Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ashley Brown In Memoriam 1923-2011

Who was Ashley Brown?  Ashley Brown was not a clown who rode to town in a coffin.  He was a literary man, a man of letters, a cultured man.  He was an extraordinary, ordinary man of the 20th century.   He was born in another time, in another era.  He was a child of nickelodeons: one for a nickel, two for a dime.  He was the sound of silent cinema.  His fingers tapping away on the piano, his eyes staring away at the screen.  He was a scholar.  A professor.  He knew something about everything.  He knew a lot about a little too.  He knew almost everyone, it seemed.  Flannery O’Conner. Elizabeth Bishop. Elizabeth Spencer (I’d never heard of her).  He decided to phone D.H. Lawrence after he found his name in the phone book.  He had tea with T. S. Eliot, and a mad tea party with Ezra Pound, who used to call him Ash Wednesday, by the way.  To me, he was just Vovô Ashley.  He would give my dad a heart attack. His pats would almost break my back.  I could not take it but there I was, there, there, back, once more, for more.  With his so ons and so forths, he could go on and on, there, there, and so on, and so forth, everywhere we would go.  We used to go to Nonnah’s.  We used to have lunch every Saturday at Yesterday’s, where a giant man in a cowboy hat with a mustache took a bath in a giant bathtub.  He had always been an old man.  He told me to watch out for the little green man, before crossing the street.  He was funny.  He had quite a sense of humor.  He was a kind, simple kind of man.  A very gentle, gentleman.  His glasses were a spectacle.  He was a quiet, meditative man.  He would overcome death on occasion.  He had a hole in his head and a whole lot of ideas, about everything and everyone.  Henry James’ illumination at the train station.  James Joyce’s evolution from lyric to epic to drama. The Waste Land is no waste of time.  “Now, what are you reading these days?” He would ask me.  He was interesting and interested in things. He had an amazing book, music, art collection.  Paul Klee will stay at my place, ok?  Ashley Brown lived in a townhouse downtown on Gregg St.  He would sit at his window sipping away his Earl Grey.  He was an American with English manners.  He had an aristocratic air about him.  At dinner he would serve me a glass of Ginger Ale.  Before bed he usually had a night cap.  At the end of his life he lived in a Glass House, where you can always see who comes to call, where everything hanging from the ceiling and on the walls stays where it is as if by magic, where he slept nights in a glass bed, under glass sheets, where who he was would sooner or later appear etched by a diamond … or maybe not.   He ended up at Still Hopes.  There was still hope, there, there, and so on and so forth. He passed away one day, into the silence without a sound, not with a bang or a whimper.  He was a great one, Ashley Brown, and I will ever be a grateful grandson. 

Marco Alexandre de Oliveira 

(Read by Marc Minsker)
Rutledge Chapel
University of North Carolina
13 October 2011

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