Archive for the 2013 Category


Editor’s note: This is a response (written 12/17) to my commentary on this essay. This was the commentary —

A moving piece, to be sure. I wonder though — the toilet might have been the last thing Pop saw, but I wonder about some of the other absolutes. What’s the prettiest thing that he remembers seeing? The ugliest? Has the memory of how any objects look faded away? Is there anything in particular that he has no idea what it looks like, or anything that he couldn’t possibly forget even if he wanted to? Hopefully he’ll see this and answer a question or two.

Read more of Pop’s thoughts re: toilets (because why wouldn’t you want to do that?) here.


Hey Kevin –

I saw the questions after the Ode to a Commode and this is my answer.

I hope you will excuse the thoroughly disjointed response that I am about to make.  Early in life I realized that glaucoma runs in the Carr family.  And I knew that if I lived long enough, it would blind me.  The fact of the matter is that I did live long enough to be blinded by glaucoma.  My elder brother Charles Halley, died earlier in his sixtieth year so he was no one to judge when I would become blind.

On the other hand, the third brother in line was Earl and he became blind somewhere in his seventh year.  I lost one of my eyes to a trabeculectomy in 1994.  I believe it was the left eye.  My right eye held out and gave me sight until 2005, which would have been my 83rd year of life.

However, in that year, the lights went out.  I had plenty of warning that this would happen so I was not unduly surprised.  In the beginning I regarded the loss of sight as a challenge.  But as time went on, the loss of sight has turned out to be a large pain in the ass.

I do not recall many of the procedures that took place prior to my loss of sight.  Perhaps this is a mechanism that prevents unpleasant subjects from coming up.  In any case, the loss of sight has turned out to be a monumental problem and becomes more so each passing day.

For example, one of the problems has to do with balance.  I am unable to see shifts in the road which would cause me to lose balance.  If you want to experience this, you can close your eyes tightly and try walking across the room.  The other issue is concentration.  If I am walking from my chair in the living room to my chair at the kitchen table, I cannot daydream or lose any concentration.  My mind must be on the subject of balance and direction from point A to point B.  there are landmarks along the way such as a familiar object that will remind me that I am on the right or wrong path.

One thought as we go forward is that it does not matter how many times I get from point A to point B, the challenge still exists every time I stand on my feet.  I fear for the day when I am no longer able to stand.

Now to get to your questions.  What I am about to answer will be a disappointment because I do not recall what was the prettiest thing I ever saw.  Time has eroded that memory.  Things that go through my mind are the first appearances of my daughters, old Blondie and Spooky Suze.

I have seen a lot of things in my travels throughout the world but none of them are overwhelming memories at this time.  They simply exist and I can do nothing about them.

Now as for the ugliest thing I ever saw, I simply do not remember, and that is a good thing.

Things I have forgotten:  I have forgotten the local roadways and towns.  If Judy mentions a specific house that is being torn down or remodeled, I cannot picture it.  She might start by saying, “Do you remember that old cemetery on Springfield Avenue in New Providence?”  The answer is that, mostly, I do not.  For example, I have forgotten what downtown Millburn and downtown Summit look like.

Things I have no idea what they look like:  our Honda Accord.

Things I could not forget even if I wanted to (which I don’t)…Shannon, our beloved cat.

As for the issue of blindness, it is not a matter of the world going dark so much as it is a matter of looking and seeing absolutely nothing.  Tonight I went to the front door not to look out, but to feel the rush of fresh cold air on my face.

During the Second World War, we were opposed by Adolph Hitler.  I would not wish blindness to befall Mr. Hitler who has gone to the ages.  But the fact of the matter is that as much as I disliked Adolph Hitler, I would never want blindness to come to him.  I believe that sentiment describes my feeling about blindness.

I realize that this is a disjointed response.  But I also believe my remarks on Adolph Hitler sums up my feelings about blindness.  It started off as a challenge but it ended long ago with my thoughts that it is now endurance.

I realize this is disjointed response to your question Kevin, but it is the best I can do for now.   As you can tell, Judy has helped me with this exercise and I would suggest that as things go forward, she is your best resource as to how I am doing.

There are several hundred other thoughts about the drawbacks of blindness which I do not wish to recall at this time because they are depressing.  Those are all good questions, Kevin, and they are worth thinking about.



Kevin’s commentary on the commentary:  I wasn’t disappointed in this whatsoever. The only shame is that Pop doesn’t know the beauty of his Bump Enhancer. For our readers who are interested in Shannon, this is the only picture of her that I have access to at this time.  I feel like Pop probably had a lot in common with that cat. Quiet and attentive.

This isn’t an official essay but it’s still a favorite. I’ll have to ask  more questions in the future!


As I am dictating this essay, it is approaching the end of October.  When I worked in the filling station business, the people who owned the filling stations ordinarily would set out to buy antifreeze at this time of year. 

As everyone will recall, the radiators on automobiles are almost always located near the front of the automobile.  This means that they enjoy the use of the fresh air before it is circulated to the rest of the car.  Looking back perhaps 80 years or so, I can recall that at this time of year that there were always radiators that did not have antifreeze in them.  It was a certain bet that on cold winter nights that if the car had been parked outside, the radiator would freeze.  It has been a long time but I can recall seeing automobiles approaching with great plumes of smoke coming from under the hood.  My memory tells me that when an automobile did not have antifreeze in it, the water in it froze.  It was generally a freeze that caused the smoke because the radiator did not have enough fluid to cool itself.

There were two kinds of antifreeze in the late 1930s.  The cheaper one had to be checked regularly to see that it had retained its efficacy.  At that time, a new product appeared on the market which advertised itself as permanent antifreeze.  The permanent antifreeze was expensive, so it was avoided by car owners.

It was a common sight to go into a filling station and to see hydrometers being used as a means of testing the antifreeze.




