Some people spend Saturday night with TV series on Netflix, I spend them with Wendell Berry novels about a community called Port William. I recently finished Andy Catlett – Early Travels, and now I am reading The Memory of Old Jack. There are some really beautiful portions in this book on the relationships between men, and on the great place and gift of role models. A tear or two might have escaped from under my sun glasses when I read this part on the bus the other morning:
Mat is sixty-nine years old. Since before he remembers, Jack has been there to be depended on. When Mat was born, Jack was already such a man as few men ever become. He has been faithful all those years. It is a faith that Mat has reciprocated in full. But Jack’s faith has been the precedent and model. All his life Mat has had Jack before him, as standard and example, teacher and taskmaster and companion, friend and comforter. When Jack is gone, then Mat will be the oldest of that fellowship of friends and kin of which Old Jack has been for so long the center. He feels the impending exposure of that – nobody standing then between him and the grave. He feels a heavy portent in the imminent breaking of that strand of memory, reaching back into the Civil War, on the end of which Old Jack now keeps so tenuous a hold.To have someone thus before you, in faithful dependability, would be an invaluable gift (which also holds up what is possible when people actually stay in one place long enough for such relationships to form). And when tragedy came to Mat, Jack literally caught and wrestled with and held him till his rage subsided, and so prevented him destroying his own life by carrying out a terrible revenge.
Then there’s this part, about Ben, who was Mat’s father, and of whom it is written “... Ben was the man Jack watched and listened to and checked his judgment against”:
Jack knew Ben Feltner nearly forty years, and he never saw him in a hurry and he never saw him angry. With Ben that never seemed the result merely of self-control, but rather of an abiding peace that he had made – or maybe a peace that had been born in him – with himself and the world, a willingness to live within the limits of his own fate. Both of them having grown up in his gentle shadow, Jack and Mat respected and stood in awe of the deep peaceableness they knew in Ben, both of them having failed of it, and at great cost, for so long.That might sound somewhat idyllic, but it was not all tea on the verandah. The rest of this novel that I have read so far goes on to describe the great sadness of Jack’s life in his marriage, which is so sad I am finding it hard to read. But I will press on ...