Howard Robert Pennington: A Centenary

Today would have been my grandpa’s 100th birthday. Howard Robert Pennington. He died on July 24, 1996 when I was 21, and even though I now have grey in my beard and his ‘mature’ hairline, I still feel like I could pick up the phone and talk to him about anything. He introduced me to Ambrose Bierce (whom he always referred to as ‘Ambrose Bierce, the misanthrope’), and I remember talking on the phone with him about Bierce’s stories at length, laying on the seam-worn couch in my college apartment while silverfish scurried around in the walls.

In this age of Kindles and Nooks, I still much prefer hardcopies, preferably hardbound hardcopies. Those were the kinds of books my grandpa gave me, and it all started with his own copies of Jack London’s WHITE FANGCALL OF THE WILD, and my personal favorite, THE SEA WOLF, with Captain Wolf Larsen ruthlessly ruling the Pacific, iron in body and mind. When I was born, he told people, “My grandson’s going to be a sea captain,” because my parents gave me such a Scandinavian name.

Howard & Lucille Pennington, on their wedding day in 1946.

Howard & Lucille Pennington, on their wedding day in 1946.

He’s been gone now for going on 17 years, but I remember. I remember playing chess with him on his hand painted Keystone Coppers chess set. I remember eating hotdogs with him at Tastee Hastee on Milwaukee Avenue while the sparrows hopped around, pecking at the crumbs. But most of all, I remember the conversations, about the poor bastard who washed overboard during the boat ride home after World War II, about the ball-bearing fight he and his brother got into in front of the plate glass window, and about books.

So many conversations about books.

Happy birthday, Grandpa. Here’s some of your favorite songs:



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