When a car that had a frozen radiator due to the lack of antifreeze was brought in to a filling station, we would ask the driver to spend a few minutes with us because we had to first drain and de-ice the radiator.  Now if it was completely frozen, there were great consequences.  But that did not happen often.  Once the commotion under the hood had been contained, we would inspect the radiator to see any signs of leakage.  At that point we knew that the owner of the car was a candidate for either the one-time antifreeze solution or the permanent antifreeze.

It looks as though I have entered a period of nostalgia with my dictating a story about my mother’s expression of “Well, well, I declare” and a second essay about frozen radiators.  If that is the case, I will not deny it.

These days, automobiles come with permanent antifreeze in them and there is no need to use a hydrometer to test them.  That has not always been the case.  So this essay is a tribute to those days prior to 1946 when putting antifreeze in your car radiator was a necessary and vital function.  With that thought, I will now salute the manufacturers of radiators that do not require constant surveillance even in colder weather which we are now experiencing.



October 23, 2013

Essay 773


Kevin’s commentary: I like the nostalgia essays, though the mechanical / filling station ones always make me feel a little bit ignorant. For instance, I know how antifreeze works from a chemical perspective but I don’t think I’ve ever bought any or put any into my vehicle, whose name is Larry.  I suppose he has the permanent kind but I have to wonder what kind of antifreeze manufacturer decided that that kind would be a good move. I guess you have to have to price it high enough to compensate for a lifetime of selling the cheap stuff yearly?


If my mother had lived, she would now be 131 years old.  But of course she didn’t live.  Curiously as I grow older I am given to thoughts about my mother.  I suppose we enjoyed a normal relationship as much as could be expected under the circumstances.  My mother came from Golconda in Pope County, Illinois.  She retained her rural ways until her death at nearly age 80.

There was one expression that she used fairly often.  When someone would tell my mother about an event she would often respond by saying, “Well, well, I declare.”  I have not the foggiest idea what her declarations might have been.  But in any event, it was an expression of wonderment.  Perhaps the conversationalist with my mother would tell her about a man who was, let us say, seven feet tall.  Lillie Carr would often declare, “Well, well, I declare.”  I am not certain what her declaration would be.  It was her expression of wonderment.

There was a woman of about her age named Mrs. McGivern who would come over to our house where she could enjoy a cigarette while my mother chewed snuff.  The contention was that the tobacco in cigarettes and snuff would not have been permitted to grow had it been contrary to God’s wishes.  As they sat chatting on our front porch, I often heard Mrs. McGivern and my mother get into a conversation.  When Mrs. McGivern for example would tell her about something that caused some wonderment, my mother would declare, “Well, well, I declare.”

My mother died in 1961, so she has been gone a long time.  But occasionally I think about the expressions that she used.  It does not follow that “Well, well, I declare” was a monumental feat of linguist skill.  It was simply no more than a throw-away line during which my mother would continue her conversation with the likes of Mrs. McGivern.

That is perhaps not a monumental effort but I thought that from my standpoint I would like the phrase “Well, well, I declare” memorialized.  Why I think that it needs memorialization is beyond the point.  It simply is an expression used by my mother to express astonishment.  So with that, I leave you to your own devices.  For my part, I will stay with an exercise in nostalgia.  And my guess is that before long Tom Scandlyn or Howard Davis will read this essay and they will say that their mothers used something of the same sort to express astonishment.  So I leave you with my thoughts about Lillie Carr and her expression of “Well, well, I declare.”



October 23, 2013

Essay 772


Kevin’s commentary: That is a phrase that I have never heard in real life. My only exposure to it comes from old-timey cartoons where it is invariably spoken by a proper southern lady. My little brother uses “oh wow” as his default vocalization to express the same. I like to think that this represents generational improvements in word economy.


As I have told you on several occasions, my friend Sven Lernevall, a resident of Stockholm, often told me that “English is a rich language.”  Listening to the President of the United States who speaks extemporaneously, he frequently resorts to the words, “you know.”  The fact of the matter is that I don’t know.  If I knew, there would be no point in telling me what I already know.

This is simply a time killer while the speaker thinks about a new thought.  I believe that the President of the United States is an eloquent speaker and he has no reason to resort to the words “you know.”  But when he is speaking extemporaneously, if you listen closely, he will often use the words “you know.”

I do not wish to be on Mr. Obama’s case.  He is a very bright person whose wife ought to kick him in the ass every time he uses the words “you know.”  The fact is that I don’t know and I am waiting for the President to tell me what I should know.  But when he tells me, “you know,” I wish to tell him, “Sir, I don’t know.  Will you tell me what I don’t know?”


Now we turn to the second part of this monumental essay.  It has to do with the English phrase “on me.”  My wife, the venerable Miss Chicka, frequently uses this term.  You may not be aware that in my later years, I have all kinds of plumbing devices to help me survive.  One of these devices has to do with a tube that carries the fluid away from my body.  From time to time, Miss Chicka uses the phrase, “This tube is in the right place but it should not ‘turn on me.’”  Again, the “on me” is a superfluous verbiage and in some cases it may be confusing.  But this is common usage in this country and I take the phrase “on me” with as much good grace as I can.

Well, that is your English lesson for today.  The phrases “you know” and “on me” look like they are here to stay.  In particular the phrase “you know” seems to have found a place in the American lexicon.  I suppose that this really tells you that in my 92nd year, I have nothing more constructive to do than to observe the speaking habits of the President of the United States and of my wife.  As it is, my wife would be lofted to the heady heights of the President and, after all, she has this essay named after her.    What more could anyone ask?



October 21, 2013

Essay 771


Kevin’s commentary: When I first read the title of this essay I was pretty baffled. I was trying to figure out some twisted grammatical structure into which that sentence would fit. I came up with none. Pop’s elementary school teacher who he brings up so frequently would frown on such a title.

