"The Merry rogue lay back on the grass, And he laughed till his face was black. 'I would do it, Got wot,' he roared in glee; 'But I haven't a shirt to my back!'"
These lines were written many years ago about an optimist who was a beggar. They might equally have been written about my good friend Pete Parraday, who is not a beggar, but a free and independent old-age pensioner, and an optimist of rather a different order.
To those who remember the rhyme from which the lines were taken it will be recalled that a certain King, having been stricken by grievous mental maladies, called together his soothsayers who told him – after careful diagnosis, respectful chest-thumpings, and all the rest –- that recovery was possible only after the King had slept for one night in the shirt of a completely happy man.
Scouring the kingdom in search of that rare human freak, the King's messengers had almost abandoned hope when, at the city gates they came upon the merry beggar responsible for the anti-climax indicated in the lines above.
The optimism of old Pete Parraday invariably recall these lines to my memory, for he seems somehow to fit the case. When one day I quoted the lines to him he went so far as to declare that even he, too, had no more than half a shirt to his back.
When I doubted, he explained, with a merry twinkle, that he always wore the other half in front.
But what I really started out to write of was the indestructible optimism of old Pete Parraday which is not so much the optimism of a hopeful regarder of the future as that of a staunch believer in the present.
The creed of old Pete Parraday is: "there is no time like the present, an' there never was, nor never will be; for, if tomorrer's goin' to be better than today, it's got to wait till it's present and today is past."
Which, when you come to think of it, and from the point of view of relativity, is quite worthy of a bush Einstein.
"I been readin' in the papers," says Pete, "a lot of mournful moanin's an' groanin's about the good ole days gone by. The golden age they calls it, the happy times gone past when everybody was as happy as Larry.
"An' I often wonder, if them people could only get them days back an' see what they was reely like, what they'd think about it then.
"Trouble is," Pete explains, "people ain't got no mem'ries. Now, me, I got a bonzer mem'ry an' you can't tell me nothink about the good ole days before the war. I ain't lookin' at 'em through no pink eye-glasses."
And then Pete proceeds to take the years categorically from about nineteen hundred till nineteen-thirteen, and the tale of trouble he there unfolds is truthful and astonishing.
Pete, I am beginning to believe, is one of those astonishing men who fail to see evil except in perspective – the perspective of the past. It is a rare gift, and I often wonder if one might consciously strive to imitate it.
Most men are aware of evil when it is actually with them; others await its coming and write "Welcome" on the mat. But I often wonder if Pete's way is not the way – if not of true sanity – at least of comfortable self-deception.
I am acquainted with a few men to whom fame or fortune never seems to have given every gift that mortal man may desire. Yet sometimes I suspect that they would give half of what is theirs to be possessed of that rare gift of old Pete Parraday who is eighty-two, an optimist and an old-age pensioner.
|Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2005|