Thursday, 25 August 2022

Gloy Modesta

Born in 1900 was my paternal grandmother, Gloy Modesta. Of course, she always will be ‘grandma’ to me. My remembrances of her are not really the focus of this blog, but rather how I got to know her early life in a photo album that she put together and added decorations, comments, and mostly first names to each page. I think the album came to me after my dad died, and then I photocopied the book and gave it to my aunt, my father’s sister, who has since passed away. I presume now that the album is with my cousin.

We all have a common vantage point as youngsters: moms, dads, grandmas, and grandpas have always been old. It’s as if they had been hatched into the world just as we know them as children. When these seniors in our lives pass away, we are jolted by the notion that we are now seen as the oldsters who seem to have no history, according to children.

Then, as oldsters, we are left in a time warp looking at photos of our then-elders and are often surprised that they had lives too before they became set in our minds as a grandma or grandpa. To children, their seniors age imperceptibly. I have often heard, “She may have been only 25, but to me, she seemed old.” That’s why I look at the photos in my grandmother’s album, to remind me that she had an entire life just like mine and that I, too, am likely to be remembered as frozen in time as an old man. Such is the way of the world, but photos help to make real what has not been known to me…Grandma’s life. This perspective reminds me of what a gentleman said during his eulogy for his mother, “My mom’s life began when I was born.”

I do remember my grandma as somber. She was not mean or cranky but very loving and kind. I don’t recall her as being humorous but serious and deliberate. In my mind, she never worked, but she seemed rich. She never sang, but she loved Lawrence Welk. She never wore pants, but women generally didn’t wear pants in the first half of the last century. She was not athletic, but she never missed a Minnesota Twins game. ..on the radio even if it were televised in later days.

The photographs of her early days (when I was half a century away from being born) tell me a different story. Grandma wasn’t always old. She had a family, friends after all. She went to a Catholic grade school and attended a public high school. She went out at 40 degrees below temperatures and loved to drive a car. She had sweethearts, visited Chicago, admired and respected her seniors, and enjoyed gags and acting silly.

As a part of this blog, I’ll share some photos that turned my ‘grandma’ from always being old to a young lady who eventually became my grandma. She had a life that I didn’t even know existed.

These photos are slightly over a hundred years old, so excuse their quality. They are enlarged if you click on them. Grandma had a dad with a happy smile and hearty laugh and a mother who liked flowers. I wonder what, in the above photo, he is holding. I never met, that I know of, any of her siblings. One was killed in a hunting accident. One worked as a haberdasher and died in Minneapolis. A third brother lived in Los Angeles and had something to do with the city’s water system. My grandma called her parents mémère and pépère. I never knew her father, but I did know mémère, whose parents were Montrealers who crossed the northern border of the United States and delivered their daughter in the first town they came to in New York.

Before Grandma had a son and a daughter, she had a godchild named Possen (this might be the last name). She had girlfriends (she called honey) and was interested in someone named Eldon. I wonder who might be the elegantly dressed man slinking a pose on some apartment front stairway in Chicago? In 1922, she was in an operetta; in 1920-21, she sang in a singing club called the Squires.

Grandma’s first and only job was to be, as she called it, a schoolma’am. In the Fall of 1920, she taught in a one-room schoolhouse with three levels of students. Two of the children were Jacobsons, the family that boarded her. It must have been an exciting time in her life but apparently not compelling enough to spend a career there in Williston, North Dakota. The landscape made an impression that she took a photo of what she saw on the way to school every day, which was taken when there wasn’t any snow! Now I know that some people did, in fact, have to walk to school in deep snow. You might recall this ‘mythical’ story of woe imposed on children by parents who try to convince their children that they have it easy.

These photographs and their comments surprised me when I first saw them, but then I was only in my 30s. I’ve aged 36 years since and now wonder how much of my life no one will ever know about. I have spent many years with nieces and nephews trying to leave them with a remembrance of my being silly and crazy. They tell me now that is what I am, so perhaps the impression has been made, If they ever can go through my old .jpg, .jpeg, .jpe, .jif, .jfif, .jfi formatted images, they too will see, as I did with Grandma, that I had a life they never knew.

Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Banana Splits and Civil Rights at Woolworths

A few blogs ago, I blogged* about being a paper boy and going downtown Missoula to pay for the papers. What I didn’t mention was that this trek also usually included a stop at the F. W. Woolworth store. Many people will remember these kinds of stores that evolved from general or mercantile stores, which provided everyday needs at everyday prices (5 cents and 10 cents). Later, of course, these stores developed past charging 5 and 10-cent prices, kind of like today’s so-called dollar stores which sell at prices beyond a dollar. F. W. Woolworth, commonly called the ‘dime store,’ Woolworth’s or Woolworths was one such store.

One particular feature of Woolworths was that most of them had diners that looked like this.

The Woolworth I remember had a long luncheonette counter, which always seemed to be busy. Downtown workers used it for lunch, or a coffee-break, and shoppers relaxed there with a coffee, a full lunch, or just a dessert. Wealthy paperboys like my brother and I used it to feed our banana split craving. When we eyed a couple of chairs, we took our places and gambled for the price of the banana splits by selecting a helium balloon, which would be popped to release a little piece of paper with the price of each banana split. Sometimes we felt like winners and sometimes we didn’t. But, as I said, we were wealthy entrepreneurs with lots of dollar bills and quarters to spend. In any case, the splits were always delicious and satisfying.

Civil rights and the war in Viet Nam were big social issues when I was growing up. Woolsworths’ dining counters became a flash point in the battle for civil rights. The peaceful sit-in started on the first day of February 1960. Four black freshmen students from an agriculture-technical college in Greensboro, North Carolina took their places at the counter. Of course, segregation was still prevalent, and so these men were not served. They sat at the counter until the store closed. Three days later, 25 other men joined the first four. The group number later jumped to 63, and even three white women joined the movement. On the 28th day of May 1953, there were over 300 civil rights workers in the store. The protest spread to 55 cities, and Woolworth became a symbol of social protest for civil rights around the country.

Today, the Greensboro Woolworth dining counter is a museum piece.

My banana split days at Woolworths post-dated the sit-ins, but it is interesting to note that my favorite banana split hang-out was once a part of the civil rights movement. We can be a part of history without even knowing it. I think that Woolworths no longer exist (not sure of this), but banana splits are still popular, and the work for civil rights remains a vital movement.

* The term “weblog” was coined by Jorn Barger on December 17, 1997. The short form, “blog”, was coined by Peter Merholz, who jokingly broke the word weblog into the phrase we blog in the sidebar of his blog in April or May 1999. Shortly thereafter, Evan Williams at Pyra Labs used “blog” as both a noun and verb (“to blog”, meaning “to edit one’s weblog or to post to one’s weblog”) and devised the term “blogger” in connection with Pyra Labs’ Blogger product, leading to the popularization of the terms. Wikipedia contributors. (2022, July 17). Blog. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22:22, August 17, 2022, from

Monday, 15 August 2022

A three-fold celebration…of sorts

Today was a big day in Panama City, if not all of Panama for one of three reasons. Today is the Feast of the Assumption of Mary (I’ll explain later), the 503rd anniversary of the founding of the City of Panama City (as it is known today) and the 108th anniversary of the operation of the Panama Canal. Yes, banks and some federal offices were closed.

Panama is basically a Catholic country. The founders and presidents have been Catholics. An exception to the presidency was when there was elected a Jewish president when he declared that there are two Jewish presidents in the world: Panama and Israel. Recent negotiations between the government, and worker groups that were mediated by Catholic bishops at what was called the ‘Only Table [for talks]…Mesa Única’ by the Catholic bishops of Panama. I can’t imagine that happening elsewhere.

Like the rest of the Catholic/Orthodox world, today is the Day of Mary’s Assumption, when she, as the Mother of God and of Jesus and conceived immaculately received an ‘auto-pass’ to heaven without what most of us see for ourselves: bodily corruption, temporary separation of our bodies and souls and an eventual reunion of body and soul and eternal bliss in heaven or eternal not-so-bliss in hell.

