Monday, February 22, 2010

HERE'S TO WRITING

Writing is a means of communication. To be effective requires commonality of the words used including the language. It is imperfect to communicate with if the meaning of the words used is unclear. I will stick with English as it is the only language with which I am somewhat familiar.

But the problem of understanding is compounded if more than one meaning is attached to a word. As I consult the dictionary, I am amazed at the multiple meanings attached to one word. Why is it necessary to attach so many different meanings to a given word rather than having a unique word for each one?

Let us take the word do as an illustration. The dictionary I am consulting gives 47 different meanings. Even if we pick a meaning from this list, if I use the word in speaking, can I be sure it is not the written word due or dew. All three sound alike. Words that sound alike but have different meanings can be confusing.

If we try to differentiate between these three words, either spoken or written, we are faced with the difficulty of distinguishing the meaning intended. We may say the meaning is dependent on the context. Is a familiarity with the context of a word required to understand its meaning?

To some extent we attempt to accomplish this attribution of meaning by adding a second term to modify the word. Again we are making the correct meaning dependent upon yet another word. Why can't we avoid this problem?

Our current generation is confused by the verse of the song: "There is a balm in Gilead," when it comes through to them as bomb. This is especially distressing when the meanings are so obviously at odds. It ruins the use of a good thought by associating it with a different concept.

The hijacking of the innocent word gay is another example of this clever eviscerating process at work. When I was a student in high school, a popular travel book bore the title, "Our Hearts Were Young and Gay." It was a happy light approach to the subject. Today's common use to indicate homosexuality preempts totally its original meaning. Any attempts today to counter this use would be deemed counterproductive and result in failure to restore the prior meaning.

The challenge arises to find a method to avoid the misunderstanding of word meanings. The thought occurs to me to replace it with a better method of getting the meaning across more clearly. What better way can I devise? I decide to dispense with words and use sign language. We can then be certain that we are being clear by avoiding words entirely. "You, there. Why are you waving your hand like that? Don't you get what I mean?"

Monday, February 15, 2010

FRIENDSHIPS - MY $TA$H OF WEALTH

When Betty answered the phone on Saturday morning, she was excited to find it was Barbara Prater calling from Bayview State Park near Anacortes, WA.

"We're camped here. Could you come over and join us today? "Barbara asked. "We haven't seen you in a long time." In the past, we had annually made several trips over Snoqualmie Pass to see friends in Ellensburg and east of the Cascades. So far this year medical appointments had prevented our doing so.

"I'll check with Arnold. He's out working in the yard," Betty responded.

"Then I'll call you back within the hour," promised Barbara. Soon after lunch we were on our way in the Winnebago Warrior to join Bill, Barbara and crew at shady Campsite #75. After an enthusiastic greeting that included two dogs, we settled in for an interesting exchange of news with no hesitation or preliminary warm-up.

Ours was a mature friendship dating back over half a century. We had come to Ellensburg from Western New York in 1953 to be part of Mountain View Free Methodist Church - a new society that was just being organized. We had built a house on the west side of the Yakima River with a great view of the Cascades dominated by Mt. Stuart. Getting acquainted with our neighbors was a priority.

The snowcapped peaks of the Cascades thrilled both Betty and me. We pursued every opportunity to explore and learn about them. Betty, in particular, was fascinated by the alpine wildflowers. Next we found that Gene and Bill Prater, our neighbors just up Hansen Road, were noted mountain climbers. The Ellensburg Daily Record carried
an article announcing their offering a course in Mountain Climbing Basics to be held at the YMCA on Wednesday evenings.

After prayerful consideration, we concluded that taking the class would provide us opportunity to get to know them. Some of the church people had reservations about our doing so as Wednesday was prayer meeting night at Mountain View. We decided it was the right thing to do. Over the span of several weeks, Betty and I completed the course and demonstrated our new proficiencies in a a test climb up Denny Peak at Snoqualmie Pass.

This was our entrée to frequent contact with the close-knit mountain climbing fraternity. Although our objective was not summiting the peaks, increasingly frequent contacts cemented the bonds of friendship. Gene and his wife Yvonne occasionally had informal gatherings of mountain climbers at their home to view slides taken on their climbs. Invitations to such gatherings we viewed as a sign of acceptance. The setting was the attic or loft of their modest home.

Noting similarities between the Christian journey and mountain climbing, I decided to produce a slide series to illustrate it. Gene and Yvonne were gracious is cooperating on a climb as models for the project. Their one stipulation was that they see it when completed. Of course this was what I wanted to occur.

Noting Betty's interest in wild flora, I suggested that she take courses at Central Washington University to learn more about this field of knowledge. She enrolled as a freshman and rode to the office with me, just a few blocks from the university. Between classes she became acquainted with Barbara who was also a student. Betty would relate to me their discussions, as the two became friends. The difference in their backgrounds made for interesting sharing.

