Archive for the Music Category


This is a short story about three good guys – Dick Lewin, Emory Wilbur and John Rosenburg. The villain is Henry Killingsworth, the man who ran AT&T Long Lines Department for many years. In supporting roles are my sister Verna, an aspiring opera singer. In other incidental roles we have Gannaro Papi, the conductor of the St. Louis Grand Opera Association and Giovanni Martinelli, one of the leading tenors in the world from about 1925 to 1950. Incidental roles are assigned to the Episcopal Church and the Jewish faith. This isn’t a great inspirational story, but before some of the characters in the play cash in their chips, it probably needs to be told.

Henry T. Killingsworth was a miserable SOB. As a matter of fact, he was a spherical SOB – which means that no matter how you looked at him, he is still a miserable SOB. There is no other way to put it. The people who worked with Killingsworth or had anything to do with him, detested him. I knew him for a long time. I can’t think of a single act of decency attributable to him. Among other things, Killingsworth seemed to take pleasure in suppressing the earnings of Long Lines employees even giving back to the FCC money that could have been used to raise wages to a decent level at this important unit of AT&T’s long distance service.

From about 1950 to 1962, he ran the Long Lines Department of AT&T as a martinet. Finally, in 1962 his bosses at 195 Broadway tired of his act and moved him to a staff job in the AT&T headquarters. He soon headed toward retirement.

Now I hate to waste time on Killingsworth because he was a worthless piece of work. But if I’m going to get my point in about Dick Lewin and Emory Wilbur and John Rosenburg, I’ve got to deal with him.

Killingsworth came to New York having started in his native South Georgia. He brought with him every racial, religious and social prejudice that afflicted Southerners 30 or 40 years ago.

Whereas Killingsworth was unspeakably evil, there were three gentlemen who worked in the Public relations side of the Long Lines operation who were absolutely good and decent men. John Rosenburg ran our press contacts. Emory Wilbur and Dick Lewin were responsible for employee information. So Rosenburg was Mr. Outside and Emory and Dick were Messrs. Inside.

I worked very closely with all three men because in the 1950’s and 1960’s, labor developments were important subjects. During those years I was the Labor Relations Manager for AT&T’s Long Lines Operation. During contract negotiations which took place almost yearly, the three men more or less lived with me. It was in that fashion that they were able to formulate what would be said to the press and to what would be said within the business. So at the end of each bargaining session, not matter how late, I would meet with John Rosenburg and either Dick Lewin or Emory Wilbur or both of them. They would usually type up something in the pressroom, and show it to me. If there was no time, as was often the case, I trusted those three men to proceed in the name of the AT&T Company. They used good judgment and never caused a problem to anyone.

They were very different people. John Rosenburg was in his early forties having spent a lifetime in newspaper work. Before he came with AT&T, John had worked for United Press. John had the skepticism that marks all good newsmen. He was no pushover for anyone in AT&T, including Killingsworth. He kept news people away from the bargaining team, which was a very valuable contribution.

Killingsworth marked off John Rosenburg’s aggressive nature to his Jewish heritage. But John was not Jewish. His family was of German ancestry. In the First World War, John’s father married a Frenchwoman, and John was a product of that marriage. But that made no difference.

The Grand Opera season offered three productions per year with performances over the weekend. Remember those were depression years and no one had money to waste.

Verna was single at the time. No one else in the family cared about opera. As a matter of fact, if Verna had not been involved in it, the Carr family would not have even thought about it. But the Grand Opera rehearsals and performances took place in downtown St. Louis. We lived in suburban Richmond Heights, about an hour away on streetcars. At least two transfers on the streetcars were needed to get to the opera.

Getting Verna home from the Kirkwood-Ferguson street car stop was a major problem. There was a stop about three quarters of a mile away which involved crossing a railroad. There was no illumination on that route as it cut across fields. On a cold winter night, it could be challenging. When it rained the problem grew worse. Later a new stop was added about a quarter mile from the house.

From Verna’s point of view, the new stop presented major difficulties. The new stop was added on the Kirkwood-Ferguson line to accommodate passengers going to the newly-constructed McMorrow grade school. The school had a large cinder back yard in the direction of the street car line. Now I ask underage readers to avert their eyes at this point.

During the depression, men and boys would do anything to own or borrow a car. Without a car, love life with females couldn’t exist. Now once ardent swains got a relatively willing female in the car, he might drive around looking for a secluded place to park. (To engage in necking or much worse, it you have to ask.) Well, in many cases the ardent swains would drive to the cinder lot in back of the McMorrow School. As they got into their work, many couples would produce blankets and retreat to the grassy spots around the cinder parking lot.

Now if Verna got off at the McMorrow School stop, she had to wade through this sea of affection and that made her cringe. Now I should point out that when the opera was in rehearsal or in production, I was drafted to either come to the opera house or to escort Verna home after she got off the streetcar. I rode with Verna to the McMorrow stop or when I met her there, she more or less instructed me to look straight ahead with eyes uplifted so that I wouldn’t see what was taking place. I did this, after a fashion, until one night with my eyes upraised I stumbled over an amorous couple.

I didn’t really mind all this tending to Verna. Sometimes she gave me a dime for my trouble. But going to the Opera House opened up a new world for me. I read about the operas and the featured performers. The stagecraft was entire new to me and made a lifelong impression.

By the time I was ten years of age I was hooked on Italian opera. Fortunately, there were few German operas to deal with, but the Italians were big deals as far as I was concerned.

During a rehearsal, Verna took me to meet the director of the St. Louis Grand Opera Company. He was Gennaro Popi. Apparently, Popi had many contacts in the United States and in Italy, and one of those contacts brought Giovanni Martinelli to St. Louis. For his day, Martinelli was as big as Pavorotti became in the 1980’s and 1990’s. I don’t think I met Martinelli.

I didn’t become an expert on Opera, but I did like it and I came to understand how it worked. It worked by talent and a lot of hard work.

Many years later I found myself in New York working in an organization dominated by Henry Killingsworth. Henry liked to brag that he had season tickets to the Metropolitan Opera. He could do this with no trouble because he would hold his chauffer over after a long day to drive him to the Met. And to pick him up after the performance.

There was an occasion when I was in the room when Killingsworth began to talk about opera. Now remember he came from South Georgia. I suspect the only singing he heard there was in a church. But because other directors of AT&T attended to opera, old Killingsworth decided he had to be among their numbers. At least I knew about the opera courtesy of my sister Verna. As Killingsworth talked, even with my limited background in opera, it became clear that he knew virtually nothing about the subject. But that didn’t keep him from bragging that he had season tickets to listen to “that purty music.”

Well now I’ve told you about New York where I came to work full time in 1955. And I’ve told you a little bit about St. Louis and my opera career. And I’ve told you about Verna. That’s a pretty big order to cover in one little essay. But as I said on the first page, for John Rosenburg, Dick Lewin and Emory Wilbur, this is a little tale that needs to be recorded because they were fine men and they were gentlemen. I don’t know of any higher praise that I can lay on those three men than that.

September 6, 2001


Not even a week before 9/11 — it’s a little jarring to think back to what the world looked like right before this was written.

It’s must less jarring to think about Killingsworth putting on airs, because the fact that he is a “colossal prick” is well-documented.
This particular essay was rewritten entirely. The rewrite pulls no punches when describing why Killingsworth is so reviled.

As one last note, Pop’s description of the cinder lot full of couples brought me right back to a memory of my own from 2010. I was studying abroad in China at the time, and one night I went on a walk with a friend of mine. We didn’t really have a direction in mind and were content to wander and explore. At one point, we left a building-dense area and suddenly found ourselves in a strikingly dark part of the campus. It was a small field, and it was so dark that I didn’t notice that the field abruptly ended in a low wall with an unlit basketball court on the other side. After almost falling into the basketball court, we looked around and realized that the entire blacktop was packed with couples silently making out. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since, but I can imagine that it was a lot like Pop’s cinder lot adventures.


This essay is an exercise in my own personal nostalgia. It may well be that it will not resonate with many of my readers. But if you will stick with me for a few minutes, you may be enthralled and entertained. Or you may just be bored.

The Carr family had three of us who were inclined toward music. My two elder brothers showed no signs of ever appreciating music in any form. My elder sister of about 15 years my senior sang in the grand opera choruses in St. Louis. She took lessons from a woman named Mrs. Ettinger who loved German music. At a recital given by Verna, my sister, the whole program was devoted to German lieder or German music. I felt they were frightful. My sister Verna had a decent voice. It was wasted on German music.

My second sister, about seven years my senior, named Opal, wound up singing in Joe Donella’s saloon in Brentwood, Missouri. She learned a few chords on the piano, then more or less accompanied herself. Opal was a free spirit who wound up owning some racing greyhounds in Florida and Arizona.

In my own case, I would judge my musical talents as a singer as being mostly ordinary. I never had a solo part, but in retrospect the teachers at Clayton High School had no solo parts to offer. I was happy to sing a baritone part in an octet one time.

All of that brings me to Georgia Walker, a very attractive woman who was ten or twelve years my senior when I attended high school. That would mean that she was probably in her late 20s or early 30s during my career as a high school student. Miss Walker was devoted to her music and disliked anyone who sang off key. One of the reasons for this was that she taught us to sing a cappella, meaning without accompaniment. Singing in this fashion means that if one strays somewhat off key, it will soon be detected. It was about 75 years ago that Miss Walker was my musical teacher. I still remember her devotion to a cappella music and to this day I appreciate that musical form. We sang at various events and there was a spring concert.

At one point during my senior year, Miss Walker greatly embarrassed me – not intentionally. Miss Walker said that I always sang on key and that I was helpful in every respect or some such thing. She said this in front of the whole choir or chorus and at age 16 or 17, I was embarrassed. Actually she meant it as great praise. If I had been 10 or 15 years older, I might have asked Georgia Walker to marry me. I would probably have been turned down, but Miss Walker being unmarried, I believe she would have appreciated the compliment.

Clayton High School is located in a suburb of St. Louis and also employed a musical director for the band. This man was George Best. He made every attempt to demonstrate his superiority to Miss Walker. Most of the chorus or choir members in my class detested George Best. But he was a man and he seemed to have the hierarchy of the school in his corner.

