Archive for the May Category


This essay is being written for those who trace their birth to nearly pre-historic times.  Specifically, it is being written for those of us who have passed the age barrier of 80 so long ago that it must be viewed in the rear view mirror of our lives.  Facts are facts and no magic hoopla can destroy their existence.  We are aged but there is a certain joy that comes from our memories.

The joy of this memory traces to 1927, or 84 years ago.  On that occasion the American composer Jerome Kern wrote a stage play with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.  It was named “Showboat” but in point of fact was more of a commentary on the history of race relations in the American south rather than on the entertainment business.  There is liberal use of the “n” word in the original manuscript, fitting the speech patterns of the day.  Since that time, the “n” word has become “darkies,” eventually winding up with the term of “Afro-Americans.”

Jerome Kern’s music is elegant.  It comes to fruition near the end of the show in a solo performed by a bass singer.  That of course is “Old Man River.”  It might be observed that the song of “Old Man River” written in 1927 still brings the house down today when it is performed by a competent bass singer.  Unfortunately, solo parts for bass singers are extremely limited.  There are millions of solo parts for sopranos, and nearly as many for tenors.

Those who sing in the lower registers, such as altos and baritones, find that the music for solo parts is quite limited.  And the most limited of all are solos for those singers who have a familiarity with the low C range.

This is a great misfortune for Americans.  On the other hand, Russian composers find solo parts for their bass singers with some frequency.  Unfortunately, I do not speak Russian except for the word “da,” meaning yes, so I am at a loss to follow the music.

But in “Showboat,” Hammerstein constructed a tribute to the hopelessness of the black workers.  “Old Man River” made this hopelessness powerful.  There is one final verse that sums it all up as “Old Man River” begins to draw to a close.  Here are the phrases.

I gets weary an’ sick of tryin’…

I’m tired of livin’ but feared of dyin’,

But ol’ man river, he jes’ keeps rollin’ along.


That is the burden of this essay.  For those of us who have lived for 80 or 90 years, it is my conclusion that there are occasions when such a person says, “I am tired of living.”  Whether that person might also say, “I’m sick of trying,” might also be a bit of a stretch in my imagination.  I would not doubt that in periods of illness it would be quite possible for the aged person to say, “I am tired of living and sick of trying.”  That is entirely feasible to me.  But for the moment, I suspect that most of us would say that “I am not sick enough of living to end it all.”

There are so many things that used to come automatically which now are a trial to old timers such as myself.  Getting my stretch socks on sometimes leaves me breathless.  The fact that I can’t drive anymore makes me amenable to the idea that I can understand others who are sick of living and tired of trying.

And so this is an essay about understanding the feelings of those who are not necessarily exhilarated by the prospect of more life to live.  For the record, it should be stated that I am not necessarily tired of living or sick of trying.  On the other hand, I can understand those who are of that opinion.  But when push comes to shove, and we forget about being tired and being sick, we cannot forget American and Western European composers are publishing few songs for those who sing in the bass register.  And that is a crime.  I know that tenors always get the girl, who is usually a soprano.  But it is high time that a baritone or a bass gets in line.



May 31, 2011

Essay 556

PS:  If you want to hear the best recording of “Old Man River,” try Samuel Ramey.


Kevin’s commentary: Wow.

Singing low takes more breath, yeah? So singing like that requires a positively obnoxious lung capacity. Seriously though, wow.



As most of you know, my birth place was in a suburb of St. Louis which was seven miles west of the Mississippi River.  I am aware that from time to time, the Mississippi has overflowed its banks and has caused considerable harm to the surrounding territories.  I remember a flood in 1937 which resulted in an extension of the levee at St. Louis.

But as I dictate these lines, impending disaster looms on the banks of the Mississippi.  The problem is south of St. Louis and Memphis.  I believe a look at geography will show that the Ohio River, as well as many others, empties into the Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois.  News forecasts tell us that there has been an undue amount of rain along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.  There is also the fact of the spring thaws along the upper Mississippi have contributed to the problem.  The net result is that on towns and farms from Memphis on south to New Orleans, the Mississippi will become a roaring flood in the next few days.

A good many farmers in Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana are threatened to be wiped out in the floods that are predicted along the big river.  At heart, I am a farmer as well.  I grieve for their loss as the wall of water goes by on the Mississippi.  It is quite likely that a period of two or three years will pass before they can recover.