A major hike for our family was the trail up the west side of Mt. Rainier to Klapache Park and St. Andrews Park. We settled into the Klapache Park shelter at dusk and got the children settled down. We were unaware that a group of the Seattle Mountaineers had planned to summit Mt. Rainier the next day. From midnight on they kept arriving, would shine flashlights around the shelter and then go off in the darkness to find a spot to sleep among the hummocks. The next morning the scene was like the one described in "The Destruction of Sennacherib!" Bodies were strewn helter skelter all around the outside of the shelter.

To our great delight, the next morning Bill and Barbara showed up at breakfast time. Although not part of the Mountaineers group, they were ready to climb to the top and posed for pictures before heading up the trail.

In 1960 I felt directed by God to respond to the plea of President Stephen Paine to return to my alma mater to start the Department of Business Administration & Economics. Leaving these friends and the mountains we had come to love was a painful decision. Over the subsequent years while at Houghton, we made several trips back to Central Washington. Each time we renewed in person our friendships with the mountain climbers to supplement the intermediate written contacts.

When God, in his providence, permitted us to return to Washington in 1992, picking up again with these dear friends was easy and natural.
This latest time at Bayview State Park was but another chapter in a
long series that has lasted over fifty years.

In my practice as a CPA and subsequently teaching accounting at the college level, I have some concept of the traditional recording and expressing of wealth. A balance sheet is doubtless the most frequently adopted format for this type of presentation. But I find this type of display inappropriate and inadequate for setting forth the sterling asset: FRIENDSHIP.

Due to its being intangible, two problems immediately come to mind. First, what unit of valuation exists as a common mode to express differences in amount? Nothing comparable to the dollar, the euro, the yen or the franc appears to exist. Second, without a common unit of value, expressing friendship in quantitative terms is impossible. Nevertheless, friendship is real, has great value, and requires attention to nourish and preserve.

As a relationship, endurance over time is one measure of the quality of a friendship. Brief, casual acquaintance does not qualify in my definition of friendship.

Monday, February 8, 2010

IN DEFENSE OF THIRD VERSES

In this era of sensitivity to discrimination of every kind, I feel compelled to call attention to this practice when it occurs within the church. My concern is for the widespread omission of third verses in hymns. I ask you to recall the many times when you have heard song leaders prescribe to a congregation, "We will sing the first, second and last verses of Hymn No. XYZ."

Why has Verse Three been the one omitted? Has the leader thoughtfully perused the number and decided Verse Three to be inappropriate? Inferior? Ineffective? Unscriptural? Lacking in continuity with the rest of the text? Gramatically deficient? Unworthy of attention given to other verses? From where I sit, more often it appears to be a habit adopted with the purpose of shortening the song.

The only time it is totally safe to casually suggest, "Let's sing the first, second and last verses," is when then the number has only three verses. This rule would relieve the song leader of burden of proof.

A quality hymn or gospel song has continuity of thought. Often each succeeding verse builds on what has preceded. Omission can do violence to the logical thought pattern intended by the author. The third verse at times contains the central idea. Leaving it out weakens the presentation of the concept.

If pressure of time is the consideration, why does there always seem to be ample time to repeat almost countless times the simple word or phrase of a chorus? In fact, repeating a chorus twice seems minimal practice. And so seldom does it stop with the minimum. Much repetition has become the hallmark of chorus singing. Granted that the words of choruses often derive directly from scripture. But cannot the human mind and spirit handle a progression or orderly development of thought? The great hymns of the church which have stood the test of time weigh in with content of deep spiritual truths.

Christian hymnody ranks next to the Bible in value for devotional benefits. This treasure should be passed on to subsequent generations. In too many churches, if someone were to surreptiously remove from the hymn book all third verses, the theft might go undetected, to say nothing about being unreported. We should do better at protecting this Christian heritage for our children.

Were our government to devise a solution, it probably would take the form of "reverse discrimination." One way to do so would be to require singing nothing but third verses until utilization was equalized. Or perhaps it would be mandated that each hymn would be sung with the third verse first to assure its use. Another scheme would be to require proportional use of third verses based on frequency of their appearance in the "population" of numbers included in the book being used. Someone might even suggest youth quiz teams with contests based on recognition of hymns from which third verses were chosen at random.

Of course such approaches border on the ridiculous. I'd be glad to settle for fewer selections and singing with understanding and feeling all of the verses. Music should be just as much a part of worship as scripture reading, prayer and preaching. Hence it should be coordinated with the other elements rather than serve as random filler. Here's to the unsung gems of many a congregation - the slighted third verse!

Monday, February 1, 2010

A FEAT OF RECOGNITION

Eagerly I dashed in the house to share the good news. "Mother - Father", I bubbled, "If our band does well in Fredonia, we have a good chance of going to the New York State competition in Binghamton."

