Archive for the June 2009 Category


If any of my Republican friends desired to cast a ballot in the 2012 Presidential election in favor of Mark Sanford, I suspect that they will be sorely disappointed. As we now know, Mark Sanford is the governor of the great state of South Carolina who abandoned his duty to go court his girlfriend who happens to live in Argentina. The fact that Governor Sanford is married with four children did not seem to bother him. Beyond that, the courting occurred on the weekend that we celebrated Father’s Day. What is disturbing is that he abandoned his duties not only as a father and husband but also his duties to the state of South Carolina.

He topped all of this off by saying that he was hiking the Appalachian Trails. To that end, he put hiking boots in his automobile which, I suppose, were to be sighted upon his return as evidence of his outdoor activities.

But what Governor Sanford did not know as he had been exchanging steamy emails with this woman in Argentina was that they had fallen into the hands of a newspaper called The State, which publishes in the capitol city of Columbia, South Carolina. How the emails fell into the hands of the newspaper is undisclosed. But it is obvious that it knew of his plans from beginning to end.

When Governor Sanford appeared back in this country after a five-day absence, a young female reporter was at the Atlanta Airport to meet him. I imagine that Governor Sanford’s heart must have stopped when she identified herself as a reporter for the Columbia newspaper.

Look at it this way. Governors have real jobs. While he was gone, there was a small tornado in a South Carolina town that he should have known about. All sorts of things happen which governors must be able to respond to. But for five days Governor Sanford was AWOL. From what we know now, he was in the arms of his lover in Buenos Aires.

For all intents and purposes, Governor Sanford has abandoned his marriage to a very bright woman. She has asked him not to come home again, so he is wandering alone in the mansion provided for governors in Columbia, South Carolina.

If I were to revert to the language that we used as World War II GIs, I would have to say that Governor Sanford has messed up big time. His wife seems done with him and there is no great welcome for him in Argentina. So he is attempting to carry on as though not much had happened at all. Governor Sanford seems mistaken in the belief that he can abandon his job and his marriage and go to Argentina and come back without consequences prevailing. I have been asked by two or three persons what would cause a man to perform in the manner that Governor Sanford has performed for the past few days. I claim no expertise at all but I will offer in a cleaned-up version a thought about why men do this.

In the American Army, older GIs have said, “An aroused and an erect member of the male genitalia has no conscience whatsoever.” I will tell you that it took some scrubbing to make that quotation available for Sunday School teachers and the pristine readers of Ezra’s essays.

In dictating this essay, my wife informs me on this Monday afternoon of June 29 that there are other female members involved in Governor Sanford’s exploits. All I can tell you is that Governor Sanford is hell bent on becoming the most notorious nitwit of all time.

June 29, 2009
Essay 394

Kevin’s commentary: Turns out there have been plenty of government officials trying to take that title from ol’ Sanford. From Carlos Danger aka Anthony Weiner taking pictures of his junk, to the current mayor of Toronto admitting to regular cocaine usage, to fucking John Edwards being generally horrible to his cancer-stricken wife… politicians oftentimes do a wonderful job of keeping up their reputation as greedy, selfish, power-hungry assholes.


This morning when Bernie Madoff was sentenced (June 29), he was given a term of 150 years. He is now 71 years of age and I doubt that he will live to see the end of his term. There are no two ways about it. Bernie Madoff was a disaster for many American investors and savers.

But his sentencing had one happy aspect to it. For the rest of the day after the sentence was announced, it tended to knock the unending story about the death of Michael Jackson into second place. For this past weekend, there have been tributes to Michael Jackson without end. I wonder, as a normal person who lays off from drugs, why we are celebrating a person who must have consumed enormous amounts of drugs, legal and otherwise. There are those who say that Michael Jackson had some talent, but in my estimation whatever talent he possessed was lost on me. He was simply a pop singer, and I am at a loss to describe what that term means. He lived a fabulous life style but on most occasions he was deeply in debt. Is it outrageous to suggest that the world might be better off without the likes of Michael Jackson?

But in any case, Bernie Madoff has done us one last favor with his sentencing. He has knocked Michael Jackson’s story not out of the box but into second place. Fortunately I had no money invested with Madoff, so I am essentially neutral on this subject. But when a man can knock the Jackson story into second place, he earns my eternal gratitude.