A typical farmer on the Mississippi Delta was interviewed by a television journalist the other day.  He was quiet and resigned as he said that his granddaddy and his daddy had farmed this rich soil for generations.  But when the Mississippi River overflows, there is nothing to stop its encroachment.

Obviously I am in a helpless position to do anything about the farmers along the banks of the Mississippi.  I grieve for them nonetheless.

As I think about the poor people, particularly the farmers, along the route of the Mississippi, a song keeps buzzing in my head called the “Beale Street Blues.”  Those of us who trace our roots to the Mississippi take comfort from blues songs.  The song that has occupied my brain for a day or so is a blues song.  It was written perhaps a hundred years ago by W.C. Handy, the legendary composer of blues music.  For reasons unknown to me, the lines that are sticking in my head come from the “Beale Street Blues.”

Those of you who are acquainted with blues music will remember that Beale Street, a main thoroughfare in Memphis, was the main source of entertainment in that city.  It offered a free-wheeling style of living.   Again I say that I do not know why this song came to me at this time when there is impending doom in the lower Mississippi River basin.  But the lines are as follows:

If Beale Street could talk,

If Beale Street could talk,

Married men would have to take up their beds and walk

Except for the few who never drink booze

And the blind man on the corner singing the Beale Street blues.


Don’t ask a poor old broken-down essay writer about why these lines occur to him at this particular time of impending doom.  But now that these lines have been dictated, I tend to feel better and I like that line about married men having to take their beds and walk.  I suspect that if one searched far enough, those lines may have come from the Bible.  I will not worry about the Biblical connections.  I will simply enjoy the song about “If Beale Street could talk” and I like the line about “Except for the few who never drink booze, And the blind man on the corner singing the Beale Street blues.”

Now that I feel a bit better, I will watch the weather reports for life on the Mississippi.  We hope that it returns to normal before much more time passes.



May 13, 2011

Essay 550


Kevin’s commentary: You can check out the wikipedia entry on the floods here. They were indeed terrible.  I wish I could have read this essay closer to its real publication date, as I don’t remember this happening at all. I suspect that this sentiment will be a familiar one as I work back in time across Ezra’s Essays.

On a cheerier note, it’s 2013! Hope everyone had an excellent first day of the New Year.



I have no trouble with neologisms, clever sayings that make their way into the Anglo-Saxon language.  But I do have trouble with an affectation which is widely spread among all age groups who speak the American version of the English language.  The most recent such word is “awesome.”

I have always thought that our exploration of the moon’s surface was indeed awesome.  There are things on this earth that are also awesome.   The Grand Canyon comes to mind.  There are craters a mile deep and several miles wide.  That is awesome to me.  But that word has found its way into the Anglo-Saxon language that we speak and I find it being misapplied and misused.

For example, a few years back I was impressed by the manager of our local bank and I wrote a letter to the head man of J.P. Morgan Chase.  Interestingly, he and his assistant both replied to my letter of commendation.  Later when I had occasion to visit the bank, the manager told me that my letter was “awesome.”  If he had told me that it was very pleasant to receive recognition for the service that he had provided or that he was happy to advance services adequate for my use, I would have been greatly pleased.  The bank manager, who I think is a bit of a treasure, used the word “awesome.”  He was a man in his early thirties and I think that by this time should have known and used a more appropriate term.  I was happy to receive the compliment but I thought that the use of the term “awesome” was a bit much.

At the end of May, I made a small presentation to a fourth grade class,  at the conclusion of which I had the teacher ask if each child would come forward and shake my hand and tell me his or her name.  It was a gorgeous time for all, and when the hand shaking was completed, a youngster, perhaps ten years old, remarked that shaking my hand was “awesome.”  I am delighted that this youngster was impressed but I try not to let it go to my head.  I simply say that this youngster was ten years old and that shaking the hand of an old-timer like myself is not really awesome.  If the youngster concluded that shaking my hand was an awesome fact of life, I will accept it.

I had always reserved “awesome” for things such as the Himalayan Mountains or Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  But it appears that the word “awesome” might have a longer life span than I had anticipated.  I will not use that word myself and I will cringe a bit when it is used by others, even a ten-year-old boy.  If they want to call my handshake and my letter “awesome,” I will gracefully accept their opinion.

