Archive for the Friends Category

FOUR STARS OF DAVID

BUSH & SHARON – THE HAMHANDED EFFORT TO GET THINGS RIGHT
Jerusalem has been on my mind of late because of the bombings and other acts of warfare that have taken place there. At the outset, I must point out that I am not an active partisan in the dispute between the Israeli and Palestine sides. My instincts are to be with the Israelis. I know them better. They have welcomed me into their homes and offices. They have offered me the best food that Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and Nablus and Tiberias have to offer. They are good people – tough people but good people.

Arabs, on the other hand, were a different kettle of fish. When I worked in the Overseas Department of AT&T, I had occasion to deal with Arabs from Dakar, Senegal and Rabat, Morocco in the western part of the North African continent all the way through to Egypt in the east. I had no occasion to deal with Iranians or Iraqis. The people in Dakar were wonderful. They offered us some of the best lobster that I have ever eaten. But Dakar is a seaport and they have long dealt with foreign nationals. In the East, Egypt is a squalid place, but its people often seem to be kind. In all the rest of the North African continent, there was grimness. Joy was not to be had. So I am not a big booster of the Arab people. One of the only gestures of kindness was found in Algiers. We met with high ranking government officials in the Algerian regime shortly

after 44 American prisoners were released from imprisonment by the Iranians. As soon as the meeting started, I thanked the ranking minister for Algeria’s efforts to secure the release of the Americans. He replied, “It was my duty to do that.” He didn’t draw me out or seek to be more friendly. He simply said that he did what he did as a matter of duty. This same sort of arms-length relationship was found in Morocco, Algerian, Libya and Tunisia.

I cheered when Golda Mier and Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak had the premiership in Israel. I must say I gagged when Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon had that job. I cannot ever forget the hovels that serve as homes to displaced Palestinians. Their living conditions are abominable. Now that Sharon is head of government in Israel, I have great concern that he will drag the United States into war against the Arab nations. In that job, Sharon is an undisciplined war hawk who could easily cause the U. S. to find itself at war. The Arab League said on 3-28-02 that all its members would regard a United States attack on Iraq as an attack on the members of the Arab League. I suppose that means war.

Our efforts have not been helped by Bush sending the retired Marine General Zinni to attempt to mediate between the two sides. Following that, Bush sent Vice President Cheney to deal with the Israelis but he had nothing to do with the Palestinians. And then Secretary of State Powell made his famous telephone call to Arafat telling him what he was to say to his own people. In short, the Zinni, Cheney and Powell combine simply buttressed Sharon’s hand and made him even more belligerent.

It goes without saying that I find suicide bombing and martyrdom totally repugnant concepts. On the other hand, dealing with Sharon would cause me to do some strong things. Finally, the Americans have shortchanged themselves. When George H. W. Bush was President, he appointed Dennis Ross as mediator for the Israeli crisis. When Clinton succeeded Bush, Ross served eight years in that administration. But this Bush wants to rid himself of anything having to do with Clinton. In the end he has made a grim mistake. Ross is a Jew and a nominal Republican who has more than 12 years experience in dealing with the Israeli – Palestinian problem. He is a pro. So instead of Ross, we have Zinni, Cheney and Powell. The pros aren’t welcome in this administration.

Now having said all that, it is time to proceed to more pleasant things, like my relationship with the Essay Director and the Jerusalem Israelis who became my dear friends.

DIRECTOR OF ESSAYS – SHIRLEY MORGANSTEIN
To deal with the effects of a stroke in 1997, Shirley Morganstein, a director at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, suggested that I try my hand at writing essays. The suggestion was outstanding as was nearly everything else Shirley suggested. Shirley scheduled a half hour session on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of each week. This schedule applied from about the middle of November, 1997 until the end of January, 1998.

Early in this arrangement, Shirley was occasionally impatient with me when I failed to grasp some of her instructions. It wasn’t that I was not paying attention or daydreaming. In point of fact, stroke victims often do not understand the latter part of two and three part instructions and give up. On other occasions, the stroke sufferer will have an idea or thought in his head, but will be unable to make it come out of his mouth or from his pen.

After we started on essays on December 8, 1997 I began to write about my travels on behalf of the United States Army and the AT&T Corporation. The description of foreign customs and cultures seemed to intrigue Shirley. I worked hard to supply her with three new essays every week. It was probably by far the best therapy that could have been provided. I think my breakthrough with Shirley occurred when I gave her an essay about Poland. The Soviets who built the Forum Hotel in Warsaw insisted that it be a world class hotel. It was far from that. But in any case the Russians provided shoeshine machines in the elevator lobby of every floor. What got my attention was a sign in Polish, French and English posted in a prominent place on each machine. The sign said “Do not attempt to shine both shoes at once!” Shirley thought the story about the shoe shine machines and the sign that went with them was pretty hilarious. I didn’t know it at the time, but half of Shirley’s ancestors came from Poland. Later, knowing nothing about the other half of Shirley’s ancestry, I wrote about Rumania. As it turned out, the other half of her traced its ancestry to Rumania. For years, I had a Rumanian doll in peasant finery on my shelf. It came from Bucharest. Also, there were two embroidered miniature Polish flags in a frame that had caught my eye many years earlier. I presented Shirley with one of the flags and the Rumanian doll. She put them on a shelf in a prominent place in her office where she said, she could see them often. I am delighted that Shirley has two objects that remind her of her ancestry.

Shirley, of course, was Jewish. She told me about sitting Shiva for one of her relatives. Our occasional discussions about religious matters were pleasant and informative to me. She never inquired about my faith or lack thereof. She was a live and let live sort of person. I did enjoy telling her in an essay about one of my experiences with John Solomon, an Australian who was loaned for two or three years to the telephone administration in Papua New Guinea. John was our escort while my colleague and I were in Port Moresby and surrounding territory.

John Solomon was named for an uncle who was born in 1922, the same year of my birth. When the elder John Solomon tried to enlist in the Australian Armed Forces in 1939 and 1940, he ran head on into institutional racism. Simply put, the Aussies did not want Jews in the Armed Forces and if the truth were known – they didn’t welcome them as fellow Aussies either.

John Solomon made three attempts to join the Australian Army and was rejected each time. From what his nephew said, the authorities did not use subterfuge to cover their religious discrimination. They simply said that Jews were not accepted as part of the Australian Army.

So John Solomon had a new thought. On his fourth attempt to enlist, he said his name was John Sullivan. Australia is full of Irishmen because after England lost the American colonies, they had no place to ship their long term prisoners. So in spite of the long sea voyage from England to Sydney, Australia, the prisoners were shipped to the land Down Under. Irishmen had a prominent place in English prisons. And in the 200 years since Irish prisoners were shipped to Australia, their rate of producing offspring has been prodigious.

So the recruiters said to the alleged Irishman (nee Solomon) that he would be welcomed into the Australian Army. As the war developed, heavy fighting came to what is now known as Papua New Guinea. American and Australians and New Zealanders who fought there remember that as a dreadful place. Along with many other soldiers, John Solomon was killed in 1944 at the tender age of 22. In accordance with the regulations of the Australian Army, he was reburied in a well-kept military cemetery along with the other dead from the battle for Papua New Guinea. His grave was marked by a stone cross with the name “John Sullivan.”

When Australia found that its all British Christian population was insufficient to carry them into the space age, they began to accept new immigrants. In the late 1950’s and 1960’s, it became possible to have, for example, an Italian meal prepared by an Italian chef in Sydney. The attitude of the Aussie officialdom started to change, I believe in the 1950’s. Jews were accepted as part of the new landscape in Australia although their numbers remain fairly small.

The surviving members of John Solomon’s family called upon the Australian Army to recognize that it had buried a soldier under an assumed name. This struggle started in the 1940’s and continued until the early 1980’s. Finally, the Aussies conceded that John Sullivan was indeed John Solomon. The nephew of John Solomon took me and my colleague, Ron Carr, to the cemetery and showed us his grave. It was now marked by a Star of David tombstone. We went to a maintenance shed and saw the former cross with the name Sullivan that had marked his grave for nearly 40 years. Ron Carr and I rejoiced with our guide, the younger John Solomon.

Shirley seemed to follow this story with considerable interest. Knowing Shirley, a mix-up like this would evoke her empathy regardless of the racial or religious affiliation of the principals. In this case, I believe she was cheering for the situation to turn out right. In the end, it did.

ARYEH RON NEE LEO RITTER OF VIENNA
When I started this essay, it was my intention to write about three Israelis who contributed much to the enjoyment of my life for the 15 or 20 years prior to 1985. But I got sidetracked a little with Shirley Morganstein, but what the hell, Shirley and the three Israeli’s share the same Jewish faith and I am absolutely positive that they would welcome her into their ranks. They might even elect her Queen of Jerusalem.
So now we will start with Aryeh Ron, Gideon Lev, and Jake Haberfeld, all residents of Jerusalem.

Aryeh Ron is the Israeli name that the former Leo Ritter of Vienna assumed when he came to what was then called Palestine. He arrived in Palestine not long after the Nazis took over in Austria.

