The Dining Room at Springdale

Article excerpt

The Springdale Country Inn is two driveways

down from mine, so I go by it often enough

that I need not think, each time I pass,

of all I saw there, or heard about. Through childhood

I was a regular guest in the dining room,

at the dark table with the umbrella-belied

Tiffany lamp looming just above it,

the dumb waiter in the corner, a danger

and a mystery, the. dark-finished sideboard opposite

double doors through which, from the hall, I could see

Granddaddy sitting at the head of the table,

his eyes often closed, and when open, not steady,

for it had been many years since he had seen

the last thing he saw, whatever that was.

He said once that in the course of his last operation,

during which, for some good reason, he was conscious,

he became aware of a bad moment-a sound, maybe,

of breath sharply indrawn toward the shape of a swear-word,

or only a sag in the room's energy-when

everyone there came to know he would not see again.

Still, he kept at most of what he had mastered.

You can read for yourself in a life of Sam Rayburn

how before he was Speaker he persuaded Roosevelt

to appoint Dr. Splawn to the Interstate Commerce Commission.

He knew his freight lines, by God. I used to read to him,

long incomprehensible pages of economics,

or a draft of his own history of the University of Texas,

of which he had briefly been president.

He would pay me a little something per hour,

for I had come early to the ability to enunciate

what I did not understand. It is a stall that still helps me get by.

In that somewhat under-illuminated room we gathered

several times a year for Sunday dinner, or an annual holiday,

when cooking and serving became the responsibility

of Joe Trammel, a black man with a deficient leg.

He had had polio. He got along by making sure

the bad leg's knee locked straight before he touched down.

He swung it forward from the hip, and his lower leg,

striking the end of its are from the knee, gave

a small extra hitch to his uneven but durable stride.

I do not remember not knowing him.

One afternoon in the garden, when I was about three,

I squatted down in the path of his hoeing,

and the blade made its eager way toward me,

lifting the soil and slicing off weeds,

and I screamed, and he laughed.

Years later, as a crew of us ate lunch

and told stories, he said that ghosts won't hurt you,

but they sure-God make you hurt yourself.

When he worked the dinners at Springdale

there would come, sometimes, moments I can almost re-enter

of suspenseful silence so heavy I knew how it would feel

to crawl out from under it. …