O N E M A N 'S W I N D O W O N T H E 2 0 th C E N T U R Y
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D. Thurston Griggs
The author welcomes all comments and criticisms
Copyright 2002 by D. Thurston Griggs
These memoirs appear in two parts, in two different formats. Part I, The Windowframe has a story-line perspective on the author's experiences through the century. It is chronological, like most conventional autobiographies, dealing with causes and consequences in narrative form. It gives the author's expectations and impressions - the frame for his window.
Part II, Glimpses – Topics. Like monographs, the Glimpses focus on subjects such as travels, inventing, acting and playwriting, teaching, music, etc. Readers can choose one or both Parts, or simply choose from the menu of topics in Part II. Help yourself!
It would be cheating to pretend that I can tell you first-hand about the first part of the 1900's, because, since I was born in 1916, my own memory didn't kick in until 1920. What
I know about those first two decades came from being born 16 years after the family started; so, inasmuch as the family dealt with those years and talked about them, I have "borrowed" their impressions.
Big changes of those early years were: advent of some autos, illumination by
electricity instead of gas and candles, phones, mechanization for mass
production, and rise and legitimacy of labor unions. Before going farther I
must acknowledge that I am already cheating, because my parents lived in
My parents returned from
Early in 1908 my brother Joe was born. When he was only an infant, his two older sisters, while playing in the basement of our house, found some excelsior (shredded wood used for packing insulation) and a box of matches. They tried lighting it to see whether it would catch fire. Of course it did, and so did the entire house. Mother escaped with the baby in her arms, and the family was taken in by neighbors. Everything was lost.
The following year, after they had moved to
People heated their houses either with coal or with wood. We burned "mill ends" and slabs from the lumber mills. Ice was manufactured by ammonia process and delivered by horse and wagon. The horse itself knew where to stop, from house to house, on the route. I recall seeing horse-drawn fire engines. Men worked six days per week and vacations were rare. Many worked 10-12 hours per day. Holidays were big - with people staying at home, with all stores and facilities closed.
Unless they were laborers, men wore three-piece suits; collars and cuffs that detached for starching; always a hat; and no open necks. Dandies wore spats. Women had no legs; just feet. Their dresses flared up from the ground to a narrowed, corset-restrained waist, and their arms usually were covered. Bathing suits were like one-piece underwear with arms and legs. Children wore button patent leather shoes. (You needed a button hook to get dressed.) There were hook-and-eye fastenings, and "snaps" - metal loops that fitted around a protruding knob, to hold up your stockings. Little boys wore undershirts and underpants plus a "waist" that had these fasteners attached. Most of us couldn't dress ourselves without assistance until we were four or five.
There were phonographs - first
Construction work was done by gangs or men or by horses. I was impressed for my lifetime by the way workhorses would throw themselves into a hard pull - as when a digging scoop with a man steering it, would encounter a big rock during an excavation for a basement site. The horses welcomed the challenge and to want to demonstrate proudly their strength. To me it represented dedication and commitment: conquering life's handicaps. I wanted, myself, to be like those hard-working horses. And what did they get out of it? Contented munching from their nosebags during their infrequent rest periods. But they had a sense of achievement and doing their best.
People were polite and circumspect. Men tipped their hats to ladies. Some people occasionally bowed. There was a lot of concern for proper appearances. Most men smoked. No woman who cared about her reputation could be seen smoking. Women used perfume but no visible make-up. Men opened doors for women; treated them as if handicapped. Men spit: there were cuspidors (mostly-open pots on the floors) in the banks and in public buildings - big shiny ones. If you wanted to go somewhere, you walked or took a streetcar, or hired a carriage.
Big news events were announced by paperboys walking the streets, calling "Wuxtree! wuxtree! Read all about ________". Patriotism ran high, parades and Fourth of July; also the World Series and other sports.
The two big events of the 1910's were World War I and the flu. With outbreak
of World War I persons with German surnames took special efforts to demonstrate
their patriotism and loyalty in order to escape discriminatory ostracism. With
Secondly, directly in the wake our going to war, came the flu epidemic. Hardly a family of any size escaped it. Deaths occurred by the hundreds between l917 and 1919. Dad was deeply
involved, often sleeping only four to six hours per night. Big brother Joe, then about 12, began driving the car for Dad between calls on sick patients, in order to give him some rest time of his own.
Yet another development at that same time was introduction of Prohibition:
it came in
Our family was Puritanical, Victorian. We were not allowed to look at the comics ("funny papers") on Sunday. Sundays we only went to church and read books. (But I used to go next door to read the funnies.) Outwardly at least, it was a society that condoned and favored this way of life.
Such were some of the impressions relayed to me, and residually observed, as the 1920's began.
Now I should characterize the family members who were all-important informants as to what things were like in the years 1901-1920 - and as prompters for my expectations, in tender years, of what it means to be alive in this world.
In physical build we siblings resembled our respective parents, though our complexions and temperaments varied widely. We three males were five feet seven and about 140 pounds; the three females five feet three and about 130 pounds. All were well-coordinated and agile, with facile hands and strong voices. The oldest and youngest of the siblings had red hair and freckles.
Martha, the eldest, had a special esthetic sense and a soft awareness that was distinctively hers. She seemed to be intimate with the world - and even sometimes with something even beyond it; and what she shared of that broad awareness was always on the constructive, or at least objective, side. She never clashed seriously with anybody; she was at home in the world, always with her own sense of direction and purpose. Everything she did was done well. In her high school class of about 250 she received a special award as best all-around girl. She was 13 when I was born; so when I was only 5, she went away to college. She lived to be 92.
Rebecca, a year-and-a-half Martha's junior, who died in her late 60’s, was quite different in temperament: a worrier, overly conscientious. She was full of second thoughts because she needed to make absolutely sure she was striving to stay on the right track. She could always be counted upon for devoted, selfless help and cooperation. Becca always seemed to feel the shadow of her big sister as if not knowing whether to take umbrage in it or to escape from it.
Joe Jr. three and a half years younger than Becca, was a sociable
activist - sports, music, drama, books. He had a very independent mind. At
times he was strongly iconoclastic; he was also strongly idealistic - a
pacifist, a pioneer in reproductive medicine, nature-lover and conservationist.
Joe was also a raconteur with a broad repertory of stories, folksongs and
poems. In his adolescence, which was when he was quite close to me in my
childhood, he was rebellious (wouldn't wear a hat; defied convention; thought
"manners" were ridiculous); but he was adventurous and showed obvious
leadership talents both in school and as a Guide in
Alice (who in college changed her name to Sally) was a year and a half
younger than Joe, which made her 7 years older than I. She was gregarious,
outgoing, participating almost intrusively in whatever was going on;
entertaining, vivacious, original. In many respects
she served as mother-substitute, because my mother by that time had worn thin
trying to keep abreast of four energetic offspring. Joe and Alice were a pair - in many of their activities and with mutual
friends: they were busy achievers. Both learned to play the Hawaiian (steel)
guitar. Each of them had aggressive opinions about everything, including how I
behaved and what I was supposed to know. Part of that influence was
distinctive, but much of it echoed their parents' goals. One year Joe and Alice
each had a horse to ride, on loan from the horse guides at
Philip, born unexpectedly when Mother thought she had passed the menopause,
was seven years younger than
When a young child, Phil was sensitive and temperamental, given to tantrums. But he proved to be talented and versatile, a gifted classical clarinetist. I sympathized with him because he seemed like a disinherited waif - as it the harbinger of a family that was dead-ending; so I tried to play the role of solicitous big brother to him. Phil later mastered Sanskrit and became a swami in the Vedanta Order of Hinduism, called the "Episcopal" sect of Hinduism.
Now for the parents of this brood, and a bit more about its heritage:
Dad's medical practice leaned heavily toward obstetrics: kids at school each
year would tell me that he had delivered them into the world. Dad had a
religious dedication to his calling as a family doctor, and much of his
practice was done as charity. His ethics were rigid. He put his patients ahead
of his family - too much, I thought. In
Dad was bald and had a paunch; he weighed about 175 at the time I was born, and kept it. Like at least half of the men of his day, he smoked: a pipe or cigars; his deodorant was tobacco. (I didn't like that!) He liked caffeine, salt, rich food, and classical music. At age 52 he tried to teach himself to play the 'cello - only to find that it was too late to develop certain requisite muscles. He had a hearty laugh and a warm smile.
So Dad had some charm, and many patients depended upon his medical charisma as much as upon the pills. I suspect he used to offer to pray with some of his patients. At home however, Dad was not so out-going; he was stern and somewhat formal - possibly trying to emulate his own father as ruler of the house. He had only one usable eye - the left one, I believe - though nobody outside of the family knew it, because we children were told never to reveal that fact to outsiders because it could ruin his medical practice. Soon after he returned from China Dad had arranged that his bad eye be "tattooed" so as to match his good eye, to make it look normal; and fortunately his bad eye always appeared to be correctly in line with the good one. He wore pince-nez glasses with a trifocal lens that was duplicated even for the dead eye.
