Read CHAPTER I of The Autobiography of Methuselah , free online book, by John Kendrick Bangs, on ReadCentral.com.

I AM BORN AND NAMED

The date of my birth, occurring as it did, nine hundred and sixty-five years ago, is so far removed from my present that my recollections of it are not altogether clear, but Mrs. Adam, my great-grandmother seven times removed, with whom I was always a great favorite because I looked more like my original ancestor, her husband, than any other of his descendants, has given me many interesting details of that important epoch in my history.  Personally I do remember that the date was B. C. 3317, and the twenty-third of June, for the first thing to greet my infant eyes, when I opened them for the first time, was a huge insurance calendar hanging upon our wall whereon the date was printed in letters almost as large as those which the travelling circuses of Armenia use to herald the virtues of their show when at County Fair time they visit Ararat Corners.  I also recall that it was a very stormy day when I arrived.  The rain was coming down in torrents, and I heard simultaneously with my arrival my father, Enoch, in the adjoining room making sundry observations as to the meteorological conditions which he probably would have spoken in a lower tone of voice, or at least in less vigorous phraseology had he known that I was within earshot, although I must confess that it has always been a nice question with me whether or not when a man expresses a wish that the rain may be dammed, he voices a desire for its everlasting condemnation, or the mere placing in its way of an impediment which shall prevent its further overflow.  I think much depends upon the manner, the inflection, and the tone of voice in which the desire is expressed, and I am sorry to say that upon the occasion to which I refer, there was more of the asperity of profanity than the calmness of constructive suggestion in my father’s manner.  In any event I did not blame him, for here was I coming along, undeniably imminent, a tempest raging, and no doctor in sight, and consequently no telling when my venerable sire would have to go out into the wet and fetch one.

In those primitive days doctors were few and far between.  There was little profit in the practice of such a profession at a time when everybody lived so long that death was looked upon as a remote possibility, and one seldom called one in until after he had passed his nine hundredth birthday and sometimes not even then.  It may be that this habit of putting off the call to the family physician was the cause of our wonderful longevity, but of that I do not know, and do not care to express an opinion on the subject, for socially I have always found the medicine folk charming companions and I would not say aught in this work that could by any possibility give them offense.  Not only were doctors rare at that period, but owing to our limited facilities in the matter of transportation, it was exceedingly difficult for them to get about.  The doctor’s gig, now so generally in use, had not as yet been brought to that state of perfection that has made its use in these modern times a matter of ease and comfort.  We had wheels, to be sure, but they were not spherical as they have since become, and were made out of stone blocks weighing ten or fifteen tons apiece, and hewn octagonally, so that a ride over the country roads in a vehicle of that period not only involved the services of some thirty or forty horses to pull the wagon, but an endless succession of jolts which, however excellent they may have been in their influence on the liver were most trying to the temper, and resulted in attacks of sickness which those who have been to sea tell me strongly resembles sea-sickness.  So rough indeed was the operation of riding in the wagons of my early youth that a great many of our best people who kept either horses or domesticated elephants, still continued to drive about in stone boats, so-called, built flat like a raft, rather than suffer the shaking up which the new-fangled wheels entailed.  Griffins were also used by persons of adventurous nature, but were gradually dying into disuse, and the species being no longer bred becoming extinct, because of the great difficulty in domesticating them.  It was not a hard task to break them to the saddle, and on the ground they were fleet and sure footed, but in the air they were extremely unreliable.  They used their wings with much power, but were not responsive to the reins, and in flying pursued the most erratic courses.  What was worse, they were seldom able to alight after an aerial flight on all four feet at once, having a disagreeable habit of approaching the earth vertically, and headfirst, so that the rider, unless he were strapped on, was usually unseated while forty or fifty feet in the air, with the result that he either broke his neck, or at least four or five ribs, and a leg or two, at the end of his ride.  When we remember that in addition to all this we had no telephone service at that time, and that the umbrella had not as yet been devised, my father’s anxiety at the moment may easily be realized.

His temper was only momentary, however, for I recall that I was very much amused at this critical moment of my career by another observation that I overheard from the adjoining room.  My grandfather, Jared, who was with my father at the time looking out of the window made the somewhat commonplace observation ­

“It’s raining cats and dogs, isn’t it?”

“Cats and dogs?” retorted Enoch, scornfully.  “It’s raining Diplodocuses!”

This was naturally the first bit of humor that I had ever heard, and coming as it did simultaneously with my debut as a citizen of Enochsville, perhaps it is not to be wondered at that instead of celebrating my birth with a squall, as do most infants, I was born laughing.  I must have cackled pretty loudly, too, for the second thing that I remember ­O, how clearly it all comes back to me as I write, or rather chisel ­was overhearing the Governor’s response to the nurse’s announcement of my arrival.

“It’s a boy, sir,” the good woman called out as she rushed excitedly into the other room.

“Good, Dinah,” replied my father.  “You have taken a great load off my mind.  I am dee-lighted.  I was afraid from his opening remarks that he was a hen!”

