A few thank-you cards on retiring to the Eastern Shore

Carl Bode

April 18, 1991|By Carl Bode

NOW THAT I am abandoning the feverish life of the Big City for the pastoral life of the Eastern Shore, I want to write some good old-fashioned thank-you notes.

I should begin by thanking the editors of the op-ed page of this paper. Brad Jacobs published the first of my offbeat columns in 1965; Mike Bowler published the most recent one, only a month or two ago.

They can scarcely realize the pleasure the publication of these pieces gave me. I am in a profession where the academic readership rarely runs over 2,000 and where the reader response is something like this: "Professor Bode is on shaky ground when he asserts that the final form of Emerson's metaphysics can be detected in the 1836 'Nature.' " The response to my newspaper pieces has run from the good lady who wrote me in an elegant hand, "Dr. Bode, you should write a column every day," to the reader who wrote me with a felt-tip pen, "Bode, you are a mental midget."

A while ago, incidentally, I picked out the best of the columns and put them into a book I titled "Highly Irregular" and thereby gratefully added another line to my bibliography. Currently, I am contemplating publishing another collection. Its working title is "Dan Rather's Wig and Other Surprises." I hope Rather will sue me for millions and afford me a generous measure of priceless publicity.

A sheaf of thank-you notes should go to my colleagues at College Park. They have been tolerant of my eccentricities and in the last few years have eased the problems of my dulling senses. I used to see them often at the High Table of the faculty club. Nowadays, I am more apt to see them, especially the senior ones, at the prescription counter of our local drug store. I am such a good customer that the kindly young woman at the counter remembers my date of birth.

The problems of aging can be demonstrated in my case very clearly when it comes to hearing. I have a hearing aid, but it usually lies in my top bureau drawer between the handkerchiefs and the socks. The result is that when I sit at one end of the High Table, I hear from the other end such oddities as "Elephants always arrive early."

More thank-you notes should go to the Enoch Pratt library, to my mind the best public library in the country. I am especially indebted to the director, Anna Curry; to Averil Cadis, who is in charge of public affairs; and to Neil Jordahl, who heads the humanities division. I have them and the library's rich Mencken resources to thank for the fact that I could publish a trio of Mencken books.

I also have three governors to thank. I'm a firm believer in the public support of literature and the arts, so it has meant a great deal to me to be able to help widen that support from posts to which I was appointed by Marvin Mandel, Harry Hughes and William Donald Schaefer. I served for a number of years on the Maryland State Arts Council and then on the Maryland Humanities Council. My colleagues on both bodies were kind enough to choose me as chairman, and I am grateful indeed for their trust and friendship. I should also thank the professional staffs of both councils, who were a pleasure to work with.

A thick wad of thank-you notes should go to my students. Like my colleagues, they tolerated my eccentricities and lightened my labors.

A final note of gratitude should go to those people who inadvertently cheered my day and advanced my career. The best example comes from the time of the student rebellions of the early 1970s. Two members of the House of Delegates, one from Baltimore County and the other from Prince George's, joined to denounce me as the most subversive professor on the College Park campus. The student newspaper, the Diamondback, came roaring to my defense, and for years thereafter the paper's working principle was "Bode can do no wrong."

To all the foregoing I am indeed grateful.

Carl Bode is professor emeritus of English and American studies at the University of Maryland College Park. He contributed to The Evening Sun editorial pages for 26 years.

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