My father's reputation in our town was solid, both in his profession and as a good citizen. He did not hobnob with big shots, for he was too religious-centered to take part in politics or to engage in the playtime activities of the local upper class which his religious views placed off limits for him. His avowed models were Puritanical, classical and pietistic. But he also loved vaudeville, theater and jokes. Intellectually, he was a liberal. On the emotional side however, he was archly conservative. I never heard him use an off-color or profane word - even to himself.
Mother was different. She was 12 years younger than her husband, having married to him at 17. Devoted to, and wholly dependent upon him, she played a subordinate role except for the trump card of physical weakness, which she could finesse adroitly when needed. Mother had had a year at a "finishing school" for women. She was a gifted pianist and singer; she had read widely; she was well-trained in social skills, an ingratiating and versatile conversationalist. But her health was "delicate" - so much so that every once in a while she would have to take time out from the family, usually to go to a hospital to receive t.l.c.(tender loving care). For one thing, she had nervous bowel syndrome, and that was a social embarrassment. To us offspring she seemed to be a hypochondriac, though of course we were trained to take pains, inherently, not to imply that such might be the case. I suspect that her dependence upon medical expertise and solicitude had a lot to do with her marital relationship. It was necessary for us to have a live-in house-servant and cook at all times because, although she could mastermind the running of a household, she couldn't herself carry out the accompanying responsibilities and physical drudgery. Mother deferred to Dad in almost everything, but there were times when she successfully could soften his outlook; and occasionally could be an ally in keeping little secrets from him. Dad was utterly devoted to her until a latent and undiagnosed liver ailment toward the end of his life engendered such fatigue and self-concern in him that it was he, rather than she, who needed support.
Family life, for this hodge-podge of divergent personalities and egos, focused on mealtimes together. It seemed that everyone had a story to tell, urgent comments, a "vital" opinion, or some bid for attention or commendation. Silence could make it seem as if something might be awry - as if there was nobody in charge of the requisite and indispensable channels of thought. So, competition for possession of the rostrum often was intense. Lowest on the totem pole were the youngest of the tribe. But that created more chance to listen and learn. We concerned ourselves with one another's affairs; moral judgments abounded - though often tempered by humor or goodwill. Until I was about ten, once a week regularly we had family prayers at the dining table: Dad would read from the Bible; then, each kneeling at our dining room chairs, he would offer a spontaneous prayer of general nature. None of us children liked it and we knew that our friends did not do this in their families. That made it seem somewhat contrived and ostentatious. Did that please God? I used to wonder. It seemed that we did a lot of things "to please or honor God" that were more satisfying to our parents or ancestors than they were contemporary or sensible. But it was clear that having fun pleased God only marginally; and not having fun was more like what God wanted. The point was this: you can't achieve success, blest by God, if you don't follow the rules. Rules should always come before personal preference or self-indulgence. And our rules were pretty rigid - and pervasive.
I do recall one dinner-table incident that resulted in an awesome silence. Workmen had been putting in a new sidewalk past the house, and as a 9-year-old I had watched the process. "I think those workmen must be foreigners," I commented.
"What makes you think so?" Mother asked.
"Well, they say strange words that don't sound like our language".
"Those are probably just words that you don't know yet," commented
"No. They just don't sound like English."
"How do they sound?"
"Oh, like 'shit' and 'fuck'" [then words unknown to me].
There was a long pause while everybody looked intently at his/her food. Then Mother said, "Well, maybe that could be German." Turning to Dad as the usual authority, she asked: "Wouldn't that be German, Joe?"
With sudden enthusiasm Dad replied. "Yes; yes. It does indeed sound like German." Silence still prevailed for some time; so I figured this could have been one of the adults' tricks (bamboozlements).
Already the pattern of Anglo-Saxon Protestant traditions, perhaps even
Scotch-Irish character, should be apparent. But not so fully was that so on
Mother's side. Her maiden name was Van Gorder -
Dutch, on her father's side, from
To compare Mother's background with Dad's, on his side there were both
differences and similarities. Six generations back, the first Griggs had gone
Its proved quite difficult to find out much from my parents about their origins beyond these facts, because we lived across the continent from our blood relatives, and in those days it took a letter 5 or 6 days each way to bridge the gap. But in Dad's case there was another reason: alienation had taken place between him and his two brothers. It was based partly upon his being younger and being bullied and teased by them, and partly because one of them had put out Dad's right eye by aiming at him and firing with an air rifle. Dad's mother, who had been able to tutor in French and Spanish, herself a physician's daughter, became deaf; so she couldn't mediate, nor follow the taunting and wrangling that occurred between the boys. Dad's older sister, who saw it all, often came to his rescue - and continued her guardian angel role from time to time by taking care of us children for him when Mother was "resting up" in the hospital. This "Auntie" was a dominant influence; and the heritage of Protestantism, Scottish tradition, character, and achievement emanated from her presence along with her good nature, her hearty laugh, and rigid instruction. She was also the family genealogist. In religion she was a Fundamentalist who wouldn't enter our liberal Presbyterian Church. We children enjoyed learning that when she took Dad with her to the fundamentalist First Presbyterian Church, she woke him up with her snoring.
In the first years of the 20th century - and particularly after World War I - there was a conviction that change, progressing toward perfection, would lead up to utopia possibly almost within our own lifetimes. Change was synonymous with progress, which could move only in one direction: toward godliness and social harmony and prosperity. Lulled by the abundance of natural resources in this new continent and by enormous advances with power - steam and electricity - people thought American civilization was on an inexorable roll.
In school, in church, at home, in literature, we youngsters were being impressed with manifest destiny for our culture and sanctimoniously regulated capitalism as well as with our responsibilities and opportunities to perfect the world. Failure and defeat could result only from sloth or indifference. Mankind was conquering the environment and managing the world. Us kids in the 1920's were being briefed for leadership toward a paradise which, if we only strove and reached out hard enough, would yield to our touch and allow us to relish its advantages and blessings. Thus we were primed with idealism and zeal.
The world of finance likewise was caught in this upswing. Then came 1929 with its denouement when the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began.
Before we move this account forward into the years of the Great Depression, there is more to tell about the social atmosphere of the era that preceded it.
Women got the right to vote. Their status began to change to the things that men could tolerate - but only when codified suitably and whenever not in direct competition. Women began to drive cars. In fact on one occasion my mother made the front page of the local newspaper by driving her Model T Ford downhill across six intersecting streets when its brakes failed.
A few women started their own enterprises, usually home-based. Previously
their employment opportunities were limited to being teachers, seamstresses,
nurses, domestics, waitresses, secretaries or store clerks. Now beauty parlors
were added; and telephone operators became a big thing. That women should cease
their homemaking functions nevertheless still was not envisioned, and
competitive salaries, except for a few professionally qualified women, were
unthinkable. There was some minor, suppressed consternation when it became
public knowledge that the highly competent, married pathologist at the
Labor organization thrived. Times were good; profits were good. Work hours were reduced, and wage rates improved. The standard of living was rising. Horizons for recreation - and supporting facilities - were expanding. It did indeed seem possible for a person to rise up economically by dint of hard work. Large corporations became larger; governmental agencies became more active. Child labor was reduced and schools were improved. Public safety was upgraded. Technological advances boosted productivity and convenience. Transportation moved faster, through ever-broadening networks.
Communism became anathema. This was because Communism elevated women indiscriminately, thus undercutting the family. Communism denied God; it appeared to condone violence as a political tool; it denied or compromised personal freedom; it eliminated free and open competition; it denied the right to amass and use capital under private initiative; it concentrated the power of the government. Communism opposed the very dynamics that appeared to make the American pattern succeed.
Then, as the l920's progressed, undercurrents of dissatisfaction and rebellion gradually began to arise: defiance of Prohibition, relaxation of sexual mores, increased divorces, strikes, graft, new social and religious ideologies, corporate ruthlessness, political indifference. But none of these trends was strong enough to endanger the vigor of capitalist economy - that is, until the stock market crash in 1929.
At first the crash was seen as only a temporary setback, or so people expected. But then, as commercial and industrial endeavors began to shrink or collapse, jobs were lost and the very real impact of the Depression began. Dad lost many thousands of dollars in the crash; but the bigger impact was new poverty among his patients. Various ones gave us vegetables or other things in lieu of paying for medical services. People moved away, or just disappeared, often back into the countryside or to live with distant relatives. In school the effects became apparent in the patched clothing and curtailed activities of my schoolmates. People were living by barter and by their wits, changing occupational skills and learning new ways. Opportunities came only through acquaintances, friends, or the grapevine. Large masses of men took to the roads, especially the railroads; men roamed cities and towns looking for odd jobs or for handouts of food. Women remained dependent mainly upon their relatives. It was not a time of lax morality however: just the opposite. And crime did not increase. During the Depression years, people adjusted to whatever they could - without losing their self-respect - by holding onto their integrity as best they could, and without rebelling or turning to violence.
By midpoint in the 1930's the picture improved when New Deal programs began to operate full-tilt. We saw the young men of the CCC working in the woods. The Public Works Administration was conducting projects of public worth; and employment of sorts was made available through the Works Progress Administration.
