Archive for the Age Category


When a man, such as myself, reaches the seventh decade of life, his friends and relatives congratulate him warmly and ask about his state of health. They seem to really want to inquire how long do you think you may stick around.

When the eighth decade turns over on the speedometer, the efforts of friends and relatives become a little more pointed. They are concerned because the old timer may not eat as much as he did at age 30 or they may read road signs that they believe the older person can no longer see. And if in conversations with a slightly younger person, if the name of a politician or a physician does not roll off the tongue, the younger person may diagnose Alzheimers.

Wile the elderly person may appreciate the solicitude of his younger friends and relatives, there is an element of wonder about why you are still hanging in there. In my case, it seems to me that assuring the inquirer that every body part is working and that a change in subject might be appropriate. All done with a laugh, of course. The laughter may be forced but it is preferable to a discussion about the imminent demise of the decrepit elderly person, namely me.

When people close to me ask about how my fortunes are succeeding, it has an unintended effect on me. Tor all these years, the end of life has been a subject that has been rarely considered. Surely, Miss Chicka and I visited Paul Ippolito, one of Summit’s leading undertakers, to enter into a pre-paid arrangement to have our bodies promptly cremated. At heart, our visit to the Ippolito establishment was done primarily because of a proposed champagne party that we proposed to sponsor once Ippolito had done his work. First comes Ippolitto’s ministrations, then the reception, not the other way around.

But entering into a prepaid arrangement for disposition of our bodies does not constitute grounds for saying that we have a death wish. It is simply and purely a business arrangement made while our minds were unclouded by any other thoughts. Now the kicker is that the prepaid arrangement pays a 5% interest premium to us every year, so it is a prudent investment as well. Sorry, only one to a customer.

Many people think that my mother gave me her build and her sense of Irish humor. For that I am grateful. On the other hand, Lillie, my mother, was engrossed by the idea of death and the thought in her mind, that she would be rewarded unendingly in a place called Heaven. Her favorite hymn was “Amazing Grace.” Running a clear second was the hopeful hymn called, “How Beautiful Heaven Must Be.” She envisioned a place high up in the sky with no sin and no sickness and with angels with wings where their shoulder blades should be. She always said, “That is where I am going when my work on earth is finished.”

As life unfolded for me, none of Lillie Carr’s confidence in a heavenly after life ever made sense to me. My disbelief started at age six when my mother proposed to “save” me, among other thoughts, for a better life after death. And my disbelief has now lasted more than 75 years.

In 1943, German ground forces (The Wehrmacht) and German Air Forces (The Luftwaffe) managed to destroy two of the planes on which I was a member of the crew. In the first shoot-down, there was a lonely period of four days in the sands of the Libyan and Egyptian frontier before rescue came. In the second case, the Germans took me prisoner and it was necessary for the Italian Partisans to come to the rescue. From beginning to end, about seven weeks elapsed in this episode which started at the prison camp at Rimini, Italy.

Now the point in pointing to my unfortunate experiences in 1943, is that at no time did my thoughts ever wonder to being a casualty of war. Whereas my mother would have wrung her hands and would have gotten a preacher to help her pray, my thoughts were exclusively devoted to how am I going to get out of here. Obviously, the thought that soldiers were regularly shot occurred to me, but visions of heaven never came into my mind. My sole occupation was how do I get out of here. On no occasion did I ever ask to see a chaplain from either the United States or the German Army.

My mother would never have understood my mind set, so I can’t ever recall discussing the subject with her.

August 24, 2003


This is not where this essay originally ended. From here he uses “Aside from the well meaning inquiries about my health and longevity, it appears to me with events in Iraq, Israel and Afghanistan taking the turn they are, that death is a popular subject in the Middle East” to segue into a discussion of martyrdom and virgins in paradise. The essay stops midway through one of these thoughts, so the entire section is omitted here because it’s been discussed at length in these essays. I think he just found this sort of claim to be a special kind of absurd, perhaps due to its unique combination of sexism and specificity.

People who tease old people (or anyone, really) about Alzheimers are assholes, full stop. Not much else to say there.




I know a man who speaks lovingly, respectfully, and admiringly about his own mother-in-law. Can you imagine that? His mother-in-law furnished the title for this essay. This woman was born in 1878 in the Sudetenland. There is considerable mystery about whether in 1878 the Sudetenland belonged to the German Confederation, Austria or was in the territory claimed by the Czechs. But that is beside the point. No matter how you cut it, Frau Fischer always considered herself to be a Czech, as did her family and her countrymen. At this late date, this essayist can only say to Frau Fischer, “How to go, Herta.”

We were honored to have Frau Fischer with us during her life, which extended until she was 87 years of age.

I came into the knowledge of the maxim that “old age is a disease” through a roundabout way. Frau Doktor Fischer, who had escaped from Czechoslovakia, had a daughter named Hana. During the Second World War in England, Hana married a friend of mine whom I did not know at the time. As it turns out, Hana married a preacher’s son from the great and luscious state of Missouri. Her husband managed to escape the confines of the “show me state” by joining the Eighth United States Army Air Force which took up residence in England for nearly all of the Second World War. After the war, Hana and her husband eventually wound up in New York City. Her husband is, of course, my old friend of more than 40 years named Howard Davis.