It could well be that my dislike of “awesome” is a matter of prejudice.  If that is the case, I freely admit it.  But I would also point out that a fellow of advanced years such as myself is entitled to prejudicial conduct from time to time.



May 31, 2011

Essay 555


Kevin’s commentary: I will happily file this one away under “objections to modernity” which is probably the most awesome category ever.

I feel like words to describe progressive levels of goodness should be excused from the more rigid conventions of language in that they vary deeply based on fads, maybe moreso than any other grouping of words, and certainly more than any other grouping of words that comes to me at time of writing this.

All I can tell Pop is that perhaps “awesome” will fall out of fashion soon.


All things considered, I was born in the year of 1922.  I had nothing to do with the date that I was born.  Those questions were settled by my parents.  As it turns out, I was born the seventh child to a family who tended to the fortunes of the Lilac Roost Farm.  It was a dairy farm so from the beginning I knew all about cows.

I did not mean to tell you about my birth.  As it so happens to a person born in 1922, he will arrive at the age of six in the year of 1928.  So my first proposition to the members of Mrs. Briber’s class would have to do with arithmetic.  I suppose that arithmetic or some variation is still being taught in the schools of our town.  Now take the current year of 2011, which should be written down as the top number, and underneath that with a minus sign should be written 1928.  And then there should be a line drawn under those two numbers.  If my memory is correct, if we subtract 1928 from 2011, the answer is 83 years.  This is not to tell you how old I am.  It is to tell you about Miss Brantley, my first-grade teacher who was the moving force behind this presentation.

The Clayton public school system was located in a suburban territory located right next to St. Louis.  At that time, St. Louis was the eighth largest city in the United States.  Also, at that time, there was no such thing as kindergarten and pre-K was simply out of the question.  And so it was I enjoyed my childhood, often helping my brothers and my father milk some cows.  When September came in 1928, I was enrolled in the first grade class presided over by Miss Brantley.

She was a kindly woman, as I recall it, with gray hair and a lovely demeanor.  On my first day in school, I felt the need to go to the bathroom.  Remember now that I could not read or write.  So I wandered down the hall until I came to a large opening and went in to see what bathroom facilities might exist.  In an instant, Miss Brantley had gathered me in her arms and led me out of the bathroom.  She explained that this was the girls’ bathroom and not the boys’ bathroom.  She took me next door and showed me that the boys’ bathroom had block letters pasted on the outside.  She had me trace the “B” in boys so I would know where I should go to the bathroom.  So now I know how the boys’ bathroom is spelled but I always check to this day to see whether I’ve got the right bathroom.

There is one other story about Miss Brantley.  Every morning we were happy to sing her a song.  The song was:

Good morning to you,
Good morning to you.
We’re all in our places
With sunshiny faces.
Good morning, Miss Brantley,
Good morning to you.

That is a lovely song that I have remembered all of these years.

It was Miss Brantley who taught me that when I had the answer to a question, I should raise my hand and then she might call on me.  This is a civilized way of doing things without kids shouting at the teacher that they have the answer.  But now an adjustment has to be made because I am blind.  That is why I wear these sunglasses and why I carry a white cane to let people know that I am blind.

Blindness is not catching.  In my case, it is a hereditary trait in my family.  My father was blind and I suspect that his father was also blind.  My older brothers were blind, and now for the past six years blindness has come to me.  Of course I am unhappy that blindness now has come to me but like all other blind people, I have to play the hand that I have been dealt.  Blindness does not detract from my friendships or from enjoying a good meal.  Simply put, it is a hereditary disease called glaucoma.  Now that you know about why I will not call on you if you raise your hand in response to a question I should ask, I will now tell you about how it is done in the American army.

Every morning in the army they would call the roll – they would say, “Joe Smith” or “John Jones.”  Now instead of answering by saying “Here,” the fellows I was with in the American army would say in a loud voice, “Ho!”    So today if you have any questions that you want to call my attention to, you should not raise your hands but you should say, “Ho!”  And I expect you to deliver the hos with a lot of enthusiasm and exuberance.