June 29, 2009
Essay 393
Kevin’s commentary:
Oh ho ho. Pop has written some controversial stuff before. He’s written about politics and religion and sex and racism and gay marriage and finance and all sorts of hot button issues where he takes the general stance of “people are doing dumb or cruel things which they probably should not do” but this, this is too far.
Yes, MJ may have been a bizarre, sick, plastic, generally crazy puppet person. Sure he may have had a propensity to sleep with or at least very near small children. Clearly the story of his death was overblown and took up way too much media time.
But dammit this is the guy who sang “Thriller” you can’t just go around saying things like the world is better off without him. Cmon now. None of that.


I suppose that it is commonplace for us to have to overlook the things that give us comfort and pleasure. Men overlook the contributions that women make in cooking their meals and keeping their houses clean. Children often overlook the efforts of their parents in providing schooling for them. So being forgetful is not an unusual event. However, overlooking the comfort and joy that our commodes bring to us, is not something to be celebrated. Going “commodeless” is far from a joy. Indeed, it is a trial. I know a good bit about that thought.

Growing up during the 1930s, on occasion we visited my father’s brother George, and his wife Essie. While we were in southern Illinois, in Pope County, we also tended to visit Elmer and Grace Collier, who was my mother’s sister. Their homes had no electricity or running water. Indeed, they were dependent upon outhouses.

At that time, I slept in my underwear and had no such things as pajamas and house shoes. If there was a need to use the outhouse late at night, it became a substantial trial.

On one occasion, when my grandfather died in 1932, the time of year was Christmas time. Using the outhouse at that time in frigid weather was far from a joy.

When I joined the American Army and was sent to North Africa, I found that using the outhouse in some locations required putting up with sandstorms that blew through the tarpaulin shacks. That was true in Atar, Mauritania and Tindouf, Algeria. It was also true in El Genina and El Fasher in the Sudan. All things considered, it may be assumed that I am an expert on “commodeless” living.

My last overseas assignment was in Accra, which is located in Ghana. This was a large British-built airbase, which I thought was quite comfortable after the African campaign. Curiously, the British had provided commodes but they failed to provide doors. The commodes were open to gawkers, which for newcomers could prove disconcerting. I am reasonably certain that in London and the rest of the British Empire, doors are provided for the commodes and that they also can be latched.

Jumping ahead a good many years, it turns out that I moved to Millburn, New Jersey in 1969. The leading hardware store at that time was run by a fellow named Harvey J. Tiger. Mr. Tiger did not appreciate chewing the fat as he went about his work. It was all business. His store was at least twice as long as it was wide. He had displays against the walls as well as drawers underneath the displays. Mr. Tiger stood at the back of the store near a cash register and we were obliged to take our purchases to him and he would check us out. Not long after I began to patronize Mr. Tiger, it appeared that a plumbing salesman had taken over. The salesman had introduced pastel-colored commodes with contrasting tops. If one were willing to wait for a while, he could order a purple commode with a green top, if it was so desired. Apparently Mr. Tiger did not think much of this arrangement and after six months or so it was gone.

The point here is to remind readers that they would certainly not enjoy “commodeless” living. Commodes ask for nothing. They simply accept the wastes from the human body and wait for those wastes to be flushed away. They do not criticize or comment and are thoroughly apolitical.

Finally, there is a nostalgic note having to do with commodes. On October 31, 2005, I was lying on a guerney in preparation for being transported to the operating room for the final operation on my one remaining eye. There was a men’s room nearby and I left the guerney to use it because I knew my operation would take quite awhile. The basic fact is that the last thing that I ever saw before blindness took over was a commode. Hence, the sense of nostalgia that envelopes this subject.

One way or another, it seemed to me as a chronicler of affairs having to do with mankind, that we have overlooked the commodes which serve us every day. They bring joy to our lives and are essential to our well being. Therefore I thought while I was still alive, that I should offer recognition to the vital part that commodes play in our lives. And so it is that I offer this robust ode to our modest commodes and thank them for all of the help that they have rendered to mankind. It seems to me that such an ode is long overdue.

June 29, 2009
Essay 392
Kevin’s commentary: A moving piece, to be sure. I wonder though — the toilet might have been the last thing Pop saw, but I wonder about some of the other absolutes. What’s the prettiest thing that he remembers seeing? The ugliest? Has the memory of how any objects look faded away? Is there anything in particular that he has no idea what it looks like, or anything that he couldn’t possibly forget even if he wanted to? Hopefully he’ll see this and answer a question or two.

