Archive for September 2012

SEXUAL MATTERS

For a good number of years, I have been pursuing the art of a wordsmith. But all of that has now gone by the wayside as we have seen the Republican primaries take place.

Much to my dismay, the aspirants to Barack Obama’s job have brought up a collection of terms of which I am only vaguely familiar.

A few years ago, I produced a small essay having to do with a woman in Greenwich Village who claimed that she had been raped.  In point of fact, she had gone through the East Village telephone directory and simply pulled out a name and charged him with rape.  As it turns out, this gentleman was a homosexual with a history that extended back more than 25 years.  When the case came to trial, the defendant offered an incontrovertible defense of his actions.  After his recitation that he had had no contact with any females in Greenwich Village, he went on to proclaim that “I have never met a vagina personally.”  Now I thought that his remark was so unusual that I devoted an essay to it.  Oh, by the way, the judge dismissed the case.

But that remark pales in comparison with the disclosures and arguments among the Republican aspirants to Mr. Obama’s job.  Apparently there was a provision in a proposed law in the great state of Virginia that persons who wish to have an abortion have to undergo an invasive medical procedure.  The proposed law does not state that only females may be the subject of this discriminatory fact.  Perhaps that is an oversight.

In all of the years that I have been writing essays, I have only referred to the vagina once in the case of the Greenwich Village man who was accused of raping a woman.  This is not a matter of squeamishness on my part, but if the contents of an essay or a letter do not require the use of that term, I see no reason to employ it.

But now the Republicans have ripped the seams off of our attempts at being rational and proper.  In the great state of Virginia a bill was introduced that provided that a woman could not undergo an abortion until she has had a trans-vaginal inspection of one kind or another.  I apologize for not getting the precise term.  When I go to writing about subjects such as this, words tend to escape me.

The Governor of Virginia said that he would sign the bill into law immediately.  Then he backed off and introduced a measure which would not provide for the intrusive nature of the female private parts.  As one female commentator testified, this would involve being completely undressed and having jelly on the outside of the woman’s body, and I suppose an x-ray of some kind or another.

In both cases, it would involve the female wishing to have an abortion becoming undressed to undergo a procedure that is not called for in her medical history.  The simple fact is that the Republicans, in their desire to do away with Roe v. Wade, are attempting to make it as difficult as possible for those seeking an abortion.  And of course those seeking an abortion are almost always females.  Furthermore, the women will have to pay for this unwanted and unnecessary procedure.

I have now been advised that the proper term that aroused my curiosity is a “trans-vaginal ultrasound.”  I suspect that most of the aspirants will be thoroughly inclined to have the woman humiliated.  But it is not my intention to get into the politics, particularly Republican politics.  From what I have observed, the Republican candidates will be submerged in holes that are so deep that they will never escape from them.

What I am commenting on is that the word vagina hardly ever was used by people such as myself writing essays or in normal conversation.  Ah, but that was yesterday.  While I thought that the homosexual man from Greenwich Village saying that he had never met a vagina personally was so unusual, it appears that now the Republicans are insisting upon this precise terminology.  But I suspect that my indignation will be acted upon in the voting booth by the females who are offended by the Republican’s proposed medical practices.

But as we go forward, I would like for my readers to remember that it was the Republicans who brought you the trans-vaginal ultrasound inspections.  For my own part, I will automatically vote against any person who promotes the trans-vaginal inspection business.  I would hope that the sponsors, completely Republican, will soon be out of business.  But unfortunately that is up to the voters in this great American enterprise.  I may be out of step with those who speak of trans-vaginal inspections, but I doubt it.  In any case the trans-vaginal business has now provided a few new words for your vocabulary.

I long for the days of the past when we were surprised by the Greenwich Village man who said that he had “never met a vagina in person.” I liked it better when we were surprised by the use of the word vagina.

Now that the cat is out of the bag, I suppose that we will have to be accustomed to the use of the word vagina in news reports, all of which will come to you courtesy of the Republicans aspirants to Barak Obama’s job.

 

E. E. CARR

February 24, 2012

Essay 638

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It baffles me that Republican women exist.  Same goes for the fact that decisions that will only regulate women are decided overwhelmingly by men. Or that prominent politicians can throw around the term “legitimate rape” and not have their careers instantly obliterated.

There are a lot of things wrong here.

Pop’s essay “Reflections on the Wahhabi” covers more of this type of material. Ugh.

FURTHER THOUGHTS ABOUT THE LANGUAGE OF THE ANGLO-SAXONS

In recent weeks I have been listening to television and radio reports about something “going viral.”  I was having a hard time trying to realize what the phrase “going viral” meant.  My wife, who pampers me, explained that “going viral” simply meant that the report had gained a tremendous amount of circulation.  I could have figured this out by myself, but in my mind “going viral” had to do with a disease of some kind or other.

An hour later there was a commentator who said, “At this point in time, reports about a youngster having sexual relations with John F. Kennedy is going viral.”  I have no comment about whether the young woman had sexual relations with John F. Kennedy, because I was not there.  But in terms of the language of the Anglo-Saxons, it is my firmly held belief that the phrase “at this point in time” and the thought about “going viral” are less than stellar additions to the language of the Anglo-Saxons.

In time I hope that these youngsters and the commentators will outgrow the need to say “at this point in time” or “going viral.”  But my guess is that if I were to listen to reports on radio some ten years from now, they may still use those two terms.  Now at least I have registered my objection, for which I expect the full praise of English teachers around the world.

 

E. E. CARR

February 12, 2012

Essay 636

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Kevin’s commentary:

These two phrases seem to have sparked particular ire in Pop, who revisits them both in an essay entitled “GOING VIRAL” written in May of this year. Occasionally Ezra’s Essays will repeat themselves a little bit but I find no harm at all in that.

 

AGAIN, THE LANGUAGE OF THE AMERICANS

As most of you know, I am an astute observer of the language that was inherited by our ancestors, which had its origination first in the Saxon people and then in the English.  Perhaps this essay should be classified as an essayette.  But that is a concern for another day.

There are three entries in the discussion of today.  The first is the wide-spread phrase, “falling in love.”  A question that must be asked is why the “falling” part is involved in “falling in love.”  I have no objection one way or the other.  As a curiosity, I would like to know why the phrase “falling in love” is used so often.  The phrase “falling in love” is also used in conjugations such as “I fell in love with her.”  Again, I have no quarrel whatsoever with “falling in love,” but my curiosity will not be satisfied until I know what “falling in love” might mean with the falling part.

But I do not expect that anyone will come up with a phrase that is better than “falling in love.”

There is another phrase having to do with falling.  As we age, falling becomes a greater concern.  After the fall is completed, it becomes difficult to stand upright again.  But again, my curiosity is aroused by the term, “falling down.”  There is no such thing as falling up.  I know that in American speech and perhaps in British speech as well, “falling down” is a common use of that phrase.  May I assure you that just plain falling is good enough for those of us who write essays and falling in actual fact is a serious matter.

