“Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” At least that’s what they say. They also say, “Out of sight is out of mind.”
Which one is true? In a crisis choose wisely, I suppose. I figure a little absence can indeed serve as a reminder but too prolonged and it’s all forgotten.
All this pondering took me back to my schooldays with the saying, “Enough is as good as a feast.”
In my younger days, I lived on a curving terrace of red brick which backed on to the High Street of the town. Many of the neighbors relied on me to run errands for them. For Mrs. Davies, half a pound of butter, for Mrs. Price, a cotton reel from a market stall, for Mrs. Lewis, a pint of milk, and from each of them a few coins or a breezy ‘Keep the change‘. I used to save the money and go to the local newsagent to buy books. Not that there were many to choose from. At the front, newspapers and confectionary, but behind a beaded curtain were a few old and dusty books sitting on a few rough shelves. It was there that I found the Kay Tracey mystery, The Six Fingered Glove which I stayed up reading by the light of the streetlamp.
One day I found a pocket-sized leather edition of The Essays of Elia in its own cardboard case sitting on that dusty shelf. I imagined carrying it in my little blazer pocket. I decided that I had to have the mini volume and so I hid it at the back of the bookcase until I could afford to buy it. Not that I needed to bother, for no one else would have been likely to yearn for it—another flower withering away unseen.
I worked harder than ever on those odd jobs, even cleaning windows until I had the princely sum of a guinea. I gleefully handed it over to Mr. Leach, the newsagent, and took my treasure home where I read all the essays where Lamb sets out to disprove well-known sayings. Later, I carried it like a little blue Bible to school.
Imagine my delight when my English teacher announced that every pupil was going to give a talk recommending a book. I was ecstatic at the prospect of speaking about my new purchase. Several weeks passed as I listened patiently to talks about Agatha Christie, Louisa Alcott and even Enid Blyton. Eventually it was my turn and I chose to read from Lamb’s essay, Enough is Good as a Feast, throwing in a potted history of his sister’s madness, matricide and his unrequited loves. I looked at my class-mates’ seeming indifference and wondered if I should have chosen one about not throwing pearls to swine but I continued with as much gusto as I could muster. I paused only to accept questions.
Some were seeking facts, others opinion, but then Samantha overcame her extreme boredom and asked, “Why has he called it that when he should have called it, ‘Enough is Not as Good as a Feast’?”
I probably rolled my eyes before saying, “If you had been listening you would have known that he is setting it up to be disproved.” My reply was followed by an audible in-take of breath from the class. My English teacher looked up from the notes she was making, “Don’t patronize your audience.” she said with an expression I failed to read.
When the grades came out, I only got a B and the girl who chose Arabian Nights got an A+. It did not seem fair. Not one to sit on the laurels but more inclined to wear them, I accosted my teacher about my grade and why the Essays of Elia had not charmed the savage beasts of my class. She raised one eyebrow, looked at me quizzically and explained that a speaker doesn’t ‘bite the hands that feeds’, even if those hands don’t appreciate a feast. Well words to that effect.
I blamed Samantha for my low grade for a long time until my best friend Janice told me roundly not to fret about spilt milk and to fight another day. This cheered me up and next time I got my A+ by being extremely polite. As manners, it seems, cost nothing. Yet, that isn’t quite true as sometimes they cost gritted teeth. By that time Samantha had moved to another school, I had almost forgotten her. Samantha’s absence did not affect my heart and frankly like the essays themselves, she was out of my mind. Until that is, I started going through a box of books one day and came upon a little blue volume still in its cardboard case. I opened it and read the said essay. It made me smile for I still beheld its beauty and it was a joy even if I didn’t get an A grade.
“You can’t always get what you want, but you get what you need to move on.”
The Rolling Stones said that, so it must be right.
Written by Jude Brigley, United Kingdom