Now there is a third person in this panorama who played in the band and was a disciple of George Best. He was a likeable fellow named Jack Martz. Jack did not play the trombone or the tuba. His specialty was drums. You may find this hard to believe but in one spring concert, perhaps in my last year of attendance, George Best designated Jack Martz to play a drum solo.

On this occasion all the parents were invited, so it was a full house. Jack started his drum solo temperately. But before long, old Martz began to flail away at his drums. My guess is that it took Jack somewhere between eight and ten minutes to finish the drum solo. The chorus, including myself, stood around on the raised platforms, not realizing that Jack Martz would go on so long in his solo rendition of drum work.

The fact of the matter is that I am getting a bit older and recently the thought of Georgia Walker flashed into my mind. She was a lovely woman, who would now be over 100 years old if she is still alive. With this being an exercise in nostalgia, I wanted to recall that wonderful woman.

At the same time my exercise in nostalgia also wanted to recall George Best. Mr. Best was an arrogant sort of person, particularly with respect to Miss Walker. George Best may have been an excellent teacher of the band but for my part, I detested him for his treatment of Miss Walker.

Similarly, there was Jack Martz, the drum soloist. Jack was a modest fellow who somehow attracted the attention of George Best. On the spring recital, Jack flailed his drums for the better part of ten minutes. There was no theme to the drum solo. It was just a matter of Jack using every ounce of energy including an intermittent ring of cowbells and triangles while the solo took place.

As I told you in the beginning, this was an exercise in nostalgia on my behalf. If you have stuck with me through this recital, you will recall my affection for Miss Walker, my distaste for George Best, and the amazement with which I watched Jack Martz play his drum solo. I hope that you will excuse me for yielding to my temptation to engage in this exercise in nostalgia. But if nothing else, it was Miss Walker who encouraged my love of music that has pleased and consoled me for the past 75 years.

At this late date, I am pleased to recognize her with these lines. She was a lovely woman. And as for George Best and Jack Martz, they are also a part of this old geezer’s nostalgia.

January 16, 2012


I wonder what memories will stick with me for that long. It’s hard to predict what your brain will choose to hold onto.


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!


The title to this essay, “Disparate Ponderings,” may well reflect the influence of the New York Times editorial pages upon my brain. The ponderings in question really have to do with remembrances of years past. There are six thoughts in this essay and I hope that some of them will remind old-timers of the days before television and e-mail ever existed.

One of my recent ponderings had to do with female girdles. It seems to me that in years past whenever a female reached the age of puberty, she was obliged to buy herself a girdle. The Sears Roebuck catalogue, published annually each fall, was avidly read by the females as well as the males in our household. I can assure you that Sears had girdles galore. There were long ones and short ones, as well as black ones and flesh-colored ones. What baffled me then in the old days was why a young woman weighing no more than 110 pounds would need a girdle. Yet it seems to me with my faulty memory as a guide that every young woman looked forward to the day when she could order a girdle. In those days, women wore silk stockings with a seam up the back. It is hard to believe but there was a time in this country when there were no panty hose. I suspect that girdles were worn for the sake of keeping the silk stockings anchored so that they did not fall down around the ankles.

But the Second World War seemed to have altered everything. There was a shortage of rubber, and silk stockings were a thing of the past. Your old essayist cannot say that he misses girdles or silk stockings, but it is pleasant to ponder the fact that in the age before television came along there were such things. Sears Roebuck has fallen on hard times and, as an economist, I would suggest that it has much to do with the demise of the practice of women wearing girdles.

Now that we have settled the issue of girdles, another question arises about “Do you remember?” There was a time during the 1930s when athlete’s foot was a matter of serious medical concern. During my years in high school, when the boys would take showers following the gym classes, athlete’s foot was a common occurrence. It is not clear to me what causes athlete’s foot but I can tell you that it existed and that once someone had acquired it, it was difficult to rid oneself of it. During my high school years, I had at least two or three cases of athlete’s foot, which had to be treated with a liquid I remember as Camphophenique. Athlete’s foot was so common that advertisements for its cure appeared in almost every newspaper in a small ad at the foot of the newspaper. The pictures in those ads showed athlete’s foot at its worst, with cracking and peeling of the skin around the toes.

I am not here to proclaim that athlete’s foot was an ailment affecting only youngsters but as I also recall there seemed to be no athlete’s foot in the United States Army, where men traipsed in and out of showers at all hours of the day. This of course assumes that one saw service in a location where there were showers. There were occasions when men did not remove their shoes and socks for a few days at a time, yet my recollection is that no one ever seemed to complain of athlete’s foot. I suspect that athlete’s foot went the way of rheumatism, which has now been replaced by the more upscale term of arthritis.

Now that we have disposed of girdles and athlete’s foot, we must turn our attention to Charles Atlas, a gentleman who promised to turn “98-pound” weaklings into 210-pound behemoths. During the years of the Depression, many magazines were adorned with the advertisements of Charles Atlas. There were half pages and full pages, and each one of them showed a man with bulging muscles who contended that he used to be a 98-pound weakling. I never knew anyone who was taken in by the Charles Atlas advertising, but it was good entertainment during the Depression when there was no television or email.

I suspect that Charles Atlas was a man who sold barbells and other weightlifting equipment. That statement is totally unsupported by fact and it flows only from my memory that some of the people who posed for Charles Atlas advertising seemed to be carrying barbells. How it was that he changed a 98-pound weakling into a 210-pound behemoth never was clear while I was reading those magazines, and it remains unclear to this day. Yet there is a certain nostalgia about recalling Mr. Atlas because his advertisements were so widely printed that almost everyone in this country knew who he was. Perhaps your preacher might not have known who Mr. Atlas was, but I suspect that 95% of his congregation would know a good bit about Charles Atlas. I never heard Mr. Atlas being interviewed on radio and it is clear that no one ever referred to him as Charlie Atlas. And so it is up to us old-timers to remember that
Mr. Charles Atlas ever existed.

Now we turn to another pondering that took place during the Depression years. During those years, there was a great drought that settled all over the Mid West and into the plains states, so that the skies were virtually cloudless. From time to time, I assume wealthy advertisers would hire small aircraft to write their messages in the sky. The messages were brief, but they were quite effective, judging by the number of people who seemed entranced by them as the skywriter went about his work.

Skywriters always flew single-engine airplanes, which were of course propeller driven. They must have carried a tube of white exhaust that, when released, could linger in the sky for several minutes. Naturally, I was entranced by skywriting. It seems to me that letters such as “e,” “f,” and “t” should have been the easiest to write. The more difficult letters would be the letters “s” and “b.” My memory is that it would take perhaps ten to fifteen minutes for a skywriter to write his message in the sky. They only wrote the name of the product, and there was great excitement among the viewers after the first letter or two appeared as to what the message would eventually read.

My last exposure to skywriting came, I believe, in the early 1960s, when my family accompanied me to the New Jersey shore. On a cloudless day, a skywriter would appear and would write a message for the benefit of weekend viewers. There was even a romantic occasion when a skywriter wrote “love U” for the benefit of some love-struck youngsters.

No matter how you cut it, I was a draftsman who had a great interest in the formation of letters, here on the earth as well as in the sky. My regret is that I never had the opportunity to ride aloft while the letters were being written. One of my companions as a child always hoped that the skywriter would misspell a word. To the best of my knowledge, that never happened. All the words were correctly spelled and I regret to this day that skywriting is a function of a long-forgotten era.

Now that we have disposed of my pondering about skywriting, let us turn to a pondering about a wonderful entertainer named Burl Ives. Ives was a singer of folk songs who, like many other singers of folk songs, played a guitar. He was the son of a farming family from Jasper County, Illinois. Jasper County is far removed from the metropolitan areas of Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and other environs. But in the end, Ives eventually made it to New York where, in 1940, he was given his own radio program. His voice was absolutely distinctive. Fortunately, my ponderings have been helped along because I have several recordings which I have made into compact discs which offer such selections as “Blue-Tail Fly” and “I’m Just a Poor Wayfaring Stranger.” I am happy to report that folk singing is a vibrant art that has survived the assaults of rock music, hip hop, and other attacks on mankind.

Ives died a few years back at the age of nearly 90. I suspect that a good many of my older readers will recall him fondly. I certainly recall him fondly and my ponderings take me to the point of inquiring, “Where will the future Burl Ives come from?”

There is one other pondering that takes me into the field of religion where I am usually reluctant to go. In this case, however, it is a matter of economic circumstances having overtaken the teachings of a church.

For many years, the Roman Catholic faith has taught the evils of artificial contraception. Simply put, they dislike every form of birth control. The only exception came during recent years when the Vatican reluctantly approved the use of “natural birth control,” which seems to exist only during the time of the infertility of the female. I suspect that there are thousands of unplanned pregnancies that happened with the use of the so-called “natural planning.” My belief is that natural planning worked perfectly if one or both parties were sterile. But be that as it may, it appears that the economic circumstances of the 21st century generally require those who engage in sexual intercourse to use birth control. When one thinks about the cost of raising a child and putting him through college, sometimes at the expense of $50,000 per year, most people will conclude that fewer children are better than many.

Perhaps these economic circumstances came along a little late because your old essayist is the seventh child of an eight child family. But I was born in 1922 and today things are much different. There is a medical group that we patronize that has many nurses who have graduated from Catholic schools. As a general principle, it seems to me that those nurses are producing only one or two children per couple. One nurse had her second child not long ago and proclaimed that “This is it!” These are healthy young women who, I suspect, are not going to live the rest of their married life in celibacy. And so it is that the Popes over the years who have denounced the evil effects of birth control now find their parishioners practicing that art. With the cost of raising a child, particularly for those who plan to send their children to college, I can only say that this is a logical improvement.

Well, there you have six cases of disparate ponderings. Perhaps it can be argued that my ponderings reflect a wandering mind. Naturally, I would not agree with that conclusion but I would argue on the other hand that my ponderings recall an era when life was simpler and perhaps more rewarding. Any man who contends that my pondering about girdles for example is evidence of a disturbed mind will most likely never recall the use of girdles. Whatever my ponderings reveal about my inner soul is probably irrelevant. At my age I am very happy that I have enough cerebral power left to think about things such as girdles, athlete’s foot, Charles Atlas, skywriting, Burl Ives, and birth control. I would argue that men who have those kinds of ponderings ought to be celebrated with caviar, foie gras, and the clinking of champagne glasses.

