“Love and Desire Under the Elms,” by Dick Cavett as told to Marc Myers. The Wall Street Journal, 11/7/2014.
Dick Cavett is now 77, about our age. He looks good—older than we remember him, but still good. That bodes well for us, too. In this interview, he is telling of his early life in Nebraska, and I was impressed with the similarities of my own life in suburban Philadelphia, East Lansdowne.
When he was 8, his family moved from Grand Island, Nebraska to nearby Lincoln. He was devastated to learn his best friend and next-door neighbor, Mary Huston, would not be going with them. When I was in sixth grade, my parents moved from East Lansdowne to nearby Lansdowne, and I was devastated to leave my childhood friends behind —including the only world I had ever known. Our ages at the moves were different, but the feeling was the same. For me, it forever marked the end of my childhood.
His parents often had friends over in the evenings and he would sit at the top of the stairs and listen in the dark to their conversations. I remember doing the same. I don’t think people entertain in their homes anymore. My parents got together with friends, in our house or theirs, every Friday and Saturday evening for all of their adult lives. They played bridge. Everyone had bridge tables and chairs, and many built rec rooms in their basements to entertain their bridge clubs.
A few years ago, Cavett went back to Lincoln. He noticed the elms were gone, replaced by “trees that did not rustle.” He was puzzled by a large oak in his former front yard, then realized it was the sapling he and his father had planted. He and Mary Huston both married other people and laughed about their shared childhood over the years. She died a few years ago.
I, too, have gone back to Lansdowne. I, too, was puzzled by a huge oak in the front yard that was only a sapling in 1954. Marel Harlow and I would have made a natural couple, but our families were too close, and the chemistry was not there. We also married other people but stayed in touch until she, too, died.
Dick Cavett and I have one important childhood difference: His mother died young and his father remarried. At first, he resented his new mother and admits he was “lousy” to her. “But,” he says, “that all gradually passed into something wonderful.”
The main similarity I appreciate is both of us being near the end of life where we can clearly see the influences that made us who we are today. As someone once said, our whole lives appear scripted to lead us to exactly where we now are. However bad individual events seemed at the time, all are good if we are happy with the outcome.
He is and so am I.