In the Israeli telephone administration, when I knew them, they were all workers. They did not have squadrons of employees attending to every specialized task. As it turned out, Aryeh would leave his other duties and come to meet me every time I showed up at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel. The two of us became good friends. He saved my professional life on one occasion.

The Israeli Administration was the first to join in promoting Teleplan, the American venture to cut surcharges when calling back to the United States. They had invited the General Managers of all the leading hotels in Israel to hear me make my pitch. The sign in the hall of the hotel said that Mr. Carr was going to present a “lecture” that afternoon. About 30 hotel General Managers showed up in one of the large meeting rooms of the Jerusalem Hilton.

In anticipation of the meeting, I had sent a large collection of graphs and handouts to Jerusalem for the participants. This was an important meeting because we hoped that Israel would become the first Teleplan country. But as the time for the meeting drew near, there were no graphs and handouts so I prepared to do without them. Actually, we started the meeting when the door to the meeting room burst open and in came a sweating Aryeh Ron carrying this enormous load of material. Well, the long and the short of it is that Israeli customs had decided that the packages posed a security risk. All that morning of the meeting, Aryeh Ron had been in battle with Israeli bureaucrats trying to get the shipment released. Finally, he threatened to go to the Minister of the Israeli government for customs with the thought that the Americans would not be very happy to lose this material, particularly when the hotel industry in Israel would stand to lose if the American failed to make a deal. That did the trick and he arrived at the Hilton Hotel at the final moment. We got the contract with the Israeli Hotel Association, the first Teleplan contract. And my friend Aryeh Ron had made it all possible.

There were several occasions when Aryeh and I had a chance to spend perhaps an hour or two together. On one such occasion, Aryeh told me about how the Nazis acted when they came to Vienna, his hometown, in the latter half of the 1930’s. His name then was Leo Ritter and he was identified as a Jew. I believe he and I are about the same age so from age 14 to perhaps 18 or 19, he had to contend with the Nazis. On two or three occasions, the Nazis had residents bring toothbrushes to a meeting point in their district. They were then instructed to use the toothbrushes to scrub the sidewalk.

At that point, the Nazis wanted to be rid of the Jews. Concentration camps came a year or two later. In any case, Aryeh took the hint and decided to leave Austria. He lent his support to Zionist causes so it was natural for him to go to Palestine. Hebrew was a new language for Aryeh but he said he soon mastered it. And he changed his name from Leo Ritter to Aryeh Ron.

Before long, a beautiful young lady showed up in Palestine. She spoke German. She told Aryeh of her trepidation about learning the Hebrew language – which is not easy. Old Aryeh told the fair young maiden that if she went out with him, she would learn Hebrew in record time. I don’t know if that was true, but I know that they married and had a family. I went out with them for a Sabbath meal, and after 35 years or so, they seemed like a very happy couple.

There is another occasion when we spent a whole day in Aryeh’s company. We started early in the morning in Jerusalem and drove east to the Dead Sea, then north to Jericho, along the border with Jordan to the Sea of Galilee where we saw the Golan Heights which Israel and Syria had fought over. Aryeh seemed to keep close tabs on his watch. So that afternoon, we headed west to Haifa where Aryeh knew a man who permitted us to enter the University of Haifa canteen where we shared Israeli orange juice. As we left, Aryeh said that if anybody in the United States asked where I had gone to school, I should say the University of Haifa. For twenty years I have been waiting to use that line, but so far no one has asked.

After the orange juice, it became clear why Aryeh was keeping close tabs on his watch. As I soon found out, his daughter lived in Haifa and she had a six year old daughter who got out of school at 5 PM. Aryeh parked the car and sort of trotted toward a group of people standing on the sidewalk. In an instant his granddaughter left the people on the sidewalk and sprinted toward him. The hugs and kisses started to flow with great abandon. That encounter was worth the long trip to Israel.

I haven’t seen Aryeh in perhaps 18 years. His company has changed hands and of course, it is largely impossible to find out anything from the current administration of AT&T. Aryeh Ron is one of my closest friends. I admire him and maybe someday I will see him if not in Jerusalem, perhaps in Vienna.

MAN MOUNTAIN GIDEON LEV
Now we turn to Gideon Lev. Gideon became the President of the Israeli International Communications Corporation. He was a big man, perhaps six feet two inches weighing somewhere around 250 pounds. When Gideon talked, other people listened. When he walked, other people got out of his way. He was not mean or mean spirited. He was just a big man, clumsy at times, but a person who wanted to advance Israeli causes. I believe Gideon came from Poland. He was an early devotee of Zionism and as a result, he emigrated to Palestine. For all his pluses and minuses, I liked Gideon and count him as a good friend.

On one occasion, I had been in Rome and planned to leave early on Friday morning for Tel Aviv. At the time, the Israeli people I dealt with were in negotiations with the Italians. It was headed toward great unpleasantness. I had certain information that I had gathered in Rome that could be helpful to the Israelis. Well to start with, there is a two hour difference in time between Italy and Israel. The plane was slightly delayed so when I left the plane and found Aryeh Ron at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, he said that we had to make tracks to get to Jerusalem. Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath, of course. So Israelis knock off work at noon on Friday and return Sunday morning.

I found Gideon and Jake Haberfeld in the dining room of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. It may have been 1:30 PM when I finally arrived. Friday luncheon was largely over but that did not deter Gideon. While the waiter was reluctant to take our order, Brother Lev found the head waiter and one of the hotel’s administrators, and made it pretty simple. Meeting with me was important to the Government of Israel and if the King David’s management became an obstacle, old Gideon was prepared to roll all over it.

We had a lengthy meeting. The food was served by the headwaiter himself. The food in Jerusalem was never something to brag about, but as I recall it, we enjoyed what the headwaiter served us. The fact that the hotel dining staff lost part of their weekend was sort of a patriotic contribution, if you believe Gideon.

Gideon distinguished himself in the eating department on one other occasion in Paris. As the English say, at table, Gideon left a lot to be desired. When the food was set in front of Brother Lev, he seemed to want to make it disappear as quickly as possible. Forget this business of chewing your food 15 or 30 times. That wasted time. I suppose that given the speed at which he ate, his food may have been chewed one or two times at best.

In Paris we were about eight at breakfast. Gideon and Jake Haberfeld represented Israel. There were perhaps two French men with the rest being Americans. I sat next to Gideon. He ordered two poached eggs along with whatever the Paris Hilton put around eggs. But no ham or bacon. When the poached eggs were set in front of Gideon, he lifted each one on the toast and stuffed the egg in his mouth. He didn’t eat the toast – just the eggs. I was astounded but I should not have been because I had seen him eat before. Needless to say, Gideon finished long before any of the rest of us did.

Gideon Lev may not have conformed to good social behavior, but he was a fine negotiator who was like Jake Haberfeld, always fair. I found a lot to like about Gideon. He had a good sense of humor. But most of all, if for some reason I needed someone to share a foxhole with me, I would be delighted to jump into that hole with my good friend Gideon Lev. Provided there was any room.

Now that we have spoken about Shirley Morganstein, Aryeh Ron and Gideon Lev, there is only one more Star of David to account for. That missing Star of David is Jacob Haberfeld who is remembered by me as one of my best friends ever.

GENTLEMAN JAKE HABERFELD
I’m guessing but it appeared to me that Jake may have been my senior by eight to ten years. He started life in Warsaw, Poland and seemed to have developed a keen interest in the Zionist movement among Europe’s Jews. So in 1936 or 1937 he pulled up his stakes in Poland and cast his lot with the Zionists in Palestine. Jake never talked about himself but from his friends, I gather that he played a prominent role in establishing Israel as the Jewish homeland.

As one approaches Jerusalem from the west and southwest, the roads run uphill. On either side of the road are dozens of tanks, all destroyed. The tanks were used by the Muslim defenders of Jerusalem in 1948 and in subsequent years.

Each one had to have been destroyed by Israeli infantrymen. The old tanks are still parked along the sides of the highway as reminders of the price that Israel paid for its existence. Independent observers have told me that Jake Haberfeld had much to do with the establishment of the State of Israel. I never heard about that from Jake. He always took the view that we’ve got enough to deal with in the here and now without retrieving past history.

I had formal and informal dealings with Jake for more than eleven years. There were occasions when he was required to reply negatively to an AT&T proposal. When he finished his explanation for declining our proposal, I would often say that old Jake was right again. He was never belligerent because logic was often on his side. He was a very skilled defender of Israeli interests. When I encountered a refusal from Jake, which happened rarely, I was never offended. Jake’s explanations always made sense.

Late in the 1970’s, Israel and Italy reached an agreement to build a cable between a location in Italy named Palo and Tel Aviv which came to be known as the Tel-Pal Cable. Not long after the inauguration of that cable, the Italian administration was taken over for a time by very unreasonable people. The people that we had dealt with for years were thrown out. The Israelis felt that the newcomers were deliberately excluding them, and they were right. AT&T had a lot more clout with the Italians than the Israelis did. On several occasions we used our influence with the Italians to extract information that was helpful or vital to the Israelis. One of those occasions occurred when I was late in arriving from Rome to Jerusalem. I have earlier recounted that episode when Gideon Lev held the dining room open on a Friday afternoon, the start of the weekend, to serve us.

