Archive for the Ireland Category


This essay has to do with while I am here and secondly, when I am gone.

An Australian composer of great note recently produced a memorable work which he called, “While I Am Here.” His name is John Munro. He is originally from Scotland and has long since assumed Australian citizenship. After listening to John Munro’s epic piece about “While I Am Here,” my thoughts ran to a prose piece which for want of a better title is called “When I Am Gone.” John Munro’s piece is written in poetic form while my piece is in my own pedestrian prose. Needless to say, it may be more interesting to listen to the Munro piece than to my story of “When I Am Gone.”

In the Munro piece, along about the fourth line from the top, there is a reference to doing “the best you can.” My mother did not have a copyright on doing the best you can but she claimed authorship of that title in my estimation in August of 1942 when her youngest child departed for the American Army. So let us deal first with the Munro piece. As I said, near the beginning of John Munro’s lyrics appears the line about doing the best you can. This triggered a thought that has been with me for more than 70 years.

On the morning that I left to join the American Army in August of 1942, there was a memorable exchange between Lillie Carr, my mother, and myself. I knew that my mother harbored ill feelings about the way that the English treated the Irish during their 800 years of occupation. But there was an uprising by the Irish on Easter Day in Dublin in 1916. As usual, the Irish were decimated and their leader, James Connolly, was so wounded that he could not stand. The Brits ordered Connolly’s execution. He could not stand so they shot him in the chair where he was sitting. Or if you believe another story, Connolly was shot while lying down.

My mother and her sisters felt very strongly about their Irish ancestry. One of them, Aunt Nora, used to play a game with me when I was a small child. As soon as she came into the house, Aunt Nora would say, “Boy, what would you be if you were not Irish?” I knew the answer. It was, “I would be ashamed.” But from James Connolly’s execution in 1916 until her death in 1961, the feeling my mother had for the British Empire could be categorized largely as hatred.

Our home in Richmond Heights, Missouri was constructed largely through the efforts of my father. The two-car garage was separated from the house by about 25 feet. This was the custom in those days, having to do with engine fires. In front of the garage was a concrete slab which was for maneuvering to get the cars into the garage. As I was leaving for the Army, my mother accompanied me to this concrete driveway. At that point, when it came time to say goodbye, my mother issued the usual warnings about writing home often. Then she began to talk about the dangers I would face. Her four brothers were in the First World War and were subjected to gas attacks by the Germans.

I attempted to soothe my mother’s fears by telling her how much help we would have in fighting the war. I told her about the Canadians and the Frenchmen. I told her about the Norwegians and the Danes, and mostly about the Poles. She had warm feelings for the Poles because their help was greatly appreciated by my parents when they were running the Lilac Roost Dairy Farm. And then inexplicably I said that we would have the help of Great Britain. My mother would have none of this “Great Britain” stuff. Immediately, she said, “You mean the English?” I must have shrugged my confirmation of her thoughts about the English. Immediately, she said to me, “Son, in that case you will have to do the best you can.” With that, she turned on her heel and retired to her kitchen. I knew at that point that the interview was ended.

I could not figure out how I could have made such a blunder. But there was only one thing to do, which was to walk the half mile to the streetcar stop where I would board the Kirkwood-Ferguson streetcar. It took about two hours for the streetcar to reach Jefferson Barracks after about three transfers. All the way from beginning to end, I was cursing myself for mentioning England to my mother. She came to see me at Jefferson Barracks before I was shipped to basic training. It was the last time I saw her for nearly two and a half years.

So aside from the Munro piece having to do with “While I Am Here,” when I play that piece I always have a feeling of poignancy about the phrase “doing the best you can.” My mother did not invent those lines about doing the best you can, but she used them with great effectiveness on the day that I departed our home to join the American Army.

Now that we have tended to the “While I Am Here” story, I am ready to turn to my thoughts about what I would miss when I am gone. It is obvious that I will miss my friends and my relatives. There are my wife, two daughters and their husbands, and five grandchildren. One of my essays, called “Love Her, Love Her, Love Her,” was written as a tribute to my wife. But I am determined not to fall into the trap of identifying which friend or which relative I will miss the most.

Quite to the contrary, I believe that what I will miss the most will be music. Reviewing these thoughts that accompany this essay, it seems to me that music that tells a story with a good melody and harmony is essential to producing a good song. I suspect that Miss Ashbaugh, our grade school choral director, and Georgia Walker, our high school director of music, must have made a bigger impression upon me than I had thought before.

In the early days, I used to escort my elder sister when she sang in the chorus in the St. Louis Grand Opera. From attending the Grand Opera, I learned to appreciate a piece of music. I do not consider the music of the rock and roll variety to be good music. There is a performer here named Bruce Springsteen who shouts the lyrics to all his music. I do not consider that music acceptable. Naturally I have a soft spot in my heart for tunes with an Irish background, another soft spot for spirituals and a further soft spot for opera arias.

There is an accompanying CD to this essay which includes a small sample of some of the songs that I will miss. When I joined the Army, I was probably humming “Whispering Grass” which is included in this very limited selection of tunes. If I were to send you every song that I will miss, the list would be endless. The songs included here have been chosen selectively to give you a flavor of what I will miss.

The point I am attempting to make is that when I am gone, I will miss good music tremendously.

So this essay has two unrelated points to it. The first is the inspiration of John Munro when he wrote his song “While I Am Here” with reference to the old phrase of doing the best you can. The second part would be what I will miss when I am gone.

I saw my cardiologist a few days ago and he assured me that I will be around for a while in spite of my Methuselah-like age. Well, there you have it about the whiles and the whens. I am delighted that John Munro has composed this piece and I am also delighted that his efforts have led me to this period of contemplation about what I will miss when I am gone.

It has been a great pleasure to dictate this essay because it deals with music. If there is a higher calling than producing a great piece of music, it remains for me to discover it. And so I hope that you have enjoyed this essay about music as much as I have.

July 16, 2012


I wonder if Judy could get me a tracklist for that essay — I’d post it here!

Here’s a song by Munro on Campbell, who indeed was shot in a chair at Kilmainham Gaol. I visited recently and saw the grounds where it happened!


This essay is a love story in the Irish tradition. It has nothing to do with horny politicians trying to seduce an intern nor does it have to do with an amorous preacher trying to embed a soprano from the church choir. It has to do with the Irish use of the English language, the language of Ireland’s despised and hated oppressor. The only plus to come out of 800 years of occupation by the British is that the Irish learned to use the English language.

And this essay also has to do with Irish earworms. Earworms are not a disease of any kind. They are simply pieces of song or literature that stick in your head and can not be shaken. My wife has earworms all the time. My mother had an earworm for 75 years over the hymn, “Amazing Grace.” She sang it or hummed it every day of her adult life. My earworms have to do with Irish literature, songs and poems. Before I grow much older, it seemed appropriate to write a modest essay about Irish earworms that celebrate and commemorate pieces of Irish works written in the English language.

According to my great and good friends Ella and Sven Lernervall, whose native language is Swedish and who speak flawless English, the English language is a rich one. I suspect I agree with their conclusion and would like to point out that the Irish have made a major contribution toward making the English language much richer. With that thought in mind, there are four pieces of Irish prose and poetry that I would like to offer to make my point.

Before that point is made, it should be noted that my formal schooling in the Clayton, Missouri public school system did not encourage much use of abstract languages like the Irish use of the English language. For example, at the time in the mid 1930s, English customs were considered the ultimate achievement by civilized people, particularly here in the United States. England had ocean liners such as the Queen Mary which dominated Atlantic travel. English manners were often copied in the mannerisms of my fellow citizens. In my eighth grade class there was a teacher known as Miss Maxwell, who was an Anglophile of immense proportions. Miss Maxwell had some immense proportions of her own. She was what the Sears Roebuck catalog would have called a very stout woman. And on top of that she wore button-up shoes, which I thought went out of style during the First World War. But nonetheless, Miss Maxwell had control of the eighth grade in the Maryland School of the Clayton public school system. Periodically, that is to say twice a week, Miss Maxwell would read English poetry to us that was full of nymphs and fairies, castles, knights, and the like. It was clear that the boys in her class hated for Miss Maxwell to take out her book on English poetry. I was probably the foremost among those who hated to see Miss Maxwell reach for that book. After leaving Miss Maxwell in the eighth grade, I crossed the street to the high school where I ran into the English teacher, Blandford Jennings. Blandford Jennings did not read poetry to us but rather he constructed plays to be put on by students that featured fairies and nymphs and castles and knights and all that sort of thing. So you see, when I left Clayton High School in 1940, I had a pretty jaundiced view of English literature.

So, I set out to educate myself. I read almost every thing I could lay my hands on, including a German language newspaper that appeared in the prison camp during World War II where I was held for a short time. It did not help that when I asked a guard for assistance in trying to read the newspaper, he turned out to be a Rumanian who spoke no German and could not read the German language at all. My reading took me to the poems of William Service and later to many books and articles by Henry Mencken. Among the Irish authors, I read the works of William Butler Yeats and Connor Cruise O’Brien. In the final analysis, I concluded that the Irish could handle the English language at least as well as the English or, in many cases, much better.