It was thus that the keynote of existence was struck for me, one of mirth even in the dark of storm, and that I have since become the oldest man that ever lived, and shall doubtless continue to the end of time to hold the record for longevity, I attribute to nothing else than that, thanks to my father’s droll humor, I was born smiling.  Nor did the good old gentleman ever stint himself in the indulgence of that trait.  In my youth such things as comic papers were entirely unknown, nor did the columns of the newspapers give over any portion of their space to the printing of jokes, so that my dear old father never dreamed of turning his wit to the advantage of his own pocket, as do some latter-day joke-wrights who shall be nameless, lavishly bestowing the fruits of his gift upon the members of his own family.  Of my own claims to an inheritance of humor from my sire, I shall speak in a later chapter.

I recall that my first impressions of life were rather disappointing.  I cannot say that upon my arrival I brought with me any definite notions as to what I should find the world to be like, but I do know that when I looked out of the window for the first time it seemed to me that the scenery was rather commonplace, and the mountains which I could see in the distance, were not especially remarkable for grandeur.  The rivers, too, seemed trite.  That they should flow down-hill struck me as being nothing at all remarkable, for I could not for the life of me see how they could do otherwise, and when night came on and my nurse, Dinah, pointed out the moon and asked me if I did not think it was remarkable, I was so filled with impatience that so ordinary a phenomenon should be considered unusual that I made no reply whatsoever, smiling inwardly at the marvelous simplicity of these people with whom destiny had decreed that I should come to dwell.  I should add, however, that I was quite contented on that first day of my existence for the reason that all of my wants appeared to be anticipated by my guardians, the table was good, and all through the day I was filled with a comfortable sense of my own importance as the first born of one of the first families of the land, and when along about noon the skies cleared, and the rain disappeared before the genial warmth of the sun, and the neighbors came in to look me over, it was most agreeable to realize that I was the center of so much interest.  What added to my satisfaction was the fact that when my great-uncle Zib came in and began to talk baby-talk to me ­a jargon that I have always abhorred ­by an apparently casual movement of my left leg I was able with seeming innocence of intention to kick him on the end of his nose.

An amusing situation developed itself along about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, in respect to my name.  One of the neighbors asked my father what my name was to be.

“Well,” he replied with a chuckle, “we are somewhat up a tree in respect to that.  We have held several family conclaves on the subject, and after much prayerful consideration of the matter we had finally settled on Gladys, but ­well, since we’ve seen him the idea has been growing on us that he looks more like a James.”

And indeed this question as to my name became a most serious one as the days passed by, and at one time I began to fear that I should be compelled to pass through life anonymously.  There was some desire on the part of my father, who was of a providential nature, to call me Zib, after my great uncle of that name, for Uncle Zib had been forehanded, and was possessed of much in the way of filthy lucre, owning many cliff-dwellings, a large if not controlling interest in the Armenian Realty Company, whose caves on the leading thoroughfares of Enochsville and Edensburg commanded the highest and steadiest rents, and was the chief stock-holder in the Ararat Corners and Red Sea Traction Company, running an hourly service of Pterodactyls and Creosauruses between the most populous points of the country.  This naturally made of Uncle Zib a nearer approach to a Captain of Finance than anything else known to our time, and inasmuch as he had never married, and was without an heir, my father thought he would appreciate the compliment of having his first-born named for him.  But Uncle Zib’s moral character was of such a nature that his name seemed to my mother as hardly a fit association for an infant of my tender years.  He was known to be addicted to pinochle to a degree that had caused no end of gossip at the Ararat Woman’s Club, and before he had reached the age of three hundred he had five times been successfully sued in the courts for breach of promise.  Indeed, if Uncle Zib had had fewer material resources he would long since have been ostracised by the best people of our section, and even as it was the few people in our neighborhood to whom he had not lent money regarded his social pretensions with some coolness.  The fact that he had given Enochsville a public library, and had filled its shelves with several tons of the best reading that the Egyptian writers of the day provided, was regarded as a partial atonement for some of his indiscretions, and the endowment of a large stone-quarry at Ararat where children were taught to read and write, helped materially in his rehabilitation, but on the whole Uncle Zib was looked upon askance by the majority.  On the other hand Uncle Azag, a strong, pious man, who owed money to everybody in town, was the one after whom my mother wished me to be named, a proposition which my father resisted to the uttermost expense of his powers.

“What’s the use?” I heard him ask, warmly.  “He’ll get his name on plenty of I. O. U.’s on his own account before he leaves this glad little earth, without our giving him an autograph that is already on enough over-due paper to decorate every flat in Uncle Zib’s model tenements.”

The disputation continued with some acrimony for a week, until finally my father put his foot down.

“I’m tired of referring to him as it,” he blurted out one night.  “We’ll compromise, and name him after me and thee.  He shall be called Me for me, and Thou for thee, Selah!”

And so it was that from that day forth I was known as Methouselah, since corrupted into Methuselah.