I went to Mass today where the statue of Mary was displayed lying in bed at her death. Her bed was beautiful, but Mary was nevertheless depicted dead. This is something I believe we forgot to teach in the United States and Europe. Mary was special, but she was human. She died, but was, because of her immaculate conception (especially singled out by God from all female humanity to bear Jesus in her womb), spared the route that most of us self-appropriate (listed above). We often think of dying and then being automatically in heaven (self-assuring condolences), yet we incinerate and bury bodies. Catholic and Orthodox creeds say that we (as we were created, body and soul) will be reunited on the so-called Last Day. Thus Catholics pray for the dead (Second Book of Macabees) whose souls pass through a purgation (perfectification) to be intelligible to God who is Perfection.

Church of Lady of Mercy (de la Merced) Old Town, Panama

Today is also the celebration of Panama City’s foundation. The Spanish founded Panama City in 1519, but there were at least two other foundation cities in the same year. Because I now live here and it is the largest, most prominent population in the country, this celebration is what I know better than other foundation celebrations. This is true not only for me but for Panamanians in general because the cathedral tower of the early foundation is a notable, unifying symbol for the whole country. I noted this celebration in an earlier blog and pointed out that most of the public celebrations took place during the weekend when most people are available to participate in activities. In one of this morning’s newspapers, there were a couple of congratulatory remarks. One from the newspaper (left) and one from the Mayor of Panama City (right). These accolades clearly show the cathedral tower from 1519 as it appears today. It’s a national symbol.

Finally, this day also marks the 108th anniversary of the first official operations of the Panama Canal, known originally as “Canal Interoceonique de Panama” (Interocean Canal of Panama) because, of course, bonds were sold by a French company, which started the building process. The French company, which had built the Suez canal, did not anticipate the moisture in Panamanian soil, so building a canal without locks (as in the Suez and Corinthian canals) was deemed impossible. The photo below, which shows 500 French franc bonds was taken at my barber’s salon. I thank and recommend Porfirios Barberia and the management’s permission to take and to use the photo.

The canal was modified in 2016 to accommodate supertankers and other such massive boats of later years.

Wednesday, 10 August 2022


Once upon a time, city newspaper deliverers were called paperboys. It was a common job for junior high and high school kids who were looking for their own spending money. My brother and I had our own route that extended eight blocks up one street and another eight down on a parallel street. We had the route over 50 years ago, but I still remember some of the route, certainly some houses, all sorts of weather, and, of course, the finish line.

Our route was in the Riverside neighborhood of Missoula. The streets were straight and not at all like the neighborhood in which I grew up. This area was and is called the Rose Park neighborhood or ‘Slant Streets.’ This area was, according to historians, supposed to have been its own little town south of the river and street grids were developed to more or less follow the river. This never happened and so the neighborhood street grid is slanted in relationship to the streets in surrounding neighborhoods. My neighborhood has its own newspaper routes, but none were available when my brother and I got the job. We were lucky, however, to be assigned to routes that were perfectly straight and crossed only a few busy streets.

On this map, the reader can easily see where the neighborhood of the slanted streets is. Our paper route was in the neighborhood called Riverfront just to the north, but south of the Clark Fork river.

Wake Up: I wish I could remember when we had the alarm clock set, but it was early. Let’s say 5:30 AM. I was never very good about popping out of my warm bed, but my brother was. While I dawdled, he got dressed and went downstairs to wait for me. Sometimes, he had to go back up and wake me up. Sometimes, when I finally showed up, he was asleep wearing his double-sided paper bag and slouching in a dining room chair. Most of the time, however, we were up and on the way to pick up our newspapers.

Pick Up: The central pickup location for our route was in front of a store very near to where our route started. Many of the boys gathered at about the same time and we loaded newspapers into our pouches. Strewn on the sidewalk were bundles of newspapers, each identified by route number and the boy’s name. Attached to the bundle, we sometimes found envelopes containing instruction notices. Notes told us to cancel a delivery, hold a delivery, where to put the newspaper, and complaints that the paper was wet, delayed or missed entirely. Some boys preferred to fold their papers as they loaded their pouches, but we folded as we went. On Sundays, the paper was stuffed with advertisements, and other supplements and so the bags had to be hoisted on our shoulders with the help of others. This is until we got smart and learned to load while wearing the pouch. This system helped to make the weight distribution even.

Delivery: As I recall, our route started with an apartment building. It’s interesting to think that doors were not locked back then and so we would walk right in and deliver door to door on three floors. It was a nice way to start the route, especially on a cold winter morning when we would routinely warm on hands on top of iron radiators that hissed and moaned as hot water ran through their veins.

