The Unauthorized Memoirs of Sam Smith


Do I contradict myself?
Very well, then, I contradict myself
I am large -- I contain multitudes
--Walt Whitman

On a warm September evening in 1994, approaching the corner where you turn towards Old Rag Mountain -- just this side of the Exxon station that is both on the edge and near the center of Sperryville, Virginia -- I hit a cow. The bovine miscreant had wandered from behind some bushes onto Route 237, exploded into the frame of my windshield, rolled over, careened off the front fender and scudded by, pausing only long enough to look me directly and critically in the eye. The cow then completed its original mission -- namely to cross the road and enter the pasture on the other side.

My wife Kathy and I were wearing seat-belts and so the encounter between a Plymouth Voyager doing 40 mph and a 1300-pound cow doing 2.5 left us stunned but mobile. We stepped out of the car and were soon joined by a state trooper, the local rescue squad, a fire engine, a sheriff's deputy as well as a small swarm of men wandering silently with transmitters in the night.

Having quickly, almost perfunctorily, ascertained our good health, our rescuers asked which way the cow had gone. We pointed towards the field and most of the figures in the dark, much as the cow before them, rapidly faded into the pasture as though they, too, had been interrupted in their true errand. Later, I would recall Frost's ending to Out, Out - : "And they, since they were not the one dead, turned to their affairs."

I had already reached an age in which such intimations of mortality (as well as of the ephemeral nature of that which proceeds it) were becoming less rare, although never before had the specter so convincingly assumed the guise of a cow.

Such events are a remarkable spur to retrospection and encouraged me to keep writing what follows. In doing so, I have adopted the corollary of the rule of libel, which is to say that one should only tell the full truth about the dead and the famous. The weak, the private, and those whose only fault was to have crossed my path deserve to be left largely in peace. Thus, I have changed a few names, omitted many tales and even bowdlerized here and there. My wife and sons, in particular, have been spared as much as possible despite the fact that they are the true happy ending of this story. Kathy has been my love, my friend and my resident angel and my sons an endless source of joy and, increasingly, of wisdom. But they deserve to tell their own tales.

I offer this story without, I hope, bedizening it unduly with meaning and judgments. Those psychologically inclined can analyze for themselves. Those of a historical bent can provide their own context. I'll not pander by pointing out, say, metaphors of empire rising and slowly imploding. If, as James Wood once wrote, you find here proof that even "the happiest of lives are only splendid wrecks of what used be a future," I've noticed it, too. To those friends who wonder why I have never told them some of these things before, I can only say that I wasn't ready. As for the ideologically priggish who find this all too disorderly, I offer no apologies. It just happened that way. The accidental novel we call life.

Sam Smith
Washington, DC

1 comment:

Lea4DC said...

Thank you, Sam, for the nearest thing I've read to a perfect unauthorized memoir introduction. I read it aloud to Wally, and we both, for a moment, rued the fact of your residency in Maine, leaving the District a lot poorer of intellectual content, not to mention a wisdom cum humor combo that would make Frost proud. I miss you and Kathy terribly at times, and so, by association, does my dear husband.

I will now return to my reading. Be well. Keep being Sam.

Much love to both of you,
Lea Adams Ashby