Anyway, you can find my thoughts on “You know” here: and I have very little opinion on “on me,” so this will be a proportionately short commentary. Cheers!



The genesis for this essay had to do with a remark made to me by Dr. Andrew Beamer following our most recent discussion.  In essence, Dr. Beamer said that I had all of my marbles and seemed to have held onto them late in life.  I am not quite certain that Dr. Beamer is right but over the years, I have found that doing what Dr. Beamer has told me has always turned out to be in my best interests.  But let us assume that Dr. Beamer is correct as he has been in all instances to date.  When Dr. Beamer made his remark to me I took it as a great compliment.  But I also began to wonder how marbles ever became a symbol for retaining one’s intellect late in life.

This essay will try to untangle the matter of why we say that late in life one has retained his marbles.  It will not be a definitive answer but the expression of retaining his marbles is simply a slang expression, not a definitive one.

As always, I go to great lengths to make certain that my readers are as well informed as they possibly can be.  In this case, I had the help of Amazon.  Much to my wife’s surprise and that of myself, when we sought out the story of marbles, it turned out that Amazon has a wide collection of them for sale.  The bag I bought for producing this essay cost about seven dollars.  Amazon has a wide variety of marbles and depending on how many you order, they can approach $100 or more.  In the bag that Amazon sent us, there are marbles of different sizes, of which one of them is, I assume, a “shooter.”  My wife and I do not recall the shooter as being of a different size.  Our recollection is that the shooter, which was used to knock other marbles out of the ring, was of the same size as the rest of the marbles.  In this case, it appears that the marble to be used as the shooter is of a larger size.  But these marbles come from Mexico and perhaps different rules apply there.

In answer to the question of how one retains his own marbles, one explanation might be that, like the game of marbles, if one retains most or all of the marbles with which he entered the game, he is using his intellect.  But that is sort of a lame explanation and we will try to go on, recognizing that the expression of “retaining his marbles” is merely a slang expression.

If my recollection is correct, I believe marbles were played by children under the age of ten.  There is no prohibition against using marbles at a later date, but my recollection is that the game was played mostly by the under-ten group.  From what I have observed, my wife has knowledge of marbles as well and she comes from a different geographical place.  So it is not exclusively a male-dominated game nor does it appear in only one geographical place.  It is almost universal.

To enjoy a game of marbles is a simple delight.  It requires drawing a large circle (about eight feet) in the dust or ground.  Participants in the game deposit a number of marbles in the middle of the circle.  The idea is to use your shooter to knock out the opponents’ marbles.  This is accomplished by holding the shooter marble in the right hand, assuming that the shooter is right-handed, in the crook of the right index finger.  The shooter uses his thumb to propel the marble forward.

I can recollect occasions when the teachers would become very anxious because marbles could get loose on the floor and cause someone to slip.  They would also be annoyed by the marbles rattling around in the pockets of the children.

So the game is very simple.  First there is a large circle that is drawn.  Then the participants in the game put some of their marbles that they do not care to keep in the middle and the shooters will take turns trying to knock the opponents’ marbles out of the ring.  It is always required that the shooter have his knuckles down for executing the shooting operation.  As I suggested earlier, at the conclusion of the game of marbles, the one who retained the most marbles would generally win the game.  And from that I draw the conclusion about retaining his marbles.

Now, a word about the shooter marble.  It usually seems to be the favorite marble of each of the participants in a game.  Shooters are treasured above all else.  It is only as a last resort that a marble player will surrender his shooter marble.  But generally speaking, rather than give up his shooter, the participant will concede defeat.  In the collection of marbles that I purchased from Amazon, there is one innovation in that the shooter is a good bit larger than the ordinary marble.  I do not remember the shooter being of a different size than the ones that were being shot at.  But this is a small point as it relates to the game of marbles.  But here is a picture of the marbles in a net bag as well as one that shows the marble itself.


Bag of marbles





When Dr. Beamer made these remarks about retaining my marbles into old age, I was curious about why he used marbles as a measure of intellectual quality.  But there you have it along with my description of how the game is played.  If I made a mistake or two, I must credit the fact that it has been perhaps 80 years since I have played a game of marbles.

I am delighted that Amazon still offers marbles for sale.  These marbles that I purchased, incidentally, came from Mexico, which might explain the fact that apparently the shooter is of a larger size than the rest of the marbles.

If you wish to go further into the history of marbles and you have a computer, go to the website   That site will explain all about marbles and it will tell you that in 1884 there was a manufacturer in Ohio who turned out five carloads of marbles per day.

So you see that this one compliment paid to me by Dr. Beamer has led to an examination of retaining your marbles into an advanced age.  I am indebted to Dr. Beamer for having made this remark.



September 26, 2013

Essay 769


Kevin’s commentary:

Fancy fancy! Can’t remember the last time we had a photo essay.  When I was reading this I thought I was going to be all clever and reason that since I have never played marbles, I have never owned any, and if I have never owned any then I still have 100% of all the marbles I’ve ever had. But then I remember that for some reason I had a ton of marbles in a red cup in my room that I guess I never played with? All I remember was that if you rubbed two of them together they made an awful sound that gave me the chills.

I used to keep that cup in my closet next to a blue cup full of broken glass and change, from when my change jar shattered in like 2005. I have no idea why I kept a cup full of broken class in my closet, but it certainly was not for lack of marbles.  I guess in some horrible sort of way it was protecting them. I wonder what that says about me and my mental state if we back the metaphor out. I think I’d rather not do that.



Apparently the sheriffs in the great state of Iowa have an inordinate amount of power.  Among other things, they can determine which blind person will be issued a gun permit.