What had happened to the idealism and optimism of the previous decade, buoyed as it was by World War I's success? Strangely enough, it had become so much a part of people's outlooks that it seemed to carry them, in blind faith, through the depression years. The basic patterns of social and economic life did not undergo a drastic change; and under the phenomenon or gradual economic recovery that climaxed during World War II, the old patterns and outlooks were largely reinstated. Perhaps it happened so because winning the war made re-establishment of a flourishing capitalist economy and renewed social cooperation essential in order for the nation to survive.
For the family and me, the twelve years from 1927 to 1939 were crowded with
pivotal events - my ages 11 to 23. Martha had married a Ph.D. Chemist, Henry
Frank, whom she had met while at the
Rebecca, who taught also for two years in
Before that, during the 1920's, I switched from piano to 'cello at age eleven; became active in boy scouts at 13; then came church choir and church youth things, and sports after school. Between string quartet and orchestra and scouts, almost every evening of the week seemed taken.
Then in 1932 when I was 16, Dad died, at age 61. He had been worried about possibly having diabetes because something was wrong with his blood; instead, his death resulted from a fall down the basement stairs when he went down to the basement one morning to get wood for a fireplace fire. I was in math class in high school and heard the siren of the local police ambulance passing the school. Then the classroom phone summoned me to the office where they said he'd been in an accident, was in the hospital, and that I should go there. He had rapidly become unconscious from a brain concussion. Despite brain surgery, he died the next day.
With older siblings away, abroad or at college, I found myself in the position of being the man of the house, responsible for Mother and little brother. That responsibility was complicated by my guilt over having been disparaging of my father, whereas the community held him in high esteem as one of its eminent figures.
Upon Dad's sudden death we were left well off because of Dad's unusual
preparations for that sort of eventuality, and because, being heavily insured
with double indemnity coverage, we were left well off, financially. Dad had
provided for Mother's and other family needs for years to come. It was those
provisions that enabled her to send me to
Something intervened in the two summers after Dad's death however - something unforeseen that provoked motivation for the idea of giving me a European adventure.
During those two summers, when family members were able to assemble and when
Martha returned on furlough from
In actuality this quaint community served as a refuge for scrounging farming survivors, against their Depression hardships. It was picturesque, quaint, imbued with an aura of pioneer days. The family had vacationed there previously when I was 2-5 years old; and now we returned ten or twelve years later, to find that it had not changed except for the missing gate and widened dirt road.
Sylvan Lodge, a boarding house, its second floor encircled by open, sectioned-off sleeping porches, had been taken over by the Erickson family - refugees from the Depression, who were eking out an existence by dint of hard work and resourcefulness - which included taking in lodgers. There were two daughters my age. Ericksons' Sylvan Lodge had a couple of cows, cherry and apple trees, chickens, berry bushes, clams (including "geoducks"), salmon, and - best of all - warm hospitality. I was intrigued with the way the Ericksons coped: their resourcefulness, Ed's versatile skills, their indomitable spirit of cheerfulness - all of this in the face of economic hardship and near-disaster. I adopted Ed as a father figure and sought to learn from him as he allowed me to work with him at this farm and join him for maintenance chores. Ed gave me the Working Man's View of life and of the vicissitudes of being unemployed in a capitalist economy. New humanitarian goals emerged as outlets for the idealism that had been so carefully bred into me, and the cause of the working man seemed compatible with those religious precepts. I began to think that formal education could seem a vacuous frill compared to the way Ed confronted realities of the practical world. Why should I go to college? Where's the reality in this Culture stuff!?
Clearly such "heresy", as other family members saw it, would
derail my achieving a refined intellectual or professional career. Sylvan had
to be undone! - counteracted, at least. So it was arranged that I would
accompany Martha and her husband to
As had been expected, my horizons broadened through foreign travel; so I returned reconciled toward college, willing to accept training toward a middle-class career. Medicine was what I had in mind; but soon brother Joe's complaints about "irrelevant" memorization in order to pass his Pathology course, put together with a poor teacher at my freshman zoology class, threw things off that track early in the game. I was interested in world politics, history and the arts.
President Roosevelt's New Deal program was then gaining momentum in a direction
(one that would benefit Ed Erickson at Sylvan). Broader horizons and new hopes
began to emerge at the
Just at that point however, just after my European
"enlightenment", came an opportunity for summer work at
The work that summer just out of high school made me late for registration
at the University, so that only one elective course was left open to enroll in:
a course on Chinese Civilization, which would fulfill requirements. That course
turned out to be the most cherished one, for it alone went beyond what I
already had learned in high school, and it was loaded with interest and
challenge. Prof. Pollard proved to be an extraordinary person; he made the material
come alive, and he made it part of my world. In consequence of his course, I
applied for, and was accepted as an Exchange Student scholarship to spend my
sophomore college year in
Another important encounter also then evolved: the University YMCA at that
time had a very active student program, together with the YWCA, focusing on
world affairs as well as socio-economic domestic affairs. Pacifism was
prominent. Discussions, lectures and study groups (institutes) were being
promoted. Because I lived at the "Y" during my junior year, and
because of my foreign contacts in both Europe and
Actually, my liberal bent at college had begun right at the start, when, as a freshman I joined a cooperative housing program (like a fraternity with respect to housing but without exclusivity and fraternal embellishments). A musically talented high school friend, Bob Searles, and I roomed together; in this consumer-cooperative system, each house resident performed ten hours a week of work in exchange for reduced rates. There were seven such former frat/sorority houses operating in this plan, allowing inexpensive attendance at the university because charges were based on pro-rated actual costs. It was definitely a socialistic design and it proved highly successful. During the Depression years innovations of such nature were not uncommon in that part of the country.
During the summers of l935 and 1936 I worked in
It impressed me that the superintendent-ranger at
As a graduate cum laude in General Studies and new member of Phi Beta Kappa, and having focused on Chinese studies (and 'cello), I was being encouraged to proceed further with graduate work on China, aiming toward an academic career.
The fall of 1939 was the time when I began three successive years of
graduate study at
The Roosevelt administration, surreptitiously I thought, was pushing the
nation toward war in Europe, and maybe even against
Of course the situation remained like that for three and a half years more; but it intensified steadily as was attested by start of universal conscription.
Compared to other graduate students, my ability with written Chinese was
weak: I did not have a photographic memory for characters. There was one
embarrassing incident at Harvard to illustrate how much I could feel like a
fish out of water. The Chinese scholar Hu Shih who
soon became Chinese Embassador to the
At all three universities I participated in their orchestras and joined
pacifist and international-emphasis groups. In
[A personalized, detailed account of what the author was doing during the war years appears in PART II Ideology]
As a graduate in General Studies and new member of Phi Beta Kappa, having
focused on Chinese studies (and 'cello). I was being encouraged to proceed
further with graduate studies focused on
In Asia World War II began early.
Then in 1939, with tension growing in
Some factions in the
So, how were things in the
Regarding the war in Asia, I felt that
In view of what has just been said, we can readily understand how the war's impact upon Americans was being felt. War casualties, until 1944, were sparse and were widely scattered. The sense was that the war was less a matter of combat or peril than a spurt of industrial and economic rejuvenation that engaged the whole country. Many persons were being relocated arbitrarily but with a sense of inevitability and pride; many were finding relationship being broken up - some to their grief and others to their relief. The atmosphere was exciting: it was like competing in a race, or the thrill of playing a game for high stakes. What unexpected situation would arise next? There was also purpose. Commitment. Sacrifice. Drama. Importance. Responsibility. Advancement. Suspense. Nobility. This was all very different from the Depression, at last.
So the heavy casualties and costs did not begin to sink in until the summer
of 1944, and even the cleanup in the Pacific in 1945 seemed anti-climactic.
Ironically, problems of refugees and the homeless and of reconstruction in
Except for some dietary shortages and rationed items, and except for reduced
mobility because of gasoline rationing, Americans had prospered during the war
years. Then we shared that prosperity, rebuilding devastated
When release from the draft came in February of 1946, two prospects opened
up because of my specialization on
The UNRRA job was only part-time and temporary. It involved serving as a
housing receptionist at a D.C. facility for new employees about to go abroad in
service - technicians, experts, specialists - many of them to
After several months a call came from the Department of State's Foreign
Service Institute which operates training programs that prepare Foreign Service
officers for what they might encounter in their foreign assignments. Henry L.
Smith, who had been conducting a national radio program regarding regional
dialects (listening to people talk as he interviewed them, then as a Linguist
pinpointing where they had been raised), was in charge of the Languages
Section. Was I interested in going to
As it turned out, one of the Foreign Service officers who had been chosen
for this new program, Ralph Clough, had also spent a year at
Tony arranged for office and work space on one edge of the Embassy compound
across the street from the French Hotel; it was behind a
By luck I found some paperback Civics textbooks in Chinese for middle school level at a local bookstore, and their vocabulary was particularly well suited to our students' needs. Next came Chinese school textbooks on economics and history.