On several occasions, Howard has repeated to me the maxim that “old age is a disease” but he always attributes it to his mother-in-law. Not many men speak so respectfully and lovingly about their own mothers-in-law. But that is Howard’s style which may stem from his growing up in the sacred soil of eastern Missouri towns such as Defiance and Cape Girardeau.

Frau Doktor Fischer’s husband was a physician with offices in Olmütz, Czechoslovakia. Under the German formal system of language, the wife acquires her husband’s occupation upon marriage. Thus the proper form of address is Frau Doktor Herta Knopfmacher Fischer. The translation of Knopfmacher into English is button maker. The Knopfmacher-Fischer household was Jewish and when the Second World War was taking place, it developed that the Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia were no places for Jewish people to reside.

Fortunately Herta escaped with her daughter, son and at least one other sibling to the safety of England. Before the end of her life, she came to live in Philadelphia. She visited New York often, where she spent much of her time with Howard Davis and his wife, Hana Fischer Davis.

It was during these years that the maxim of “old age is a disease” was passed on to her son-in-law, an advertising executive with the N.W. Ayer organization in New York. My brain received the information about the maxim in the late 1970s. I’m sorry that it took so long for me to learn of what is in store for all of us as we go around the bend.

Before going further, I should point out that when Frau Doktor Fischer came to England, the Holocaust was taking place and her husband, Herr Doktor Fischer, the physician, tragically disappeared into it. This was the fate of many Jewish people who simply wanted to reside peacefully. But Adolf Hitler had other intentions.

This morning, I arose at 7 o’clock in order to keep an appointment with an orthopedic physician and surgeon. There had been pain for several weeks or months in my leg and shoulders. The physician, Michael Mirsky, who is of Russian or Polish ancestry, examined the X-rays and pronounced that I had “a bad case of arthritis.” My extensive research discloses that there is no such thing as a good case of arthritis. This diagnosis was not a major discovery in that from time to time over the past many years, arthritis has painfully descended upon my bone structure. It is not a welcome visitor but in time and with exercise, it has always seemed to pass.

The cold weather that we are now experiencing in New Jersey seems to prolong the effects of arthritis. But I trust that in time it will diminish or, if I am lucky, go away. Clearly, the problem is that I have lived so long that the maxim that “old age is a disease” has long since applied to me.

I am far from being alone as a sufferer of old age. The physician that I visited this morning has a full schedule of people suffering from arthritis and more serious diseases. But it is clear that old age produces all kinds of ailments.

I thought that it was important in this essay to point out that Howard Davis’s mother-in-law had it exactly right: old age is a disease. If there is any doubt on this subject, I would produce the testimony of Gregorio Russo who works in the produce department of the local Whole Foods Market. Gregorio Russo’s parents lived in a town south of Naples, Italy. His father, who was a bit of a philosopher, told Gregorio, who is now in his 60s, that as he made his way in life, he should avoid growing old. If he were to avoid growing old, there would be no great need for the doctrine that old age is a disease. But the alternative to growing old is not necessarily an attractive one.

Frau Doktor Herta Knopfmacher Fischer has contributed a major maxim to those of us who are involved with gerontology. And so it is that I am able to accept the problems of arthritis philosophically. It gives me great comfort to know that Frau Doktor Fischer has identified the source of my displeasure. On the other hand, I am comforted by the thought that she lived a long life and was able to receive such admiration on the part of her son-in-law. My only regret is that I did not know her because I would have been a Herta disciple much earlier in life.

January 29, 2011


I hope that most people get along with their Mothers in Law; I always figured that the alternative was more of a trope played up by the media than an actual phenomenon. That aside, Doctor Buttonmaker lived a full an interesting life; it’s a shame she doesn’t feature in more essays. Howard Davis certainly does, though! He’s in at least 34, at the current count.


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.

THOSE GOLDEN YEARS | Meditations – Chapter Four

There are many Americans who are cliché driven. When a person sneezes, they say “God bless you.” Tardiness is treated as “Better late than never.” Young daughters are told as they meet their dates, “Get home early” or “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” Women are involved in monstrous untruths when they say, “Oh, I love your dress.” Those are not much more than automatic responses which have little or no real meaning. There is one cliché however, that is, at heart, often a distortion of hope and the facts. That cliché is almost always delivered to people as they retire from full time employment. The retiree is told by well wishers who envision endless golf games, Queen Mary II excursions, sleeping late and receiving senior discounts on all kinds of tickets, “Oh, those golden years.”

Unfortunately, those golden years occur at a time of reduced income. And those golden years take place when the body is most vulnerable to aches, pains and diseases never known before.

Those fabulous golden years occur when the energy level is diminished or in some cases, non-existent. The golden years take place with rising prices of everything except in the pension payment. Gas prices at the pump are at the mercy of foreign suppliers, but there is no gas price differential in the pension system. No one seems to have any control over home heating and electricity bills. The medical profession doesn’t give a two tiered structure in their fees for those in their golden years.

