His words will have to see us through

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - PERSPECTIVE - KATH­LEEN PARKER ▶ kath­leen­park­er­wash­post.com

Beau­fort, S.C. As the famed au­thor Pat Con­roy be­gan his jour­ney from this earth two years ago, he might have dreamed of week­ends like this.

To see one of his dy­ing wishes re­al­ized — to con­tinue his life’s work nur­tur­ing and men­tor­ing read­ers and writ­ers — he might have also found him­self at a loss for words.

This would have been a rar­ity for a man who found so many words tum­bling around in his head that he had to put them down on paper — lit­er­ally and in long­hand — to tell his sto­ries. The re­sult was a li­brary of best-sell­ers, some of which be­came block­buster movies, in­clud­ing “The Wa­ter is Wide” (“Con­rack” in its film adap­ta­tion), “The Great San­tini” and “The Prince of Tides.”

The long week­end of Nov. 1-4 marked the third annual Pat Con­roy Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val here, fea­tur­ing book talks, Lowcountry tours, writ­ing work­shops, and strolls and car­riage rides through­out Con­roy’s beloved home­town, where he landed at age 15 when his fa­ther, a Marine pi­lot (fa­mously por­trayed by Robert Du­vall in “The Great San­tini,”) was sta­tioned here.

Con­roy fell in love with the marshes and wa­ter­ways of this moss-draped, an­te­bel­lum town and missed noth­ing of its wild grandeur. The com­bi­na­tion of a tor­tured child­hood, a bru­tal fa­ther, a mother whose “eyes were our keys to the palace of wild­ness,” his beloved high school English teacher, Gene Nor­ris, as well as a wide cast of other char­ac­ters and crea­tures in­spired a body of work that in­tro­duced mil­lions to a place that will al­ways be­long to the man who de­fined it.

“My wound is ge­og­ra­phy,” Con­roy be­gan the pro­logue to “The Prince of Tides.” “It is also my an­chor­age, my port of call.”

When I first read those words many years ago, my breath stopped. I knew I was about to en­ter a world I loved as much as Con­roy. With that book in par­tic­u­lar, he en­graved a bless­ing upon the souls of ev­ery Lowcountry boy and girl (like me) who grew up see­ing, smelling and tast­ing the same en­chanted, haunted land­scape. He saw what we saw but could de­scribe it in ways we could only dream. We may have been chil­dren of the pluff mud — that dark taupe-y sludge that nour­ishes the tall grasses and bur­bles to the mys­tery of un­der­cur­rents. But Con­roy wrapped words around our senses so that we knew, fi­nally, why we would al­ways re­turn to the marsh.

His de­scrip­tions of all that in­hab­ited the wa­tery ecosys­tem sur­round­ing Beau­fort opened eyes that had never seen this part of the coun­try: “os­preys slept with their feath­ered, plum­met­ing dream­selves scream­ing through deep, slow-mo­tion dives to­ward her­ring.”

This ex­cerpt from the same pro­logue cor­re­sponds to Con­roy’s trib­ute to his mother, who also had a way with sto­ry­telling and a gift for nam­ing things. A monarch but­ter­fly was an “or­chid-kiss­ing black­legs,” and a field of daf­fodils was a “dance of the but­ter ladies bon­neted.”

No won­der Con­roy be­came a writer.

He also in­spired a gen­er­a­tion of au­thors, many of whom gath­ered in Beau­fort to pay homage to their friend and men­tor and to cel­e­brate a spe­cial fea­ture of this year’s fes­ti­val — a just-pub­lished book of re­mem­brances to which they and many oth­ers con­trib­uted. The book, “Our Prince of Scribes,” isn’t just a col­lec­tion of homages but also a de­light­ful in­tro­duc­tion to Con­roy’s vast and tal­ented cir­cle of tal­ented friends.

Con­roy and I knew each other well, and he was al­ways gen­er­ous with his praise and en­cour­age­ment. He cel­e­brated my mile­stones, com­mented on col­umns and men­tored my son. As he did with so many oth­ers, he urged me to write my story, which I hope to do be­fore the bell tolls for me.

My fa­vorite mem­ory of Con­roy was when we were two of 10 eu­lo­gists for Con­roy’s “best friend,” ed­i­to­rial car­toon­ist

Doug Mar­lette, who was also my “best friend.” We three had ear­lier formed a daily morn­ing con­ver­sa­tion, with Mar­lette as mid­dle­man, that lasted sev­eral years. Crushed be­yond de­spair by the sud­den death of our ge­nius friend, we were barely ver­bal.

Some­how we got through our trib­utes with lots of help from our team­mates. Con­roy adored the way we sup­ported each other dur­ing the ser­vice, pat­ting each eu­lo­gist’s back as he or she re­turned to sit down. He named us “Team Mar­lette.” It’s ob­vi­ous now that Con­roy was our coach.

Now, I sup­pose, we are “Team Con­roy,” and his words will have to see us through an­other sea­son. He would love that, I think.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.