The third item for your consideration has to do with the phrase, “I have a bone to pick with you.”  In the past week I had a conversation with a physician I have known for many years and I used that expression, “I have a bone to pick with you.”  This was a joking situation but why is it that we say, “I have a bone to pick with you?”  If you are looking for answers, there are none.  I merely pose the question with the thought that someone who reads these essays may respond.

There we have three curiosities about “falling in love,” “falling down,” and “a bone to pick with you.”  If anyone who reads these essays has a comment on these questions, your Uncle Ezra would be more than happy to receive them.

 

E. E. CARR

June 7, 2012

Essay 667

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Kevin’s commentary:

I’ve always thought the most interesting part of “falling down” is that the vast majority of the time it applies to living things, and is almost exclusively used for people. Timmy fell down. The bottle did not fall down. It is bizarre to me that adding the direction — the ONLY direction in which things tend to fall, mind you — somehow works to insinuate agency on the part of the faller?

Unfortunately I may offer no explanations for the latter two, except that perhaps “falling” was selected for “falling in love” because it implies a very definite change of state and is a rather active verb. It also takes place suddenly, as love oftentimes does.

Pop’s response:

Hey Kevin,

This has to do with your commentary on falling, which was covered in a recent essay.  There is one other comment that I would like to offer and it has the approval of the United States Congress.  I overlooked this comment by mistake when I wrote this essay.

Earlier this year Barney Frank, the well respected congressman from Massachusetts, announced that he would not run for re-election.  He said that at age 66 or some such number, he had fallen in love and wanted to spend more time with Jim, his companion.  Barney Frank is one of the highlights for many years of the congressional operation.  His intellect is razor sharp.  If he says that he has fallen in love, I wish him the absolute best.  I will be interested to see if any children emerge from this union.

Pop

 

 

A POLYGAMY OF ESSAYETTES – ACT TWO

You may recall that I sent you some essayettes in a previous mailing.  The essayettes were not long enough to be a full essay and so when they are gathered together I call them a polygamy of essayettes.  I will freely concede that the word polygamy is almost always used in conjunction with a practice of multiple wives which had the sanction of the Mormon Church.  It is my contention that the word polygamy could be used for other purposes.  It is a proper English word and I see no reason why it could not be used to identify several essayettes in addition to the practice of polygamy as it relates to multiple wivery.  This is the second time that this practice has occurred to Ezra’s Essays and so it is called Act Two.

 

The first essayette has to do with my father, Ezra Senior.  You may also recall that during his lifetime we were basically strangers.  This is not to say that there was any animosity between us.  But among other things, my father never abandoned rural ways and he was a thoroughly religious man.  But all things considered, I have come to appreciate the efforts that he made to keep the family alive during the depths of the Depression.

But my father, unschooled as he was, made two significant additions to the English language.  One addition is the wonderful phrase “I reckon.”  The second has to do with consuming a meal.

As I recall, my father, who died in 1958, often used the phrase, “I reckon.”  If he were asked about the square footage of his house, he would say that he reckoned it was so many feet.  If he were asked the distance between his home in eastern Missouri and his boyhood home, he would say, “Well, I reckon it is 200 miles.”  It has always seemed to me that the word “reckon” used in the sense that the old man used it was meant to say, “I believe.”  I deplore the loss of the use of the word “reckon.”  In point of fact, I would probably never ever use that word but I deplore its loss.  So you may consider this essay an attempt to bring back the word “reckon” into our normal conversation.  It is a lovely word that offends no one.

Now the second word used by my father is a bit more controversial.  If he were asked, for example, to have some dinner, he would likely say, “Thank you, I have already et.”  Know that Miss Maxwell, my eighth grade teacher, would have strangled at the use of this word.  But in retrospect, the conjugation of eating and “et” makes a good bit of sense.  But no one will use that word now that it is considered a country sort of term.

And so this polygamy of essayettes in the second act will start with “reckon” and “et.”  I do not expect that the English teachers at Harvard or any of the other Ivy League schools will call me to congratulate me on bringing back these two terms.  But they cause me to think about my father and that is a sufficient reason for me to like them.

Now we turn to the wine store salesman who had Miss Chicka and myself admiring his use of language.  A week or so ago, we were looking for some wine that we could serve to twelve people who were coming to this majestic mansion to celebrate my birthday.  As we toured the wine store, the salesman used the term “drinkability” for nearly every wine he had to offer us.  When we returned to our home, I asked Miss Chicka to look up whether or not drinkability was a proper term.  It was, if you consider it to be number three or four when the definitions are considered.  At this point, I give all of you permission to use the word drinkability as long as you give credit to “Gary’s Wine and Marketplace.”

 

I should have told you earlier that these essayettes have no relation to each other.  They are essays that come to mind but are not supportive of a full essay.

 

With that thought in mind, I believe it is time for us to consider “the dribbler.”  About five years ago, the house on the corner across from our house was sold to a developer who knocked the house down and built a large house on the corner that is reasonably attractive.  When the house was advertised, there was great emphasis on the fact that it contained five bathrooms.  If I may say so, there is little chance that the five bathrooms will ever experience excessive wear.  The husband, for example, seems to spend quite a bit of time away from home on the road.  There is a youngster, now in his teens, who grew up ringing the doorbells of neighboring homes and then hiding when people came to the door.  But this practice ended when I called him and his friend to the front porch of our house and gave them what is commonly known in Army circles as “an ass-eating.”  That was the end of the doorbell ringing.

Now this couple, who seem to have abundant means, has purchased a basketball net and backboard which is on their driveway outside the garage.  When the teenager is home, the neighbors know of his presence because he dribbles and bounces the basketball starting in the mid-evening hours.  Apparently this gives him a lot of satisfaction.  I am curious as to why he does not shoot at the basket; he just keeps dribbling the ball.  He simply loves to bounce the basketball on the asphalt driveway.  I know a few things about basketball and I can assure that this youngster continues to dribble the ball when he should be shooting at the basket.

Bouncing the basketball on the asphalt driveway gives off a dull thud.  Our home is about 300 feet away from the dribbler and we can hear when he is at work.  The same is true for his next-door neighbor.  But this teenager is content simply to bounce the ball on the asphalt driveway.  Apparently he never shoots the ball at the basket.  I suspect that his father has never told him that in a basketball game one must score some points.  Scoring points involves putting the ball through the net.  But this young man seems to be very much content to simply bounce the ball which tells me that “the dribbler” is at work.

As far as I know, there are no college scholarships available for dribblers.  They are reserved for those who can score the most points in a basketball game.  At this point, I should consider myself fortunate in that he is no longer ringing my doorbell.  I know where this youngster lives at various times of the day and know his parents have illuminated the back yard with floodlights.  This makes it easy for the dribbler to practice his art unattended by anyone else.

