Archive for the Family 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.


Over the recent Christmas holidays, my daughter and her legally-wedded husband went to a movie which must have had to do with George VI of England who stuttered. Apparently my daughter was impressed by the film, which my mother would have called a “picture show.” Eva Baker and Frances Licht, who are associated with these essays, also saw the movie and were favorably impressed by it.

My mother’s belief has always been that picture shows are the consummate work of the devil, which accounts for the fact that I did not see a picture show until I was 13 years of age. At that point, “The Sign of the Cross” was being shown at the Shady Oak Theater in Clayton, Missouri. I persuaded my mother to permit me to see that show on the ground that it contained religious content. It was an atrocious film and for the rest of my life I have avoided movie theaters. Nonetheless, my daughter and her husband thought that the film about George VI was impressive and for that reason Suzanne, the daughter, made a request of me. Rather than interpreting her thoughts I simply offer her email for your consideration.

Suzanne’s email request for an essay January, 2011.

Pop and Judy –
Yesterday Carl and I went to see a movie. We rarely do this, but it was a holiday, so we did. We went to see “The King’s Speech” which is about the stuttering problem that King George VI had and his relationship with an unorthodox speech therapist. The relationship had to be kept hidden at first. It was actually well done as a movie.
What struck me about the movie that I thought would be of interest to Pop was the depiction of the importance of radio in the lead-up to WWII (George VI had to make speeches to rally England, of course, so being a “stammerer” was quite a problem), and the introduction of news reels in the late 30’s. In the movie, everyone in England was basically glued to their radio as George VI announced the declaration of war on Hitler, as Hitler refused to relinquish Poland.

I said to Carl on the way home that it was sad that in less than a century we’ve gone from radio/newsreel/TV broadcasts of major events that the whole country collectively sees and experiences together — to today, when the news is splintered into internet and cable TV news and everybody gets their news their own way at the time they choose. That led us to speculate about the news reels that were shown in theatres. Did everybody see them in the late 30’s? Once a news reel of Hitler came out as he invaded one country and then another, would most everybody be in a movie theatre in the next week or so to see it, or would just a few people in the US see it?

Pop, how about an essay about living in the US and the run-up to WWII – news reels, what you remember about it, what was the prevailing opinion in Missouri about what was happening in Europe and how did people get their news.

That is my request for 2011.


As a preliminary to my response to my daughter’s request, there are some points that need to be made. If there is any one else in this world who is less of an authority on movies and pictures shows, I would like to meet him. I believe that I own that title exclusively.

A second point that must be made at the outset is that the generation to which my daughter belongs is unacquainted with the thought that there was a time in this country when there was no television at all. None! Furthermore, there were no computers and ipso facto there was no such thing as email and internet. None! This may be hard to choke down, but as we used to say in the Army, “Them are the facts.” No television, no computers, no email, no internet.

Our means of communication were local radio, national radio, newspapers, and news magazines and the local and long distance telephone system. There was no such thing as saying, “I saw it on television last night.” Charles Osgood appears on a CBS television program on Sunday mornings and always uses his long term radio sign-off, “I’ll see you on the radio.” But Osgood was not around in the pre-war period that we are talking about. And so, let us proceed to parse Suzanne’s email with the hope that in the end it will make a bit of an essay.

At the outset, there seems to be a misconception that newsreels were a major source of information for the American public. While I was not a theater goer, I believe that is hardly the case. If I understand the concept of newsreels, they are short features of news reports shown between films. It must be remembered that in the pre-war period, those newsreels had to be shot by hand, developed, and then distributed. My guess is that the newsreels that you might have seen at your local theater reported events of perhaps two weeks prior. Also, it is my belief that newsreels had to show such things as successful bombings and the stance of our troops in victorious poses.

May I suggest that nowhere was the Bataan death march or any similar event shown on a newsreel. That would have been a downer and I suspect that downers were not the subject of newsreels. My belief is that newsreels were designed to give the audience a pumped-up feeling that everything was right in this world. For the first two years of World War II, there were very few things American audiences could feel encouraged about.

So the net result is that newsreels had their place in the theater between the major attractions as a source of information. They were not intended as a major source of news. I would have considered them unreliable and late in arrival.

Our main source of information came from the radio and from newspapers. Curiously, the news on the radio was usually confined to a fifteen-minute segment which had few commercials in it. What we got was 14½ minutes of news rather than the current situation where we cannot tell what is news and what is advertising. The news, in my recollection, came on at 6:00PM. It was often followed by orchestras such as Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller.

There was no such thing as “all the news all the time” stations. We had entertainment and at 6 PM or thereabouts we had the news for 15 minutes. It is possible that there was national news on for 15 minutes followed by local news resulting in a half-hour news broadcast. But of that I am not quite so sure. The reader here must remember that in those days of 1942 until August of 1945, I was not a resident of this country. By enlisting in the United States Army, I found myself in Africa, Sicily, and Italy.

It was the custom of the broadcasting companies in this county to station correspondents in many of the major capitol cities where news events were to be anticipated. The foremost correspondent abroad belonged to CBS. He was Edward R. Murrow and was stationed in London throughout the war including the “blitzkriegs” of the German Luftwaffe. When correspondents could not get their reports to the United States, they would use Murrow to establish that link. Murrow was a jewel as it relates to the news during the war.

But during my overseas service, when noontime approached, we would search for a radio receiver that could pick up the news broadcast from the BBC in London. I can remember with great clarity that the programs usually started with a signal followed by an announcer saying, “London calling.” The BBC broadcast had almost no propaganda and no commercials. It told the news as it was, good or bad. As a result, the troops paid a great deal of attention to what the British Broadcasting Corporation had to say. If there are any kudos to be passed out for the run-up to the war in Europe, it must go to the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Now we advance to the question asked about the prevailing opinion in the great and glorious state of Missouri. For many years, probably starting in the 1920s, a major voice in the run-up to the war were the reports in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. When I was overseas, my mother read those dispatches faithfully in the hope that she would find my name in them. But that was not the case. The Post Dispatch had bureaus in Washington and published reliable news during the period when Hitler was invading several countries and when Tojo, the head man in Japan, was doing the same in the Far East. The Post Dispatch did not hide the facts from the people. In the early part of the war, we were losing. It was after this time in early 1942 that I joined the American Army. There was no good news during those days, and I suspect that my parents may have believed that their youngest son was going away for good. But the fact is that the mainstay we were able to rely upon were the newspapers such as the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

I gather that there were other newspapers, such as the Chicago Tribune run by Bertie McCormick, who published glowing reports of our successes or near successes. But that was not the style of the Post Dispatch or the New York Times. So in retrospect, I must conclude that the main source of news came from newspapers and radio.

Prior to our entry into the war, a group of senators led by Robert Taft of Ohio seemed determined to keep us from engaging in that conflict. Taft, for example, was wildly opposed to the “lend-lease” program which released destroyers from the United States to Great Britain to help in their defense. But I must conclude that the general outlook in Missouri was that there was a job to do in the war, and that we should set about doing it promptly.

On the other side of the ocean in Great Britain, the Prime Minister was a gentleman named Neville Chamberlain. Chamberlain and Taft were two of a kind. History will record that Chamberlain made a trip to Germany and came back with a document that he said would guaranteed “peace in our time.” The ink was hardly dry on that piece of paper when Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia.

Finally we turn to the question about the generational divide. There is some debate as to whether we are better informed today than we were in the run-up to World War II. The recent disclosures in the private dispatches from our diplomats as demonstrated by Wikileaks would lead me to conclude that in many cases, we are being hoodwinked. But before the Second World War, most Americans could trust what appeared in reputable newspapers such as the New York Times and the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the broadcasts of Edward R. Murrow. I cannot say the same thing for the news that appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

In all likelihood, we must be better informed today than we were back then. On the other hand, if you want a biased opinion today, on the Republican side you must tune in to Fox News. If you wish to have a biased opinion in favor of Democrats, you must tune in to MSNBC.

