BY R.L. SCHREADLEY
“All one had to do was look at a graveyard to realize that the great climax of life was always a disappearing act.”
— Sloan Wilson, “All the Best People”
The Metropolitan Opera’s newest production of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle, broadcast recently over four evenings on PBS, took me back a long, long way. Let me explain.
When I was six or seven my family moved from the city to a farm that had no electricity. Consequently, we had no radio or other electronic diversion of the sort that now consumes much of a child’s free time. I learned to read at a relatively young age.
The year was 1938, and our world was mired in the Great Depression, always spoken of in my family as “that bastard FDR’s fault.” Actually, it wasn’t only FDR’s fault. Herbert Hoover and his Republicans contributed to it, just as George W. Bush and his Republicans contributed to the hard times we are going through now. If FDR and Obama share blame, it’s for prolonging the misery. There’s more than enough blame to go around for Washington’s malfeasance in the formulation and conduct of fiscal and monetary policy.
My father was a reader of just about anything he could put his hands on — Zane Grey westerns, Edgar Rice Burroughs science fiction, Harold Lamb popular histories. His library even included Balzac’s collected works, in a gilt-edged, 25-volume set (with volume one missing). I came by my love of reading honestly.
My grandfather then owned a small warehouse leased by a distributer of periodicals — news and girly magazines (yes, they had them then), comic books, etc. My father had free access to returned issues after the covers were torn off (to prevent resale). He brought home a wealth of reading material, some suitable for young readers and some not. I devoured it all. One of my favorite magazines was “Amazing Stories,” and I think it was there that I read a series based on Norse mythology. “Hail to the Aesir! Hail to the great race that is gone forever.”
The Aesir were gods and goddesses who resided in Valhalla, and they were gone forever after a great battle between the forces of good and evil. The battle was called “Twilight of the Gods,” in Wagner’s German, Gotterdammerund. It is the title given to the fourth and last opera in the Ring Cycle.
To be honest, I am not particularly fond of Wagnerian opera. It lacks the haunting melody of Puccini, the playful tempo of Verdi. But Gotterdammerund on PBS caught me in a reflective mood (brought on, perhaps, by the November 6th election).
I am at an age when many friends, family and acquaintances are, like the Aesir, gone forever. I cannot help but wonder when it will be my turn to write a journalistic “30” to my life story. Nothing lasts forever. When will the fat lady sing for me?
I think about this sometimes on the golf course, particularly after I’ve missed another three-foot putt. An absent playing partner of many years, a missing member of the regular Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday blitzes — where are they now? What’s become of them? And then I remember. They have hit their last dead solid perfect drive, rifled their last five iron and tapped in their final birdie. Some, in old age, have simply given up the game. Others have answered the fat lady’s siren song. All are sorely missed. Gotterdammerund.
Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new.
R. L. Schreadley is a former Post and Courier executive editor.