A to Z April Challenge

During the month of April I will be doing a different spin on my memoir posts. It starts with a song. Each song will be followed by a brief essay that is evoked or inspired by that song. You might want to click on the YouTube link to hear the song as you read the piece I've written. Or you can listen to the song lyrics first and then read. Whichever way you choose, I mostly hope you'll read and leave a comment with your thoughts about my post. Thank you for visiting and please follow the blog if you are not doing so already.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Mr. Davis and Tom: a Vignette by Bish Denham

          I've been following Bish Denham's blog Random Thoughts for quite some time.  She writes about a number of topics including memoir. Recently Bish Denham offered up a delightful memoir piece called "Miss Agnes" on her blog and I thought Bish would be a good guest to have here on Wrote By Rote.  In this guest spot Bish presents one her favorite vignettes from her own blog.

Mr Davis and Tom

Charlotte and Gus Stark
       In the Virgin Islands there were many characters. One of them was Mr. Davis.  He lived building no more than 10 X 15 feet with a door at one end and two windows on at least one wall. I never went inside.

       The shed was on the property of Charlotte and Gus Stark who were close family friends and it was Charlotte who took care of Mr. Davis.

       He had once been an artist, who lived at Trunk Bay, caretaking the place when my grandparents were not in residence. Grammy took his art work, which was quite good, to Puerto Rico and sold it for him in gift shops and art galleries. He mostly did etchings on tiles, scenes of buildings and ruins.

        Mom said he was cantankerous even back in the 1930’s. By the time he was living in the shed he had become a reclusive hermit who snarled at people. What he did in that shed all day is anyone’s guess. He didn’t do art. Perhaps he read. Perhaps he sat in a chair and mumbled to himself about how badly life had treated him. Perhaps he slept.

       Whatever he did, one thing is certain, for me at eight or nine years old, Mr. Davis was a scary and mysterious person.

       Charlotte fed him every day. If I was visiting it was understood I was not to show my face. Even Gus kept to other parts of the house. I know she fed him three times a day, but it’s the late-afternoon/evening meals I remember best.

        Off the kitchen there was a long covered porch or veranda. It was about six or seven feet wide and ran the length of the house. By the kitchen door was a small round table and a single chair. Charlotte would set the table and have a plate of food in place. Then, in her thin high voice, she’d call him.

       “Yoo-hoo! Wilber! Dinner!” She was the only one who called him by his first name.

         A minute or so later Mr. Davis would appear out of the depths of his self-imposed exile. He was a large, imposing figure and always wore the same thing, no matter the time of year or the weather: dark trousers, dark long-sleeved shirt and often an ancient knee-length over-coat that was probably made of wool. Sometimes he wore a battered fedora. He’d walk the 30 or so feet to the back porch, eat, get up and return to his dark den.

        Charlotte was the only one who spoke to him. Did he want more? Would he like a glass of water? A cup of coffee perhaps? He would reply with a simple gruff, yes or no.

       When Charlotte called Mr. Davis for dinner, she also called a wild tomcat. She had several house cats, but she fed the wild cat separately.

       She’d put out a dish of food in the same place every evening and in her high thin voice she’d call, “Yoo-hoo! Tom. Yoo-hoo! Dinner, Tom!”

       Out of the tangle of catch’n’keep and wild tamarind that grew behind the house would come slinking a great huge battle-scarred orange tomcat. Part of one ear was nearly chewed off. He fur was scraggly and lumpy with cuts and scabs and scars. He’d come slinking in, wary of anything different or any movement that was not part of his frame of reference.

       He’d come slinking in, eat his bowl of food, then slink back into the bush.

      Mr. Davis and Tom ate their meals together in hostile, untrusting silence.

       Mr. Davis ate without looking around; as if angry he might see something which would necessitate an acknowledgement.  Tom crouched in tense expectation that he might have to bolt at any moment. After each gulp of food his head swiveled from side to side, taking in his surroundings, making sure nothing had changed.

