Robert Cotner, Editor

s I was entering a WaldenBooks in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, several weeks ago, a fellow, approximately my age or a bit younger perhaps, entered as well. Upon reaching the first table of books, he turned, smiled at me, and then began browsing. In my typical, effusive, Midwestern manner, sensing a kindred spirit in him, I offered, "Well, what are you looking for this evening?"

He smiled more broadly and said in a heavy German accent, "Books, of course!" He looked a bit unkempt—something like today's university professor. His hair was somewhat raggedly cut, he had a thin, gray beard, and he was wearing an Indiana University windbreaker. I assumed he taught at IU, which has a regional campus not far from the bookshop. I pointed to the IU logo on the jacket and said, "You teach there?"

"No. But I used to attend there," he replied.

"And I used to teach there," I said

Interested, he asked, "Really? When?"

"Well," I said, recalling the decades'-ago, short-term teaching assignment, "It must have been around 1965 or '66."

"Really! That's when I went there!"

"Sylvia Bowman [who was the first editor of the Twayne Literary Series] was chair of the IU English Department, and she ran a pretty good department in Ft. Wayne in those days."

"Yes," he responded, "I remember Dr. Bowman well."

I explained, "I was teaching full-time at Ball State in those years, and they needed some part-time instructors here in Ft. Wayne, and, well, I needed money—so I volunteered."

"When did you leave Ball State?" he asked and then added, "My brother teaches English there now."

"I left in '67."

"That's about when he came," he said.

"What are you reading these days?" I asked him.

"Joseph Campbell," he said with a twinkle in his eye.

"Why him?" I asked.

“His view of mythology and our time—I like his vision.”

"I read all of Campbell a few years back," I explained, "and I like him very much, as well."

"I'm a comprehensive reader, too. I read all of Faulkner, all of Hemingway, all of Graham Greene," he explained.

"I'm reading all of Seamus Heaney these days," I told him. "By the way," I added, "my son just bought me an audio tape of Heaney's reading of his new translation of Beowulf ..."

"Is it good?" he interrupted.

"It is splendid! You would love it," I told him.

"I love the classics above all," he said.

"Goethe is one of my favorites," I told him, and he smiled the broad, pleasing smile I had seen earlier.

"Ah, Goethe, how I love him! Let's see—how does he end Faust? 'All that is temporal ...'" he began and then paused in thought.

" ... is but symbol." I continued, completing the line before he could finish it. He beamed with pleasure and shook my hand. We exchanged a few more pleasantries and then went our separate ways. But the event is fixed in my mind as rather remarkable: two people from two cultures met serendipitously once in their lifetimes and in a few moments found, through the love of books and a line from a classic, a shared kinship. v

Return to Caxtonian table of contents


Return to the Caxton Club home page