I was at a tender and impressionable age when I discovered the short stories of Flannery O’Connor and John Cheever.
They were life-changing.I was introduced to O’Connor by my mentor, Starkey Flythe.
Starkey was Georgian and Southern Gothic, so that was a natural development of his preaching to me.
I often refer to working with Starkey as my graduate school. He was a lovely man and the world is poorer without him.
Here is a short film of Starkey reading one of his poems. It’s a beautiful piece of work. Go to the link, then scroll down to “For My Absent Friend.” https://www.williammckeen.com/news/
I read O’Connor’s Complete Stories in one long inhale. With my friend, Harry Allen, we conversed as if we were characters in her story “Greenleaf.” She gave us a new language. She was a wonderful writer.
Oddly, her novels didn’t move me the way her short stories did.
Not sure how I came to John Cheever, but Starkey was probably the culprit.
Cheever wrote of a different world — the New York suburban life of highballs and infidelities. I again inhaled his collected stories (The Stories of John Cheever) in one gulp.
Decades later, I read the massive book straight through again. When I moved to Massachusetts, I was amused that I settled near Braintree and Quincy, Cheever’s old stomping grounds.
I have a friend who coaches the tennis team at Thayer Academy, the school that expelled Cheever.
I’ve been in a Cheever mood recently and discovered that I’m working one street over from Cheever’s apartment on Bay State Road.
He taught at Boston University for a while. Then, curious about his burial, I discovered he is in the First Parish Cemetery in Norwell. It’s right across the street from where son Charley works as a food runner. (The Tinker’s Son — frosty libations and swell vittles.)
So I played hooky from grading yesterday and found his grave. It’s a few feet away from the parking lot for a restaurant called Cheever Tavern.
There it was. This great writer’s grave is next to a parking lot. He’s buried next to his wife, Mary, and his son, Federico. Federico was a celebrated professor of law. He died while kayaking in 2017.
There is no great meaning or burning epiphany to report, but finding Cheever’s grave was deeply moving.
The Tavern wasn’t open, but I go by the place a couple of times a week, so I’ll drop in for a Scotch in honor of those two masterful storytellers.
Cheever Tavern looks spiffy, and the menu might be too rich for my blood.
There is no entrance on the main street.
The tavern is behind a convenience store and a coffee shop, and you have to drive around back to find the joint.