August 16, 2008


These type of essays do a number on my search history. In one tab I have a whole set of pretty horrible images of Trench Foot (they definitely had that in war, even if athlete’s foot wasn’t a thing), and in the next there are all these hokey old ads for a bodybuilder man. Incidentally the Charles Atlas company, insofar as it still exists, seems to have not updated their advertising since the campaign that made them so famous. It’s a pretty incredible throwback to go to his site.

Girdles and skywriting are both common, too. Skywriting is pretty typical at big events like airshows, and girdles go by “Spanx” now but it’s the same deal. Another fun set of search terms, by the way, is “Spanx” followed by “Burl Ives.” I like to think that somewhere out there is a VERY confused advertising robot who very much would like to figure out what I’m trying to buy, but can’t at all piece together what these terms have to do with one another.


In 1948, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein wrote the unforgettable musical “South Pacific.” It starred Ezio Pinza and Mary Martin as lovers. Among the melodic offerings were such things as “Some Enchanted Evening,” and “This Nearly Was Mine.” Slipped into this epiphany was a song called, “You’ve Got to be Taught.” This little song was an anti-hatred offering. It has great meaning today, nearly 60 years later. Let me try to show you what I mean.

“You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

George Bush, Commander in Chief, Chief Executive, and Chief Decider for the whole world, speaks repeatedly of “the enemy.” I suspect that “The enemy” are the people opposing American forces in Iraq, but Bush never gives them a name. It is simply “the enemy.” We killed so many enemy soldiers today and we imprisoned some more enemies. I presume all of those are members of “the enemy” forces. But Bush never associates them with the name of a country or organization. They are just “the enemy.” I am an old soldier and I have trouble figuring out who is “the enemy.” Is “the enemy” people who disagree with Bush? Is the New York Times an “enemy”? Is “the enemy” all of the Arabs? In all of his pronouncements, George Bush has never named the enemy. We are simply asked to take it on faith that there is an enemy out there that we must wipe out. At this point, I am inclined to believe that the Arab race is in fact the enemy that Bush has in mind, but that is simply an old soldier’s intuition.

“You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

Richard Cheney, the Vice President of the United States, is often viewed as the man who led George Bush into invading Iraq. In his speeches to right-wing audiences and in his interviews with the most right-wing of all radio commentators, Cheney invariably refers to “radical Islamic elements who would establish a political caliphate extending from Spain through the Far East.” Now let us suppose that you are a 19- or 20-year-old American soldier in Iraq and you see an Arab come down the street. You do not speak his language and he does not speak yours. Are you going to thrust your rifle in his face and inquire of him, “Are you a radical Muslim element who is bent on establishing a caliphate from here to there?”

Of course, the Arab, not understanding your question, will shrug his shoulders, and under current conditions that makes him guilty and may cause him to have his head blown off. The American soldier may well think that he is carrying out the wishes of his commanders when he blows the head off of a young Arab man because he has failed to answer the question about being a radical Islamic Arab. It would seem, under the Cheney Doctrine, that every Arab is a radical one rushing headlong into establishing a caliphate. Being an Arab in Baghdad is just tough luck for our “enemies.”

“You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!”

Now let us consider that the young soldiers coming in to serve in the Army and the Marine Corps are taught by older soldiers who are not particularly literate. I can tell you this because I spent a good amount of time under those illiterate or nearly illiterate soldiers. They are the leaders who instruct our troops on who the enemy is. They are the ones who instruct the young troops to kick down doors and to humiliate the male members in front of their families.

And unfortunately, we recently learned that our troops are the ones committing the atrocities against the enemy which includes women and children. Simply put, the enemy is the Arab, those radical Muslim Islamists who wish to establish the caliphate. It must be the Arabs because they are only people opposing us.

The soldiers are melded into what is called a “comprehensive unit” and given a mission in Iraq to wipe out anything before them. In the Marine Corps, the motto is “No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy.” When 19- or 20-year-old soldiers and marines get hyped up with this comprehensive unit business, and then perceive that the Commander in Chief and the Vice President have named a non-Christian enemy, it is fairly clear that the enemy is none other than all of the Arab race. So you see these young soldiers have got to be taught to hate. And it comes as no surprise whatsoever that our troops are involved in atrocities against Arab civilians. Hatred is a terrible thing and it is being taught to our young soldiers. Because of the leaders proclaiming that the enemy is our source of trouble, it is no wonder that these soldiers, imbued with the faith, find that every Arab needs to be killed. The original general in Iraq, General Tommy Franks, said repeatedly of Arab deaths that “We don’t do Iraqi body counts.”

Children who witness our conduct will hate us for the rest of their lives. And who can blame them?

I am an old soldier who understands a little bit about warfare and a little bit about hatred. I suppose for a long time, many of us came close to hating the Germans because of the operations of the Nazi war machine in WWII. Somewhere in the 1970s, I went to Munich with my friend Howard Davis, who likes to drink beer before noon. I do not care for beer, morning, noon, or night, but nonetheless we walked into this beer garden where there were tables about waist high where the beer could be placed and consumed while standing. A local came along and joined us. After a while he pointed to me and inquired, “Amerikanisher soldat?” I answered in flawless German, “Ja.” He then inquired, “POW?” Again, I answered in flawless German, “Ja.” He then went on to tell me in passable English that he had been a POW of the English for more than three years where he learned the English language. Before long it became clear that he was a very nice fellow. From that time on, whatever dislike I had of the German race tended to disappear. So you see the lesson in this case is that there is great merit in having beer gardens, even though I don’t drink much beer.

As a non-believer, for many years I have been an objective observer of the prejudices and hatreds that occur in religious organizations. The Moslems hate the Christians and the Jews and want to wipe them all out. I suspect that there is not much love lost on the Christian side as it relates to the Moslems. I am a fortunate guy in that my parents who attended primitive churches, such as the Nazarenes, the Pentecostals, and the Free-Will Baptists, simply referred to people in other faiths as those who could not join them in heaven. Significantly, my unschooled parents never taught me to hate. They felt sorry for all those Jews, Catholics, Episcopalians, et. al. who would not be admitted to heaven. But hatred was never part of that equation for me. But a good part of organized religion seems to be devoted to dislike or even unstated hatred.

So you see, hatred is a miserable human condition. It is a destructive condition but I fear that it is going to be with us for the rest of time. While it will be with us perhaps for many years to come, I suspect that Hammerstein and Rodgers were absolutely right when they contended in their little song that “You have to be taught.” That, my friends, is what George Bush is teaching. That, my friends, is precisely what Richard Cheney is teaching. And that, my friends, is what the Army and Marine Corps are teaching these young soldiers. In the long run, hatred will consume such soldiers.

In any case, it is instructive to review a song like “You’ve got to be taught.” It was written following the most horrible combat that the world had ever seen, that being WWII. Now, if you believe Mr. Bush and
Mr. Cheney, we are engaged in a war on terror. Again, as an old soldier, I suspect that when history is written, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney will be remembered for having taught us to hate. What a terrible epitaph.

June 26, 2006


First time I’ve heard it, but I’m a fan. I think “To hate all the people your relatives hate” is the line that stands out to me because it forces a “social” issue to be considered at a very personal level. “Society” isn’t the reason that you hate people — by and large, the culprits are probably your parents. Now that’s maybe a little bit different in the case of war, where dehumanization of the enemy is advanced as a military tactic to make it easier to pull the trigger, but I think your standard run-of-the-mill inherited hate is the more common problem.

It’s a sad irony that the start of the Caliphate that Cheney was talking about ended up forming out of the power vacuum we created with our series of cowboy invasions. And now Trump has just gotten it in his head that bombing things makes him popular, so god knows what comes next.


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.


As I was growing up, one of the absolutely great forms of music was the so-called “Negro spiritual.” In recent years the word “Negro” has become a word that polite people refer to only infrequently. The “Negro” word has evolved into “colored,” “people of color,” “African-American” and other euphemisms. Nonetheless the music that was produced many years ago and was heard in Negro spirituals was among the absolute finest that I have ever heard and I treasure them to this day.

My wife Judy and I are always enthusiastic about choir music. We listen to Welsh choirs, Russian choirs, Swedish choirs, and the choirs associated with some universities here such as Morgan State in Baltimore. We find them very rewarding.

The music that was encompassed by the Negro spirituals, which are now just called “spirituals,” grew out of poverty and slavery. Those songs grew out of people who had no hope in life except for an eventual reward somewhere in a place called heaven. The lives of the musicians who wrote these songs were so bleak that it was possible only to look forward to death and to a welcome into heaven. While I do not share the theological views of those who believe in eternal happiness in a place called heaven, I believe that the spirituals represent one of the most significant American contributions to the world of music.

There are five spirituals that come to mind which I would like to mention. The lyrics typically are very short and are repeated quite a few times. There is no convoluted thought at all. The idea of the spiritual is to state a point and to repeat it quite often. Here for example are the lyrics of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” They go:

“Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home.
A band of angels coming after me,
Coming for to carry me home.
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home.
A band of angels coming after me,
Coming for to carry me home.”

I assume that “coming for to carry me home” refers to heaven as the place where the singer hopes to go.

Another spiritual that has stayed with me for many years is “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” When sung by a choir such as the Morgan choir from Baltimore, this is very moving music. The lyrics go this way:

“Were you there when they crucified my Lord,
Were you there when they crucified my Lord,
Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?
Oh, oh, oh sometimes it causes me to tremble – tremble –
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

This is moving music, particularly when sung by a choir like that of Morgan State University.

A third song greatly appreciated by my mother was “Look down, look down that lonesome road.” The lyrics again are simple and forthright.

They go like this:

“Look down, look down that lonesome road before you carry on
Look down, look down that lonesome road before you carry on
Weary grows this heavy load trudging down that lonesome road.
Look up, look up to see your maker before you carry on.

The word “trudging” is usually pronounced as “tredging.” I believe you get the message. It is a matter of the slaves carrying a heavy load until they are taken away to heaven. My mother thought this was a beautiful song, and so do I.

A fourth spiritual is one of my favorites. It is called “Better Get a Home inna That Rock.” The advice here comes from on high and it says that you better get a home in that rock as opposed to in some sort of shifting sand which will improve your chances of gaining a place in heaven. The words go something like this:

“Better get a home inna that rock,
Don’t you see? (basses repeat), “Don’t you see?”
Better get a home inna that rock,
Don’t you see? (basses repeat), “Don’t you see?”
Oh between earth and sky
I thought I heard my savior cry,
You better get a home inna that rock,
Don’t you see? (basses repeat), “Don’t you see?”