 

I think I told you at the beginning of the essayettes that they were totally unrelated to each other.  It seems to me that the dribbler is unrelated to everything, so I close the second act of the polygamy of essayettes on this high note.  And remember the younger Ezra, age 90, still being attracted to the words “reckon” and “et.”  It seems to me that you can’t get any better than that.

 

E. E. CARR

July 4, 2012

Essay 674

 

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Kevin’s commentary:

Perhaps after this blog is finished, I will endeavor to create a dictionary of all of the various words and phrases that Pop has highlighted over the years.

Now, this style of essay (tagged on this site as Multi-Essay — view all of them here) has got me wondering what Pop’s essay ledger looks like. He always speaks of clearing it out and moving things off of it. How many potential essay ideas float around there at a time? How often do essays get scrapped as opposed to compiled into multiessays? We may never know. Unless Pop decides to respond to this, I suppose.

I also pity the poor child who makes the mistake of “ding-dong-ditching” my grandfather. I feel like getting caught by him would be a rather unpleasant experience.

THE MOTHER TONGUE REVISITED

Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court Justice, is a man who has his head in the sand.  He insists that the law is what was written in 1776 – 1789 without any improvements to the law or the language.  You may recall that Scalia is the person who gave us George W. Bush when the hanging chad controversy in Florida took place.  I hold a thoroughly different view from Justice Scalia.  I hold that the mother tongue is a living instrument of continual improvement.  Some of these so-called “improvements” are worthless.  But nonetheless they are offered in the hope of improving the language.  What we have here as the Presidential campaign of 2012 starts are three new phrases or words that are of totally dubious quality.  I think that in the future, these three words or phrases will be pointed to as examples of outrageous thoughts.

The three phrases are “self deport,” “retroactive retirement,” and “legitimate rape.”  At this juncture, I do not intend to get into the arguments that are associated with these three phrases.  I am merely citing them because they are new words, they are interesting words, and they are outrageous words.

 

Let us start at the beginning.  There is a word or phrase that Mitt Romney, the Republican contender in this year’s election, has used very often but not recently.  The word he used is “self deport.”  I suppose that means that an unwelcome guest in this country will go down to the airline office and buy a ticket back to his home country.  This summer we were having the outside of the house painted by a fellow who came from Costa Rica.  When he was hired to do the job, I overlooked the fact that Manuel did not have solid footing in this country.  As a matter of fact, the Feds seemed to be on him to leave this country by August 1st, which was a fact that we did not know.  Eventually we got the house painted, even with rain delays and Manny taking days off to get his wife and children back to Costa Rica.  So I assumed that when Manny bought his ticket to go home, he was among the “self-deported” people in this great country.

To the best of my knowledge, the only person who ever used that phrase was Mitt Romney.  Upon examination, I am forced to tell you that I don’t understand what that phrase really means.  It is a phrase that could now be included as an addition to the mother tongue.  I think that Romney in the beginning had the impression that all of the twelve million illegal immigrants in this country could be encouraged to “self deport.”  But recently Romney has not used that word at all.  Be that as it may, we now have the word or phrase, “self deport.”  Questions about exactly what that means should be directed not at me but at Mitt Romney.

 

The second phrase is “retroactive retirement.”  This is another mystifying phrase that came from the lips of Mitt Romney.  What it means is that Bain Capital, the firm that Romney started, listed him as President, CEO, founder, and whole-hearted inspiration after he retired.  Three years after he quit going to work, his letterhead and his business cards and all of the other documents state that he was the owner of these titles.  If any questions came up about the actions of Bain Capital, Mr. Romney claimed that he had retroactively retired.

Now I am baffled by this term.  There was a time when fellow Republicans joined Romney in saying that he had “retroactively retired.”  But that lasted only a day or two.  They must have been struck by the silliness or the impossibility that goes with retroactively retiring.  But the fact is that the Romney campaign has given us “retroactive retirement” and “self deport.”  These are certainly not stellar additions to the mother tongue.  As a working wordsmith, it is my duty to report them to my great audience.

 

The final word is “legitimate rape.”  It is a word that comes to you from a Congressman from the state of Missouri who is running to unseat the female who is currently a Senator from Missouri.

Now what does “legitimate rape” imply?  Does it suggest such things are legitimate?  What about legitimate murder?  And how about legitimate stealing?

All of this comes to you through the efforts of Todd Akin, the congressman from Missouri who is trying to unseat the incumbent Senator.  At the beginning of this debate, Todd Akin was asked the following question about exceptions for rape in the stance that he was taking.  His answer follows: “First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that is really rare.  If it is a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.  Let’s assume that that didn’t work or something.  I think there should be some punishment but the punishment ought to go to the rapist and not to the child.”

It is generous of Todd Akin to say that the punishment should go to the rapist and not to the child.  All of us appreciate his generosity.  What about the woman, and who is to raise the child?  What we have here is a new term of “legitimate rape.”  As most of you know, I am 90 years of age and I have been around the block two or three times.  In the first place, “legitimate rape” is an oxymoron.  Second, it is absolutely stupid.  For Todd Akin to have used those words must make it clear how stupid he was and is.

On the second day after the controversy broke, Akin said he “misspoke.”  That is absolute horse manure of the rankest sort.  What he had to say was in accordance with the Republican lore on women.  They want men to control women’s bodies.  What balderdash.  They want men to call all the shots.  That is simply not the way it should be done.  Perhaps the only saving grace is that Akin did not claim that he was taken out of context.  That is a pretty weak reed to lean his case on.

This is being dictated on Tuesday morning, August 21st.  At the moment, the Republican Party is in great disarray.  High muckety mucks in the Republican Party are calling Akin to get him to resign.  Akin has until 6 PM tonight to withdraw his candidacy for being a Senator from Missouri.  As I dictate these lines, it is now before noon.  Nonetheless, I am beginning to pray that Akin does not resign and stays on the Republican ticket.  I am joined in that prayer by the incumbent, Claire McCaskill.  I fully realize that as a non-believer in religious affairs, it is unbecoming for me to pray.  But in this case of legitimate rape, I hope that Todd Akin stands his ground and is roundly defeated by the female incumbent Senator.

It is now 3:15 PM on Tuesday with Akin working against a 6 o’clock deadline to withdraw.  So far my prayers, such as they are, have been answered.  Akin is staying in the race, it says here.  If this nut case finally proceeds to the election, I will say that the power of prayer is overwhelming.

 

So there you have three new additions to the mother tongue. They are “self deport,” “retroactive retirement,” and “legitimate rape.”  My guess is that in future political campaigns, those quotations will come out of the closet and will be used for a number of years.  When it comes to “legitimate rape,” every decent human being should be revolted by that thought.  But that is what the man said.  He is a Representative in the House and he is a graduate of a Presbyterian divinity school.  What must this tell you about the divinity school?

So I am dictating this essay as a means of passing time until 5PM central daylight time in the fond hope that Todd Akin stays in the race to run against Claire McCaskill, the current Senator.