Well, so much for the preliminaries about what I wanted to say to you today.  Somewhere around the year 2000, it became obvious that men who fought in World War II were dying with great frequency.  There were some occasions when the death toll would be fourteen hundred every month.  So the Library of Congress asked some veterans including me to record our thoughts before it was too late.  So what I would like to read to you today are the thoughts that I recorded in the year 2000.  Rather than to tell the Library of Congress what I did during the war, I elected to tell them about four other soldiers who were known to me with whom I had a great friendship.  In order, they are Ashby Vaughan, Bernie Wheeler, Dave Weiss, and Don Meier.  All of those men were killed in action during the war.  I thought that rather than telling the Library of Congress what I did, the memory of these four guys should take priority over what I did in my army service.


Here is the story about the four men who were my friends and were killed in the war.

*PLAY VIDEO.* [Editor’s note — Judy, could I get a copy of this somehow? Do you still have it? The YouSendIt file service may be of help.]

Next Monday I believe that there will be no school.  There will be a holiday called “Memorial Day” on which we celebrate the contribution of men who died in service.  On Monday and for all the days thereafter, I hope that you will keep in mind the sacrifices made by Ashby Vaughan, Bernie Wheeler, Dave Weiss, and Don Meier.  I believe that truly we are all standing on the shoulders of those who were killed in fighting our wars.  When Monday comes, I hope that you will give some thought to the fellows that I have mentioned today.  They were brave men and, as I have said, they were good men.

As you can see, I remember the name of my first grade teacher.  I remember Miss Brantley, my first grade teacher, after all of these years.  I also remember Miss Jones, Miss Williams and her sister named Miss Williams, Miss Dawes, and others who taught me so many years ago.  I expect that over the years all of you will remember the names of your teachers here at Glenwood School.

Now before I go, I wish to call attention to the fact that there are some actions on the part of the Brownies at this school who honored me.  I think it was three years ago that my wife answered the door to find a youngster asking if a veteran lived in this house.  She told her that that was the case, at which the student from Glenwood School handed my wife a present.  This happened on two subsequent occasions.

I was absent for three years or more during my service with the American army.  I never expected to be thanked for that service.  Even my own family never thanked me, nor did I expect them to thank me.  Simply put, it was my duty to serve in the American army.  If I had failed to do that duty, my parents would be disgraced.  So I served my term of more than three years in the American army and thought not much about it.  But on those three occasions when the Brownies of this school called on me with presents that marked my service, I wish to tell you that I was humbled that the Brownies from this school had taken the occasion to thank me for that service which occurred about 60 or 70 years ago.

So we wind up where we started, with an arithmetic problem.  My service took place starting in 1942, and if you subtract that from 2011, it is about 69 years ago.  My wife did the arithmetic for this question, so I have no responsibility for its accuracy.

Again, I thank you for the invitation to speak to you as Memorial Day approaches.  And if you remember Ashby Vaughan, Bernie Wheeler, Dave Weiss, and Don Meier, I will be happy that you have done so.


May 27, 2011

Essay 552


Kevin’s commentary: The mental image of a bunch of little kids yelling “Ho!” at Pop to ask him questions is adorable, and I won’t hear anything to the contrary. The idea that Pop sang them a good morning song is a close second.

I hope to have a way to publish the video in question soon. I’ll put up a post to update readers on this occurrence, should this happen.


Three non-breaking news items have occurred in recent weeks and they constitute the essence of this essay.  In the past few weeks we have been met by an invasion of breaking news from Washington as well as from itinerant politicians.  All things considered, the breaking news has had its share of attention.  The burden of this essay is to prove that non-breaking news has its value as well.

This is a three-part essay.  The first two parts will deal with subjects which were raised in previous essays.  The third part will have to do with an undertaker whose desires to put my corpse away have yet been unmet.


Let us start at the beginning of the three subjects at hand.  You may recall that last year I wrote an essay having to do with the sale of the house next door.  You may also recall that attached to the “for sale” sign was an addendum that said, “I’m gorgeous inside.”  Now you will also recall that in my background I have had a period of bargaining with labor unions.  Immediately the sign on the addendum brings the thought that, “Yes, you may be gorgeous inside, but what about the outside?”  I suspect that the owner of the house for sale wanted to call attention to the beauty of the inside of the house as distinguished from the outside.  At the same time, the owner of the house had gone to great lengths to remodel the house, which resulted in what my sons-in-law have suggested was an abortion of the architecture.  But at any rate the house was offered for sale for a figure of close to two million dollars and placed on the market last year in mid-April.