Those golden years happen when hearing and eyesight falter. Teeth fall out and we look for elevators or escalators to avoid steps. Perhaps the cruel acme of the years of gold takes place when the happy retiree has to choose which drugs and medicines he can afford or choose between paying the heating bill in January as opposed to his or her bills for medical treatment. For many Americans, these are the facts on the ground. This is often the era of pills and drops. This is the era of canes and walkers. In some cases, the years of gold are spent in a wheelchair.

About the only factor which makes a token gesture to the rising cost of just about everything is Social Security payments. But rather than to let the most successful social program in history continue, this administration wants to invent private accounts which would diminish the payments to the Social Security base. A terrible, terrible idea and one of sinister proportions.

Somewhere there seems to be a critical political voice saying that you retirees have lived too long. Well, maybe that is true, but the complainers don’t offer any acceptable alternatives. And they too will someday become drags on the go-go generations to follow.

Looking at things in a pragmatic way would lead one to conclude that with prices and taxes pressing down and with pension payments being stagnant – or being taken away, as in the airline industry, those poor old retirees are caught in a classic vise. And no amount of cheerleading from politicians is going to alter the situation. Anyone who expects help from this administration or the party in power must remember that the minimum wage in this country has not gone up by even one cent in six or seven years. Try feeding a family on wages of $5.15 an hour. But we must remember that this country has a holy obligation to make the richer class even more wealthy through tax cuts aimed at the super well-to-do.

This may seem like a depressing look about retirement, and perhaps it is. It could be argued, on the other hand, that it is nothing more than a pragmatic examination of what many retirees may experience. Those golden years have a mythical quality to them.

On the bright side of the golden years, there is the thought that ailments such as measles and whooping cough are no longer of concern. It may also be said of pregnancy, either planned or unplanned. So all is not totally bleak.

Once in a while this old essay writer recalls his days as a union negotiator. Good negotiators hate clichés which are nothing more than substitutes for reasoned thought. “The company wants all of its employees to be happy, healthy and to enjoy all the good things in life.” Pragmatically, the prospects for equity among the golden years set could be much improved. But once that pragmatism is stated, the fact is that the rich get richer and the poor have to do the best they can. Is that not the way things have always been?

If the last statement about the rich getting richer is a cliché, my apologies are offered – in spite of the truth of what has been stated.

June 9, 2005


I wonder if, in my golden years, I’ll have the opportunity to download my brain onto some sort of cloud database. Not sure I’ll get there, but my kids or at least theirs will. Seems like that would obviate most of these issues.

In the meantime we’re going to start having to tax wealthy people more and more. That’s really the only way forward as the workforce continues to automate. But we’ve touched on that already.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 13, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


A couple of weeks ago, my car was heading westward on a cold, bleak December afternoon when the sun was low in the sky. There was almost no way to block out the sun and still see to drive. The thought occurred to me that driving like this is no fun. And growing older is often also devoid of fun.

Growing older has diminishing returns as it relates to the enjoyment of life. Aches and pains and back problems are often the order of the day. When retirement loomed as AT&T began to prepare my pension, well wishers told me that these were the golden years. Don’t believe everything well wishers say.

It seems to me that everything that can be dropped will be dropped. But that is only the half of it. The dropped item then falls from the table or from the counter to the floor. In the kitchen here, there has always been a brown floor. Almonds and other nuts that fall to the floor as some of them do, are next to impossible to find. In the bathroom, there are pills with most of them being white. The bathroom floor is white or light almond tile. Again, impossible to find the dropped pill.

Speaking of pills, a system has been devised whereby as pills are consumed, the time of day is entered on a chart. Sometimes it is more convenient to make the notation before taking the pill. And with great precision, my former infallible memory often will not tell me whether the pill has actually been taken. There are other times when an entry on the chart is overlooked leading to the dilemma of whether the medication was or was not taken and entry on the chart was simply overlooked.

Old age memory is a volatile affair. My house shoes are usually left in one closet when clothes are changed. The other morning, the house shoes could not be located. The other closet was searched and no house shoes turned up. The dressing room was searched with similar results. The bedroom was examined, but there were no old, beat up house shoes. Then it dawned on me that because the shoes were beat up and were unsightly, that Miss Chicka, my wife, had taken them away to the trash.

As my steps took me in the direction of Miss Chicka, my thoughts had to do with remonstrating with her for doing such a dastardly thing to an old man, a patriot and a former soldier. As my steps took me down the hall, my feet came into view. The mystery of the disappearing house shoes was solved by me, a real Sherlock Holmes moment. The shoes were on a set of feet – namely mine!!!

My back has held up for more than 80 years, so it is entitled to be painful once in a while. There are occasions when the knees bark at me, but climbing steps can still be done, but not as gladly as when youth pervaded my being. The teeth are a bit of a problem as the insurer informed me that annual benefits had been used up by March, 2003. The one eye seems to be holding up well now that my ophthalmologic visits are no longer to the female fondler in Short Hills. It is possible to listen to music even at an advanced age, so my hearing is holding up. Recently, we are happily listening to male Welsh choirs. Nobody knows why Welshmen can sing such great harmony, but they do it every day.

