Friday, September 2, 2011

Do not go gentle into that good night

A few weeks ago, I left an interview feeling totally buzzed about my job. Hugh told me about living in Virginia, how he would spend days at the Library of Congress. To tell his wife which stack he'd be in, he'd leave a note in the card catalog under "Anne Ferguson" (her name). They left Virginia a few decades ago, but a handful of years ago, they went back to the library and checked -- his last note was still there.

Anne told me how she worried her whole life that she shouldn't get married because no man would be able to carry her over the threshold. She's taller than Hugh, and when he carried her, she spread her arms and legs because she was nervous.

Hugh had homemade espresso waiting on the table when I arrived. He and I were wearing the same outfit. He sounded like a newscaster, looked like one, too. The couple has an ancient OED in the living room, which Hugh rescued from the incinerator when he was in the Navy in the 1940s.

None of that had anything to do with the story I was there to ask Hugh about, which is that he plans to bike 80 miles on his birthday. We got to that narrative, too, and then I went home to try to make a story as good as our two-hour talk.

Maybe this won't make sense, but the more I like talking to someone, the harder it is to write about them later. I had this same problem last year when I tried to write about the female pilot. So all week long I've been wrestling with trying to write something good about Hugh. I kept re-reading Dylan Thomas, hoping my brain would click in place.

Anyway, this is what I came up with.

Hugh Ferguson woke up one day feeling very old. Suddenly, it seemed, his body wouldn't cooperate.

He struggled to pull his wallet from his hip pocket. He threw out his shoulder when he picked up a suitcase. He was always thinking of a nap.

Last year, he wrenched his back trying to move a kettle drum for the Beaverton Chamber Symphony, and he decided right then: He would not go gentle into that good night. He would get in shape, live like a younger man.

He started a fitness regimen. When walking up or down stairs no longer seemed impossible, Ferguson set his sights on a task that did. Later this month, on his 80th birthday, he will attempt to bike 80 miles in 8 hours.

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