Spring came and went, followed by summer coming into view, followed by fall.  The spring, summer, and fall were natural events and were not associated with the house next door.  These are natural events that occur almost every year, winter being followed by spring, being followed by summer, being followed by fall and winter again.

The fact is that the house with the gorgeous inside apparently did not move buyers.  In point of fact, there was one open house and then the house lingered on the market until nearly Christmas time, at which time it was withdrawn from the offering for sale.  This spring, on April 1st, the house was put back on the market.  After one month, there has been an open house and the house has not been sold.  And so, for better or worse, the house with the little less than a two million dollar price tag has not moved.  Apparently the owner thought he might have better results on the second time around.

But the first part of this three-part essay is to inform my readers that, after a year and a half, the house remains unsold and that it is the first piece of non-breaking news that I have to offer.  So if one of my readers happens to have approximately two million dollars to buy this house, he will have the exquisite pleasure of living next door to me.  When the house finally moves on the market, that would constitute breaking news.  But at the moment, the house is in its second season for sale and nothing has happened sale-wise.  Accordingly that is the first piece of non-breaking news that I have to offer in this essay.


The second non-breaking news has to do with the outdoor toilet on the front lawn of the corner house directly across from our place.  You may recall that in a previous essay written last summer, I reviewed some of the sample offerings from outdoor toilet rentals.  There was one company that marketed its products under the heading of “Pointers and Setters” and another which was “Johnny on the Spot.”  From what we are able to determine, the outdoor toilet across the street on the front lawn is owned by the “Johnny on the Spot” providers.

The house on the corner with the outdoor privy on the front lawn was sold to the current owners for a price of two million dollars about five years ago.  It was advertised as the home “with five bathrooms.”  It was bought by a couple from Summit, New Jersey who had only one child.  The wife and the child would have a plethora of bathrooms to choose from.  The point I am making here is that this lovely residence has five bathrooms which would seem to be more than enough to satisfy this family and their guests.  But then last summer in July or August, the family must have decided that they needed radiant heating in the household.  The radiant heaters showed up with a crew of four or five men and brought the outside privy with them.  The outside privy or the “Johnny on the Spot” to be more specific, has remained ever since.  In spite of the fact that the house has five internal bathrooms, it now has a sixth bathroom or privy on its exterior.

The radiant heating installers have come and left.  Apparently the owner has decided that she needs a lot of other work to be done on this lovely residence and the outdoor bathroom remains.  Now bear in mind this neighborhood with houses ranging from the two million mark upwards reflects a degree of elegance.  Our house is older and does not reflect the degree of elegance of having bathrooms plus one outside bathroom to announce to the world.  But the non-breaking news is that after nine months the outdoor privy remains across the street on the front lawn.  The fact is that it gets plenty of use.  Every postman in the neighborhood stops by to use it.  All of the delivery guys make it a point to come by Long Hill Drive to relieve themselves.  There are not many hitchhikers in this territory but I suppose that if there were hitchhikers, they would use the bathroom as well.

The outhouse does not lack for maintenance features.  The owner of the outhouse comes by periodically to flush out the commodes.  As you can tell, cleanliness is a highly desirable feature here in the town of Short Hills.  But the point I am making is that this two million dollar house with radiant heating has five bathrooms and one outdoor privy.  If the indoor bathrooms are maintained as well as the outdoor bathroom, this house would qualify for a superior rating.

Now nine months or thereabouts have gone by since the radiant heating guys showed up last summer.  There is no indication that the outhouse will be removed soon.   Quite to the contrary, the indications are that the outhouse may become a permanent fixture on the front lawn of the corner house across the street.  The fact that the outhouse remains constitutes the second part of the non-breaking news from Long Hill Drive.


The third part of our non-breaking news has to do with an undertaker.  In 1994 Miss Chicka, my wife, and I visited a funeral parlor to attend the viewing of a colleague that we had worked with for several years.  Miss Chicka and I agreed, leaving the funeral parlor, that the viewing of a dead corpse is an uninviting custom.  So we set out to do something about it.  That afternoon on the way home we stopped to see Paul Ippolito who runs a funeral establishment in Summit, New Jersey, the next town over.  Ippolito quoted a price for removing our dead bodies when death overtakes us and transporting them to the cremation facility.  If my memory is correct, Ippolito quoted us a price of $1300 each.  Ippolito also specified that the money would be invested and that he hoped that the interest would be added to the account so that at the time of our demise there would be plenty of money to cover the retrieval of our remains and get us cremated.