In a different conversation with Jake some months later, again at the King David Hotel together with Mrs. Haberfeld, Jake seemed puzzled by my description of what had recently occurred in Rome. Finally, Jake turned to his wife and the discussion that ensued had to do with the new Italian director having a Jewish name. Both agreed that the Italian I had questioned was a Jew. All ethnic considerations aside, I told the Haberfelds that the Italian in question was crude, bombastic and wanted to take revenge upon everyone who had worked with the Italian administration prior to his arrival. That included me. Unfortunately, I have long since forgotten that man’s name but in any case, Jake and Sarah Haberfeld said he was a Jew in an Italian suit. I took their word for it.

On another occasion, John Wieters, the Israeli country manager and I were in Jerusalem. As we were taking our leave from Jake and his staff, Jake said privately to me, that we should save room for some desert after our evening meal because he wanted me to come to his apartment. He said also that I should bring John Wieters with me.

As I’ve said many times over, the food in Jerusalem leaves much to be desired so it was no trouble for John and me to skip desert. Now we come to a slight difference in the way things are done in Israel as opposed to Europe, for example. Most telephone administrations in Europe maintain fairly large motor pools. There would be well dressed chauffeurs to drive you to your destination. Chauffeurs and waiters are accorded professional status in Europe, a quite different distinction from this country. But the Israelis have no motor pool and no chauffeurs – and they get along quite well.

Before Jake picked us up, John Wieters had managed to get some flowers for Sarah Haberfeld. At the appointed hour, Jake drove up in his car at the King David Hotel and we started to his home. His car was not a new one but it got the job done. When we arrived at Jake’s apartment I was happy that I had elected, at the last minute, to wear a sweater under my jacket. The reason was that it was a cool night and Jake’s apartment was unheated. I suppose most of the apartments of that time were also unheated so the Israelis simply put on more sweaters.

The evening passed very pleasantly with the Haberfelds telling us about how Israel was doing. They told us a little about how they had come to abandon Poland and set out for Palestine. Jake drove us back to our hotel. When we were alone, John said that he had looked back at the history of the dealings with the Israeli administration and that our visit to the Haberfelds home had never happened before. I was flattered.

On another occasion, I was accompanied by Howard Davis, the account executive of N. W. Ayer Agency who did our advertising. Jake came to Tel Aviv to meet us. Howard is the son of a circuit riding Methodist preacher in Missouri. I’m not sure that Jake was aware of Howard’s relation to the hierarchy of the Methodist Church, but he took us to a restaurant that offered seafood, which is sort of a rarity in Israel. Not only did they offer seafood, but the main item featured on the menu was St. Peter’s fish, which comes, if my memory is half way right, from the Sea of Galilee. According to Christian tradition, Jesus Christ caught St. Peter’s fish in that sea. In latter days that fish is called tilapia. Now having said all that, I have exhausted my knowledge about ecclesiastical matters having to do with Israeli fish. But Howard said the fish was delicious. I agreed.

When I retired on September 1, 1984 I was awakened at about 7AM by a call from Jake to wish me a happy first day of retirement. This was in addition to a note he had written. I was very touched by his wishes for a happy retirement.

As the 1980’s turned into the 1990’s, Jake continued to work as an advisor to the Israeli submarine cable company. I’m not sure that the Israeli administration has a pension plan so people work well into what would normally be retirement years. One day, probably in 1995, I heard from a round about way, that Jake had died. I called Jerusalem for details but didn’t seem to get anywhere. Perhaps a month after Jake’s death, I got a call from Yitzhak Haberfeld, Jake’s son, who was studying for an advanced degree at the University of Wisconsin. Sarah Haberfeld had unfortunately been debilitated by Alzheimers Disease. Rather than institutionalize her, Jake tried to take care of her himself. I suppose it was more than Jake could handle. He died of a heart attack. Speaking to Yitzhak was a lot like speaking to Jake. I was delighted to receive that call.

It would be possible to go on even further about things big and small about Jake Haberfeld. I think it is fair to say that I admired him greatly and I am proud to say that he was one of my best friends ever.

I am glad that I finally got around to writing about the Four Stars of David. The three men in Jerusalem became very close friends. I learned a lot from all of the Stars of David.

A FEW FINAL THOUGHTS
This is a particularly poignant time in the history of Israel. History can’t be changed now but I greatly wish that Yitzak Rabin was the Premier instead of Ariel Sharon. And I wish that the George W. Bush administration had not let things progress to the perilous point at which we find them today. And indeed I wish that Dennis Ross would be restored to guide the United States interests instead of war hawks who now surround the U. S. presidency. If nothing else makes sense, Sharon’s statement of yesterday puts things in crystal clear perspective. Sharon said Israel would have to take leave of the position of the United States having to do with the Middle East. Sharon said that the U. S. is interested only in its projected war with Iraq whereas Israel is interested in dealing with the Palestinian issue. Bush has the facts exactly backwards. I don’t admire Sharon, but that statement makes it clear that Israel comes in second best after Iraq with the Bush presidency. Unfortunately, the American people will have to pay for this most unfortunate mistake.

E. E. CARR
3-28-02

AN AFTER THOUGHT OR TWO

I am not a Jew although I hope you have seen where my strong sentiments lie. My ancestors fled the Great Hunger in Ireland in the 1840’s and 1850’s. Some people refer to that period as the Potato Famine. It was more than just potatoes; it involved hunger by a large part of the Irish population. My parents never met a Jew before they came to St. Louis shortly after the 20th century began. Growing up, I had no preconceptions or prejudices about the Jewish faith. I’m very glad about that because it saved me a lot of wasted time disliking or hating the Jewish people. My mother had two overwhelming dislikes. The first was the German Army because they had gassed two of her brothers in the First World War. The second was the English. A lot of the resentment against the British came directly from the Great Hunger in Ireland.

But I had a shot at becoming a Jew. When I enlisted in the United States Army in the summer of 1942, each soldier was issued dog tags which became useful when a body had to be identified. The tags were worn around the neck, hence the name dog tags, and had to be worn at all times. If the owner of the dog tags died, one of the tags was attached to his coffin. Some bodies, such as in the Air Force, were never recovered so the tags more or less went to waste.

As part of the enlistment process, we were asked by the soldier who was in charge of making the indentation on the tags what our religious preferences might be. The Army offered three designations: P for Protestant; RC for Roman Catholic; and J for Jew. I told that soldier who was charged with making the dog tags that I was not identified with any of the choices he had offered. I more or less suggested “None of the above” for my dog tags. The maker of the dog tags was a big man and he was a Buck Sergeant. He looked at his imprint device and the next letter was “P.” He informed me, “Soldier, you are a Protestant.” And so I missed my opportunity to claim Jewish identity. That’s what happens when you are a slow thinker.

Now a final-final thought about the crisis that has struck the Israeli-Palestinian situation this week of Passover and of Easter. I am largely convinced that all the bloodshed might have been avoided had Sharon not pushed Israeli settlements into Gaza and the West Bank. There are now some 250,000 to 300,000 Israeli inhabitants in settlements in Palestinian Territory. Those settlements rub salt in the wounds of the Palestinians. It tells them they are impotent and are not to be regarded as full human beings. Sharon’s people say God gave all of Palestine to the Jews. I don’t buy that. If God or Allah or whatever gave the land to the Jews, I am sure he would have chased the Palestinians into the sea, even though they have lived on that land for 2000 years. Of course, that did not happen.

But I despair of making headway for my thoughts. I am sobered by the thought that my belief is in non-belief. Neither fish nor fowl. So I suppose my views probably count for nothing. Maybe next year, but not now.

After all these years, it never dawned on me to point out to Jacob, Aryeh and Gideon that my first given name is a Hebrew one. Ezra has a full book in what Christians call the Old Testament. It can be found between II Chronicles and Nehemiah. The fact that I failed to point this out to my friends in Jerusalem simply confirms that I must be a mighty slow thinker.

E. E. CARR
March 28, 2002

ADDENDUM

After I wrote the Four Stars of David essay, three thoughts about Jake Haberfeld occurred to me, which I would now like to add to the record.

In the essay, I labeled the section having to do with Jake as “Gentleman Jake Haberfeld.” He was all of that. On one occasion in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s, I was joined by a woman who was a Director in the AT&T Long Lines Advertising Department. I was simply trying to educate the advertisers about Israel. When the time came for lunch, Jake gently inquired of the woman, “Would you like to go to that certain place?” She barely knew what to say to this very polite request. In the first place, the female in question was on her third husband. She had been around the block more than once. Secondly, in the United States, someone would have said the John is down this hallway – find it yourself. Ah, but Jake was all gentleman with his inquiry about that “certain place.”