St. Louis, which was a sophisticated town, had the Post Dispatch, as I have mentioned. We had the National Broadcasting Company appearing on the KSD station of the Post Dispatch. Then we also had the Columbia Broadcasting System outlet on station KMOX. If the American Broadcasting System (ABC) existed at that time, I am unaware of it. Mind you, I am speaking as a person who has long ago kissed the 80th birthday mark goodbye. It seems to me that between KSD, KMOX, and the Post Dispatch, we were reasonably well informed.

But if I massage this question a bit, does anyone believe that the Bataan death march would be included in the news broadcasts of the current era? And that was not the only example of thoroughly unpleasant news.

But again, I am a biased reporter. You realize that at this juncture in my life, I cannot see a damn thing. Accordingly, all of the information I receive has to come through my ears. May I assure you that the oral presentation ain’t so bad. This is precisely where I started in the years before television intruded on our lives. For a St. Louis native, that would have been around the period 1948 to 1950 when television came into being there.

With my sight being the way it is, I now receive my news orally and I am not here to complain about it. Now I do not recommend that all of you lose your sight so that you may enjoy oral presentations of baseball games and the news of the world. I am here to say that television has added a new dimension to our lives. But on the other hand we were getting along quite well without it.

In conclusion, my hope is that Suzanne’s email has been sufficiently parsed, and that you have some idea of the feelings of the American public as World War II approached.

Now as to the story about King George, I must add that the inspirational speeches were made by the Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The King often was found at flower shows and receiving Boy Scouts and wholesome things of that nature. The job of informing the British public and inspiring them was left almost exclusively to Winston Churchill. King George was regarded as a nice person but when compared to Churchill, he was clearly the second, or third or fourth banana. During that time, I was serving with British troops in Italy and Africa. I believe that I am correctly assessing their views on the Royal Family. The King’s job was to visit military hospitals and occasionally say a few words to the British public. Before and during World War II, George the Sixth was more of a bit player than a person of significant influence. And as for newsreels, my belief is that they had limited newsworthy qualities during that trying period.

Unfortunately, I dictated this essay on the same day when the killings were taking place in Tucson, Arizona. All of this accounts for my making hash of this essay. Next time, I will try to do a bit better, providing we don’t have more murders by deranged people with guns.

January 8, 2011


I don’t think this was a botched essay whatsoever. It’s interesting to encounter another medium that Pop was deliberately closed off to, though. No fiction, no movies, very little internet. Clearly his strategy worked for him, but it’s hard to imagine being isolated from so much content for no convincing reason.
I think the 24-hour news cycle probably does more harm than good. Presenting news only when newsworthy things happen, in my estimation, makes the news more reputable. As it is, it’s constantly full of meaningless fluff content, and news channels grow ever more indistinguishable from entertainment channels. Fox and CNN are the worst offenders. Fox is just a joke, whereas CNN pretends to be a news channel but is basically just theater; it hires talking heads to come say insane things, then reacts to those things.


Before I get to the meat of this essay, I must introduce you to my sister Verna, who was the eldest person among the Carr siblings. Verna was proper in all respects. Perhaps she got this from her mother, who wore dresses that buttoned up to the neck. In any case, Verna, who was 15 years my elder, contended that she had assisted at my birth. I do not recall that incident but if Verna says so, you can take it to the bank.

Now, with respect to Verna, in the late 1920’s, she acquired a stenographer’s job with the Endicott Johnson shoe company in St. Louis. That was at the time when there was a slogan called “First in Booze, First in Shoes, and Last in the American League.” The reference of course was to the St. Louis Browns who were the paupers of the American Baseball League. There was no doubt that St. Louis, which had a plethora of breweries and shoe manufacturers, was first in shoes and booze.

In any event, Verna not only kept herself neat and proper, but insisted upon that conduct among her colleagues. For example, she would come home from work decrying that another stenographer who worked with Verna had her slip showing all day long. For Verna, this was a grave offence. A much graver offence had to do with the exposure of the bra straps. Somehow or other, every woman was expected to conceal the bra straps beneath her underclothing and never reveal them to the outside world. This was an anomaly of the first order in that Verna came from a rough and tumble family, but there was Verna, singing in the church choir without her bra straps or her slip showing, leading the righteous to their good deeds of the day.

Now let us turn to the main subject of this essay about hubcaps. I will try to marry Verna’s modesty somewhere along the line with hubcaps. The early model automobiles all had their wheels fastened to the brake drums of the car through the use of lug nuts. As I recall it – and I am an expert on the subject of changing tires – there were always five lug nuts that held the wheels in place. Sometime in the late 1930s but certainly in the post-war models of automobiles, it was considered a grave sin to have the lug nuts showing where the wheels were fastened to the brake drums. So the automobile manufacturers provided hubcaps to conceal where the lug nuts were attached to the wheels.

The hubcaps started out as small gadgets about ten inches in diameter but then proceeded quickly in the after-war years to great expanses of covering. They were held on, as I recall it, almost exclusively by tension between the hubcap and the wheel rim.

Let me point out that hubcaps were purely decorative devices. They served no other function except to conceal the lug nuts that held the wheels in place. Now if my elder sister Verna could have had a hand in this, she would have used hubcaps to cover the bra straps and/or the slips showing from under the dress.

As I dictate these lines, the image of Thelma DuPont comes to mind. Thelma is a long-time friend of mine who shares some of my views on the origin of the species. I suspect that Thelma and some of her compatriots such as Margaret Murphy would have welcomed a hubcap to cover up the exposure of bra straps and the under slip showing beneath the dress.

In former days, there was a large cottage industry, usually located on rough streets, that specialized in retrieving hubcaps that had been jarred loose by the ruts in the street. Remember the hubcaps were not held on by a nut but rather by the friction between the hubcap and the wheel rim. Sometimes the hubcaps would be collected by boys who took them to dealers. The boys could expect a return of four or five dollars for each hubcap. The hubcaps could be resold by the dealers who would expect perhaps as much as $20 for each errant hubcap.

But then in the 1980s a disaster struck hubcaps. From that time forward, hubcaps were deemed non-essential to the operation of the automobile and were disposed of. So it was that the cars that were purchased in the 1980s and subsequent models simply had the lug nuts attaching the wheels to the brake drums. The lug nuts were exposed for all the world to see. My sister and my mother would have been aghast at this development because everyone knows that under coverings should be concealed. But for the past 25 years, hubcaps have been a collector’s item. They were decorative devices that were deemed unessential to the operation of the automobile and which added to the cost.

During my long career as a filling station attendant, it was always my practice when changing a tire to put the lug nuts in the upturned hubcap. The new wheel was mounted upon the car brake drum. Five lug nuts would be retrieved and would be screwed on the lug. Then the hubcap would be replaced by putting it against the wheel cover and hitting it with the heel of the hand to force it into place. Hubcaps were not to be struck with rubber hammers because that might dent them. They were to be placed against the wheel cover and gently put in place by hitting them with the heel of the hand as the main enforcer.

Well, as you can see, hubcaps were simply decorative devices which toward the end of the game became quite elaborate. They served no useful purpose other than to conceal the lug nuts which held the wheels onto the brake drums. Now if Verna had found such a device to conceal bra straps and hanging slips, she would have whispered to her friends about the new concealment device. But hubcaps are one thing, and slips that show as well as bra straps are quite another. And if every woman concealed her bra straps and did not permit her slip to show beneath her dress, what would there be to gossip about?