The rest of the route was primarily single-home residences. Each home had its own character, and each homeowner had a particular request about where the paper should be placed. The most common place was behind a screen door. On windy days, we placed newspapers under doormats, and on wet or snowy mornings, we were obliged to put the paper behind a screendoor. With each creaking door, I awoke many a watchdog!

Sometimes, people would be waiting at the door for the newspaper, and so hand- to-hand delivery was the order of the door. Very few of the homes had front yard fences, but even so, in those days gates did not require locks and entryway codes so a fence and gate were never a bother. Most of the time, delivery was a peaceful routine. My brother and I pretty much kept the same pace as he took one side of the street and I took the other. In any case, we kept an eye out for each other.

The end of the route was in front of a grocery store and then home was quickly found via a walk through a park, past the ‘church block’ where nuns and priests lived in their respective buildings and where the church and school lay.

Collections: Not only did paperboys deliver, but we also collected the fees for the service. Toward the end of each month, my brother and I would walk our familiar routes, usually at night to ring doorbells, and when the door would open, we would politely say, “Collecting for the Missoulian.” Often, this was the first time we saw our customers, for good or for bad. By this, I mean that the good customers always had their money ready and even gave a tip, while the baddies didn’t have any cash or couldn’t find their checkbook and would say something like, “I’ll be ready next month and how many months do I owe?” After we had collected enough to pay our bill (it took about a week or so), my brother and I hoofed it downtown to pay the bill in cash. After the bill was paid, the remaining profit went to us.

The Legacy: I have clear memories of the job, and yet some details have completely vanished from my memory. I remember, for example, the fun of being the first one to walk in fresh snow, and feeling the pouch become lighter and lighter as I progressed on the route. I remember that some houses seemed welcoming while others appeared menacing. I remember a big black labrador dog that jumped on my back as I walked away and I also remember the sound of rustling through thick layers of leaves on sidewalks. I remember the money, mostly quarters and special envelopes at Christmas that offered Christmas greetings and a tip of a few dollars or maybe even a five-dollar bill! I remember going to the bakery at the end of collections where my brother and I would buy our favorites: raised sugar doughnuts and maple glazed bars.

Tuesday, 9 August 2022

My image of a tree

My image of a tree is probably like that of yours. Trees are tall and green. They have roots and trunks and leaves or needles. Leaves vary in size and shape and most of the time in the Autumn, leaves turn red, yellow, and orange and then fall to the ground. Such is an image of a tree.

Seeing a tree is not knowing a tree. I’ve been surprised many times by trees. For example, I always thought that a pine tree was an evergreen. This means that the needles are green all year round. The opposite is a deciduous tree, meaning that at a period of leaf maturity, they fall off. Leaves may look dead and ready to fall, but some fall in the Autumn, some fall in the winter and some fall in the Spring as new leaves appear. Back to what appears to be an evergreen tree, but isn’t. It’s a needled deciduous tree or more commonly known as a larch. They are quite beautiful in the Autumn sunshine as shown below.

In an earlier blog, I wrote about trimming and cutting trees. The first time I came across decorative trimming was in Paris where square trees were common along major streets like the Champs-Elysees. I was accustomed to trees being trimmed to get rid of overhanging branches or to avoid power lines, but until being in Paris I had never seen such creative cutting.

Here in Panamá, I have discovered square trees. Unlike those that are trimmed to appear square, these trees have square trunks. They grow only in an area of Panama called the Anton Valley which is actually a volcano crater to the west of Panama City nearer the Pacific Ocean side than the Atlantic/Caribbean side of Panama. The volcano lost its lid thousands of years ago and then became a lake and later a homeland for an indigenous people. Its descendants largely still populate the valley along with newly arrived expats from the United States and Canada. Its appeal is tropical forests and rich soil for farming.

The square trees remain mysterious. Scientists from the University of Florida apparently brought saplings back to Florida and they all died. The scientists concluded that the environment and volcanic soil are keys to the square trees’ survival. Anyway, it took me 66 years and a move to Panama to learn that not all trees have round trunks. Here they are!

To say the least, my image of a tree has changed dramatically over the years but be that as it may, I think trees are quite beautiful, each in their own way. How can I not conclude with one of poetry’s greatest contributions?