My mother exclaimed, "That's great goal to work for. You will need to practice a lot to make the grade."

"The band director, Frank Gullo, said we had a chance if we worked hard," I added. "He said that it would be necessary for us to have Saturday morning practice sessions between now and then."

"Wait a minute," cautioned my father. "Will the bus pick you up on Saturday?"

"No, it won't do that," I admitted.

"Then I'm afraid it won't work for you. My preparation for Sunday will have to be done as well as the usual chores. I'm counting on you to perform regular tasks plus getting the wood piled in the shed."

"Aren't there other students who will be needing to go?" inquired Mother.

"I'm afraid not. I'm the only one in the band from the East Otto area" I replied. Knowing the twenty-five mile trip daily on the bus made me aware of cost of what I was asking. I considered the subject closed.

After supper I was surprised to hear Father change his mind. "If you will get your work done, I will plan to call on my parishioners in the area while you are doing the practice." Evidently my parents had discussed it further with favorable results for me.

The year 1935 was the first for Mr. Gullo as band director at Cattaraugus High and my first year of attending school there. Coming from the country, I was overawed by the school and the faculty. My view of the bandmaster was of a tall dark-haired man who commanded and received deference by his students. My impression was of a stern taskmaster bent on accomplishing his purposes. He carried through with his threat about Saturday practice. We won at Fredonia and gained the right to compete statewide.

It was a day's trip to Binghampton. For me, it was a first time experience staying at a hotel. The numbers we had to play went smoothly with no awkward moments, obviously pleasing our director. There was time for two other activities before starting back to school: seeing the Endicott-Johnson Shoe Factory and viewing the work of IBM with its company key word, THINK. When we arrived in Cattaraugus the results of our efforts were heralded by everyone. We were rated Number One for our group. Mr. Gullo was in an expansive mood as he congratulated the band. Never before had it happened to a Cattaraugus band.

The following fall we had moved to Gowanda and I did not know what had happened to him.


The summer of 1991 was a chance to test my marketing skills. I had decided to take the plunge and have my book published. My estimate on quantity to order for OF A BOY AND HIS VALLEY was one thousand copies. The order had arrived by truck. Now I was to find out if there were that many people interested in my life during the great depression. All of my efforts were by mail and direct sale. (To my great surprise I exhausted my inventory in three months and had to reorder a second printing.)

Among the possible outlets were the Houghton College Bookstore, Letchworth State Park, and similar places of business. On this particular day I went to a site near Delevan called Canal Town which was an attempt to reconstruct the life of the canal era. The proprietor was away but his representative offered to take a copy of the book to show his boss when he returned.

A few days later I was by there and decided to see what the manager had decided. When he discovered that I was the author of the book, he was anxious to impart information about the bandleader I had mentioned.

"Mr. Gullo lives down in Yorkshire, the next town. His house is directly across from the high school."

"Do you think he would be willing to see me?"

"Sure. He's retired and would be glad to chat with you."

I wasted no time in finding his place. On the drive over I had planned what I would say to my former teacher. Would he possibly remember me? I thought not, as fifty-six years had elapsed since I had seen him. Would I recognize him? All I had remembered was his dark hair, his height, and his impressive manner.

Locating the house, I parked the car and started to walk towards the front door. Around the corner he suddenly appeared. His hair was turning gray. Instead of standing erect, his shoulders were slightly stooped. But there was no question that by his manner this was the older version of my teacher,

I started to say something. Instead he held up his hand and indicated that I remain silent. His gaze was concentrated on my face. Slowly recognition broke over his countenance.

"Cornet" he muttered. "Cattaraugus. Front row on the right. Cook." He paused. "Can't pull up your first name. Tell me what it is."

"Arnold" I reminded him.

"They tell me that you spoke of me in your book. Do you have a copy?"

I retrieved a book from the rear seat of the car. Then he urged me to come into the living room. After I was seated, he took the book.

"Show me the pages where I am mentioned." l was quiet as he absorbed the indicated portions.

When he had finished, I asked him the question: "Did I get it right?"

"You surely did" was his answer. "What have you been up to since?"

After giving him a brief resume of my life, I asked him about his career after departing Cattaraugus.

Some of the judges at Binghamton were from Penn State. Their observation of his style resulted in his being recruited to lead their band programs. After retirement, he came back to New York State to live. He discovered that the nearby town of Rushford had an active band. They often went to area events where their horse-drawn decorated wagon was a hit. I was surprised to learn that they were present at the annual Homecoming parades. I had been present for most of them but had failed to recognize their trumpet player was Frank Gullo.

Had I not put that episode in my book, I would have missed seeing my bandmaster again and have him recognize me as his former student.