Although priority transportation via US Air Force had been arranged and allowed me to take along a great many personal items, Chinese language textbooks and reference works were not included, presumably because it was thought they would be readily available on the scene. But they weren't, partly because of war's aftermath. That meant scrounging, and devising.
Tony found a place for me to live - a walled one-floor residence that
occupying Japanese military officers had commandeered when they ejected an
American Standard Oil representative several years before. Technically it was
to revert to S. O. at a suitable point. (Now it has been swallowed up by the
largest government-operated department store in
Tony also lined up for me a man-servant/cook/housekeeper and his wife, cheerful, stocky peasant types, who did the shopping and kept me informed about neighborhood situations. That included offering unsolicited information regarding the refugee Germans who lived about a block away, presumed to be of interest to me because they were former Caucasian enemies of mine. This housing unit included a gigantic bathtub with built-in water heater such as the Japanese find indispensable.
U.S. Marines guarded the Embassy compound, which housed very many buildings and extended for the equivalent of about four blocks by two blocks. Most of the marines were young recruits who, having arrived too late to for combat action or excitement, usually set about trying to create their own - which lamentably often included plaguing or exploiting native Chinese "kooks". As I saw it, they were undermining the war's lofty objectives.
It was nevertheless inescapable that Americans were the new top dogs: we had the real, hard money and we offered security. We had displaced the Japanese; we had bombed hell out of their islands and made them kowtow; we had a corner on the world's goodies. Whatever deference and debt the Chinese owed, we were its recipients; and we also guarded the path to survival, away from defeat and disaster. So we were privileged, cultivated, protected and nurtured; pampered; but we were also targets for petitions and favors.
One such petition struck me as out-of-the-ordinary: through my servant I was
told about a certain Chinese composer of classical music who wished to present
me the score of a symphony he had composed. Actually, it turned out that the
score was not for me personally, but hopefully for a world audience - if I
could take or send it for performance in
Jiang Wen-yeh (Japanese
name Ko Bunya) had written the tune for the Japanese
national anthem. The symphonic score he brought with him was "Springtime in
Jiang listened intently to one of my armed forces
records (they were unlabeled and lacked verbal identification as well) and said
he felt sure this must be Shostakovich's new Sixth Symphony, which he was
delighted to hear for the first time. We listened to two others; then he said
he had to leave, but he hoped I would be able to find some conductor and
Residents were pressed by staggering inflation: you paid for things in wads of almost worthless bill of enormous denomination. That hardship was imposed upon an already existing poverty; for many of the residents had sold most of their household heirlooms and possessions, or were trying to do so. Physical ruin was not apparent so much as low morale and resignation: how bad were things going to get with no end in sight!? A prevalent expression, those days, was "Mei-yu fa-tze" (there's no way out). The presence of US Marines on the trains was their only guarantee of getting through; and US airplanes seemed to bring in the only commerce that took place.
But there were operas and plays - in unheated buildings. I would return home with frigid feet that refused to warm up. Electricity, available only at 200 volts from limited outlets, was weak; and black-outs rotated through different sections of the city each night randomly for a couple of hours at a time, in an effort to ration whatever could be coaxed out of run-down, near-obsolete facilities.
The Embassy had phones, but the network was as weak as those we had back home in the 1920's, but compounded by other weird malfunctions.
The instructional program was working out well. Although one of the six, Jim
Speer, asked for a change of duty after about four months, the five Foreign
Service officers who remained became highly competent with both spoken and
written colloquial Chinese within their first year. Besides Ralph Clough, they
were Bob Rinden the only bachelor, Ed Martin, Larry Lutkins, and Alfred Jenkins. Their tutors were delighted;
they loved their jobs. It was a pity that the Communist take-over seemed to be
closing in on
On one occasion I took the train down to
At the warehouse in
Consequently I went to the Commandant to complain and ask for an investigation.
He made note of the facts and suggested that I return a little later. As I left
his headquarters and started looking around, I was approached by two marines,
one of whom said, "Whatcha doin'
here - snoopin' around?" And with that he
punched me in the eye, drawing blood via a laceration from impact of something
metallic in his hand. An attendant at the Marine infirmary stitched it, without
anesthetic, of course. Then the commandant lined up a couple of platoons of
Marines and asked me to identify the two who had accosted me. I couldn't - not
for sure; in fact maybe it wouldn't have been safe to do so, anyway. Conduct by
The Air Force C-47 flight that had carried me from
To return to
The Ambassador was friendly - and inquisitive about our program. His entourage consisted of not more than four or five. We flew over the Great Wall on a slight detour, just be sure it was still there, and then headed south. It was striking to see how green the land was around the larger cities and towns where human night-soil abundantly fertilized growing things. Green-ness diminished non-linearly as each successive larger diameter of added distance from each center of habitation. And how numerous were the small villages! Yet oddly, I thought, there were no people, no carts, to be seen on the roads. That was because aircraft in the skies were, often as not, Nationalist warplanes with bombs seeking out Communist guerrillas. Were all of the tens of thousands of people we were not seeing, and who were hiding, Communist sympathizers, or guerrillas? If not, how were they able to, or would they want to hide manifestations of life as seen from the air?
It would take some extraordinary good luck for me to see
At Clark Air Force Base the Ambassador and his retinue quickly disappeared
and I was left alone to fend for myself. Since I was a white man and had
official credentials and connections, I was free to roam around; nobody
challenged me. Eventually I found a notice board that posted flight-departures.
Way down the list, a C-46 with destination
"Huh-uh," grunted the pilot, "not on your life".
"We just talked to Whitey Willauer," I insisted, "and he said it was o.k."
"Willauer huh? In
"No; he's here; we just talked to him."
"Give me his number; I want to talk to him," he said to the radioman. That was done, and a lengthy phone conversation ensued.
Then the pilot said, "Willauer says you can come - tomorrow morning at ten." But he was clearly unhappy about the matter.
There was a small food-bar restaurant in the hanger, but there were no overnight accommodations. I had no local currency and no knowledge about where to go or how to get there. So I spent the night at the Base's infirmary on a gurney.
In the morning I was awakened at seven a.m. by the radio operator. "You still gonna go? Well, you gotta shake a leg then, because we're about ready for takeoff."
Indeed so. Engines were already revving. The radioman had come back for me when he realized they were intending to leave me behind - as if having forgotten about me. But as it turned out, they were remembering only too well.
This C-46 had seen better days: it was noisy; it creaked. There weren't any seats, even bucket seats, and there was a sizeable cargo of what appeared to be airplane parts in wooden crates. It occurred to me that perhaps the pilot had considered the plane overloaded even without an extra passenger.
After a couple of hours, we were nearing the
"Not in this weather. Not Kai Duk," the pilot said. Nevertheless he began circling in a holding pattern around the Hongkong beacon. "Maybe this overcast will break up," he muttered. Hongkong clearly was a last-ditch choice, with fuel running out, yet he ignored all recommendations from others that we land there. At one point he offered this salient explanation: "we got no clearance to land in Hongkong." To have landed there would have involved immigration, customs clearance, and possibly inspection or investigation.
So we flew back to
The campus itself was little changed, though it seemed deserted, and some of the buildings needed refurbishing. Nobody was around who had been acquainted with the old days. Appearing to be in limbo, somehow it didn't even seem to evoke nostalgia.
I picked up a ride into
Two months later a small item appeared on the front page of the English
In the summer of 1947 when left Beijing, the NW Airlines flight stopped at
the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, then at Onalaska, at Anchorage, and
then Winnepeg. In
In view of the post-war
A coterie of about a dozen students of Chinese affairs who had benefited
from being on the scene either during or right after the war at varying levels
of experience, were eager grad students; so there was plenty of stimulus for
discussion and research. Many had studied Chinese while in military service;
and we were joined by a similar group of
How does a person without a fellowship or grant finance graduate study of this nature? Part-time work is part of it. Answering a notice asking for some aviation experience, I happened to team up with a novel enterprise just off campus. The Educational Research Corporation proved to be an association of professors who contracted their expertise mainly to the government for special projects. Through their academic reputations at Harvard, Tufts and M.I.T. they had first-hand connections with the feds and the Defense Department. Automation of training aids for naval and aviation use was one of their babies. They had just received a contract from the Civil Aeronautics Administration to research the validity of current requirements for keeping licensed instrument pilots (blind flying) competent. So they wanted somebody to sit in the back seat of their Navion airplane and check off what happened while various pilots flew the test course. The airplane was equipped with an amber windshield and side windows, and the pilot being tested would wear blue goggles. The combination of blue and amber blocked off his view of anything outside of the airplane, yet the safety pilot and I could see everything through the blue covering over the windows.
Arrangements had been made with airport towers for their cooperation in simulating an instrument landing for our plane - if it made it. Well, we flew from different local airports, and about two-thirds of our pilots did o.k; the other third.... well, we always stopped them in order to save ourselves, the safety pilot and me. Of course the end-result was an overhaul of requirements for additional flight hours in order to keep certifications valid. These were not commercial pilots we were testing. They were sometime pilots, charter pilots, private parties or executives who enjoyed flying themselves around.
