Born September 19, 1920, steeped in the family business and sports, he is a national treasure. The family business is The New Yorker, and the sport is, of course, baseball. His parents were Katherine Angell White, the accomplished longtime fiction editor of The New Yorker and Earnest Angell, a lawyer and one-time head of the American Civil Liberties Union. So he comes by accomplishment naturally. But step-father E.B. White is the name that is famous, so Angell’s close connection to E.B. White is how many people know him.
Roger Angell is 93 and still writing. This Old Man appears in the February 17/24 issue of The New Yorker, just reaching me here in Delhi. It is an utter delight. I am nowhere near his age, but his words put me there completely. He writes on the most personal of topics – his own mortality, the suicide of his daughter, the death of his wife, the painful way old people are ignored in conversations – with the distanced eye of an observer yet with no loss of emotion.
“I’ve endured a few knocks but missed worse. I know how lucky I am, and secretly tap wood, greet the day, and grab a sneaky pleasure from my survival at long odds. The pains and insults are bearable. My conversation may be full of holes and pauses, but I’ve learned to dispatch a private Apache scout ahead into the next sentence, the one coming up, to see if there are any vacant names or verbs in the landscape up there. If he sends back a warning, I’ll pause meaningfully, duh, until something else comes to mind.”
And this, when his treasured terrier Harry committed suicide, as it were, jumping out a fifth floor window:
“Harry took his leave (another surprise) on a June afternoon three years ago, a few days after his eighth birthday. Alone in our fifth floor apartment, as was usual during working hours, he became unhinged by a noisy thunderstorm and went out a front window left a quarter open on a muggy day. I knew him well and could summon up his feelings during th brief moments of that leap: the welcome coolness of rain on his muzzle and shoulders, the excitement of air and space around his outstretched body.”
Who who has known a dog deeply cannot feel that joy even at the very moment of his death?
So Mr. Angell, it is selfish of me to ask that you please keep writing. You have done far more than your share already to enrich our literary lives. But it would be nice.
I take few pictures, counting on memory to serve me in old age.
“What I’ve come to count on is the white-coated attendant of memory, silently here to deliver dabs from the laboratory dish of me.”