get things inside before summer set in with all its heat and humidity. Fifteen years of safe, dry, cool storage could well be undone in one Galveston summer.
I bought an industrial strength dolly with pneumatic wheels that will operate in horizontal or vertical position. That helped with unloading the truck and then getting the unboxed books from the garage to various parts of the house and onto shelves.
Ah, yes, for those with logical and orderly minds I must mention that I am once more “clearing my shelves of ephemeral fiction” and the Friends of Rosenberg Library here in Galveston are about to acquire around 600 relatively new works of fiction for their book sale. This “exchange” is what has made it possible to put all the old friends neatly on shelves here on Lasker Drive.
In the best of all possible worlds I would possess enough book shelves to hold every book I ever read in my life and I would also own every one of those books. It would be fun to count and see just how far along I have gotten at seventy years of age.
It was my Mother who started me on the road to being a prodigious if not discerning reader. Well, what the hell, Momma loved fiction and the worse some of it was from a literary standpoint, the happier she was about reading it. Not that she failed to read some better literature as well. The main thing for her was to keep reading.
It’s the unpacking that’s been the greatest fun of all. Just opening the boxes and seeing books that are autographed for me by writers I have been lucky enough to know through the years got the old blood coursing along quite nicely.
Along with all the printed friends with whom I have been getting reacquainted other treasures have surfaced.
There is a small, brilliantly colored carousel made in Vienna which I acquired in 1976 during our Bicentennial year. It was always brought out at Christmas time and sat on my coffee table. It has electric lights around the rim and the horses do go up and down just like the old Hobby Horses out on our Seawall Boulevard. A set of Texas auto license plates from 1936 appeared. That is a very auspicious year since I was born in ’36 and it was the Centennial year of Texas as well. I have placed these facts in their relative order of importance to the world. As the numerals on the plates are black on a khaki background, I had them mounted against black velvet with gold-leaf wooden frames and they are a handsome thing to hang around the house.
There were several small paintings and sketches that have brought back many happy memories as well. There is also a very colorful certificate certifying that in 1976 “Monsieur Victor J. Lang, Jr. a ‘ete’ reconnu digne de faire de la Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin.” Which, for ordinary mortals, means that I was taken into the great Burgundian wine society in Philadelphia in 1976. And, let me tell you, those folks did not drink Lone Star Lite.
Probably one of the most delightful things to turn up is a large, framed print of “The White Rock Lady.” I don’t know what else to call her. Some of you of my vintage will recall that White Rock Club Soda carried a picture of a nymph kneeling on a rock looking down at her reflection in a pond. She is properly clad and only one wing shows on her back. The wonderful thing about this is how I came to have it. My great friend, Nonie Thompson, was visiting me in Philadelphia in the Seventies. One day we were going in and out of antique shops down in Wilmington, Delaware, where we were sightseeing.
I had just added a “potting shed” to my apartment in Philadelphia where I grew all kinds of tropical plants under grow lights. I would place the plants around the apartment when they were in bloom and return them to the “shed” in between times. It was quite something to come into the living room of an apartment on the twenty-sixth floor of a building in Philadelphia during a snowstorm and see hibiscus plants blooming around the place.
During our Wilmington jaunt, Nonie saw the nymph and surreptitiously bought her for me. When she gave me the print she made the comment that she figured I was getting “potted” in the “potting shed” so I might as well have the White Rock Nymph for company. It’s a joy to see the old girl once more even though I no longer drink my Scotch with club soda. I have reverted to good, old Galveston water which will peel the bark off anything as well as mask the taste of inexpensive Scotch.
Another treasure is the other half of my dining room table and the extension leaf to go between the two halves. Jim Connelly built this for me in 1972. It is designed to seat eight people and is long and narrow. It had to be for the space I had in the Philadelphia apartment at the time it was built. Jim stored one half the table and the extension leaf all these years for me. Now I have it in my dining room here in Galveston and I think I may be inspired to hit the kitchen once more. I inherited my Mother’s sterling flatware---Francis I---and have some good china and crystal. Now if I can just remember how to cook things will be nifty. I really did learn how to do so in Philadelphia and even took cooking and baking lessons.
I cannot possibly ignore the reappearance of my golf clubs and handcart. In the 1940s when I was attending Lovenberg Junior High School, my Mother decided I should have golf lessons. Perhaps it was I who asked for the lessons. At any rate, Mother hauled me to the old Galveston Municipal Golf Course which was then located just on the west side of 61st Street quite near Seawall Boulevard. There was a “pro” there at the time and his name was Bunny Plummer. He was a tall man, somewhat taciturn but very kind. I had one lesson each week for some months. We began with the proper stance, grip of the club, etc. Mr. Plummer was very thorough. He thought I would do well since I was tall and thin and should be able to develop a good, strong swing. And I did. Then came the matter of clubs for me. A friend of my parents named Johnny Ransom had recently suffered a heart attack and could no longer play golf. For a very nominal sum Mother purchased Johnny’s clubs and bag and I was happy as a tick with them. Here they are again in Galveston in the 21st Century. A set of Spalding irons from One through Nine. A set of---get this---Walter Hagen matched woods from Two through Five with Mr. Hagen’s “autograph” imposed on the face of them accompany the Spalding irons.
There is also a brown cloth bag which still contains golf balls (that probably have lost their “bounce”) and the “wiffle” balls made of plastic with holes in them that I used for practice in the backyard at our house at 42nd and Avenue R. The important thing to me is that the brown cloth bag was made for me by my Mother in the Forties when I was taking lessons and was given the clubs. Shall I start playing again? I feel certain I could convince my friends Harry Forester, Jessie Dunn and Tommy Leatherwood to give me a handicap of at least 250. I think I could still hold my own in the clubhouse after eighteen holes playing Gin Rummy or perhaps Pitch. Alas, there is no Bunny Plummer around to give me a few refresher lessons. And I think my house on Lasker Drive just across 69th Street is very near what was the Fourteenth hole on the old Muni course. A real trap it was---one had to chip across water surrounding the green (and there was only the green in the middle of all that water). There was always the possibility of rolling off the green into the water on the opposite side if you chose an iron with more distance than loft capacity.
Next Wicket Please
Now that I have regained my dining room table, perhaps I will enter yet another phase of life and start feeding people at home instead of taking them out to dinner. If I do, I’ll let you know all about it and perhaps even pass along a recipe or two from some shindig.
If I start playing golf once again, I won’t have to tell you that I am doing so as no matter where you live on the Island you will "hear" the air turning blue as I miss a shot I should have made.
One thing about all these old friends of mine I’ve been mentioning is that we began right where we left off over fifteen years ago with nary a gap in the friendship. It’s just the same with people, isn’t it, when they’re real friends.
Until the next round, keep well and be happy. If you encounter any old friends of yours, send me an email at Guidry News and tell me about the reunion.
Victor and Jim Guidry sat at his dining room table to reminise about the guests who had been there in the past. Listen