Thursday, May 28, 2009

THE LEGEND OF GRANDPA HERB


9:14 p.m., while my wife and daughters sit rapt in front of the televised National Spelling Bee finals...


I never met my best friend’s grandfather, a fact that I will, I believe, on some level always regret. Herbert Lundy was, among many other things in his long life, a well-respected member of the board of editors of the Portland Oregonian newspaper. Lundy was an Oregon Republican during his tenure at the paper as a reporter and editor, which began in the ‘40s and ran well into the ‘70s, and the paper itself was staunchly Republican in its political endorsement choices. This was, of course, a time when the Republican Party and its candidates held positions somewhat different than the bombed-out post-Bush Republicans might be presumed to hold today. Lundy, a compassionate conservative and passionate conservationist, was an Oregon G.O.P. member whose contemporaries included Wayne Morse, Tom McCall and Mark Hatfield, and was also, according to his grandson Bruce, a gruff, loving, headstrong and literate man who suffered fools with little patience.

Every time I hear a story about him, either from Internet archives or straight from Bruce, I know I would have been no exception to his insistence on the standards to which he held every person he met, but I feel sure he would have been a man (if the Lundy men I’ve known, his son and grandsons, are any indication) for whom I would have had held enormous respect and fondness. His personality, irascible and sometimes intemperate, but fair and forever wise and not without a strain of (ribald?) humor, would have been one I would have gladly basked in, the kind of person from whom respect must be won, but once won is borne like a precious honor.

I love hearing Bruce tell stories about his grandfather’s adventures in journalism, and how Grandpa Herb would recommend to his grandson all manner of literature which the young Lundy made sure to follow up on (even if sometimes it took him years). And I always fantasized about what it would have been like to have grandparents who loved words and language as much as they did the outdoors, and what it would have been like to have that mutual love passed on to me. I suspect it was Grandpa Herb that Bruce found it necessary to frequently channel whenever he would read short reviews or other pieces I wrote during our college years. He was forever forced to instruct me (and instruct me again) on the finer points of grammar, like which situation was appropriate for “its” as opposed to “it’s” and other niggling details of proper English which I was forever neglecting, and which of course meant everything in terms of learning to write what it was I wanted to say. And I know Bruce’s vigilance with English at least had its start with Grandpa Herb’s standing in the community as a proponent of journalistic literacy and style.

No, I never met Bruce’s grandpa Herb, but nonetheless I feel his spirit constantly when I write, and his image literally hovers over me as I work every day, making sure I keep my grammarian head above water. The elder Lundy would often take hunting and fishing trips with his son and grandsons, and Bruce recently gave me a picture from one of those trips which has come to represent so much to me, in a meaningful and a humorous way, about the stumbling blocks one can encounter in editing the English language for a living and as a somewhat sacred hobby. The Lundy gents were out in the Eastern Oregon desert and came across the property line of a local rancher whose property they would have to cross in order to reach their fishing spot. But no sooner than they spotted the rancher’s handmade warning sign, Herb Lundy was insisting that his son Mike shoot a photo of the sign, while Herb looked on and gruffly pointed out the blunders of spelling and grammar that made the sign almost unreadable, except perhaps to hunters as apparently borderline-illiterate as was its author. The sign read:

“NO TRASSING
HUNTING BY PERMISSON
ONLY. VIOLATORS WILL
BE PROECATED!”

The old man's (mock?) expression of stern disapproval is deeply hilarious to me, and yet seems to reflect an absolute about the man’s appeal as a journalist, a politician, a defender of language, and a doting grandfather who only wanted to be sure that his grandchildren grew up with a greater understanding and respect for the language than that exhibited on this hastily painted sign. I keep this picture above my desk as I edit dialogue and sound effects for my day job, and I think of it frequently as I write for this blog. It keeps me on an even keel somehow, it helps me keep my “its” and “it’s”-es in their proper columns, and it reminds me of everything I missed in not ever meeting my best friend’s grandpa Herb.

*******************************************************

8 comments:

blaaagh said...

The idea of Herb giving you a bit of posthumous guidance and inspiration gives me inexpressible pleasure. The discovery that his influence and his memory are still powerful for you--as they are for me--is very satisfying. His love of the land and its creatures, his commitment to getting the words right, his conscience and his wit--among other qualities I can't adequately express--continue to inspire and guide me through my life.

He was no more perfect in his choices than you or I, but he certainly tried to get it right.

Thanks, my friend--I am surprised and touched by this essay about my grandpa. I miss him, but happily I have the feeling--perhaps delusional--that he's close by all the time. I'm sure he has a Labrador sitting obediently at his heel--and I'm equally sure he would have been quickly engaged in conversation with you. Too bad you both missed the chance!

Bruce

blaaagh said...

...oh, and I realize, reading what I'd written last night, that Herb probably would tell me I overuse those double-dashes. It's either that or semicolons with me: I'm addicted to both.

Scott said...

Er, you misspelled "PROECATED."

He who fights monsters etc etc.

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