Now let us turn to neckties, which are the other subject of this essay. In my retirement, I have been necktieless for several years. On ceremonial occasions day and night I submit to having my neck adorned by a colorful tie. On retirement, the necktie count on my dresser wardrobe door had at least 80 neckties. Time has gone on and I have given them away, assuming that anyone who took the ties would have some use for them. Like hubcaps, neckties are, in my estimation, merely decorative devices. They do no harm except when they get caught in a squeezing machine. For a good many years I avoided the four-in-hand neckties, favoring bowties. But the bowties were a thing of the past when the war ended in 1945.

So in substance, neckties and hubcaps are simply decorative devices. They do no great harm. They might bring pleasure to the owner of the hubcaps or neckties. And there are occasions which I suppose a male on the make may use neckties to entice a female into conversation. But all things considered, it was nice while we had hubcaps and I suppose neckties are still with us. They do no harm and so I am happy to have them. They give pleasure to those who wear them and to those who in the case of hubcaps still own them.

So this is my story about Verna, hubcaps, and neckties. Verna is gone now for many years but the same may be said about hubcaps. From what I hear, neckties are following the same path to oblivion but it will take longer. Hubcaps and neckties were harmless devices which would not violate the oath of Hippocrates who said to physicians, “Do no harm.” I enjoyed hubcaps and neckties and now that Verna is gone, I must say that I might have enjoyed her too.

April 4, 2011


I just wish that Pop had encountered spinners when he still had sight. Hubcaps didn’t disappear, they just evolved into something even sillier.


Beady-eyed accountants may emerge from their grimy offices from time to time and lift their green eye-shades to contend that the Chicka-Carr combine has only five grandchildren. To that contention, I say “Bal-der-dash” and “Bah Humbug,” which are terms used with great effectiveness by John Major, the British prime minister who tucked his undershirt and his dress shirt into his boxer shorts. Actually by my count, there are nine such grandchildren. Because I have been elected to the Arithmetic Hall of Fame, there can be no dispute about the number of grandchildren. There are nine. And that is all there is to say about that.

The prevailing winds in this country start in the east and proceed toward the west. The same may be said about the sun’s progress as well. In the east, there are two grandchildren named Andrew and William Nollmann. The Nollmann boys understand all there is to know about sports. When I wish to know about Pete Reiser’s batting average with the Dodgers in 1948, both of them can reel that number right off the top of their heads. I believe that Pete hit .340 in that year. The Nollmann boys are preparing to enter the Baseball Hall of Fame after they finish college and start their careers in a Class C Baseball League.

In Texas there are three more grandchildren. Interestingly, those three grandchildren do not care a fig about sports or the results. The phrase “caring a fig” comes from another British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who uttered that expression on her wedding night to Dennis Thatcher, her British husband.

In that Texas family, there is Connor, who is a Dartmouth graduate and is now studying in Yokohama, Japan, to perfect his understanding of the Japanese language. His younger brother, Kevin, will soon be the high school debating champion for all of the great state of Texas. As everyone knows, Texas extends from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean in its east-to-west dimensions and from the Antarctic in the north to Peru in the south. And then there is a ten-year-old, Jack, who is my special and loving friend. When he was last here, his parents said that Jack and I were united by disability. Jack has a mild case of Down’s Syndrome and, as you know, my disability is that my visual acuity is zero. Jack Shepherd is an inspiration to all of us. That inspiration has been captured by his seventeen year old brother Kevin.

Colleges ask the applicant to “Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.” Kevin, without hesitation named his ten year old brother as that person. Kevin’s response about his brother is attached. From the viewpoint of his grandparents, we believe that it is a most moving tribute to his younger brother. And we contend that it is a professional piece of writing.

Now to move on, there are also Esteban and Fabian Hidalgo, who are the children of a Costa Rican couple. Jenny, the mother, helps Judy with housework and recently she has been introduced by Judy to office work such as filing and making sure that our accounts are entered properly in the book that we keep for that purpose. In my book and in the book of others, it is indisputable that the Costa Ricans are the hardest working people known to man. The Hidalgo boys are the children who won medals for their excellent play in a soccer tournament. Rather than keeping those medals for themselves, they presented them to me because I am their “Grandpa in America.” The Hidalgo boys now have a new

sister, Melissa, who is also included in this count. She is a beautiful 18 month old charmer.

The ninth grandchild in this story is Daniel Commodore who comes from Accra, Ghana. The last 14 months of my overseas tour with the American Army were spent at a major British base located just outside of Accra. Daniel’s father was a fisherman and his sister now runs a fish store in the city of Accra. Daniel can take a 500-pound seagoing creature and have it filleted and skinned in perhaps 20 minutes. When Daniel tells you that the fish is fresh, you can take it to the bank. If he says nothing, please avoid it. Daniel also says from time to time that when I approach his work station at the Whole Foods Market in Millburn, he often thinks of his own father, who is now deceased. I am deeply honored and flattered.

So there you have nine grandchildren by any count known to man. Even Donald Rumsfeld, who loves to use the word “metrics” for measurement, would agree that their number is nine. No more, no less.

The fact is that I am a very lucky person in that I have all these grandchildren and that we are on excellent terms with each other. I am delighted to see them explore the world as they grow a little older. Connor is in Yokahama, Japan, and the boys in New York may soon launch their Hall of Fame careers as baseball players after they finish college. I would not want to get into an argument with Kevin Shepherd, the champion debater in the great state of Texas, because he might eat me alive. The Hidalgo boys are fanatics on football, which in American terms is soccer. Already Esteban has told me about the next World Cup which will be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, a place I know a little bit about. And then there is Daniel Commodore who is also a soccer fan. In the last World Cup, Costa Rica and Ghana advanced much further than had been predicted. If, in the next World Cup, Costa Rica meets Ghana, I suspect that I had better get out of town until the dust settles. And Melissa Hidalgo, at 18 months, is a beauty to behold.

Now the next thought has to do with old Jack Shepherd, whose real name is John Eamonn. His middle name, of course, is Irish, and is probably taken from Eamon de Valera, the first President of the Republic of Ireland. If this were a boxing match, I would say that Jack Shepherd is battling Down’s Syndrome and is winning by several points in each round. He is being mainstreamed in his school work and seems to be well liked by the other children.

When Jack was last here in New Jersey, I was feeling unwell. That unwellness lasted for the full summer of 2007. But old Jack stood near my seat and held my hands. I told Jack Shepherd that his holding my hands made me feel better. In the months since his departure to return to Texas, I continue to feel that way to this day. Jack has a long way to go and is carrying a bit of a burden. But in the end, Jack will succeed because he is everything a good decent guy should be.

There are two final thoughts that apply here. Grandparents should always pay attention to their grandchildren, because they will learn from them. And finally, and most importantly, every grandfather must see to it that his grandchildren are made to feel important. If you observe these two maxims, you are well on your way to being a proper grandfather.

By this time, I hope the green-eye-shaded accountants will now disappear into their grimy offices and remain silent. There are nine grandchildren and they are all my good friends. My metrics say that I am a very lucky man.

December 14, 2007


Following is Kevin Shepherd’s essay:
Countless people have influenced my character, but in the end my little brother has changed me the most, without ever intending to. He’s ten years old, and has Down syndrome, which causes mental retardation and low muscle tone throughout his body. As such, my relationship with him has always been far from traditional — I am of course his friend and role model, but I’m also often called upon to serve as Jack’s therapist, tutor, and occasionally even his translator. This relationship has changed me in more dimensions than I ever expected, radically altering everything from my sense of patience to the extracurricular activities in which I participate, from personal pride to an entirely new outlook on life’s challenges.

