"Since flesh can't stay, we keep the breath aloft. Since flesh can't stay, we pass the words along." --Erica Jong

Monday, March 26, 2007

Marvin Maurice Emerson Davis, Jr


Marv and I had only known one another for about eight years, so it was sort of a whirlwind romance, you might say. *Smile* This is a good time to let you know you something more about Marvin Maurice Emerson Davis, Jr (besides his impetuous nature). He was born in St. John's Township, Harrison County, Iowa, in his Grandmother Stoddar's house, the first of six children. For a while they lived in Sioux City, in a quiet neighborhood called Morningside, where he fell in love with a little girl with a red sweater and had his first banana split, and crossed the Missouri River over the singing bridge, and carried a real pocket-knife in a pouch at the top of his lumberjack boots. His father worked in the slaughterhouses down by the river's edge. His mother was from a well-to-do Chicago family. She had taken dancing lessons, and wore ribbons in her hair. When she moved to California with her family she had a real future in Hollywood. Everybody thought so. And the California air would be healthful, a cure for her mother's consumption. The Stoddar's (Marv's mother's people) were from old seafarer's, ship's captains, Master Mariners, and such. His father's ancestors can be traced back to a Black Irish lad named Roe and an Indian medicine woman named Dancing Sun, and to a President of the United States and a Signer of the Declaration of Independence.) When he was still a little boy, the family moved to Alhambra,California. On the way, at Grand Canyon, he had a nosebleed. Once there, Marv fell in love with a little girl in a yellow dress, tried a couple of times to burn down his house, blew up seagulls with carbide-laced bread, and endeared himself to his sisters by hanging their paper dolls by the neck until they were dead or chopping them into pieces with his scissors. He wasn't always that violent. He camped overnight at Tin Can beach with his friends, and stargazed. He peddled newspapers, and --out of embarrassment, or fear-- those he didn't sell he bought with his own money and threw away down the rain gutter, rather than return the unsold papers to the manager. In school, he was required to memorize "Invictus," by William Ernest Henley:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of Chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade.
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

"Invictus" was the motto of the United States Naval Academy, class of 2001, (the year the Trade Towers in NYC went down), hurling defiance into the teeth of the storm.

He joined the Navy when he was just seventeen, and spent most of the next four years as a radioman on Guam, an island paradise he would dream about for the rest of his life. The Navy taught him to drink and smoke cigars, and saved his life. Once, he almost drowned himself swimming alone in off-limit waters, out past the coral reefs. When he found himself exhausted, he decided to give it up, and just let himself go under. When he ran out of air, he changed his mind and resurfaced. He gave up, went under, and came up again for air several times before they hauled him in, his legs raw and bleeding from the knife-edged coral. I guess I owe the Navy for that.

When he wasn't on the island, he was on the USS Chandler, where he sat alone on the deck at night and wrote poetry, sang songs to himself, and smoked cigars-- a vice he overcame, thanks to his conversion to the LDS Church. I guess I owe the Church for that.

It was while he was in the Navy that he became converted to the Church. I met him in 1957 while I was a student at the Pasadena Playhouse. He was working as a counselor at Hathaway House, a home for abandoned and emotionally disturbed and abused children. He had a great love and sensitivity for those children. Later he worked at Albert Sitton Hall in Orange County. We had a lot of fun together. When he held my hand it just seemed to fit. We spent lots of time at the beach, or at Pershing Square in LA (which used to be a fantastic place populated by schizophrenics, street preachers, drunks, dope fiends, and Salvation Army revivals). We went people-watching at Boorman's, a market in Pasadena which specialized in packaged pig-snouts and pig-tails and pig-feet, and it was purely awful, --but fun. We had unusual dates, and he fell in love with me.

We went our separate ways for a while, while I went out on the road with the theater company, and he almost married somebody else, a girl named Jane, heiress to the riches of the Tappen Stovetop Ranges fortune. He might have had millions and lived comfortably ever after, but, as it happened... it seemed like every time I went to visit my friend Janet, for some reason Marv would always show up with his skis, or on his motorcycle. Fate seemed to be throwing us together. Anyway, I finally proposed, and he accepted, and we were married, and I'm glad, because I do love him. Penniless though I was, he thought I was "a fairy princess," and loved me back.