Six o’clock came and went and Todd Akin says he is remaining in the race.  He also tried to issue a sort of apology. Todd Akin’s past attempts at an apology did not sit well with the author of Ezra’s Essays.  I suppose that Todd Akin will seek God’s help in his campaign to be a Senator.  More than anything else, Todd Akin has advanced the cause of religious non-belief and women’s rights.  To Todd Akin and all of his followers, I would say only the following thought, “On with the rat killing.”  I look forward to the morning of November 7th and Todd Akin’s complete defeat.

Miss Chicka says, “Todd Akin is what you get when you teach creationism instead of biology and evolution.”

 

I agree with Miss Chicka.

 

E. E. CARR

August 21, 2012

Essay 686

 

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Kevin’s commentary:

It would appear the recent trend with Pop’s essays is that they are getting longer. This is a nice summary piece though, and ties together pieces of a few separate essays like “Language according to Mitt Romney” (currently unpublished), Retiring Retroactively, and Reflections on the Wahhabi.

As far as I know, as of the publication of this post, Akin has still not retired from the race. He hasn’t even retroactively retired. He’s just hanging in there, getting ready to lose rather hard. I’m kinda looking forward to that.

 

THE SILVER DOLLAR BLUES

I am going to reach into racetrack terms to introduce this essay.  At tracks where horses and dogs race each other, there is a highlight of the afternoon called the Trifecta.  This means that when a bettor picks the winners of the Trifecta, he will be rewarded with extra cash.  I have been to the racetracks only three times in my life.  There were two occasions when I visited a horse racetrack and one where dogs raced.

For my money, an afternoon at the racetrack was a wasted experience.  There are 30 to 45 minute waits for the next race to occur.  In the meantime, the track encourages everybody to have another drink or to buy a bettor’s guide that will guarantee winners in every race.  That of course does not happen.  But for this essay, I am borrowing the Trifecta term for the Silver Dollar Blues.

In this essay there will be three parts.  The first has to do with memories of my father and his attachment to silver dollars.  The second part of the Trifecta will have to do with a technical description of what “the blues” really means.  I will make this as short as possible.  Finally, the last leg of the Trifecta will have to do with lyrics from the song, “The Silver Dollar Blues.”

 

So as Ed Schultz of television fame would say, “Let’s get to work.”

 

The first part of this Trifecta has to do with my father, who was also named Ezra.  As I have reported earlier, our relations – son to father – were more or less cordial but there are no two ways to explain that relationship except to say that we were strangers to the end.  My father died when I was 36 years old and for the last several years of his life I lived in Kansas City, Chicago, and then in New York.  So I didn’t see as much of him as I would have liked.  But as time has gone on, I find myself often thinking about my father.  He was a man who had a second-grade education in a rural school.  I am fairly certain that he could read but I suspect that he could not write.  He was an honest man who succeeded by dint of his hard work.

I suspect that the highlight of his life occurred somewhere between 1906 and 1925.  He had gained employment at the Lilac Roost Dairy Farm in Clayton, Missouri.  Prior to the farm’s closing in 1925, he was its superintendent.  I suspect that this pleased him no end because it had to do with farming.  But the owners of the farm sold the business and converted the farmland into a subdivision.  The owners of the farm were Sam and Dwight Davis.  It was Dwight Davis who donated the Davis Cup which for many years was awarded to supremacy in tennis.  My father then found employment with the Evans Howard Refractory until 1930, when he was, along with everyone else, laid off.

One of his idiosyncrasies was that he never wore a belt.  He insisted that the proper attire for males was the use of suspenders.  He did not have any philosophical misgivings about a belt but until his dying day he wore only a pair of suspenders.

Somewhere along about 1935, he landed a job in a large subdivision to keep the grounds in first-class shape.  The pay was $25 per week for six days of work, and it paid every two weeks.  There was an occasion when I was with my parents and he asked an official at a clothing store to cash his check.  I remember that the place was located on Olive Street Road.  I do not know why they used the terms street and road in the same designation.  But I suspect that Olive Street Road still exists.

The official at the store said the check was for $50.  He complimented my father on his ability to earn that much money.  My father was very quick to point out the check represented payment for two weeks of work.

Now we get to the point at which my father’s entrance into this essay becomes necessary.  In the summer of 1942, I volunteered to serve in the United States Army Air Corps.  The Air Corps has long since been superseded by the United States Air Force.  But in any event, my enlistment was with the United States Army Air Corps.

On the night before I was to report for duty, my father asked me to meet him at his roll-top desk that he kept in the dining room.  For complete purists, this event took place no later than 8:00 PM because my father went to bed at that hour.  You will recall that my father and I were strangers in most respects until the end.  As I appeared at the roll-top desk, he turned to me in a very solemn manner.  He handed me a silver dollar with the date of 1881.  He and I both knew that 1881 was the year of his birth.  My father was a taciturn man who didn’t waste words.  As he handed me the silver dollar, he said, “I want you to keep this so that you will never be broke.”  Being broke was a catastrophic event in my father’s life.  He did not want his last child to go through this experience.

I carried that silver dollar in my right-hand pants pocket until a catastrophic event overtook me.  My recollection is that on December 8, 1943, we were sent on a mission to bomb the rail marshalling yards at Ancona, Italy.  My theory of this raid as with all of the others that involved the A20 aircraft was that we were to come in so low that we would be under the angle of deflection of the anti-aircraft guns.  This means that the anti-aircraft guns were firing over our heads.  What we did not know was that there was a collection of Messerschmitt 109 and Focke-Wulf 190 fighters waiting for us to complete our bomb run.  The long and the short of it is that we were shot down, which is not an unusual event.  In this case, the German fighters had information about the raid and we were the losers.

The German soldiers who were to become our captors were glad to see us.  In the first place, I was wearing a leather flying jacket.  That jacket disappeared instantly.  When the soldiers began to look at our belongings, they spotted the silver dollar almost immediately.  There is a similar coin in European currency called the Maria Theresa.  All that I can say is that somewhere in Germany there is an ex-soldier’s home with an 1881 silver dollar that I assume he probably showed off.

So I thought that I would never see that silver dollar again and that was the case.  My father did not trust currency other than the U.S. silver dollar.  Obviously, he distrusted checks.  The silver dollar represented real money to my father and he always had a small supply of such dollars in his roll-top desk.

I often thought that with my father requesting to be paid in silver dollars, they would be too heavy for his suspenders to hold up his pants.  But he never got paid in silver dollars of course.

 

In December of 1944, I was very fortunate to be a crew chief on the oldest airplane in the European theater.  It was to be taken home and refurbished and to be used for a war bond drive.  That period in my life is covered in two or three other essays, so I will not trouble you with it at this point.  At any rate, when I arrived back in the United States in December of 1944, I made a beeline to the St. Louis County Bank.  They had no 1881 silver dollars but did have a collection of 1922 silver dollars.  That of course is my year of birth.  So I took one and showed it to my father, who seemed pleased.  And with that thought, the first leg in this Trifecta has now been completed.