Now that my step may be slowed a little, it would be greatly appreciated for Charles, the Prince of Wales, to lend me his footman who is responsible for opening the toothpaste and spreading it on His Majesty’s brush everyday. Even if it is disclosed that only this Irishman has a toothpaste spreader, it would be claimed as a reward for my passing into the years of puberty.

Before you ask, His Majesty Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, sings not a note, we are told. He seldom if ever visits Wales. Charles shoots birds and tries to romance that divorced woman who lives in a connecting, adjoining apartment to one of the Royal Castles. That is quite enough for the Prince of Wales.

Growing older is not all bad. On the plus side, my lifelong penchant for speaking my mind is now largely uninhibited. In my essays, there is no trouble about taking the Catholic Church to task. Jews do no escape my ire. There have been several letters to Sulzberger, the publisher of the New York Times about hiring such jerks as Bill Safire and David Brooks, apologists for the Republican Party. Of course, my main scorn is for Protestant Christians because those people are well known to me from my upbringing. And tormenting George Bush and his band of bandits is an especially rewarding theme that finds expression in my essays and in my speech. There is no longer an employer looking over my shoulder to say, “Tone it down.”

So growing old or older ain’t all bad. Growing older is not much fun. But on a clear day, this question must be asked, “What are the alternatives?” Until that question is adequately answered, there is not much choice but to look in the blinding sun on a winter’s day and to carry on.



You know, I don’t think I ever knew a version of Pop who had a filter on what he said or wrote. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that such a person is largely imaginary. Besides, in the days before the internet, it seems like an employer is unlikely to stumble upon anything that an individual has written that was not sent directly to said employer. Maybe people just gossiped a lot more in person, such that instead of fearing that a boss will Google you, you had to fear that he’d somehow know a friend of a friend who knew that you were an outspoken atheist, or something. Still seems like a much lower-risk proposition.


What passes for a brain in my head has not been wired for introspective examination. If introspection has to do with examining one’s own mind or its contents reflectively, I am here to tell you, that’s not how my mind works. Professors and hand wringers who write op-ed pieces in newspapers and publish articles in learned journals are practitioners of introspective thinking, the “what if” school of thought.

To the extent that introspective thoughts lead me to learn something, introspection ought to be greatly encouraged. On the other hand, when professors write for the magazine Foreign Affairs, for example, it seems to me that they are filling 12 to 20 pages of pure unadulterated blather. If in 1914, France had sent a hundred carloads of croissants and petit fours to Berlin, would there have been no World War I? That is introspective “what if” blather and it should be dismissed out of hand.

Most of the men known to me of the World War II vintage, are not given to introspective examination of the mind or its contents. Nearly all are pragmatists who consider living through the Great Depression and World War II as accomplishments that they don’t wish to revisit. It’s over, so let’s go on to the next chapter. In my own case, it took me more than 59 years before I attempted to recount my story of being a German prisoner of war. And significantly, that story was written as an anti-war piece as the Bush administration was beating the war drums to pre-emptively invade Iraq. That piece was written for my daughters and their husbands to impress the five grandchildren that war is not glamorous, nor is it proper for countries to engage in it lightly.

On the other hand, there are a few old soldiers who apparently want to endlessly relive the war. I have seen old soldier’s clubs with newsletters about various aspects of the war. The Air Force clubs try to recall in their newsletters missions flown 55 or even 60 years ago. Aside from the inaccuracies that must creep in with so much passage of time, all of this effort to recall past glories escapes me. My war is over. Let’s go on to the next act.

Speaking of acts, as a pragmatist, I see no point in reading fiction and my tolerance for mysteries is zero. The plays of Shakespeare and Faulkner, for example leave me to wonder what all the acclaim is about. The theater has a great attraction for me provided it is something I can understand such as “Chicago.” That is a play that I can get my arms around.

All of this serious series of thoughts about introspective examination of the mind, is to say that my mind is constructed to deal largely with what is going to happen as distinguished from events of the past. I am deeply concerned with history. My thought about introspective thinking has to do with those who spend endless writing and lecturing hours discussing, “What if.” And so that brings me to a concern that is not introspective, but is here and now.

In a long lifetime of more than 80 years, I have dodged Alzheimers, Mad Cow disease and gnarled fingers. On the other hand, through the ministrations of the Summit Medical Group, I have survived a series of heart related problems. In the process of ageing, I have lost an eye and had to visit a surgeon for ingrown toenails. For 80 years, that’s not so bad. But this winter brought a mild dose of arthritis, an ailment that had always been ascribed to old people.

My parents would have diagnosed the trouble as RHEUMATISM. I never put much faith in their diagnoses because they ascribed all kinds of ailments to “RUMATIZE.” Of course, my father said “ORT” when he meant “OUGHT,” so that did not help when he diagnosed a case.