You will recall that for 800 years, England had its heel, its instep, and its steel-plated shoe sole planted firmly on the neck of the Irish nation. Irishmen could not own property, were denied the use of Gaelic, their native tongue, and were often deprived of their Catholic heritage. The English enforced their rules with cruel abandon, including hangings and shootings. Out of all of this unpleasantness, most Irishmen today will tell you that the only benefit they gained from the occupation was that the Irish learned to use the English language, which is the lingua franca of the whole world these days.

And so, here are the four pieces of Irish literature and poetry which tend to demonstrate the Irish use of the English language. The first is an excerpt from a Time Magazine book review of Brendan Behan’s “The Borstal Boy.” The borstals were an English invention, which were intended to house youngsters in their early teens as opposed to sending them to ordinary prisons. While Brendan Behan was in the borstal system, he tried to read books and, on many occasions, he would permit himself to read only a certain number of pages each night so that he would have more to read the following nights. This review appeared every year for many years in the March 17th issue of Time in celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day. Time has now stopped publishing this piece of literature but it was lovely for the many years that they used it.

The review goes like this:

“The English language brings out the best in the Irish. They court it like a beautiful woman. They make it bray with donkey laughter. They hurl it at the sky like a paintpot full of rainbows, and then make it chant a dirge for man’s fate and man’s follies that is as mournful as misty spring rain crying over the fallow earth. Rarely has a people paid the lavish compliment and taken the subtle revenge of turning its oppressor’s speech into sorcery.”

“Among recent Irish sorcerers with the gift of golden gab, Brendan Behan ranks high.” ….

From TIME, The Weekly Newsmagazine
T. E. Kalem, Senior Writer
in a review of Borstal Boy

“Turning its oppressor’s speech into sorcery” is an elegant piece of Irish earworm. That sorcery has stayed with me for a number of years.

When Irish friends take their leave of each other, they often share a drink, a handshake, and perhaps a hug. This ceremony is called
“The Parting Glass.” Here are a few lines from a traditional Irish song having to do with parting. A traditional song means that no one now knows who wrote the music or composed the words.

The Parting Glass

Of all the money that ere I had, I spent it in good company.
And of all the harm that ere I’ve done, alas was done to none but me.
And all I’ve done for want of wit, to memory now I can’t recall.
So fill to me the parting glass. Goodnight and joy be with you all.
words and music Traditional

“And all I’ve done for want of wit, to memory now I can’t recall.” This is another piece of elegant Irish thought. There is no better way to say that some ideas are beyond ones intelligence.
Here now is another song about parting. It is known as “The Journey’s End” or “The Parting Song.” The music and words were written by an Irish author J. B. Goodenough.


The fire is out, the moon is down
The parting glass is dry and done
And I must go and leave this town
Before the rising of the sun
And long’s the road and far’s the mile
Before I rest my soul again
With girls that weep and girls that smile
at all the words and ways of men
For some there are, who may not bide
But wander to the journey’s end
Nor take a girl to be a bride
Nor keep a man to be a friend
And when I’m done with wandering
I’ll sit beside the road and weep
For all the songs I did not sing
And promises I did not keep

“And when I’m done with wandering, I’ll sit beside the road and weep,
For all the songs I did not sing, And promises I did not keep.” The thought about songs that were not sung and promises not kept has haunted me for many years. It is a beautiful piece of phraseology. No wonder that Earworms afflict me.

Now let us turn finally to an Irish blessing that has served our people for more than a century. The text reads this way:

Irish Blessing:
May the Road Rise to Meet You

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields and,
Until we meet again,
May your God hold you in the palm of His hand.

“May the road rise to meet you” is to Irish ears a wonderful thought. Does any other language offer a similar thought? I doubt it, which makes it one of my consistent earworms.

Here then are four Irish pieces, prose and poems, that contribute heavily to a love story with the language and to earworms. The fact that they are elegant expressions makes it clear that the Irish know how to use the English language, perhaps better than the English people do. Winston Churchill might take some exception to that thought but, all things being equal, it is my belief that the Irish learned their lesson well from eight hundred years of occupation and, indeed, their use of the language is magnificent. How can anyone forget “turning the oppressors speech into sorcery,” “For want of wit I can’t recall,” “Songs that have not been sung and promises that have not been kept,” and “May the road rise to meet you.” There is no wonder that Irish earworms stick in Irish ears forever.

February 14, 2006

Postscript: It seems to me that the difference between the Anglo-Saxon’s in England and the Celts in Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, is that the Celts are singers and the English are not. Perhaps this makes a difference in their use of the English language.


This is one of precious few essays that uses text coloration, and it happened after Pop went blind. I wonder why that is.

I also suspect that the double-dose of knights and fairies and castles is probably what turned Pop off fiction for life. It’s a shame that poor teaching can leave a mark just as indelible as good teaching, but in the wrong direction.


Because of its sacredness, this is an essay that should be read in silence, preferably in a monastic setting. On the other hand, if you prefer to read it aloud in the midst of a bawdy house, there is nothing that can be done to stop that. The author would like to have the address of the bawdy house, if that can be arranged.

For all my adult life, my instincts have always led me to men and women at the lower levels of the economic ladder, who do the heavy lifting and the repetitive functions that bring prosperity to American corporations. The people at the lower end of our economy are unfortunately often people of color. No matter how you cut it, prejudice still exists in this country, particularly in the South and West. And so my instincts often lead me to people of color who suffer discrimination and who are barred from the society pages of our newspapers.

Some 60 years ago, those instincts led me to lend my support to a union of telephone workers who were being short changed by AT&T, the most powerful corporation of its day. In that case, women such as the telephone operators were prominent among those being cheated. It pleases me now that my instincts for the underdog have remained unchanged for such a long period of time.

All of this came in to focus the day that Georgia Coney, a long term friend who is a supermarket checkout cashier, made a remark about the great American Depression. The remark was made to Sue Catlett, who oversees checkout cashiers in this market and to Dale Ash, another cashier. Miss Chicka and your old author were part of this discussion group. Georgia, Sue and Dale trace their ancestry to Africa as Judy and her husband trace theirs to Ireland.

Georgia is the fourth child out of 10 of a farmer and his wife who worked the soil near Albany, Georgia. She said that as a child, in spite of the fact that her family was large and times were tough, “We never went to bed hungry.” In those Depression days, that was a significant achievement.

In the Carr family during the early and mid-1930’s, we came mighty close to not having enough to eat on more than one occasion. Holding my thumb and forefinger a quarter inch apart, this old essayist said to Dale, “We came that close several times.” John Gualdoni, a grocer, saved us.

And so the discussion was about hard times brought on by Herbert Hoover, an engineer by trade, who unfortunately happened to be president of this country. Hoover, like Bush, understood nothing about people who had to work to put food on the table. That supermarket discussion led me to deal with one of three subjects mostly banished from my memory. Aside from the Depression, the other two are the divorce of 1983, and the combat phases of my military service in World War II.

The American language has a way of evolving, adding some words that are meritorious and other words whose span of time in the language is ephemeral. In this case, the new phrase used largely by younger people to deal with unpleasant or banished subjects is to say, “I don’t want to go there.” When Bush was on one of his many Texas vacations, and was told of Osama bin Laden’s desire to target the United States, it was an unpleasant thought and Bush did not want to interrupt his bass fishing. He did not want to go there. The result was the attack on September 11, 2001 for which we were given adequate warning by Osama.

In my case, there is no desire whatsoever to relive the deprivations of the Great Depression. Similarly, there is no reason to rehash a divorce case of nearly a quarter century ago or the death and destruction which took place during the combat phase of my military service. That took place some 62 or 63 years ago. All things considered, those three subjects have long been largely and deliberately banished from my thoughts.

Recalling the events of those years is not only unpleasant, but it smacks of asking the listener or reader to feel some sort of sorrow or pity. Those reactions are absolutely the last thing that is desired. Those things happened. They are in the past. The idea is to do better so that they don’t happen again.

On perhaps the only bright note, one of the lessons of the Great Depression had to do with my schooling in the Clayton, Missouri public school system. This lesson is that things are not always what they seem to be.

In this case, the well-to-do movers and shakers of the St. Louis business community did their business within the city limits of St. Louis, but their residences were often in Clayton, a leading suburb. In this case, we are speaking of lawyers, physicians, stock brokers and business owners. Because those occupations are often peopled by those of the Jewish faith, the Clayton school system was just about equally divided between Gentile and Jewish students.

In those days, there was no official recognition of Jewish holidays. If a Jewish kid was not at school on a religious holiday, his absence was ascribed to a cold or to some other transient ailment. For all intents and purposes, the rest of the student body at Clayton was Gentile and basically Protestant. The Catholics had their own schools.

The chorus or glee club at Clayton was both Gentile and Jewish, but sang no Jewish songs. When Christmas came, Jewish students sang about the birth of Jesus in a straw hut near Bethlehem. At Easter, there may have been a song or two celebrating the alleged resurrection of Jesus. As far as anyone knows, the Jewish members of the chorus sang that religious stuff along with the Gentiles, including one non-believing left footed baritone, to use an Irish term. Georgia Walker was the music teacher. It is fairly clear that if the Jewish students failed to sing of the “Great getting up morning in the sky,” Miss Walker would tell them to sign up for a shop or a cooking class instead of chorus.