An Education professor at Harvard was the man in charge at Educational
Research Corp., P. J. Rulon, and his specialty was
crunching data and filing reports. His permanent staff consisted of a
secretary, an accountant, and a part-time attorney to monitor contracts. Specialists
were hired by the job, as needed. After the instrument flight project ended, he
put me to work on another project for CAA (now FAA). It was to design a more
intelligible alphabet code for radio use in aviation and to slant it toward
international use. "Able, Baker, Charlie" had been the military code,
but quite a few of the letters sounded alike or failed to be understood. The
UN's International Civil Aviation Organization, in
After that, and based upon our international "success", we undertook a "Design for an International Language for Radiotelephone Communications in Aviation", which by intention and for genuine practical considerations, proved to be English. But various specific words were enjoined because they would not prove audible enough or clear or distinctive enough. At that point the project was dropped by the CAA. [See the APPENDIX for a follow-up to the above]
Between 1949 and 1952, during my studies, MacCarthy-ism
emerged and grew. Under special attack were State Department employees and in
Would that, or did it, affect job chances for a person acquainted with and
Early in 1950 Betty Miller and I got married. She was a nurse and worked at
In 1959 I moved to
I took it, and it suited me to a "T". So I pursued it for the next 19 years as my major daytime work.
The Department of Physics, which added "and Astronomy" to its title just three years after I joined it, in 1959 had consisted of only nine full-time faculty members, all but two of them quite young. The Chairman, John S. Toll, a Princeton Ph.D. physicist, was dynamic, resourceful, silver-tongued, ambitious, dedicated, principled, and enormously tactful and considerate.
He was busily recruiting talented new faculty members, because he had realized how to make use of federal funding connected with, or spurred by Defense technology. We were conveniently located in the suburbs of the nation's capital; so John Toll capitalized upon that. Within the next six years the faculty grew to 40 instructional members and another 35 research-only members; the number of graduate students increased to 320; four new buildings and a cyclotron were added, funding for its research programs grew to millions of dollar per year. When I left the campus, retiring at age 62, Dr. Toll had become President of the University itself. When I had first begun however, 19 years earlier, I had found a mattress and some bedding in the attic of the main building. Suspecting it was being used illicitly and possibly immorally, possibly for profit, by a graduate student or students, I had disposed of it - only for find out later that it was Prof. Toll's overnight emergency snooze spot. He never said a word to me about its disappearance even though one of the other staff members told him what had been done with his missing bed.
My job involved setting up the class schedules and teaching assignments; trouble-shooting with respect to faculty members' needs; supervising recruitment of graduate students; monitoring their welfare (about one third of them came from foreign countries); publicizing the Department's programs; representing the Department at various meetings; handling parking permits; smoothing public relations when possible; taking phone calls of all sorts; facilitating travel; also facilitating various interdepartmental arrangements; hiring secretaries and some other employees. I truly enjoyed contacts with faculty, staff and students and could feel that my job was appreciated.
By observing John Toll I learned several cardinal precepts of administrative technique: never take sides openly. Say nothing derogatory that might be quoted. Talk with and listen to dissidents all night, if that is what they think they want. Always do your home work first and don't try to improvise on the spot. Be gracious and polite consistently, no matter how busy things get. Be kind toward inherent handicaps. With troublemakers, don't forget to voice their troubles for them. Look for factors or reasons that support your position that may have eluded your adversaries. When dog-work is required, set a good example yourself. Take and use whatever you get, and be thankful for it. Learn how to change the subject gracefully, or how to modify it even though at first that might appear to prolong it.
Taking advantage of a free-tuition provision for university employees in 1967, I took up first-year law school in the evenings. It didn't go too well - didn't match my temperament, and maybe perhaps I was not young enough. I had hoped it would enlighten me regarding custody problems within the family, and that it possibly might help with special kinds of administrative matters connected with the legal codes or with governmental procedures. In both respects the law-school stint proved disappointing.
In 1967 my colon cancer was removed by successful surgery. That involved a
ten-day interruption at work. Several faculty members traveled to
Student agitation sparked by the Vietnam war came
early in the 1970's. Howard Laster had succeeded John
Toll who then had become President of New York University at Stony Brook, with
Howard becoming Department Chairman and very capably meeting emergencies that
So educational standards were compromised; some were lowered in the interests of equal-opportunity programs. Instruction lost some of its intensity. Legislatures and administrations started to withdraw or curtail funding partly because higher education seemed to be spawning social unrest. "Maybe the colleges aren't doing what they're supposed to do."
A slump in educators' morale ensued. On the administrative side there was
procedural confusion as changes were made in a frantic effort to make ends
meet. We older employees whose salaries looked too high were urged to retire
early so as to lower costs. Retiring the fossils also made room for hasty
changes. Consequently about 1974 to 1978 the scope of my work had been cut down
and began to seem somewhat vacuous. It was clearly to my economic advantage to
retire early. According to those who nevertheless did stay on, conditions were
slow to recover from the after-effects of the
I think the 1960’s were the turning point for the things I cared about in my
world. I saw the Vietnam War as a distortion of values: geopolitics and
destruction of Soviet ideology and practice took priority over realistic
understanding of the ways, needs and patterns of Asian cultures – as if bombs
could change people rather than kill them. The effect of
The 1970's were characterized by rebellion, by the AIDS epidemic, by group over-consciousness, by birth-control advances, and by narcotics. Crime began to climb. In the 1980's: a) burgeoning of computers and new graphics tricks; b) "get filthy rich fast"; c) by more crime and more drug consumption and political ineptitude. What was getting better? Money. And what was getting worse? ethics and morality; also lack of concern for the earth and for long-term survival of humankind. Then in the 1990's there came increasing helplessness of any individual almost regardless of where he/she was, to define and pursue sensitive goals against the interests of greedy souls and their entourages of social pressure.
A hopeless picture? No, not necessarily. The world looked pretty much like that a hundred years ago too - only with slightly different details, synthesized, or juxtaposed, in a different way. If we compare it to the way things were 300 or 400 years ago, undoubtedly we find ourselves satisfied with the here and now.
In my retirement years 1978-2000 five main interests prevailed: performing and listening to music; working on a speech-recognition invention; acting and play-writing; church work; and outdoor conservation and foot-trails. These were interests that seemed as important as being alive. Each of these activities in its own right was engrossing.
So, what happened to the idealism and zeal that had been imbued by schooling and family during childhood? It carried a person through; and it shaped how things got done: it was how one flowed along with the tides of time.
At high school we had a teacher of English who as a young man had fought in
the Boer Wars in
Of course there was a long silence as he looked into puzzled faces. What kind of answer did he have in mind? Did he really want us to give an answer to that question? Wasn't he just being rhetorical as if sharpening up a prospective article for the Monthly? "Well?" he repeated. I thought he was turning his eyes directly on me, and I thought I did have an answer.
"It's because children want Santa Claus. If we don't give them something to look forward to, if we don't have images of what is good, they wouldn't have a chance to know enough about what is good."
For B.K. Daniels that was good enough. He let the matter drop. But after class, he stopped me in the hallway. "You are going to have a useful life," he said, looking me straight in the eye and then quickly ducking back into his classroom.
I knew at once that I would get an "A" in English that semester. I also knew he was a confirmed believer in Santa Claus. As a matter of fact, in his own way, he was really trying to live as one of Old St. Nick's official helpers.
[This is a report on part of the author’s solo visits to
This roused Carl enormously, and with great enthusiasm he wrote down her name and address and handed it to me. This seemed a real stroke of good luck to find needed arrangements so handily. What I did not know was that Frau Butz was the grass widow known to favor foreign students. It was a dirty trick done at my expense and to their glee. A few days later when I did look her up, introduced myself and explained why I came, Frau Butz, a blond in her early thirties, with a somewhat contorted face blurted out, "They said I could teach you to sing!? No, Mr. Griggs there is a misunderstanding; I do not teach singing. I must apologize that I live here in only this one-room apartment and I have only one bed here.... So has there been a mistake?" At that point I realized I had been the fall guy for a gag, and I tried to beat a polite and hasty retreat.
The French-German border was very heavily fortified by the French, and the
barbed wire, etc., made one think of the contrast between that and the
U.S.-Canadian border. This leads me to the observation, which has been growing,
that the French not only mistrust the Germans, but also fear them; now
that I have come here, I can see it more clearly. Although German prices are
low, the standard of living is much higher, and the people are better educated.
As soon as I crossed the border I noticed a change. The customs officers
were much more polite and showed a personal interest: they showed a healthiness, a wholesomeness, which made one at home right
away. I walked down the dark, deserted, but clean (in contrast to
I had to go without breakfast the next morning so as to catch the train.
Unlike the other trains, this one had wooden seats instead of leather-covered.
It passed through farm land which looked more orderly than in
I asked the travel bureau in
"Natuerlich. Hitler is the spiritual leader of the German people," said one.
"But do you trust just one man?"
"Er ist nicht allein; he has many loyal helpers."