Most of those applying for a gun permit as blind people say that it is for target shooting.  None of them say that it is for the purpose of suicide or murder, as far as can be determined.  In my own case, which I assume is generally reflective of other blind people; they probably cannot even see a target, much less whether they pierced it at the right level to earn them a point.  But in any case, it appears from news reports that in at least 50% of the cases in which blind people applied for gun permits in Iowa, they were granted.  And nearly all of them say that it was for target practice.  None of them, as I can recall from the article in the Des Moines Register, say that it was for self defense.  In this case, first the intruder would have to be identified and then there would be the torturous process of getting the gun from the holster in time to shoot the intruder.

Iowa is a nice state adjoining my traditional home in Missouri.  Iowa, up to this point, has been distinguished by the thought that the first primary in the presidential election season is held there.  It has been a state that every aspiring politician wants to be seen in.  There is another fact in that the name of Iowa is pronounced in many fashions.  In one case, there is the pronunciation of I-o-way.  For myself, I tend to call it Iowa.

This comes under the heading of things you ought to know.  If you go through Iowa, there is a possibility that you might find yourself shot by a blind man.  I can assure that a shot from a blind man hurts just as much as a shot from a sighted man.  At least that is the way it worked in World War II.  So add this to your list of restrictions and remember to always behave yourself while you are in the great state of Iowa or Ioway.



September 18, 2013

Essay 786


Kevin’s commentary: Duly noted.  I guess maybe some people are legally blind but can see somewhat with aid. I’m not aware if there is a clinical distinction between full-out-nothing and just really, really bad vision.


It is peculiar or perhaps amusing to find that one memory prompts another one.  I am writing this on September 17 which is the day after the horrible tragedy at the Washington Naval Yard.  In this case, the memory that has been revived goes back to 1942.  If my mathematics are correct, which are not generally dependable these days, that is the better part of 70 years.

I first knew Ira Hudas at the Embry-Riddle Institute for Aeronautics. We were being trained to be aerial engineers.  Aerial engineers fly all day and try to fix the airplanes at night.

It was a great mystery to me how Ira Hudas had gotten as far as he did, given the discipline of the army institution.  Ira Hudas had been drafted in 1942 and he was a reluctant soldier to say the least.  How he ever made it through basic training is a mystery to me.  But once we arrived at Coral Gables to attend the Embry Institute, a school for aeronautics, Ira began to show his true colors.  The fact is that Ira did not ever want to be a soldier.  He was doing almost everything wrong, I should say everything deliberately wrong, to be released for discharge from army duty.  For example, when we lined up to march from our barracks to the school at Embry-Riddle, it was always Ira who was out of step.  Everyone knows that in the army the left foot is the first foot to be moved.  Deliberately, Ira always started on the right foot and had to be corrected.  Ira talked during class and had to be chided into being quiet.  When we were assigned to a second class, it was conducted during evening hours ending at around 11 PM.  It was at this point that Ira made a dangerous move to show how much he disliked the army.  For example, when the test props were supposed to be operating at full speed, Ira would drop his to the idle position.  Similarly, when the test props were supposed to be idling, Ira would operate his at full speed.  This was a very dangerous maneuver, particularly at twilight hours or in total blackness.

You may recall an incident that happened at Embry-Riddle wherein an instructor said that if you did not pay attention and walked into a moving propeller, it would make “hamburger meat out of you.”  For all of these 70 years, I have been thinking occasionally about having the human body turned into hamburger meat.  There is a redundancy here in that hamburger and meat are joined.  But in any case, I would not want to be turned into hamburger or hamburger meat or into sausage or whatever else.

I believe that Ira Hudas barely made it out of Embry-Riddle flight school, if at all.  My guess is that the instructors noticed that he was doing things deliberately wrong.  We graduated from the flight school at Embry-Riddle early in 1943 and I never heard of Ira Hudas again.  I suppose he got his discharge one way or another and disappeared into the mouths of Brooklyn, where he came from.

All of these questions arose this morning when Barry McCaffrey, a former general in the army, was interviewed.  Actually Barry McCaffrey is on retainer from one of the networks, probably MSNBC, to offer comments on military matters.  At that time, the news reports were that the shooter at the Naval Yard in Washington had been given a General Discharge from the U. S. Navy.  During the discussion, it turned out that General McCaffrey did not know, or seemed not to know, what the term general discharge amounted to.  General McCaffrey seemed to treat it as enlisted men’s ailments.  A general discharge is probably what Ira Hudas got.

In point of fact, a general discharge in the American Army falls between the honorable discharge, which most of us had, and the dishonorable discharge, which is usually given out when there is an offense committed such as robbery.  Somewhere in between is the so-called general discharge.  More than anything else, it means that this individual is not meant to succeed in the American Army.  I am not surprised that General McCaffrey did not know about general discharges because the ranks of officers are soldiers who want to get ahead and impress their superiors.

But this is not what happened to Ira Hudas.  He gently conned the army by stepping off on the wrong foot and similar acts that seemed to say that he had no future as a soldier.

I suspect that Ira was a smart fellow.  But that suspicion is not well-founded because I never had a conversation with Ira during the two or three months that we were at the Embry-Riddle School of Aeronautics.  But in this case, the fact of the matter is that a four-star general such as General McCaffrey could have consulted with me to learn what a general discharge means.

Well, so much for Ira Hudas.  I have no idea what ever happened to Ira.  I will guarantee you that he had no future as an American soldier.  The fact that Ira conned the American Army into giving him a general discharge does not reflect credit on either the army or Ira.

But here I am after 70 years recalling the likes of Ira Hudas.  Maybe he had something going for him that the rest of us did not.  We will have to see about that.



September 17, 2013

Essay 767


Kevin’s commentary: Alas, Google the great oracle has turned up nothing about Mr. Hudas. I hope that means he’s still chugging along and flying under various radars. I actually find it a little bit impressive when someone can avoid being known to the collective consciousness of the internet. I guess I probably ruined that for ol’ Ezra.  Hopefully he doesn’t mind.

