Last Days of Chez Nous

Last Days of Chez Nous

I heartily recommend the film The Last Days of Chez Nous (Australian, 1992) . It’s a fine film available for the moment on Netflix. The characters are sharply drawn, the acting is superb and the story pulls you in immediately.

You know where it’s going from the pitch:  “Successful writer Beth’s tepid marriage and home life face a new round of challenges when her footloose younger sister arrives for an extended visit.” But the way the director, writer and actors take you there is breathtaking and shows you what binds us together as humans.

Last Days of Chez Nous

Twenty feet from the Kennedys

The Kennedys, Johnson and Stevenson

12/6/1962 Kennedy Foundation Dinner in the Hilton ballroom. Left to Right:U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson, President Kennedy, First Lady Jackie Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon Johnson

This is the story of how my father came to be twenty feet from President and Jackie Kennedy. Like all Southern stories, this one begins a while back. I’ll be brief.

My father’s father,Wilmer Sperry Hunt, came of age in the 1890s as the son of a doctor in poor little Ripley, Mississippi, where opportunities were scarce. When he was nineteen, Sperry, as my grandfather was called, was invited to Austin to live with his sister while he studied law at the University of Texas. After receiving his degree, he moved to Houston, opened a law office and married my grandmother, a bright, well-to-do girl named Lucy Brady, who once bragged to me that she had a (corseted) nineteen inch waist on the day of her wedding. Ouch.

Born in 1903, my father Wilmer Brady Hunt was the only boy of three children. By all accounts he grew up to be a funny young dandy who was as comfortable at a black-tie party as he was hunting and playing cards. In 1928 he too received his law degree from UT. He returned to Houston where he joined his father’s firm and married a lovely, artistic woman named Eugenia. Five years later, in the midst of the Depression, my father took over the firm, following Grandpa’s unexpected death. What I skipped over were the four years from 1921 to 1925 when Dad earned his undergraduate degree at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. My father took me to DC in early December of 1962. It was the only trip my father and I ever took alone.

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A Song of Mine – The Gulf of Mexico

Gulf of Mexico -- Sperry Hunt

This is a true story from my high school days.

The Gulf of Mexico
©2015 Sperry Hunt
1. The sun was in our eyes.
We couldn’t see the end.
You were my girl.
He was my friend.
I glanced away,
Dreamers do.
You waited for me.
He waited for you.

Chorus. Some dreams take you over.
Some dreams take you under.
Some just drag you where they go.
Some live in the heart forever.
Some change like the weather.
This dream drowned in the Gulf of Mexico

2. You called to me.
I did not come.
I didn’t even know.
What I had done.
I broke your heart,
Like dreamers do.
I didn’t even care,
I broke it in two.

Chorus

3. You turned to him.
He said let’s wait.
You were my girl.
He was my mate.
He left you there.
Said he really should go,
But he would return from
The Gulf of Mexico.

Chorus

 

 

A short story of mine

Arcola.jpg

Life from a Distance

Life from a Distance

© Sperry Hunt 2011

As with most men, Luther and I spent nearly an hour talking about half a dozen things that didn’t matter just to avoid the one thing that did.

It was a sunny morning last July. We sat in our rockers on the deck outside the Menagerie with our feet on the rails. The Menagerie was the rickety lodge he and I built on top of the White Cliffs. The grain silos, the schools and the houses of Beeville spilled out across the prairie a thousand feet below. The old drive-in movie screen listed toward the rim of the world where nearly every evening the sun sets into a pot of gold.

During the first half-hour of our conversation, we peeped around town through Luther’s telescope speculating on what we observed: Sam Black was late to work for the third day in a row. Coach Jacobs and Father Dupree drove out under the willow grove where the river bends. And, judging from the consistent vacancy in her driveway, Lucy Malloy hadn’t taken up with anyone a year after Roy ran off on her.

When Luther was too sore to put his eye to the telescope, he leaned back and spoke in short breaths for a while about the virtues of tying flies and coffee can stew. In the middle of his stew story, he turned away and said something I didn’t catch. When I asked him to repeat it, he wiped his eyes with the crook of his arm and turned toward a silver drape of rain sweeping across the highway to the east. “Back when this state was a territory, know what its motto was?” he said.

“Can’t say I do,” I said even though he’d often told me.

“I long to see what is beyond.”

“Is that so?”

“Yep, and that’s just the way I feel today.”

I squeezed his shoulder. The bones slid around like they were in one of those over-roasted chickens you sometimes get at the market.

Luther snatched up the shot glass of smoky, green juice he’d set beside himself earlier. He raised the glass once toward me and again toward the horizon before downing the contents.

A shiver of disgust roiled through him. Then he grabbed my hand, hauled himself to his feet and threw the jigger with all he had into a long arc. The glass sparkled past a wheeling hawk then tumbled down into the hay field waving like the ocean on Karl Schuster’s back forty.

Luther fell back into the rocker and winked at me.

“See you, Jake.”

I stared at him feeling that low-voltage, bilious sensation you get when your car spins on the ice.

“See you, Luther,” I said into his eyes.

He groaned once then slumped back against the slats peacefully, like he’d done a hundred times listening to a ball game.

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Breath In, the film

Breath In

I watched Drake Doremus’ 2013 film Breath In last night. I always enjoy seeing Guy Pearce and Felicity Jones, both of whom seem to be everywhere these days. I wondered what would draw them both into what seemed to be a tiny film. I was not disappointed.

The story is essentially a British forbidden love novel with all the right beats and few of the traps that D. H. Lawrence would have merrily strewn  through it. The actors were well chosen, and every effort was made to restrain what could easily have been a tawdry, melodramatic and self-righteous tale. Doremus, who also wrote the film, made sure that every character had a firm perspective and the romance was attributed at least in part to events in their lives at that moment. What happened could simply not have been avoided by real people, which should be said of all stories.

 

Hemingway and Radio

Hemingway and the Radio

Yesterday my good friend Maria Gunn sent me an article from the 9/14/2015 issue of The New Yorker. The article by John McPhee is called “Omission.”  Maria has been good enough to give me feedback on a piece of mine. I warned her that the work needs cutting, and she sent me this apres pot article.

In making his point about the importance of lean writing, McPhee rightly mentions the man considered to be its greatest champion: Earnest Hemingway. McPhee quotes, “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above the water.”

Clearly Hemingway was influenced by his years as a journalist. Writing to the point is the point of journalism. But I wonder if Papa wasn’t influenced also by radio, arguably the dominant medium of his time. The sparely written radio dramas of the ’30’s and ’40s were very powerful. Witness the national hysteria over Orson Wells’ 1938 broadcast of The War of the Worlds. People who missed the disclaimer in the beginning tuned in to hear a string of fictional news casts about enormous alien war machines ravaging New Jersey. So terrifying were these terse accounts that a few people attempted suicide during the show, clear evidence of the power of omission.