My parents were fundamentalist or primitive Christians who believed that no one could enter the kingdom of heaven until he or she had undergone full immersion baptism and had the experience of being “born again.” Because Jews lacked those experiences, they were barred from heaven and its suburbs, by all flame throwing fundamentalist preachers.

For the last twelve years of his working life, my father worked as a caretaker for a private, largely Jewish subdivision. It is suspected that he never told them they would be barred from heaven until they submitted to full immersion baptism and being born again. Remember, this was the Depression and jobs were pretty much non-existent.

But aside from failure of other faiths to reach heaven after death, my parents never tried to turn me into an anti-Semite. They were not that kind of people and they knew of my rejection of their brand of Christianity. It had to be painful for them to know of my disbelief, but they seemed to say, “We have four believers and one odd ball. Four out of five is not so bad after all.” They were wrong as my sister Opal, counted among the believers, wound up singing and serving drinks in Joe Gonella’s saloon.

Earlier in this essay, it was said that things are not always what they seem to be. The incident that came to mind was of a successful St. Louis businessman who owned a large house just across the street from the playground for the Maryland Grade School which was part of the Clayton public school system. At that time, we played with a nine inch softball which had outseams as distinguished from an inseam ball. It was believed that outseamed balls lasted longer – which was important in depressed economic times.

All this took place in the fourth through the eighth grade at the Maryland Grade School. The batter would bat at the plate near the chain link fence which ran along side the playground. On the other side of the small street, was the palatial home of an owner of a St. Louis business. His business was located on Franklin Street, that housed dozens of cheap furniture stores and stores that sold repossessed furniture.

At the businessman’s house was an officious maid who growled if one of the boys had to chase a foul ball on the rich man’s property. There was one other character in this playlet, that being a boy about our age who lived in that palatial home, who went to our school and who seemed to have colds quite often. At that age, it had never dawned on me that his colds may have been related to celebrating a Jewish holiday which was not on the school calendar.

On WIL, the St. Louis radio station, there was a program every day sponsored by “Dick Slack, the Jolly Irishman.” On St. Patrick’s Day, the celebration went on for a week. Irish music always found its way onto Dick Slack’s radio program.

What Dick Slack was offering was cheap furniture and repossessed items at “Unheard of bargains.” This being the Depression, he apparently sold enough goods to buy a large house in Clayton with a maid and Cadillac and Packard automobiles and a son who attended our school.

Finally, about in the sixth grade, it dawned on me that “Dick Slack, the Jolly Irishman” was not Irish at all. He was the father of the boy whose name rang no bells in Donegal. Maybe in Jerusalem, but not in Dublin or Glock-a-Morra. This is hard to believe, but old Irish Dick Slack, the man who gave everyone easy credit, was in fact, Jewish. And his kid went to school with all of the ball playing Gentiles who chased foul balls in Dick Slack’s yard.

So that one got marked off to things are not always what they seem to be. In addition, it is one of the few incidents that can be related that had any humor in it at all during the Depression. The Depression went on from 1929 to early 1942, when World War II started. That is a long time to go without a laugh or two.

And so Georgia Coney’s remark about “not going to bed hungry” caused me to violate a rule on not discussing a banished subject. That rule was also violated in 2002 when on the 60th anniversary of my enlisting in the United States Army Air Corps, an essay was written for my daughters having to do with being shot down on December 8, 1943. This was anything but a happy experience. While essays have been written here about the non-combat phases of my military experience, this is the only time that the banished subject of combat in World War II has been violated. My excuse is that it was written for two daughters who have a connection to December 8th, which makes it no more than a venial sin.

Now about December eighth. In the first case, Maureen became our daughter through the auspices of the Illinois Children’s Home and Aid Society. Ten years to the day from my being shot down over German occupied territory in Italy, Maureen or Old Blondie, was taken from her foster home at the age of ten weeks. Three years later, on December 8, 1956, her sister, Spooky Suze, was born. So you see, December 8th which started out so bleakly, has worked out very well.

It was my original intention to write an essay on banished thoughts and subjects. It is very difficult to write about something that has been banished and repressed. All things being equal, it is my hope that you took the Dick Slack, the Jolly Irishman story to heart, because if things work out well, there will be no more of these banished disclosures. Unless, it was Dick Slack whose house was repossessed and who got shot down in the midst of a divorce involving his Hebrew, Muslim and shanty Irish wives. Now that might be worth writing about, providing his maid would permit me to do a little research on the grounds of his palatial home in Clayton, the heart of the Show Me state.

September 5, 2005


It’s pretty easy to tell at this point when an essay is gonna be a favorite. This one definitely qualified within the first paragraph. Happy late St. Patrick’s day, Mr. Slack.

John Gualdoni the grocer comes up in a number of essays. I think he’s unique to me because his profound impact on Pop’s family was such a clean-cut positive. He was generous when he didn’t have to be.

Every once in a while I think about the sheer unlikelihood of my existence and my mind always snaps at first to how little effort it would have taken from a million different directions to make me not exist. The obvious ones are not the positive factors like John Gualdoni — I’m much more likely to think about how the gunner that shot Pop down could have aimed differently or how the motorcycle that hit mom could have struck her a little more square-on. But it’s also nice to think that behind those scary one-offs which didn’t happen, there’s a whole army of people supporting one another through incredibly tough times that did support each other successfully.

And if you think about it for a second, you realize that by coincidence of your existence, you’re by definition the latest link in an unbroken line of people who have successfully had kids and raised them to adulthood in a chain that goes all the way back to the first humans. When I think of the sheer amount of cooperation that had to have gone into such an effort, it makes me feel like the John Gualdonis of the world who try to lift everyone up probably have a bigger impact on humanity than the occasional sidewalk-motorcyclist, even if the latter can sometimes be a lot more visible.

On another note entirely, I wonder if mom could tell me where “Spooky Suze” came from.


Being born in the American Mid-west, my native tongue is English spoken in broad, flat tones without regional accents. My English is not of the hard Boston variety, nor does it reflect the softer tones of Southern speech. Thus, the title of this essay in Mid-western speech would read, Tony Blair, Ed Carr and War, with the final R’s not being silent or elided.

Now I know full well that my use of the final R’s in English speech marks me as a peasant in the eyes of certain upper class Brits who are the Honorable Queen Elizabeth’s subjects. If history is a respectable guide, we fought a WAH back in 1776 to throw off the rule of upper class Brits. Now we have a fairly bright British Prime Minister who is widely called George Bush’s lapdog and who is known in upper class circles as Tony BLAH.

Unfortunately, this old essayist has no claim to academic excellence gained by attending an English college such as Oxford. As a matter of fact, I never was influenced by a college anywhere because I did not attend one. My schooling in Missouri, which I believe was first rate, demanded and encouraged me to sound out the words giving value to each of its letters. If the word had the letter “R,” it would be appropriately recognized and pronounced. So I am aghast at upper class Brits who drop the final “R” in Tony’s name, and in my family name and in the name of the projected hostilities with Iraq.

But among the-nose-in-the-air Britons, there is an equally disturbing habit of dropping vowels on the tail end of words to make them sound elegant, I suppose. Much is being made of MILITARY planning and preparations these days. According to some television commentators and high flown English politicians, we should know that when the British Army sets about preparing itself for WAH, it is making MILITRY preparations. My limited education said that MILITARY has four syllables and my dictionary – woops, that’s another failure right there! That should read DICTIONRY, which I should have known.

George Bush has made a few speeches about defending American territory from invading Iraq troops. Bush likes to paint himself as a Texan, which he is not, but in view of his love affair with Tony Blah, he should be defending American territry including his adopted Texas accent. Of course, if Bush and Tony Blah don’t pull off their wah which they say has been forced on them by that well known villain Saddam Hussein, perhaps a lot of American and British soldiers will wind up in the graveyard, otherwise known as the CEMETRY.

Do the upper class Brits have any plans to return the elided vowels from the end of words like the ones discussed in this piece? If they have any plans to return them to general use, I have heard nothing of it.

All that leads me to a reporter-commentator who works for CNN and who uses the name of Christiane Amanpour. Her accent is so upper class British, even though one of her parents came from Iran, that I am always a half sentence behind her. She dazzles me with Blah making militry plans to defend our territry so we can all stay out of the cemetry. Very quickly I am lost when she makes her TV reports.

Ordinary English men and women don’t speak as Madame Amanpour speaks. For quite a while during World Wah II, it was my fortune to work with English troops and the British Royal Air Force. I can’t recall any problems in dealing with them face-to-face or over aircraft radios. But they spoke standard English and there were few if any questions. But those Tommies and the flyers with the RAF were several steps removed – below – the elevated upper class roots of Christiane Amanpour. If one of her kind was directing AH (air) operations, perhaps the conflict would still be going on.