 

Now we can turn to the technical explanation of what constitutes the blues.  At this point, I will tend to bail out because I know absolutely nothing about the technical description of the blues.  Miss Chicka, my wife, is an accomplished pianist and organist.  But Miss Chicka says that she is in way over her head when it comes to this technical description.  So it is offered here in the hope that you will either ignore it or that you may even understand it.

“The Blues is an American form of folk music related to jazz. It is based on a simple, repetitive, poetic-musical structure. The sound is based on the Blue Note, or a slight drop of pitch on the third, seventh, and sometimes the fifth tone of the scale. It is also known as a bent pitch. The Blues Scale is typically a diatonic major scale incorporating a lowered or bent 3rd, a lowered or bent 7th and sometimes a lowered or bent 5th to approximate melodic notes that originated in African work songs.”  Source: Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary

 

With that, we can now proceed to the final leg in this Trifecta, the song.

 

Technically the song is called, “A Man without a Woman.”  It was written by Alfred Williams in 1907.  So when you sing this song, you may point out that it is over 100 years old.

 

The lyrics go like this:

A man without a woman is like a ship without a sail

Like a boat without a rudder, a kite without a tail.

A man without a woman is like a wreck upon the sand.

If there’s one thing worse in this universe,

It’s a woman, it’s a woman, a woman without a man.

 

You can roll a silver dollar across the bar room floor,

It will roll because it’s round.

A woman never knows what a good man she’s got

‘Til she puts him down.

So won’t you listen, my honey, listen to me.

I want you to understand.

Just like a silver dollar goes from hand to hand,

A woman goes from man to man.

 

I seriously suspect that the line about “a woman goes from man to man” would not make that song acceptable to the current generation.  But I am only the simple purveyor of lyrics that have stood the test of time since 1907.

 

There you have the final leg in the Trifecta.  I am still enamored of silver dollars.  The last one I had was taken by my wife to a jeweler who put a gold ring around its edges.  I have carried that silver dollar so long that the edges have been worn off.  So that silver dollar with the gold edges is now attached to a bright new gold chain.  On the other end, it was attached to a pocket watch which had been given to me by AT&T upon the completion of 40 years of service.

 

So the silver dollar with the gold rim acts as a fob and anchors the big pocket watch.   If one of the Carr grandchildren ever marries, I will offer to loan – loan them the use of this watch and fob that are the proper accoutrements for a vest, which I assume must always be worn at a wedding.

 

One other thought about my father.  He thought that men who wore wristwatches were “queer.”  As a linguist, you might like to know that “queer” preceded the word “gay.”

 

I am very happy that I have had the opportunity to tell all my readers about the Silver Dollar Blues.  I love the music of the blues.  When that music is attached to something like the silver dollar that I have carried for a number of years, it is totally irresistible.

 

“A silver dollar falls on the ground and it rolls because it’s round.”

Man, there is no way that you can beat songs like that.

 

E. E. CARR

September 3, 2012

Essay 691

 

~~

Kevin’s commentary:

This is one of my all-time favorites of Pop’s essays. I just think it strikes a really solid balance between subjects.

If the Olive Street Road in question is in St. Louis, it certainly still exists. If it is elsewhere I hope that Pop tells me what city that it is in so I can attempt to find it on Google maps, because I’m curious.

Unrelatedly I have reason to believe that none of the Carr grandchildren will be getting married anytime soon. That task would nominally fall first to Connor (as the oldest) and that doesn’t appear to be in the cards in the near future. Perhaps he will not appreciate me posting this. So it goes.  Also on this subject I think Pop is lucky to have had five grandsons and zero granddaughters, ensuring that if even one of the five of us gets married he will have an occasion to loan out his watch. Having met all of the five boys in question however, I am pretty confident that the odds of a marriage anytime soon are substantially lower than readers may expect.

There are plenty of other great things in this essay (like the entire discussion of suspenders) but for whatever reason, the most striking thing to me was the revlation that my grandmother is an adept pianist — she has in my recollection never given us a demonstration. Judy, as you read this I hope you will consider playing for everyone at the earliest available opportunity. That is all.

 

SUMMERS AND/OR SOMMERS

I have consulted with grammar experts here and in New York City and the general conclusion is that the title to this essay is something like an adverb.  I was largely unschooled on the matter of grammar in the English language.  So if there is a mistake in the labeling of this title as an adverb, a verb or a proverb, I seek your acquiescence.  Perhaps you will understand a bit better if I explain the circumstances under which I grew up.

In our homes in Clayton and Richmond Heights, Missouri my parents and my siblings were always bi-lingual.  The siblings all spoke standard English whereas to my parents standard English was a second tongue.  My mother could speak standard English reasonably well.  On the other hand, my father spoke no standard English but instead used country-speak.  For all of his life of 77 years, my father spoke only country-speak.  With my mother and my siblings speaking both languages, he apparently had few difficulties getting along in life.

My father built the new house in Richmond Heights, Missouri.  It was a solidly built house with a few gimcracks in its structure.  In addition, about 30 feet behind the house, my father had constructed a two-car garage.  In a way, the garage testified to my father’s belief in strong materials properly assembled.  In the back of the garage there was a bench that stretched from one side to the other.  As might be imagined, it was a heavy-duty bench.  I believe that below the bench on the right side my father had constructed some drawers that could be pulled out.  Even when I was a grown man, there was no problem with sitting on my father’s bench at the back of the garage.  I of course did not sit there but this will give you an idea of the strength of the structures my father built.

In that same garage, on the rafters above, my father stored his saws.  There were rip saws and cross-cut saws as well as a two-man saw that we had used to cut up trees that we had felled.  So I believe that I have established the fact that my father constructed strong structures that were capable of lasting.  But when it came to speaking standard English, the old man was sort of thrown out at second base.

You may remember that in previous essays I have told you that my father had quit school at the age of sixteen or seventeen years, when he had progressed only to the “second reader.”  He like my mother attended country schools where at the beginning of the year they would give you a book or perhaps it was a notebook that was your curriculum for the whole year.  They didn’t say that one had completed the second grade or the third grade but rather they said that one had completed the second reader.

Between taking breaks for the planting and the harvesting of the crops as well as doing a little mining, my father had progressed only to the second reader when he finally gave up.  Surely there was evidence of his lack of education all through his life.  But he was a strong man who carried on despite his lack of education.

On many occasions my older sister Verna attempted to explain the ways of city people.  She would explain, for example, that the western-most state in the United States was pronounced as “Cal-i-forn-ya.”  My father simply dug in his heels and pronounced the state as “Cal-i-forn-nee.”  His name, the same as mine, was Ezra.  He and his friends as well as his wife pronounced that name as “Ezree.”  He was not a big man, probably weighing no more than a hundred and fifty or sixty pounds.  That was his maximum weight.

