The Death of Zane Grey


 

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Whenever my father writes me a letter, it’s a real occasion.  He says he can hardly make himself sit down to do it.  Yes, he's literate.  He has no trouble reading.  In fact, when he was a boy, he used to read constantly.  Zane Grey, a writer of popular western fiction in the early 20th century, was his favorite novelist.  You can hear the admiration in his voice whenever he speaks of Zane Grey.  And he still reads regularly, although the daily paper and an occasional Reader's Digest are about as far as he goes.  He doesn't read many books or "serious" magazines.

And although he can read and write, he doesn't do either very often, especially the latter.  He doesn't even write letters to his kids.  He says he gets frustrated, short of breath, and generally upset whenever he tries.  Yet his letters are always full of his voice--the good humor, the deep kindness, the loving concern.  The John McTague who comes through the written page sounds the same as the man who has talked effortlessly with me all these years, guiding me throughout my life.  I'm baffled.

He says his writing sounds "dumb" to him, that he fights and struggles over every sentence.  The words don't come, and when they do, they don't seem to be the right ones.  That's strange.  They've always sounded right to me.  He has told me, though I don't think as an explanation or excuse, that when he was in the fourth grade, in 1932, he wrote what he thought was a nice little essay.  He put his heart into it.  It was a part of him, and he was proud of it..  For some reason (he may have told me, but I've forgotten), the teacher called him to the front of the class and told him to bring his paper.  After looking at it, she tore it up into little pieces right there in front of him, little pieces in front of the whole class, his friends and classmates.  That was the last year he was an "A" student.

He has told me this story countless times over the years.  I remember the pain on his face the first time he told me.  It was subdued, controlled, but it was there.  He must have been in his late forties then.  He's 70 now, and I'm sure he has mentioned it within the last several years.  What happened to my dad?  What happened to the fourth-grade boy who loved to read Zane Grey stories and write?

 

Copyright © Mark McTague 1993