I’ve just come across two framed shrines that meant something to me in my younger years. One I put together, one was put together by my mom.
The first is a collection of a photo, a pen and ink drawing and some pressed flowers. I made it while I was dating an Englishman. The photo is of Jeremy as a toddler. The drawing was made between the time we met in Elgin (March 1974) and the time I visited England (June 1974). It depicts a tree on a lakeshore beside a stone circle. I’m not sure about the flowers — the one below the photo was something special from Jeremy’s father’s garden — an alpine plant of some sort. The two on the other side — one looks like a pansy and the other might be a bluebell.
The second framed shrine was given to me my my mom after they cut down my climbing apple tree. It was probably a Christmas present long after I’d moved out. I was very much attached to that tree. I named it Charlie after a neither asked if it was a Jonathan. I spent many summer days in the tree, often writing in my journal, always gathering strength. It’s no wonder I had my high school graduation photo taken with Charlie — it was truly a part of me.
We used to get quite a few Christmas newsletters and while it was nice hearing from everyone, Jeremy’s was always the one I looked forward to most. We’ve not gotten one from him in the past few years — we never responded, so our fault. He may not send them anymore — plus the price of mailing overseas is high.
I’ve written here and there about my friend Jeremy. I just calculated (for an Amazon review of his book) that we’ve been friends for 47 years. We met when his British grammar school and my high school participated in an exchange. Students from Benton Park Grammar School outside Leeds visited Larkin High School in Elgin, Illinois the spring of 1974 and students (myself included) from Larkin visited Benton Park. I stayed with his family in 1974 and we visited back and forth for several years after that.
I remember my reaction when I found out that Jeremy had a stroke (horrified and deeply sad but relieved he was alive) — but I am not positive how I heard about it. I’m thinking it was Christmastime 1997 and Frances, Jeremy’s wife, sent us a Christmas card with a letter explaining what happened. Thinking back, it seemed to be years after his father’s sudden death (which I remember distinctly because Jeremy’s brother Nick called me), but it was only nine months later. Another trick my mind played on me is that I thought our 2002 visit to England when we stayed with Jeremy and Frances for a few days was much more than five years since the stroke.
Jeremy seemed pretty much his old self during that 2002 visit. We may have spoken about his stroke, but I am not sure. It was mentioned — I know my mom was worried when Jeremy said his vision was not what it used to be. My mom encouraged him to wear glasses even though he said he was too vain.
We’ve kept in contact with Jeremy and Frances on a semi-regular basis (although for years and years they sent us a Christmas card with Jeremy’s fun letter (whimsically drawn and captioned) and we, while delighted, sent nothing back. Once or twice I’d send a letter, but not often enough).
More recently, Jeremy’s daughter and I connected on Facebook and I’d relay news to Jeremy through her. Finally within the past 5 or so years, Jeremy has joined Facebook and that’s how we usually communicate. It was through this connection that I learned that Jeremy had written a book about his stroke. At the time it was only available on Amazon UK, but I bought it anyway. It took a long time to get here (early Covid days), but it eventually arrived. I must have been reading something else or busy languishing or something, because I put it on a shelf and promptly semi-forgot about it. I say “semi” because when I did spy it on the shelf I felt guilty for not reading it.
Hoover the Talking Seal
I finally openedHoover the Talking Sealand began reading it on our recent trip to Lake Gaston where I had no cell or Internet coverage. I really enjoyed reading it and kicked myself for not opening it sooner.
There are many things to like about this book. For me, personally, it’s being able to read Jeremy’s words again. During our early friendship we wrote weekly letters to each other (I have a suitcase full of his letters to me in the attic kneewall). Receiving a letter from him was always a delight. Reading his words in this book was as delightful.
Jeremy is a talented writer. He has been for as long as I have known him. He has a way of writing to the average person so the average person will understand, but he does not “talk down” in his writing. Hoover the Talking Seal tells the story of one man’s stroke and the rehabilitation that followed. It’s told with humor, humility and frankness.
Jeremy’s stroke caused changes in his vision which he writes about in detail. In addition to being a talented writer, Jeremy is also a talented artist. Accompanying the narrative in the book are several illustrations that Jeremy created to show others what he was seeing. He was given some sort of Royal recognition for these illustrations, maybe he mentioned it in the book, but I cannot find exactly where it is.