Before all the troubles started in Israel, we met Jake for another meeting in the early 1980’s. In opening the meeting for the U. S. side, I jokingly said to Jake that it would be fine with us if Israel took over in Gaza, the West Bank, Sinai, Syria and Lebanon so long as Miami Beach would be returned to American hands. I am assuming that everyone knows that Miami Beach is populated primarily by Jewish residents. Jake immediately replied, “That’s one of the problems with the Americans. They always want a package deal.” I was laughing so hard that it was impossible for me to respond. Touché Jake.

At another meeting with just Jake and myself, Jake presented me with a small oil lamp. Before candles and electricity came along, the ancient people in the Middle East used oil lamps. The oil lamp he gave me had been used in Palestine in ancient times. It came with a certificate of antiquity from the Israel government. Jake insisted that his gift was nothing, really. That oil lamp was as far from nothing – as Jake said it was – as it could be. It is a treasure and for the past 25 years, it has had an honored place in this house on the mantel in the living room. Nothing indeed – my foot.

These three foregoing thoughts came to me a day or two after I finished the Stars of David essay. I thought it would be well to add them to give the reader a fuller picture of Jake Haberfeld. He was some kind of guy.

E. E. CARR
4-2-02

~~~

The phrase “whatever the Paris Hilton put around eggs” threw me for a loop, because “Paris Hilton” generally refers to a person instead of a place.  I was briefly forced to consider what egg garnish the celebutante would favor so strongly that Pop would refer to it while reminiscing about old friends.

“I have exhausted my knowledge about ecclesiastical matters having to do with Israeli fish” made me smile. I hadn’t heard about any of this before, so now I suppose this particular piscine knowledge has now been transferred. Thanks, Pop.

All the talk about “I had certain information that I had gathered in Rome that could be helpful to the Israelis” and similar statements sounds so spy-like to me. I know they’re probably not, and that the information was probably just related to telephony, but I guess there’s not really a way to be sure. I wish he had gone into it more! I regret not asking him if he had more contact with the FBI than he brought up in his essays.

“OLD AGE IS A DISEASE”

-FRAU DOKTOR HERTA KNOPFMACHER FISCHER

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E. E. CARR
January 29, 2011

~~~

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

UPON BEING A GRANDFATHER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E. E. CARR
December 14, 2007

ATTACHMENT

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

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

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

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

Kevin Shepherd, Dec 2007

~~~

Ughhhhh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COUNTRY SPEAK | MISSING WORDS

In a previous essay, I commented on missing people. In this case, I will try to comment on a very few missing words from our vocabularies these days. This exercise is called “Country Speak.”

I call this essay “Country Speak” because the words that are missing from urban areas are found most often in the vocabulary of rural speakers. Words that no longer have meaning in urban areas are still retained in country speak, that is, the language spoken by rural residents. Let me give you a few examples.

When my father, who came from the farthest reaches of civilization in Illinois, died, my belief is that the certificate of death read, “died of natural causes.” That was quite acceptable to me because my father had always worked outside, supervising a dairy farm, climbing trees and mowing lawns and working in a brick refractory, jobs that required physical labor. By the time that he died at 77, he had exhausted his supply of energy I suppose. My mother, who also was a practitioner of country speak, said of his death, “I reckon he was plumb wore out.”

Translated into modern usage, my mother was saying by her use of the word “reckon” that I think or I believe this to be the case. When she said that he was “plumb wore out,” she meant that he was completely exhausted or entirely worn out. It seems to me that the use of the word “reckon” ought to have more currency than it enjoys today. As for “plumb wore out,” I believe that there are adequate substitutes but in any event I believe that my mother’s statement captured the day. It was a statement in pure country speak that set the record straight. My father was simply worn out and so he died. I reckon that all of his children and friends were sorry to see him go, but that’s what happens when you are “plumb wore out.”

There is another word that I would like to see used more often, and that is “yonder.” That word can be used to indicate a town down the road apiece or it can be used to indicate a pasture in the neighboring fields. Yonder is a term that is often used by poets and hymn singers, but unfortunately it is not used much by those of us who speak modern English.

Another term that is not in common usage these days is “joshing.” “Joshing” is no more than kidding or joking among one’s fellow contemporaries. It might be said that I was only joshing with him, meaning that my words were not to be taken seriously. They were all in fun. I regret the passage of “joshing” as a term of kidding because there is a degree of affection associated with it. One does not josh with someone unless he is friendly with him. But the word “joshing” in these days does not enjoy wide currency.

Finally there is the word “lick.” In country speak, “lick” is a blow or a strike. If a ball player hits the ball out of the ball park, he may be said to have “hit that ball with a good lick.” If a boxer hits another boxer on the chin and knocks him out, it will be said in country speak that “he hit him a good lick.” I am fairly certain that you have heard the phrase “give it a lick and a promise” for a job poorly done. That must refer to an ineffective lick in any case. Country speak uses lick to this day and uses it effectively. All things being equal, I believe that “lick” ought to be part of our vocabulary today.

The examples that I have used thus far in country speak will come as no surprise to a friend of mine named Thomas Warren Scandlyn, originally of Tennessee. Tennessee is well known because it makes Jack Daniels whiskey, it is the home of Elvis Presley, and it produced T. Warren Scandlyn. I suspect that those words used in the foregoing statements were entirely known to Tom Scandlyn and my belief is that he might even use them today.

Now we go on to Hurley Fitzwater, who was a preacher in a neighboring town. Hurley’s claim to fame was that he was a practitioner in the art of country speak and that he had received a call from God which he answered by becoming a preacher in a small church in Brentwood, Missouri. Hurley had no seminary training of any kind. He simply got the call from God and stood up and started preaching. It was about that simple.

In my father’s declining days, he summoned Hurley to his bedside and asked Hurley to make a few remarks at the funeral which he knew would occur before long. Now remember, my father’s testimony, which he is no longer around to refute, was that he asked Hurley to make a few comments at the upcoming funeral. As far as I know, he had no intention of Hurley doing any more preaching, other than a comment or two.

Nonetheless, at the funeral I noticed a lectern being rolled over in front of the coffin. In a short time Hurley Fitzwater stood behind that lectern and delivered a sermon that must have taken perhaps a half an hour. The title of the sermon was “There – – – The Sun Will Not Shine.” There was a pregnant pause between “There” and the rest of the sentence. But the pregnant pause produced nothing but bafflement.

Now I am not a bible scholar of any kind whatsoever but I had never heard a quotation from the bible alleging that there was no place that the sun did not shine. My instinct is to believe that Hurley made up this Biblical quote. Hurley spoke for a good amount of time in pure country speak. While I enjoyed Hurley’s use of country speak, the rest of my family and myself were entirely baffled as to what the sermon was about. It simply made no sense to any of us and now, forty-eight years later, as I reflect on that sermon, I can make no more sense of it today than I did in 1958. When my mother and brothers and sisters died, Hurley was not invited to their funerals. Poor old Hurley shot his wad with the sermon at my father’s funeral but I must tell you that I greatly enjoyed his use of country speak to deliver it.

Well, there you have just a few examples of country speak. It is important to separate country speak from ancient English such as “thine,” or “art.” Country speak is an entirely different language from ancient English and it should be recognized as such. It could be said that when my ears hear a good example of country speak, I reckon I suffer a strong lick to my soul. So be it.

E. E. CARR
April 23, 2006

~~~

Tom actually wrote a response to another essay on country speak, several years later.
See also, for the curious, Military Speak and Black Speak, also from 2012.

In other news the internet seems to validate Pop’s usage of “give it a lick and a promise,” a phrase I’d never heard before. I’m not sure I could pull off using it around the office, but I’m curious if anyone would understand it if I did. It seems to me that it’d make most sense in the context of a repair job or something — say you were supposed to fix the engine but ran out of time, maybe you’d give it a swift kick and hope for the best.

RITA, MAY I INTRODUCE YOU TO ROLLAND?

…And Both of You Ought to Get to Know Frances Day

A few essays back, I gritted my teeth and closed my eyes and dictated an essay about the most bitter woman I ever knew in my life. That woman was my boss’s secretary. You may recall that she is the one who told me, when I quit smoking, that I would be smoking again before the week passed. It has now been more than 50 years since I quit smoking and I wrote the essay to commemorate that fact. If Rita is still alive, I would like her to see it.

The woman in question was Rita Snedicker, a secretary in the offices of the headquarters of AT&T Long Lines in New York City. Rita was a heavy smoker herself, and there was no mistake about that. The lines in her face told the world that she was a heavy smoker. On top of that, Rita had been born with one leg shorter than the other and she walked with a limp. She lived with her bachelor brother in New Jersey and, as far as I know, Rita never married and I suspect that her boyfriends were few and far between. What I am suggesting is that Rita had plenty of reasons to be bitter and she carried it off with great aplomb. She seemed to dislike everyone.

Now the scene shifts to the Division Five headquarters of Long Lines in Saint Louis back in 1941. When I was hired, I became aware of an Engineer named Rolland Crow. Rolland had a certain expertise with open wire lines which are mounted on telephone poles.

When I returned to the St. Louis office after more than three years in the military service, AT&T was preparing to replace its open wire lines with a coaxial cable plowed beneath the surface. To the extent that AT&T replaced its open wire facilities with cable, Rolland Crow’s expertise became much less important.