Remember that that was in 1994 and this year we paid our taxes for 2011.  Apparently the money is going swimmingly and there will be enough for Paul Ippolito to remove the bodies and take them to the crematorium.  Each year, the people administering the burial fund advise us of how much we owe in taxes because of the interest that has been paid.  Whether or not this is a good deal remains to be seen but I have no inclination to try to figure that out.


The third piece of the non-breaking news is that Paul Ippolito has not been around to collect one or both bodies.  Ippolito seems to be a decent fellow and he has told us that he is a patient man.  Consequently the third piece of non-breaking news is that we are still here and Ippolito has not sprung into action to get both of us cremated.


So the fact of the matter is that there are three non-breaking news stories that exist here on Long Hill Drive.  There is the fact that the house which is so gorgeous has not been sold.  Secondly, the house across the street is now nearing its second year with the outdoor privy on its front lawn.  And thirdly, there is the un-breaking news that Paul Ippolito, the friendly undertaker, has nothing to do but to wait for us.


As I said at the beginning, it seems to me that along with the breaking news such as Osama being shot, we ought to have a category of the news which is non-breaking.  And so I have offered this three-part essay to demonstrate what a non-breaking news story would constitute.  All things considered, it strikes me that non-breaking news has many virtues and I would urge you to consider those virtues as you tend to the news of the day.



May 9, 2011

Essay 564


Kevin’s commentary:

I should very much like updates from Pop on these two bits of non-breaking news, now that more than a year has passed.

For my own part, my non-breaking news is that the heat in the home which I inhabit remains off, for mysterious reasons. Perhaps my landlord believes that a forty-degree home builds character. Thank god for space heaters.



As we march through life, there are thousands of decisions that must be made.  A high proportion of them are made by ourselves.  At the same time, outside forces make many of the decisions for us.  All things considered, I would like to have the decision-making made by myself but I know that is an impossible dream.

Now in the decision-making business, I will at this point introduce you to Alfred R. Goebel, a resident of Darien, Connecticut, who was the most pompous S.O.B. it has been my misfortune to know.  Al Goebel was a bright man but as life progressed, he became more pompous every passing week.  You may recall that some years ago I wrote an essay about Al Goebel and his pompousness.  Now I am back with a second helping of pomposity.  The dictionary definition of pomposity reads like this: “having or exhibiting self-importance, arrogant.”  Al Goebel was the epitome of self-importance in that from time to time, he was also arrogant as well.  But in spite of the fact that Goebel possessed pomposity, I enjoyed talking to him.

I first came to know Goebel somewhere in the 1950s.  Both of us were AT&T employees working in Chicago.  As time went on, Goebel found a job in the Overseas Department of AT&T, and somewhere in the 1970s I also took a position in that same department.  Our paths did not cross often because I avoided Goebel because of the pomposity strain in his nature.  From time to time, we talked.  Now remember that Al Goebel, for all his pomposity, was also an intelligent man.

During the Second World War, Al Goebel was a pilot flying B-29s.  The B-29 was the bomber that flew over Hiroshima and nearly destroyed that town.  I knew something about flying and aerial combat, so we had a starting point for our conversations.  It was Goebel who reminded me that in a bombing capacity, it was always better to turn to the left.  Turning to the right was more difficult because of having to see over the wing.  Turning to the left and dropping a wing was easily done.

Early in our discussions Al Goebel and I agreed about the two most important events or decisions in our lives, his and mine.  They were the Depression of 1929 and the war that followed the Depression called the Second World War.  Those were the most significant influences on Al’s life and mine as well.

It must be noted here that I had nothing to do with the Depression presided over by Herbert Hoover, nor did I have a voice in starting the Second World War.  Those two catastrophic decisions were made not by me but by someone else.

Here is another more or less catastrophic decision that was made by someone else.  When I entered high school in January of 1936, it was clear that I was not going to college.  This had much to do with my economic situation.  So the high school counselor put me in the non-academic category and among other things, my courses included shop and drafting.  I had no control over this decision that was made in my behalf.  As a result, my high school years were largely misspent and it suddenly dawned on me that I had to educate myself.  This is a long process and I am not done educating myself at this late date in my life.