To help Jack develop normally, a veritable stream of therapists has been pouring into and out of my home for as long as I can remember. They leave daily assignments and activities for him. As nearly all of these require assistance and coaching in some form, the whole family is active in his various exercises. I’ve never been an exception; from the encouraging nine-year-old enticing his brother to crawl to him, to the seventeen-year-old promising rewards in return for Jack’s cooperation with teachers and parents, my continuous active involvement has helped shape his development.

Our relationship, however, is by no means one-sided. Even as I sit there every day, persuading him to continue blowing on various whistles to improve his oral motor skills, he teaches me the true value of patience and dedication to long-term goals. The muscles in his mouth facilitate his speech. If he can’t speak clearly, he won’t be understood; if he can’t be understood, he may well give up in frustration on speech as a form of communication. Thus, in some part, his very ability to communicate with his peers depends on me sitting down with him each day, and convincing him again and again to continue blowing his whistles. Not surprisingly, it then brings me tremendous pride to see his speech becoming sharper and clearer, and to know I’ve contributed to such a critically important part of his development as a person. As we work, Jack also teaches me about perseverance. Just a few months ago, I came across him sitting in the hall, trying over and over again to pronounce the “r” in “ear.” His small mouth and muscle tone make this nearly impossible. The whistles we blow help, of course, but can only do so much … watching him continually struggle against and overcome barriers that are literally encoded into his genes has taught me a new definition of determination, and a new understanding of adversity. Realizing that something as simple as blowing whistles can have a positive impact on someone else’s life heavily influenced my decision to join the “Garden of Friends” club at my high school. It’s a student-run outreach club for the school’s kids with disabilities; we see movies together, go bowling, have holiday parties, etc. I discovered a few meetings into my membership that I was the only “typical” boy who regularly attended, but it didn’t matter-in fact, it made it even more imperative that I stay in.

Jack affects far more than my sense of pride and the clubs that I join, and more than a new appreciation for perseverance. He’s given me the courage to not let slurs pass unchallenged. When others use the word ‘retarded’ pejoratively, I have no reservations about correcting them. From my friends to their parents, from my English teachers to my debate judges, when I hear that word, I let people know that I have a brother with Down syndrome, and that ‘retarded’ is not a suitable synonym for ‘bad.’ I’ve almost certainly lost debate rounds because I’ve challenged the judge on this beforehand, but those mild repercussions were more than outweighed when once, I encountered one of the offending judges in mid-conversation. He said, “that case was so … “, glanced at me, “… terrible”, he concluded, smiling. I had acted differently because of my experiences with my brother, and that judge had learned something from me. And from Jack. That’s the most I can ask for.

Kevin Shepherd, Dec 2007



I can’t believe I’m about to publish my college admissions essay on the internet. I’ve saved this essay for one of the very last to be published on this site for that exact reason. I guess I could skip it, but that feels like the sort of editorializing of Pop’s content that I’ve completely avoided since 2014, so I may as well see this through.

I don’t like it because to me it comes across as aggressively trite. I think I might have a particularly bad taste in my mouth about this essay because even ten years later I still remember obsessing over every sentence with mom over dozens of iterations, and I was never completely happy with the result. The output was this weird hybrid that sounded good to admissions people, I guess, but didn’t sound like anything that I (or mom, for that matter) would write normally.

What’s with that ellipsis in the middle of third paragraph? Who does that aside from tweens who think it’s an acceptable substitute for a semicolon? Why, come to think of it, are there three semicolons in 700 words? Why are a full 315 of those words stuck together in a mega-paragraph?

It was genuine, and I meant what I said in the essay, but reading it now it just feels exploitative. Like, “my brother has a disability and worked hard to compensate for that so let me into college please because ‘I learned about adversity’ from this experience.” I didn’t — and still don’t — understand adversity from a personal level. Even here, I describe witnessing adversity because that’s the closest I could get. That “perspective” on adversity itself wasn’t something that I consider an especially valuable school like Northwestern. I’m willing to immediately reprimand anyone who calls things “retarded,” sure, but “I guess this kid isn’t spineless” doesn’t seem like enough of a selling point to convince anyone to let me into their university.

I think the only redeeming thing here is that I did actually join up with Special Olympics once I was a student at Northwestern, and that turned out to be incredibly rewarding. It also felt like adding some sort of value to a community, instead of just performing duties incumbent on a brother, which I liked.

Anyway. I enjoyed Pop’s essay, and learning about two of my additional co-grandkids.

I hope to cross paths with Daniel Commodore sometime. Maybe he’ll google himself, wind up here, and say hello.


Those of you who read these essays may recall one called “Thanksgiving 2006.” That essay recorded our joy at our ability to help two hardworking immigrants from Costa Rica. The cast of characters on the Costa Rican side included the parents, an eight-year-old boy named Esteban, a six-year-old boy named Fabian, and a five-month-old daughter named Melissa. Following that meeting on Thanksgiving day, their mother informed us that Esteban was praying for me to regain my eyesight. He was praying for his “Grandpa in America.”

When I learned of the prayers for my eyesight to be restored, I wrote each of the boys a small letter and urged them to look for wives, particularly fat ones. As a man who has been around the block two or three times, I told the boys that fat girls like to eat at fancy establishments such as McDonald’s and Burger King. To cover the cost of such lavish entertainment, a small contribution was included in the letters.

The boys’ mother told us that they had read my letters and had prepared responses. When the boys’ mother delivered the responses to us, both boys had sealed the envelopes so that their mother could not see what

was included. While their mother was excluded from reading this correspondence, I will show it to you. Here is what the two boys wrote to me. (The front artwork is shown first, then the writing.)
Esteban, age 8

Fabian, age 6

So you see, these two youngsters understand social graces, even at their tender age. I must confess that I have been concerned about their search for fat wives. Perhaps that will be explained in future correspondence.

These two youngsters are being raised to be gentlemen. Gentlemen deserve to be treated with respect and with everyone’s best wishes. I am not a Russian, but I have been impressed by the practice of Russian choirs to end their performances with a hymn-like song called “Mnogaya Lyeta.” That Russian phrase translates in English to “long life.”

To all the immigrants who have made this country a great one, this old essayist wishes them long life. To the Costa Ricans who are patiently sweating out the snail like pace of our immigration bureau, I also extend the expression of long life to them. And finally to Esteban, Fabian and Melissa, children of would be American citizens, I hope that you enjoy not only great prosperity, but also “Mnogaya Lyeta.” That is the fervent wish of their Grandpa in America.

February 5, 2007


Read part 1 of “AN ADTOPED GRANDPA” here. Pop had a great relationship with these kids, and I like that he was way ahead of the “Immigrants make America great” sentiment that gets chanted at anti-Trump protests lately. Anyway this is adorable and Esteban gets full marks for creativity with his ending salutation, which wraps around his name like a horseshoe.

Interestingly, whatever drove Pop to tell these kids to get fat wives was somehow passed to my mother — see her comment.

Letter to Kevin 6/15/05

Kevin –

Judy and I were delighted with your response to the letter and the essay about Mencken. I am not surprised by your mother withholding it from you. She may well have referred my letter to the FBI or to the Texas Holy Roller Diocese before she let you read it.

Basically, from the day of her conception, she has been a prominent juvenile delinquent. She jay walks, spits on sidewalks, cadges cigarettes and reads girlie magazines. In one of his regular appearances on Fox TV news, God himself told me to quit praying for her as it was out of his hands. God’s former wife told me that I would be turned into a pillar of salt if my prayers persisted. Tom Delay is the only person who could have any influence on your mother.

In your last sentence you suggest that sending more essays to Texas might be in order. I will be happy to do that. I have been writing essays for about eight years. I believe that 200 or more essays have been written here. Your tap dancing mother has most if not all of them. Judy and I will go through them and send you some.