"Can a leader always be right - never make a mistake?"
"Everybody makes mistakes; we trust him because he is doing the right
"Do you suppose that the French are afraid of you?" I asked, changing the subject.
"I don’t know. But we’re sick of war, and we ask only that we be left alone to carry on our national work, if we can’t have our rights. I hate the French."
In this conversation I found that the boys understood me well, even though I
had forgotten many German words and threw in some French by mistake. I couldn’t
understand the boys very well, though (Frau Busch later told me that there is
much dialect here; and that makes it hard to understand.) During the
conversation we were joined by a third boy, a little older, who spoke good
book-English and had studied in the Gymnasium or high school three
years. The boys wanted to know what I thought Americans thought of Hitler and
Hitler is the ONE thing here. All the organizations, Boy Scouts, etc., have
the swastika sign of the Nazis; and the emblem is just like our N.R.A. in
popularity. Uniformed Nazis are everywhere. The Germans seem deadly serious in
it – I mean sincere; and the Nazi regime marks the restoration of German’s
national feeling. They are all happy in it, too. Everyone here glow with the
kind of thing that makes one feel comfortable. When Hitler falls, Germany will
fall, but not far, because he represents the best that they have in national
life, and their unity as well – he will have done much in that latter respect
alone. We should think more highly of him in
German women look queer with such unattractive clothes; and the girls here all wear their hair in two long braids.
After dinner I visited Frau Busch and found her to be very pretty, about 35
years old, very charming and well educated, and quite intelligent. She has
studied English only l year and speaks it remarkably well. She gave me all
kinds of information that I wanted to know about
The next day I went to Schlossberg 10a, the house she told me about, and here I am staying. One of the two students, Carlton Wood is from my home-town, and even knows my brother! Carl is studying for his doctor’s degree in Political and Economic Science. He is rooming with a boy from Chicago, Jack Holt, who is a dandy fellow. We talked all afternoon, and they showed me where I could get meals cheaply at Christliches Hospiz.
As I write I am in a large room on the first floor of this immense house located part way up one of the hills on the side of the town, and looking over the old part it. The house is surrounded by a large shrubbery garden. The family, named Richter, owns it, and was at one time prosperous; they are well educated and consist of an elderly couple and a young man and woman. My room is too amply furnished and has a radiator. The house itself is really lovely. I have this room and breakfasts for just $14 a month. I am getting used to German speech now; it is like putting on woolen underwear - difficult at first and very irritating, but soon it’s quite comfortable. It takes a while to step into the German way of talking. As I write, I can hear the family conversation in the next room and find I can understand most of it. The bells are ringing eleven o’clock now all over town and the radio has just finished some beautiful music.
To understand the Nazi movement one must understand the German people. The
press doesn’t. They are different from any other people; when one understands
their emotional type one sees that the Nazi organization is The Thing
with them. It gives vents to the feeling of unity without the use of militarism
and devotion to a monarch.
November 5, 1933
I have just found out that there is another daughter in the family here; she
looks to be about 23 years old. On my way to the bath three flights up the
stairs in this mansion-like house, I stopped to talk to Carl and Jack the other
night. They say that owing to the Jewish trouble and the poor exchange rates,
the number of American students at
I forgot to say that there is a cook at the house who prepares my breakfast
of cocoa, buns and marmalade every morning, and a bashful rotund maid who
polishes your shoes at night and does the cleaning. Breakfasts in
The only news I get is in mile-long German words in the newspaper posted on
the wall of the newspaper building. Carl Wood and Jack Holt have a radio in
their room, and if I hit the time right, I can hear news from
With regard to the Nazi movement again;: it is just
like the Fascism of Italy. [This resemblance had not been pointed out
appreciably in 1933] Four or five years ago the things that were being said
One day I went to see the castle that stands on the side of the hill above the "old city". It dates back to 1400, and, although most of it is in ruins, there are several sections that are in perfect condition and give you the general idea of its layout. I thought that things like this castle were not going to be interesting, but this must be an exception. It is immense; I spent half a day seeing all I could, free, and now I hope to go back and see the dungeons and more of its interior, if weather permits. I have taken a couple of hikes into the surrounding hills and went to a place called Koenigstuhl, where, high on a hill, over a green forest, stands an old tower from which one can see miles and miles.
Since Carl and Jack speak German with each other and everyone else, I am
starting tutoring on my German with Frau Busch. She told me today that before
Hitler came, there were very few cities in Germany that were not bankrupt; and
the percentage of unemployed in practically all of the large German cities was
around 70%; Mannheim, near Heidelberg, had 60% unemployed, she said. There were
7-1/2 million unemployed in
Every night, all evening, one can hear bands of Hitler Jugend (Youth) marching down the streets singing their folk songs and marching to the fife and drum; the young people and children have lots of cheap fun, that way. The girls however, are left out of it; the boys, from the time they can walk, are in it. Those who are in it, as well as those who are not, are outdoors more than American students are. We Americans are sissies compared to these German kids. They ride their bicycles all over; and on Sundays and vacation days when the weather is good, they take walks into the woods. Today being Sunday, there was a steady stream past our house toward the woods; not all of them young persons, either.
I am beginning to realize that the University is the center of things in
this town. Many of the men have badly scarred faces, from dueling. The
buildings of the university are most of them very old, but in good repair.
There are two fraternities below our house, and last night, Saturday, they were
going full tilt with splendid old college songs until the beer got the best of
the songs and singers at a late hour. The family here was out last night, and
nearly everyone dissipates on Saturday night because they work all day
Saturday. On weekday evenings they stay at home reading. The drinking they do
here is probably no worse for them than smoking is in the
One of the interesting things here is that some of the store windows have two floors of display levels: looking down from the front part of the window, one sees yet another display "in the basement, as well.
The Germans get more from their government than we do, and I think they pay less in taxes. Their railroads, telegraph, telephone, police, post office, inspections, and civic-utilities services are more efficient than ours and are done in better spirit. I’m trying to find out why that is. [Limited graft and political favoritism, partly concomitant with a one-party governmental system.] There are three mail deliveries per day in a good-sized German town.
November 6, 1933
I received in the mail a clipping of a newspaper editorial from an American
newspaper about Hitler’s decree outlawing Mendelssohn’s music. I hadn’t heard
about it here. It seems to be a minor matter when compared to the pride and
economic stability of a nation like this. The act in itself has very little
meaning, and the decree was probably made to pacify some extremists in the Nazi
Party [At this time, and continuing into 1934, the American press carried
reports of violence and unrest in various parts of
November 7, 1993
[After just a week in
"A very short time in
"There is a difference between not understanding a thing and misunderstanding it. It seems that the American people do not understand the Germans, and that the American press misunderstands the German people.
"For that reason I wish, first, to explain something about the German people, and second to bring to attention some points in favor of the Nazi movement. However, I would hate to try to defend some of the stupid things that the Nazi Party has done.
"The following facts help to form the yardstick for measuring what we
In other words, the "good" accomplished
"Nazism, then in spite of some bad features,
has vital factors in its favor, and if it should stop now, it will already have
accomplished a great work. However, if it fails, or if, because of Nazism,
another bonfire starts in Europe, it will be because the
November 14, 1933
I am getting used to being Heil Hitler-ed now. On entering the stores, on leaving, everywhere, all the time, it is "Heil Hitler". There are two salutes: the formal one is with the arm extended straight out and slightly upward from the shoulder like a railroad signal; the other one consists of merely raising the hand to the shoulder. I prophesy that in three years the Germans’ right shoulders will be three inches higher than their left. [I never saluted. I was once challenged on the street by a uniformed Nazi as a parade was passing; but I simply explained that I was a foreigner.]
Last night I read some of Mark Twain’s A Tramp Abroad. The firsts part of it, so far, seems to be about
The other day I was in the Hospiz eating (incidentally the Germans eat with their fork upside down in their left hand. So I automatically qualify for good manners here.) when somebody opened the door just to the point where it rings a bell and held the door there while she read a notice about hours of service just outside the door. Then, having thus announced her arrival to one and all, she came in and said to the waiter, "Ich werde einige Abendessen" or "I will become a few dinners." She spoke in a decidedly American voice, and I knew she was a student from her get-up. As she passed my table I said in German, "You speak English, don’t you?’
She replied, "Yes, how did you know?"
" I could tell by your accent."
"You’re German aren’t you?"
In English: "No, I’m American," I said.
I found that she was from the
[That rally came the day before Armistice Day which also was election day.] The young men, the University students, have
been marching around town singing their songs for some time, and there have
been posters everywhere, and pictures of Hitler. Lloyd George is quoted on most
of the posters, advocating equal rights for
The election was held on Sunday, November 12th. (Not a bad idea, because they have time to vote on Sunday, and they’re in a peaceful and serious state of mind). On Friday Hitler spoke; all the streets were crowded and one could sense the anticipation. Flags were up on every House and remained there until Monday. The Nazi flag and the German flag both had the same places of esteem. At one o’clock in the afternoon Goebbels spoke. I could understand him very well. He is a smart man; he is responsible for the way the Germans back Hitler. I’d sooner follow him as a leader, than Hitler, myself. Following Goebbels came a few moments’ silence, equivalent to our Armistice Day’s one minute, but really observed in absolute silence, here.
