Monday, September 27, 2010

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

Having just returned from our honeymoon, Betty and I were looking for our first home. World War II was still in progress, making housing in the city of Burlington, Vermont extremely tight. Now we had to come up with a more permanent plan to allow our friends, the Haglunds, to resume their own privacy. As had become our habit, I was scanning the Burlington News for a lead when I came across a brief listing.

"Betty, listen to this," I excitedly called her. "$50 per mo. 3 rooms and bath, furnished and heated apt. Available July 1st", I quoted.

"Let's go look at it at once," was her immediate response.

After a quick call to be certain it was still available. it turned out to be on the first floor of an old house that had been converted into apartments. Knowing how scarce was this find, I made out the rental check. Three days later we were moving in our scanty possessions.

By current standards, the much-used furniture was not exciting but adequate. Betty was eager to display her good housekeeping by cleaning and dusting and even doing the windows. She was most eager to display her skills in the kitchen.

When I arrived home after a day at the office, a delightful aroma greeted me.

"What do I smell?' I wanted to know.

"Come and see," Betty motioned me to the laundry area. "There are thirty-six real cream puffs just out of the oven."

"Whom are we having in tonight?" I inquired.

"Nobody that I know about. Why do you ask"?

"Don't you like cream puffs?" She sounded a bit let down.

"Of course I do," I assured her. "But there are so many," I marveled.

"My brothers and my father would have devoured them gone instantly," was her explanation. This lesson would need to be repeated numerous times before it really took hold. The appetite of an office employee was far less than that of those who worked out of doors on the muckland.

Betty's next surprise startled her. She had received six ration stamps from her mother for meat purchases. At the butcher shop she was greeted with "Here are some beautiful lamb chops. They won't last long here."

Betty didn't take long to make up her mind. "Wrap up six of them. My mother just sent me the month's ration. That's a good deal."

When I arrived home after work, Betty was excited to share this great news with me. It should have excited my gustatory juices.

"But I don't like lamb," was my response.

Betty was on the verge of tears. The whole month's ration of stamps was gone. She would have to eat all of them herself. It turned out to be along month.

The first part of my time in Burlington had included living with Rev. & Mrs. Bates at the Free Methodist parsonage. They were so congenial that my pal from work, Robert Pollock, enjoyed it too, although he was a devout Catholic. When another pastor was selected, he decided to room elsewhere. I made the error of staying with the current church arrangement, as our wedding was nearing. This man was not like Rev. Bates, as we found out by his erratic behavior.

On the first Sunday after Betty's arrival, his treatment of the Bible, the Holy Scriptures, was to hurl it into the congregation. This seemed sacrilegious. His glasses often followed. He had a deep coarse voice that seemed tuned to diatribes. I am sorry to say that I didn't immediately move to a more congenial group, such as Jack Wyrtzen was engaged in. Denominational loyalty should not
be the only criterion in such matters.

On Monday afternoon following the first exposure to the church group, two elderly women came to call on Betty. She was delighted that fresh cookies had just come out of the oven. When she served the women, instead of receiving the commendation expected, she was faced with criticism that baking was taken care of in the morning when it was cooler. Furthermore, the short sleeves of her dress offended their senses of propriety.

The summer offered many opportunities for fun: picnics at Lake Champlain within short drives from home, views of he Adirondacks across the Lake and the Green Mountains to the east, time to become better acquainted than the intermittent trips during war years permitted.

How well do we recall the August evening in 1945 when we were strolling among the students on the University of Vermont Campus. Suddenly there were cheers, shouts and the eruption of fireworks. It was indeed wonderful news that presaged changes in lives. World War II was over.

How our lives would be altered was the question facing us. The military aircraft contracts would be canceled. My job would be terminated soon. Without the Bell plant, hope of future employment seemed doubtful. Our almost instantaneous choice was to return to Albion in Western New York where my father was pastoring the very first Free Methodist Church in the denomination. A final factor was the knowledge that Betty was now pregnant with Bettina, our first child. Two weeks later all of our worldly possessions were loaded in the Lincoln Zephyr. The next phase of our married life was about to begin.