By the time that I came along, being the last child in the family, it was clear that he was going to play from the country-speak text book for the rest of his life and I accepted that.

In effect, my father and I were always strangers.  Yet there was love on both sides.  For example, in 1947 when I was an officer of the Telephone Workers Union, we were on strike against AT&T.  The strike went on for more than six weeks.  At the same time, my father had fallen out of a tree due to his blindness and fractured his skull.  When I went to visit him in St. Mary’s Hospital, he said, “Son, you’ve been without a paycheck for a long while.  I’ve got some money and I want you to have it.”  I did not take the money, explaining that I had saved up in anticipation of the strike.  But I told him that if I needed some money, I was be glad to know that it was available from him.

On another occasion, my father had his shotgun out to shoot at crows that were bothering my mother’s chickens.  On that occasion, when I was four or five years old, I must have mentioned to my father that he could shoot a bird.  Ezra Senior replied, “That bird loves his life as much as you love your own.”  I suppose that I shut up and didn’t ask my father to shoot any more birds.

But that is enough about my father’s outlook on life.  Let us now turn to the guts, if you will pardon the expression, of this essay.  The guts of this essay have to do with my father’s use of country-speak.  He spent a good bit of time in the garage behind the house.  He knew where everything was located; he knew the last time that he had oiled the tools.

 

So let us assume that my father could not locate a very small rattail file which had somehow been misplaced.  This did not happen very often because my father insisted that everything had a place and that it was up to the person that removed objects to replace them in the proper place.

If a tool was misplaced, while he was looking for the tool, my father would say, soto vocce (softly), “That (rattail) file must be here summers.”  I suppose that if a grammarian tried to decipher my father’s use of language, it would mean, “That file must be somewhere in here.”  But that is not what my father said.  He said, “That file must be in here summers.”  I am reliably informed by my wife Miss Chicka that if my father had uttered those words in western Pennsylvania, they would be recognized instantly.  I also suspect that my older friends, such as Howard Davis and Tom Scandlyn, would also recognize the word “summers or sommers” instantly.

The wonderful thing about country-speak is that it has no grammar to it and spelling is quite optional.  If a man wishes to say “summers” or “sommers,” either spelling would be eminently acceptable and the rest of us would know exactly what he had in mind.

Well, then, this is your lesson in country-speak for today.  It might be said that this is my sermon on country-speak as we start the month of April.  I suspect that this has made you wiser and improved your outlook on life.  Always remember that “That file must be in here sommers.”   Either spelling will produce the same result.  And I must say that I am glad to have been raised in a home that was bi-lingual.

 

E. E. CARR

April 2, 2012

Essay 645

 

~~~~

Kevin’s commentary:

I am immediately curious as to why a blind man was climbing a tree in the first place. Pop, if and when you see this, let me know if you do much tree-climbing these days. I know you like your maple tree very much — do you think you could climb it?

For another essay about Country Speak, read Licking, also published recently.

For my part, I am jealous of Pop’s “multilingual” upbringing. Despite my father being from Dallas and my mother being from New Jersey, I was not raised hearing the garbled versions of English that is routinely produced by denizens of either of these locations. If not proficient in country-speak, I feel that I should at least be able to manage a decent Texan accent… but no, I was raised in Austin, where I would be sure to get no exposure to such a thing. It’s all quite sad, really.

 

TWO TAXING QUESTIONS

Over the years, readers of these essays will recall my references to my friend in Sweden, whose name is Sven Lernevall.  You will be surprised to know that one of Sven’s friends is a slightly younger person named Christer Flink.  My understanding is that when Sven reached the age of retirement, he was succeeded in Televerket by Christer Flink.  Sven and Christer have been around for a while and it was my great pleasure, and the pleasure of my wife, to entertain them in this house when they visited in the United States.

Christer is a young fellow somewhere in his seventies.  He has always retained the ability to talk in a straightforward manner in both Swedish and in English.  And so it is that the title of this essay springs from the brain of Christer Flink of Sweden.

This essay came up when my wife informed me that we had to mail a check to the Internal Revenue Service for the estimate of our next quarter earnings.  There is no such thing as the honor system.  Rather the IRS stamps its feet and demands its money as soon as I get it.  So it was in this atmosphere that Miss Chicka recalled the words of Mr. Flink.  Apparently it is obvious that the Swedish taxing authorities have essentially the same philosophy used by the American authorities.

So it is that the words of Christer Flink were recalled this morning.  My recollection is as clear as a bell on this quotation.  And of course it gave rise to the title of this essay.  There was an occasion a few years ago when Christer Flink said that the government has two questions: “how much money do you have? And when can we come and get it?”  The fact of the matter is that I appreciate direct talk such as exemplified by the title of this essay.  But it is clear on this date in June that I am responding to the U.S. government’s efforts to “come and get it.”

Christer and Sven are two great friends.  I will tell you that they don’t make them like that any more.

 

E. E. CARR

June 7, 2012

Essay 669

~~~
Kevin’s commentary:

Since I’m posting two right now (this and one on country speak) we are now basically all caught up from the lull in posts! Tomorrow is a brand-spankin’-new essay of Pop’s which is probably in my top five for 2012.  It’s called “Silver Dollar Blues” and is all sorts of great.

 

WELCOME HOME?

Last Sunday night the President of the United States held a dinner to which veterans of the Iraq war and the Afghanistan war were invited.  Obviously the President could not have all of those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan to one dinner.  I do not know how the veterans were chosen to gather for this dinner.  But nonetheless Mr. Obama made a very decent effort to recognize those who had fought in those wars.  As a former soldier, I can only say to the President, “Well done!” for inviting those soldiers to dinner while they are still alive.

After Mr. Obama invited these veterans to dinner at the White House, I began to think of the circumstances that surrounded the end of World War II.  As you are probably aware, along with several other million Americans, I was a veteran of that war.  In this case, the contrast with the way in which the World War II men were treated as distinguished from the invitation to dine at the White House was significant.  In the Second World War, all of us knew that once we were sent overseas to engage the Germans or the Japanese or the Italians, our tour of duty would last until the end of the war.  Soldiers had a sardonic sense of humor.  They would say, “If you don’t wind up in a body bag, and if you can outlast Mr. Hitler, you may come marching home some day.”

As it turned out, the war ended on August 16 of 1945.  I happened to be in the United States at that time, and I cannot recall that there were any parades or festivities to mark the occasion.  The war had finished and we were all anxious to get back to what we had wanted to do before we were interrupted by World War II.  This is purely a suspicion.  I suspect that if the war had ended when Franklin Roosevelt was still President, most of us would have turned down an invitation to the White House on the grounds that we had been away too long and we preferred to go home to meet our families.

This is not a put-down of Franklin Roosevelt.  On the other hand, you will recall that Harry Truman succeeded Franklin Roosevelt upon his death.  I suspect that an invitation at the end of World War II to come to dinner at the Truman White House would have received almost universal acceptance.  Everyone knew that Harry Truman was an ex-GI and in my case, he came from my home state of Missouri.  But in point of fact, there was no invitation to the White House or any other house.  It was our determination to leave the military service as quickly as possible.