As you read the essays, remember that unjust wars disgust me. Iraq for example. I am a liberal Democrat whose religious beliefs are in total non-belief. I have no sympathy whatsoever for the British royal family – or for anyone else’s kings, queens, princes, etc. Gay marriage is fine with me. Generally speaking, all the prohibitions of the Catholic Church are regarded here as the acme of stupidity. My writings mock politicians, preachers and do-gooders. I praise countries that sing, such as the Celts. The death penalty is abhorrent to me. I like baseball and consider NASCAR racing as obscene.

Now about your debating skills. Reading Mencken would be a good investment of your time. He was a sharp logician who laughed at the many of the laws that hampered this country. Prohibition of the sale or consumption of beer or whiskey was high on HLM’s lists of foolish laws.

I hope you can find books by Mencken in your library. I believe I have everything that he put between hard covers so we can be a resource for you. There is a new book dealing with the Bible that is excellent reading because it is logical. It is “Sins of Scripture, Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate…”. John Shelby Spong, who was the Episcopal Bishop of Newark wrote it. If you ever get into a debate about such things as homosexual acts, etc. it is the gold standard for setting the Biblical situation straight. The book was published in 2005 by Harpers in San Francisco. The subhead is “Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism.”

When we get the mailing together, we will talk some more. I am delighted by your interest in Henry Mencken who had a profound influence on my life.

Stay strong,
e-mailed 6-15-05


It is with reluctance that I publish my 15-year-old-self’s email that Pop is replying to here. Even though it makes me cringe, I take solace in the fact that Judy is probably the only person reading this, and she’s seen it already. For extra context, apparently my mother had waited three months to hand me one of Pop’s essays that was sent to me specifically.

I am truly, truly sorry that I could not have read your essay about HLM earlier, seeing as it was written on March second. It was mailed May 15. It was given to this particular churchwallop….10 minutes ago. Needless to say, I read both parts of the letter right away.
Addressing the first part: dad says that all I need in order to be the essential twin of Jesse Halloman is a handlebar mustache. I’ll work on that one. About religion: I have decided that there is in fact a God, but He really doesn’t give a damn about us. Nor did he create us. Nor did he do much of anything really; mom calls this the watchmaker approach. I have long since considered the bible a load of crock, and have yet to read it. “Religion is the archenemy of progress” made me think, and i’ve come to accept that it is absolutely right. I’ve heard that more people have been killed in the name of Jesus Christ than by both Stallin and Hitler combined. The essay itself was another work of brilliance, and it got me to wondering if our library has any books by Mencken–he seems to think like a debater, and arguments against a rigid state and or democracy would be a wonderful tool to have in my cases. I thank you for passing the torch, and introducing another generation to this author.
As for the two paragraphs from chain of command, it reminded me strikingly of good old jack shepherd–if you say you’re getting a milkshake, you’re getting one. Then I realized that i had just compared George W. Bush to someone as great as Jack, and was disgusted with myself.
I thank you for your letter and essay.

P.S. try grounding mom…forbid her to leave the house until she has given all mail directed to me, well, to me. I enjoy reading your essays, and hope you send more.

Upon reflection twelve years later, it strikes me that the “watchmaker” theory here is more of an issue of nomenclature than of theology. Everything is caused by something else (exempting, perhaps, extremely advanced physics on very small scales), so the “watchmaker” approach is tantamount to just saying “there was a big bang, so we’ll just say that “God” is whatever phenomenon that kicked that off.” I think that’s where I was coming from at the time when I “Decided that there is in fact a God” above.
Any deeper probing into the watchmaker theory makes it fall apart just as much as any typical explanation of God, namely that one is forced to wonder what created or came before God, which of course is a dead-end line of thinking. Looking at small-scale physical interactions of particles and extrapolating as far backwards into the big bang as we can with physics is probably a much better bet if you want to eventually find out what happened to cause all this.

It’s cute to see one of my first written essay responses, though. I’ve done over seven hundred now!

ANNETTE, MILDRED, OPAL AND ESSIE | A Retrospective on Women

This is an essay about the unfairness’s that life seems to have reserved for women. In nine years of writing essays, this is the fourth essay on these meaningful inequities.

As I set out to write this essay, lines from two songs come to mind. The first is from a traditional folk song called “The Waggoner’s Lad.” It says,

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

The second thought that comes to mind as this essay is started is a line in the Eric Bogle piece called, “There Must Be A Reason For It All.” There is a counter melody sung by a tenor to Bogle’s baritone voice which holds, “Don’t blame me, I didn’t make it that way.”

In sum and substance, the unfairness’s that are visited upon women seem to be nobody’s fault. That’s just the way it is. I suspect that if men were to undergo the unpleasantness of menses, childbirth, menopause, hysterectomies, spinsterhood and being widows, there might be a more intense effort on the masculine side to even things up. But that is not the way it is.

In this essay, I propose to tell you about four women I have known who bore their trials with great good grace. The first one is Annette Anderson, a secretary who worked for AT&T in its Overseas Headquarters in New Jersey.

As I recall it, Annette was a divorcee with two or three children. Working in suburban New Jersey meant that she had to own and drive a car to get to work. After a time, the oil in the crank case of every car must be changed. I am more or less an expert on draining crank cases because I spent four years as a youngster working in filling stations when it was a practice to change the crankcase oil every 1,000 miles. In my career, such as it was, I suspect I may have drained as many as a thousand crank cases.

Usually, when I drained crankcases, I had a hydraulic lift inside the garage to raise cars up to chin level. When the plug is removed from the crankcase, there is a surge of oil that must be caught and drained into a barrel. It is a job that requires work clothes rather than dress clothes.

In Annette’s case, economic circumstances conspired to require a less expensive means of draining the crankcase oil of her car. She once told me that she lived on a dead end street. When it was time to change the oil, she would drive the front wheels of the car over the curb and park it so that the front end of the car was higher than the rear end. Annette was a pretty woman with blonde hair. She was also slender. When oil changing time came, she would bundle her hair in a scarf, don old clothes and wiggle under the car to unscrew the crank case plug. Her tool was an end wrench. She took a bucket under the car to catch the oil as it drained from the crankcase. When the oil had drained, she replaced the plug and wiggled her way, with the can with five quarts of used oil in it, out from under the car.

I have drained enough crankcases to know that Annette’s method was a primitive one. But with children to feed and secretarial salaries being what they were, this is what Annette had to do. As an old automobile mechanic, I considered Annette a bit of a heroine. I have not seen or talked to her since 1984. I hope she is well and now has enough income to take her car to a proper garage where the engine oil can be changed by a mechanic.

Now we have a case of Mildred Simon, a supervising force clerk in the Chicago traffic office of AT&T. Each day Mildred would arrive in the office around 7 A.M. and would count the tickets from the prior day’s traffic. Chicago was a big hub in the AT&T network, so there were many tickets to count. Mildred had two helpers for this purpose. The object was to make sure that each ticket was billable which meant that it had to be classified properly. There was also the matter of straightening out any handwriting mistakes.

Mildred Simon was always a most cheerful person. One way or another, I discovered that Mildred had suffered a terrible accident as a child and had lost both her legs. At this late date, I cannot tell you whether the legs were lost below or above the knees but in any case, the loss of the legs seemed to be hideous enough. Mildred sat in the back of the office and whenever any one of us walked past her desk to enter the operating room, Mildred would smile. She knew the loss she had suffered; she was just making the very best of it.