A fellow employee of mine in St. Louis always called my ailment “AR-THUR-I-TIS.” That would have been Ken Greenleaf. When he pronounced the word having to do with mixed things, he called is
“MIS-CKEL-ANE-OUS.” So that’s one more diagnostician to be ignored.

When I played baseball, we would often joke that it was not going to be the arm that failed or that vision would blur; it was going to be a disabled knee. That old joke turned out to be not so much of a joke. My right knee started to hurt climbing or descending steps. In that state, a guy like me could not even get out of the dugout, much less play a nine inning game.

So I visited a Summit Medical doctor called Eric Mursky. He is a young fellow and strikes me as quite competent. There were all kinds of x-rays and probings and after a while, Professor Mursky said the problem was arthritis. He pronounced it correctly. He specified an over-the-counter food supplement called Glucosamine Condroitin and said if that didn’t work, he had a series of shots that might help. If the shots failed, he said a knee replacement was available.

I saw Eric Mursky on March 18. When I asked him if he was Irish, he said that was not the case for his side of the Mursky family. Then I told Professor Mursky that for many years an Irish black thorn walking stick had rested just inside our front door. It was a gift from Althea Scheller, a former associate of mine at AT&T. Mursky thought the walking stick was a good idea and instructed me how to use it in my crippled condition.

Now this is the sad part. I supposed at that point that my career as a boulevardier was probably crippled by the walking stick which Mursky proposed that I actually use for walking. I mean it is an inspiring thing to twirl a cane or walking stick around in a man’s forefingers. That makes him a boulevardier, even if he is mustache-less as in my case. But to actually use the walking stick for help in walking kills the boulevardier or Maurice Chevalier act. To use it for help in walking would cause young, toothsome, beauties under the age of 75 to look for a more active suitor. That is to be avoided at all costs.

So I left Mursky’s office to go directly to the drug store to see if Glucosamine would restore the function of my knee. The thought of an artificial knee replacement obviously inspired this old ball player from the sand lots of St. Louis to see if he could avoid such radical surgery.

There are 60 tablets in the bottle of Glucosamine, which at three per day is a 20 day supply. The cost is something like $22.50. By the end of the first bottle, my knee started to feel better. By the end of the second bottle, the steps in this house or outside posed no more problems and I was giving thought to resuming my career as a tap dancer. This is one of the first over-the-counter pills to do what the medics claimed it would do. So long live Glucosamine Chondroitin.

The black thorn walking stick has been returned to its stand near the front door. I walk with no discomfort and I am ready to resume my life as a cane-twirling boulevardier. So if you know of any beautiful, toothsome beauties under 75, send them my way. And I am trying to grow a black Iraqi mustache. That, I’m afraid, is a lost cause.

And finally, I’m here to say that the improvements in my knee are pragmatic improvements. No “what if” about it. Introspective examination had nothing to do with it. It was the pragmatic diagnoses of Eric Mursky and the appearance of Glucosamine that restored this soon to be 81 year old boulevardier to his rightful place beside Chevalier. And “Rhumetize” also had nothing to do with it. As I say, viva Glucosamine.

May 8, 2003


Interestingly, unlike most arthritis treatments, it seems like Glucosamine and Chondroitin are supplements rather than painkillers. Both of them are substances found in healthy cartilage, which I suppose indicates that they’re meant to repair cartilage damage and treat the disease rather than its symptoms. That said, as supplements, they’re largely unregulated and at least some brief research would indicate that they have very limited effectiveness in most people. I’m no doctor obviously but I’m glad these turned out to be effective despite what the internet says!

I wonder why a walking stick — which I remember from Pop’s house, incidentally — stayed in the entry way for so long when nobody actually used it until late in Pop’s life. I also wonder what Pop thought about philosophy, since it’s in a bit of a weird place between fiction and non-fiction. Some of it could certainly be chalked up to frivolous thought experiments for their own sake, but I wonder what take he would have on, for instance, books about the human condition. Maybe Judy could fill in the gaps!


In December, 1987 it was necessary to perform a coronary artery bypass graft involving four vessels on the author of this essay. The surgery was performed at New York Presbyterian Hospital and was accomplished by a mixed Jewish and Irish team followed by recovery where I was attended to by some of New York’s finest Catholic nurses. I have to remind myself that the whole function took place in a Presbyterian Hospital. I suppose that if anything untoward happened to me, such as death, I would be covered across the board as I prepared to enter Paradise. In this respect, I favor the Muslim martyrdom approach which rewards martyrs with fine wine, winsome girls and Cuban cigars. Ah, but recovery was soon achieved so I will have to think longer about the Muslim rewards of martyrdom.

Since my discharge from what is referred to in Cardiology-speak as CABGx4, exercise has been my constant companion. Walking, bicycle riding, a treadmill and an indoor bike, a rowing machine and extensive work on this half acre lot gives plenty of exercise. As winter gives way to spring, my wife, the lovely Miss Chicka, and I often walk four miles on our street which carries light traffic.