Shortly after I returned to AT&T, I was given a desk in the engineering department not far from where Rolland Crow held court. Rolland actually held court because at lunch time he played chess at his desk with other people and seemed to enjoy beating them. Tiger Woods says that he likes not only to beat his opponents but to “kick their butts.” This was the attitude displayed by Rolland Crow. It was not enough just to win the game; his opponent had to be annihilated as well.

The fact that Rolland’s expertise was no longer in such great demand did not help his attitude. I soon came to learn that Rolland hated physicians. The source of the dislike had to do with an illness of his wife’s. As you know, physicians call their group of patients a “practice.” On many, many occasions Rolland would say about those physicians, “When are they going to quit practicing and play the game for keeps?” Whether Mrs. Crow’s physicians were adequate or not is not for me to say, but I suspect that the greatest physicians would not meet Rolland’s standards. He hated them all.

Throughout all of this period of years, Rolland used to dictate on one of the original Dictaphones which used a wax cylinder. Most of the other engineers and lesser folks would simply write out their letters or comments in longhand and give them to a stenographer in the typing pool and in a day or so the letter would be returned. But that is not the way Rolland did things. He dictated on this ancient Dictaphone with the wax cylinder, which gave him the prerogative of complaining about it not being returned soon enough and also gave him a reason to growl that the stenographer had missed a word.

Aside from those facts, it should be observed that Rolland dictated into this ancient machine in such a loud voice that the rest of us in that department had trouble concentrating. When I left St. Louis in the summer of 1951, Rolland was approaching retirement and as far as I can remember he still used his wax cylinder Dictaphone.

There is one other indication of Rolland’s dislike of other people. When one of the bosses or, particularly, one of his wife’s physicians became sick, Rolland would say, “I hope it’s nothing trivial.” Rolland was, as you can see, an equal opportunity disliker or hater, if you will. He simply disliked almost everyone, or at least that is the impression he gave.

Being a young member of the engineering staff, I was taught to look up to the engineers. But Rolland was a difficult man to be around. More or less, old Rolland exuded dislike and hatred for just about everyone. His remark about “I hope it’s nothing trivial” seemed to encapsulate the essence of Rolland’s personality.

A lot of time has now gone by since I first knew Rolland in 1941 and I suspect that he is no longer with us. It was an object lesson for me to know Rolland because it taught me what not to do. And if I were a physician in the St. Louis area, I would tell Rolland and his wife to go look for some other doctor rather than to saddle me with their loathsome spirits.

Rolland was a bitter man who would make a perfect companion for Rita Snedicker. He worked in St. Louis and she worked in New York, so they never had a chance to meet. But if they had met, I would say it was a match made in heaven: the most bitter woman and the most bitter man that I have known in all of my years of working experience.

Both Rolland and Rita by now have probably gone to their heavenly reward. Perhaps they will meet there and enjoy life for all eternity, bitching and moaning from morning until evening.

By now I suspect that all of you have had your full share of negativity about Rolland and Rita. Let us turn now to a happy woman who will provide a bit of inspiration.

In February, 1998, I was a patient in the Morristown Hospital awaiting an operation to repair my aortic valve. The diameter of the older valve that I had from my birth had shrunk from the size of a quarter, which it should be, to the size of a dime. Breathing during exercise became very difficult. So something had to be done. In this case, as in all such cases, the chest is opened and a new valve, this one from a pig, is inserted in place of the old valve. There were comforting words from the surgeon, who told me that if the pig valve failed over the next several years, they would happily replace it free of charge. I was not particularly comforted by this disclosure.

The night before the operation, I had a conversation with my fellow Missourian, Howard Davis. For reasons that are now unknown to me, this conversation led me to write a letter to the editor of the Hutchinson News. The subject of my letter, which was printed in an extended weekend edition, had to do with women and young girls meeting almost every troop train that passed through Hutchinson, Kansas. They boarded the train to pass out apples and cookies. On two occasions, on my way to an army camp at Las Vegas, New Mexico, I was on such a troop train that passed through Hutchinson around midnight. Even though the hour was late, those women and girls got on the train and passed out the cookies and the apples and tried to cheer us. I appreciated that very much.

The editor of the Hutchinson News printed my story and a woman named Frances Day called me to tell me that she knew those women. I was thoroughly delighted to know that someone who had knowledge of meeting the troop trains was still alive and would be willing to meet me. My wife and I flew to Wichita and then drove up to Hutchinson, which was a big division point on the railroads. My belief is that the division point belonged either to the Missouri Pacific, the St. Louis-San Francisco, or the Santa Fe Railways. In any case, Hutchinson was a major railway division point.

Arrangements had been made to meet Frances Day, who had written me the letter, and her husband. We met them and enjoyed lunch with them. Frances appeared in her wheelchair, which her husband, Bill Day, took from the rear of their van and wheeled into the inn. Frances and Bill Day were delightful people and we promised to keep in touch with them. Many of these promises to keep in touch don’t really work out, but in this case it did. I was obliged to Frances for representing the women who met those trains in Hutchinson during the war and it was a pleasure to meet Bill Day, who was also a gunner in the American Air Force.

Upon returning home, we began to send essays to Frances and Bill Day. As time went on, we found out a little more about the Days. Frances suffers from Multiple Sclerosis. She plays the piano and sings at a home for the aged and sings at church as well. She has borne her burden of less-than-spectacular health with good grace. Her husband Bill has had a stroke in recent years. Both of them are wonderful people.

After we began to send essays to Frances and Bill Day, each one was marked by a return postcard. The postcard gave us news of what was going on in Hutchinson, but most of all it was meant to thank us for sending each issue of the essays. We have the most recent postcard, which tells us that Frances and Bill Day are approaching 80 years and are thankful that they are still at home together.

So here is a girl who went from handing out cookies and apples to the troops during World War II to singing in church and playing for old folks, much of the time in recent years from a wheelchair. I believe it is an inspiring story and one that I wish I had known about in previous years so that I could have quoted it to Rita and Rolland. The postcard from Frances tells you all you need to know about their outlook on life. When I have said in previous writings, “Don’t look at what you have lost but at what you have left,” that is the essence of what Frances and Bill Day are doing. And so you see, this story, which started out on a morbid note, actually has a happy ending. If any of you are wandering around western Kansas and decide to go to Hutchinson, it will be my pleasure to introduce you to Frances and Bill Day. Judy and I were inspired by our visit and by our correspondence with them, and I think that you will be too.

