The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

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. 


Classic dad in an easy chair. A book, a pipe, a bottle of Cognac. Taken at my uncle’s flat in Rome, Italy

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.

Desktop dad and Smith Corona 001 (2)

Dad at the Smith Corona

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.

Now that I’m retired I’ve begun to resurrect the notion of writing a book. Clearly the war weary Confederate story is now off the menu – thanks Sandy. For now I’m moderately satisfied with this blog bit but I’m not audacious enough to call myself a writer. I’m somewhat inflexible about adopting a moniker willy-nilly because its something I aspire to. I have no illusion that when it comes to writing I’m still something of a rank amateur (I suppose just how rank is up to the opinion of the reader). To be rightfully called a writer is to earn the title. What I do with this blog is less writing and more dabbling. I write because I can and more to the point I publish because WordPress lets me do so for a nominal fee; okay, the fee is more than nominal and this year it became usury. Did you hear that WordPress? In any event as long as I adhere to the WordPress terms of use I can write the next great novel or produce alphabet soup and then clicking the publish button and viola, I’m a writer. Or not. Clicking “Publish” does not a writer make and I’m certain that many of my fellow bloggers would be put off by that notion. We’ll agree to disagree.

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. 


19 thoughts on “Word

  1. Ah yes, those “likes.” For what it’s worth, if I like a post, it means I’ve actually read it and not actually disliked it. Sometimes I get a dozen “like” notices from the same blogger in 5 minutes. They must be speed readers who are interested in both gardening and my thoughts about books and writing. Hmm. Anyway, I’m looking forward to more posts by you.

    1. Paulie says:

      Thank you so much Audrey. I must say your blogger is slow on the mouse click. I’ve had bloggers like a dozen posts in the same minute. Thank you for reading.

  2. So agree on all what you write about likes and followers. And I know about dementia through my mother, so … I really have a glue. … maybe it’s not the words, but that what the word gives its vividness and spiritedness. it’s the wondrous complexity of life … so enjoy your posts! Greetings from Vienna!

    1. Paulie says:

      Thank you so much for the kind words.
      Dementia….After seeing what my father went through I have to admit to being a little terrified every time that I forget something that I feel I should have recalled.
      Thank you for following.

  3. floweringink says:

    First, I can’t help but be a bit in love with your Dad after reading this post, Paulie! Dad stuff is really striking chords with me right now and I am so moved by this beautiful tribute to your Dad.

    As to what it means to “be a writer”, I suppose only you can decide what that is. I know for me, I called myself a writer for years, but I wasn’t writing and it felt like a lie every time I said it. I knew I wanted to be a writer, I wanted to be writing, but it took a long time before I really tucked into the heart of the “word” of words! I will say that being published is great, but it doesn’t make you a writer. What you did here, this post, this pulling from your story, your heart and your history, this makes you a writer…in my opinion. I Love your photos (they are crazy good) and I hope you continue to post them, but I am looking forward to reading more posts from you as well. I feel lucky to be getting to know you through your words!

    1. Paulie says:

      Thank you again. I have to say coming from you in particular your comment means a lot. A LOT, and that’s because I so admire your talent. I have to admit that when I read your compliment I teared up a little. I feel kind of like the rookie shortstop who just got complimented by the veteran second baseman. Do rookie shortstops tear up?
      The photos aren’t going away. Sometimes photos and words will compliment each other. I have to admit that for me it requires a deep breath to click publish on a post like this. It kind of hangs it all out there.
      I didn’t include it in my post and maybe I should have but in some ways my dad has been recalled in subsequent generations. He passed to me the love of books, words and self expression and the importance of being “well said.”
      My daughter Jessica briefly took on blogging and I was blown away. Unfortunately she’s got a full plate and for now blogging is not in the plan. I hope that she resumes writing again. She is incredibly talented.
      While my son doesn’t write he is an avid reader and excellent communicator and has dad’s wit and wisdom. And just looking at Matthew is like looking at dad. The resemblance is striking.
      But it hasn’t stopped there. My grandson Jackson has definitely inherited my dad’s sense of humor. At 9 years old he’s mastered the art of sarcasm and he has an exceptional vocabulary and way of expressing himself beyond his years

      1. floweringink says:

        I am smiling hugely right now! Even though I don’t know your family, I am seeing your Dad in them, through your words. What an amazing gift to see passed through the generations. It’s really cool, Paulie! Language holds such magic!

        I think rookie shortstops absolutely tear up, but I don’t see you as a rookie. You write truthfully and from your heart and you have the command of the words…your Dad gave you that and I am so glad you are sharing it! The nerves before hitting the publish button are totally normal, but you are doing it and that is so great! I feel like this post in particular is the beginning of something really exciting for you!

        You are, as ever, so kind and generous about my writing and it is such a huge compliment! I am incredibly touched and grateful. Thank you!!!!

  4. Eliza Waters says:

    Since I first came across your blog, I recognized you as a ‘writer’ and a good one at that. I read a lot of blogs and I can count on one hand the number I consider well written. I am no expert, but I know good writing when I read it. It is a gift to be able to string words together in such a way that can be easily digested and pleasantly so.
    It makes sense that you inherited your dad’s writing gene, the love of words may be nature or just nurture, but there it is.
    When I first started on WP, I had to set in my head how I wanted to interact with my fellow bloggers. ‘Like’ and ‘Follow’ were words I chose seriously. When I hit either, it was because I meant it. We soon recognize those whose are into racking up the stats, but to me, those are hollow gains. It took a long time to reach 100 followers, but it felt earned because I chose to go about building relationships based on similar interests. Now my numbers are higher, and I can’t always find the time to go visit every ‘like I get, but I do check out those that ‘follow’ as a courtesy. If I like what I find there, and am willing to read/see more of that site, only then will I follow back because it gives me pleasure to do so. It may sound rude, but we cannot love everyone’s work, can we? ‘Beauty in the eye of the beholder’ and all that.
    So, while your posts are longer than most, I always find I enjoy reading them, even if I must put one aside for when I have a fresher mind to give it the attention it deserves. I’m a fan so keep on posting, Paulie!