So it was this week that about a half mile into our walk, we passed an elderly gentleman using a cane with four legs on its end who made it clear that he wanted to converse with us. He was well dressed and was simply standing in the street in front of a very fine home about four or five blocks away from our home. So we crossed the street to converse with the man. He soon told us that he was recovering from a broken hip which I suppose accounted for the cane or walker. As part of the little conversation, he said he was 78 years old. Remember that.

It was obvious that he had some trouble speaking and I noticed that he was drooling slightly. When he tried to tell us of his other problem, he said he had forgotten the name of the disability. To prod his memory and with the thought that he was showing slight drooling, I said maybe the word he was looking for was “stroke.” The gentleman said, “Yeah, Yeah, That’s the word. That’s what I had.”

So now old Ed Carr gets a little snookered. I said that he shouldn’t worry about the stroke as I was getting along pretty well even though two strokes had been in my medical history. And I told him that this summer, I expect to turn 80 years of age. Without batting an eye, he said he couldn’t believe my age, as I “was a young, vigorous, good looking guy.” While I was eating up this compliment, fully deserved I might add, the man said he was about to turn 80 himself on his next birthday. So 79 would be his next anniversary, according to the Treaty of Geneva. Earlier he had said he was 78 years old. I let that one pass because I know how a stroke can injure or destroy one’s mathematical expertise. And what difference does it make if he is 79 or 80 or 81 years of age.

After a while, Judy and I excused ourselves and resumed our walk. The old gentleman wished us well and in return he was told to “stay strong” which is what I generally say when finishing letters or in ending conversations. Our friend said he would stay strong.

That encounter set my mind to enumerating the various effects that stroke victims are likely to encounter. I’m not much of an example to tell anyone how to avoid a stroke having had one in 1992 and a second severe one in late 1997. So about all this poor example can say is eat right, don’t smoke, get some exercise and hope for the best. So all that can be done is to give the reader a thought or two about the effects of a stroke assuming you are so unlucky as to have had one.

My stroke experience started on a Saturday evening after all the work and exercise had been completed. I shaved and took a shower in preparation for dinner and a good bottle of wine. When I emerged from the shower and tried to get the towel behind my back to dry there, the left arm failed to work properly. The arm didn’t bend and the hand could not grasp the towel. There was no pain at all. Nothing like having a tooth extracted or falling down and spraining a wrist. Nothing. When the failure persisted for two or three minutes, it seemed to me that a stroke had taken place. So Judy called the Emergency Room at Overlook Hospital and by the time we drove there, Dr. Slama from the Summit Medical Group was on his way to the hospital soon to be joined by a neurologist, also from Summit. After perhaps 24 hours, Slama and his neurological partner concluded that my problem was a TIA – a Transient Ischemic Attack. Hospitalization at Overlook lasted seven or eight days. During that time, I had a steady diet of Coumadin, the drug that prevents clots from forming which block passageways to the brain. After perhaps 36 hours, the arm and the hand returned to normal operation. Upon discharge, there was a meeting with cardiologists, neurologists, nurses and Summit Medical Group’s representative to Overlook Hospital at which time I was given a “Medic Alert” tag for my wrist and told that Coumadin would be required for the rest of my life. That seemed like a fair enough arrangement to me.

So from July, 1992 when the TIA occurred, I often found myself in the lab at the Summit Medical Group to draw blood to determine the Coumadin content in the blood. This occurred every two to four weeks. Drawing blood was not a happy experience, particularly when the phlebotomist was a little clumsy. But that was not a big deal. I was still alive and stroke free.

That situation went on until December, 1997. In tests during the Fall of 1997, my regular cardiologist Andrew Beamer, told me that my aortic valve was greatly restricted. Normal ones have an opening approaching the size of a quarter. Mine had shrunk to less than the diameter of a dime so it had to be fixed. I had trouble breathing particularly after exercise. So arrangements were made with the Mid-Atlantic Surgical Associates in Morristown with a fellow that Andy Beamer recommended. His name is Albert Casale. Casale gave me almost two hours in the pre-operative interview. He explained how he had to avoid the by-pass grafts as he opened my chest for another major operation. Avoiding the grafts is no small accomplishment when the surgeon is using an electric saw to open the chest. Al Casale is a very skilled surgeon and a regular guy. I like him.

Coumadin inhibits work on the heart because of the non-clotting effect on blood. So in accordance with standard instructions for aortic valve operations, I was instructed to take no Coumadin for the five days prior to the planned surgery. On the fourth day without Coumadin, Judy and I spent four or five hours raking leaves and carting them to the street from our large backyard. I was to enter the hospital for surgery the next morning.

After the work in the yard, I took a shower and the bed had to be made. While we were trying to get the bedclothes in place, Judy looked at me and announced that I was having a stroke.¹ My attitude was: “Who? Me?” I had no pain that I can recall but I suppose I must have been so uncoordinated that Miss Chicka gave her instant diagnosis and seemed to brook no questions or dissent. When the Rescue Squad came to the house, along with the Overlook Hospital Emergency representatives, they quickly agreed with Miss Chicka’s diagnosis. So it was off to Overlook Hospital for a more than two week period of recovery.

