Hands down, my father-in-law’s favorite author was Conan Doyle, as he called him. And his favorite character was tied between Dr. Watson and Mr. Holmes.
Myself, I relied on Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce to give faces to the names. I confessed to Dad that I hadn’t actually read a complete Sherlock Holmes story.
Dr. John H. Sprague
Dad remedied that the day I met him. We’d just turned into the driveway when I admitted I was nervous. Thyme, my wife-to-be, his lovely daughter, reassured me, “You and my father have a lot in common, you know?”
“Yeah. You both smoke pipes and love history, love to read, love to talk—a lot. And you like Sherlock Holmes, right?”
“Yeah, of course . . .”
“That gives him a captive audience for hours. Besides, he loves All in the Family. And you won him over already by planning to ask him for my hand, and asking if you could call him Dad.”
Suddenly before us, my father-in-law-to-be stood in the doorway.
“Hello, Meathead!” he greeted me with enthusiasm.
Strange as it sounds, that was music to my ears. I dug this guy. He was no Archie. Every room in the house except for the bathrooms, I think, had a bookcase. The upstairs hallway as well as every alcove had a bookcase. This was the beginning of an oddball reunion of two kindred spirits. . . .
“How about a glass of Port?” Dad offered.
Thyme laughed, “We’re here less than an hour, and Dad’s got his captive audience for the grand tour of the house. It starts with the musty old Port, you know. Okay,” she said with a wave of the hand, “See you in an hour then.”
“This way, Meathead,” the good doctor poked as I followed him out of the kitchen and down the short hallway to his office. “Welcome to my lair,” he intoned. Dark-stained oak desks, a tall cabinet, bookcase, and two heavy wooden armchairs lined the walnut-paneled walls.
“Office hours are over, so let us pay homage at the altar of Bacchus,” he said. He stepped out of his office for a moment, then returned with two smallish fluted glasses and a decanter of port. He filled them and offered me one.
“Join me in a smoke?” asked Dad.
“Don’t mind if I do.”
We loaded, tamped, lit, puffed, tamped, swigged, and sat content.
“She’s a bright, talented girl, my little Persephone.”
“I noticed that, too,” I said.
“You know why, don’t you?”
“I fed her stars.”
“I see,” said I. “Got any left?”
Dad laughed. “Get your own.”
“Okay, okay . . . I’ll do that. But she’s my star, now. I’ll bask in her radiance.”
“Ah, that’s right. I’ve heard you’re a poet. Who are your heroes? Shelley? Keats?”
“Yeah. And the Transcendentalists,” I said.
“Aha. Have you read Conan Doyle? He dabbled in the beyond a bit.”
“I like the Sherlock Holmes stories, but I confess, I’ve only read Hound of the Baskervilles. Part of it, anyway. But I’ve seen the entire movie . . .”
“Oh, now. You’ve got to read the stories to get their full worth. Come with me.”
Dad led me back into the house, through the kitchen, and upstairs to a bookcase around the corner from his writing desk. He lifted the wood-framed glass door fronting the top shelf of the case. He pulled out a red volume, opened it, and handed it to me, pointing to the title, Hound of the Baskervilles.
“Read,” he commanded.*
From that day forward, I devoured every story recorded by Dr. John H. Watson. Those memories of adventure and intrigue couched in brandy and pipe tobacco smoke as I churned through the pages in my easy chair.
The reason for Holmes and Watson’s neck-in-neck situation as Dad’s favorite character was that Dad admired Sherlock Holmes, but he identified with Dr. Watson. After all, my father-in-law, too, was a doctor named John with a middle name of H. Dad was Hibbard and Watson was Hamish.
Since Dad’s passing, years ago, I sometimes see his face in Bruce’s place. Much to my delight another face has arrived to fill that space.
In 2010, Dr. Watson appeared once again, but this time as Martin Freeman in latest BBC production. What a great choice. My favorite actor is one of my favorite people. And a blogger to boot.
The face of Dr Watson has become multi-gender, and diverse. Lucy Lu has joined in on Elementary, CBS. And of course there’s Jude Law in the recent movie version.
Now at last to the face of Sherlock Holmes, whose very nature is elusive, eccentric, and disguised. Who could fill it better than the old Basil? I ask you.
The answers resound from hearts true and pure: Benedict Cumberbatch–No argument there. Robert Downey Junior–fall off your chair. Johnny Lee Miller? I’m asking myself. Then I just heard this morning it’ll be Gandalf!
*Excerpted from By the Time I Got to Woodstock or Space Meets Thyme in the Shadow of Atlantis by D. E. Munson
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