Before I leave the elevated atmosphere of upper class British speech, I should also ask our British allies what the hell ever happened to the letter “R” in the middle of a word. When a broadcast comes from London, there often is a reference to TUHKEY and there is also great concern about a race called the KUHDS. They even refer to BUHDS flying about. By the end of the broadcast, I can say that it is my belief that the upscale British announcers are talking about Turkey, the Kurds and birds. I am at a loss to explain to you why Bush’s fast friends in England go with a 25 letter alphabet. I suppose that’s why they are upper class and the rest of us are peasants.

This essay closes with a reference to Time Magazine which used to publish a tribute to the Irish which always appeared in the edition closest to St. Patrick’s Day. It was written by T. E. Kelem in a review of Brendan Behan’s “Borstal Boy.”

“The English language brings out the best in the Irish. They court it like a beautiful woman. They make it bray with donkey laughter. They hurl it at the sky like a paint pot full of rainbows, and then make it chant a dirge for man’s fate and man’s follies that is as mournful as misty spring rain crying over the fallow earth. Rarely has a people paid the lavish complement and taken the subtle revenge of turning its oppressor’s speech into sorcery.”

As an American of Irish ancestry, I looked forward to Kellem’s annual tribute which was to me a wonderful piece of writing as well as a welcome to Spring. It makes the upper class British attempts to bastardize the English language by dropping vowels and final “R’s” an exercise in crass juvenility. My Donegal ancestors would roll in the aisles if they were told that my name is now Cah and that we are now preparing for another wah to be co-authored by Bush’s sometime pal, Tony Blah.

Rule, Brittania! Brittania rule the waves! Britons nevah, nevah will be slaves. (Slight apologies to James Thomson, 1700-1748, from his play “Alfred”, Act II, Scene 5. Thomson was an Englishman.)


Several years ago, my medical moguls had me placed in the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City for nearly two weeks. I think they were trying to remove the carnality from my heart. From the name of the hospital, it might be assumed that the hospital would be a bastion of Protestant culture and devotion. That was not the case at all, if one were to judge by the nurses who attended to my needs. Most were from Ireland with many coming from County Donegal. It must be assumed that they were Catholics, not Protestants at all.

They soon recognized that my surname came from that part of Northwest Ireland occupied by County Donegal. I had been told by John Walsh, the Director of the Irish-American Institute, that Carr is a common Donegal name. It is also spelled as Kerr, but Kerr and Carr are pronounced much the same.

One or two of the nurses saw me exercising in the halls and said they had an ancient saying to recite to me. The little saying goes something like this:

Donegal, Donegal,
Where the people eat the praties (potatoes),
Skins and all!

I told them that the Donegal poem or saying was light years ahead of any English poetry that had ever been read to me. That made all of us feel better.

My experience with the Irish nurses at the Presbyterian hospital is recited because it brings up another friendship with another Donegal fellow who seems intent on retiring from the U. S. Postal Service soon. His name is Tom Kerr. Our surnames are spelled differently, but as I said, are pronounced in the same way.

I got to know Tom a few years ago in the Short Hills, New Jersey Post Office where he works. Before I knew Tom, I often dealt with
Jim McBride on postal matters. As my good Irish girl friend from Chicago, Ann Hincks, would say, Jim McBride was “one of the boys from home.”

As I got to know Tom Kerr, it became clear that he was a County Donegal man so we had much to talk about. Tom does his job with a good sense of humor, which is to be expected of any Irishman. When we converse, it is quiet conversation without histrionics. In short, it is the conversation of two friends of Irish-American citizenry who trace the roots of our families to their ancestry in County Donegal where the praties are eaten, skins and all!

Shortly before Christmas 2002, I happened to be in the Post Office with my wife Judy Chicka. While Judy was finishing her transaction with George Dlugos, a colleague of Tom Kerr and a good guy, I wandered over to a spot a few feet away from Tom. At that time, in a louder than usual voice, I said, “Mr. Kerr, I’ve got one thing to say to you.” George looked up from his dealings with my wife fearing, I suppose, that a dispute or a fight would take place.

Instantly, Tom Kerr said in stentorian tones to me, “Mr. Carr. I also have one thing to say to you.” By this time, I suppose other people were quite sure that a dispute was about to happen.

When Tom finished his statement, both of us said in unison, “Merry Christmas” and shook hands. No disputes; no fights; just two old Irish guys wishing each other Merry Christmas.

If Bush and Saddam Hussein were Irish, maybe the world would be a more peaceful place and there would be more laughter and enjoyment.

We can’t close this essay without a reference to Irish poetry which is an integral part of Irish culture. The English who imposed their will on Ireland for hundreds of years, never understood the Irish. Even today, the Northern Irish question demands Tony Blair’s attention as he tries to serve George Bush with respect to Iraq. One of the conservative or reactionary English authors, tried to capture the English sentiment about the Irish in his “Ballad of the White Horse.” The writer was Gilbert Keith Chesterton, 1874-1936. He wrote:

“For the great Gaels of Ireland
Are the men that God made mad,
For all their wars are merry,
And all their songs are sad.”

Lord Chesterton was nuts and that is a charitable assessment. He says, for example, that all our songs are sad. That is not true about a Doctor Johnson and his motor car. During Ireland’s War for Independence which finally produced a treaty in 1922, the Irish Republican Army had very little compunction about commandeering someone’s car for their use. In this case, it happened to a Protestant doctor, Doctor Johnson, an English sympathizer, who was not a popular figure with the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The fourth verse of the song about taking Doctor Johnson’s car away goes like this:

“What will my loyal brethren think
When they hear the news,
My car has been commandeered
By the Rebels (IRA) at Dunluce.”

“We’ll give you a receipt for it,
All signed by Captain Barr,
And when Ireland gets her freedom, boy,
You’ll get your motor car.”

The honorable Lord Chesterton may think “Johnson’s Motor Car” is a sad song, but most Irish people think it is funny, pleasant and entirely merry. So much for Lord Chesterton.

Now for a man contemplating retirement, it is to be hoped that there will be plenty to eat. On the other hand, there is a Gaelic saying:

“When the food is scarce
And you see the hearse,
Then you will know,
You died of hunger.”

Another Gaelic piece of wisdom goes like this:

“Outside the dog
Books are man’s best friend.
Inside the dog,
It’s too dark to read anyhow.”
(see attached translation)

I suspect that Lord Chesterton would not be amused by such use of the English language. But Tom Kerr might understand Gaelic wit better than the Lord who says all our songs are sad.

Finally, all that brings me to a thought about Tom Kerr’s retirement. And that calls for a contribution from one of the great Irish poets, William Butler Yeats, 1856-1939. Yeats was born in England but elected to live his life in Ireland. In his “The Municipal Gallery Revisited,” he has a comment about friendship. The final words in the seventh stanza of that poem say:

“Think where man’s glory most begins and ends,
And say my glory was I had such friends.”

And so as my name sake Tom takes his leave from the United States Postal Service, I believe it fair to say that his many friends, his glory, as Yeats says, wish him well. And as for me, I hope Tom’s future is filled with merry songs, regardless of what Lord Chesterton had to say.

March 7, 2003

Maybe, right before an Englishman with an upper-class accent passes away, he lets loose a giant “ARRRRRRRR” sound like a pirate to catch up on a lifetime of Rs withheld.

I’m glad I got to visit Donegal when my family went to Ireland last year to scatter Pop’s ashes. Incredibly friendly people and beautiful scenery. Would highly recommend.


Two events in the last week led me to think a little about mortality.

The first event has to do with old Shannon, our great cat. Shannon wandered out late in the night last week and another cat or raccoon beat up on him. As my parents would say in their Elizabethan English, currently he is “all stove up” which means that he is stiff and sore.

Today, Dr. James Dorney, the vet who looks after Shannon’s health, called him “an elderly gentleman” which is probably right. He is now 14 years old, so perhaps it is time to think about Shannon’s mortality.

The second event has to do with Rudy Guiliani’s diagnosis of prostate cancer. Since that news has begun to sink in, Guiliani has dropped his bid to be a Senator from New York and now proclaims that he will try to overcome the “barriers” he erected between himself and the minority community in New York City. The new Rudy has appeared on several television talk shows to announce his semi-conversion to civilized behavior. Clearly, the new Rudy is a function of his dread of his impending mortality.

So these two events started me to think. When a man is working on his 78th birthday, it is probably fair to say that it may be time to put affairs in order. I’ve done all that including the will and the pre-paid funeral expense plan. I’m not planning to leave any time soon as Andy Beamer, the cardiologist, gave me a semi-glowing report on my heart in April. But before I leave this vale of tears, as Lillie Carr called it, perhaps I’d like to leave an epitaph of some sort.

The Bible suggests that man is living on borrowed time after the 70th birthday. I’m now well past that point, but maybe an 80th birthday is not out of reach. Not so bad for a fellow who thought he wouldn’t see his 21st birthday.

In this long life, there have been many high spots. And there have been some low spots. I’m proud of the good moments and regret some of the less-than-stellar events in my life. All things considered for a depression era childhood and youth, I’m a happy man. For the past 12 years, Judy and I have been married and she has made my life a very happy one. I am indebted to her for that. My daughters are good citizens and good mothers. They are married to interesting husbands. My five Grandsons are coming along very well. So between the marriage, my family and my many friends, I have reason to be a happy man.

