A Bone Apart
I cannot let this moment go by. From time to time I have berated my husband Jimfest, the impresario of poetry, for his odd collecting habits. I'm not talking about the 22 antique typewriters or the ancient maps or the stuffed coyotes. I am talking about the bones, tails, feathers and dead birds picked up off roadsides and thoroughly dessicated after being forgotten for five years in a Lunds silver ice cream bag in the freezer. "A new technique!" says the happy scavenger.
Before he discovered this "technique," back when he wanted to learn real taxidermy, our basement looked like Ed Gein's garage. Basements in old houses are rarely the setting for children's birthday party bean-bag tosses or teenage twister parties, but ours was off limits for -- obvious reasons. Most of the stuff was fake -- the glass eyes, rubber tongues, perky ear inserts -- but try telling it to the wide-eyed six year olds lined up to play pin the tail on the donkey.
But now, I get it. It's in his blood, a zig-zag line running through his father -- who limited himself to funny hats and walking sticks -- and, I've just discovered, also through his dad's cousin, John Kingsley Lattimer.
Lattimer, a noted urologist, died last week, and while he got an impressive obit in the NYTimes for his medical chops, he got far more attention for his collecting chops, including an op-ed in today's Times.
According to the op-ed, Lattimer also collected "military (and some macabre) relics, [such as} Lincoln’s blood-stained collar and Hermann Göring’s cyanide ampoule."
But the piece-de-resistance in his collection of curios is Napoleon's penis, which supposedly had been severed by a priest who administered last rites to Napoleon and "overstepped clerical boundaries." According to those who've seen the missing member, it looks "like a maltreated shoelace, or a shriveled eel."
Well, there you have it. Needless to say, Lattimer was somewhat of a "missing member" in our family as well. I often heard my father-in-law speak glowingly of his cousin's urological triumphs, but about the bloody collars and preserved penises, not so much.
So now when I see those little shrunken ice cream bags in the freezer, I just dig deeper for the Dulce de Leche, and think about what could have been.