Hey, out there,
I was flipping through some old journals of mine. It has caused me much grief that I’ve never been completely seduced by the craft of journal keeping. A laziness of soul takes over, and I abandon most of them over the course of a summer. But I sometimes find that I’ve forgotten something that I’ve been lucky to forget.
On January 11, 2000, an event occurred in the Beaufort Presbyterian Church that took me by surprise. Once a year, I accompany Mrs. Julia Randel to church, and she always gets the superb choir to sing “Blessed Assurance,” a hymn I fell in love with when her son, Derril, died at age 34. Tragically, Mrs. Randel has lost two sons, Derril and Randy. She is my mother figure in Beaufort, bequeathed to me when her 15-year-old son died in front of me on a baseball field – a transfiguring scene in my boyhood.
On December 15th, 2011, Christopher Hitchens died in Houston Texas from pneumonia, a complication of his battle with cancer. Sadly, this review written by Pat Conroy weeks ago, is being placed posthumously today in honor of Hitchens and his contribution to the world of letters.
Hey, out there,
Last night, I finished a splendid memoir written by the irascible and charming Christopher Hitchens. It is called Hitch 22, and the title reminded me of the time I found myself talking to a fascinating man at the deep end of a swimming pool in New Orleans. He turned out to be Joseph Heller. I always get a cheap literary thrill whenever I have these chance encounters on the road. I first started admiring Mr. Hitchens when he began writing his bristling, fire-eating essays in Vanity Fair. Over the years he began displaying that rarest of intellectual gifts – the ability and willingness to change his mind and do it in an orderly, well-reasoned way. He writes with a prose style that has teeth and venom and beauty. Hitchens is one of those uncommon writers who seems incapable of writing a boring sentence or thinking a banal thought.
There are surprises galore in this feast of a book, which is an intellectual treasure house and a reader’s delight. He is tender-hearted and clear-eyed in his portraits of his family and friends. I have always been attracted to male writers who can demonstrate their love and affection for women with ease yet not draw attention to themselves. In a chapter of admirable clarity, he finally reveals what goes on in those infamous British public schools that have tortured every male writer who ever wrote a novel or memoir about the English path to enlightenment. He clears up the mysteries of that charged, homoerotic environment and does it in a way that is explanatory and not a bit sensational or exploitative.
Mr. Hitchens writes about the importance of friendships as well as any writer I’ve ever read. In his chapter on his long friendship with Martin Amis, he creates a masterly portrait that made me want to be friends with both men and regret that I had once had that possibility in my life, but had failed to make the right move in that direction. Once, a lifetime away, I had been part of the creation of a movie development company, and the first book we bought for our first film was The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis. I had read the book in galleys and knew a hot shot when I saw one. Mr. Amis was a young gun fresh out of the box and he wrote with verve, precision and cunning. I could have met him, and Hitch 22 made me think not doing so was one of the great errors of my life. The choices I didn’t make are almost as ruinous as the ones I did.
Hey, out there,
My classmates in Romeo Company at The Citadel are beginning to stir and gather. As the country paused to remember the firing on Fort Sumter, it made me remember that I went to the college whose cadets fired the first shots in the Civil War and that two of my classmates in R company were named for southern Generals – Stonewall Jackson Watson and Wade Hampton Williford III.
I spoke at The Citadel library at an event honoring the publication of my friend John Warley’s new novel called Bethesda’s Child. John and I roomed together on The Citadel baseball team and have been lifelong friends ever since those faraway days. I wrote a thirteen-page introduction to his book, and it reminded me of our times on that wonderful team with road trips through the south which still remain legendary to me and John. He and I are going to be doing a talk together next year at the Savannah Book Festival. John and his wife, Barbara, are our neighbors now that Cassandra and I have moved into Beaufort. We have lunch on a weekly basis to reminisce about our time at The Citadel together.
After the talk at The Citadel, John and I went out to a restaurant bar on Queen Street with three of my classmates from Romeo Company. Unfortunately, John Warley was a slovenly uncouth member of Tango Company, the tallest company at the college, but also the dumbest and least military. My “R” Company guys griped all evening that I had loused up the experience by bringing along a “waste from Tango,” but John is silver-tongued and quick, and he more than held his own. The horror of all Citadel wives is to put up with their husbands telling Citadel stories with their classmates that they’ve heard a thousand times before. I admit, there is some repetition at play.
I’d never met Robbie Schear’s wife before, though I knew of her when they dated at The Citadel. Nancy Miller was selected “Miss Citadel” for our senior year and remains a stunning woman today. Stonewall Jackson Watson brought his delightful daughter, Meg, who has a lot better personality than her father ever did.
Hey, out there,
I’ve published two books since I first wrote a letter of introduction to my newly-hatched website. For me, this is a starting out-point caused mostly by the passage of time and the possibility of my sudden or protracted death. Now, I’m halfway through a new book I’m calling The Death of Santini in which I tell of my father’s miraculous turn-around after he retired from the Marine Corps. He loathed my depiction of him in The Great Santini, and he set out to prove me wrong by turning himself into something that was recognizably human. It’s the great surprise of my life that I ended up loving him so much. My brothers and sister, Kathy, are unloading their stories about Mom and Dad to me, and we all suffered in the house of Santini. My siblings do not all share my exalted affection for our mother, and I have not been shy about sharing their dissent. This causes me pain, but I’ve been writing about these two mismatched people for my whole life, so I need to get to some kind of conclusion about them, one that feels like the truth at last.
My sister, Carol Ann, remains a stranger to my life. I only see her at weddings and funerals – all of which she turns into personal nightmares for me– as you will one day read about. My sisters-in-law are so hysterical at the thought of reading about themselves and their poor, traumatized husbands that they have been treating me with far more kindness and respect than they could ever muster in the past. I tell them that they have nothing to worry about, but they know that I’ve lied before. (That’s a joke, girls.)