Working for AT&T in a drafting job prior to the war, and returning to AT&T in the post war years were decisions that I made. For example, I had an AT&T job that didn’t amount to much in St. Louis.  In 1951 there was a national bargaining session that took place in New York City.  I was one of the five representatives of the union which bargained with management.  At the conclusion of the bargaining sessions, which lasted about six weeks, a prominent gentlemen on the company side told me that there would be a management job offered to me shortly.  And so it was that during one of the periodic floods of the Missouri River, I was invited to an interview with Vernon Bagnell, the Western Area General Manager in Kansas City.  Bagnell was opening a new area for AT&T and he offered me a job.

I had no strings on me except for my marriage and I immediately accepted the job.  Turning the job down would have meant the end of my career.  So now I was bound for Kansas City.

After a while, my old friend Harry Livermore asked me to work for him in Kansas City.  That was an easy decision to make.  Then Harry was transferred to Chicago to a more important job.  One Sunday morning the doorbell rang in my residence in Prairie Village, Kansas.  I opened it to find Harry on the doorstep.  He told me that he was moving to a new job in Chicago and he asked me to go with him.  So another decision point came and I accepted the job in Chicago.

After two years in Chicago, there was a dinner one night at which Dick Dugan, the company Labor Relations Manager from New York, was a guest.  He was really there to look me over.  After a time, Dick offered me the opportunity to come to work for him in New York City.  So that was another decision that had to be made, and I am glad to say that I accepted Dugan’s proposition.

You see, the way AT&T worked was to offer a job and while the decision theoretically was always up to me, the fact of the matter is that if I declined the invitation to a new job, it would be a career-ending decision.  So I pretended to go along with the charade.

Before life was done, I accepted some more decisions on the job level, including one to go to Washington, DC.  That of course was followed by a decision to return to New York at the conclusion of the tour in Washington.  So the point is that I have had a number of opportunities to make a decision about how my professional life would take place.

AT&T was a benevolent employer, according to the aura that the company extended.  But I am here to tell you that if an offer was turned down, the decision would be catastrophic in terms of any career.  So I worked for AT&T for 43 years and on the whole I enjoyed that experience, even though I did not have control over my fate or where I would work.

Now in 1953 came another decision that was life-altering.  In December of that year, the Carr family adopted a child in Chicago.  That was  doubly life-altering.  It changed our lives and it changed the life of the kid that I came to call Blondie.  When that decision was made to adopt Blondie, Harry Livermore, my long-time friend, told me that it was the best decision I ever made.  Blondie is now more than 50 years of age and I must say that Harry Livermore was right.

The decision to retire was not as monumental as one might think.  I had come to work for a boss for whom I had no respect and when my time limit was up on my age, I said, “Let’s go.”  Three or four years later, of course, was the decision to marry Miss Chicka.  That was an altering decision and it ranks right up there at the top.

So you see, there are decisions in life that we can control and a good many of them we can’t control.  I suspect that many of them were life-altering decisions, but in my case a good many of those decisions were made with the help of AT&T.

As Al Goebel and I discussed, none had the impact of the Depression of 1929 and the coming of World War II.  Those were life-altering decisions and I am still cognizant of the lessons taught me.  Sometimes the decisions we make are beneficial and sometimes the decisions that are made for us over which we have no control, are equally significant and beneficial.  Sometimes they are not.

I got into this discussion of decisions as the result of my acquaintance with Al Goebel.  As time progressed, AT&T moved its offices from New York City to Bedminister, New Jersey.  Al declined to move his residence to New Jersey and as a result, he and a companion named Fred Voege drove from Darien, Connecticut down to Bedminister, New Jersey, a distance of about 70 miles.  That is doing things the hard way.

Al had bought a Mercedes diesel engine car which he had pronounced the greatest car in the world.  It would come as a great shock to me and to everyone else to hear Al Goebel say that his car was less than the greatest.  Whatever Al had, it had to be the top of the line.

Unfortunately, not long after the Bedminister facility was opened, Al elected to retire.  Shortly after his retirement, he died.  Only one person from the colleagues he had at AT&T attended the funeral.  It would have been a shock to Goebel if he arose from the coffin and wondered where his colleagues were.  No matter how you cut it, pomposity and all, I was able to enjoy Al Goebel, even though he never offered me a ride in his Mercedes diesel-driven car.

