Loren McDougal, he was my grandfather. You may not know the name, but the stories? Everyone knows the stories. You grew up with his lyrical, metrical, fanciful tales of faeries – he insisted on the old spelling – in the garden. Everyone younger than sixty read them as a child. Twenty-three books he crafted, lovingly detailed masterpieces with lavish illustrations of proper little faeries going about their proper little faerie business in the fictional front garden of a fictional hedge-row cottage on a fictional lane in some nonsense town in Scotland.
Loren McDougal had too much success. He inspired so many others to dream his dreams that they started to become real for him. My father, Thomas McDougal, tried for years to pull grandfather down off the ledge of his fantasy world. The royalties from fifty-million copies of his books financed a hedge-row and a cottage and a front garden designed to mimic the illustrations that sprang from his ever-dissipating mind. Grandfather spent days into months into years sitting in that garden, sipping bitter ale, looking for his faeries. That his cottage was not in Scotland, but in the suburbs of Dayton, Ohio did not obtain.
Maybe he needed the fantasy. His childhood in Glasgow was the kind of industrial revolution nightmare that, frankly, we can’t imagine anymore. The faerie world was a fiction, but the larger world of the books – the young son and his mischievous cat, and the cobbler father who never believed in the faeries – that was also fiction, just one that was more subtle. Loren McDougal used the faeries in the front garden as an excuse to develop a loving, pleasant, middle-class existence that he wished for, but never knew.
My father died three years ago of a massive stroke, outlived by Loren McDougal, who continued to sit and ponder the front garden, each year more disconnected from the starker, unstructured reality going on around him. I only visited him once after father died. The conversation was one-sided.
I wish I could write that when Loren McDougal was finally gone, his body disappeared mysteriously, that a flash of movement occurred in the front garden as the policeman searched the grounds, that faintly, very faintly on the summer breeze, the sound of a flute brought the notes of a sad, old Scottish drinking song to the officer’s ears, but that he wrote it off to his imagination. The truth is that Loren McDougal suffered a stroke, just like his son, and died in his bed and was interred in a plot in a cemetery in Dayton.
To me, though, the fiction feels more real than the truth. I prefer to imagine my grandfather sitting under the shade of tall flowers, sipping bitter ale from a pewter mug, and sharing stories with new friends in someone’s carefully tended front garden.
copyright © 2005, Russell Lutz