I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Joyce Kilmer (December 6, 1886 – July 30, 1918)

Monday, 8 August 2022

It’s time for a trim

When I was a young boy, something that always fascinated me was returning home from a vacation and seeing how high the grass had grown. The photo above might be misleading because this was not my childhood home or lawn. Instead, our family lawn was a typical urban lawn comprised of several areas defined by sidewalks, curbs, driveways, and fences.

The wonder of lawns and trimming them came to mind recently as I noticed that all sorts of cutting are being done here in Panama City. I have mentioned in earlier blogs that Panama City has a beautiful walk/bike/motorway along the Bay of Panama called the Cinta Costera (coastal strip or belt). The coastal front development was a multi-billion dollar three-phase project to preserve natural beauty while providing paths to walk, run, skateboard, bicycle, and bench rest and watch the more athletic world move by. It includes car traffic on Balboa Avenue (the Fifth Avenue of Panama) and a southside freeway. These auto strips are quickly and safely crossed by a series of ramps. Here are some views of what I am trying to describe.

There are a series of pedestrian bridges along the coast, and it is here that I noticed the beginning of the trim season. Parts of the bridges are lined with bamboo, which proliferates and needs a trim from time to time. See in this recent photo how nicely this trim job was done! Compare it to the no-nonsense trim job in my neighborhood.

The urban area of Panama has a variety of trims, some pristine and neat, others not. Well-to-do regions and tourist areas tend to be remarkable. In contrast, some residential areas will be less tidy if there is vegetation. But, I guess this is not always related to money and tourists. We all know about the neighbor who doesn’t water the lawn or put in a winter lawn, as is often done in arid cities like Phoenix.

This morning, I saw city workers trimming trees along Via España. Just yesterday, I saw a man on a ladder hand trimming the bushes in front of an apartment building into oval shapes. I am not sure why I am seeing cutting all of a sudden. Maybe I just took notice, or is this a good time of the year to trim?

Friday, 5 August 2022

Hats off to Panama City!

Panama City celebrates its 503rd foundation anniversary this month. Festivities will spread out over several days, but the official anniversary day is the 15th of August. The year, of course, was 1519. If you were to be driven from the Tocumen Airport on the southside freeway to the city, you would likely see the remains of a cathedral whose construction began in 1519. In the photo below, you would look to your right for something like this, which would loom above the treeline. This photo shows the freeway from which you would be viewing. The tower is illuminated at night when it might be easier for the untrained eye to spot.

The Jamaican Governor and Welsh pirate, Captain Morgan of Jamaican rum fame, attacked the city in 1671, burning it down. The Spanish settlement then moved lock, stock and barrel to a protective peninsula, which today is called Casco Viejo (Old Town). Below is a map to explain both the original location of old Panama City and the newer old town. In between lies the modern city.

Now, after this introduction to Panama City’s celebration, I continue with the intended subject of this blog and that is the real Panama hat, which you see on the head of the little boy in the opening photo. It’s called a Pintao hat, a hat exclusively originating in Pintado, an area of Panama. This special United Nations-recognized cultural jewel of Panama is unfortunately overshadowed by an Ecuadorian hat that became known as the Panama hat.

Panama hat————————————-Panama Pintao hat

The real Panama hat comes from Ecuador and is made from pliable plaits of cartaludovica palmata. It’s comfortable and breathes well and was marketed in the 1850s when sea-faring Gold Rush prospectors made their way from the Caribbean Sea to California via the Isthmus of Panama. The hat proved an invaluable defense against the sun. Purchased in Panama, it became known as a Panama hat. Other versions of the beginnings of the so-called Panama hat relate to the American construction of the Panama Canal. Workers apparently used the hat as a work hat and brought them back to the United States and, again because it was purchased in Panama, it was called a Panama hat.

The Pintao hat is not as socially-prominent in the world as the famed Panama hat, but you still see them in Panama. The hats are usually worn in festive settings, but some still wear them for practical use. They are made from five different strands of native plants and a sixth plant is used to dye some of the strands. Particular strands are soaked in a local mud, infusing them with a reinforcing natural mineral. They are always handmade and, one is typically produced in a couple of weeks, which makes them quite expensive, into the hundreds of dollars.