Read more of Pop’s thoughts re: toilets (because why wouldn’t you want to do that?) here.


Before I expose my innermost and secret thoughts about railings, I must confess to a vision in my mind that has persisted for almost 50 years. Those of you who follow the fortunes of the Carr family will recall that of the eight children, four were boys. It was my mother’s greatest wish that each one of those boys would become a Baptist preacher. Unfortunately, she was sadly disappointed by what happened.

A fellow named Sol ran a pool hall in Clayton, Missouri. Charlie, the oldest son, played pool there and bet on games and, even worse than that, drank some beer during Prohibition. So Charlie was let out of the Baptist preacher sweepstakes. Earl was the next in line and he followed Charlie’s footsteps into Sol’s pool hall. Having two sons playing pool and drinking beer was almost more than my mother could stand. The third son, Laurence, died before his twelfth birthday from appendicitis and pneumonia. I of course was the fourth son, bringing up the tail end of the family offspring. It was not hard to discern my distaste for religious affairs, which started when I was six or seven years old. So that let me out and it left my mother with no one from our family to become a Baptist preacher.

Lillie Carr, my mother, died nearly 50 years ago and because she was both saved and sanctified, I believe it is safe to assume that her current residence is in Heaven. No one ever issued a certificate for her being saved or sanctified; it was self-proclaimed. But at this late date, I assume that the saved and sanctified business is the state of the record.

My vision goes on to find me in the pulpit of a Baptist church, delivering the eulogy for the town drunkard, the town gambler, or for the town lover of every female. During my eulogy, which according to Baptist standards must take an hour, I envision my mother looking over the railings which confine the Heavenly host to Heaven. I am quite aware that every resident of Heaven has a pair of wings. I assume that if they lose their balance and are cast beyond the reaches of the Heavenly platform, they will fly back up to their original perch. But my mother is now approaching her 129th birthday, at which time arthritis may appear in her wings. Therefore, the grand commandant of Heaven has provided a railing.

Looking over the railing at the church where I am delivering the eulogy, Lillie will take great pride in pointing out that at least her final son was preaching. At this point, I am sure that my words would not carry all the way to Heaven, so that Lillie could enjoy the a cappella performance, including all of the hand gestures. In an effort to hear what I had to say about the town drunkard or the town lecher in the eulogy, it could be that Lillie would lean against the Heavenly railing so far that she might fall off. And so, arthritic wings or not, she would be obliged to fly back to her original perch. The fact of the matter is that I have received no invitations to preach at a eulogy for the town drunkard, the town drinker, the town gambler, or the town lecher. But that does not alter the fact that we owe railings a great deal for protecting us and contributing to our comfort.

For example, the house in which Miss Chicka and I reside is a split level. My memory tells me that there are four sets of stairs that take us from one level to the other. In a good many cases, when it is necessary to use a bathroom, there are steps to be climbed or descended to achieve that end. But railings provide a great assist in ascending or descending. They can be leaned on or pulled on or simply used as guides.

On the outside of the house there are two walkways where I have had wrought iron railings constructed to assist people trying to negotiate the few steps there. Aside from the assist they give the walker, the railings also tell the snow shoveller that he has reached the edge of the walkway.

The last railing we had constructed was to the basement. The six steps leading to the basement, where we have a gymnasium, are difficult to traverse. Art Taylor, our handyman, constructed a wooden railing that may not win a prize at an art show but for several years has gotten the job done.

In the final analysis, it strikes me that railings are items that require no repair. They also require no upkeep. They do have their sanitary problems, however, in that the birds we feed sit on the wrought-iron railings and poop on them. From time to time, this has to be washed off but that is a small price to pay for the comfort, convenience, and help that they and the birds provide.

In the final analysis, it seems to me that railings go unappreciated by humankind. Railings ask for very little. They are not temperamental. From time to time, they may be washed to improve their appearance but they require no regular updates such as lubrication or adjustment. Railings are there to provide assistance and to comfort us. They ask for nothing in return. Given this set of circumstances, it seems to me that these railings are deserving of a tribute. I am going to encourage my wife as well as myself to tell the railings in this house and its walkways that we really appreciate them. That is the least that we can do for something that offers so much help and takes nothing in return.