In other news I’m pretty on board with Ira’s methods except for the ones which recklessly endangered other enlisted men. Step out of march all you want, but don’t risk hamburgerizing someone. That’s just stupid.


As some of my readers know, I have employed home health aides as a means of avoiding institutional care.  I require help during the evening and midnight hours.  Among other things, my ability to stand up or get up during the night time is limited.  During the course of an evening, I may stand up as many as three or four times.  In addition, I sometimes need Kleenex or cold water.  This is not the way I wanted it, but given the circumstances I think it is better than nothing.

The aide that we have employed for several months is a fellow named Peter A.  Peter comes from Accra, Ghana.  As you may recall, during WWII I spent some 15 or 18 months in Accra, Ghana when Ghana was called The Gold Coast.  The name in that title of Gold Coast referred particularly to the gold found in Ghana and to the slave trade.  The British would catch the slaves and bring them to a port called Takoradi.  From there, they would ship them off to Arab countries.  Eventually the British shipped the slaves to our southern states as well.

For a number of months, we had Peter who looked after me during the midnight hours.  His hours actually were from 9 PM until 7 AM.  There came a time, a short while ago, when Peter announced that he had made a deal with Virgin Atlantic airlines to go home to Ghana with his daughter.  My recollection is that he offered the airline a total of $1800 each.  Quickly they accepted that offer.  So here we were without an aide during the midnight hours.

I should point out that Peter was visiting the land of his birth in Ghana.  He actually lives these days in Union, New Jersey.  The call of home still resides in his breast.

When we were left with no coverage in the midnight hours, we called a woman named Gifty A, who had worked for us before and who was willing to take on the midnight shift.  Gifty is a 46-year-old woman who does not seem to mind working the midnight shift.  Actually, she puts her five-year-old son to bed at 8 PM and then drives to work arriving here before 9 PM.

This arrangement went on for a bit more than six weeks while Peter was gone.  On a Saturday morning after her last shift was completed, and we knew that Peter would return on the following Monday, Gifty made her surprise announcement.  As Gifty said goodbye to me in the morning, she said, “You are a good man.”  Later, as Gifty was preparing to leave the house, Judy, my wife, thanked her for her efforts during the hospital stay that I had been forced to endure.  This is a self-laudatory essay and so Gifty replied, “Of course, I would always take care of my grandpa.”  Now, you should bear in mind that I have always been a white person and Gifty is, of course, an African.  And so I was amused and greatly pleased by the fact that Gifty said that she “would always take care of her grandpa.”  That should have been the end of the story but there is a bit more.

When the time came for Gifty to say goodbye, she turned to Judy and said, “You have treated me well.  You are a good woman.”  I thought that that was an enormous compliment coming from Gifty.  She had served us well during Peter’s absence.

Now we proceed to a few other incidents that occurred here during the same week.  As always happens from a stay in Overlook Hospital in Summit, New Jersey, there is a question at the end about whether or not I need a physical therapist to help me regain my strength.  I did not really need a physical therapist but the matter was presented in such a fashion that I just agreed.

The physical therapist arrived.  It turns out that he is a Filipino.  He is a fairly nice fellow.  We went downstairs where my exercise equipment is located.  I told him that I would be doing at least 30 minutes on the stationary bicycle.  Shortly after I began to peddle, Raymond said “You are better than most patients when I release them.”  In spite of that remark, I continued until I finished 30 minutes on the stationary bicycle.

Raymond, the physical therapist, originally agreed that our next session would be on Friday.  This was on a Monday.  Whereupon, Raymond cancelled the Friday appointment and said, “There is no need for me to come back because you have passed the physical for physical therapy.”  So that was one development that set me off to a happy start, in spite of the fact that I am still disabled.

Another instance happened during that same week involving Andrew Beamer, the cardiologist with whom I have worked for probably 20 years or more.  At the conclusion of my visit with Dr. Beamer, he said, “You still have all your marbles.  You have more than some people are born with.”  I took this remark as a compliment.  Coming from Dr. Beamer, I thought it was significant.

I told you that this was a self-laudatory essay but in essence the remarks made by Gifty and Dr. Beamer and the physical therapist Raymond tended to make my week.  I am at the end of life, as everybody knows.  I greatly appreciated the remarks of Gifty the aide, and Raymond the physical therapist and most of all Dr. Andrew Beamer. I know that I never intended to use these essays as a means for self-laudatory remarks but I thought that these events all happening in the same week were worthy of a small essay.  And a small essay it is when an old-timer has a good run of remarks about his mental health and his physical health; perhaps it should be recorded.  So there.

Finally, I have recovered my equilibrium and as life falls out, Peter will be back from Ghana and we will take up where we left off before his departure.  I should thank, among other people, Gifty for her tribute with the grandfather remark.  I did not tell you that when Judy and Gifty said goodbye early on Saturday morning, they hugged each other.  That means a great deal to me.  You may be sure that if the occasion arises, we will ask the agency to assign Gifty to us once more.



September 16, 2013

Essay 766


Kevin’s commentary: I think my favorite line here is definitely that Pop has more marbles than post people start with. The man is smart as hell and kind to everybody he meets, so if he wants to write an essay in praise of that occasionally then I feel like it is well-deserved.

I’ve had some birthday pie with the Peter in question, incidentally. He’s polite to a fault. I hope he is having a great time in Ghana.

(Published 9/24/13)


I have been writing these essays for the last 16 years. It all started with an injury to my brain which impaired my speech as a result of a stroke in 1997. I started writing these essays and somehow after 764 such essays, I have still continued. As a matter of fact, I seem at this late date in my life to enjoy writing essays.

