I am Lucy Peel, the second Emerson child. You hear a lot about Bill Emerson’s brilliance and humor and skill as a writer and consummate speaker and storyteller. But there is another side to the story.
I want to be straight with you. It wasn’t always easy being Bill Emerson’s child. Think about it! You knew the man! Our house was a thicket of words that nobody else ever heard of. It was like a linguistic outward bound and you had to find your way out of the woods. “Pixilated!” “Prodigality!” “Pusilanimous!” “Miscreant!” “Conupcopia upturned!” “Bagatelle!” “Heliogobulous!”
Imagine yourself a two-year-old, gripping the edges of your crib, leaning into these hurricane-force syllables. And the strange words never let up! Later on, as we got older, we wondered.
What’s a miscreant? How do you get frecklebellied? And . . . ninnyhammer?
So, I’m telling you there were challenges being Bill Emerson’s child. And it didn’t end there. Papa wanted conversation. Twenty-four-seven. Once he wrote a column entitled: “The Importance of Idle Conversation.” But all of you know there was never anything idle about his conversation.
Think about this list of ideas: Multiple intelligence, tomatoes, The Playboy Mansion, teaching techniques, a decent Chardonnay, the Civil War, race, Conrad Aiken and Yeats, Tate, a new book idea. That was a half-hour of “idle” conversation with Papa on the phone the other day. “We haven’t even talked about an agent for the book,” he said before hanging up.
So you get the point. [Opening scroll] I’m not going to go into a long list of grievances. But let me mention just one more issue: The kids in our family all went through our teenage years and moved on. Papa? He stayed there – a perpetual teenager.
I was going through some pictures the other day and there was Papa in a Mohawk wig. Don’t get me started on what he wore last Halloween. Those of you at Canterbury Court know he got called to the principal’s office . . . How many times???
And who but a teenager would say, as Papa did: “I don’t give a fig about rules.”(I cleaned up that quote.)
So . . . you get the picture. I think I have made our case about the experience of being Bill Emerson’s children. But there is nothing in the world we would have traded for it.
Note: This was read at William A. Emerson Jr.’s memorial service in Atlanta Aug. 29, by his daughter Lucy Emerson Sullivan of Newtown, Conn.