Wednesday, January 02, 2013


My dad was--to put it mildly--a grouch. He was a bitter man who thought in his youth that the world would see the beginnings of a socialist utopia. Of course it never happened and it never will. So like the guy expecting to see the return of Christ before the end of his own life, he was a frustrated man.

But strangely enough, he kept a copy of this poem in his wallet. As far as I know, it was in his wallet up til the day he died. He found it printed on a card in an old volume he'd bought for one of his bookshops. He read it, apparently liked the message, folded it carefully and placed it in that wallet. Said wallet going through tough times with few dollar bills, and better times with lots of big Franklins as companions, and back to a couple dollars again.

Keep On Keepin' On
by Anonymous
If the day looks kinder gloomy
And your chances kinder slim,
If the situation's puzzlin'
And the prospect's awful grim,
If perplexities keep pressin'
Till hope is nearly gone,
Just bristle up and grit your teeth
And keep on keepin' on.

Frettin' never wins a fight
And fumin' never pays;
There ain't no use in broodin'
In these pessimistic ways;
Smile just kinder cheerfully
Though hope is nearly gone,
And bristle up and grit your teeth
And keep on keepin' on.

There ain't no use in growlin'
And grumblin' all the time,
When music's ringin' everywhere
And everything's a rhyme.
Just keep on smilin' cheerfully
If hope is nearly gone,
And bristle up and grit your teeth
And keep on keepin' on.

He'd take that poem out and read that crude little rhyme. Keep in mind that Mark Smith was no idiot--my dad could recite The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam by heart, beginning to end. I can remember his favorite verse. It was this one:

 And fear not lest Existence closing your
 Account, and mine, should know the like no more;
   The Eternal Saki from that Bowl has pour'd
 Millions of Bubbles like us, and will pour.

He was a curious critter, my dad. When I think of this working class intellectual (yeah, he really was one of the last of those), sour, mean, but somehow hopeful to the end. I would wonder how a guy who would recognize the beauty and intensity of Fitzgerald's translation of The Rubaiyat could also admire a silly anonymous poem like "Keep on Keepin' On". I think it was those two lines of refrain:

And bristle up and grit your teeth
And keep on keepin' on.

Aye, I reckon there's something to be said for that.

My mom and dad. I think this was taken at Pemaquid Point in Maine in the early 1960s.


travelinghippie said...

I loved your dad, despite his sometimes obvious faults. He, and no one else, actually made me pay attention to the world around me. Had I not met him, I fear I would have remained a potentially ignorant redneck. He turned me into a working class intellectual and I'll be forever grateful he did.

James Robert Smith said...

He was, indeed, an interestin' cat. Nobody's fool but--too often--his own.

I used to cringe, even as a child, knowing that my parents would never finish raising kids before they died. That was a tough road.

Kirk G said...

What does that mean, "Never finish raising kids"... Are you saying they died in an accident...or that they started their family late...or something else? I don't understand.

James Robert Smith said...

No. Just that when they died (well, my mom lived a little longer)they still had teenaged kids living with them.

My mom had eight kids (plus two miscarriages). She was having kids into her 40s.