Today's Friday Fellow is Nicholas DiGiovanni, a fiction writer, essayist and award-winning journalist from New Jersey. Nick is currently completing his fifth residency at VCCA (Virginia Center for the Creative Arts) and reports that he has written over 10,000 words during his stay!
His essay collection, 'Man Has Premonition of Own Death,' was inspired by his strange tale of his great-uncle, a 23-year-old carpet-mill worker, in the 1920s -- and by the author's own sudden encounter with serious illness. Below is a sample. The complete work is available on Amazon. http://amzn.to/2BIWO6w
The old radio star Edgar Bergen had a ventriloquist dummy named Mortimer Snerd who had a well-known catchphrase: “Who woulda thunk it?”
I’m here to say “Who woulda thunk it?” And I’m here to talk about death, mortality and a young man named Thomas Crooks.
Years ago, I stumbled upon, in an old Bible, a yellowed newspaper clipping from a now-defunct daily newspaper in my old hometown, The Yonkers (N.Y.) Herald Statesman. The headline read: MAN HAS PREMONITION OF OWN DEATH. The article, from 1923, was about the death of a 25-year-old worker at the Alexander Smith carpet mill.
It reported that young Crooks had met his fiancé for lunch one afternoon at a lovely old burial ground across the street from the mill. When the whistle blew at the carpet mill, young Thomas headed back to work. That’s when, the article reports, Thomas stopped, turned around, looked back at his fiancé and declared, “I am going in. But I shall be carried out.”
Fifteen minutes after relaying his bizarre message to his girlfriend, Thomas “fell” into a shallow vat of acid that was used in the carpet-curing process. Workers pulled him out. Others ran to fetch the lad’s mother. She rushed to the hospital, got there while Thomas was still alive but mortally injured, and held her son in her arms. The last sentence of the newspaper article:: “Mrs. Crooks was burned about the face as she continually kissed her dying son.”
Mrs. Crooks was my maternal great-grandmother. Thomas was my mother’s uncle and my grandmother’s brother. I, of course, never knew him, but I have been to his grave – in the same cemetery, across from the same carpet mill.
I’d been working on this eclectic collection for a while when I had my very own Mortimer Snerd moment. One night, I went to plug my telephone charger into a wall outlet and toppled over as I lost my balance. After that, it’s all very vague. I remember a couple of young policemen, I remember being in the emergency room. I don’t remember getting there. An emergency CAT scan determined that I had a foreboding mass of some kind at the back of my head. The tumor was removed in emergency surgery – and so my own battle unexpectedly began.
Who woulda thunk it?