He had a terrible temper. He had the soul of a poet. He loved opera, Lily Pons and Enrico Caruso, and folk music-- Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, he loved Johann Sebastian Bach, and took me to the LA County Library where, listening with one shared headphone, each of us with one speaker, he introduced me to the Brandenburg Concertos. I owe him for that.

He's been a good father to our five sons. He's a good grandfather. He loves John Wayne westerns and old war movies (if they have no blood, and star John Wayne). He likes his poetry to rhyme. His favorite movies are The Wizard of Oz and Brigadoon. He loves to watch football on television, and his favorite color is yellow. He's an insomniac. He still loves opera. And he still holds my hand.

What else?

Saul Bellow (who won a Nobel Prize for literature) said: "I blame myself for not often enough seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary. Somewhere in his journals, Dostoyevski remarks that a writer can begin anywhere, at the most commonplace things,
scratch around in it long enough, and lo! soon he will hit upon the marvelous. I tend to believe that, at least most of the time." And H.G. Wells said that "Man must not allow the clock and the calendar to blind him to the fact that each moment of his life is a miracle and a mystery." Each moment of my life has been a miracle and a mystery. The love I have for Marvin, the birth of each one of our children, our grandchildren, have surely been miracles and mysteries. Johnny Carson asked singer Helen Reddy once what she'd do if her success would all end tomorrow. And she said, "If it should all end tomorrow-- well, I've had one heck of a ride, and enjoyed every minute of it!"

Me, too. It's all marvelous! I've had one heck of a ride, and I guess I owe my Father in Heaven big time for that.



slickdpdx said...

Great photos of a great guy! I like the slide projector you selected too.

Natalie said...

Well written article.

VNTuongLai said...

You’re invited to view my video “Bat Khuat (Tap 4)” which features the song Bat Khuat that was inspired by the poem Invictus.
URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ul9AcIDleIw

VNTuongLai said...

You’re invited to view my video “Bat Khuat (Tap 4)” which features the song Bat Khuat that was inspired by the poem Invictus.
URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ul9AcIDleIw

Ron Milch said...

To Joyce:
My name is Ron Milch, Marvin's cousin in law.
I am sorry I missed him when he was in CA several years ago.
He was a great guy and a good friend. We unfortunately lost contact with each other for so many years.
I knew his mother and father. His father died so prematurely as mine did.
Men died so much sooner in the 1950's.
I cannot remember if you and I ever met at my fathers home in Altadena CA where you and Marvin and I went swimming in our pool.
Your article heartwarming and aprapos.
I tried to find an emial address for Marvin several times but could not.
God bless you and Marvin.
Ron Milch

About Me

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1. In dreams I am often young and thin with long blond hair. 2. In real life I am no longer young, or thin, or blonde. 3. My back hurts. 4. I hate to sleep alone. (Fortunately I don't have to!) 5. My great grandfather had 2 wives at once. 6. I wish I had more self-discipline. (I was once fired from a teaching position in a private school because they said I was "too unstructured and undisciplined." --Who, me??? Naaaahhh....) 7. I do not blame my parents for this. Once, at a parent-teacher conference, the teacher told me my little boy was "spacey." We ALL are, I told her. The whole fan damily is spacey. She thought I was kidding. I wasn't. 8. I used to travel with a theater reperatory company. My parents weren't happy about this. 9. My mother was afraid that I would run off and paint flowers on my cheeks and live in a commune, and grow vegetables. I once smoked pot. ONE TIME. 10. I don't drink or smoke. (Or swear, much. Well, I drink milk, and water, and orange juice, and stuff. Cocoa. I love Pepsi.) 11. Most of my friends are invisible. 12. I am a poet and a writer. All of my writing on these pages is copyrighted. Borrowing (without acknowledgment) is a sin.