But in the final analysis, some of the decisions in our lives are made by ourselves.  Others are made for us.  We have to live with them.  On the decision-making front I suppose it would be hard to beat the advice of my mother.  Her motto was, “We should all do the best we can.”  At this late date in my life, I cannot improve upon that maxim.


May 8, 2011

Essay 564


Kevin’s commentary: if adopting my aunt was the best decision that Pop ever made, I suppose this means that my mother was the least-favorite Carr child. This seems reasonable.

Also I’d like to stop for a second to call attention to the line that mentions how he had no strings on him except for the marriage, which I imagine would have represented a pretty major string.  I am quite curious how Mimi felt about Kansas City. I’ve never been there myself but it seems like it would be a place with not a particularly large amount of things going on.

For my part, I’ve been making plenty of huge decisions recently in terms of where to live and work and all that. It’s been a pretty turbulent few months but I suppose that I’ve been attempting to do the best I can, so now all that’s left is to hope that these turn out well.


A week or so ago, Barack Obama, the President of the United States, made a speech in El Paso, Texas on immigration reform. As soon as he could do so, the President got out of El Paso and headed for Austin, the state capitol of Texas. He planned to attend a fund raiser in that city. As you know, a lot are Texans are well-heeled. Judy and I made one trip to El Paso and pronounced that one trip was enough. In fact, one trip was more than enough.

For reasons that we will not go into here, the fact is that my daughter and her husband and children reside in Austin, the Lone Star capitol.

Originally it was contemplated that my daughter Suzanne and her husband, Carl Sheppard, would attend the fund raiser for Mr. Obama. As the time drew close to the date of the fund raiser, it was necessary for my son-in-law to make a trip to China. And so it was determined that my daughter would be escorted by her son, named John Eammon, to the fund raiser.

There is very little use in my attempting to describe the subsequent activities because an email exists which details the events in full. Here is the email from Suzanne, my daughter:

Well we don’t have the pictures yet but Jack got to meet Obama!

They had people moving lickety split thru the line – Obama standing in front of a big flag in a small room, bright lights, shake hands, pose and smile, and move along.

When it was our turn I pushed Jack in front of me to go forward by himself. Obama said, “Well hello young man. What’s your name?”
“Jack, sir.”
“Well, Jack, how old are you?”
“Thirteen, sir.”
“Thirteen, that’s how old my daughter Malia is! And is this your mom, Jack? How about we get a picture of just you and me first, ok?”

Picture of Jack and Obama

“Ok, now let’s get one with your mom. Alright, good to meet you.”
[I prompt Jack to give his message.]
And Jack looks right at Obama and says clearly,
“Thank you for being our President.”
Obama smiles and says, “Well you’re welcome.”

Obama’s speech after the photos was well delivered, he was relaxed and funny, talked about not sacrificing the country’s future to cut the deficit and the need to end the tax cuts.
We had a good time.

As you can see, my grandson Jack had a conversation with the President of the United States. I have not had a full report on Jack’s reaction to this encounter with Barack Obama but I assume that it was positive. In the future when I call to speak with Mr. John Eamonn Sheppard I will know that I am speaking to a big shot.

Jack is very democratic about his contacts with Obama and I am sure that he will speak to me in his usual fashion.

John Eamonn, alias Jack, is a special child and we hope to include the photograph of Jack talking to the President (if we receive it in time). If in the future I am ever able to attain a grand office such as President, I will see to it that I have my picture taken with Jack Sheppard.

Judy and I are very pleased that Barack Obama conversed with our grandson. Obama is a decent man and I hope that as Jack grows older, he will use Obama as a role model.

May 14. 2011
Essay 567(?)


Kevin’s commentary: The person who takes Pop’s dictations misspelled my last name. I feel that said misspelling is highly unfortunate but I will leave it as-is because I am just that committed to publishing Ezra’s Essays as they are. Even when they butcher a perfectly good last name that can be looked up in the dictionary, or the Bible even. Ugh.

Jack’s real name was also misspelled but that’s okay too. Proper nouns are difficult.

Finally, here’s the picture with mom too, just for fun:

family with obama