In back of Mildred’s desk was a bulletin board. After I had adopted a child while I worked in Chicago, Mildred was always on me to bring in pictures of my little girl so that she could post them on the bulletin board behind her head. Even after I left Chicago, I sent pictures of Maureen, the little girl, to Mildred. Here was Mildred worrying about my adopted daughter, knowing that to go home at the end of the day, she had to fight the buses and the subways in the loop district of Chicago. It was no easy task even with two good legs, but Mildred had to negotiate this ordeal with two wooden legs. When it comes to heroes, or heroines, I think of Mildred Simon. I have not seen her since 1955, but I think of her often.

The third person in this essay is Opal Audrey Carr, my sister. In the Great American Depression, it was necessarily for the Carr children to go to work at every opportunity. Opal was my senior by seven years. It meant that at an early age she took a job at Joe Gonnella’s saloon on North and South Road in Brentwood, Missouri, serving drinks and occasionally singing. Opal taught herself to play chords on the piano to accompany her singing.

In addition to all of the problems of the Depression that came to Opal, she was also the object of a domineering older sister. In the end, Opal moved from the house to escape the domineering by my eldest sister. As I recall it, Opal had at least two marriages that did not work out. On one occasion, I borrowed a truck and took it to her residence to move her belongings to another location.

While I was in the Army, Opal became associated with dog racing in Florida and in Arizona. As time went on, the family heard less and less from Opal, but we knew that she was racing her greyhounds. As it turns out, she lived in a trailer in Florida and died there before her 60th birthday.

Opal was a good, generous woman. Life didn’t treat her fairly and the Depression was another burden that she had to bear. I suppose that in Opal’s case, the line about “Hard luck is the fortune of all womankind,” applies in spades. I regret that I was unable to see more of Opal. She was always good to me.

And that finally brings us to Essie who was the wife of George Carr, my father’s elder brother. All things being equal, she was my aunt. She lived with her husband and three or four of her boys in a primitive farmhouse in Elizabethtown, Illinois. That town didn’t amount to much, with the feed store probably being the primary attraction on Main Street.

In any event, on the day before Christmas Eve in 1932, a telegram was received at our home in St. Louis by my father telling him of the death of his father, William Meredith Carr. My mother and my siblings had no interest in traveling 180 miles to sleep in Essie and George’s farmhouse. I was 10 years old and I was drafted because there was no school the next day during the holidays.

As I recall it, my father was driving his 1928 Studebaker which had been his car of choice for many years. The two of us arrived in Elizabethtown late in the afternoon of Christmas Eve, 1932. The farmhouse had no electricity or indoor plumbing. There was a well and an outhouse. Heat was furnished by the stove in the kitchen and by another potbellied stove in the living room. This was primitive living at best considering that it was a cold winter.

In the front room, as it was known in those days, there was a double bed which I assume was used by George and Essie. On this occasion however, my grandfather was laid out on that bed covered by a blanket. For a ten year old, it was an eerie feeling. Nonetheless Essie set about providing us with what was called a supper in the country, or dinner in the city. I only remember that Essie made biscuits that I thought were very nice. When bedtime arrived, Essie, still playing the hospitable hostess, made pallets on the floor in the kitchen which was probably a little warmer than the other rooms. My recollection is that I was cold all night with the covers pulled up over my head.

On Christmas Eve day, three of George and Essie’s boys had dug a grave for my grandfather. With the clay soil, and it being frozen, it was hard work. When the boys, who were much bigger and older than I was, returned from their grave digging, there was no bitching or griping. They were as gentle with me and my father as they could be. When I shook hands with those three farmers, I knew that I was shaking the hand of a workman, not a stockbroker. Their hands showed that they had worked at manual labor all their lives.

When Christmas Day arrived, I looked forward to returning to the civilized world of St. Louis. However, at breakfast, Essie knew that there were three other children of about my age. One way or another, Essie had a very small bag for each of us. In each small bag, there were four or five pieces of peppermint candy. Essie made it clear that she intended to recognize Christmas Day with presents for each of us. The peppermint, of course, was the present. That was 74 years ago, and to this day, I have never forgotten Essie’s generosity.

In 1932, in the Depression and in the country, there were no such things as dentists. When teeth arrived at the point where they were no longer useful, a strong man would tie a string around them and pull them. Essie, who was perhaps in her early 50’s, had only six or seven working teeth in her mouth. All her life she had worked hard and the labor showed itself on her face and on her body. Essie was no beauty queen by any stretch of the imagination, but the generosity in her heart knew no bounds.

On Christmas Day, Essie’s sons placed my dead grandfather in a homemade coffin and carried it to the front yard of the house to be placed upon a wagon pulled by two mules. The graveyard was about a half a mile down this rugged road which I hoped would not puncture a tire. Essie rode with me and held my hand. When we reached the graveyard, Essie’s boys and George gently lowered the homemade coffin into the grave. At that time, no one knew about the word cemetery. A graveyard was a graveyard, pure and simple.

One last thought. Essie and George and their boys lived in this primitive farmhouse which may have been a mile or two from what was known as the “hard road.” A hard road could be concrete or asphalt or even gravel. Getting to Essie and George’s house required negotiating the “unhard” road, which was nothing more than wagon tracks. All those exposed rocks could puncture tires in those days very easily. One way or another, we made it back to the hard road to start the journey to our home outside St. Louis.

I don’t recall seeing Essie after that burial, but she has always had a special place in my memory for her generosity on a cold Christmas morning in 1932.

Well there you have my thumbnail sketches of four courageous women who continued to smile and carry on even though life was stacked against them. When Eric Bogle wrote the line, “Don’t blame me, I didn’t make it that way,” perhaps he had Annette, Mildred, Opal and Essie in mind. I didn’t make it that way either, but good gracious, men have to do better to provide a level playing field for their women. Unfair treatment and inequities have gone on much too long.

December 10, 2006


He’s quoted this particular stanza a few times now, not that that’s a bad thing. But I’m not sure the particular brand of hardship it captures is reflective of modern-day feminist problems, which perhaps have less to do with domineering husbands and more to do with more entrenched social norms and imbalances.

I wonder if the choice to keep the deceased at home (and having family members dig the grave) is a function of their economic situation, or if this was typical for the time period. I’ve heard that this was a pretty common practice in the states, with some homes even having rooms that were built to accommodate the holding and viewing of dead bodies. Maybe this tradition made that generation more familiar with death, because it was kept in closer proximity and normalized a little more — as opposed to sending the dead person off to a funeral home ASAP for embalming. This effect could be compounded by mortality rates and longer lifespans, since death becomes much less of a fixture in life, and kids can grow pretty old before anyone close to them dies. Compare to Pop’s family, where several siblings didn’t make it to adulthood; I imagine that all those kids must have been much more comfortable with death (vs their modern counterparts), since it played a larger role in their early lives.



EEC dictation 11-17-05 1st DRAFT

The subject of this essay today is blindness. No circumlocutions, no euphemisms, just plain blindness. The blindness, of course, has to do with your old essay writer. As time went on during the recent series of eye operations, it became apparent that aphasia began to make giant strides toward erasing my memory of words and phases. Aphasia has to do of course with the inability to recall words.

This essay is written not as a perverse to spoil anybody’s yearend celebrations, but rather an attempt to deal with galloping aphasia in my own case.

It just so happens that the subject I have chosen is blindness because the two are, in my case, closely related.

It is not in my interest to attempt to persuade you to render any sympathy for me. Far, far from it. This essay is simply a device as a means of achieving some more mental agility which will push away effects of aphasia.

The fact of the matter is that once glaucoma takes a hold on your eyesight, there is not much you can do about it but to fight it. But in the end, if you live long enough, glaucoma may be the winner. I am the son of a blind man who lost he site to glaucoma some where age of 64 or 65 years. I am the brother of a man who lost his sight somewhere near his 60th year. I am the brother of another fellow who lost his sight near his 70th year. So the object is to outlive glaucoma but it is not always possible to do so, witness the recent events having to do with myself.