Image borrowed from https://www.bonitopanama.comge from

For an excellent story about the pintao hat, please open this link by clicking or by cutting and pasting to your brouser:

The Pintao Hat of Panama – The Story of a Dying Cultural Heritage

For further details, enjoy this excellent blog on the Pintao hat.


You’ve undoubtedly seen the Panama hat even if you don’t know what it is. They’re white hats that look like the Mexican fedora worn by gangsters, and are most commonly seen on cigar smoking, pencil-mustachioed men dressed in white silk suits with goldpocket chains and satin handkerchiefs.

You get the picture.

However, this post is not about those hats. Heck, those don’t even originate in Panama. They are actually Ecuadorian hats that are mistakenly called Panama hats because gold prospectors heading off to California during the Gold Rush bought them from Panama.

The traditional hat of Panama is called the Pintao hat or the sombrero pintada, and is a much more intricately woven affair. It is in fact so complex and finely woven, that UNESCO declared it an endangered intangible heritage in need of protection in 2017.

So what’s so special about the Pintao hat?

The sombrero pintada is no…

View original post 1,080 more words

Thursday, 4 August 2022

“The greatest necessity for the age.”

Believe it or not, I started to think about toilet paper, hygienic paper, or bathroom/toilet tissue in a bathroom. Makes sense, doesn’t it? I suspect that the only other places where one thinks about toilet paper are in a grocery store aisle or on a shopping list where it is discretely described as TP.

It is true, however, that I seriously thought about toilet paper when I visited my guest bathroom after an air-conditioner ‘technician’ used it. I was horrified to find that the tissue roll was near the end of the sheets. I immediately checked to see that I had an extra roll available in the bathroom. I did. With this experience, I thought that one of humanity’s greatest fears would be to run out of TP. Our recent toilet paper hoarding during the early days of the Covid pandemic proves this human fear.

For most of us, toilet tissue is a given, a taken-for-granted commodity. But toilet paper wasn’t always around as we know it. Cloud Paper offers a brief history of the evolution of toilet paper:(How Toilet Paper Was Invented and What People Used Before It – Cloud Paper)

  • Before modern toilet paper was invented, people used a variety of materials, including silk, moss, snow, or even their own hand. (Dreadful!)
  • The Ancient Romans used a xylospongium, a sponge attached to a stick that was shared in public toilets. (Disgusting!)
  • Documents from the Ming Dynasty show toilet paper was invented for members of the Imperial Court in the 6th Century AD. (Nice!)
  • Modern toilet paper was invented in the mid-1800s, but didn’t catch on until about 100 years later. (Why pay good money for it when one can use a ‘sheet’ (still a word used to describe one piece of TP) of a newspaper?)
  • Unfortunately, toilet paper made from trees is now recognized to contribute to deforestation and climate. (Remember. This is written by a TP company.)
  • Tree-free toilet paper is an eco-friendly alternative made from bamboo, a fast-growing grass that captures more carbon dioxide than any other plant. (I did not know this about bamboo!)

Of course, modern plumbing and flushable toilets make our current use of toilet paper feasible. This is obvious, but I needed to segue.

The best toilet paper is described as soft (cloud or angel soft), hygienic (Remember the reusable common brush of the ancient Romans!), multi-ply (the more, the better); flushable and bio-degradable; and in some circles, scented.

There is a variety of toilet paper holders:

There are clever ways to provide extra rolls that are clearly visible to a guest who might otherwise feel uncomfortable digging through your bathroom cabinets:

To mimic a hotel’s attempt to make such a mundane thing seem to have been given loving and artistic care just for you, the honorable guest:

If you are interested in color, design, or matching disposable handtowels, your options are many:

There is also a distasteful and revengeful way to leave toilet paper hanging:

There is also a great toilet paper debate: under or over?

Finally, sheets on or off a roll: Which became preferred? I quote Cloud Paper’s history, which was previously cited. “In the modern world, toilet paper didn’t take off as a commercial product until the late 1800s. In 1857, American entrepreneur Joseph Gayetty created wide, single paper sheets infused with aloe. He stamped his name on every sheet and marketed them as The Greatest Necessity for the Age. Gayetty’s Medicated Paper for the Water Closet. The product flopped (my comment, but it came back recently and is called a wet-wipe.). Most Americans were perfectly happy to use sheets from magazines and newspapers and weren’t inclined to pay for a similar product. But American entrepreneurs did not give up on the idea. Ten years after Gayetty’s failure, two brothers put toilet paper on a roll. American consumers still weren’t convinced, but the brothers found a market selling to hotels and drugstores.” As I mentioned, modern plumbing later caused the toilet paper convenience craze, which we enjoy today.