Monday, September 20, 2010

WHAT'S IN A NAME OR TITLE?

The world of academia, like other professional fields, is prone to press heavily on the importance of nomenclature. When arriving in Stanwood after thirty-two years at Houghton College, it was easy to shift to a given name from the title that tended to indicate what one had been accorded in the past. I was no longer referred to as "Professor" Cook but gladly accepted my first or second name as the norm. It was easy to relax to this easing of the title puzzle.

Dealing with the medical community, it remained as normal to address members as Doctor ----. With the multiplicity of individuals new to us, it proved easier than recalling the names which so easily escaped my memory. This ploy neatly avoided the embarrassment of wrong pronunciation of a foreign name or the need to admit to not remembering the name.

But what is proper or expected use by others in ordinary communication? It seems that youth are freer to use first names than is the older population. However this practice seems discourteous to the elder group and lacks the proper respect for age. This seems to be more generally applied to women.

Names are a bit trickier, Let me use my own as an example. My parents selected my first name to honor a good friend who was a student at Cleveland Bible Institute. The name, ARNOLD, in their eyes, was a way of saying, "This is my friend." As I entered school, my name at that point in time, was associated with the Revolutionary Period spy. My parents never realized the embarrassment this term caused me. I spent time wishing I had been given a name that stood for something more admirable. The WILLIS portion was to honor the grandfather who died when my mother was in grade school. There was no reason to doubt its relevance.

How my wife has coped with application of her name is another problem. Her true name is Ethel Elizabeth Park Cook. Being born about the time of Queen Elizabeth of England, her parents wanted the name while at the same time using her mother's first name. Never was she called Ethel. To separate it out, she has instead been called Betty. I use the word Ethel only jokingly. She prefers the word Betsy.

Problems began in school when the New York State Regents in Albany began to record the scores from their examinations. They were trying to coordinate the name of the person who had taken the exam with the certificates on record. They naturally failed to find a Betty Park. It took some time and effort to prove who she actually was and not an imposter.

Later she was denied Social Security benefits for three months. The amount of her Social Security was taken from our checking account while we were in Florida on vacation. The dire warnings of the penalties to be applied to us should our information explaining how the problem occurred were spelled out in detail.

The question still arises when she signs her name E. Elizabeth Cook and those recording it try to insist it should be Elizabeth E. Cook. Whenever she signs to open a bank account or to make a credit card application or to give medical information, it always provokes the same discussion. What a hassle could have been avoided if her mother had been willing to have Ethel listed as Betty's second instead of first name.

What's in a name? Plenty! Selected solution: Only the babies should be given the opportunity to choose their name! Now that is a fresh idea.

Monday, September 13, 2010

MY FIRST HORN

"Mother, did you hear that music? It sounds to me like a trumpet" I ventured.

"It surely does. Let's listen," mother suggested.

The strains of a hymn floated in on the evening air. The melody was clear as a bell as nothing competed with it as electricity hadn't come to our valley.

"It must be Richard Wing," mother suggested. "He'd be home from Chesbrough Seminary about now."

When the sounds died away, I impulsively asked mother: "I want a horn to play like that. Please may I?"

"I think that would cost a lot of money. But I'll suggest it to your father," mother promised.

When father came in from the barn, mother mentioned how nice it would be to have such a musical instrument. But just as she had told me, he blamed the Depression for the lack of funds to buy such a luxury item. While he agreed with the idea, he saw no way to buy one.

As strange as it may seem, it was the economic rigor of the times that floated a dream of realizing my goal. When the next Montgomery Ward catalog arrived in the mail, I was the first to leaf through the "wish book." Just inside the cover I read the words I could scarcely believe: "Young people. Earn free prizes by introducing customers to Ward's products. Send for free kit now!"

Rushing up to mother, I pleaded, "May I send for a kit now?"

She agreed reluctantly, for during the Depression many fraudulent schemes were spawned. She didn't want me to be disappointed. Daily I checked our mailbox. Finally the awaited packet arrived.