But as I look back at a long lifetime, I believe that the event that stands out in my mind is the contribution I was able to make during World War II. This is not about missions flown or medals gained or towns captured. In the final analysis, it is about 12,000,000 Americans in uniform and millions more in war related industries. It is about our Allies in Great Britain, Canada, Australia and all the rest who joined with us in that struggle. Had we not prevailed, our future would have been bleak, indeed. And there were many times when the Allies were less than sure of prevailing.

As I prepare to say goodbye some day, I believe that contributing to that effort of that struggle, was probably the most worthwhile achievement of my life. I have no use for guns or the military life. My thoughts have nothing to do with guns and soldiering. I would feel this way, I suspect, if I worked on Liberty Ships or in a munitions factory. In that war we all pulled together. And as the end approaches, I just want to acknowledge that I feel good about being able to contribute to the effort to defeat Hitler, Mussolini, and the Emperor of Japan. Had we lost that war, our lives in this country would have been much less worthwhile.

Now about the epitaphs which is where I started this essay. If I were as literate as Henry Mencken, I would adopt his epitaph. In December 1921, some 35 years before his death, Mencken wrote his own epitaph. It said: “If after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl.”

If someone wants to use this epitaph for me, with credit being given to Mencken, it would be fine with me.

On the other hand, with the thoughts that I have expressed herein about World War II, I believe I would prefer an Irish rouser. The “Minstrel Boy” will cause the hair on the back of an Irishman’s neck to stand on end. It recalls the 800 year occupation of the Irish Nation by England. It gives hope to the oppressed. And so the “Minstrel Boy” it is.

Christopher Lynch, a pure Irish tenor, came to this country in 1946. He sang that song several times on the Bell Telephone Hour on radio. When he sang “Minstrel Boy” every Irishman who heard him was saddling up and ready to have a tilt with the forces of Old Mother England.

Unfortunately, Lynch could not handle celebrity well. He took to drink and by 1950 was gone from the scene. What a loss. What a fine voice.

And so if I can’t take Mencken’s epitaph as my own, I believe the last verse of the “Minstrel Boy” would serve me well. It says:

And said: “No chains shall sully thee,
Thou soul of love and bravery,
Thy songs were made for the pure and free,
They shall never sound in slavery.”

If someone wants to include all four verses of the “Minstrel Boy” in my epitaph, that would be fine with me.

Now, I’ve said about everything about epitaphs. I hope that Shannon and Guiliani who got me into this, live long lives. I can’t do anything about Rudy, but for Shannon I will share the “Minstrel Boy” as his epitaph as he is a good Irish cat. He is also a loyal and good companion. So the “Minstrel Boy” is for the both of us. If Judy wants to join in, that would be agreeable for Shannon and for me.

E. E. Carr
May 22, 2000


Well, this is odd.
I’m not sure how popular of a quote that Mencken epitaph is, but I’ve now heard it twice today and — as far as I’m aware — never before in my life. The first was about three hours ago, watching a show called “The Wire.” A man is getting fired from a newspaper in Season 5 Episode 3, and quotes the same epitaph. Very strange coincidence. A quick search shows that such an epitaph isn’t mentioned anywhere else on the published essays on this site.

Minstrel Boy is indeed pretty, but in the end we wound up going with “The Parting Glass” for Pop. I think he would have been satisfied with the choice.


When we were young, many of my compatriots had their sights set on a professional baseball career. Unrealistically, as it turned out. But we didn’t know that then.

In the Midwest, one of the leagues to which we aspired had clubs in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa. And so it became the Three I League. It may have been as much as three or four levels below the major leagues, but anyone who made it as far as the Three I League had a certain celebrity about him. During the off-season, people invited him to sports banquets and introduced him as our next major leaguer. Well, all that was heady stuff but I didn’t know that there was a relation between the Three I League and politics here in the Northeast.

Politics here have their own Three I League. Since 1950, almost every politician from Massachusetts in the north to Pennsylvania on the west and south to Washington, D. C. have paid their respects to Italy, Ireland and Israel, our version of the famous Three I League. Obviously, immigration has much to do with this as they have ties back to the home country. As it is said, we are a nation of immigrants. It is clear that a good many of those descendants of immigrants have married each other. So when the politicians address one group, they often automatically appeal to the rest of the group who may have varying degrees of ties to the Three I League, but they get the message.
And so we start with Italy, because that’s where I first landed in the great Three I League. Those are not unusual locations as is the case in Africa. Italy, Ireland and Israel are pretty much the way we are. No big surprises. They go about their business as we go about ours. And so there are no horror or many funny stories about these countries. I feel at home in every on of the I-I-I countries, so we’ll start with a word from my friend down at the toe of Italy, Walter Pippo, who has a spirited Sicilian wife. Being from Reggio Di Calabria makes him know about things in Sicily.

AT&T’s point of contact with the telephone administration in Italy is called Italcable. It is a first class outfit. They recalled that AT&T went out of its way to rehabilitate Italcable and its predecessors after the war. And curiously, they look upon our soldiers from World War II as friends and even mentors. We enjoyed a very warm relationship with that organization.

One of the quirks in Italian business is that many people expect to be called by their professional title. Thus, it is Engineer Spasione or Accountant Muzzalti. I always had some trouble remembering the professional titles in a group where a large number of people were gathered, so like most Americans, we simply addressed our Italcable compatriots by their first names. They seemed to like that as it distinguished us from the more starchy European representatives. And they returned the favor calling us by our given names shortly after meeting us.

Now we come to Dr. Walter Pippo. In formal meetings, even with other Italcable employees, Walter Pippo was often addressed as “Dr.” I never found out what he professed to be a Doctor of and he never explained it. I’m reasonably sure that he assumed the “Dr.” because he had no identifiable academic discipline such as Engineer. I’m sure he was not in the medical field. Walter was just a good and devoted friend who answered to “Walter.”

The given name of Walter is a bit of a story in itself. When American troops landed in Italy it was 1943 and Walter’s mother was pregnant. His father hated the Fascist regime of his government. But even more, he hated the way that Italians were treated by the Germans. He hated everything about the Germans from their forced call-up to perform manual labor to forcing Italians to serve in the German Wehrmacht, the Army. And his father hated the attempts to ship Italian Jews to German concentration camps. He obviously had no love for the Germans on any score.

Walter’s father decided that his child would be named after an American to thwart the Italian and the German authorities. And so there would be no Guido or Bennito or Mario for Walter’s father. No sir! He decided to give his new born son the American name of Walter.

When Walter grew into his sixth or seventh year, he became curious about his name. Naturally, he discovered that it is a German name. He never told his father about his discovery.

His father died happily in the knowledge that he had given his son an American name. Walter always points out that his name reflects the landing of American troops in Italy and has nothing to do with any other influence. Hurrah for Walter’s father and Hurrah for American troops in Italy.

Maybe it is as Pablo Casales said that the United States lends itself to every noble effort of mankind. Maybe so. Maybe so. At least in World War II, I believe that.

We shift scenes to the outskirts of Siracusa, or as it is referred to in English, Syracuse. It is on the southeastern coast of Sicily. It is about as poor as one could imagine. The people lived there in a sort of long range depression. It never seemed to end. And the Italian government gave no help at all. Those people after the war simply could not look for help from Rome. There is not much difference in 1998, I suppose.

Sicily grows a tough bunch of people in that climate, one of whom is married to Walter Pippo, who told this story to me. The people of Siracusa realized that there was no church in their outlying town. If they wanted to attend services, some way had to be found to take them to Syracuse, which could be a burden. And so an appeal was made to the pride of the citizens on the outskirts of Syracuse. And in time, donations were made. The local men performed much of the work in building the framework of the church.

The church was not a major edifice from the outside. It was serviceable. On the other hand, the local people wanted the inside to be a magnificent monument to their pride of having their own church. They wanted to have a tile floor like no other.

As it turns out, Libya is just across the Mediterranean from Sicily. It was a former colony of Italy. Many people there speak Italian. This would have been in the 1970’s and there was still plenty of Italian influence. And there was a depression among Libyan tile setters, considered the best in the Arab world. So it was made to order for the people of Syracuse to find the out-of-work Libyan tile setters and invite them to come to work in Sicily.

The men worked quickly setting their small one inch squares, one after another. The locals were impressed with their work. But most impressive was the beautiful design that appeared in the tile across most of the nave of the church. I think I have that right. It is the section of the church from the front of the first pew up to the alter. In St. Patrick’s, it may be 65 feet or 75 feet. In smaller churches, it may only be 15 to 20 feet in width. From Mrs. Pippo’s story, I’d guess the width of the nave would be maybe 15 to 25 feet. And all the better to see that beautiful design the Libyans had left at the front of the church.

Weddings were held in the church and the bridal party stood on the beautiful design in the nave. I suppose confirmations were held there, as well. And maybe some funerals departed with a last fond look at the tile design in the nave of that Roman Catholic Church.

In the end after three or four years of gracing the nave, a gentleman who spoke Arabic came to the church. He was so sorrowful to announce that the beautiful design actually read, from right to left: “THERE IS NO OTHER GOD BUT ALLAH – AND MOHAMMED IS HIS MESSENGER.”