After about eight or nine hours in the Emergency Room, I found myself in a small ward with several other stroke victims – most of whom were much worse off than I was. The next morning, a therapist or nurse came to my bed with a little jar of pudding which she fed me. I did not know it at the time, but this was to determine whether the stroke victim could swallow or could swallow without complications. My swallowing seemed alright and I then began to petition for the right to use the bathroom. Soon that privilege was granted and then the hospital found a private room that made things somewhat easier.

This stroke seemed to do nothing in terms of damage to any of my limbs. The effects were concentrated in my brain. On many-many occasions, I have said that when a thought forms in the stroke victim’s brain, it is very difficult or impossible to make that thought come out of the mouth or to the hand so that it can be written. This is called Aphasia. The morning after the stroke occurred I could only say “Thank you” and somehow I could write my name and print “six” and “seven.” Printing those numbers was the old draftsman at work. It got better after awhile, but I was concerned that it would be necessary for me to use “Thank you” as my entire English vocabulary.

Now here is a thought if you know anyone suffering a stroke. Two or three women who were on the staff of the hospital visited me quite often in my room insisting that I agree to use their rehabilitation services. Among other things, they gave me word exercises and told me that I would have to memorize names of things and spit them out in 30 seconds or less on demand. If I could do this feat, it meant I had recovered from the stroke. One example had to do with vegetables. Another had to do with makes of automobiles. I had to think up the names of cars when I could barely call my own name, and recite a list of 20 car makes in 30 or 35 seconds. People suffering from Aphasia have a particularly difficult time recalling nouns, hence the veggies and cars.

By this time, Judy and I had already determined that these women were charlatans and that the Kessler Rehabilitation Center would have me as a patient. Even when the women were told that fact, they kept on insisting that I use their services, much to my annoyance. So if you know a stroke patient, advise them not to agree to a therapist who just happens to find his or her room at the hospital. If the patient is in the New York or Philadelphia general vicinity – GO TO KESSLER. Got that? Go to Kessler. Or alternatively, go to see Dr. Martha Taylor Sarno of the Rusk Institute located at 400 East 34th Street in New York City.

And if the patient had a stroke like mine affecting only the brain and not involving the arms and legs or other parts of the body, when you get to Kessler ask to see Shirley Morganstein, Director of Speech Therapy. Perhaps she will again prescribe essay-therapy, as in my case. Writing essays has been the absolutely most effective rehabilitative practice to come to my attention. At first, it ain’t easy. Be prepared to sit at your desk or table when in search of a word, the brain goes blank; it just goes on strike. In such a case like that look for synonyms or wait it out or go on to a different part of the essay, if that is possible.

Writing essays is not a one time complete fix. I find that without brain exercise, it tends to become flabby and slippage occurs. See my next paragraph, for example, on the ability to handle math problems. And so four and one half years after the stroke, I still try to write essays not necessarily because I love my words and prose, but rather because of the need to exercise what passes for a brain in my head. If it is not kept at work, it slips and deteriorates. But one more time, essay writing takes a lot of work. As I say, it ain’t easy, but I’m here to tell you that it is worth the effort. The alternative to this sort of work is not attractive at all.

Another effect of my stroke is its continuing effect upon my ability to handle mathematical problems. The other day at the bank, I gave the teller a $100 check to cash so that we could send $50 to a grandson for his 17th birthday. I also specified that I needed five one dollar bills in this transaction. The teller gave me the $50 bill, two $20 bills and a five and five ones. I knew that she was right because I saw her use her computer to see if the amount came to $100. But I was buffaloed. All the way to the car it seemed to me that I was missing something. I guess – guess – that the $20 dollar bills may have registered in my brain as $10 dollar bills. In the privacy of the car, I counted out the $100 that the teller had given me. But here I am four and a half years after the stroke largely unable to do small sums quickly. Think of this. In the 1960’s and 1970’s before hand held calculators were invented, I used to figure my New Jersey, New York State and New York City income taxes, all at once. Nobody said it was an easy task, but the job got done. In 2002, it would be largely impossible to handle that job. So math is a problem even figuring out my gas mileage. And when I am asked for my Social Security Number or my phone number, I sometimes go blank.

A second effect of strokes, at least in my case, has to do with the alphabet. Reading the alphabetized heading on the classified section of the phone directories is a struggle. Finding a name doesn’t come easily. When I read the stock tables, I look at where my stocks appear each day hoping that they have not moved. If, as has happened in the past, a merger occurs and the stock listing is moved, its one more struggle to figure out the alphabetical listing. I don’t own that many stocks and some of them are listing heavily to starboard – Lucent, for example. But the New York Times prints the tables so that the stocks can be found – after years of practice – in the proper places. If they were listed in some other order, it would take me a lot longer to read about stocks.