E. E. CARR
July 18, 2006

~~~

Not sure I ever expected to hear Pop describe someone as a “hater” but hey, the shoe clearly fits. That said I think it’s probably fair to cut a little slack to someone whose wife is chronically ill. If someone close to you is being hurt by something serious like that, it can definitely change your personality and make you more on-edge for long periods of time. It’s not an excuse to be an asshole to everyone, of course, but it might explain some of the other behavior.

The part about making friends with the Days made me smile. Plus it answers a very tiny mystery, namely who the “Day” column belongs to on the original distribution list for mailing the essays. Said distribution list suggests that a total of 492 essays were sent out to the Days — it seems like that friendship definitely lasted!

REFLECTIONS ON A LONG WORKING CAREER

One Sunday morning recently, there was a series of reports about mosque bombings in Iraq. One sect would try to bomb out the other sect. John Warner, the senior senator from Virginia and the head of the Armed Forces Committee in the Senate, got things terribly confused. Warner, who is a mature man, confused sectarian with secular. They have opposite meanings, of course, but on two occasions Warner referred to the violence in Iraq as being secular rather than sectarian. Perhaps his marriage to Elizabeth Taylor impaired his mental capacities.

That put me to thinking about some of the people I had known during my career with AT&T, as a filling station attendant and as a soldier. Some of those people also had a tendency to screw things up when they pronounced a word.

In 1937, I finally found a job at age 15 with Carl Schroth, who managed a Mobil gas station at the corner of Clayton Road and North and South Roads in Clayton, Missouri. Carl was a veteran of the First World War and he invariably referred to himself as “yours truly.” Being new in the business world, it took me a while to figure out who yours truly was. It was simply old Carl Schroth.

Carl needed a truss or so he said. Rather than buy a truss, Carl put a plywood board down the front of his pants. In this filling station, we served some of the most exclusive residents of St. Louis County, who lived in large homes and drove expensive automobiles. They represented the cream of St. Louis society. Sometimes when Carl would go out to wait on a female customer, he would thunk his board in the front of his pants and would say to the female customer, “What do you think of that?” I suspect that the female customer did not think much of “yours truly’s” performance.

Carl was a good guy who wrote me an effusive letter when I enlisted in the US Army. There were several peculiar aspects about working for Carl Schroth. For example, he had a safe sunk in the floor under the desk in his office. After I went to work for Carl, I wondered why I had not been paid. It turned out that Carl’s employees were expected to go take money out of the safe in the floor and leave a note saying “Charlie Kosta took $12 today” or something of that sort. I never was a fan of that arrangement, but that was the way that Carl did business so it soon developed that when I needed some money, I would go withdraw it from the safe in the floor and leave a note there.

Carl Schroth also taught me about con jobs. Sometimes when I was scheduled for a day off, he would say, “Eddy, you’re too valuable a man to be walking the streets, so I want you to come to work tomorrow.” And I fell for it, at the start. So I got very few days off. Fact is – if you wanted to keep your job during the Depression – you went to work.

There is one other incident that has remained with me since probably 1938. Lake Forest is an exclusive community about a mile from Schroth’s filling station. It has very large homes and the people there drove Packards and Cadillacs, and had chauffeurs and maids. On one occasion on a very snowy night we were called to pull a large car out of a ditch in the Lake Forest subdivision. The driver had had perhaps a bit much to drink and had wandered off the road and had become stuck. When Carl told the driver of the car that it would cost him $12 or $15 to get pulled out on a Saturday night, the driver of the car agreed. When he was winched out of his position down in the ditch, he tried to stiff Carl. He said that he didn’t have $12 or $15 and that he would only give Carl $8 or $10. There were three of us there: Carl Schroth, Charlie Kosta, and myself. None of us believed that this gentleman was as broke as he claimed. When it was finally determined that this man wanted to cheat us, Carl simply reached into the car and released the emergency brake. Charlie Kosta was on one side of the car, Carl was on the other, and I was at the radiator in front of the car. Without a word being said, Carl and Charlie began to push the car right back into the same hole from which it had been pulled. When I discovered this was taking place, I joined in that effort. This is called restoring the status quo ante.

We got into our tow truck and drove off. The driver of the car had to find another tow truck operator late that night, which I doubt that he could have done. Presumably he went back to his host’s house and slept there, but that was no concern of ours. We had been stiffed and we had our revenge.

After I went to work for AT&T in St. Louis, there were two or three characters who made an impression on me, and not a very good impression. The first was George Knickerbocker who persisted in pronouncing every letter in the word “miscellaneous.” George pronounced that word as “mis – kell – aneous.” He is also the man who invented the term “pestimistic.” He simply inserted a “t” where none should have existed.

Close by was a fellow named Ken Greenleaf. Ken always pronounced the word “architect” as though the emphasis was on the first four letters. He pronounced that word as “ARCH – itect,” not as “ark-itect.” Ken also became angry one time and wrote a letter to “the editator” of the  St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Near George Knickerbocker’s desk sat a milquetoast named George Kern. Kern had very slim shoulders and a very slight build, but all during the 1930s and 40s, George Kern had been a member of the National Guard, working toward the 20 year retirement plan. The only thing imposing about George Kern was his mustache, which was sort of like that worn now by John Bolton, the Ambassador to the United Nations. It was full and bushy. George was a complete and absolute milquetoast if there ever was one. Yet all during his service with the National Guard, he had become a lieutenant or a captain or something like that. For AT&T, George was simply a low level clerk. At the end of World War II, George presented himself upon his return from military duty as a Brigadier General in the US Army. I suspect that if the Germans had known that George Kern was one of our Brigadier Generals, they would have died from laughter.

About a year after I went to work for AT&T, World War II came along and I enlisted in that effort. One of the fellows I met in Africa was named Merle Yocum. His wife’s name was Elmira. They were Iowa hog farmers. It always struck me that Iowa hog farmers ought to have proper names such as Merle and Elmira.

Elmira had a desire to keep Merle up to date so she sent him the newspapers from their local press. Military etiquette demanded that anyone receiving a newspaper should leave it in the latrine where it could be read by other soldiers. The Merle Yocum newspaper was read extensively, particularly when some of the hogs became, I believe the word is, “in foal,” which means that the hogs are going to have some little piglets. We followed the hog’s pregnancy with great anticipation, all thanks to Merle and Elmira Yocum. By the time we read the news, those piglets were out of the diaper stage, I suppose.

My last assignment overseas after coming out of combat was at an airbase in Accra, which is now the capitol of Ghana. It was a British base which the Americans used for their air transport command operations. Soldiers who worked at this base were like soldiers throughout the world. They tended to demean other soldiers by telling them that they were ugly and unattractive to females. There is no harm meant whatsoever; it just simply flows with being a soldier that other people are not to be praised.

Ordinarily when a soldier is told that he is ugly, he will respond by saying, “You’re not so pretty yourself,” or things of that nature. In one group of American soldiers, there was a man who had come to this country relatively recently. He was of Russian origin. I do not remember his name, but for purposes of this essay let us call him Ivan. Ivan did not understand the nuances of the English language, having only recently been introduced to it. There was one occasion when Ivan was told that he was ugly and instead of responding as the ordinary American soldier would do, he attempted to use an American expression that he had mangled, much as John Warner mangled the secular/sectarian reference. When Ivan was told that he was ugly, he replied, “You don’t like my face, piss on it.” This occurred while two men were on a workstand several feet above the ground working on an engine. They came fairly close to falling off from laughter after Ivan’s remark.

I had not thought of the incident involving Ivan for 60 years or so, but credit John Warner with bringing it back to mind.

Now we move to two individuals, one of whom was the meanest man I ever knew in the Bell System and the other was probably the dumbest person I have known in my life. Let’s take the meanest man first. The Bell System, when I was hired, was basically an organization of electrical engineers. They had the mistaken belief that electrical engineers could perform any function with great distinction. Consequently, they assigned engineers to run the personnel department, the public relations department, and so forth. My recollection is that perhaps some of the accountants were also engineers. They did not try to perform legal functions, which were reserved for lawyers.

The meanest man I ever knew was Henry Killingsworth. He was the executive in charge of the Long Lines Department where I worked. Long Lines had to do with interstate calling and international calling as well. Killingsworth was mean for the sake of being mean. He was a small man in stature. Perhaps that may have accounted for his meanness. There are two examples that I will cite for Henry Killingsworth.

At Christmas time it was the custom for the head of the Long Lines Department, a Vice President of AT&T, to write a letter to all employees wishing them happy holidays and expressing hope for the future. That was not Henry Killingsworth’s style. He used the Christmas letter one year to record the thought that “We have to take up the slack in the trace chains” from now on. This meant that everybody had to work harder and Henry Killingsworth reserved the right to pay them less. To write a letter at Christmas time saying that we had to take the slack out of the trace chains infuriated all of us. Taking the slack out of the trace chains refers to a plow being pulled by a team of mules or horses. We were working as hard as we could and Killingsworth’s letter simply brought to mind visions of a slave master whipping his employees.

Henry Killingsworth had a mean streak that was quite wide. On one occasion in St. Louis, two executives who had wood-paneled offices with secretaries, angered him. When we moved from St. Louis to Kansas City as part of a big reorganization, Henry Killingsworth saw to it that these two people, Bill Haywood and Chester Hotz, were punished. The secretaries and the wood-paneled offices disappeared. They were placed out in the bull pen at steel desks. Clearly their careers were over and they were men in their forties. Parenthetically, it should be noticed that both Haywood and Hotz died from heart trouble within 18 months after their demotions.

There was a gentleman in New York City who worked for Long Lines named Larry Pierce. Larry was a commander in the American Legion and each year he sold poppies on Memorial Day. Killingsworth required Larry Pierce to come to him every year to seek permission to sell the poppies. In any other case, Pierce would be told to go ahead and sell the poppies and don’t bother with coming to ask the big boss. But the big boss had to have Larry Pierce come in and plead with him.

During the time in question, there were nuns who sat at the top of the subway steps which were located within the Long Lines building. The nuns bothered absolutely no one. They simply had a basket into which contributions could be made and the most I ever heard them say was a murmured “Thank you.” The nuns were absolutely harmless.

On this occasion, when Larry Pierce went to see Killingsworth about selling his poppies for Memorial Day, Killingsworth heard Larry Pierce out and then said “Hell, no” to the idea of selling poppies. Then he added, “And while you are at it, get rid of those God damned nuns.” So you see, I believe I am right in stating that Killingsworth was an abominable person, given to bullying and destroying other people’s happiness.

Well, so much for Henry Killingsworth. Now we turn to another Vice President, named Ben Givens. Ben started as an assistant vice president and after a time in a reorganization he was upgraded to a full vice president. He served in what we called the “Washington office,” which was our official terminology for the AT&T lobbying effort. I worked for Ben Givens for three and a half years, and during that time Givens never gave me any instruction whatsoever. There were other vice presidents from New York who came to Washington to talk to me because of my previous labor work, who asked me to accomplish certain things, but Givens was not among them. In any event, Givens was given to malapropisms. For example, he always referred to rare items as “iters collectums.” During the time that I worked for Givens in Washington, there was a saloon known as Duke Zeibert’s, which was supported raucously by Redskin football fans. I once wandered in to Duke Zeibert’s to see what the excitement was all about and ordered a luncheon meal. It may have been among the worst I ever endured in Washington. Duke Zeibert’s was a saloon, no more no less, which appealed to Redskin fans who apparently knew absolutely nothing about cuisine.

In any case, when Ben Givens referred to that saloon, he made hash out of its name. He called it “Zoot Diebert’s” and some other combinations that brought to mind the idea of “iters collectum.” After I returned to New York, I had occasion to pass through the Washington office and went in to talk to Givens to pass the time of day. Givens’s wife had died about a year earlier and on this occasion he went over to the far wall of his office where a picture was mounted on the wall which measured perhaps two feet by three feet. Givens was also a golfer who seemed to believe that all of the people that we were lobbying in Washington were equally nuts about golf as he was. He played at the Congressional Country Club, which he viewed as the epitome of all golfing establishments in this country. Givens told me that on either the eighth or the ninth green at the Congressional Country Club, his recently departed wife would put in an appearance. He pointed to the picture on the wall and said that she appeared to him as an apparition of about that size. He said that they talked to each other about how he was doing and what was happening to the furnishings in the house and apparently the two must have enjoyed a very real conversation. My eyes were rolling while Givens related the story of his conversations with his departed wife. In the end Givens retired and, of all things, became a bishop in some sort of Protestant church. He lived to be ninety years old, at which time he died and so he and his wife can now enjoy their conversations in person rather than at the Congressional Country Club.

We will close this essay with a couple of stories involving reminiscences from the American Army. Not long after I had enlisted in the Army, I was sent to the Embry-Riddle School for Aeronautics in Miami. Because of the urgent need to train many of us as aerial engineers, we were assigned to both day and evening classes. During the day we would march around a little bit, and at about three thirty or four we would start our work as aerial engineers in training. Because we were working in the dark after the sun went down, we had to make accommodations for that fact. At that time of course every airplane was driven by propellers which were mounted in front of the airplane itself. To see if the engines were operating properly, it was necessary to start the engines and to “run them up” to see how their performance was doing. This posed a problem in safety which our instructors were always careful to point out to us. One instructor in my group told us that if we backed into a rotating propeller, it would make “hamburger meat” out of you. I had no intention of sticking my backside into a rotating propeller, but I thought that the hamburger meat was a tautology of considerable importance. And so for more than 60 years, I have always endured the thought that one should not square off with an airplane propeller because it would make hamburger meat out of you.

All of us survived the training on the night shift without being made into meatloaf.

Early in my career as a soldier, there were endless days of marching back and forth on a dusty field in Las Vegas, New Mexico – not Nevada. The field was dusty, the barracks were dusty and so was the mess hall. In any case, there was a person who had identified himself as a former member of the United States Army who was assigned to help train us in our marching. He instructed us on forward marching, on marching to the left and right, and on such things as oblique marching. Somewhere along the line, this drill instructor became confused and I spoke up in an effort to help him with his work. The drill instructor absolutely leveled me with his retort, which has stayed in my memory since the summer of 1942. The drill instructor said to me, “Soldier, you don’t get paid for thinking.” I am here to tell you that indeed soldiers do not get paid for thinking. They get paid to go do what they are told, and what they are told is usually some directive from a politician.

Colin Powell is perhaps among the prime examples of the “you don’t get paid for thinking” dogma. Colin Powell knew that the adventure into Iraq was absolute folly yet he kept his peace and did as he was told. Powell could have resigned in protest or he could have leaned all over Bush in an attempt to avert this disaster in Iraq. Yet, Powell went along and the most dramatic thing that he said was the story about the Pottery Barn rule that if you break it, it is yours. And so you see that my admiration for generals in the American Army is very limited.

Indeed and in fact, soldiers don’t get paid for thinking. They get paid for carrying out orders, including those that result in their deaths. I regret that these are the facts that cannot be changed.

A final note here. For the last 13 or 14 months of my overseas tour, I was serving in Accra in what used to be called the Gold Coast. The Gold Coast is now called Ghana. They ran off their British conquerors and they are now on their own. Most of the people in the section of Accra where I served spoke the Ga language. It seems to be a happy language. I learned only one phrase. It is “i-ee-ko.” It was years before I found out that “i-ee-ko” means well done. On the other hand, the Ghanians actually use it as a greeting. They would walk by our barracks where the natives were working and would shout “i-ee-ko” and the fellows who were working around the barracks would respond with the same remark.
“I-ee-ko” is a gentle reflection of the Ghanian people. I am sorry that I learned no more than that small phrase. But it served me well when three refugees from Ghana appeared in our local market. We all regard each other as friends and indeed Daniel Commodore, his English name, said that when I come around, he feels like his father is visiting. I regard Daniel’s remark as the highest compliment available.

Well, these are reminiscences from a long career and they were triggered by John Warner not knowing the difference between sectarian and secular. I enjoyed recalling some of these events because most of them were pleasant. The Killingsworth expressions were abominable, as he was. I suppose it is true that old men like to reminisce. It seems to me that that’s what memories are made of. So I enjoy recalling the incident about the Russian soldier who was told that he was ugly just as I enjoy recalling Merle and Elmira Yocum’s pig farm. These are not monumental thoughts of course, but they please me, which is, in this case, all that is necessary.

E. E. CARR
March 18, 2006