Maybe the Libyans had evened up for years of Italian occupation. Or maybe it was something that every Libyan church or mosque had as its motto. But in the end, the beautiful design was covered by a carpet. It was too expensive to remove.

And so we take leave of Walter, his wife and all our other friends in Italy.


Lots of memories come flooding back after all the trips to Israel. If I had to name a best friend in the world, it would be Jake Haberfeld, the Zionist who came to Israel from his native Warsaw. And there was Aryeh Ron, known formerly in Vienna as Leon Ritter, who decided it was time to leave when the Nazi’s made him clean the sidewalk near his home with a toothbrush. And then there was the large presence of Gideon Lev who ate a pair of eggs at breakfast in two bites. One bite for egg number one; one bite for egg number two.

Jake Haberfeld was as tough as Gideon Lev was, but they had different styles. Jake was polite and understanding – as was Aryeh. Gideon made some noise but in the end, he did what was right for the Israeli administration. But in no case did Jake or Gideon or Aryeh ever give anything away. Those fellows stood for something. I believe it is fair to say that I enjoyed dealing with them as much as or more than any other administration in the world. Each of them had seen combat service in the many Arab-Israeli conflicts. I suppose that lent some meaning to their efforts in negotiating with us. Hurrah for Jake, Aryeh and Gideon and their subordinates.

A transient thought jumps out here. We had been in negotiation with the three of them when it became obvious we were running up against the noon Friday deadline when the Israeli’s begin their Sabbath. We had to give the results of the meetings to the Overall Cable Steering Committee in New York, so that they could answer while the Telex operators were still at work. As we got closer to the cutoff time there was no time to summarize the whole set of negotiations. With only a few minutes left before the telex operators left for the weekend, Gideon said, “So — we’ll send a short telex.” I’m sorry that Jackie Mason isn’t here to do his routine on the virtues of short versus long telexes in the style of Gideon Lev.

There are two other thoughts that come to mind about living in Israel where, a few years back, enemies surrounded almost all of the country. To gain admission to Israel, one must pass through the Border Guards on the way in and on the way out. They are not to be fooled with. Those Uzis on their hips are not there for parades. They mean business.

In the beginning, I made a little splash of spreading my name on the entry card as “Ezra,” the scribe of Jerusalem from the Bible. After two or three printings in bold letters, it made no difference. The Border Guards still looked right through me and told me to move along. On the other hand, they were very considerate if we were headed for an Arab country. In most cases, rigorous Arab countries would not admit a person with an Israeli passport stamp. So the Border Guards did not stamp our passports. They simply stamped pieces of paper which showed entry into the country. When we left, we turned in the piece of paper and no stamp ever appeared in any of our passports.

When you leave the country, the Border Guards take you into a booth where you are frisked. Cameras are pointed toward the ceiling and the button is pushed to expose the next print. For many years I carried a ball point pen which required a motion to expose the ball point. That was pointed at the ceiling and the lever was pulled. There was an intense search, a frisk, before we got to our bags. I was glad for that.

When it came to the bags, all of us were asked if we were carrying any package for anyone else. Woe to him who said he was. Start looking for a later plane. I rarely had trouble. If they wanted to look at my bag, I had it ready to open. Rule one is you don’t mess with the Border Guards. I saw that happen when a woman in front of us represented herself as a person of some substance – in short – as a big shot. It only took a minute to call out two female Border Guards who opened her bags and went through all of them. I only stayed until we could move to an unencumbered line for the luggage check, but what I could see out of the corner of my eye, told me that the female Border Guards were going through her lingerie, girdles and everything else, in plain view of other passengers. Rule one and two is don’t mess with the Border Guards.

Maybe it’s time to leave good friends in Israel to go to the last of the Three I Countries. As we leave, I’m always impressed by what the Israeli’s have accomplished for their country. Let’s leave Bibi Netanyahu for another day.
The Irish are like home to many of us, even to friends who have no shamrocks in their blood. Their conversation is easy and they show a respect for others. Now if I could only get them to heat their houses. It doesn’t get much below freezing, but in a brick house with only a small electric heater in a fake fire place, the chill becomes progressively worse. With Alan Corbett and Mick Sheridan and wives, we wound up at the Sheridans. In a circle we sat facing the two watt electric heater. And it took no time for the cold to creep down from the nape of my neck to the small of my back. I’m not giving much to the conversation going on around me as I’m wondering how do these people take baths. They are not alone as in the other two I Countries, but I still think about the bath – shower situation.

Two other thoughts invade my memory right now. In the first case, the Irish rarely ever say “yes” or “no.” They say that it would be a pleasure to do what you are suggesting or they may say that it would be better to do something other than the suggestion you had to offer.

In this case, Judy, our daughter, son-in-law and a 15 month old baby started the trip from Shannon to Killarney after an overnight flight from the United States. We did pretty well until we got to a confusing turnaround some eight to ten miles from Killarney. The hotel was located on the Cork Road, which is how things are designated in this country. After two or three trips around the turnaround, we stopped and I asked a gentleman standing on the corner, “Could you tell me how we would get to Cork?” He told me that “Indeed I can.” And then he walked away. Well, he had answered my question, so he left. I finally figured out what the problem was. I asked another gentleman to tell me where Ryan’s Hotel was on the Cork Road. He almost took us there.

Now a final thought about AT&T’s Miss Mary Margaret Murphy. I suppose no one ever comes closer to a saintly life. She may not think so, but I would nominate her for at least canonization.

In the 1980’s research was a major problem because we didn’t know as much as we would like to know about why people made international phone calls, particularly from their hotel rooms. So under Tom Poretta, we gathered a few stalwarts who could ask the questions and coax some answers. This was no check the multiple choice question. It was much more of a dialogue than that.

So Margaret went to London, Lisbon and Spain. And finally she came to Dublin. She was required to go to the top-flight hotels in the morning, again in the afternoons and quite often in the early evenings. All to ask people about making calls, particularly back to the United States. This meant she had to move from one hotel to another throughout the day. Well, that was her undoing.

It turns out that an elderly cab driver worked these luxury or near-luxury hotels. And he picked up Margaret and drove her to the next hotel FOR RESEARCH. As Margaret tells it, he picked her up for the fifth or sixth time on the second day and could no longer hold his peace. The cab driver told her that he knew exactly what she was up to going from one high priced hotel to the next. She was not fooling him. He thought about calling the police but said he’d think about it and pray. In the meantime, Margaret was consigned to Hell.

I’m sure he would never believe the story about research but that’s all I have to offer in our defense. Ah well, Margaret Murphy is still my candidate for canonization.

There may be much more that we could write, but that will do for now. The friends in the Three I Countries are keepers. They are among life’s joys.
E. Carr
December 30, 1997
Essay #6 (Old Format)


Pop got into the swing of essay-writing quite quickly, it’d appear. This is probably one of my all-time favorites. Granted, I’m unquestionably a sucker for travel writing, and a three-decade time delay only makes the pieces more interesting to me, but still.

Israel seems like a case of “the more things change, the more they stay the same” — it is still ringed by enemies, and the guards there are likely more vigilant than ever.

The Italy story reminds me of non-Chinese speakers who elect to get tattoos in Chinese characters. I’m at a loss for why people choose to do this, but I do know that people frequently get tattooed with gibberish or worse. does a great job of documenting all the different types of failures out there — the lucky people get away with characters that are just upside down or inverted, but tons more wind up with curse words or words that completely distort the intended meaning. Tons more wind up with English words “spelled out” in characters, as if each Chinese character corresponded to an English letter. If you know so little about the language that you’re permanently embedding into your skin that you think “JOE” can be one-for-one translated into Chinese, I guess you get what you deserve. Clearly this level of ignorance didn’t stop the Italian Church either — the “this looks pretty, must be fine” — seems to have carried over to them. I guess it’s possible that they were duped, but even still: the minute you recognize that someone is tiling words into your nave, you should probably get a second opinion on what those words say.

Also one last note about the Chinese tattoo thing, just because I find it infinitely frustrating: on the rare occasions that both tattooee and tattooer manage to translate and ink a phrase properly in a language that neither speaks, the outcome is almost guaranteed to be completely inane. You wouldn’t tattoo “HEART” or “BRAVERY” or “[YOUR NAME]” down your back in huge English letters, so why are those all so popular when written in non-English letters?  Writing things in a language you don’t understand doesn’t make those things more deep. Bah.


It has been 71 years and three months since I last saw Miss Maxwell, my eighth grade teacher. That period has passed with little lament from your old essayist. For most of the boys in Miss Maxwell’s eighth grade class, I think it would be fair to say that if the lamentable and regrettable period stretched to one hundred and seventy one years and three months, that might be an occasion to think about. But as it happens, a song heard recently has once again caused Miss Maxwell to intrude upon my memory.

Miss Maxwell was a spinster of perhaps sixty years when it was my misfortune to attend her class for a school year. My recollection is that she wore long-sleeved, mainly black dresses, that buttoned up to her throat. Any hint of décolletage was out of the question. Some students would say that Miss Maxwell was heavy set while others with a less generous bent would say that she was stout. Looking back, I would say that Miss Maxwell probably topped the scales somewhere between 150 and 160 pounds. Aside from her somber dresses, she wore high-buttoned shoes that I thought had passed from the scene with the Armistice of World War I. She never complained of ankle pain so I assume that her shoes lasted her for a long time.