Then, following the silence Hitler spoke. He spoke too jerkily for me to understand. Now and then he was interrupted by shouts of approbation, but they were serious short shouts, organized in unison; they were not like our jumbled yelling at a political convention. At the close of his speech the people sang "Deutschland; Ueber Alles" and the Nazi song, Horst Wessel Lied. I listened up in the house, over the radio, but we opened the window and could see the people gathered in the University square to listen to the loud speakers there, and we saw them all saluting in unison with raised arms as they sang these national songs.
That night groups of boys from four to sixteen years old marched through the town bearing banners saying, "We cannot vote; we ask you for our sakes to vote ‘Yes’". The next day, Saturday, von Hindenburg was to speak at seven in the evening. All day one could sense excitement…. Hindenburg’s speech was preceded by parades from various parts of the city, all terminating in the square as the loud speakers. All of the Nazi organizations were in uniform, marching, from the kids to the workmen. Yet it was not a show; it was a serious demonstration, in its tone.
Thousands of people stood in the city square and when Hindenburg’s voice sounded you could have heard a pin drop. The speech was merely generalities and platitudes for the most part. At its close, the national anthem " Deutschland Ueber Alles" and the Nazi Horst Wessel Lied" were heard. It was impressive to see these thousands of people raise their arms in silence and in protest to "oppression by war treaties". When these songs had been played once by the band, they were repeated, and all the people sang - with heart-felt spirit - these songs three times, then they quietly went home. On election day bands of students went through the streets shouting in unison to remind everyone to vote. They need no reminding, as results showed. I watched them vote. There was no pressure in the matter and it was fair.
Even the political prisoners were allowed to vote, according to the papers.
In the prison in this state at
"No" voters were communists or anarchists, the election has greater significance.
American tourists seem to want American ideas and customs in
…About dachshunds: they have a hard time scratching their backs. Mosquitoes use their tacks for landing strips. When these dogs buy too much beer they have to buy roller skates for their tummies. Several of them have been known to forget to get out of revolving doors and they’ve been stuck there with their tails in their mouths…
I got a copy of the paper and read Hitler’s speech just before the election took place. It has remarkably good common sense, and makes no un-fulfill-able promises. On the other side of the page are pictures of French, Italian, British, and American armaments, by way of press propaganda. It is interesting to note that the Germans are given only a limited choice in voting: do you like things as they are or do you want something else? They are not give a choice between the Nazi Party and a different, existing party.
Near the Saar, and Back to
Kusel is a small town on the other side of the
The journey from
One of these students who got off at Landstuhl with me asked for my address so that he could write to me when I got back home. He was a nice fellow, only fifteen years old, and had studied English for three years. I walked around the pretty country village with him for half an hour before we my train left for Kusel. It seems that these kids don’t speak as well in English after four years’ study, as I do German; but my German is pretty weak, yet.
Kusel lay at the end of a small spur-railroad branch line. The chief interest and work of the people is farming, and second to that comes stone quarrying. These stones are used for pavement, for houses, and for many things for which we use wood or metal. There seemed to be one main street paved in stone, and it seemed to be the one Miss Krieg lived on. The entire town is old. With the exception of one house, the whole place burned down in 1700, was rebuilt, and has remained that way ever since. The wagons on the street were mostly drawn by cows, just ordinary cows, with a strap across their foreheads. There were few automobiles or trucks. Everything was so simple that it was like moving back to early American farm days. However, everything was clean - even the streets (considering the cows and horses). These people are well-educated, but choose to live simply, partly because they are very poor.
I found Miss Krieg to be 16 years old, pretty, but unattractively gotten up (characteristically German) and very quiet. She had an unhappy expression most of the time, as did most of the people in Kusel. This is largely because of their struggles against poverty. The women here work twice as hard as American men, and they lead a dog’s life.
Mr. Krieg works iln a small cloth factory in Kusel; he is quite intelligent. Liesel, her parents, and a sister who was away while I was there, live in the downstairs part of a fairly good house. They insisted that I have my meals with them, and found me a place to stay with a recent widow whom they know. Liesel had studied six years of English, and could read pretty well; she was too shy about speaking it and understood only what I could have said in German, so I spoke German the entire time I was there. They didn’t know how to entertain a foreigner, so I played our minister’s game of entertaining people in their own homes.
They would have sat silent for a whole evening, if I hadn’t talked.
Fortunately, these people will laugh at anything, and that made it easier. I
found out that the French had occupied the town, Kusel,
until 1929, and the people hate the French bitterly. Kusel
was near the Front, and they could hear the guns easily; there was always a
stream of soldiers to and from the Front, going through the town. The Kriegs and others said that the reason why they quit the
war was that they didn’t have enough food. They barely fed me enough; so I’d
hate to have been there during the war. I said that it was a mistake for
"And are people here strongly behind der Fuehrer?" I asked.
"Oh yes, of course"
"Do you believe, then, that he is an intelligent leader?"
"Indeed; for sure! There has been no one like him since
I arrived in Kusel in mid-afternoon and they had tea for me. Then we visited until 7:30 when they had dinner around the kitchen table – wienerwurst, potatoes and salad. After dinner they took me to their widow friend who had a room (later turned out to be a veritable ice-box) which I could have with breakfast for one mark (forty cents) a night. This didn’t include running water, and the ice-cold air was free. However Frau Nussbaum was very kind, and she served me a gallon of cocoa and a couple of buns for breakfast. I found that she had a son who was twenty years old and worked in the city hall. She said he was the only one in town who played the ‘cello; he played the pipe organ and gave piano lessons, too. I looked forward to meeting him that evening. His father was supposed to have been an artist on the oboe.
On the morning of the second day I went walking around the town. The houses are two – and three-story buildings for from two to four families, built right against the sidewalks. After dinner (at noon) with the Kriegs, I walked into the country on the other side of one of the surrounding hills. The farmhouses were all clean, but each one had piles of manure around it and some families kept their pigs in the basement and their cows on the back porch. The farm country was; quite pretty. Farming methods are o.k. The farmers seemed to spend most of their time hauling, weighing, piling, shifting, moving, and spreading manure. The rich farmers have horses, and through that means, have better manure, and consequently raise better crops and can therefore afford to buy more horses; doesn’t that make a richer farmer a capitalist?
After supper that evening Richard Nussbaum came over to Krieg’s and I talked some more. He is about my age, but a little sissy-fied, but a good kid at that. After talking, we (Liesel, Richard, a friend of Liesel’s and I) walked several miles up and down main street back and forth until I was tired. That, on top of the trial of making puns in German and taking the three genders and four cases and six tenses and two moods of German, made even the icebox bedroom welcome.
The next day was Sunday and the celebration of Martin Luther’s birth. The whole churchgoing, non-Catholic crowd in town was out to fill the church. The Germans like to sing and do so remarkably well; these women sang better together than alone in solos.
After church I was invited by an English teacher who writes to my German language teacher in high school at home, to come for dinner at her house which was the one house that had been left standing after the fire in 1700. Her English pronunciation was pretty fair, and her vocabulary and knowledge of grammar were splendid; she was a very talkative person and thoroughly enjoyable. We ate chestnuts - which she pointed out were an unaccustomed delicacy. Her name was Hilde Butz, and she has a daughter Hilde who is 13 years old and speaks very good English, considering. Frau Butz has a boy, Otto, who is ten years old and has bright red hair. For his sake we spoke German during most of my visit. Frau Butz is a widow and has taught in the girls’ high school since her husband’s death six years ago. She lives very simply, but seemed contented and happy.
People in Kusel speak one of those German dialects which is hard to understand; but after four days I could get a little of it. The people all learn proper German, Hoch-deutsch, in school, and they spoke it when talking with me there.
After dinner Frau Butz, 50 years old, proposed a walk into the country four miles to see the remains of a castle dating back to 1100. All of the young people I knew in Kusel went along and we had a grand time. The ruins were unmolested by tourists, but there wasn’t much left, at that. Near the ruins was a shelter cabin for students’ hiking parties, called a Jugendherberge or something like that. I was pretty tired when we came back, but I had promised to go to a church gathering in the evening. We arrived in the gymnasium in which was held, too late to get seats. The program consisted of a sermon, music by the local orchestra, music by the choir, a speaking choir (Sprachchor), pieces spoken by little girls, and a lantern-slide lecture on places Martin Luther had lived. Altogether it lasted 3-1/2 hours; it was interesting, but I was dead-tired. They served beer at the church meeting on Sunday night!
At the church meeting they had three flags in the hall: the flag of
The next morning I went to Frau Butz’s school.
There I spoke in English to a class which had studied three years; they
understood remarkably well. I told them about our schools, the county fair,
"What do Americans think of
"Have you been in
"Are there many unemployed in
"How do American girls look?" [Are they really glamorous?]
"Are there many Indians in
Its did me good to see the way Frau Butz radiated happiness at having taught them well enough that they could understand me. She was as happy as a child about it.