Finally, here is a rousing spiritual called “Swing Down Chariot and let me ride.” The lyrics are these:

Swing down chariot Lord and let me ride
Swing down chariot Lord and let me ride
Swing down chariot Lord and let me ride
For I’ve got a home on the other side.

Whether you believe in the Christian ethic or not, spirituals of this sort are absolutely moving music. They come from the heart and they come from poverty and slavery. Sometimes there is a hopelessness to them about the current conditions but they all express some hope of a better tomorrow after they depart this earth. I don’t share their views about eternal bliss in some heaven, but if that gives the lyricists and the singers hope, I am all for it.

I hope you have been uplifted by the lyrics to these five spirituals. I found myself almost singing as I tried to dictate them. They are good music and they are moving music. It is mighty hard to beat that combination. So if you wish to call them spirituals or Negro spirituals or African-American spirituals or whatever, listen to that music. It is great stuff.

April 4, 2006


Most of the “Home inna That Rock” versions I found were all about someone who had already found such a home — “I’ve got a home in that rock” instead of “better get a home in that rock.” Huh. And for Sing Down Chariot, the best I could do was an Elvis version, which probably wasn’t what Pop was going for.

Overall, to me it’s a little too grim and religious for my tastes. I’m glad he was able to look past that and find something he enjoyed, though!


For two or three years, it has been my intention to write an essay on poetry. If there is a human who knows less about the mechanics of poetry, it would be my pleasure to meet that person. Knowing almost nothing about how a poem is constructed does not bar me from commenting on the finished product any more than citizens are barred from comment and criticism of politicians who know nothing about how a good government should work.

If and when my pen takes paper to record my thoughts about poetry, it will be my contention that the best poetry today is written by lyricists who write poems that are meant to be sung.

Going a step further, it would be my contention that the best poet-songwriter these days is Eric Bogle, a native of Scotland who moved to Australia nearly 35 years ago. Bogle is a prolific author who sings the songs that he has composed including his lyrics.

In all likelihood, Bogle’s best known works are two anti-war songs having to do with the First World War. There is “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda,” a description of the sad adventures of an Australian soldier who was involved in the Battle of Suvla Bay in the Gallipoli region of Turkey. The second is formally called “No Man’s Land.” It is also known as “Willie McBride” and “The Green Fields of France.” That last title is a misnomer because the inspiration for the song came from a British military cemetery in Belgium. That is a small point of no consequence. The burden of the song is a strong indictment of war.

“And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” is a long song-poem which describes the enlistment of an Aussie soldier, the battle, his wounding, and, in later years, his thoughts as his old comrades parade on ANZAC (Australia-New Zealand Army Corps) Day in April. These four lines from “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” have stuck with me for years. The people of governments that promote war should be equally haunted. The lines are:

“Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head,
And when I awoke in me hospital bed,
And saw what it had done, well, I wished I was dead,
Never knew there were worse things than dying.”

-Eric Bogle

The Aussie soldier lost both legs when he said, “Never knew there were worse things than dying.” I suspect that thought has crossed the minds of many ill people for whom medical science offers no cure or even temporary relief from pain. In some cases, dying would be a release from constant pain. Only the state of Oregon recognizes this miserable situation, but the Bush Administration seems determined to wipe this right off the books and make assisted suicide a major crime. How stupid. We spare household pets the pain of suffering, but such a release is denied to humans. Again, how stupid.

Bogle’s second well known song is his visit to the graveside of Private William McBride, presumably a Scottish soldier killed in the First World War. The first verse sets the stage.

“Well how do you do, Private Willie McBride,
Do you mind if I sit here down by your graveside,
And rest for a while ΄neath the warm summer sun,
I’ve been walking all day and I’m nearly done.

I see by your gravestone you were only 19,
When you joined the great fallen in 1915.
I hope you died well and I hope you died clean,
Or young Willie McBride was it slow and obscene.”

Further on there are these lines:

“But here in this graveyard
It’s still no-man’s land,
The countless white crosses stand mute in the sand,
To man’s blind indifference to his fellow man,
To a whole generation which we butchered and damned.
For young Willie McBride it’s all happened again and

The chorus is the refrain:

“I hope you died well and I hope you died clean,
Or Willie McBride was it slow and obscene.”

Bogle offers two prescient thoughts here as they relate to lives drawing to a close. The first is the idea that “never knew there were worse things than dying.” The second is the “hope you died well and I hope you died clean or was it slow and obscene.”

From my own point of view, the thought that human suffering comes about because of a god or a saint prescribing it is rejected out of hand. The supernatural forces that reside somewhere above the clouds is a figment of an overactive imagination. Simply put, as we grow older, our bodies seem unlikely to fight off diseases and ailments that were of no consequence early on. This must be a matter of natural progression from birth to death. But natural progression moves often in cruel ways. Part of the cruelty is that fatal diseases haunt older people. It is not a matter of an ailment taking us away as Bogle says, dying quickly and cleanly, but a matter of imposing a burden for such a time that people will conclude that we didn’t know there were worse things than dying.

A few examples might make the point. For more than 50 years, the Vincendese family has owned and operated Berkeley Hardware in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey. The man primarily responsible for its success is Angelo Vincendese, better known as “Lefty.” For the half century that Lefty has been my friend, he has been a dynamo. As he has approached 80 years, he has slowed down and needs some days off. Krones disease has caught up with Lefty. When Judy asked Lefty last week how he was feeling, Lefty gave her a pragmatic answer. He said, “I will never feel well again.” The last thing Lefty would ask for is your sympathy or pity. Lefty’s suffering is such that he must think Krone’s is worse than dying.

There are two of our neighbors who lost their husbands to Parkinson’s Disease. It wasn’t quick and it was not clean. Those brave women tended to their husband’s medical condition for more than three years. As life draws to a close, nature picks on the vulnerable in a cruel and vicious manner.

Two other examples come to mind. One was an atheist, the other a nun. In 1948, when Henry Mencken was a successful and a powerful figure in the publishing business, he suffered a debilitating stroke. Mencken was the bane of preachers and politicians and those who promise you some sort of eternal ecstasy provided you died first. In the years following the stroke, Mencken was unable to write. His mental processes were so afflicted that he could not compose a story or an essay, much less a book. And this was the man whose prose was the gold standard in American literary circles. He lingered for six years before death finally released him. During that time, he must have thought that perhaps his crippled condition made death an attractive alternate.

On the other side of the coin is Mother Angelica, a Catholic nun who was the driving force behind the Eternal Word Television Network. Mother Angelica was the chatterbox of EWTN. There were times when she lectured on her personal guardian angel. She gave him a name and called on him to help her out of tight spots. Why she had a male guardian angel is beyond me, but she called him “Stoney” as in a stone wall. In all seriousness, she told her TV viewers that they could also have a guardian angel – if they really believed. Mother Angelica’s pleas fell on deaf ears.

Mother Angelica must have spent an enormous amount of time before the TV cameras. She was the sales person for selling religious knick-knacks and trinkets such as a plastic heart of Jesus. She was a very busy woman. Three or four years ago, she disappeared from EWTN’s studios. After a long delay, the network announced, without saying so, that she had suffered a stroke that robbed her of the ability to speak.

She may be nearing 80 years, but in the end, she is denied the opportunity to broadcast as Mencken was denied the opportunity to write again. The atheist and the nun. Nature moves in cruel ways. Mother Angelica lives in a Catholic facility and is waiting for God to call her home. In the meantime, she must curse her inability to speak. Remember, some ailments are worse than dying.

There is one other example involving the televised broadcasts of a Presbyterian Church in Summit, New Jersey. We watch the broadcasts until the choir has sung. One of the points in the service at this church is a few minutes devoted to “Joys and Concerns.” An assistant preacher asks for congregants to stand and announce a joy or a concern. On the joy side, someone may announce the arrival of a baby. Ah, but on the concern side, people will ask for prayers for a terminally ill cousin. On some occasions, prayers are asked for a person who must undergo an operation.

The concerns outweigh the joys regularly. Those who ask for prayers may want to avoid the inevitable. No one in this Bible believing church has ever asked that prayers be said for someone to have a speedy, dignified death as in Bogle’s “No Man’s Land”. No one!

Now to close the circle, age and glaucoma have caught up with my eyesight. If all goes well, there will be a delicate operation to drill a hole in my one eye that will permit the aqueous fluid to drain. I have not requested prayers of any kind because of my fear that the prayers would go to the god or saint who ordered me to become afflicted with glaucoma in the first place. Glaucoma is an insidious inherited disease. In my case, it was inherited from my father. Gods, saints, prophets and ascetic worshippers had nothing to do with it.

As difficult as it seems, there may be a bright side to my diminished eye sight. It is clear that when it is necessary to go from one place to another, poles, doors and walls intrude and are hit. There was an occasion when a step was missed resulting in a fall. But think what has been learned that will benefit religious organizations for centuries.

Joseph Ratzinger, the German soldier who became the current Pope, has launched a vigorous drive to root out homosexuals from Catholic seminaries in the United States. Curiously, Ratzinger, who headed the Vatican office of the Inquisition before his elevation, has not moved to separate priests who may be gay. The fury is directed at his seminaries but nothing has been said about the graduates of those seminaries who may be gay. It may have to do with the shortage of priests or it may be a matter that God and the German Pope can come to an agreement on later. In the meantime, no word at all about pedophiles. Is the Pope confused between being gay and being a pedophile?

For all those religious organizations that require male celibacy, one of the products of my limited eyesight may provide a heaven-sent answer.

You may recall an essay from this corner about Saddam Hussien’s jockey shorts. As a result of that essay, I now wear Saddam’s style of jockey shorts. When a man or a seminarian or a religious cleric wears jockey shorts, they must be worn properly to adorn the front of the male body. With my lack of sight, I have discovered that it is disastrous to put the shorts on backwards. But if the German Pope is serious about his new crusade against American seminaries, he can order all seminarians to wear their jockey shorts backward.

There is one more thought to offer in the drive to stamp out gayness in American seminaries. That is to put the shorts on turned inside out. It has the same effect as wearing the shorts backward.

