ENTRY 1220 | January
of the features of the novels of Fyodor
Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) that I like is the visits they describe.
I'm now reading A
Raw Youth (1875), a 615-page story describing Russian life in
the Victorian age. Now more than halfway through the slow-moving psychological
drama, most of the scenes have taken place in rooms in apartments
in St. Petersburg, as the main characters visit back and forth with
each other. It often seems that they have nothing else to do but visit
back and forth, talk, and drink tea from samovars. No character seems
to have a job, though the novel appears to be a fictitious retelling
of Dostoyevsky's own youth from a period when he was an editor and
writer for a literary magazine. The money occasionally mentioned all
seems to come from inheritances, from loans and winnings at the gambling
tables, and even from winning lawsuits.
the 19-year-old youth of the story has lots of ideas he describes
to readers, but never mentions that he is employed either literally
or mataphorically as a writer of his ideas or anything else. The owner
of the magazine he worked for in real life was a prince who Dostoyevsky
is described in the introduction to this edition by Alfred Kazin as
disliking, and one of the main secondary characters in this novel
is also a prince who provides the central character money, but in
the form of loans, not as salary. And so far there's no indication
that I've noticed that the Raw Youth especially likes or dislikes
the prince. But my main interest now is the visiting, so I'll try
to avoid reviewing the novel more generally.
here and in the other Dostoyevsky novels I've read, visits seem to
be a major pastime in Victornian-era Russia, and they always make
me nostalgic for the visits I remember from my own youth. My mother
often spoke fondly of visits, but the only occasional visits we made
as a family were to Mother's brother and his family, my favorite relatives
not resident on Red Mill Road. Though we went to see Uncle Les and
Aunt Tommy at least once a month, they seemed to get over (the thirty
miles or so from Fallentimber) to see us only twice a year or so.
And we visited Mom's older sister in Bellwood, Dad's father and sister
and family in Blandburg, and Dad's brother and family in Altoona only
once a year it seemed.
we went to our Fallentimber relatives it was always for a whole day,
and since we had no way of letting them know we were coming (neither
household had a telephone before I was 13 or so) Mom always took a
box of food items we could contribute to round out whatever Aunt Tommy
planned to cook that day. I don't remember staying that long with
most of the other relatives and didn't take food along, but my impression
is that the Bellwood aunt, Mom's sister Ethel, usually talked us in
to staying for supper, which she provided. But Aunt Ethel was considerably
better off (her husband was already retired from working for the railroad
from the time I first remember their family) than we Kennedys or Aunt
Tommy's family were.
course as a kid I was back and forth between our place and the neighbors
constantly. But those don't qualify as "visits"; the neighbor
kids and I were always in pursuit of the serious vocation of play,
not conversation. But when I moved on around the beginning of my sophomore
year of high school to having most of my friendships in Nanty Glo,
visiting became more personal and one of the things I most enjoyed.
From the launching of the teen column in the fall after I turned 15,
I regularly visited the Journal office and my editor Andy Rogalski,
who soon became my mentor, though these conversations revolved around
my work rather than getting better acquainted.
described elsewhere one of those visits to the office that was followed
by an exploration of Mitchells' restaurant, a teen hangout atop the
hill on Lloyd Street, where I first met Bill Martin. After visiting
in his booth at Mitchells and drinking our pop, Bill invited me across
the street to the Martins' house, where I next met his mother, Kitty.
This was the first "home visit" I had as an individual on
my own, marked by lively conversation and other pursuits like listening
to Bill's extensive collection of record albums, drinking tea brewed
in the cup, and eating cold cuts on white bread with mustard. That
was followed by countless other visits like it, though I don't think
Bill ever visited me on Red Mill Road (he had no car at the time,
and though I didn't either, I hitchhiked into town regularly but can't
imagine Bill hitchhiking). And also, my parents were less hospitable
than Bill's...they would have welcomed him, but I was not so sure
they would have not discouraged me from issuing such invitations after
a visitor left.
next met John Golias in the lobby of the Capitol Theater, where he
was attending to see if his mother's ticket would be drawn in one
of the two drawings per week the theater offered at the time to keep
people interested, and I was working as a dollar-a-night usher. I
don't remember how long it was after that that I first visited the
Golias household, but the first time I parked my '39 Ford on Poplar
Street in front of it, he insisted I come in while he took care of
whatever had to be finished before we could go on to more important
things like cruising downtown or driving to Johnstown to see my Mom
who was recuperating from an operation in Memorial Hospital. Though
the invitation was always to come in just for a few minutes while
John got ready, it almost always included some refreshments. His mother
was often at work at the State School in Ebensburg, but whether she
was home or not it was always the same. I got to know her as well
as John's sister and father on regular visits there.
still visit John and his wife in Johnstown on my infrequent trips
"back home," and more often by phone. They're among the
few visits of that kind still left; no one seems to have time to visit
any more and hospitality seems a forgotten gift. I miss them.
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