How Horatius Kept the Bridge

“Samuel Reuben, Jr., your father.” That’s how he signed many of the letters he wrote until my grandfather died. When he dropped the “junior,” I felt as if someone had come along and lopped off one of his arms. Every time I got one of his letters, though, I chuckled over the formality of the signature. Samuel Reuben, your father.

Who else?

Samuel Reuben. A solid series of consonants and vowels composing a solid sounding name that looked strong and reliable on the return addresses of all the letters and packages he sent me over the years. A few graceful swirls and some mild flourishes. The thick, black, inky strokes of a man who used a fountain pen long after the inventors of ballpoints assumed it had become extinct. A name worthy of a poet … or an inventor.

To the best of my knowledge, my father never actually composed a single stanza, but his life had a lyrical quality and seemed to flow along gently with its own lackadaisical rhythm and rhyme. In everything he did … in his likes and dislikes, his choices, his opinions and his deeds, there was a skeptical, whimsical, incisive and intelligent originality.

A jar of honey we were looking for wasn’t in the cupboard. Oh no. For him, it was in “the upper stratosphere of the lower region of the interterrestrial regime.”

Nor was the university I had chosen to attend a standard school of higher education. It was a “college of dilapidated antiquity.”

Other children, I am told, are brought up listening to stories about Cats in Hats or animals named Piglet and Pooh. Not so Samuel Reuben’s children. Before falling asleep at night, we were held in thrall by his voice as, fists clenched, he recited HOW HORATIUS KEPT THE BRIDGE:

Hew down the bridge, Sir Consul,

With all the speed ye may;

I, with two more to help me,

Will hold the foe in play.

In yon straight path a thousand

May well be stopped by three.

Now who will stand on either hand,

And keep the bridge with me?

Shelly Reuben is an Edgar-nominated author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit

Copyright © 2008, Shelly Reuben.

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