Clearly, the Ed Carr innovations for the use of jockey shorts will be a godsend to those who wish to stamp out gayness in American seminaries. In all modesty, I expect to be decorated for my profound contribution to celibacy in seminaries. Perhaps a robe or a ring would be appropriate.

Well so much for male underclothing. Dealing with the ailments that overtake us at a vulnerable time is not an inspiring subject. It is simply a matter of pragmatism. It happens and nothing is gained by pretending that it is not the case. The sad fact is that Lefty, the hardware store owner, may never feel well again and it happened as he approached 80 years. If the situation becomes so serious, there is always refuge in Eric Bogle’s words, “Never knew there were worse things than dying.”

A final thought. Males seem to contract ailments that last a long time. The wives who take care of them are brave and seem more than willing to make the sacrifice to care for their men. From all of the men, a rousing salute is indeed in order, as well as – “Waltzing Matilda, you’ll come awaltzing Matilda with me.”

October 23, 2005


Real cheery one there, Pop. But I guess that’s kind of the point — there’s a class of things out there which can’t be made nice by trying to have a positive outlook, or by praying about them, or by really anything. There are some indignities that have to be borne slowly or painfully. I think that the ‘worse than death’ part may still be an exaggeration in many of the cases he described above, however. For sure there’s something cruel about a career writer being rendered unable to write, but that doesn’t mean that death would have been the preferable result to Mencken’s stroke. I get that if you’re in some sort of true prolonged agony, there are circumstances where death potentially seems more appealing than life, but there’s to me a pretty wide gap between that and just being majorly inconvenienced.


For better or worse, it is my belief, or conviction, that in times past, folk singers were the essayists of the day. There was a time when universal literacy was only a dream among educators. For example, when my ancestors left Ireland during the Famine which started in 1845, they were farmers who did not achieve even basic literacy until they reached this country. People with limited – or no education, could memorize folk songs which often contained a kernel of truth and were often a source of amusement. My maternal grandmother, loved to sing “Buffalo Gal” – “with a hole in her stocking, and her knees kept a knocking and her heels kept a rocking.” She and her children considered “Buffalo Gal” great fun. But in a minor key, she also sang songs of starvation, hangings, unfair confinement in jails and death.

One of the folk songs that has stuck with me for many years is “Waggoner’s Lad.” It is likely a song that originated here. There are those who contend that the song has Irish roots. Don’t be put off by the two “g’s” because some years ago, even the British spelled wagon with two g’s.

The song is about a young man or lad, driving a wagon who spurns the invitation of a young woman to “sit down beside me for as long as you may.”

The first line of the first verse is one that gives pause. It says:

“Hard luck is the fortune of all woman kind.”

My humanitarian instincts are to deal with this inherent unfairness to females. On the other hand, it is also my intention to write a piece having to do with one of my fortunes in life. This is where the “It’s No Big Deal” is found.

For virtually all my life, my fortune has exposed me to soldiers and sailors. It was my fortune to meet them when they were young. They did not limp and their bodies were erect. Now that these young men have become ancient, it is my happy fortune to know them still. The vast bulk of the men known to me were enlisted men who did the heavy lifting and bore the brunt of war. One of my close friends was an Army Major, but he is excused on the grounds that he originally came from Missouri. Those are pretty flimsy and feeble grounds, but it is the best we have. So it will have to do.

During my teenage years in the 1930’s, several World War I soldiers were known to me including my four uncles. All of those men have now left the scene by this time due to advanced age. The men who served in World War II are now in their late 70’s or more likely in the their 80’s. The Korean War veterans are now in their 70’s. The people who served in Vietnam are now in their 60’s.

Advancing age has not dimmed their candor. As young men, they had few ailments to report. In those days, the military did not encourage enlisted men to report their disabilities. The military services were quick to suspect coddling, so men largely kept quiet.

Now that all of us have advanced into our senior years, when asked about their health, almost all will reply honestly. They may say, “I use a cane now” or “My hearing is poor from working on an aircraft carrier flight deck.” Others may say, “My eyes ain’t what they used to be” or “The cardiologist is helping me with my work.” But in an instant, these old geezers will follow recitation of their ailments, with the firm admonition, “It’s no big deal.” That admonition gives me pleasure and inspiration. These are my kind of men.

As a soldier, a wounded man would say, “I’ll be all right. It’s no big deal.” Malaria sufferers who had lost their sense of equilibrium from administration of quinine would mumble that it wasn’t such a big deal. They would say, “I’ll be okay soon.” There was a time when it was my fortune to fly support for the British Eighth Army in Italy on the Adriatic side. The Eighth was called a “polyglot army” because it included soldiers who had left their homes in France, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Norway and Denmark and other places. Of course, the Eighth was officered by the English and included many English, Scotch and Irish troops. When those men were hurt, they would often refuse to acknowledge their disablement and would say in effect, “I can deal with it.” My admiration for the men of the Eighth Army is unlimited. When the 8th Army guys were hurt, they would say, “carry on,” which translates to, “It’s no big deal.”

Even Ray Charles, the entertainer, told Ed Bradley of 60 Minutes that his blindness which had afflicted him from early childhood was not a big impediment. My recollection is that Ray Charles told Bradley that the inability to see was “only 1% of living.” My estimate of blindness as it relates to daily living is that it is a lot more than 1%, but maybe Ray Charles who fathered 12 children by either seven or nine women may have known something that the rest of us don’t know. In any case, Ray joined the chorus when he told Ed Bradley, “It’s no big deal.” This one-eyed essayist demurs.

All of this comes to mind largely because of Cal Tuggle, who was just appointed Ambassador Extraordinaire to the world from Yulee, Florida. Cal is well know to AT&T Overseas employees, having worked at #5 World Trade Center, 195 Broadway and Bedminster. He and Kathleen live in Florida now that Cal has survived the Korean War and AT&T.

Cal fully subscribes to the doctrine of “It’s no big deal.” But in the manner of old soldiers, he occasionally lists his complaints which make me want to call an organic Florida undertaker for him. Then, of course, he says that he can handle everything.

Last December, Cal said he had cataracts removed and some other unpleasant medical procedures. His message ended with his plans for breast implants and a vasectomy. Tuggle got no sympathy from me. Cal was told to have the breast implants arranged one on top of the other rather than side to side. In effect, old Tuggle was told that there would be no sympathy from this corner until he had an eight cylinder hysterectomy. Now that would be a big deal.

In March, old soldier Calvin, when questioned, gave us this report on his state of being. He said:

“I’m like a car with 100,000 miles, body about worn out, one headlight repaired and the other needs replacing, sometimes the engine runs okay, at other times it sputters and runs fast, both shock absorbers squeak. Lots of time in the repair shop.”

One would think old Cal was on his last leg after reading the March message. But it can’t be such a big deal as he is going to Germany “for several weeks” to visit one of his daughters and her family.

Again Cal got no sympathy from this quarter as he was told to look for Erhardt, Gunter and Otto who served in the German Luftwaffe during WWII. Cal is authorized to apologize for me. It is my fault for getting my posterior in front of their guns. Knowing Tuggle, he will forget his lines and try to sell them some of his Florida real estate.

The point is that it is a lot better to joke about our age related ailments than it is to mourn. It has been my great fortune to have known soldiers and sailors who were exposed to all sorts of danger and who now say, “It was no big deal.” It was a pleasure to have known them when they were young. And now, it is an honor to know them in the twilight of their lives. My guess is that when it is their time to go, they will say, “Hey man, it’s no big deal.”

March 13, 2005

Post Script: The “Waggoner’s Lad” at the front end of this essay is a sobering song. Two verses will make my point.

“Hard luck is the fortune of all womenkind,
They’re always controlled, they’re always confined,
Controlled by their parents until they are wives,
And slaves to their husbands for the rest of their lives.”

When the maid attempts to hold on to the “Waggoner’s Lad,” it leads to a rebuff:
“Your horses are hungry, go feed them some hay,
Come sit down beside me as long as you may,
My horses ain’t hungry, they won’t eat your hay,
So fare the well darling, I’ll be on my way.”

If this song has any ancient Irish roots, it may possibly justify an epigram attributed to an English author, G. K. Chesterton. The epigram holds:

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

The “Waggoner’s Lad” is indeed, a sad song. In this one case, Chesterton may have been on to something.


Solid Carr combo on display here, in the form of war stuff plus depressing Irish music. With the exception of the latter, it had a good overall message about being chipper in the face of adversity, and the mental image of an eight-cylinder hysterectomy was a nice bonus. Do you ever encounter a phrase that you can fully anticipate never hearing again? I think that one qualifies.



“We’ll Keep a Welcome” is a Welsh song that personifies Jean McFarland Livermore’s life and to some extent, Grinnell College in Iowa which she attended. “We’ll Keep a Welcome” goes back to 1941 when Welsh troops who were heavily involved in fighting in World War II were visited by a Welsh variety show called, “Welsh Rarebit.” The idea of the visits by “Welsh Rarebit” was to keep troops such as the famous Royal Welsh Fusiliers, in touch with events back in their Welsh homeland. The producers of “Welsh Rarebit” were a female composer, Mai Jones, and the male lyricist, Lyn Joshua. Their theme song produced especially for the production was the song, “We’ll Keep a Welcome in the Hillside.”

The lyrics for “We’ll Keep a Welcome” have three verses. Of course, this is a tease, but the first verse reads like this:

“Far away a voice is calling
Bells of memory chime
Come home again, come home again
They call through the oceans of time.”

The other two verses will appear a little later in this tribute to Jean McFarland Livermore. The third verse includes the Welsh word, “Hiraeth,” which ought to appear in all the worlds major languages. This old World War II soldier will explain what “Hiraeth” means as well as the diphthong that goes with it. Not so bad for an itinerant scholar, who did not attend Grinnell College, to explain all about diphthongs. And by the way, one of the attachments is a recipe for Welsh Rarebit.

Now before we get back to Jean McFarland Livermore, there is a fact or two that everyone should know about her husband of 63 years. Harry and this old essayist became great friends shortly before Mother’s Day in 1952, a span of 52 years which were counted out on the fingers of this ink stained wretch. You see, for 52 years, Harry has maliciously derided my ability with arithmetic. To improve my performance, the services of the world renowned Creative Arithmetic Institute have been engaged for perhaps the last 20 years. The CAI, not to be confused with the spooks who operate the similarly named CIA, was founded in the 1920’s by Charles K. Ponzi, the world’s best known swindler and the gentleman who completely looted the entire assets of the Hanover Trust Company in New York City. Ponzi took a graduate degree at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York.