My date of discharge from the Army at the end of World War II is dated November 8, 1945.  You may recall that when I left to join the American Army, the Bell System effectively dropped me.  This action occurred because I had enlisted rather than waiting to be drafted.  So I suppose I was put into a file that really didn’t exist called “Abandoning His Job.”

However in the fall of 1944, Congress passed a law which provided that people in my circumstances would be entitled to re-employment once the war was finished.  So it was that toward the end of November, 1945, I presented myself to AT&T for re-employment.  If they were glad to see me, they kept those emotions completely muted.  I did not expect great jubilation upon my return to work after having been at war for 3½ years.  But I believe it would be fair to say that the forces in the engineering group at AT&T Long Lines in St. Louis had the feeling that they had made it through the war without the intrusion of veterans returning.  For perhaps six months to a year, we were treated sort of as intruders.  AT&T had made no specific plans for our return.  In my case, I was given a desk right in front of a boss named John Baxter.

Baxter was essentially a loudmouth.  He was from Texas and I suspect that he resented intruders in his organization.  AT&T welcomed me home by giving me absolutely nothing to do.  Yet even though the war was over, they continued the practice of having four hours of overtime twice each week.  So I was spinning my wheels with nothing to do until the overtime period arrived.  On these two occasions, I would spin my wheels more.  This was the low point or nearly the low point in my return to work.  But I was determined not to let John Baxter have the satisfaction of running me off.  After the first six months or so, things picked up and I was given meaningful work to do.  However I have never forgiven the miserable bastard, John Baxter, for his conduct toward myself and other veterans.

So you see, we had no glorious homecoming from World War II.  There were no parades or things of that sort.  Jesse Neff, a crippled construction worker, probably said it best.  Jesse said, “Now that the war is over, the veterinarians are returning.”  Jesse was a good guy and I had no intention of telling him that with the war being over the “vegetarians” would be returning.

 

From this point on in this essay, there will be no continuity from one thought to another.  This is a pastiche of memories of that chaotic time when we were all trying to find a place to live and an automobile to drive.  Cars and apartments were few and far between.

 

Another memory has to do with loudmouths.  John Baxter, who I suspect was about 42 years old, a pre-eminent loudmouth, sat directly behind me.  My loathing for John Baxter has already been recorded.  But in the St. Louis office, Baxter was joined by three other loudmouths.  First there was Don Wass, who was forever tinkering with his hearing aid.  For a short time, I was reporting to Don Wass.  The high point of our relationship occurred when Don sent a letter to the typing pool and one way or another the “W” in his last name appeared over in the margin.  The stenographer recorded his name as Donald E. Ass.  Wass was basically an ass and he thought that this was very unkind.  But at least he had a reason to talk loud.

A few desks in front of Don Wass was another low-level supervisor named John Leff.  Leff chewed a little tobacco and he kept a spittoon within easy reach.  People would confer with John Leff and would often kick the spittoon with a resounding thunk in the office.  None of us looked up any more because we knew what had happened.

The final member of the quartet of loud speakers was Rolland Crow.  This fellow hated physicians and often wrote to them complaining and asking, “When are you going to quit practicing and do some real work?”  He dictated on a wax cylinder.  It must have required some effort to transcribe in view of the fact that he was continually shouting at the machine.

So we have John Baxter, Don Wass, John Leff, and Rolland Crow.  When those four got to work, it was largely impossible to think.

 

There are two other stories that come to mind with the return to work at AT&T in St. Louis.  The first has to do with my friend Frank Stuckey, who had been drafted during peacetime and then again during World War II.  Frank was about 36 or 37 while I was 23 or 24.  Frank and I became good friends.

For a time, Frank and I were given a special assignment.  During this special assignment we were required to inspect property records, which were maintained by the accounting department.  On this one occasion, Frank and I went to see Miss Anita Kemper, who was the old maid of old maids.

Frank and I approached Miss Kemper and asked to see a book in which she kept property records.  This was not an unusual request.  We were respectful.  Both of us referred to her as Miss Kemper.

Miss Kemper had a temper.  On this occasion, she more or less let loose of her temper.  She said to Frank and me, two World War II combat veterans, “You should know that I can’t do a thing for you at this time of the month.”  Frank and I tucked our tails between our legs and came back later at a time when it was not “this time of the month.”

 

And then there was a time when I worked for Bill Knapp.  Bill was a great guy who had reached the rank of Captain in the United States Army.  He also lived in Texas but he was quiet about that thought.  While I worked for Bill, I was elected to the Vice-Presidency and Presidency of the local union.  Bill told me after I had held the presidency for six months or so that, “You ain’t tore your pants yet.”  That was a commendation that I greatly appreciated.

But here again, Bill had been in the Army and when he returned, I accidentally found a letter that was not meant for me.  It was from Bill Haywood to Nelson Fisher, who was Bill Knapp’s boss.  Haywood seemed to think that the reason Bill Knapp got along so well with his employees was a suspicious mark and that he should be watched. Once again, I repeat the title of this essay: “Welcome Home?”

There are dozens of others incidents which occurred in the immediate post-war period.   And so the invitation to the veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has provided me with some pleasant memories.  Of course not all of the incidents would cause pleasant memories.  For example, I still detest the loudmouthings of good old John Baxter.

But in time, those unpleasant memories tend to fade and I am left with the much more pleasant thoughts of Frank Stuckey and myself beating a retreat from Miss Kemper.

 

Now with respect to our treatment by AT&T, my analysis over the years suggests that AT&T, in 1942, considered itself of equal importance or more important than the United States Army.  This accounts for the fact that AT&T dropped me when I enlisted in the American Army instead of waiting for the draft.

When we returned after 1945, there were no welcome home signs and we had to fight to get back into the main stream.  Ah, but in the end things turned out fairly well.  And so I say to the fellows from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, “We are glad to have you back.  Welcome home.”

