The Urban Dictionary defines “word” as well said; deemed to be something influential or of great intellectual power. It’s slang. My dad was all about “word” and words. For dad words were “word.” Words were truth, were influential, were of great intellectual power.
To dad, a man who shot at people in war, words were the ultimate power. To him they were more potent than the 30 caliber machine gun he wielded as a B-17 waist gunner. Ironically he would never have been behind that gun had a former Bavarian corporal not understood the potential of the word and brandished it to lead the world into a second global conflict.
Dad finished high school in Utah and then found himself in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho working for FDR’s, CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) followed by odd jobs and then the Army-Air Corps in World War II. At some point in his young life and I couldn’t say when or where, dad discovered words. He read the classics and he read history and he read about politics and he read philosophy.
And then he wrote.
Dad became a writer in 1949. I know that because a few years back I did one of those house cleaning projects meant to sort out the stuff you no longer need so that you can make room for new stuff that five years later you you’ll no longer need. It was one of those projects that takes a weekend and exhumes both life’s treasures and life’s cadavers; I found it all, everything from some of my college report cards to the kids grade school drawings to letters from and pictures of old girlfriends, to the dusty, tattered scrapbook.
I paused and opened the scrapbook and found pages of newspaper clippings, mostly yellowed and decaying. It was an op-ed column called Cabbages and Kings published in the Kaysville (Utah) Weekly Reflex. It was my dad’s column. The Reflex was published on Thursdays in little Kaysville: population in 1949 less than 2,000. I found that not only was he a writer, he was a news editor. But he was a writer, a friggin’ writer.
Dad wasn’t afraid to put out “word” as he saw it, and it was liberal and probably viewed by many in 1949, small town Utah as downright subversive. In one column he took on the Mormons over the issue of a liquor store. He lambasted THE MORMONS – in UTAH – in 1949!
It seems that a protest had erupted over the opening of a local package store (liquor store). In response dad oozed sarcasm, writing, “I would suggest that all liquor stores be moved to some isolated and little accessible spot outside the city. Also make it a law that (liquor) can be purchased only on dark moonless nights”…”The words whiskey, gin, rum and even vodka are all in the dictionary. You can either tear out the offensive pages and burn them or destroy the entire book”…”Well kids, keep up the valiant crusade. I’m going to the ice box and if nobody is looking I’ll mix myself another (cocktail).”
On the free spending of taxpayer dollars by legislators; “As taxpayers it is our role to be meekly generous with our dough and remain stoically silent while the boys in Washington romp around with it at will.”
Dad’s little stint in war turned him into a pacifist. In one column he denounced the impending nuclear arms race and the term “atomic age”: “Go ahead and call it the atomic era if you want but leave off the age business. When two nations take up for the conversational peace; “My atom bomb can lick your atom bomb,” the only age likely to ensue is the stone age for a return in one of the swiftest transitions from one age to another, on record.” Given the bellicose nature of “45” dad’s word sadly retain their relevance.
Dad was all about “word.” He started drilling it into me when I was young, reading to me from the classics and history books. He’d leapfrogged the nursery rhymes and went to works like Treasure Island and The Call of the Wild and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain’s classic is rife with the “N” word but he explained it to me; explained the context and told me that even though I’d hear the word, from strangers, politicians, friends and even relatives I was never to use it.
I learned about “word” as “something influential” from Dad’s example. Many years after he had quit writing for that little newspaper dad continued to write. He’d sit up late of an evening, pipe clenched between his teeth; maybe a bourbon and rocks off to the side, and hammer away on an old Smith Corona typewriter. He never had any qualms about mixing it up over issues, political or societal and I would often see him at his Smith Corona typewriter pounding out a letter to the editor, scratching whatever issue in the news was causing him to suffer an attitudinal itch.
Dad was relentless when it came to teaching his only son about the “word” of words. It stuck. I may have been challenged when it came to the periodic table of the elements, basic theories of physics and how to figure out the area of a triangle but I became a disciple of dad’s gospel about the “word” of words.
Dad was a writer. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. When I was in my very early twenties I began a novel. My college degree is in history with an emphasis on the American Civil War and Reconstruction and so it seemed only reasonable that my story would be about the adventures of a war weary Confederate soldier putting down his gun and heading back for home. I excitedly told my erstwhile girlfriend Sandy about it who responded “meh” and convinced me that the premise would never fly. Apparently Charles Frazier never talked to Sandy because 20 or so years later he wrote a little yarn called Cold Mountain which later became a movie.
As I said, I’m only slightly pleased with this blog. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve been using photography as a crutch and avoiding the heavy lifting of composition which was the original purpose of this site.That isn’t to denigrate the photo blogs or to suggest that I plan to put photo posts out to pasture. It only suggests what I would call an evolution in my blog. I want to compose.
This means that I’m going to have to brace my ego for the notion that the “likes” might take a deep dive. And that’s fine. I’ve focused too much on “likes,” sometimes to the extent of publishing posts that I find I’m less than pleased with. You get fixated with “likes” to the point where the quality of the work takes a distant second to the quantity.
I was slow on the uptake but after a while I realized that a “like” doesn’t mean that someone actually LIKED a post. It’s quite possible that the “liker” didn’t even read my post but was doing the “like dance.” Most of you WordPressers know that little two-step. If you like mine then I’ll like yours. The dance often leaves a telltale trail in your inbox in the form of “likes” on 20 posts all time stamped with the exact same time, down to the minute. A nice stat but does it doesn’t reflect on your effort or offer a true indicator about the quality of your work.? I can’t be satisfied with that. I’d rather someone take the time to read my work and tell me that it’s unadulterated crap. To me the “like” dance is about as nonsensical as the old notion that if you don’t go to someone’s funeral they won’t go to yours. And yeah I get it, I’ve probably just bitten the hand that clicks the “like.” But Dad would be downright pissed if he thought that I was writing for the mere purpose of getting someone to click on the little star. My words wouldn’t be “word.” They would be neutered characters on a screen.
It’s time to drive this thing into a slightly different direction which hopefully is not straight into a ditch. It’s time to slow down and turn off the urge to mass produce and hone in on composing; create posts that tell a story, move the soul, touch the heart, tickle the funny bone or provoke thought. If it doesn’t work out then I can at least say that I tried being true to the craft and then just take up something else; maybe day drinking; or cow tipping; or both!
I want to be able to call myself a writer just as I can say that my dad was a writer. And what became of dad? His last years were marked by the onset of dementia that turned into Alzheimer’s. An early sign was his frustration over forgetting the simplest of things. He stumbled over words that should’ve rolled off his tongue. For my part I didn’t have the empathy at the time to comprehend how frightening, how devastating it must have been for him to realize the dulling of his once sharp wit. In the end this man who prided himself on the “word” of his words, who had the literary confidence to go after what he considered was foolishness on the part of the Mormon Church in Utah, passed away of pneumonia in a nursing home. I remember seeing, just before his dying breath, a look on his face; it struck me as a knowing look; a confident look that lit up his dull weary eyes. It was as if in that last instant it all came back to him; as if he was saying, “Yeah – word.” And then he was gone.