by Fyn -
Another in what appears to be becoming a series. 4/6/21 (HS3)
|Frederick Percival Abernathy
died in his sleep, early Thursday morning, April 6th, 2000,
the day after he finally filled out his census form.
He lived in a sprawling complex- quite close to the T.
He lived to the venerable age of eighty-six.
I'd returned to get more forms filled out,
more answers from the other shadows
flitting there and here beneath the floor
of Boston: steam streets, access alleys,
connective causeways: yes-there are maps.
You can't buy them at any store, you've got
to know someone. Still, they come at a price.
Nothing is free, after all. I got a deal: three notebooks,
a package of pens, and a sack of oranges for a hand-drawn map.
On a brown Mcdonald's napkin. Can't waste notebook paper.
I didn't know him, well, a little. Not much beyond
his rambling answers (once he decided to give them.)
He didn't think his answers would matter to anyone;
no one cared. I still see him clearly, twenty-one years later.
I remember Frederick Percival Abernathy: he mattered.
Born outside London, he came to the US in 1946. He had P.H.D.s
from Oxford in Language and History. Fluent in Greek and Latin
he taught at Harvard, JFK-U Mass, Quincy Center, Braintree:
T-stop schools where the tunnel rats learned. He'd lived beneath
Boston since the crash of '87. Lost his wife, his house.
He'd already lost his son in VietNam. He had nothing left,
wanted nothing the world above could offer. His words:
not even the sun. His place, tucked away corner where
concrete gave way to a hole- lot of dirt. His diploma stuck
to cement with chewing gum and toothpaste. Both are excellent glue.
Still had that almost snooty upper-class Brit accent. Not the actual
snooty upper-class Boston one. He literally looked down his
long aristocratic nose at that. He wore bow-ties, a Bowler hat, and corduroys.
Didn't have much. Books, including a complete Shakespear, a fussy
petunia-flowered teacup, and a kettle he'd heat on a steam vent.
He offered me tea from a black, white and yellow striped tin. Said
the water was safe enough, but I shouldn't ask where it came from.
His old family was dead. All old and dead. His new family was
here, he'd said, spreading his arms wide; touching both walls of his nook.
He teaches, you see. Greek, Latin. Ancient History, Literature.
The kids at each school memorize everything, because paper is a luxury.
One of Frederick Percival Abernathy's proudest moments was when one
of his students was admitted to Harvard. The real one - on a full scholarship.
Now she's a biomedical space engineer at NASA. There's a well-known writer,
one you've heard of, (but I swore I wouldn't tell) who grew up tunnel-rat.
Another of his. Kids learning; that was important to him. Could lead to
life above. Life Above - as if it were a foreign land, or on another planet --
social strata attainable. Had to work for it. Nothing is free after all. The kids
memorized geometry theorems, conjugated verbs in seven languages, recited
poetry of all the masters, chanted off history timelines, debated philosophies.
Frederick Percival Abernathy. Yes, he mattered. Saw him three times.
Ever. Well, four but that was when I was trying to catch him and he vanished
down a tunnel. (Before I was trusted with the map!) The Census Bureau
thought I was great at getting the information on the transient populations.
I was asking people about wherever it was they called home.
Big difference. Dr. Abernathy was only one of almost a thousand I talked to
over a six-month period. Perhaps his death made him indelible.
I liked him. I remember. I remember so many threads and yarns of the
tapestry that spread out under those city streets. A violinist worthy of the
rarest Stradivarius. A tenor who took full advantage of the acoustics of the T.
A brilliant mime, More teachers. A society with schools and churches.
An old station, no longer in use, soaring ceiling filled Sunday mornings.
Two hours, take your pick of faiths. They all revered together. God
heard them all, I promise you. Feuds or altercations were rare: when you
have next to nothing: everything is precious. Appreciation was how to be.
Worlds away now from Boston. Twenty years and forever ago. I don't
know if there is still a city under the city or if they've all been kicked out.
Resourceful lot; most homeless are. Halfway across the country. A different
person now than I was then. People change. Circumstances revolve.
The carousel circles round and round, until you can't hear the music anymore.
Unless, occasionally, you stop. And hear. More: stop and listen.
I know people who live in fancy McMansions, who never need to worry about
enough to eat or freezing to death. They scroll through endless days of games
and noise; not seeing more than six inches away, infinitely more homeless
than those living in abandoned houses or under the T.
Never liked the word: Homeless. House-less. Home is that feeling. Chicken McNuggets
becomes a feast and bedtime stories are essentially the same world round. Shared
blanket, a plan for tomorrow. Frederick Percival Abernathy said wherever you belong,
truly belong, is home. Home is a singular, sizeless feeling. A house has walls and
slammed doors, leaky pipes, and cracked windows.