As a general, almost exclusive rule, the subjects have been selected by myself. Rarely, the readers of these essays made suggestions or requests for an essay on a specific subject. One such request was from my old friend Harry Livermore who asked for an essay about his recently departed wife and the nature of our relationship over many years. Now the owner and operator of the website Ezra’s Essays has made another request.

In the beginning, there was no title to these essays. For example, my next-door neighbor Irving Licht, referred to them as “Ed’s Stuff.” At this point, for the past three years or thereabouts, the material that has appeared in 764 essays is called “Ezra’s Essays.”

The term that my grandson, the owner and operator of Ezra’s Essays, used when making his request was the term “grub.” I was unaware that my grandson was acquainted with the term grub. But he is a worldly fellow. For example, in Ireland and England, bars are called pubs. From that term, we have the food served there which is called “pub grub” So Kevin is in good company in asking for an essay on grub. Following are some anecdotes that apply to grub, primarily dealing with my association with grub served by the United States Army.

Now, before we get started, you should be aware that at the time I served my enlistment in 1942 through the end of 1945, the Army had a school called the Cook and Baker School. It really made no difference what a recruit’s civilian occupation might have been. When the Army needed someone to be a cook or a baker, it would issue a requisition to the rest of the United States Army. Whether the recruits liked it or not, there would soon be a new class of cooks and bakers. The result was that there was a great sameness and dullness to the cooking done in the United States Army.

The Army specialized in dullness and as a result, the food or grub that appeared on Army menus was distinguished by its sameness and its dullness.

The Army did not use much local produce. It relied heavily on products that could be used in the event of war. For example, there were no fresh potatoes, but rather, the Army relied upon such stuff as potato flakes, which tasted almost nothing like a real potato should have tasted. In the end, as I said, there was a great sameness to the Army cooking. No one strayed from the recipes provided by the Cook and Baker’s School. As a result, a meal served in France or Italy would taste very much like a meal served in Louisiana or on Iwo Jima.

I entered the Army at age 19. I was accustomed to the cooking of my mother. She learned to cook using a wood fired stove in the rural setting of Golconda, Illinois. Her two main dishes were navy bean soup and the baking of bread. So I was not a gourmet when I entered the Army. Also I was not a gourmet when the Army finally released me in 1945.

When I entered the Army, it was at Jefferson Barracks, the southern-most tip of the city of St. Louis. Jefferson Barracks was the first post established west of the Mississippi in the 18th century. The cooking at Jefferson Barracks was a good deal better than I had thought it to be. But it was a lot better than the cooking of my mother, which is not saying much. But the whole episode at Jefferson Barracks only lasted about ten days. I was then designated to go to Las Vegas, New Mexico for my basic training.

Las Vegas, New Mexico is a training field, during which we marched from one end to the other with dust all around us. The food there was absolutely terrible. I suppose I should say that the grub there was absolutely terrible. Several nights of the week we were fed sliced sausage which, if you will pardon the expression, looked a lot like a horse’s penis. Soon the GIs named the dish we were served as “horse cock.”

Eventually the officer in charge of providing the enlisted men’s food in Las Vegas, New Mexico, was court-martialed because he was cheating on what he had actually spent for food. I might say that the horse cock was untasty and should not have been served to anyone. But the United States Army does things in its own way.

Soon I was transferred to a training base in Coral Gables, Florida where the meals were again standard Army fare. It seemed to me that standard Army fare consisted of spoonable dishes which could be ladled out to the soldiers passing in line during the meal period. This was in Coral Gables, Florida. There was not much difference between the meals we were served in Coral Gables and the meals that were served elsewhere in the Army. The Army made certain that no one would brag about the cooking of an Army meal. Before long, I found myself on a troop ship from Charleston, South Carolina, to Dakar, the capital of Senegal. The food on the troop ship was more than abominable. It was atrocious. For one thing, they had more troops on this unescorted vessel than should have been permitted. But battles were raging in North Africa and it was important that we appeared on the Allied side of the battlefield.

During the war I was involved in the North African campaign. But the grub was pretty much identical to the grub served throughout the United States Army. The point that I am making is that with the influence of the Cook and Baker School and the drafting of the people to attend those schools along with reliance on such things as fake potato flakes, there was no individuality. I am certain that there were local foodstuffs that could be used to spice up the food. That was never ever done. I do not know this for a fact but I suspect that meals fed to soldiers such as myself were probably planned in Washington. There was as I say no individuality in the preparation of Army food.

The same was true generally of the Italian campaign. The Italians are great innovators of food but none of that ever appeared on an Army base. We simply stuck to the Cook and Baker School and the menus that were prepared there.

Speaking of spoonable dishes, if someone serving in the food line became angered or even as a joke, he would seem to take some delight in plopping a load of the main meal in an inopportune place on the mess kits that were being offered to him by the soldiers. I remember that the Army loved to serve canned sliced peaches. On many occasions, the man behind the serving counter would miss and the offering of food, such as it was, would end up among the peaches.

Anyone who claimed that he could identify the ingredients of the food must have been a master salesman. There were no such things as cakes. There was no such thing as a fresh vegetable. When someone would ask a soldier coming out of a mess hall what he had had to eat, he would probably say something about, “It was another case of mystery meat.” In fact, the people who controlled what we were fed may have been in the United States in Washington and we were in Italy or elsewhere. That made no difference. We were fed the same old menus and the men who were behind the counters in the mess halls still loved to put the day’s main dish into the peaches.