The professors at Creative Arithmetic Institute now are former executives at the Enron Corporation. Their efforts at CAI have been interrupted from time to time, by lengthy Federal stays at an advanced school located in Leavenworth, Kansas.

None the less, the faculty at CAI has produced a classic arithmetic doctrine called “TCE,” meaning “That’s Close Enough.” For example, Harry tells me as my 82nd birthday approaches, that my observations about ageing are the complaints of teenagers. He says, “Wait ‘till you get to be my age before you say anything.”

My research done with the help of the faculty at CAI, says that this year is 2004. It is a fact that Harry was born in 1915, AD. The suffix “AD” is cited because in Harry’s case, arguably, his birth could have been marked “BC.” So using the techniques developed by the faculty at CAI, 2004 minus 1915 yields some interesting answers. Using the long hand arithmetic taught at Clayton, Missouri public schools, 2004 was written down with 1915 with a minus sign written directly below it. My expertise does not extend to fractions or decimals, yet the answer to my long hand calculations was 49.73⅝. That answer is crazy as Livermore has been my pal longer than that.

So it was necessary now to turn to mechanical devices. In my desk drawer is a calculator which General Mills sent to me for sending in 310 box tops from Wheaties™. Given the same problem, the little calculator yielded an answer of 94 years for Harry. That seemed fairly close, but this calculator has been known to not carry over the one in subtraction problems. So we then turned to a larger printing calculator with the legend, “With the Compliments of the Enron Corporation” on the calculator’s screen. The print out said the answer to the problem was 103 years. This answer made me and the faculty at CAI much more comfortable. As an aside, the faculty at CAI let me have the printing calculator for $1100, which was obviously quite a steal.

The point is that in this case of a seeming discrepancy between 94 and 103 years, the infallible doctrine of “That’s close enough” applies. If the professors from Enron say its close enough, that not only suits me in this case, but it does a great deal to reestablish my arithmetic credentials so abused by Harry Livermore. In April of this year, the faculty at CAI will nominate me for enshrinement at the World Wide Arithmetic Hall of Fame. The enshrinement takes three days and Mr. Livermore will be asked to escort me at the coronation ceremonies. It is hoped that he will not plead old age and senility when all the festivities take place. And finally, in its Doctoral Program on arithmetic studies at Grinnell College, it is hoped that the Doctrine of “It’s close enough” will be a central theme.

The Arithmetic Hall of Fame does not have elaborate, permanent headquarters such as exist in Canton, Ohio for the professional football Hall or at Cooperstown, New York for the pro-baseball Hall. The Arithmetic Hall is located outside St. Louis near a junkyard on old Highway 66. The Hall uses $8 rooms at a hot sheet motel for its work. The coronation ceremony is held in a Popeye’s Restaurant where the feature is all the hamburgers you can eat. Popeye’s believes that mad cow disease has to do with a cow that is angry. The CAI faculty feels that Harry and his honored guest will feel quite at home in this setting.

Fate has an interesting way of doing things. Harry was a native of Omaha, Nebraska who attended Grinnell College as did Jean, his future wife from Jackson, Michigan. Josiah Bushnell Grinnell (1821 – 1891) an American pioneer, clergyman and abolitionist, came to Iowa because Horace Greeley told him personally to, “Go west, young man, go west.” He founded Grinnell, Iowa (1854) and gave land and buildings (1859) to Iowa College which was later named Grinnell College. Although related to the Congregational Church in the beginning, Grinnell is a non-sectarian school.

Sometime later, Harry wound up before World War II working for AT&T in New York. When war broke out, he served aboard the carrier Ticonderoga which suffered several hits from Japanese kamikaze aircraft. After the hit, the Ticonderoga limped back into port, was repaired, and with its crew, went back out to fight another day. Because of his indispensability, the American Navy kept Harry on duty until 1946. Jean also served with honor in WWII by staying home and rearing three youngsters on her own while Harry was away. Grinnell must have prepared her very well. After leaving the Navy, Harry went back to AT&T in New York until he was transferred to Kansas City in 1951 or thereabouts.

As it turns out, my roots are in Clayton, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. When Clayton High School graduated me in January, 1940, there were no jobs so it was necessary to continue my work in filling stations. Obviously, pumping gas, fixing flat tires and lubricating car chassis equipped me superbly to deal with the curriculum at Creative Arithmetic Institute and at Grinnell College in Iowa. For example, in the Iowa Collegiate Mathematics Competition at the University of Iowa on April 5, 2003, there were 28 teams of three students who worked on a collection of ten problems. My score was something like 97 or 114 points. The exact score is not important at all. The next higher score was 88 points – so take that – Harry Livermore.

In any case, a great break happened to me in September, 1941, when a drafting job opened up with AT&T in St. Louis. From 1942 until November, 1945, there was an enlistment with the United States Army Air Corps – later it became the Army Air Force. In 28 months overseas, it was possible to see the devastation that war brought to North Africa and Italy. Josiah Grinnell was an ardent abolitionist who incurred severe penalties as he argued to stop slavery. If Reverend Grinnell were around today, he and this old soldier would combine forces to argue to stop wars, starting with the current pre-emptive invasion of Iraq which has cost 530 American lives so far.

After World War II, it was my duty to obey the voice of “We’ll Keep a Welcome” by observing the lines about, “Come home again, come home again.” So it was back to St. Louis. In 1951, AT&T offered me a management job in Kansas City. It was there that Harry’s brother, Monte, became my friend. Before long, another transfer within Kansas City brought me to work for Harry Livermore.

It was near Mother’s Day in 1952 when work for Harry actually began. Harry was the District Traffic Manager for AT&T in Kansas City. Mother’s Day was not an auspicious time to try to learn the intricacies of a new job in the traffic department of any of the Bell System Companies. Every person was hard at work preparing to handle record long distance calling on Mother’s Day, so that there was very little time to show a neophyte what went on.

Harry had an outstanding staff to help him. There was Chief Operator Helen Billow and Assistant Chief Operator Jeannev Bradbury. Veta Mae Irwin was Harry’s Welfare Supervisor. You called on Veta Mae if your boyfriend was two timing you and you felt aggrieved. The Chief Force Clerk was Blondie Hunter who took all kinds of grief because an unexpected evening tour might interfere with an operator’s love life. Harry’s Office Manager was a lovely woman named Leona Miner. Clarence West of the Plant Department was the Union Ayatollah of Western Missouri and Eastern Kansas. Clarence was a good guy who enjoyed life and laughed quite a bit.

As things in the Kansas City Traffic Department grew more familiar to me, it became clear that the staff worked so well together because they liked Harry Livermore and they knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Harry would always treat them fairly and do so with a generous spirit.

Although my service in Harry’s department was only three or four months, when Harry left for vacation in August, he told me to run things. Specifically, he did not say conduct a holding operation until his vacation was finished. Given Harry’s vote of confidence, my efforts were dedicated to running things. Among other projects, there was a new index board produced for Kansas City Traffic department results. It fell to me to welcome a new Inward and Through Chief Operator as a result of Harry’s earlier arrangement. That would have been Helen Seghers.

Knowing that Harry had confidence in this 30 year old worker with only a short time in Traffic operations, gave me an inordinate amount of confidence. And like everyone else in the AT&T Kansas City Traffic operation, it made me a booster of the boss. In other cases where work has taken me, the boss gave no authority to his helpers and jealously reserved his right to criticize if things were not executed perfectly.

Harry took a much more refreshing outlook. In effect, he said we’re all in this together. Let’s make it work the best we can. Needless to say, everyone in Kansas City Traffic preferred Harry’s way overwhelmingly.

Aside from work, it was my pleasure to see Harry socially for a little bit of drinking and some softball games. In retrospect, it may be clear that we were both Mid-Westerners who spoke non-flowery English. And we were both involved in World War II. If memory serves me correctly, the Aircraft Carrier Ticonderoga that Harry served on lost as many as 300 men in a devastating kamikaze attack. Like me, Harry was not a gung ho promoter of more violence and destruction in another war.

Good things came to an end, however, when AT&T promoted Harry to take over the AT&T Chicago Traffic operation. Everyone was happy to see Harry recognized, but there was a sense of foreboding in the Kansas City Traffic department. The foreboding was eminently justified as Harry’s successor was picked by an unmarried Eastern executive and he turned out to be a young, unmarried protégé who had no managerial experience in Traffic operations or in directing people who reported to him. This young man was given to nit-picking and an overwhelming aversion to making decisions. For example, he absolutely and completely refused to sign off on the force scheduling assignments for operators on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or on New Year’s Eve. Blondie Hunter, the Chief Force clerk was frantic. When she told me what was happening, the force schedules were given my approval which had no backing at all in the AT&T Schedule of Authorizations. But, it got the job done.

This young manager’s management style or lack thereof, soon caused his bosses to relieve him of the manager’s job in Kansas City Traffic. In the meantime, not long after Christmas on a Sunday morning, Harry came to my house in Prairie Village, Kansas to tell me that he wanted me to join him in Chicago. It was not easy to leave the friends that had been made in the Kansas City area, but asking me to go to Chicago to work under Harry was a confidence builder of the first sort. So in late January and February, 1953, we began weekly commutation trips to Chicago.

Now there is something everyone should know about our living arrangements in Chicago. The people at Grinnell College ought to think about the incident which will now be described to see if the College wishes to endorse such action by Mr. Livermore, Junior.

More than a year ago, this old writer and mathematician wrote an essay about the Livermore-Carr living arrangement in Chicago. Now that more than a year has passed, this excerpt from the essay becomes a matter of REVEALED TRUTH. Here is what was written a long time ago:

One way or another, while searching for a permanent place to live, Harry and I took a two room suite at the Webster Hotel on Lincoln Parkway in the Near Northside of Chicago. We got along very well. Harry did not snore much and he discovered that putting peanuts in the refrigerator made a nice hors D’oeuvre. I reserved an opinion on that subject.