And so you see, my vision of Lillie in Heaven has had a practical effect. It has resulted in this tribute to railings, which is long overdue. For myself, I have no thought that I will ever be saved or sanctified or a resident of Heaven. But that should not prevent any essay writer from paying tribute to the railings that comfort and guide us every day.

June 15, 2009
Essay 391
Kevin’s commentary: An easy favorite. Something so simple becomes a thousand words. I’ll let this one stand for itself.


Among my fellow GIs of the Second World War was an idea that enjoyed almost complete universality. The idea was to win the war, bid farewell to the United States Army, and go home. The GIs of World War II came from every walk of life and from every corner of the United States. But nearly every one of us looked forward to the day when we could go home. And so it might be fair to contend that this essay has been 67 years in gestation. After a pregnancy of that length of time, even the author will be interested in the results, which might surprise all of us, including me.

World War II ended in 1945, which made it possible for the GIs to return to their physical homes. But preachers and metaphysicians have other ideas about going home. A good many of them seem to believe that going home involves a trip to the skies where they will be welcomed into Heaven by Jesus. For example, the Reverend John Newton (1725 – 1807, giving him a life span of 82 years), who wrote the words to “Amazing Grace,” included these lines in the third verse:

Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come.
‘Tis Grace that hath brought me safe thus far
And Grace will lead me home.

Reverend Newton was an Anglican who formerly was the captain of a sailing ship that transported slaves from Africa to America and Arab ports. It would be my contention that Reverend Newton would have one hell of a lot of explaining to do to Jesus to justify what he had done in the slave trade.

There are many authors and composers who make reference to going home, meaning presumably to Heaven and the eternal life. One of them was Antonin Dvorak, a Czech who lived from 1841 until 1904. Dvorak wrote a beautiful symphonic composition called “Largo” from The New World Symphony. In the American version, it is also known as “Going Home”. The lyrics are by a fellow named Henry Armstrong. My abridgement of the lyrics goes like this:

Going home, going home,
I’m just going home.
It’s not far, just close by,
Through an open door.

So you see, at the early stages of this essay the author has embraced a Czech composer and an English preacher as well as my fellow GIs who just wanted to go home to continue their earthly pursuits.

From this point on, the essay will consist primarily of notes that I have made in preparation for writing this essay on going home. Please don’t try to find a continuity of thought, as these are individual notes about going home. They are intended to convey the importance of that thought, as opposed to a pattern of argument that leads to a logical conclusion. So here are my thoughts about going home.


When I was a child, my mother used to make a sandwich for me and put it in a brown paper bag which I carried to school. This of course was during the Great Depression of 1929. The other children in this affluent school thought that this was funny. A good many of them lived within walking distance of the school and those who lived further out were given money to go to the cafeteria. I had none of those advantages. And so there was a time when I rode my bicycle home for lunch and then back to the school, a six-mile round trip. But winter weather put an end to going home for lunch, and soon I was back to the brown paper bag.


A second thought about going home has to do with athletic competition. Every athletic team believes that there is an advantage to playing a contest on the home field. Playing another school or team is called an “away game.” So going home, aside from preachers and symphonic composers, also has to do with athletics.

It is alleged that baseball is America’s national game. If that is true, and I believe it is, we find that results are measured in the number of times a team crosses the home base or the home plate. There are four bases in baseball but what really counts is going home to score a run. So much for athletic competition.


Let us again return to the military. As everyone knows, the military operates from various bases. The base could be an aircraft carrier at sea or it could be an airfield in some far off place. But no matter how you cut it, going back to the base was the objective of every flyer known to me. I suspect that in Iraq or Afghanistan, going back to an established base is the objective of the modern-day GIs, and I can appreciate their wanting to go home to such a base.


The phrase “going home” is not confined to English. In Spanish and Italian, the phrase is “casa mia,” which means my house. I suspect that every language has such a phrase. And I suspect that the words “going home” are a welcome thought in every case.

Then we find love songs and patriotic songs that convey the idea of going home in both cases. For example, in the Irish lexicon, there is a song called “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen.” On the other side of the coin in romantic relations, we find that if a date goes sour, the female may say, “I want to go home now.” Of course, readers of Ezra’s Essays have never had this happen to them.


To return again to the sports field, in recent years nearly every professional sport has added a system of playoffs. When a team is defeated in the playoffs, there is nothing left to do but for that team to go home. I suspect that every sports team dreads the idea of a loss which would cause them to go home.