When I left combat, I reported to my original assignment, which was in Accra, the Gold Coast. That country is now called Ghana. Again there was a prohibition, apparently, on using local produce including eggs. There was an occasion when, on my one day off from the flight line, I took an Army bus toward downtown Accra. On that occasion, I saw the equivalent of a YMCA. I had heard that they had real eggs. So I got off the bus and offered myself to the administrations of the noble YMCA. Miraculously, there appeared eggs by the carload. We on the base, say five miles outside of Accra, were eggless. But here was the YMCA offering eggs of any sort. They could be fried, scrambled, or poached or whatever. But the United States Army had none of it. On my days off, I would usually find the time to take a United States Army bus to downtown Accra and have a meal of eggs. The Army forbade us to eat any of the meat because of sanitary conditions. We were pretty much confined to eggs. But as a vegetarian, I have no objection to that prohibition whatsoever.

On more than one occasion, I passed through the town of Dakar, Senegal. They had wonderful lobsters in Dakar. None of them ever appeared on an Army menu. I suppose that they simply relied on what they were taught at the Cook and Baker School with the directives coming from Washington. The point here is that there was dullness and sameness to the food served in the Army mess halls throughout the world.

Now however we turn to a brighter side of the grub served in the United States Army. The war ended for me on August 16 when a battered old Japanese major domo climbed the rigging on the Battleship Missouri and signed a peace treaty with the United States.

By this time I was in Greenwood, Mississippi. The idea at that point was to train for an assault on the Japanese home islands. We were supposed to get a new airplane called the A-26, which was bigger than the A-20s that we had flown all over Europe. There were no A-26s anywhere, so there was nothing to practice. But that did not stop the United States Army from making an investment in food in an effort to keep all of the soldiers from being released. Miraculously there were eggs which were offered in any fashion desired: scrambled, poached, etc. And in an effort to keep the soldiers happy, there were steaks at every turn. The Army had concluded that if these soldiers were well fed, they might re-enlist at a greater rate. For myself, the idea was to get out of the United States Army and leave those memories behind me. I attempted to leave on about September 1 and I did not secure my release from the United States Army until November 8, 1945. The period in Greenwood was marked by steaks and eggs. Those people in the government who controlled the menus were going nuts.

Well, that is the story that my grandson Kevin had requested. Both locally and abroad, the cooks and bakers and other personnel in the mess halls were all trained at the Cook and Baker School run by the United States Army. Individuality among cooks and bakers was a forbidden subject I suspect.

Now let’s talk about how this food was presented to the soldier.

There is a distinction between how Army grub was served in this country and how Army grub was served to the soldiers abroad. In the case of the domestic grub, trays were usually provided which I assume dishwashers, using a dishwashing machine, took over after the grub was consumed. But overseas, it was served in the GI’s mess kit. Grub served abroad, once it had been consumed, or even ignored, became the responsibility of the individual soldier or GI to deal with. In most cases, there were three large containers of boiling water as the mess hall was entered. Sometimes the Army used barrels as containers. The barrels had previously held engine oil but had been properly scrubbed before being used for water. Following the meal, the soldier would take his mess kit and try to knock off all of the remaining particles of food into a garbage can. Once this had been achieved, the GI would then approach the boiling container of water and plunge his mess kit together with the knife, fork, spoon and cup into the boiling water. Once this had been accomplished he would move on and plunge his mess kit into the second large container of boiling water. Finally, there came the rinse cycle in which the GI would plunge his mess kit and accessories into the boiling water again. This was followed by the GI waving his arms about him as he attempted to dry off the mess kit.

This was an elementary system of washing mess kits. It led to several cases of dysentery. You may be interested to know that the word dysentery was never used by American soldiers. They always referred to dysentery as a case of “GI shits.” I suppose that this had to do with the severity and longevity of the dysentery. How this term came about is beyond me. But it was always a matter of the plural form of the GI shits.

You may be interested to observe what a mess kit looked like in the era of World War II. When the mess kit was opened up, one section was reserved for the main course and perhaps some fake vegetables. The top of the mess kit served as a means of conveying some sort of dessert, usually canned sliced peaches. I expect that the right side of the mess kit also served to provide a place for bread if there was any.


Well now we have covered the entire assembly of the serving of the dull and unappetizing food through the washing of the mess kits which often resulted in dysentery. At this point, I must quit dictating this essay because it has made my thoughts of eating much less enjoyable.

Incidentally, the use of the word “grub” for food has survived since the 1650s, almost four centuries, so it appears that grub will be us, perhaps permanently.

In any event, when we were finally released from the Army, I returned home from Greenwood, Mississippi, intent upon resuming the life that had been interrupted three and a half years earlier. Well, that is my story about the grub that we were served during the period of my enlistment in 1942 – 1945. It is not an exotic or inspiring story. Perhaps the highlights were the court martial of the officer who was knocking down on the enlisted men’s mess funds at Las Vegas, New Mexico. But if anyone thought of joining the Army in hope of fine dining, that hope was absolutely destroyed.

So it is that this is my story on behalf of Kevin Shepherd, the subject of dining or, as Kevin puts it, grub in the Army. I realize that it has not been an exciting essay. Given the material that I had to work with, the grub in the American Army, you can understand the difficulties that I had to endure. I hope that this conveys my thoughts about the sameness and dullness of the food in the Army. I suspect that there is not a whole lot of difference with what is happening today. Incidentally, the Cook and Baker School is a thing of the past because the Army now has local people to feed the troops. It is a move that should have been taken several years ago. So with that thought in mind, we bid farewell to Army grub. It is not very inspiring. But Army grub was not inspiring either.


September 10, 2013

Essay 765


Kevin’s commentary: Well I suppose I now have another reason to never enlist, not that I needed one. I thought this essay was one of the funniest in a while, honestly, and I had a great time reading it. It seems like Pop may have had a little bit to get off his chest when it came to Army food, which an assumption I feel that I am safe to make considering the heft of this essay. Hopefully writing this could be at least a little cathartic for him.

