That Summer, 1922: A Counter Memoir By Thomas Buchanan


See part one here.


At first I thought Daisy had a crush on Carraway. You could even see a family resemblance. They were slender, dark-haired, and small-boned, fair-skinned and fragile. They flirted and he would easily fall into the inane exaggerated idiom she used with all her crowd. Simple opinions were stated “absolutely,” ordinary things were “gorgeous,” news about friends would be “simply amazing,” a noisy party was “crazy,” she was always “awfully glad” to see anyone. Daisy possessed such a lovely, musical voice that she grew up knowing she could utter the silliest morsels and ravenous men would eat them up. Carraway doted on her and never failed to laugh at her aimless jokes, but he could also adopt a serious, sympathetic expression when she began one of her preposterous heart-to-hearts, usually about something that was making her miserable. I always thought the old saying was wrong: company loves misery is what it should be. And it was clear Daisy loved Carraway’s company.

Am I being hard on Daisy? I don’t intend to be. We had our difficulties–that awful summer, then seven years later I lost nearly everything in the Crash, and then when Pammy was killed tragically while serving as a Red Cross volunteer during the North African campaign–but for sixty-two years we shared what was practically a secret society, a separate world inhabited by just the two of us. Having said this, I still find it odd that Americans tend to judge the quality of a marriage by its longevity, as though staying married for thirty years, despite daily overt rancor or suppressed misery, is in itself far superior to being pleasurably together for only five years. As an investment expert, I found clients often preferred positions they had stubbornly held on to for a decade more valuable than an unquestionably rising equity. “Marry your girlfriends,” I would tell these men, “but for God’s sake don’t marry your investments.”

Daisy died a year ago, a few days after Ronald Reagan defeated the indecisive Jimmy Carter. She died at our West Palm Beach home after a long illness.  During much of her final days she was incoherent. Although it was late October she asked several times if we were approaching the longest day of the year. I joked and said, “See, you missed it again.” But by then banter was lost on her. The final day of her life was passed in total silence. There were no last words I can recall, just gibberish. But on the day before, the nurse came out to the patio, where I was with a golfing pal toasting the Gipper with a gin and tonic, and leaned over to whisper that Daisy wanted to speak with me. I hadn’t visited her bedroom since that morning and I was shocked to see how frail she suddenly looked. The Miami Herald lay open on the bed. Her blue eyes did her smiling for her: “I hope you will be deliriously happy with your Bonzo, dear.” We never agreed on politics.

After Daisy’s quiet funeral which was attended by only a few neighbors, my golf circle, and her devoted nurse, Miss Dawn Westover, I turned the Palm Beach property over to an agent and made a reverse snowbird migration, settling back into the house in Great Neck that Daisy and I returned to each Memorial Day. Not the Georgian Colonial that figured so prominently in Carraway’s memoir, one of the few things he got right, but the smaller though quite comfortable place we moved to after Wall Street fell to pieces and we sold the mansion on the bay. Despite the tax advantages, I always disliked Florida, Miss Westover had never been north, and I needed to jog memories for the counter-memoir I have finally decided to write. Though I feel in tip-top shape at eighty-seven, I’m not sure how long I have left. My father lived to ninety-six, the doctor says my heart is strong, and I continue to walk four miles each day. But I recently opted for non-surgical prostrate treatment and anything can happen at this age.

Robert Atwan is the founder and series editor of The Best American Essays. He lives in New York City and was always intrigued by what Fitzgerald wrote about Tom Buchanan: “I suppose he’s the best character I’ve ever done.”

See part three here.

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