For those with disabilities, there are homes such as nursing homes. For the able bodied to go home to a nursing home might not be an enticing proposition, but for the disabled, going home to a nursing home might be the only choice available.

The Clayton, Missouri public schools that I attended were death on tardiness. If a student had three or four tardinesses, he might be told to go home instead of attending class. Such tardiness probably affected his grade.


Once again, to return to the field of singing, the idea of home or going home appears in many compositions. One of them is “Home on the Range.” Then, one of the tear jerkers is “Home is Where the Heart is.” In “Home on the Range,” there is a poignant thought. It says that:

Home, home on the range,
Where the deer and the antelope play
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day.

I expect that the lyricist had to reach for that last line.


Then we have the case of being “home sick.” For Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republicans in the Senate, there is “My Old Kentucky Home.” Speaking of politics, in the 2008 election, the Republicans were sent home from Washington in droves. Perhaps they got a warmer reception at home than they would have in Washington.

Again, on the political front, I find that in 2004 John Kerry, because of his marriage to the widow of the Heinz fortune, had five homes. The farmer in Iowa, for example, might not have found this very amusing. But in the 2008 election, we found that John McCain had confusion about whether he owned seven homes or eleven homes. It completely baffles me about why people need more than one or even two homes. A fellow I worked with wound up owning a home in the Poconos and another on the east coast of the United States. He always contended that, whenever he needed an important piece of paper, it was in the other home. But I am baffled by the thought that when a person is told to go home, which home does he choose?

On the subject of home ownership, I wonder why citizens wish to take on the ownership of more than one home with factors such as roof leaks, pipes collapsing, grass to be cut, and snow to be shoveled. But lots of people wish to own more than one home, and I wish them well. On the other hand, I might observe that when a divorce occurs, even in a single-ownership home, the person who remains in the home might wind up buying his own home twice. But if the choice is between buying your own home twice and/or sleeping in the car, I would say buy the home.

Tom Paxton is a folk singer who is now snuggling up fairly close to age eighty. In one of his songs, Paxton has a line which says that home is a place “where they have to let you in.” In another case, Tom Paxton has written that “home is anywhere you are.” All of this may be true, but if the GIs at the end of the Second World War were headed home they might have a degree of confusion if “home is anywhere you are.”


Well, so much for my thoughts about “going home.” It took 67 years for these ideas about going home to eventually produce a small essay. It is my hope that this essay has demonstrated the intensity of thoughts that GIs have about going home and I would suggest that other people have those kinds of thoughts as well.

As for going home to Jesus, I am going to take a pass on that question. All I can say is that Lillie Carr, my mother, sang or hummed “Amazing Grace” each day during my life time. She also said that she couldn’t wait to “go home to Jesus.” But when her final illness struck her, she fought valiantly to stay here with us earthlings. Given a choice, I would like to stay with my fellow earthlings for a while longer, even though I know that my life is in its extra innings. I am at home at 500 Long Hill Drive, and going home to some other place at this late date does not interest me.

But I will sing a verse or two of John Newton’s song about “Amazing Grace” where he said, “Grace has brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.” I leave you with the thought that I hope celestial grace extends also to John Newton for his involvement with the slave trade. But what can I say? He was an Anglican preacher and the head man doesn’t make many of those kinds of creatures.

June 14, 2009
Essay 390

Kevin’s commentary: I was reading about the slave-trading reverend, the idea of “going home” and how that implies that you were there before you were born (why can’t you remember it?) and a few other phrases in the essay made me immediately remember a very short story I read recently called The Egg. You should check it out; I think it asks a very interesting question.

On going home for lunches and brown paper bags: in my experience, the food that mom made could usually rival or best what was available in the cafeterias. Hopefully, Pop, you weren’t missing out on much.

On multiple homes: I think that you’re not fully an adult until your “home” and “the place your parents live” are two different things. By this standard, I’m not fully an adult yet. If someone calls and asks if I’m home, and I’m at my residence in San Francisco, I will say yes. However I have only been living here about six months, and I’ve moved around four times in the last eighteen months alone that I’m loath to say that I have a “home” out here. I have plenty of places that I inhabit, but in my mind “home” is synonymous with my childhood home in Austin. Perhaps if I got a nicer apartment, or got married or something, that would change, but it hasn’t yet.

So there’s that.

As a final note, readers who enjoyed this essay might also like “The Doctrine of Up,” which is done in a similar style.