Almost everyone smoked in the 1950’s. In our suite at the Webster Hotel, when the last cigarette was smoked, the packages would be crumpled into a small ball and would become a source of athletic entertainment and achievement. Over our door to the hallway, was a screenless transom which could be opened to varying degrees of wideness. With one person in the bedroom and the other man in the hallway, the balled up cigarette package would be pitched through the transom with the door closed. The fellow receiving the throw would not know when it was thrown or whether it would be to his left or right. The object, of course, was to catch the thrown cigarette package ball. While we were on the honor system about catching the ball, as soon as the ball was pitched through the transom, the pitcher would run for the door and open it to see if the catcher really did catch the ball. When our neighbors alighted from the elevator and occasionally saw our game of pitching the ball through the transom, we were helped by the liberal view of the Chicago Police Department on minor crime. They did not send the paddy wagon for us.

There is one other story on which Harry Livermore considered me as a practitioner of shady play. In this case, the balled up cigarette package was again being used. Our living room at the Webster was quite large probably 12 feet across and perhaps 18 feet long. Harry was sitting on a divan at the far end of the room. Across from him was a window that was opened to a height of two or three inches.

Standing at the entrance to the room some 18 to 20 feet away, I told Brother Livermore that it would be possible for me to pitch the ball out that window. Harry immediately took the bet saying no one could do such an impossible feat. Now remember, my offer was to throw that ball out that window. Nothing was said – at least by me – of the window opening being only two or three inches or of my distance from the window.

With the bet firmly in hand, I simply walked over to the window and opened it to seven or eight inches, and while standing next to the window, the cigarette package ball was thrown out on Lincoln Parkway.

As you might imagine, old Harry screamed bloody murder. Foul play was all Harry could say. It has been 50 years since my triumph of cigarette package ball through an open window in the Webster Hotel. When talking to Harry over all those years, he still accuses me of enticing him into a nefarious betting operation. As always, I claim complete innocence, and rightly so.

It has been my pleasure to know Harry for more than 50 years. We have never had a cross word, if you exclude the cigarette ball out the window episode. Harry originally comes from Nebraska where he was born in 1915. That makes him nearly 70 years of age or thereabouts. I hope he lives to see his 100th birthday. If he does achieve that goal, however, I am absolutely sure that he will still be protesting my brilliant move to throw the cigarette package ball out on Chicago’s Lincoln Parkway.

Now that the revealed truth has been disclosed, it is time to go forward.

The AT&T Chicago Traffic operation was immense to a fellow from Kansas City. It became apparent at the outset, that Harry had a difficult job ahead of him as he succeeded an unfortunate and an unpopular martinet. When Harry’s predecessor was the Traffic Manager in St. Louis, it was my pleasure and duty to deal with him harshly as the President of CWA Local 6350 in St. Louis. Straightening out the chaos caused by this fellow gave Harry a Herculean job to do.

But it was apparent that Harry went about that job just as he had done in Kansas City. In one instance, for example, there must have been at least 300 or 400 Service Assistants in Chicago. They were non-management employees who trained new operators and who provided assistance to operators having difficulty with a long distance call or caller. As a matter of fact, long distance calls were all AT&T handled. Local calls were the province of the local companies such as the Illinois Bell Telephone Company. At the time we are speaking of, there were few – if any – long distance calls that could be dialed directly. When a subscriber wished to make a long distance call, he or she dialed 211 and spoke to an AT&T operator who then handled the call.

So there was plenty of work for Service Assistants. Sometimes they sat at the switchboard. On other occasions, they would patrol behind a section of operators. They worked in the large #1 Office on Franklin Street in Chicago’s Loop. There was an office on the southeastern edge of the Loop District and a third office on the South Side about 10 or 12 miles from the Loop. There were operators and Service Assistants on every shift because this was a 24/7 day operation.

When Harry succeeded his unpopular predecessor, he set out to meet personally with every Service Assistant. This took him to meetings all day and into the dinner hour to say nothing about the women who worked the midnight tours. The results were dramatic. Grievances were handled on the spot. Promises made were kept. Morale took off when Harry assumed command.

In Chicago, there were some mature, old time supervisors who were Irish women. If they were on your side, nothing could stop you. If they were not on your side, no force on earth could make the head man succeed. In no time at all, all the Irish women were on Harry’s side. To name a few, there was Welfare Supervisor Ann Hincks. There were Chief Operators Ann Gairns and Kay McCormack. While she was not Irish, Betty Kruchten was part of that group. In Office #17 was Mildred Grant while Office 20’s Chief Operator was Lois Watson. Mrs. Grant and Miss Watson were what ladies magazines called “full figured women.” These women together with Kay McCormack (Office 19) and Ann Gairns (Office 18), made a formidable force. When Mildred Grant married for the second time after her first husband’s death, she let us know that the second husband could stand some improvements which she promised to make. It is a good bet she did that. As a survivor of World War II, it was obvious to me that it was a prudent move to get on the same side with the Irish Mafia. On one occasion, my instincts told me to slyly point out my Irish ancestry. One of those women told me to forget it as they had checked me out long before it was my turn to show up in their operating rooms.

In December, 1953, my wife at that time joined with her husband to adopt a two month old little girl through the offices of the Illinois Children’s Home and Aid Society. For months afterward, these women from the operating rooms in Chicago, specifically including the Irish Mafia, brought little dresses for me to take home. They were often delivered with the stern warning that packages were for Maureen, not for me. It was a stroke of genius, it may be supposed, that we gave the little girl the name of Maureen, meaning in Irish terms, little Mary.

When the adoption first happened, it was announced by me of all people, that Maureen’s bow in society would take place at Wrigley Field at nine months of age, when the Chicago Cubs took on my St. Louis Cardinals. They thought it was delusional for me to pick the Cards over the Cubs, but it had no effect whatsoever on those women buying presents for Maureen. They would say, we went shopping last Monday evening and saw this dress that would look stunning on Maureen. They would then order me to take the dress package home without any hesitation enroute. There was absolutely no choice for me but to obey.

On many occasions, Harry and Jean came to see Maureen. On many occasions, Maureen appeared at the Livermore house in LaGrange, Illinois where my memory now places it. To this day, Maureen and her sister, Suzanne, refer to Harry and Jean as Uncle Harry and Aunt Jean. Those kids have not used any other names for the Livermores at all in their lives.

There are one or two more thoughts about the Chicago Traffic operation when Harry was the Division Traffic Manager. But we interrupt this narrative to remind every reader of the importance of remembering the doctrine of “That’s Close Enough.” That doctrine will appear, perhaps twice more, before we are finished with Jean and Harry.

It must have been in the Summer of 1954, when Harry asked us to come by where he was vacationing in Jackson, Michigan. The highlight of the day we spent there was the ability to have a long discussion with Dr. McFarland, Jean’s father. One way or another, that evening was filled with a lively discussion about his practice which intrigued me and with his questions about the Army and our lives in Chicago. There is this much to say about Dr. McFarland. If my physical condition had required me to have an appendectomy or a brain transplant, Dr. McFarland would be have been my choice to perform the operation.

Seeing Dr. McFarland brings up another point. Jean and Harry married at an early age. Apparently, wedding vows were exchanged without notifying the parents. When the two of them visited their parents, Harry told me that the marriage license was laid out on the night table six inches from the new bridegroom’s head in case one of the parents looked in during the night and found not one, but two occupants in the bedroom.

It is suspected that if Dr. McFarland found the newlyweds with their marriage license prominently displayed, he would have collapsed from laughter. Harry’s parents soon became well known to me. It is clear that Harry Senior would have also collapsed from laughter by the sight of the prominently displayed marriage license.

Early in the year 1955, Harry was entertaining Dick Dugan from Long Lines Headquarters in New York. Harry asked a few of us to join him for a few drinks and dinner. Harry saw to it that Dick Dugan always had an ample opportunity to talk to me that evening. What was unknown to me was that Brother Dugan had come to Chicago to see if a fellow with my background would fit in on the labor job in Dick’s department back in New York. It is fairly certain that Harry sang my praises and fairly soon, the promotion was mine. This was one more occasion of Harry helping his subordinates to get ahead. Needless to say, Harry’s help was invaluable and greatly appreciated – again.

Leave taking Chicago was a painful process because my two years there was filled with genuine new friendships. And of course, there was the adoption of old Blondie, nee Maureen. In all the years that Harry has been my friend, both of us always point to Chicago as the place where enjoyment was at its greatest. As Harry says “Chicago is the place where we had the most fun.” Of course, he is right.

Not long after New York became my new place of employment, Harry came east also. We both located in New Jersey with Harry in his former stomping ground of Maplewood and with the Carr’s in a sort of country town called New Providence. The Livermores still had three kids with them. They were all good kids.

During the period starting in the 1960’s, AT&T made several changes in assignments involving Harry and me. As 1970 approached, it was necessary for me to find a new house after an assignment in Washington, D. C. The house was in Short Hills, New Jersey. Pretty soon, Harry downsized his housing requirements and moved so that both of us could ride the Lackawanna Cannonball every day from Short Hills to Hoboken, N. J.

In March, 1956, it became apparent to me that smoking was attempting to take my life. My father who smoked one cigar a week and an occasional pipe-full of tobacco, deplored cigarette smoking. He invariably referred to that practice as “sucking cigarettes.” On top of that description, he thought “sucking cigarettes” showed a distinct lack of manliness. If he were alive today, he would claim that smoking is a habit of gay men.

My old man did not figure at all in my decision to quit smoking. It had to do with my life expectancy. So Harry and your clean habited friend rode the Lackawanna every day to work. We rode in non-smoking cars. However, about 1.5 miles west of the Hoboken terminal, it was necessary to pass through a long tunnel. The darkness of that tunnel told Harry it was time to have a smoke and head for the door so that we could board the Hudson River ferry and drink some Lackawanna Railroad coffee. My non-smoking demeanor gave me much satisfaction as Harry’s smoke wafted over my nostrils.

Over the years, both of us occupied offices at 32 Sixth Avenue in New York and at #5 World Trade Center. When AT&T decided to move to Bedminster, N. J., Harry’s office was a few steps from my own. Whenever a question took me to Harry’s place, he quickly offered me a cup of coffee. Coffee drinking is not one of my failures, but his offer was always accepted because it gave him a chance to join me. It seems to me, that my unscientific research shows that old Navy guys drink a great deal of coffee. That’s fine with me. It sure beats chewing tobacco or snuff.

Well, it seems to this old essayist that you’ve heard enough about the two of us for awhile. Right now, it would give me pleasure to speak about Grinnell College and its benefactor, Josiah Bushnell Grinnell.