Seriously though, I was floored by some of the information in this one. No eggs? No potatoes? When I think of food that doesn’t spoil and can be transported anywhere, potatoes are probably food #1 on that list if we don’t count manufactured goods. Eggs are a close second because they last a heck of a long time and as far as I know, there’s not a country in the world that lacks chickens at this point.

I believe that a few years ago Pop gave me a gift of one of his old MREs, or “meals ready to eat.” It came in a tight, vacuum-sealed, tan plastic bag. I think it contained jambalaya. It looked like this:
MREs 001

The jury is out when it comes to whether or not a MRE was better than horse cock, but hopefully it would be at least a little preferable. My final Army-grub question is this: when were MREs served vs mess hall food? For missions that would last multiple days, maybe?

Aside from that, I can happily say that I now know all I need to about food in the Army.


Browsing through The New York Times yesterday, August 17th, Miss Chicka read to me a story that was datelined Accra, Ghana.  Furthermore, it had to do with talking in tongues, which is a hallmark of the Pentecostal faith which is one of the Christian Protestant churches.  This story had two attractions for me.

In the first place, when I was a child, my parents insisted that I accompany them to church and for a while they attended a Pentecostal church.  I formed the opinion that the Pentecostal church was one of the most backward leaning churches among the Christian faiths.  Secondly, I was attracted to this article because it came from Accra, Ghana.  Nearly half of the time that I spent overseas, which was 28 months, was spent in Ghana.  So I was attracted not only to the story about talking in tongues but it came from Accra, Ghana, where a good part of my overseas military service took place.

As I said, the Pentecostal church is one of the most backward-leaning of the Christian Protestant faith.  It still believes the devil physically exists and taunts men into doing evil things.  The Pentecostals say that they talk in tongues because the devil does not understand such language and is confused by it.

Talking in tongues is nothing more than gibberish.  I formed this opinion when I was seven or eight years of age when I listened on many occasions to talking in tongues during Pentecostal church services.  Talking in tongues has no speech pattern; it has no grammar.  It is just foolish gibberish.  The author of the article in The New York Times, T. M. Luhrmann, said that a preacher told her that if you repeat “I should have bought a Hyundai” ten times fast, it resembles talking in tongues.  And I can tell you from my own experience that talking in tongues, even to a seven or eight year-old child, was plain gibberish and made no sense whatsoever.  More than anything, it was kind of childish and it was repulsive.

You may recall, for example, an essay I wrote several years ago about my experience as a youngster when I attended the Pentecostal church.  On that occasion the sponsor of that excursion was my own Aunt Nora.  She had dragooned my mother and me into attending an afternoon service.  In that essay I described how the congregants worked themselves into a frenzied lather.  Toward the end of the lathering process, there was a woman who fainted.  On this occasion, the preacher said, “Leave her where Jesus flang her.”  Now what I left out of that essay was the fact that the congregants, working themselves into a lather, were mostly speaking in tongues.  My young mind thought this was totally ridiculous.  Who is to say to somebody who believes in talking in tongues that the devil or Satan is not a real person?  My young mind said to me, “Oh Jesus, how dumb can these people get?”

My mind at that time had a question.  I wanted to know if the devil, whom everybody was supposed to hate, was born in the time of Jesus Christ.  Furthermore, I wanted to know how he could have lived so long, this being about 1933.  It seemed to me that inhaling the fumes of the fire that he had built to roast sinners would by this time have finished him off.  Nonetheless, the congregants in this mystical ceremony believed that the devil still existed and that the way to avoid him knowing of the contents of their speech was to speak in tongues.  I will guarantee you this.  In the 80 years since this event happened, the Pentecostal church has not advanced one iota.  They still believe in the devil and they still believe that by talking in tongues they will communicate their love of God and avoid tipping off the devil.

The story in The New York Times said that the Pentecostal church was going to make a concerted effort to convert members in both Ghana and Nigeria.  My guess is an educated one.  There are very few people in Ghana or Nigeria who are so dumb as to believe in the devil or the gibberish that accompanies speaking in tongues.  But the Pentecostal church is still working at the old stand.  They are handing out this garbage, which is what it is, quite freely.  They expect the Africans to gobble it up, no questions asked.

I have a good deal of respect for the people of Ghana and for the Nigerians.  I have made two or three trips to Nigeria and I lived among the people of Ghana for about 15 months.  I doubt that they are so naïve as to accept the Pentecostal church.  Nonetheless, the Pentecostal church would have you believe that speaking in tongues is the way to avoid tipping off the devil.  Incidentally, speaking in tongues never requires a response.  A statement is made in gibberish and no one ever replies to such a statement.  It is just hung out there to dry and no response is ever offered.  If they speak in tongues, I presume that Jesus or God must know what they are talking about.  But the fact of the matter is that they are speaking in gibberish.  Does Jesus also speak in tongues?  Nobody knows.

Well that is my story for this essay.  When Miss Chicka read me the dateline on this story which was in Accra, Ghana, I knew that I had to write this essay.  That is what I believe I have done.  And I will assure you that if there is a more backward-looking church than the Pentecostals, I am unaware of it.

One of the main reasons for my lack of enthusiasm for religious exercises traces back to such influences as the Pentecostal church.  As for my Aunt Nora, it is my belief that she found the Pentecostals of comedic entertainment value.  As for me, I concluded that if this was what religion had to offer, it had to do a lot better to even pass the smell test.

Well, be that as it may, I enjoyed the story from Accra, Ghana and in a strange way I enjoyed the fact that there are some dupes out there who really believe in speaking in tongues.  At this point, I would say that wonders never cease.



August 17, 2013

Essay 764


Kevin’s commentary: I saw a video once of someone speaking tongues, and all the comments pointed out that it was in fact just mumbled Russian. Out of all the fakey bullshit that is inherent to religion, speaking in tongues is perhaps the silliest.

I’d like to read the article this came from. Hopefully Judy can help me out.