A Large Heart Has Stopped -- Pat Conroy

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A Large Heart Has Stopped -- Pat Conroy

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Editat: març 7, 2016, 3:08pm

I remember meeting Mr. Conroy on two occasions. Both were the casual encounters of a fan with a beloved author. One came after a reading he gave, one followed an on-stage interview some years ago at the Miami Book Fair. It's hard to describe the warmth he exuded in personality and in his very being -- he had a large head, a pale complexion, fair, then, with the passage of time, white hair, a booming voice that overflowed with enthusiasm for whatever he talked about, and the kind of smile that is permanent on the faces of people who are optimistic about humanity in spite of their personal encounters with the dark side of some of its individuals.

Everyone knows about the abusive disciplinarian his father was and when he talked about him after writing his first Santini book -- and really all of his books because his father inhabited them all -- his mind and words always strayed and more often stayed on the subject of his mother, for whom he had a deep and permanent true love.

That this hale and hearty soul survived his childhood, he ascribed to her. Conroy had small affection for his father, arrived at late in his life and only after purging the effects of the man from himself by writing about them. But what he really hated was discipline, the empty of meaning cruel command to obey because of the power to inflict fear and pain that one person holds over another. In Conroy's case, his father's twisted militaristic and violent control and that of the Citadel.

Conroy had a great heart. He was one of the most compassionate men I've ever known, for such a robust, vital, and masculine personage, it could be surprising, even shocking, that this assumed feminine trait was so large in him. But it was, in the way he spoke of his mother and siblings, in the way he wrote about his family, fictionalized in his most famous novels, in his tenderness for the mentally afflicted, for his passion for the preservation of the littoral environment of South Carolina, for the fragile yet persistent traditions of Yamacraw Island people, and eventually even his father. He said, both times I heard him speak, he eventually grew to understand the man. But he could not find it in even his great heart to love him.

Now he is dead and his pen is stilled, but he left us books that few others can compare to. Conroy was an Irish story-teller, all the swoop and dive of poetry and exuberance fill is books. All the poignant lingerings and longings of a lover of life and justice and peace are in them, too. All the sweet and bitter hands are dealt and played until the last card is played. And all of who Pat Conroy was is imbued on every page.

He is the second great Southern writer lost to us this year. Although Harper Lee may have been more famous, even more recognized as a master, it is Conroy who gave us more stories about more aspects of and the wounds a Southern birth and upbringing can inflict -- racism, abuse, dysfunction, greed, environmental destruction, mental illness, cruelty, the disappearance of tradition, and the ironic toughness found in the gentlest people -- all were examined, treated, and often healed when Pat Conroy intervened with a word here, a tear there, and a belly laugh to cap it all.

Think I'll honor his memory with some Bailey's over vanilla ice cream, sprinkled with chopped pecans, and a drizzle of hot fudge. He would have loved that. And I'll read Beach Music, in the hopes it will enlarge my heart and deepen my understanding of myself and my generation's half of the 20th century. Most of all, I'll affirm my thankfulness, that unlike Pat Conroy, I am not a casualty of war.

Never have three words so befitted a man, rest in peace, Pat Conroy. Rest in peace.

març 7, 2016, 1:53pm

Oddly enough "...Everyone knows about the abusive disciplinarian his father was..." isn't really true. I was just speaking to my mother over the weekend and she was stunned to learn from an obit or something similar that The Great Santini was heavily autobiographical and that his father was abusive. I would say if a person just knows the name Pat Conroy from the movie Prince of Tides, they don't really know much about the author.

Also, I think his "Southern birth and upbringing" could be overlaid to a "Northern," "Eastern," or "Western" birth and upbringing just as easily. All those aspects you mentioned aren't unique to South Carolina.

I read part of an article about him that mentioned Mr. Conroy was instrumental in spotlighting the life of military families and specifically the subculture of "military brats."

març 8, 2016, 10:21am

I'm sorry we've lost another great author. To anyone who enjoys his fiction, I highly recommend his short, nonfiction book, My Reading Life. It gives insight to why he writes as he does, and it is a beautifully written little book.

març 8, 2016, 1:46pm

I remember catching The Great Santini on TV when I was a kid and it really made an impression because the dad was so much like my dad. I guess it's time to pick up the book.