Until it was necessary to do some research so that this essay could be written, my view of Grinnell College was one where Jean and Harry Livermore attended college. The town itself became known to me because on a hot, hot August afternoon, curiosity caused me to go to Grinnell, Iowa to see what the town had to offer.

Executives at the Northwestern Bell Telephone Company had asked me to make a series of speeches in its principal cities. So Omaha was the first such presentation. This was followed by speeches in Minneapolis and in the Dakotas. Then came Des Moines. So after the presentation in Des Moines, a rented car was found for the trip to Grinnell. This was the late 1950’s and rented cars had no air-conditioning at all. What they had was an opening in the hood outside the windshield which theoretically directed air to the feet. At that time, there were windows that were cranked up and down by the passengers. No electric windows to roll up or down with the push of a button. In front of the two front windows, there was a triangular shaped window which could be rolled or cranked so far inward that it directed air toward the chests of the front seat passengers.

On this day, the main windows were down and those little triangular pieces were rolled as far as they would go. It was boiling. When dinner time came, there had to be a comment to a Grinnell native sitting outside the local café. My Missouri upbringing taught me that it is of great importance to speak to townspeople. As a matter of fact, the gentleman sitting outside the café in Grinnell spoke first asking if it was hot enough for me. He was told that it was plenty hot. Sensing that he was speaking to someone from out of town, he asked what brought me to Grinnell. This gentleman was told that my home was in Eastern Missouri where the weather got very warm also. The answer to the rest of his question was that it would be nice to see what Grinnell might offer in the way of higher education for my kids.

Now look here. Only a fool would tell this gentleman that New York was my home base at the time. It is quite true that if you go back to the beginning, Clayton, Missouri is my original home so my answer was factually correct. My daughter was perhaps six years old and her sister was three years old. It’s never too early to look at colleges. So truth was my yardstick.

Well, the Grinnell gentleman seemed satisfied with my answers. He reasoned that Missouri is like Iowa, a Mid-Western state. He also agreed that the Mississippi Valley produced hot weather, but probably not as hot as Iowa. So using the doctrine of “That’s Close Enough,” he shook hands with me as a fellow Mid-Westerner. His parting words were, “Hot weather makes the corn grow very nicely.” That was an appropriate comment. It also helps the watermelons.

Now about not mentioning New York to the Grinnell gentleman, that was the better part of valor. For example, when it came time for me to be interviewed by the Chairman of the New York Telephone Company, Cliff Phalen, the thought that one of my meals was taken in Grinnell, Iowa, was unmentioned. The point is, you have to know when to hold ‘em and when it’s time, to fold ‘em. The New York Company gave me the job.

Now about Grinnell College. The clergyman who made the land grant for the school, Joshua Bushnell Grinnell, was an abolitionist which means that he opposed slavery. As a matter of fact, he was pastor of the First Congregational Church in Washington, D. C., in 1851 and in 1852. He preached an anti-slavery sermon which caused such an uproar that he was fired from his pulpit. Washington, of course, is below the Mason-Dixon Line.

So Reverend Grinnell came to Iowa and founded the town and had land set aside for Grinnell College. It had never dawned on me that Grinnell had a founder with such a backbone. Grinnell College has my apologies for my being ignorant of the anti-slavery background of its namesake.

Now a personal note. Lillie Carr, my mother, was a religious woman. At various times, she attended Southern Baptist churches as well as those of the Pentecostal and Nazarene faiths. When it came time at age 13 to escape all this religiosity, my parents were attending a Free Will Baptist Church which banned all musical accompaniments when the congregation or soloists sang hymns. No pianos and certainly, no pipe organs were allowed.

The explanation seemed to be that organs and pianos did not exist when Jesus founded Christianity, so the Free Will Baptists wanted to be on four squares with the Redeemer. It could also be argued that automobiles and buses and street cars did not exist when Jesus went about preaching his sermons. Did that say that getting to the Church of God using only foot power was the only acceptable means of worship?

Even my mother was skeptical about the Free Will Baptists. Lillie Carr sang and hummed Amazing Grace every day of her life. But the Free Willers made it difficult to sing that hymn in their church with no accompaniment whatsoever.

When the American Army decided that the completion of 71 combat missions was no reason to send me home from Italy, they elected to send me to a large British-American base in Africa located a few miles outside Accra, the capital of the Gold Coast. Today, that African country is called Ghana. So Accra was my next military stop.

The port of Takoradi serves as Accra’s and the Gold Coast’s outlet to the sea. Research showed that John Newton (1725 – 1807) who composed my mother’s favorite hymn Amazing Grace, had been a slave trader ship owner before he became an Anglican clergyman. Takoradi was a regular port of call for John Newton when he captained his slave trading sea-going ship.

When the Army gave me a few days of home leave before preparing to move me from Europe and Africa to Japan, my mother and her youngest son, namely me, had a little conversation about my visits to Takoradi. There it was possible to see the wretched conditions the slaves lived in before boarding a ship like John Newton’s to start the trip to Confederate America. It made a lifelong impression on me. It was necessary for me to make three or four trips to Takoradi to take it all in.

Because of Lillie Carr’s fondness for Amazing Grace, it seemed like a good subject to bring up in passing. My mistake was immediately apparent. She waved me off and changed the subject. She had no intention of hearing anything derogatory about Amazing Grace. My put down was accepted with as much grace as could be mustered under the circumstances, but my opposition to slavery was with me for life.

So when it came time to deal with college for our two daughters, Dartmouth and Miami of Ohio were chosen by the two prospective students. If Grinnell College’s anti-slavery background had been known to me, it would have made me an honest man in my conversation with the man sitting outside the café in Grinnell, Iowa who asked what brought me to town.

Now it is time to move on to Jean and the thought of Harry proposing to establish a monument in her memory. When Harry told me about his thought, he explained that he had already been in contact with someone from Grinnell College. He flattered me by suggesting that it would be appreciated by him if this old soldier-essayist would see about producing an essay such as the one you are reading. Obviously, this was simply a request, but it will be treated by me as a commission to write an essay. That commission to write an essay will be pointed out and bragged about in my dealings with other itinerant essayists.

If Harry has made clear to me the description of what Grinnell College plans to do, it seems that buildings will be constructed in a prominent place on the campus. If my understanding is correct, a room in one of the new buildings will be named in honor of Jean McFarland Livermore.

And so that takes us back to the song at the beginning of this essay and to the world famous doctrine of “That’s Close Enough.” McFarland is a Celtic name. My overeducated Ivy League daughter pronounces Celtic as thought the first letter is a “K.” On dozens of occasions, it has been pointed out to her that the world famous basketball club in Boston, is called the Boston Celtics, as though it were spelled “Sell-tics.” But she is a lawyer who may wind up as Rehnquist’s replacement as the head man of the U. S. Supreme Court. So because this is my essay on commission from her Uncle Harry, the word will be “Sell-tics.” That Kel-tics stuff can stay in Texas.

Well, McFarland is a Celtic name as we said. Four groups comprise the Celtic family. There are the Scots and the Irish. Then there are the Welsh. And finally, there are some Celtics in France in Brittany. They use the name “Breton” to identify themselves.

McFarland could be a Scot’s name or an Irish name. But remember, the Celts belong to a family. So it is entirely appropriate to commemorate Jean’s life with a Welsh song, “We’ll Keep a Welcome.” It may be that Jean was not Welsh, but her name is in the Celtic family; therefore, under the doctrine of “That’s Close Enough,” We’ll Keep a Welcome applies to Jean Livermore, nee McFarland. Any objection? Hearing none, let’s move on.

It will be noted that in the final verse, there appears the Welsh word “Hiraeth.” That word should appear in all the world’s major languages. The “ae” letters in the last half of the word are a diphthong. They are pronounced like an English “eye.” So the word is pronounced as


At heart, Hiraeth is a nostalgic longing for home and people and things connected with home. For example, the Royal Welsh Fusiliers are the oldest Welsh infantry regiment. Only Welsh men need apply. The regiment is a family regiment in every sense of the phrase. Brothers, sons, fathers and close friends often from the same town or village serve in the regiment. The sense of belonging to the Welsh Regiment and to Wales are keenly felt. This is Hiraeth. English needs an equivalent word.

The words to Jean’s song, We’ll Keep a Welcome go like this:

Far away a voice is calling
Bells of memory chime
Come home again, come home again
They call through the oceans of time.
We’ll keep a welcome in the hillside
We’ll keep a welcome in the vales
The land you knew will still be singing
When you come home again to Wales.
This land of song will keep a welcome
And with a love that never fails
We’ll kiss away each hour of Hiraeth
When you come home again to Wales.

The Celts are singers. The Irish sing “Danny Boy” and “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen.” The Scots sing “Scotland the Brave.” And the Welsh people are famous for their singing choirs in nearly every town, no matter how small. The English, who for centuries have tried to dominate Welsh, Irish and Scots affairs, sing not at all, unless you count Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, who hums as his Royal footman spreads toothpaste on His Majesty’s toothbrush each morning. There must be a lesson in the happiness of the Celts as distinguished from the dourness of the English. Can anyone imagine Queen Elizabeth singing “We’ll Keep a Welcome” at any time? Not likely.

In all her home’s in New Jersey, in Kansas, in Illinois or in the Pocono’s, Jean McFarland Livermore projected a genuine welcome to all her guests. Now that a room at Grinnell College may be named in her honor, the students may go there to study, and to discuss what the future holds for them. Perhaps they may find the McFarland Livermore room a place for quiet contemplation. Or may be it will be used as a place for meeting of friends. Whatever the room is used for, it is hoped that it will always be remembered as the Jean McFarland Livermore room. It is hoped that those leaving Grinnell College, will have fond memories of that memorial. And finally, there is the thought that the leave takers will consider Grinnell College and the McFarland Livermore Room as home. In that case, Hiraeth and We’ll Keep a Welcome will surely apply.

February 8, 2004


Well Pop certainly took his Commission seriously — this essay clocks in at just under 7,000 words.
Lots to learn in this essay, from the background of Amazing Grace to everything there is to know about Grinnell and Livermore. It’s really nice to know that even though this essay was written in 2004, their friendship lasted until the end of their lives. I guess once you make it to 50 years, the last handful is easy.
The doctrine of “That’s close enough” seems like a handy one. It certainly makes things simpler.