This essay on the English language was inspired by a preposterous source. The someone who inspired this essay departed this vale of tears more than 51 years ago and was generally known as my father. He was a laconic man who used country speak to convey his thoughts to the outside world. Country speak is a rural language based primarily on the English language with many touches of Appalachia throughout. In my father’s case, there were also influences from his Irish background. For example, he always used as his only epithet the word “bloody.” When the tappets on his engine in our Studebaker talked back, he would say, “Listen to them bloody tappets.” As a boy, I knew that this presaged a long night holding a flashlight while my father adjusted the bloody tappets with a feeler gauge.

When he spoke, he could tangle the English language into knots that could not be untied. His mispronunciations were legion. For example, the word “ought” was pronounced as “ort.” And then there was the term necessary, which the old man pronounced as “needcessity.” For all of his mispronunciations and his use of country speak, once in a while there were charming moments to his speech.

For example, he always used the term “presently” in place of the term “soon.” He ate his last meal of the day, which was called supper, no later than six o’clock and he would say, “Supper will be on the table presently.” One way or another, the term “presently” has been lost as we progress into the 21st century and I regret that.

My father and my mother were also quite religious. They shook their heads at sins such as playing baseball games on a Sunday afternoon, playing cards and ballroom dancing. Both of them knew that “We can’t go on this-a-way.” If we continued our sins this-a-way, it would mean the end of the world and only Jesus could save us. My father and mother lived nearly 80 years and they went to their graves bemoaning the sins that were taking place presently, which we all know that we shouldn’t carry on this-a-way.

There are two other instances in country speak which are of some interest and they do not inspire charm. For example, the word “help” is almost always pronounced as “hep.” A man could be changing a tire and someone would approach him and offer to “hep” him. What happened to the “l” in that word remains a thorough mystery.

Then there is one other thought about a person not being “worth a lick.” The term “lick” is also used for striking a blow. For example, when one splits wood, he strikes the wood to be split with a “heavy lick.” Somehow or another, in the country speak of my father and my mother, to a large extent, a person who was termed “not worth a lick” was in their estimation a worthless person. I also recall that when my mother encountered someone who looked sickly, she would say that “He looks peak-ed”. Peaked is pronounced in two separate syllables.

There are perhaps two or three other aspects of forgotten English that come to mind. For example, the word purgative has been replaced by the word laxative. My wife, Ms. Chicka, says that when atmospheric conditions cause a hump on the recreation room rug, it is “hoved”. The “o” in hove is meant to rhyme with the “o” in rose.

In black speech, you may notice that there is confusion between the word “they” and “their”. My companion from my days as a filling station attendant Mr. Dell Vanburen Barbee might say “The PO’-lice presented ‘they’ evidence” when he of course meant “their evidence”.

Well, so much for the vagaries of country speak. In spite of its drawbacks, it inspired this little essay. The English spoken by Americans has a broad span. There are drawls in the south and the clipped speech of New Englanders. One aspect of the speech used around Boston has to do with the intrusive “r” that is added to words like “America.” The Kennedys, for example, would pronounce the word “America” as something approaching “Amer-i-cer.” They would also pronounce “Africa” as “Africer.” In addition, folks addicted to the intrusive “r” would pronounce the name of the Fidel Castro haven as “Cuber”. The Kennedys are well-educated and I generally agree with their politics but I remain wondering why this intrusive “r” persists.

Aside from the Kennedys, the intrusive “r” also shows up in those who pronounce “Washington” as “Warshington”. Then I believe that you will find that a large number of Southerners insert the intrusive “i” in the word can’t. They say, “He cain’t do that.” My fellow Americans speak a number of dialects of the English language, all of which amuse and please me.

Then we have the difficulty that seems to afflict the speech of black Americans. In many cases the word “ask” is rendered as “ax.” This may be due to the influence of the Irish who often use the word “ax” for “ask.” A love song containing the words “I axed for her hand” might not be romantic at all.

While we are on the peculiarities of Irish speech, there are those Irishmen who have not yet conquered the “th” sound in English speech. For example, the Fureys, who have been described as the most popular singing group in Ireland, are incapable of using the “th” sound. Typically they refer to think as “tink” and thanks as “tanks.” Why this is true in the land of my ancestors is once again beyond my comprehension.

And then there is the thought that the “r” in words is not always pronounced by New Yorkers. A New Yorker might say about a homerun, “Did you see him hit that ‘homa’?” The New Yorkers ought to get together with the New Englanders and come to an agreement about the proper speech patterns.