As far as I could tell, this white-haired gentle lady had three passions in her life. She worshipped the English monarchy and would have been pleased had someone mistaken her for an English poet. Secondly, Miss Maxwell believed that English poetry was the acme of man’s achievements. And finally, she was a woman who could not control her love for English grammar and the diagramming of sentences in its structure.

In the mid 1930s, the British royal family designated Edward to be their next King. He called himself Edward VIII. Edward was a bachelor who was under the spell of a divorcée from the United States named Wallis Warfield Simpson. Madame Wallis Warfield Simpson was well-known as a prominent socialite in the high society circles of St. Louis and Baltimore. Along the way, she apparently shed herself of two wealthy husbands and reached the pinnacle of her success by becoming the paramour of the new King, Edward VIII. But the Brits refused to make her Edward’s queen and so the new King abdicated. Greater love hath no man than the bachelor King, Edward VIII. Miss Maxwell was inconsolable. While Edward VIII had no designs on Miss Maxwell, you would have thought from her dejection that she was his rejected lover.

In a previous essay, I recounted the dedication with which Miss Maxwell read English poetry to her class at least twice a week. If she had made this a fortnightly occasion, we might have withstood it better, but in point of fact, she read her poetry books for half an hour or so at least two or three times every week. The boys in her class would have preferred to walk over broken glass and hot coals rather than listen to her reading, which was in many cases acted out. In English poetry there are fairies, nymphs, and nymphets. I assume the nymphets are the children of the nymphs. The poetry was filled with visions of knights on horseback with their visors pulled down over their eyes and with their petards at the ready. Miss Maxwell was transported to another world when she read her English poetry.

The third great passion in Miss Maxwell’s life was English grammar. She had an inordinate desire to diagram the sentences. In a complex sentence, the diagrams might run east and west and north and south. As she explained that adverbs were a condition precedent to split infinitives or whatever, Miss Maxwell was carried away. The verbal foreplay on diagramming sentences led to Miss Maxwell’s having an expression of ecstasy on her face, with which she would then sit down on a stout oak chair near the blackboard. I date my dislike of grammar and the intricacies of English poetry to my attendance at Miss Maxwell’s eighth grade class.

The sturdy Miss Maxwell does not invade my thoughts very often but I began to think of her when we bought a compact disc of The Fureys. They are described as the most popular folk singers in Ireland, which may be true now that the Clancy Brothers have passed from the scene. One of the offerings on The Fureys’ record is, “If I Don’t Bring You Flowers.” When I heard that recording which has some supreme double negatives, I knew that Miss Maxwell’s ghost would be greatly disturbed.

The Fureys are excellent instrumentalists and arrangers, but their vocal offerings leave much to be desired. For one thing, they are unable to make the “th” sound as the English language demands. The word “think” comes out as “tink” and the word “thanks” comes out as “tanks.” But The Fureys are superb musicians and composers.

One way or another, The Fureys sing a song entitled, “If I Don’t Bring You Flowers” by a composer identified as A. Taylor. I assume he wrote both the music and the lyrics. Here is the first verse:

Verse 1

“Sometimes I know I’m forgetful
Things roll on from day to day.
Sometimes I don’t bring you flowers
When I’ve been away.”

Here is the chorus:


“Sometimes I forget to tell you,
I can’t promise that I won’t.
If I forget to say I love you,
It don’t mean I don’t.”

That line, “If I forget to say I love you, it don’t mean I don’t,” is a classic. Even the dullard Prince of Wales or former King Edward VIII would understand its meaning in spite of its bad grammar. Certainly it has a double negative which flies in the face of every rule of English grammar. But good gracious, the composer needed a rhyme and the message is clearly understandable.

To make things more lamentable to Miss Maxwell’s ghost, that chorus is repeated after each of the three verses, so there is much for that ghost to chew on.

Miss Maxwell was an anglophile and I am not. May I suggest to Miss Maxwell’s ghost that he or she do not get their guts in an uproar over a simple Irish song. I know the poetry in the lyrics is hackneyed but the music is excellent and the sentiment is clear. Any woman who does not get the import of the message in “If I Don’t Bring You Flowers” is beyond the pale.

To make the point that double negatives add to romance, the third verse also has a similar line. It reads:

Verse 3

“So now you know at last I’ve told you,
Think on this when things go wrong.
And when I take my time to hold you,
Don’t think you don’t belong.”

It is followed by the same chorus.

What I regret is that I did not find this song until March of 2007. If I had had it in 1935 or 1936, I could have used it to sing to Miss Maxwell. Miss Maxwell may have dived out of the window upon hearing those lyrics, but on the other hand, there might be a slim chance that she would unbuckle her high-buttoned shoes and dance a little as she erased the diagrams on the front blackboard. But who is to know? Miss Maxwell is gone now and only I, her erstwhile student, keep her memory alive. But every courting swain among the male populace in this country ought to memorize that line, “If I forget to say I love you, it don’t mean I don’t.”

I suspect that there may be some doubters among you who downplay the effectiveness of double-negative words. And so to dispel those doubts, my wife, who thinks the song is hilarious, has made a CD of that single piece for you. It is enclosed here and if you are ever in the mood for additional volumes in your record library, the place to go is Dara Records (.com) in New York City.

Now that I have dispelled my current thoughts about Miss Maxwell, I retire to listen to the music, knowing that it probably would greatly displease the ghost of the honorable Lady Maxwell. My distaste for Miss Maxwell’s grammar teachings will, of course, in the end lead me to the hottest spot in Hell. From that asbestos perch, I suspect that on many occasions Satan, Lucifer, Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, and I will look toward Heaven to see Miss Maxwell trying to diagram, “It don’t mean I don’t” upon her celestial blackboard. And we will all be pleased. On completion of the diagramming, it is likely that a look of ecstasy will again cross Miss Maxwell face, with which she will retire to lie on a sturdy cloud and smile.

April 12, 2007
Essay 247

Postscript: The CD enclosed contains two other musical offerings. One is another Furey song called, “Railway Hotel.” The second is a Liam Clancey epic. It is “Aghadoe” which Liam sings with the accompaniment of the Irish Philharmonic Orchestra. For lovers of geography, the town of Aghadoe is located adjacent to Lake Killarney which is the only totally bottomless lake currently in existence.

Kevin’s commentary: Ms. Maxwell actually shows up in nine essays published so far, and ten in the entire body of Ezra’s Essays. The last one is called “Irish Earworms” and will be published sometime in 2006. She may not have been the best teacher around, but she sure as hell made a lasting impact on Pop.

If I Don’t Bring You Flowers” is here (disregard the video), and is extremely pretty.

P.S., “Aghadoe” is a song which features the line about “the bullets found his heart” obliquely referenced in this essay published in February.


In a recent essay entitled “Passed Balls and Wild Pitches,” I recorded three incidents that were really gaffs that have marked my life in recent years. In this essay I will continue the baseball metaphors by using the title of “Foul Tips.”

Passed balls and wild pitches ordinarily have an impact on the outcome of a baseball game. When a wild pitch occurs or when a passed ball takes place, the runners on base can advance and some may score a run. So passed balls and wild pitches are a thing of substance. On the other hand, foul tips, in 95% of the cases, result only in a delay of the game. All things considered, foul tips are not of great consequence and basically serve to delay the game.

When I set out to dictate this essay, it was my fleeting intention to label it “Two Eccentric Englishmen.” However, when I began to think of the inconsequential nature of these eccentric Englishmen’s acts, I concluded that the foul tip title would probably be more accurate. So, with that introduction, let us consider the actions of these two eccentric Englishmen.

The first gentleman I would like you to meet is John Major, a former Prime Minister of England. I am aware that his title would be more likely Prime Minister of Great Britain but with the change in circumstance that has resulted in the loss of the British Empire, I believe it is much more appropriate to call him the prime minister of England. John Major succeeded the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, whose major contribution to the English language was to tell Ronald Reagan not to go “wobbly” on her during the Falklands War.

I have been writing these essays for nearly ten years now and it has always been my desire to investigate the dressing habits of John Major, Prime Minister of England. I do not intend to give away any sartorial secrets of the male sex but after years of dressing, as I have and others have, I am baffled by John Major’s attitude toward his underwear. I have not commissioned a poll on this matter, but I suspect that in this country or in England, most men wear an undershirt which is tucked into their boxer shorts or their jockey briefs. On top of their underwear, they wear a dress shirt which is tucked in to their trousers. The dress shirt rests outside their boxer shorts or their jockey briefs. I have been dressing this way for more than 80 years and it seems to suit me and millions of others reasonably well. But not John Major. This eccentric Englishman not only tucks his undershirt into his boxer shorts but when he puts on his dress shirt, former Prime Minister Major tucks his dress shirt into his boxer shorts or jockey briefs as well. I am almost certain that he does not wear jockey briefs for reasons that I am now able to disclose to the world.