 

E. E. CARR

March 8, 2012

Essay 639

~~~

Kevin’s commentary:

I am curious, in the days before the internet, what people would do to “spin their wheels” at work when they didn’t actually have work. Hopefully Pop will see this and shed some more light upon this mystery.

I’m always shocked to hear how veterans are treated in a country that is as generally pro-war as ours is. We’re all for going out and killing things, and if you ask, everyone everywhere ‘supports the troops’ but it’s oftentimes highly unclear what that means. But from the treatment of returning veterans to the protection of active soldiers a la the body armor fiasco, it seems very much that the troops remain unsupported at home and abroad.  A strange state of affairs indeed.

 

Pop’s response:

Kevin,

This is a two part answer regarding the questions asked earlier.

In the days before the internet, when there was nothing to do, my acquaintance Charley Pickrel made little gadgets at his desk, ostensibly to handle incoming correspondence.  I tried to look busy probably unsuccessfully by having a piece of paper in front of me.  I also made trips to the mail room and to the lavatory.  Killing time in this fashion is a laborious piece of work.  When I first came back to Long Lines, they were observing the war time custom of spending four hours twice a week in overtime.  This meant that I had to kill as much as twelve hours a day on the overtime days.  All things considered, it would be much better to have work to do as opposed to simply killing time.  But that is what the company wanted right after the war, and that is what they got.

Now with respect to support for the troops.  I was painfully aware once the war was finished, that support for the troops had taken a nosedive.  In the final analysis, it is every person for himself.  For example, there were those of us who needed help from the Veteran’s Administration to treat war wounds that plagued us into civilian life.  The world’s worst place to go was in a Veteran’s Administration Hospital in February of 1946.  Military authorities make it extremely difficult to get treatment.  It is every man for himself at least during the post war years.

My contempt for the military authorities in this country knows no bounds.  I volunteered as you know, but once the war was finished the Army went to prodigious lengths to try to make me re-enlist.  They found very few takers among the volunteers to serve in war time.  I am at a loss to tell you why we are a belligerent people but I would refer you to the Republican Party who wishes for us to intervene in Libya, Tunisia, Iran and lately in Syria.  I was a poor dogface GI who knew that my life could be lost in these interventions.  I say “no thanks.”

Pop

WE REGRET TO INFORM YOU…

It may come as a surprise to some younger readers that there was a time in this country when there was no such thing as instant communications.  As a matter of fact, my family did not have a telephone until some time in the vicinity of 1935.  My mother, who was home all day, was communications-less unless an emergency occurred.  She could not drive so it was out of the question for her to go to a store that had a pay telephone to call someone.  She relied on one or two neighbors who had telephones.  During that era, the standard form of communication had to do with the telegraph. Telepathy came before telecommunications.  When there was an urgent need, someone would send a telegram saying that there was an emergency or, occasionally, that we wish to visit with you this Sunday.

I grew up in this era before telephones were commonplace.  What I would like to discuss in this essay is probably the saddest telegram anyone could imagine.  I would grant you that this essay is being dictated at 5:30 PM on Memorial Day.  On a day like this, I am in a pensive and contemplative mood, thinking about the men we have lost in wars over the years.

Now, to carry this one step further, the older readers may recall that from 1941 until 1945 the United States was engaged in the Second World War.  It is at this point that the lack of communications together with the war are joined.

When a soldier or sailor or Coast Guardsman is lost, really killed in action, some men from the same service will put on their Class A uniforms and two of them will go to the address of the soldier who has been killed to notify the next of kin.  When they drive up to the former soldier’s home, anyone inside will know what is coming.  One of the soldiers or sailors will identify the next of kin who resides at this particular address.  Having identified the next of kin or the person to be notified in the event of death, the soldier or sailor will then recite words along these lines: “We regret to inform you that your son or daughter has been killed in action.”  This really is an abbreviated version of what the soldier or sailor has to say.  It is a terrible sad duty.  But it certainly is better than the form of notification that occurred during World War II.

As I have mentioned, not everyone had a telephone in those days.  It was commonplace for the War Department (now the Defense Department) to send a telegram to notify the next of kin that a serviceman had been lost or killed in action.  As you might expect, the person’s neighbors would most likely see the Western Union messenger who was sent from the telegraph office to the home.  If my memory is anywhere close to correct, in World War II we lost or had killed in action some 420,000 men.  It is heart-rending to contemplate the loss of so many men.  But consider the Russians or even the Germans, whose killed-in-action number ran in excess of two or three million people each.

I believe that you can see why veterans such as myself hold no brief for the Second Amendment champions who wish for us to engage in further wars.  The simple fact is that wars kill people, such as my friends from St. Louis.

But now let us get back to the contemplation and pensive mood that visit me on every Memorial Day.  In 1941 subsequent to December 7, we were engaged in hostilities with Germany, Japan, and Italy.  As I have reported to you in earlier essays, there were two young men of about 26 or 27 years who sat next to me in the St. Louis offices of AT&T.  These men were David Weiss and Bernie Wheeler.  Apparently they belonged to an Army Reserve unit and shortly after hostilities took place, they were summoned to duty.  As it turned out, Bernie Wheeler was killed somewhere in the Pacific theater.  Communications were such that we never really knew where all of this happened.  Not long after that, say in March of 1942, came the terrible news that David Weiss, our great and good friend who sat along side of me, was also killed.  On that occasion, we were brought the bad news by David Weiss Sr.  The senior David Weiss worked in the telegraph department of AT&T.  When he walked into our office, we knew that something terrible had happened.  Dave Weiss said simply that he and his wife “received the telegram last night.”

That message of course came from the War Department and it said, “We regret to inform you…”  In all of my life, I have never seen a more defeated man than David Weiss Sr.  He had lost his only son and there was nothing to be done about it.  That was nearly 70 years ago and the pain of David Weiss Sr. speaking to us has never left my mind.  This may have been one of the saddest occasions in my young life.  I believe that at that time I was 19 years of age.

Before the war was finished, there were two more “We regret to inform you…” messages to be sent to bereaved relatives in St. Louis, one having to do with Don Meier and the second having to do with my former boss, Ashby Vaughan.

As you know, there were four men lost from the St. Louis office. There were Don Meier, Bernie Wheeler, Dave Weiss, and Ashby Vaughan.  The death of those men has been on my mind continually.  When Memorial Day rolls around, I think of them with greater intensity.  They were such good men.  I regret to tell you that their lives were marked by the arrival of a telegram to the home of their parents or, in one case – Ashby’s case, of his wife, saying that, “We regret to inform you…”  I am certain that my mood will improve tomorrow, as it has always done.  But those guys – Ashby, Don, Bernie, and Dave – have a special place in my memory.

The next time a politician says that we should bomb Iran or take some other hostile action; I want you to remember that there are real people getting killed.  It may be that the actions in World War II were justified.  At least I must have thought so, because I volunteered for service in that war.  But can you imagine what goes through the minds of the widows or the mothers and fathers who receive a notice from the War Department, that is now called the Department of Defense, that says, “…your son has been killed in action.”

In the invasion of Iraq, we lost 4500 soldiers.  It was the most unnecessary war in which we have ever been engaged and we have the likes of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to thank for it.  As I have said, my contemplative mood will probably change tomorrow.  But for the rest of my life, I will still think of Bernie, Don, Ashby, and Dave.  I sincerely regret that in three cases a mother and a father, and in the fourth case a wife, were required to receive the saddest of all telegrams which says, “We regret to inform you that your son or daughter…”

E. E.  CARR

May 28, 2012

Essay 664

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Kevin’s commentary: it is difficult to imagine how impossibly difficult it would be to give or receive this news. I am thankful that none of my friends or relatives are currently engaged in active combat and I very much hope that that remains the case.