God, it was a seductive thing to a deracinated, assimilated, uncertain, wandering young Jew whose own parents had not been married for years and no longer lived anywhere near the house in Maryland where, for want of a truer candidate, he had more or less grown up. They were in many ways classic WASPs, to be sure, golfing, khaki-wearing, gin-drinking WASPs. The appeal of such people and their kind of world to a young man such as I was has been well-documented in film and literature; perhaps enough to seem by now a bit outdated. But it wasn't, finally, a matter of class or style, though they had both. I fell in love with their rootedness, with the visible and palpable continuity of their history as a family in Seattle, with their ability to bring a box of photographs taken thirty summers earlier and show me the room I was sitting in before it was painted white, the madrone trees that screened the porch before two fell over, the woman I was going to marry digging for geoduck clams on the beach where she had just lain sunbathing.
Of course, they were more than a kind of attractive gift wrap for their photographs, houses, and the historical contents of their drawers. They were ordinary, problematical people, my in-laws, forty years into a complicated marriage, and over the course of my own brief marriage to their daughter, I came to love and appreciate them both as individuals, on their merits and, as my marriage began so quickly to sour, for the endurance of their partnership. They had that blind, towering doggedness of the World War II generation. I suppose it's possible that with two daughters, they'd always wanted a son, my father-in-law especially; I do know for certain that I have never been one to refuse the opportunity to add another father to my collection.
He offered himself completely, without reservation, though in his own particular, not to say limited, way (it is this inherent limited quality of fathers and their love that motivates collectors like me to try to amass a complete set). He took me down to Nordstrom, the original store in downtown Seattle, and introduced me to the man who sold him his suits. I bought myself a few good square-cut, sober-colored numbers in a style that would not have drawn a second glance on Yesler Way in 1954. He introduced me to the woman from whom he bought jewelry for his wife, to the man who took care of his car, to all of the golf buddies and cronies whose sons he had been admiring from afar for the last thirty years. He was a bit barrel chested anyway, but whenever we went anywhere together and, as was all but inevitable, ran into someone he knew, his breast, introducing me, seemed to grow an inch broader, the hand on my shoulder would administer a little fight-trainer massage, and I would feel him as first the wedding and, later, the putative grandchildren drew nearer placing, for that moment, all his hopes in me. He took me to football games, basketball games, baseball games. He let me drive his Cadillac; naturally, he never drove anything else. Most of all, however most important to both of us he let me hang out in his den.
As the child of divorced parents, myself divorced, and a writer trained by five hundred years of European and American literary history always to search out the worm in the bud, I have, of necessity, become a close observer of other people's marriages. I have noticed that in nearly all the longest-lived ones, if there is space enough in the house, each partner will have a room to flee to. If, however, there is only one room to spare, it will always be the husband's. My in-laws had plenty of room, but while she had her office just off the bedroom (where I would sometimes see her sitting at a Chinese desk, writing a letter or searching for an article clipped from Town & Country about flavoring ice creams with edible flowers), my mother-in-law's appeared to serve a largely ceremonial function.
From Manhood For Amateurs by Michael Chabon. Copyright 2009 by Michael Chabon. Published by Harper. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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