As far as I am able to determine, jockey briefs appear in white color only. Boxer shorts on the other hand appear in various colors, with blue seeming to lead among boxer shorts wearers. When Prime Minister Major tucks his dress shirt into his boxer shorts, it is inevitable that the top of the elastic band on his boxer shorts will peek out from under the limits of his trouser tops. Thus we have the Prime Minister of England wandering about showing the tops of his boxer shorts to the whole world while those shorts are suffering from terribly overcrowded conditions.

Because of the size of my neck and the length of my arms, shirt makers ordinarily provide me with garments that are long in the tail. If I were to attempt to tuck my long-tailed dress shirt into my boxer shorts or jockey briefs, a vicious argument would occur because of the overcrowding. There simply is not enough room. The dress shirt belongs outside the boxer shorts, not in them. But if John Major elects to wear his shirt inside his boxer shorts, that may be the essence of democracy.
Mr. Major wears his dress shirt inside his boxer shorts and I wear my shirt in a more conventional manner. But no matter how you cut it, I believe that it qualifies John Major as sort of an eccentric Englishman.

Now we proceed to the second of the eccentric Englishmen, who is a member of the royal establishment called the Windsor clan. Until 1917, the Windsor family name was Wettig, a Saxon name. When the First World War took place, the monarch of the time changed the name to Windsor, which was a much acceptable British name. The current carrier of the title of Prince of Wales is actually Charlie Windsor. Charlie is known primarily for his goofy statements. The royal family and the British political system have tried to quell the Prince of Wales’s desire to make unfortunate statements, but they have not been very successful. For example, when a stenographer in one of the Prince of Wales’s work units asked for a raise and/or her chances for promotion, Charlie issued a combative response which told her that not everybody could be news readers on British television so she should be content with her subservient status and basically should shut up.

When Charlie married his paramour of 35 years, Mrs. Camilla Parker-Bowles, it appeared to objective observers such as myself, that Charlie had tended to devote his attentions to his new wife instead of making outrageous statements. For about 20 months, this situation prevailed. Charlie kept his mouth shut and the royal family and the ruling political party in England were not on their guard for goofy statements. But that was broken recently when Charlie, the Prince of Wales, went on a tour in the United Arab Emirates and, without warning, the Prince of Wales launched a diatribe against the McDonald hamburger chain. I suspect that what brought on the diatribe was the propensity for young children to become obese, which Charlie blamed entirely or largely upon the McDonald’s chain.

Charlie Windsor’s attack on McDonald’s was ill considered. In my experience, the absolute nadir of cuisine is found in English pubs where people sing the praises of “pub grub.” If there is worse food in the entire world than pub grub, it must be found only in the prisons of backward countries like Bangladesh and Uzbekistan. The only rival for the bottom of the barrel cuisine title would be found in Irish pub grub establishments. It strikes me that McDonald’s, when compared to the ordinary pub grub in England, is more like a Buick or a Chrysler as compared to a broken-down English motorcycle. Of course, McDonald’s contributes to obesity but at least it has interesting menus. And if its patrons eat enough to become obese, it is sort of a testimonial to its offerings. In the final analysis, for the Prince of Wales to criticize McDonald’s when he is the patron saint of English cuisine and English pub grub, is an exercise of misguided logic. But I suppose that this will have to be marked off as the return of Charlie Windsor to his more familiar daffy role as an eccentric Englishman. It may be that his mother, Queen Elizabeth, who at 80 years is in her dotage, seems to hang on to the throne of England rather than surrender it to her first-born son, Charlie Windsor. If Charlie became King of England and offered his usual goofy statements, the results might be catastrophic. So the Queen remains on her throne and Charlie is the Prince of Wales and all is right with the world until she becomes an angel.

Well, there you have my report on two eccentric Englishmen. Their actions really have no important effect upon the course of men’s lives in England and may be ignored. This is exactly the case with baseball players who hit foul tips. The runners don’t advance, no runs are scored, and the official scorer yawns until the next pitch occurs. My hope is that the Prince of Wales begins to tuck his royal robes into his underpants, à la John Major, and that both of them will come to this country, where they will be able to witness first-hand the futility of foul tips. I will explain to them in my imperfect English that foul tips occur because the ball is round and the bat is round and managers tell every batter that the ball must be hit squarely on the nose. When the round ball is not struck squarely by the round bat, a foul tip occurs. But I am pleased to tell you that foul tips ordinarily have no consequence and neither does Mr. Major’s tendency to wear his shirt in his underpants nor do the goofy statements of Charles Windsor have any consequences either. About all that can be said about Mr. Major’s sartorial habits and Charlie Windsor’s goofy statements and foul tips is that democracy is a wonderful system of government. I must leave now as I hear the strains of “There will always be an England” playing in the background which disturbs my dictation because I must now stand at full attention.

March 5, 2007
Essay 238
Kevin’s commentary: What a supremely odd practice. Clearly this is not done for comfort, and clearly it is not done for style. What reasons remain? Maybe that arrangement of dress helps one make important decisions. I also — and I’m not sure why — would not expect Pop to defend McDonald’s as something that features “interesting” menus but then again, I’ve never really had the pub food that it is being compared to. And now I’m not exactly in a hurry to try.


My eighth-grade teacher was a plump woman who would have been greatly pleased if someone had mistakenly identified her as an English poet. She wore shoes that went out of style after the First World War and she loved to read from her book of poems by English poets. Beyond that, Miss Maxwell loved the grammar of the English language. As a result of her teaching or failure to teach, I developed a loathing for the various parts of English grammar. If one could read and speak well, it seemed to me that identifying adverbs and pronouns was a secondary consideration. And so it is that at this date it is Miss Chicka, my wife, who from time to time has to tell me whether the word I am using is a verb or a noun. I am fairly well fixed on adjectives but the grammar of the rest of the Anglo-Saxon language is a matter that I still have to master.

A case in point involves television and radio announcers who in reporting on the current controversy on the health situation say that “I have referenced that earlier.” I don’t know whether referenced has become a verb but in any case it strikes me as being an awkward construction. What ever happened to saying that I referred to that previously? It may be that referencing in that construction is perfectly agreeable but it still falls hard on these ears. Rather than the “referenced” construction, my vote still goes to “I referred to that earlier.” As a matter of fact, there is no entry for referenced in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary that I keep behind my desk.

I much prefer a report that originated with Miss Chicka that in a collision between a truck and a car, the smaller car had to be “flat-bedded out of here.” That tells me the condition of the car and images go through my head of it being flat on the back of a trailer truck. Even Miss Maxwell could not improve upon that construction.

A third construction has to do with the word “gay.” The Irish, who speak the English language eloquently, often refer to events as both “grand and gay.” Those words are often found in Irish songs. They may say that the wedding was “grand and gay,” or that the cocktail hour that followed the meeting of the Dublin City Council was “grand and gay.”

But some time in the last 20 years, “gay” has come to identify male homosexuals. When the Irish sing that they have had a “grand and gay” time, they are not referring to male homosexuals.

Leaving gay people aside, now let me turn to a subject with which I am much more familiar. In 1925 the New York Yankees had a first baseman named Wally Pipp. For one reason or another, Wally Pipp decided that he needed a day off. The manager of the Yankees at that time was Miller Huggins, and he called on a substitute first baseman to fill in for Mr. Pipp. That first baseman was Lou Gehrig, who established a record for games played for the New York Yankees that stood until the 1990s.

As a matter of interest, Lou Gehrig started 2,130 consecutive games for the New York Yankees. Wally Pipp was subsequently traded to the Cincinnati Reds where he was identified as an important contributor to their offence for three years. In the end, I suppose that all is well if it ends well.

Miss Chicka, who is a quick study in the art of baseball terminology, reminded me that this was a noun turned into a verb. To say that somebody is “Wally Pipped” is to say that he never got his job back. I think that is an excellent construction in the language of the Anglo-Saxons and should be enshrined along with flatbedded as examples of elegant speech.

The final entry in this update on the language of the Anglo-Saxons has to do with the word “feckless.” For many years I have read and written about someone making a “feckless” gesture. Now feckless means having no worth or no value. Being a curious sort of person, I wondered where “feckless” came from. Obviously, there had to be word named “feck.” As it turns out, there is such a word and it is spelled “fek.” It means exactly what we thought it would mean in that it has to do with worth or value. According to what I am told, the word “fek” is an ancient Scottish word which I must assume is of Scottish-Gaelic origin. It is a curious thing that the word “fek” or “feck” has not survived to this day but we do have the English language expression “feckless.” It seems to me that this is a reverse “Wally Pipped” occasion. Feckless has survived but the original word “fek” is no longer in use. That is pretty much what happened when Lou Gehrig took over the first base duties for the New York Yankees.

I had not intended for this small essay to be a tour de force in the language spoken by the descendants of the Anglo-Saxon race. These are a few simple thoughts that occurred to your old essayist and he finds that they must be recorded or they will be forgotten. In the future when these random thoughts about the language that we speak occur to me, I will try to record them so that history will know that my efforts as an essayist were not feckless.

October 26, 2009
Essay 416
Kevin’s commentary: One of my favorite language essays, primarily for this discussion near the end. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to look up what a “fek” was but it of course makes sense that there should be such a thing. I also feel like my baseball education has been lacking; I’d never encountered the “Wally Pipped” expression before.


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.