~~~

My favorite Killingsworth essay is here. I wonder if one of his decedents will find this site someday. If by some SEO miracle this happens, feel free to leave a comment!

Man, so many of the quotes referenced here come up or are more fully investigated in other essays, but short of appending a big list of related essays in the comments, there’s not a great way to easily navigate you around. I think that after all these are done, I’m really going to rethink site navigation as a whole to make it more useful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E. E. CARR
December 10, 2006

~~~

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

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

 

A REPRISE ON DIGNITY AND TEARS

Those of us who write essays recognize that when an essay demands to be written, it will be done. You may remember a recent essay called, “A Matter of Dignity.” In that essay, it recounted the story about how Matthew Pepe, my old friend who installs driveways and sidewalks, saw the problem of my taking the garbage containers to the street. On previous occasions, I had overshot and wound up in the street. On another occasion I found myself in front of a neighbor’s house. So that I could stay on course, Matthew installed two deflectors against the Belgian blocks which would return a different sound to my ears when tapped by my white cane. It is now a month or so since the two deflectors were installed, and I am happy to report that they are doing their job admirably.

There is another aspect to the story about Matthew Pepe. In the essay, “A Matter of Dignity,” I referred to Matthew’s immediate understanding of my dilemma of getting the garbage containers to the street. His understanding brought tears “to my useless eyes.” When the essay was finished, I composed this small letter to transmit it to Professor Pepe. Here is what my letter said:

After mailing the letter and essay, I more or less forgot about it because I knew that Matthew was hard at work pouring asphalt and concrete before the cold weather set in. Nonetheless, Matthew took the time to write me this poignant reply:

So you see, Matthew said that he had tears in his eyes as he read the essay. I am here to tell the world that no essayist gets better praise than that.

As I hope you can see, the Pepe family and that organization have my highest respect. They are good workman and they are friends. What more could anyone ask?

So this essay wrote itself. I merely arranged the sequence of letters. When an essay demands to write itself, it is best for the essayist to get out of the way. Which is what I am about to do.

E. E. CARR
November 25, 2006

~~~

Daww. Just another thing that made the Thanksgiving season of 2006 even better.

A MATTER OF DIGNITY

Those of us who have lost our sight frequently wrestle with the thought of our potential uselessness. It has always been so. In the Irish folksong, “Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye,” an Irish soldier who served with the British Army returns from a battle in Ceylon minus two limbs. The song’s lyrics say, “You haven’t a arm, you haven’t a leg, you’ll have to be put with a bowl to beg.” While Johnny retained his sight, I’m sure that his sense of uselessness dominated his thoughts. And so it is with those of us who have lost our sight.

Simply put, those of us who are blind are incapable of doing many of the things that we have done all of our lives. If we try to help around the kitchen for example, it is quite likely that we will cause more problems than if we sat on a chair and remained silent. The other day, for example, when I intended to deal with the electric stove top, the results were two burned fingers. And the dish in question never got stirred.

If I elect to help set the table, it seems to me that the glasses are always a gross impediment. Sometimes I knock them over. Retrieving plates for the next meal helps very little. I tend to knock over other dishes as I try to extract the plates. The point is that uselessness is always a consideration for the visually impaired.

Around the kitchen, I fold the paper bags the grocery store gives us so that they may be placed in a rack on the back of the kitchen door. I am able, with a high degree of fumbling, to fill the glasses with ice on most occasions. Leaving the kitchen, I am able to help my wife by going to the front porch and retrieving the newspaper. In that same spirit, there comes the matter of taking out the garbage from the garage to the street.

Taking out the garbage involves a total of four trips to the street. There is a trip the night before the garbage is collected and then there is the matter of retrieving the empty container the next day. This happens twice a week. Every other week, there is also a need to take out and retrieve a second container which holds the cans and bottles for recycling.

The driveway here from the back of the garage to the street is at least 90 feet long with Belgian blocks defining its edges. I find that I can make my way from one end of the driveway to the other by using my white cane to tap on the blocks. It is remarkable to me how easy it is to stray in a direction that I had never intended. Completely blind persons such as myself have no sense of direction. I have no idea whether I am walking east or west or north or south. It is for this reason that blind people tend to stick to walls that help guide them. In this case, I use my white cane to tap on the Belgian blocks to keep me on course for my eventual destination at the street.