As you can see, this is a pastiche of thoughts about the English language. There is even room for the Welsh to make a contribution. One of their songs, which is known I believe, to nearly every choir group, is “All Through the Night.” That is a lullaby whose first lines are:

Sleep, my child, may peace attend thee,
All through the night.

As a bit of a confession, I have been looking for opportunities to use the word “attend” in these essays. But no two ways about it, I approved the Welsh construction of “attend thee.”

Then there is the matter of the use of the word “right” so frequently in our speech. We speak of wrong or right, and we also refer to the right to life. A common expression is “I’ll be right there.” Then there is the case of right and left. As you can see in this short example, the rights certainly outweigh the lefts.

Well, so much for this very short exploration of the English language as spoken mostly by people on these shores. I have an affection for words like “attend thee” and “presently.” I am sorry to see them fall into disuse, much as I am sorry to see the term “yonder” no longer used.

My father got an assist in inspiration of this essay from my listening to a recording of Peter, Paul and Mary. In one selection, Mary Travers sings a song which is called “You Can Hear the Whistle Blow a Hundred Miles.” There are these lines:

Without a shirt on my back,
Without a penny to my name,
Lord, I can’t go back home this a way.

I was thinking about my father’s speech patterns before I heard that song but it reminded me of words that are now overlooked in the English language.

I once asked my great and treasured friend, Sven Lernevall, whose native tongue is Swedish, what he found attractive about the English language. Sven told me that the English language is a rich language. Apparently that is true. It can embrace country-speak on one hand and black speech as well as forgotten speech. It is a great gift to every American that English is the lingua franca of the whole world these days. For that, we owe Mother England a vote of thanks.

My father never knew of my writing essays but if he had known that, he might offer to “hep” me with my work. He might also say that the essays that are turned out at this table are “not worth a lick.” And finally, he might tell me that I “ort” to quit writing such trash and devote my thoughts to heavenly matters. Perhaps, after all these years, if I were to take his advice, I might find that peace would “attend” me. I find it difficult to take that chance so I guess I’ll continue to carry on this-a-way.

June 3, 2009
Essay 388


Kevin’s commentary: This is the first language-based essay in a while. It seems they’ve become more common in recent years. Similarly-themed essays can be found here, here, and here. It is good to know that as time has gone by, Pop’s affection for words like “yonder” has not diminished.

The question that strikes me now, that has not struck me before while reading these types of essays, is this: since our language is necessarily going to keep evolving, and since I have a long time to live, which words are going to get “retired” in my lifetime? If I had to discern a pattern from all of these essays, I suppose the lowest-hanging-fruits are dialect specific; intuitively a word that only exists in the vocabulary of a smaller subset of people is more likely to phase out. And I guess there are medical terms too and adjustments for political correctness — for instance, I very much hope that I hear someone call something “retarded” for the last time while I am still young.

But there are still a whole slew of words that fall outside of even these broad-strokes patterns. “Presently” is standard English as near as I can tell but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard it used in everyday speech. For these types of words, I am extremely curious as to what dies off next. There’s probably a scientific way to approach that, but for my part I’ll probably just wait until I’m 80 and write an essay or two about words that I haven’t heard in a while. Seems like a good way to do it.




This is only the third day of June, 2009 but we have had enough bad news to last a lifetime.  On Monday of this week, General Motors filed for bankruptcy.  At about the same time, Air France lost one of its airbuses on a trip from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.  Both of these events have slowed me down quite a bit.

In the case of General Motors, I can recall that my first automobile was a 1931 Chevrolet coupe which I bought in 1937 for $50.  I drove it for two years or more and sold it my friend Tallis Lockos for $50.  Obviously I did not make a bundle on the sale of that car but, as you can see, it held its value quite well.

Then I bought a used 1937 Chevrolet which contained a smooth-riding feature called “knee action.”  This meant that the front wheels were individually suspended as opposed to being mounted on an axle.  The “knee action” produced a pretty good ride but keeping the wheels aligned was a bit of a problem.

When I enlisted in the American Army, I had become convinced that World War II was going to go on for quite a while.  So I asked my father to sell my car to a fellow named Louie.  Lou was a clerk for John Gualdoni, our local grocer.  Louie gladly paid me the $300 that I asked for my car because he knew that no new cars would be made for a long time to come.  Selling that car was a grievous mistake on my part.  In 1945, when there was a honeymoon to be taken, I was without transportation and no one volunteered to loan me a car.  Eventually, my brother Earl volunteered his car, after I assured him that it would be taken care of without undue risk.