Another effect of the stroke in my case, has to do with the absolute inability to bring a name to mind. I sat here this morning unable to call the name of the Kessler Institute which I attended for rehabilitation services. Judy finally told me what it was. For several months and years, I could not recall the word “persimmon.” There are dozens of names like that as well as people and place names that may not come to mind easily. So I keep a booklet by the chair where I read that is filled with names that at one time I have forgotten. My latest entry is mysterium iniquitatis which the Pope said described the current travail of the priests and bishops in his flock. The translation is Mystery of Evil. I’m not so sure that this whole sorry mess is a mystery to anyone except to the hierarchy of the church.

On other occasions, I can recall names and conversations that took place 60 or more years ago. On the “We Have a Boy” essay, there are two routing slips posted on the letter that Ed Carr was the boy in question. Those routing slips contain about 22 names and the memo was written more than 60 years ago. I can recall every one of those men whose names appear on the routing slips but of course, I had the slips to remind me. I can recall their faces and many of their characteristics.

And then there is the problem that a sentence can be started either in speaking or in writing, without knowing how that sentence may be finished. I used to think in full paragraphs when delivering a speech or in bargaining proposals or in dealing with government bureaucrats. Now often when I start a sentence, it is a matter of considerable interest to see how the sentence is completed. Sort of a thrill a minute.

Of course, the foregoing areas of concern make the speaker or the writer a little hesitant to go forward. But at the end of the day, the ability to laugh at oneself is a saving grace. One way or another, things will work out so despair is out of the question. If that elderly gentleman on our street can jump from age 78 to 80 years of age, I would mark that off to good luck or the mystery of evil. But he exuded good cheer and it was pleasant to talk to him.

I wrote this little essay fearing that some may not want to hear of this old soldier’s troubles. That is not the point. The essay has been constructed so that a stroke sufferer or people close to her or him may have an idea of what to expect when the stroke becomes history. Immediately after the stroke, it would have been helpful to me to have an idea of what sort of problems might come into view down the road. And it would have been helpful to know that there are ways around the failure to bring to mind the name of an object. I use synonyms quite often. Sometimes a foreign thought takes a great purchase on my brain so much so that other thoughts are lost. Let’s say that “sugar” for example, gets stuck in my brain. In time “sugar” will go away. Patience is needed and I don’t have much of that virtue but as I say, with a little bit of luck and good rehabilitation work, and writing lots of essays, as well as a good sense of humor, it will all probably work out at the end of the day.

So as I told that gentleman on our street, he should stay strong. And he should not hang around out in the street. But at 79 or 82 years of age, I suppose he can do anything he wants.

April 13, 2002

Note¹: Ms. Chicka recalls that, at the writer’s insistence, we were really in the process of flipping the mattress, not simply making the bed.


The family saying is that Shepherds never suffer in silence — maybe it should be amended to include the fact that Carrs tend to soldier through. Pop coped admirably with a lot of really awful hands, late in life, and his attitude generally matched what he described above. He’d do what he needed to do to keep going as best he could. I wonder if he ever stopped considering the essays a form of exercise, or if the distinction between a hobby and exercise simply failed to be meaningful after a while.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E. E. Carr
May 22, 2000


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

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


As time sneaks up on us all, there is a question about Mr. Webster’s definition of compromise. He suggests that it is a settlement of differences by arbitration or by consent reached by mutual concessions. Now if it were all that easy, I’d say fine. Let’s raise the children in your faith of Buddhism and in exchange, I’ll ask to move the family to Oregon. That is a real quid pro quo.

But in the real world of personal health, there is no settlement by an outside arbitrator. Nor is there consent reached by mutual concession. There is no quid pro quo. As life goes on we give up – not by design – one function of the body after another.

In the final analysis, perhaps the hearing just disappears. Or the eye sight, once famed as with an eagle, takes a turn for the worse. And maybe the teeth go. Or, it may be more serious. The point is that no one voluntarily deals away his faculties; it is taken from him. This is a new element of compromise. It is something beyond Mr. Webster’s definition.

Perhaps, we might say that an individual has two arms. Somewhere, he may lose one of them, leaving him to deal with the world in a one armed fashion. In the sense we are discussing, he is left with a compromise. The compromise is that he does the best he can with what he’s got left. It is not a matter of consent reached by mutual concessions. With two eyes, the same situation applies as it does in all the other organs where there is a duplicate faculty. The owner of those organs must make do with what is left. Again it’s a matter of compromise. The owner may feel that such a compromise is about the best he may take out of the situation. It’s not a quid pro quo. It’s not something for something. On the contrary, it is something for nothing.

Ah, but holding on and making the best of what we have left is what counts. If that is a compromise, as I believe it to be, I suppose we’ll have to make the best of it, Mr. Webster to the contrary not withstanding.

The foregoing is not a melancholy assessment of life sometime after the post formative years. It is intended to be an aphorism – a concise statement of principle. No less; no more. Only an aphorism.

E. E. Carr
December 29, 1997
Essay #9 (Old Format)


The first of many more essays to come about the troubles and inconveniences of aging. Admittedly, it sounds like a drag. I wonder if he had anything particular in mind when he was writing this one. More of his age-related essays can be found here.