    1. Paulie says:

      Thank you for you comment and your kinds words and please accept my apology for the late response. Sometimes life trumps blogging.
      I was unfortunately not as prescient about the whole “like” and “following” thing so I’ve had to backtrack and do a little pruning. With experience I’ve pretty much adopted your philosophy.
      Your point about my post being a bit long is well taken. Years ago I had a blog and my son had made a similar comment. While he liked some of my material he remarked that people who read blogs eventually get weary with lengthy posts. Given the turn that my site will start to take I’m probably going to adopt the strategy of dividing a post into parts. A sort of a pot boiler I guess.
      I’ve noticed that you are in New England. My wife and I are looking forward to being in New England in July/August.
      Thank you again for your comments and for keeping up with my site.

      1. Eliza Waters says:

        Thanks for your response, I understand how things get busy.
        July is a good time to visit New England, esp. the seashore. If you are in western Mass. feel free to look me up. We have lots of cool things to do around here, nature, hiking and history. A few good museums, too. Happy to share a local’s view. 🙂

        1. Paulie says:

          Thanks Eliza. We’re landing in Burlington, and doing a circle to Montreal – Quebec City – Maine for the lobster fest and a windjammer cruise and then cutting back across NH and back to Burlington. We visited Mass some years ago. If you have any suggestions for the above I’m always looking for the insider tips

          1. Eliza Waters says:

            Sounds like a great route. Burlington is a hip college town. And I love the Old World feel of Quebec City. Montmorency Falls is cool and across the river is Île d’Orléans – not to be missed if you like farm fresh & artisanal food. Sturgeon pate and creme de cassis were memorable. Worth a day driving around it and stocking up. Maine is so beautiful in the summer! And the White Mountains (and Kancamagus Highway) aren’t big like out West, but they’re old! 😉 Bring insect repellant for mosquitoes and we have serious ticks, so be vigilant! Tucking pants into socks may look geeky when hiking, but getting Lyme is no joke. Forewarned is forearmed!

  5. What a wonderful taste of the other side of you Paul! I definitely “like”. Keep it up and don’t give up on Photography quite yet, I really enjoy that creative side too.

    1. Paulie says:

      Thank you Carolyn. Not giving up on the photography by any means. Just branching out. And I apologize for being late in responding to your comment .

  6. Amy says:

    I, too, am looking forward to reading more posts from you, Paulie. I have enjoyed your beautiful photos and eloquent writing. Glad you’ll continue to your photos to compliment words.
    I agree with you on “likes”, I don’t always know what likes that means. It probably says how many have visited my site. I have to admit that I have learned to photograph and appreciate high quality of photos from my blog friends. I think it is fun to share the beauty of nature I’ve captured and the places I have traveled. I appreciate so much of your support. 🙂

    1. Paulie says:

      Thank you so much Amy. Photo blogs such as yours have been very instructive for me; giving me ideas on subjects and technical aspect. Keep blogging Amy. I enjoy yours very much.

  7. johnlmalone says:

    a very interesting post; my uncle was a writer and had a few books published, non -fiction; did I take after him? I think not. I followed my own path. Are you using photography as a crutch? You’ll have to decide that. I’ve gone the other way, complementing my posts with photography where I can with my own snaps. I will follow your journet with interest

    1. Paulie says:

      Thank you John. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that my photographs have been complemented by short narratives. My original intent was the opposite. There will still be photo essays but I’m looking to change up the mix.

  8. eden baylee says:

    Hi Paul,

    I’m sad that your dad is gone. He was a force of a man. I would’ve been surprised otherwise.

    And I get that you don’t want to call yourself a writer for the reasons you’ve listed. But, let me be the audacious one and say: “That’s bullshit. Poppycock. Crazy talk.”

    You put together letters that turn into words that find their right order in a sentence, then you string those sentences together and create thoughts on a page that have been fermenting in your brain. No other animal does this and very few people do it well.

    You do it VERY well.

    This >>> “What I do with this blog is less writing and more dabbling.”

    Poppycock once again.

    Writing is almost always an act of recollection, of fact or fiction. Unlike spoken word, which is largely ephemeral, writing is much more permanent. Sometimes we speak before we think, but we almost never write before we think, do we? My guess is there’s a lot of thought that goes into your words, and this amount of mental investment cannot be underestimated when it comes to writing.

    You’re not dabbling because it’s evident to me you care a lot about words. That’s why the better a writer you are, the harder it becomes. Where once only a few words mattered, now it requires that every word be the right one. You search for the perfect turn of phrase. You have ideas, but your inner critic shoots them down before you even begin—too cliché, too predictable, too boring. Believe me when I say … I speak from experience.

    Somedays, I question the value of writing at all. Perhaps you do as well. It’s not like writing will eliminate world hunger, but we don’t spend every waking minute trying to feed the hungry. We do a lot of seemingly pointless things, and writing is one of them.

    I read somewhere you’d like to leave something behind for your grandkids. Your writing reflects who you are in a way that all other “pointless” time-wasting activity cannot. No doubt, when your grandkids read what I’ve read, they will come to the same conclusion as I have.

    You are a writer.

    PS. This may be the first time I’ve ever written “Poppycock” anywhere, twice no less.


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