In the years following the war, I was loyal to General Motors cars, driving Chevys, Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, one Buick, and, finally, in 1986, a Cadillac coupe.  In the GM line, the only car that I had skipped was a small Cadillac named a La Salle.  But the fact of the matter is that the two biggest cars that I bought in the General Motors line were a Buick and a Cadillac, and they were trouble from day one.

By the latter half of the 1990s, it appeared to me that Chrysler was the car for my use.  I bought two Chryslers before I quit driving, and my wife also bought two Chryslers.  The car we now use is going on nine years in age but the choice of Chrysler was a good one in that this car has never given us any trouble whatsoever.

Now, to replace the Chrysler, there is a choice to be made.  For reasons unknown to me, I have never bought a Ford product.  I suppose they are nice cars but one way or another, they have never turned me on.  My wife, Miss Chicka, who is adept at computer research, has concluded that, in all likelihood, our next car should be a Honda Accord.  They seem to get glowing reports from all sides, including one of my daughters and her husband.  But the fact that a World War II veteran is considering buying a Japanese car makes for big news.  In the early days of the manufacture of Japanese cars, they were considered “junky.”  For several years, that title no longer applies to the cars made by the Empire of Japan.  On the other hand, the cars that have been turned out by American manufacturers in recent years are, in truth, not of high quality.

General Motors has launched an advertising campaign in the last day or so that tells us that their cars are “green” and that we will all want to buy them.  In effect, they are starting from scratch.  I suspect that it will be somewhere on the order of three to five years before the worth of GM cars is established.  In that time, I suspect that we will have overcome our trauma about buying a Japanese car, and, for all I know, I may be an angel by that time.


The second event in this grim news essay was the loss of the Air France Airbus with something on the order of 228 people aboard.  The accident happened somewhere east of Natal, Brazil, which is a spot very familiar to American fliers.  For a long time, to get supplies to the European theater, particularly aircraft, there was a tortuous route to follow.  That route started in Miami and proceeded to Borinquen Field in Puerto Rico.  Then the next stop was Georgetown in what was then known as British Guyana.  From Georgetown, the next stop was either Natal or, if the fuel was running low, perhaps it would be Belém or even Fortaleza.  From Natal, it would be a long hop over the south Atlantic Ocean to Ascension Island.  From Ascension, there was another ocean hop which took our airplanes to Accra, which is now in the territory of Ghana.

Taking one thing with another, I flew through Natal, Brazil, on three occasions.  Two of those occasions were when I was the aerial engineer on flights returning from Europe to bring aircraft that were to be refurbished, including one for a war bond tour.  The remaining flight was as a passenger returning to the European theater.  It has been my good fortune to know a few Brazilian people.  They are welcoming and genuine.  The last time that I made an appearance in Natal, Brazil was in the early part of 1945.  That would have been 64 years ago.  But nonetheless I feel a brotherhood with those who fly over ocean routes.  The sea is entirely unforgiving.  An accident there could claim the lives of a good many people.  And so it was in this case, where 228 people lost their lives on a flight from Rio to Paris.

All of us hope that General Motors should succeed and in time we may put the memories of the loss of the Air France airliner in the back part of our mind.  But I guess one of the cardinal rules is that in business as in flying, mistakes are punished in a cruel way.  Unfortunately, those of us on the sidelines can do nothing to help the situation.  But tomorrow may bring better news, and perhaps in time, we will all smile again.  And so there is no denying that in the first part of June, 2009, grim news abounds.



June 3, 2009

Essay 389

Kevin’s commentary: Hell yeah to Accords! I believe the “glowing review” from Mom referred to my childhood Honda Accord, whose name was Larry. It’s also possible that she was talking about her hybrid Accord, who knows. What I do know is that as of 12/4 when this is being posted, both cars are still in our possession and still running!

Pop has a pretty prodigious list of cars that he’s chewed through in his time. I wonder why he didn’t just find one he liked and stick with it, but perhaps this is a silly idea for someone who has made it to age 90. Surely even I would get tired of my Accord by then.

For the record, Pop has quite the distaste for the Accord that he wound up buying. See “The Honda Bump Enhancer” for more.