Along with all struggling businesses, Montgomery Ward, the catalogue mail order firm, sought new ways to increase sales. Simply stated, their offer was as follows: Any person under eighteen could join the plan and receive order blanks with their name imprinted on them. By encouraging people to place their order on these specially printed blanks, the person whose name was imprinted received a point score for each dollar of goods ordered. Awards in the form of merchandise from their catalog could be earned based on the number of points accumulated. To my great delight, one of these premiums was a trumpet,

Almost immediately I took off on my old bike to cover miles of dusty country roads. Here I encountered surly dogs and the suspicions of some folk who distrusted everyone in those discouraging times. Although very self-conscious and shy, I was driven by this dream of playing the trumpet. My hopes grew as the points started to accumulate. At church conferences and camp meeting gatherings I was on hand with my supply of order blanks. After over a year of these efforts, I had enough points to claim my coveted award - a trumpet that sold for $14.95 in their catalog.

Day after day I hurried home from school and on Saturdays personally met the mailman to see if my trumpet had come. When my faith had almost flickered out, a cardboard box awaited me. I was too excited to shout. With trembling hands I unwrapped the box and lifted the silver-plated horn with its gold bell from the bed of tissue paper in which it was nested.

Placing the shiny trumpet to my lips, I blew. Not a sound came forth. I tried blowing a second time, puffing out my cheeks and squinting my eyes with effort. Instead of a loud note nothing happened.

A dark thought flashed through my mind: "Suppose this wasn't a real trumpet at all! Maybe they had sent me one that wouldn't work." Bitterly I poured out these fears to my father.

His wise response was: "Son, I think there's a bit more to playing one of these than just blowing into it. I'll see what I can find out."

True to his word, father contacted Clyde Bullock, director of the Cattaraugus Town Band. He agreed to give me trumpet lessons once a week after he was through work. Father drove me the twelve miles to Cattaraugus and picked me up again after the half-hour lesson. The price tag for this instruction was $ .25 per lesson. And I did learn to play the trumpet, in subsequent years achieving first chair in the high school band.

Like my idol, Richard Wing, I enjoyed playing my trumpet outdoors. One magic moment stands out. Late one October afternoon I was out in the yard practicing a number for school. The warm sun shining through the autumn haze cast a golden glow over the valley. The notes came clear and true as the melody found its way across the fields and woodlands. Through the corner of my eye I caught a movement in the meadow across the road. Three deer were standing motionless, intently listening. As the last note died away, over the field they bounded, white tails flying like flags until they were lost to sight in the growing dusk. Even in these bleak Depression years, music was no stranger to our rural valley.

Monday, September 6, 2010

HOW TO SAY IT RIGHT

Some thirty years have elapsed since I taught Business Communication at Houghton College. During that time period many innovations have been introduced with the goal in mind of bringing about speedy and accurate transfer of information. E-mail is just one of these modes. How effective are these changes?

To start with, one of the goals is to eliminate unnecessary paper use and thus save the trees. The logic is admirable but its application is flawed. Why does my drug supplier need to send me so many copies of their privacy policy when one will do? The same is true of the banks that repeatedly provide an excess of the same information. The plea is that this is required information mandated by our government to protect us. Why do we have to be reminded so many times?

For a simple device, I find that many instruction booklets are 90% WARNINGS of what constitutes dangerous use and less than one page to the operation of its practical operation. This is often in print too small to read without a magnifying glass. For a more complicated item, this assumes a major exercise in reading to find the significant material that I need to know. Often the fault lies with the lawyers who are charged with protection of their client to cover all possible hazards of real or imagined hazards.

A different approach is to use print too small to be seen by the human eye. This is particularly true on items for the visually impaired. Products of this ilk have tiny bits of important information couched in miniscule sized print. When enlarged by a magnifier, the result may be a blurry type that is less than readable. Often such
occurrences are present on medication bottles for eye drops and the like. Much of this would seldom occur if the question were asked: "Who is going to read this?"

Another puzzle is how many languages should be employed to inform the user. English should normally be basic, but beyond that, how many others are necessary or useful?

When approaching the job of writing for the public, one needs to be first aware of who your likely audience will be and what needs to be conveyed. More or less than that will not be effective.