Wednesday, 3 August 2022

Left: Wallace ‘Wally’ Cleaver – Anthony ‘Tony’ Dow; Top right: Mark Twain – Samuel Clements; Bottom right: Lazarus

Dead and then dead again

News about someone’s death, unbelievably, can be pretty mysterious. ‘Breaking’ news indicated that Tony died in Los Angeles, and the story was pulled until Tony actually and truly passed away (RIP). Lazarus, we know from the Bible (John 11) that Lazarus died (as dead as the proverbial knell to human reason) but was raised ‘from the dead’ at the call of his good friend, Jesus. Later, in John 12: 9-11, we find a lot to kill Lazarus. Poor guy, a second death? We also know the famous and convoluted story of Mark Twain. If not, here is a report from about Twain’s response to a rumor that he was dead or extraordinarily ill and near death.

“When you’re one of the most quoted authors of all time, you’re also bound to become one of the most misquoted authors of all time. Such is the case with Mark Twain, whose famous quip about his own death is frequently butchered by well-meaning admirers, as This Day in Quotes explains.

You’ve probably heard that Twain once said, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” or another common version containing the phrase “grossly exaggerated.” The gist of the quote is accurate, but neither wording is quite right.

Twain is one of the few people in history who was lucky (or unlucky) enough to comment on newspaper reports of his own death. In 1897, an English journalist from the New York Journal contacted Twain to inquire whether the rumors that he was gravely ill or already dead were indeed true. Twain wrote a response, part of which made it into the article that ran in the Journal on June 2, 1897:

Mark Twain was undecided whether to be more amused or annoyed when a Journal representative informed him today of the report in New York that he was dying in poverty in London … The great humorist, while not perhaps very robust, is in the best of health. He said: ‘I can understand perfectly how the report of my illness got about, I have even heard on good authority that I was dead.  James Ross Clemens, a cousin of mine, was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London, but is well now. The report of my illness grew out of his illness. The report of my death was an exaggeration.’

Apparently, many of the misquoted versions stem from a Mark Twain biography by Albert Bigelow Paine published in 1912, two years after Twain’s death.  According to Paine’s embellished version, Twain had told the reporter, “Just say the report of my death has been grossly exaggerated.”

That’s not the only Twain quote that’s been a little embellished over the years. Many other witty maxims often attributed to the author have even more dubious origins. You may also remember the quote, “I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure.” Or perhaps this one: “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.” While they’re often attributed to Twain, he never said either of them.

Fortunately, there are still plenty of good—and accurate—Twain quotes to go around.”

All three of these deaths (and I believe all of my references are now physically deceased) have something to do with communication, poor communication at that. Here, communication refers to the two-way street of sending and receiving. Mary and Martha, the siblings to Lazarus, had sent word that their brother was very ill and that Jesus should come immediately to save him from dying. What did Jesus hear? The press reported Mark Twain’s cousin was ill in England. How was the press report heard? A premature press release announced Dow’s death. What did we read?

Celebrities are not the only cases of presumed deaths. Having worked in a parish setting for over thirty years, I can assure you that I heard many times that someone in the parish had died, and upon inquiry, it was not valid. On a few occasions, I have heard from family members who want to plan a funeral, and in the conversation, I find out that the relative has not yet really died but will soon. Soon is a relative term when speaking of death, and there is a difference between pre-planning and planning. These experiences led to my policy that someone was not dead until I heard from the family or a mortician.

Incidentally, while watching an old rerun of the ER television series, there was an episode in which a body was declared dead, and another physician disagreed and ‘revived’ the patient. In another episode, an ER physician (first-year resident) worked on a patient’s body until someone told him the patient was dead on arrival.

Death is a reality, but it remains an illusion until proven otherwise, even in our modern world. I’ll close with a line, one of my favorites, from chapter one of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens: “Marley was dead, to begin with – there’s no doubt about that. He was as dead as a doornail.”