J.B. Priestly had few misgivings about his public image as aninveterate grumbler. The renowned British writer, essayist, and playwright, who was born 100 years ago on Sept. 13, took a seemingly perverse pride in his grumbling abilities. He played the role with relish, describing his own sagging face, weighty underlip, and rumbling voice as the ideal ``grumbling outfit.''But behind the surly facade was a man quietly appreciative of the quirky and commonplace. ``Delight,'' a book Priestly wrote in 1949 as ``my apology, my bit of penitence, for having grumbled so much,'' is a string of a hundred or so short essays about moments that delighted him - some impish, some innocent.He talks of the delight in renting a furnished house for the holidays and ``rummaging through other people's books and music,'' or ``giving advice, especially when I am in no position to give it and hardly know what I am talking about,'' or simply lying in bed ``cosily reading about foul weather when equally foul weather is beating hard against the windows.''Priestly captures these effervescent moments full-bodied, letting their mirth bubble into the reader's imagination. He laughs irreverently at people's sense of self importance, his own included. ``Like you, I am always delighted to declare my tastes, prejudices, preferences,'' he writes. ``And probably like you too, I hide this delight behind an appearance of awful solemnity. I never look graver and more weighty than at these moments. `No,' I say, as if sentencing somebody to death. `I don't care for fried tomatoes.' ''His pokes at pompousness are tempered by the freshness he brings to familiar scenes, such as the moment of reaching a ship's deck in the early morning. ``During the night everything has been remade for you,'' he writes. ``The open parts of the ship, the sea itself, even the morning, have just come back from the laundry. The scrubbed planks glisten and the brasses blaze in a new morning of Creation. The winking and hissing sea has just been invented.''These private delights, published amid public grumbles, Priestly hoped would bring ``a glimmer of that delight which has so often possessed me, but perhaps too frequently in secret.'' In tribute to Priestly on his birthday, Monitor writers offer a handful of their own delights.
IN Rangeley, Maine, our families and some friends rented two old houses by a frozen lake. We had four days together for skiing in the midst of a cold winter of heavy snow.
Each morning we layered ourselves in sweaters and parkas and headed out into the crackling air and pine trees. Often the snow and wind were furious, but occasionally the gray stillness was as perfect as if we had ordered the weather.
On the third evening, snow fell without a wisp of wind, huge flakes floating straight down like big chunks of cotton. After dinner, daughters and cousins found some old Fourth of July sparklers in a drawer.
Bundled in sweaters and scarfs, they ventured out onto the still lake. Most of the old sparklers had lost their sizzle. One after the other wouldn't ignite. Finally, one did. The girl holding it moved away from the cluster of heads and hands trying to coax the other sparklers into life.
Holding the sparkler above her, she and the little rod became a haunting bluish- white glow in the darkness, the small incandescent point of light illuminating an orb of thousands of snowflakes.
She danced alone in the silence on the rug of snow, her shadow following her and shifting as she waved the flashing, hissing sparkler. At first in the distance, she seemed to be inside a glass cup.
Then the falling white flakes, in a kind of three-dimensional optical illusion, bent toward her and she was inside a glass snow globe with specks of white tumbling down around her.
She thrust the sparkler down in a sweeping motion. The big snowflakes parted, regrouped, and were transformed by the light into soft, white clumps of spun glass.
Then, losing its intensity, the white light dimmed suddenly and sputtered. In the darkness that closed in, there was a tiny red glow, like an impish eye in the distance, looking through the snowflakes, wondering where the light had gone.