What I would propose to do today is to first welcome all of those who wish me well. On the hand, there are those who offered to say a prayer in my behalf. For those offering to say a prayer, it should be observed that, my attitude for 65 years toward religion has been one of non-belief in organized religion, disorganized religion and unorganized religion. I appreciate the thought, but it appears to me that prayers will not necessarily change things.

The thought today in this essay, is merely to account for certain factors that I had not known before blindness set in. The blind person has no series of reference compass. He does not know if the is facing east or west, north or south. It is easy for him to become confused and it is easy for him to loose his balance and fall down.

Beyond that there is the thought that things are not always what they seem to be. For example, when a room is entered by a blind person like myself, if things go well, in a series of functions, good results will occur. On the other hand, if there is some confusion, the whole deck of cards tends to fall over. For example, it has seemed to me that there are rooms in this house that occasionally have been rearranged. With the door on the one end of the room as opposed to the other end. At the same time, there are occasions that the doors that I count on to get me from one place to another do not add up, and I wind up being easily and totally confused. As things have worked out, logic seems to be the only savior. If I can locate one familiar object, say such as the dresser, then the rest of the objects tend to fall in place. But in the meantime, there is great confusion as to where I am and how I am going to proceed, simply because of the confusion generated by my lack of sight.

At the moment, I am doing fairly well in the familiar surroundings of our house. The bathrooms and the kitchen etc are well known and I can get to them with no great trouble. One the other hand, during the 1950s, 60s and 70s, builders built a large number of home called split-levels. In those split-level, there are a large number of stairways.

Some of the stairways are 6 or 7 steps. No matter how you cut it, they are stairways and they can be fallen down fairly easily. This is the second split level house that I have occupied. And it is necessary at all times to keep in mind where the stairways are located.

Venturing outside the house requires my close association with my wife Judy, who acts as my eyes. Without her, I would be pretty well up the creek without a paddle. Last Saturday we bought a white cane which is a very valuable instrument but it still does not match sight. Going outside requires unfamiliar territory to be negotiated. That is an onerous task in many cases. Being blind tends to wear the blind person down, as every second is consumed with fear of falling down or some other catastrophe. Both when I am with Judy, and the walking stick I tend to get along fairly well.

I think that by this time, you have the fact of life in my case and I am required for better or for worse to deal with it. Blindness is not an adventure as in a pregnancy, but it is a fact that has to be dealt with. All of this leads to this essay and leads me to the title of this essay and reflections on my relationship with my father.

Ezra Sr., a very proud man, was completely blind for the last 12 or 13 years of his life. The five Carr children all understood that glaucoma was an ailment that could be transmitted from one person to his children. In this case, blindness has gotten to my brother Earl. And Charley died at age 60 and thus seemed to avoid blindness. The two women involved seem to have been able to live normal lives despite acquiring glaucoma.

When my father developed glaucoma, he turned himself over to the Post brothers who operated out of Barnes Hospital, a well known institution in St. Louis. At that time, it seemed to me that surgery was perhaps the only solution in an attempt to handle glaucoma. Before long, my father’s eyes were an unsightly mess. During the Depression, my father went for quite a while without a job, through no fault of his own, until he landed a position that was to care for the grounds in a large subdivision in University City, Missouri. In spite of his ability not to see things, he tried to trim a tree at the end of his career. He said he believed that he was stepping on a limb of that tree, and of course there was no limb. He fell on his skull, fracturing it, and ended up in a hospital. That was the end of his career and for the next 11 years he was housebound.

At first, people used to come and drive him to church, but within two or three months, that came to an end. He was reduced to sitting next to his Atwater Kent and listening to the news reports. Eventually he began to listen to adventure stories about the wild west. He more or less threw himself into the action.

Ezra Senior, as I have said before, was a very proud man who treasured the life that he had left in rural Illinois. He refused to give in to city ways. When he for example, went to a small café near his house, he would order a white sod-ee, not a white soda. The name of the state that contains L.A. was pronounced Cal-i-for–nee, not California. One of my sisters attempted to make his language a little bit more modern, but every time she said something, he reverted to his former ways with greater tenacity. I stayed out of the debate about locutions as I knew where it would end.

Ezra Sr. was a man who honored his Irish forbearers, which resulted in his use of the strongest epithet I have ever heard, which resulted in the word “bloody.” When we were out driving in one of his Studebakers, if the engine talked back to us, he would say, “I’ve got to fix those bloody tappets.” Another one of his mispronunciations had to do with the word nuisances. It turns out that if George Bush, who graduated from Yale and then took a masters degree from Harvard, can say “nuc-u-lear,” then there is no reason for my father to avoid saying noose-i-nance. My old man was not without his faults, but he was a tough guy. He said about his blindness, “Yes, it’s not easy to deal with, but more than anything else, it is a bloody nuisance.”

And so I tend to take pretty much the same attitude that it is a bloody nuisance that will have to be dealt with. I am, of course , not happy about the loss of my sight but I am philosophical knowing that everything that could have been done, was done. So as a pragmatist, I intend to live as best I can, for whatever time remains, with the thought that there could be some good come out of this whole mess.

I appreciate your staying with me thorough this essay during the Holiday season. If things go well, perhaps next year we might have a more pleasant message.

November 17, 2005

Blindness teaches patience. And secondly, blindness has the virtue of never causing anyone to search for his eyeglasses again.


I’m publishing a draft, because:
1) it gives some fun insight into his iterative process post-blindness,
2) it’s sufficiently well-assembled to stand alone as an essay, and
3) it’s the last thing from 2005 to be published.

I think he got in the remark about not having to search for eyeglasses in a later essay, because that certainly rings a bell.


Under ordinary circumstances, your old essayist attempts to keep his correspondence separate from the essays that are produced here. In this case, however, Tom Friedman, the New York Times star op-ed writer wrote a piece that should not be condensed or treated in the Reader’s Digest fashion. Friedman’s piece was so wrong and so provocative, that a spirited reply was called for. Again, in the interest of transparency, my readers should see what was said by both sides.

Here, then, is Tom Friedman’s op-ed piece from the June 15th issue of the New York Times:

June 15, 2005
Let’s Talk About Iraq

Ever since Iraq’s remarkable election, the country has been descending deeper and deeper into violence. But no one in Washington wants to talk about it. Conservatives don’t want to talk about it because, with a few exceptions, they think their job is just to applaud whatever the Bush team does. Liberals don’t want to talk about Iraq because, with a few exceptions, they thought the war was wrong and deep down don’t want the Bush team to succeed. As a result, Iraq is drifting sideways and the whole burden is being carried by our military. The rest of the country has gone shopping, which seems to suit Karl Rove just fine.
Well, we need to talk about Iraq. This is no time to give up – this is still winnable – but it is time to ask: What is our strategy? This question is urgent because Iraq is inching toward a dangerous tipping point – the point where the key communities begin to invest more energy in preparing their own militias for a scramble for power – when everything falls apart, rather than investing their energies in making the hard compromises within and between their communities to build a unified, democratizing Iraq.
Our core problem in Iraq remains Donald Rumsfeld’s disastrous decision – endorsed by President Bush – to invade Iraq on the cheap. From the day the looting started, it has been obvious that we did not have enough troops there. We have never fully controlled the terrain. Almost every problem we face in Iraq today – the rise of ethnic militias, the weakness of the economy, the shortages of gas and electricity, the kidnappings, the flight of middle-class professionals – flows from not having gone into Iraq with the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force.
Yes, yes, I know we are training Iraqi soldiers by the battalions, but I don’t think this is the key. Who is training the insurgent-fascists? Nobody. And yet they are doing daily damage to U.S. and Iraqi forces. Training is overrated, in my book. Where you have motivated officers and soldiers, you have an army punching above its weight. Where you don’t have motivated officers and soldiers, you have an army punching a clock.
Where do you get motivated officers and soldiers? That can come only from an Iraqi leader and government that are seen as representing all the country’s main factions. So far the Iraqi political class has been a disappointment. The Kurds have been great. But the Sunni leaders have been shortsighted at best and malicious at worst, fantasizing that they are going to make a comeback to power through terror. As for the Shiites, their spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has been a positive force on the religious side, but he has no political analog. No Shiite Hamid Karzai has emerged.
“We have no galvanizing figure right now,” observed Kanan Makiya, the Iraqi historian who heads the Iraq Memory Foundation. “Sistani’s counterpart on the democratic front has not emerged. Certainly, the Americans made many mistakes, but at this stage less and less can be blamed on them. The burden is on Iraqis. And we still have not risen to the magnitude of the opportunity before us.”
I still don’t know if a self-sustaining, united and democratizing Iraq is possible. I still believe it is a vital U.S. interest to find out. But the only way to find out is to create a secure environment. It is very hard for moderate, unifying, national leaders to emerge in a cauldron of violence.
Maybe it is too late, but before we give up on Iraq, why not actually try to do it right? Double the American boots on the ground and redouble the diplomatic effort to bring in those Sunnis who want to be part of the process and fight to the death those who don’t. As Stanford’s Larry Diamond, author of an important new book on the Iraq war, “Squandered Victory,” puts it, we need “a bold mobilizing strategy” right now. That means the new Iraqi government, the U.S. and the U.N. teaming up to widen the political arena in Iraq, energizing the constitution-writing process and developing a communications-diplomatic strategy that puts our bloodthirsty enemies on the defensive rather than us. The Bush team has been weak in all these areas. For weeks now, we haven’t even had ambassadors in Iraq, Afghanistan or Jordan.
We’ve already paid a huge price for the Rumsfeld Doctrine – “Just enough troops to lose.” Calling for more troops now, I know, is the last thing anyone wants to hear. But we are fooling ourselves to think that a decent, normal, forward-looking Iraqi politics or army is going to emerge from a totally insecure environment, where you can feel safe only with your own tribe.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Friedman’s piece had an incendiary quality to it. His call for doubling the troops in Iraq and his ignoring the occupational aspect of our presence there was provoking to this old soldier, so Friedman heard from me.

Mr. Friedman

This e-mail is written much more in puzzlement than in anger. For all these years, I had considered you a writer who dealt in logical realities as distinguished from the Alice in Wonderland atmosphere that marked the machinations of the Bush administration.

The wheels to your credibility came off when you enthusiastically endorsed Bush’s pre-emptive invasion of Iraq. From that day forward, you have seized every opportunity to endorse the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfield-Rice thesis that things are going swimmingly in Iraq. The fact that Rumsfeld was fighting this war on the cheap seemed to give you no problem back in 2003.

Now in your column that appeared in the June 15th edition of the Times, you have given your credibility one more enormous kick in the gut. Your opening sentence says Iraq “has been descending deeper and deeper into violence.” Illogically, in your second paragraph you say, “this is no time to give up –this is still winnable…..” Mr. Friedman, for more than two years you have shoveled garbage of this sort on Times’ readers. It is absolutely nothing more than warmed over born again propaganda from the White House. In my eyes, you have become the designated hitter for the sycophants of Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld, et al.

Near the end of your article, you prescribe, “Double the American boots on the ground…” This is a horrid cliché. You are capable of better writing than slovenly froth like this. But that brings us to the heart of the problem. In round terms, we have 140,000 troops “on the ground” in Iraq. As Christian occupiers, that gives the Iraqis 140,000 reasons to hate us. Now we find the eminent war strategist Tom Friedman prescribing 280,000 reasons to hate us. I am confident that strategists such as yourself will then prescribe 560,000 “boots on the ground.” Where does “boots on the ground” end?

The simple fact is that we invaded Iraq without reason. It was a sovereign nation even though it was disliked by Sharon and Bush. As long as we occupy Iraq as a Christian power, hatred will always be our lot – which we richly deserve.

Look at it this way. If the situation were to be reversed with Iraqi Arabs occupying the United States, every patriot would consider it his duty to injure or to hurt the Moslem occupiers. My puzzlement comes from your blindness to this overwhelming point. Mr. Friedman, your column on closing Gitmo was eminently on point. Why are you so blind as to parrot the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld line that this disastrous adventure is “still winnable”?

E. E. Carr

P.S. This letter comes to you from a World War II soldier whose religious beliefs are in total non-belief.

A copy of my reply was sent to Suzanne Carr Shepherd, an Austin, Texas lawyer who contends from time to time, that we are related.
Ms. Shepherd, Esquire, read both pieces and asked, given the indisputable fact that Army recruiting goals have not been met for months, where will the Army find another 140,000 soldiers to put their “boots on the ground” in Iraq? That is a very reasonable question. It would do no good to ask Friedman about additional troops strength because he says he is a journalist, not a general of the Army.

Obviously, it was necessary for someone to step into this yawning void to answer the question from the Texas lawyer. So my reply had to do with costs which are now so great that Bush and the Army have lost count.

Here is my reply to the questions raised in Texas.

The costs of transporting new troops to Iraq are excessive. Then there is the cost of carrying the corpses back to the US and shipping them to home town cemeteries. It would be the ultimate patriotic gesture for new recruits to go to local cemeteries where they can be shot and buried immediately. That saves on the middle men costs and it will give the new recruit a chance to autograph the cross that will be placed over his grave.

Thinking right along with me, the Texas lawyer replied as follows:

Your suggestion makes perfect sense. And as in Vietnam – we can give them back their own country right away, or after 50,000 lost American lives, but either way we give them back their country. Why not do it now? In the meantime, we can shoot the new recruits right here at home until we figure it all out.

At this point, Ms. Judith Chicka, who is related in one way or another to the correspondents, suggested as a means to further cut costs, that new Army recruits be shot before taking the oath as a soldier. This means that the recruit may be denied any bonus and death benefit that might be attached to his or her enlistment. Under Ms. Chicka’s suggestion, the Army could save enough money to underwrite the Social Security program through eternity.

In the final analysis, more U.S. troops will give Iraqis additional reasons to hate us. The sole answer to this problem is to remove our occupying troops. The longer we stay as occupiers, we will harvest the robust hatred not only of the Iraqis but of the entire Islamic world. The Arab world sees us building permanent buildings in Iraq, some of which will be used as prisons. Arabs have every reason to believe that we intend to occupy Iraq in “perpetuity” as a Justice Department said of the prisoners at Gitmo.

This war is a function of ill disguised greed on the part of Bush, Chaney, Rumsfeld, Rice, et al. It has absolutely no basis in justice. Wars fought without justice have a way of biting the aggressor. The unrest that has now appeared in the United States is simply a forerunner to our endless quagmire in Iraq. Sooner or later, our troops will have to come home.

Tom Friedman should know that wars without justice are not “winnable.” This is an unjust war that is wasting lives of our soldiers, the lives of Iraqi civilians and the draining of our treasury. There is no light at the end of the Iraqi tunnel.

June 25, 2005


There was never a victory condition outside of a stable Iraq that was friendly to the US. Continued presence of US soldiers in the reason actively worked against both halves of that goal. It’s okay though, because now ISIS controls large swaths of the country — Mission Accomplished, right?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 5, 2005


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

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

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

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

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