       They were the same kind of creature, Mr. Davis and Tom. They were wild, Mr. Davis having chosen it and Tom because he’d been born to it. Yet between them they had Charlotte, whose sweet face, quiet voice and non-judgmental manner, brought the two together each evening.

       Perhaps her ministrations momentarily soothed the savage beasts within them. Though the moments were not enough to civilize the misanthropic old man or tame the wild old tomcat, they were enough to keep them coming back and to develop a routine.

       Daily they came to the borderland of civilization, a neutral zone on the back porch. They could have come inside the house any time and been welcomed, but the porch was as close to the smell of humanity either of them cared to get.

      As a little girl I caught glimpses of the old wild man and the old wild cat as they made their journeys to the edge of that reality where they could not live. Frightening as they were I dared to take peeks at them, hoping they would see me as harmless and thus allow me to befriend them. I was equally terrified that if they saw me they would run away and never come back.

      I walked a thin brittle line. Common sense, instinct or some part of my unconscious knew not to intrude and kept me from causing a break in the fragile connection Charlotte had with them.

      In that time with Charlotte, perhaps a memory was made which lingered like a salve, easing some of the pain. Perhaps it was the lingering trace of that memory which kept them coming back. Her calm, quiet, unhurried, patient demeanor taught me that even the most damaged or wild of creatures can be coaxed out of the darkness and into the light, even if only for a moment.

        Have there been any special characters in your life?  Do you ever use unique characters to inspire your writing?   What do you think might cause someone like Mr. Davis to go into seclusion?





Enhanced by Zemanta

14 comments:

shelly said...

My dad gave me my grandmother's journal. It's full of interesting people and stories. And they're all related to me.

Sally said...

Wow, I wonder what 'label' would be put on him these days. What a great lady to feed him and not judge him.

Bish Denham said...

Shelly, you're so lucky to have your grandmother's journal! Isn't it wonderful to learn about all the characters in your family?

Sally, I think Mr. Davis would simply be called a cantankerous recluse. Apparently he had always been difficult, even his son didn't like him!

welcome to my world of poetry said...

How wonderful to have your grandmother's journal. I have nothing belonging to mine.
Enjoyed the read.

Yvonne.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Lee and Bish .. I suspect you learnt more from Charlotte and she's still your role model in many ways.

I can't say anyone stood out for me - but I wish I'd known my grandparents a great deal better -

Why Mr Davis became a recluse .. just drifted that way - felt no sense of worth ... yet had an amazing ability to paint and express himself that way .. sad.

So interesting Bish - thanks for sharing with us ... cheers Hilary

Bish Denham said...

Thanks for stopping by Yvonne.

Hilary, I consider Charlotte my first best friend. I learned a great deal from her and carry her close in my heart.

Christina Farley said...

I just love this. What a treasure your grandmother's journal is.

Bish Denham said...

Thanks for stopping by Christina!

Judy Harper said...

I don't know about just one, but I do have a few Aunts and Uncles, even a school teacher and an old lady that had a cupboard full of Heinz Dill pickles! I enjoyed the post, it transported me there! Very good!

Susan Kane said...

This was an awesome read. I was with you, seeing Charlotte, etc.

My 'stomping grounds' were filled with characters from which I can draw.

Dee said...

Dear Bish, wonderful storytelling. You captured me at the beginning simply with your first words about Mr. Davis. You have a real sense of scene and character. Thank you for sharing this story of your childhood.

As to people I've known and remember well, I'd have to say my two grandmothers, both of whom were acerbic in their own ways. Peace.

Melissa said...

That's love.
I enjoyed reading this very much. :)

Bish Denham said...

Judy, anybody with a cupboard full of pickles must be a little... tart! :)

Thanks Susan!

Dee, I'm glad you liked it, despite the mistake in the opening lines! (GAK.)

Melissa, Yes, Charlotte had a lot of love in her.


Arlee Bird said...

Thank you, Bish, for sharing your story with us.

And thanks to everyone who took the time to visit and to leave a comment.

Lee