A lot can go wrong in the 90 feet of driveway. On two occasions, I overshot the driveway and wound up well into the street. On another occasion I became turned around and wound up in front of the neighbors house going down the street. Unfortunately, the street is also lined by Belgian blocks. Remember, I told you that I have no sense of direction.

My solution to avoid wandering into the street was to install a metal device alongside the Belgian blocks that would return a different sound to my ears as I approach the street. For blind people, ears and hearing are extremely important. When the thought of installing metal devices in front of the ordinary Belgian blocks first occurred to me, my thoughts turned automatically to a gentleman I have known for dozens of years. That gentleman is Matthew J. Pepe.

In the 1960s, I owned a house in a town called New Providence, New Jersey. Somewhere along the line, the patio outside the recreation room split in the middle and sunk. As a result, when rain occurred, the sunken patio funneled the water into the recreation room. When that happened, I consulted with a neighbor, Nick DiNunzio, who suggested that the man to call was Matthew Pepe.

Mr. Pepe poured a new patio for me and things were well taken care of. From that time until now, all of my concrete work and driveway work have always been referred to the Pepe organization.

When I called Matthew Pepe and explained my current problem about the garbage containers to him, he understood immediately. When I demonstrated to Mr. Pepe how I tap the Belgian blocks on my way to the street, his only question was, “And you are dragging the garbage can behind you?” I assured him that that was the case. From that point on I left things totally in Matthew Pepe’s hands.

Within a week or so, Matthew Pepe returned with his two sons and with three other men who work for the organization. They installed two metal deflectors that when tapped would return a different sound to my ears. One two-foot deflector was installed about 25 feet from the end of the driveway and the other was installed about six feet from its end. On the occasion of the installation of the metal deflectors, I gave them a test hop. As I walked slowly down the driveway and hit the first deflector, my wife tells me that there were smiles all around in the Pepe group. When I hit the second deflector, their smiles turned into laughter and cheers of approval. My test was a complete success.

When this project started, I explained to Mathew Pepe that I needed to take the garbage containers to the street to overcome my sense of uselessness. Matthew understood me completely. He said simply, “It is a matter of dignity.” Matthew Pepe is no psychologist nor is he a psychiatrist. He and his sons are simply hard-working people who install driveways for a living. Pouring a new driveway is tough work. Certainly it is not a matter of shuffling papers in an office. It is backbreaking work.

So you see, while Matthew Pepe is not a psychologist, he instantly understood what I was trying to accomplish. Matthew and I have known each other for many years. He correctly concluded that what I was trying to do was to overcome my sense of uselessness. When he said, “it is a matter of dignity,” he was absolutely right. And when he said that, a tear or two developed in my useless eyes.

So you see, if you have a driveway or walkway to be constructed, the only place to go is to Matthew J. Pepe of New Providence. And if you are fighting a sense of uselessness, Matthew Pepe is the man to see. If he concludes that it is a matter of dignity, Matthew and his sons will take up your case.

E. E. CARR
October 15, 2006

~~~

This one made me happy. Pop always especially valued his interactions with people who do real physical labor for a living, so I’m sure that made the whole affair just that much more pleasing to him. I think that affection probably stemmed from his job at the filling station, where he learned about what it’s like to do exhausting work while being subject to all manner of customers’ whims. In that same vein, I bet that Pop was always nice to various customer service reps whenever he had to deal with them.

THANKSGIVING, 2006

In my longer than expected life, I have never looked forward to the year end celebrations. The long American Depression kept Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations from being joyous occasions. In our family, at best, they were subdued. In effect, I enjoyed the holidays knowing that they would soon be behind me.

When Thanksgiving arrived this year, I thought it could be endured with a decent bottle of wine, lots of music, and not much fuss. But to my amazement, this Thanksgiving was perhaps the best one I have ever celebrated.

The story starts with my firm belief that the hardest working people in the world come from Costa Rica. They clean our house, they cut the grass and they plow the snow. If there are harder working people in the world, I would like to meet them.

We sensed that something was wrong when Jenny the housekeeper, had a “for sale” sign on her Toyota. That was just the beginning. In March or April of 2006, Jenny’s husband Ronald, had lost his job as a truck driver. The job loss occurred because Ronald could not get a New Jersey driver’s license because he is not yet a citizen. The normal wait for citizenship is at least 10 years. Ronald and Jenny are legal immigrants who have six years in on that 10 or 12 year requirement. Yet here in the great sweet smelling state of New Jersey, the authorities will not issue a driver’s license to someone who is not a citizen. So, as a result, Ronald lost his job as a truck driver. Over the summer he tried without great financial success to become a landscaper.

On top of this, the Cuban woman for whom Ronald worked had claimed to the Internal Revenue Service that he was a partner in her trucking business. This was done, of course, to reduce her tax burden. When we looked into this matter, we found that this ploy is now being used extensively, particularly where immigrants are concerned. Immigrants don’t hire lawyers and do not complain to the authorities out of fear of deportation. After discussions with Ronald and his wife, I am completely satisfied that he was a truck driver, no more, no less. He was never a partner with anybody. Nonetheless, the IRS treated him as a partner and soon he was confronted with an additional $5,100 tax bill.

Immigrants who wish to obtain citizenship in this country don’t challenge authority, particularly that of the federal government. Ronald and Jenny simply bowed their necks and agreed to pay the $5,100 amount in installments.

In the meantime, Jenny became pregnant with their third child. To eat, they were required to use their credit cards. As Thanksgiving grew near, they were about $10,000 in debt to the credit card companies who charge exorbitant interest rates. The going rate for a loan from the credit card companies is eight percent. It tops out at around 18%.

As events proceeded, it was clear to us, particularly to Judy, that Jenny was deeply troubled. On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Jenny said to Judy that they needed our help in borrowing $10,000. Jenny said that asking for our help was “the hardest thing I have ever had to do.” We knew that Ronald would have the Thanksgiving day holiday off so we arranged to meet them in the afternoon. Judy asked Jenny to bring the details from the IRS and from credit card statements with them. Through this entire affair, we understood that the banks would not make them a loan even though Ronald now has a new job.

When the two Costa Rican immigrants met with us on Thanksgiving afternoon, it became immediately clear that $10,000 would not cover what they owed the IRS and the credit card companies. They needed $15,000.

The long and the short of it is that we granted a $15,000 Promissory Note to the two Costa Ricans. Earlier they had said that they could repay as much as $1,000 per month. Our note specified repayment at half that amount to insure that they would not be forced back into the use of their credit cards with the attendant usurious interest rates. Furthermore, the interest charged by us was nada, which of course, is zero. We had no intention of profiting from the misfortune of the two Costa Ricans, who would at some time become citizens like ourselves.

After Jenny and Ronald signed a piece of paper for us, there was lots of emotion. Jenny called us their angels. She also said, “You will always be in my heart.” I suspect that once the banks had turned them down, they had no place to go except to us.

When the handshakes and the hugs were completed, the thought struck me that in all my now more than 80 years, this may have been the happiest Thanksgiving I have ever enjoyed. It is in keeping with the injunction from the Prophet Micah who said the Lord requires of thee to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly. By extending the loan to the hard working Costa Ricans, it occurred to me that we were obeying Micah’s injunction. It was an act of mercy just as it was an act that was just. And it was our duty to do that. But more than anything else, our treatment of the immigrant Costa Ricans provided a great joy to Judy and to myself. Speaking for myself, this may have been the happiest Thanksgiving I have ever had.

But the story doesn’t end there. You may recall from a previous essay that I take the garbage cans to the street twice a week. On Wednesday morning before Thanksgiving, the garbage collectors arrived as I was going out toward the street to retrieve the cans. The collector saw my white cane and realized that I was blind. He took the bag from the container and threw it into his truck and came back and asked if he could help me. I told him “No thanks. This is my job.” As he started to leave, I asked him to come back to shake hands. He removed his work gloves, we shook hands, and wished each other Happy Thanksgiving. I believe that that hard-working man has become a friend.

On the Friday following the Thanksgiving holiday, I again took the garbage containers to the street and left them there. On Saturday morning I went out to retrieve them. My new friend had removed the bag from the container, he had carefully placed the lid back on the container and left it in precisely the same spot where I had placed it the night before. As you know, sometimes the garbage cans are discarded carelessly. My new friend made sure that the garbage can with its lid on was in its proper place.

So between Jenny, Ronald and the garbage man, whose name I do not know, my Thanksgiving holiday was the happiest ever. With respect to the loan, Judy and I are completely confident that it will be repaid over time. And I expect, that those two immigrant Costa Ricans will become our friends for life. So you see Thanksgiving, 2006 was a day of great joy for us. What more can anyone ask?

E. E. CARR
November 25, 2006

~~~

Pop’s expectation was correct; they were indeed friends for the rest of his. You can read a follow up essay about them here. Per that essay, the two of them should have gotten citizenship in 2015, which I hope went smoothly — perhaps Judy knows.

It also strikes me that perhaps it’s for the best that Pop didn’t live to see the Trump administration, in particular for it’s virulent anti-immigrant stance, which I think that Pop would have found especially repugnant. What a nightmare.