GrenadeOur writers’ workshop, which meets every fortnight, always starts with the reading of short ‘exercises’, designed to keep our writing muscles in form. This week dapper soon-to-be 83 year-old Cleve Moffett read out a touching reminiscence which he has kindly agreed I may reproduce here as a ‘guest blog’: “Undoubtedly my happiest adolescent moments were playing the drums, and playing them well, in a small jazz band which, of course, necessitated friends: Judson West, trumpet, Parky Boone, tenor sax and sometimes, in a fix, a doddering old lady who could play not at all bad ragtime piano. When I took one of my solos, when the rest of the band stopped playing and all the dancers stood still and gaped, I was in my element, thundering away alone, featured, spotlighted and wildly applauded. Who needed friends? But that wasn’t what I was going to talk about. I was going to talk about Marcus Clayton. He was the son of a high-ranking military officer, a colonel perhaps or a major, whichever is higher, stationed at Fort Blandings, not far from my home town of St. Augustine, Florida. At Blandings there was a shooting range and a field where soldiers practised throwing hand grenades. (I’m talking about the 1940s, my early teen years.) For Marcus these exercises were a glorious show. One day when the field was deserted he climbed the fence and crossed over it looking for fragments of military ordnance, and to his delight found an unexploded grenade, apparently a dud. He picked it up gingerly and was taking it home to show it proudly to his father when it went off, blinded him and tore his right arm off just below the elbow. When I met him he could make out bright light with his left eye, but his right eye was glass. His mother, Thelma, was a church-going acquaintance of my mother and because Marcus had few if any friends they thought we should get together. He attended the St Augustine School for the Deaf and Blind (better known as the D and B; those were the days before euphemisms). It had an excellent reputation as a school that encouraged talent; among their alumni were Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder. (Since the students couldn’t see one another there was no need for the school to be racially segregated.) I didn’t know what to expect from our first meeting, and of course no one understood that better than Marcus. He didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him; he hated pity in any form. His approach was to be jocular and extroverted. He liked jazz and so I brought along some of my favorite records. But Thelma had planned that I would read aloud to him, something I enjoyed doing because I had a weekly radio program on WFOY and liked the sound of my own voice. We didn’t get very far with Marcus Aurelius and somehow a novel by the then notorious Thorne Smith came into our possession, The Bishop’s Jaegers (a word I can’t find in my dictionary but seems to mean underpants or drawers). Thanks to Google, I am now able to read the opening lines for the first time in more than 60 years. Here’s a sample: “Before hoisting them over his sturdy, ecclesiastical shanks the Bishop contemplated his drawers with nonsectarian satisfaction. It was not the Bishop’s wont thus to dally with his drawers. Far from it. As a rule, etc. etc.” In time, Marcus and I became the best of friends. When he learned that there was a one-armed jazz trumpeter named Wingy Manone he took up the instrument himself and got very good at it. He got very good at everything he ever tried to do – playing the piano, reading braille, going to university, becoming a tenured professor, marrying more than once and having several children. When I went to Italy, married, lived in New York and came to Brussels we gradually stopped writing and now neither one of us knows if the other is dead or alive.”  If you are out there somewhere, Marcus, Cleve is out there too!