The school was small and dingy, and they had only benches. All the students stood up when Frau Butz came in or left the room, and they raised their hands in the "Heil Hitler" salut, in unison. Incidentally, Otto Butz, the youngster, belongs to the "Hitler Jungvolk".
Frau Butz took me to meet the principal of the school. "Heil Hitler. I’m pleased l to make your acquaintance," he said cordially. " I’m pleased to meet you," I replied. "I am glad to see what excellent English Frau Butz has taught the students. They understood everything."
"That’s fine; they all like Frau Butz. Do you
like it here in
"I certainly do. The German people are so friendly, l and so wholesome."
He looked at me for a minute and then said, "You are the first American I have seen that I haven’t tried to kill."
That gave me the creeps, but I asked for an explanation.
"I was a sergeant in the war, and had to fight Americans twice," he explained.
I said something to the effect that those were terrible days, and he replied that the Americans had "fought bravely" – (whatever that means in war….).
By this time everyone in Kusel , even the cows, knew I was there. A man who was visiting Kusel from
In the evening of the last day in Kusel, Richard Nussbaum and I played music together, he on the piano and I on the ‘cello. He had never heard of the French classics that I play, but he knew German music backwards. A friend of his came in later and played the violin; so we played trios, then ate Apfelkuchen and drank cocoa.
I slept late in the morning but had time to say goodbye to the Kriegs. Frau Nussbaum invited me to a dinner which served
as a farewell to Kusel. I was very sorry to leave
because sthe people were so wonderful to me and so
naturally kind. They begged me to come back if I could. As a result of the
friendliness of Kusel I was very homesick on the way
* * *
Yesterday was the 532nd anniversary of the founding of
That night the student ball of the anniversary celebration was held in the city hall. Everybody that had ever had anything to do with the University in any capacity was there – all the dignitaries: students, faculty, and graduates. The people all came in their everyday clothes and the air was very informal. Each assembly room was open and had a dance orchestra playing in it. In the largest hall a military band played Strauss waltzes and Good Old German Marches which made everybody want to dance. These Germans dance around and around in circles. I went to the ball at ten o’clock and wandered through the crowd as it wandered through the building from one dance setting to another. I stayed until 12:30 and then people started to get happy. The affair was going on until 5:30 AM, I understand. It was unique and well worth seeing.
Tomorrow I leave for
In the next room, separated from mine by two glass doors, I plainly hear the
family’s affairs. They meet for dinner at the sounding of a bell at 7:15. After
dinner they drink Apfelwein (impenetrable cider)
until they are happy. I hear their voices echoing in this room. I went in for a
map a few minutes ago and the Mrs, fifty years old,
was sitting on the floor playing with the dogs, who were all three sprinkled
around the room. The two daughters were smoking (unusual for German women),
talking about a social function that took place last week. The young man in his
Nazi uniform was looking at an automobile magazine, and the Mr. was reading and
slowly filling up the vast cavern situated at his midsection with Apfelwein. I forgot to mention earlier that he is the sales
director of a steel factory, but works at home. The family doesn’t seem to know
how to cut down its expenses to fit into the post-war period. Now the Mrs. is
singing with the radio. She has a tremolo that would shake the
The day after I returned from Kusel I went out
upon Jack’s recommendation to see the town Dilsberg,
which is up the river about 8 miles and which Mark Twaindescribes
in his A Tramp Abroad .
Rather than follow the river up to Dilsberg, I
decided to take the trail through the Odenwald
forest, for variety. It turned out to be a walking tour of
It is not very large; it took only ten minutes to cover the ground. It was
dirty, and I believe hadn’t seen any change since 1700, except for the advent
of electric wires strung from roof to roof. I was surprised, considering how
unique the place was, that it didn’t show evidence of visitations from the
outside world. The people seemed to be living just as they did centuries ago
except for their clothing. I walked through the streets past the crowded
graveyard to the remains, better to say ruins, of the castle. The people gave
me the once-over, but outside of that didn’t seem concerned that I was there.
From the ruins of the castle I obtained a marvelous view of the
On Thanksgiving we foreigners met at the University Platz
at one o’clock. Some of the weaker pansies begged to go up to the Kohlhof, where we were to have dinner, on the inclined
street cars . There were about 35 of us altogether,
not all students, but half of us were English-speakers: the other half were our
German or foreign guests. We started up the hill outside of
The first thing to greet us at Kohlhof was an American flag. It looked pretty good to most of us. The Kohlhof is about as large as a schoolroom inside, and quite cozy. The Thanksgiving story was laboriously explained in both German and English; and it was announced that we Americans were pilgrims and the Germans were our Indian guests, all named accordingly. Before we ate, two of the American students proceeded to get drunk, which rather spoiled the spirit of the thing; but we had a good time anyhow.
A typical American Thanksgiving dinner was served and enjoyed by all.
Unfortunately though, the pieces of pie were much too small. We were each given
a small American flag, and we sang American songs. Who says that
Public Schools in
The principal of the Volkschule spoke English, and he arranged for me to visit classes in German, Nature Study, History, Geography, Arithmetic, Drawing, Religion and Singing, in the 3rd, 9th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. I took three days to it, spending an hour in each class. Between each hour they have a recess period in which the kids and teachers walk up and down the halls saluting one another with the Heil Hitler, and chewing rye bread and German sausages. They go to school on Saturday too. In every classroom they all stood up and threw out their arms in the salute when the teacher or a stranger entered the room. (The English might call this "giving alms".) The boys and girls are in separate buildings, and the boys all had men teachers, and good ones too. The pupils sit two to a desk. Teaching methods are old-fashioned, and the classroom etiquette is oppressively formal. The teachers are permitted to use sticks or hands on the pupils, and they don’t hesitate to do so. The subject material all comes from the state, and it is full of healthy doctrine. The lesson material is the type that builds emotional Germans. The schools are very poor financially: they have only one small blackboard in each room. The students are all required to take Physical Training, Music and Art, whether they have an aptitude for it or not. The result is a fully rounded individual, supposedly, as opposed to our "specialized" type of education.
They are required to take Religion unless their parents object; very few do object. There are only two religions: Catholic and Lutheran. Visiting a Lutheran Religion class, I found that it is nothing more nor less than Sunday school where the church is established with governmental subsidy; this is probably an efficient thing in the schools. I doubt it would work successfully with us.
The children are made to learn long poems and to recite them in a stilted bravado way That is done for the sake of learning how to pronounce real German, for their dialect is quite different. These poems are excellent bits for poetry lovers, but they mean very little to these kids; nevertheless, the kids recite them with fervor, formality, and fortissimo. They love to sing, too. A room of twenty boys, eight years old, sang a folk-song so loud that my ears still ring. They sing excellently together and I was surprised at how they like to sing alone. With a stranger in the room, the teacher asked who would like to sing a solo, and twelve of hem just about burst their suspenders trying to attract the teacher’s attention – and it wasn’t because they wanted to show off. The children aren’t the least bit self-conscious or afraid of making a mistake.
After finishing with the Volkschule I went to the Gymnasium (10 – 19-year olds)… which was run on the same plan as the Volkschule, with hours the same, required subjects, except that the teachers were better acquainted with their subjects: half of them had Ph. D.s. For them, being a student is an art, and it has little immediate practical use. In the Gymnasium they are required to study nine years of Latin and six of Greek - an enormous waste of time. Going to a Gymnasium is like an endurance contest. I visited classes in Latin, History, Music, Physics, Mathematics and Gymnastics. The classes I visited had from 16-year-olds to nineteen years old, with the exception of Gymnastics. In all the classes the same etiquette and dry instruction were present. Many of the teachers knew their subjects so well that they talked ALL the time.
In Latin they study the same uninteresting things that we study, only with more added to it. It was very difficult for me to do the Latin because I had to translate and re-translate in three languages in succession, in order to follow the class.
The mathematics was way over my head, as was the mathematical part of Physics. In the Gymnasium they teach no modern languages.
I was interested to observe, in the gymnastics session, how all of the kids seemed to be enjoying it. The instructor was not a strong-man type such as we tend to see, but a healthy all-around person. (He played the piano for their exercises.) The exercises that he gave them were very simple, but carefully planned, to give every part of the body exercise. He gave particular emphasis to the legs and trunk however, explaining to me later that the trunk of the body and particularly the breathing apparatus suffers most from sitting over a desk. I was interested in the fact that none of the kids made any attempt to show off; and rather than encourage those who showed an aptitude, he would call on a backward student to demonstrate. When they played sports, the competition was not interpersonal, but team vs. team competition. The gym instructor explained: "You notice that the exercises are simple, aren’t they? That is so they will all be able to do them. When they can all do the exercise, each boy thinks he is worth something and has a place in the class. Those who have an aptitude can go on by themselves; the weaker ones need the attention and encouragement.
"They must all have a good time, and they can’t get the most out of it when they don’t all enjoy themselves. They must not feel that some are better than others; they must all enjoy building a good body."
What I saw in the gym class was a good example of what is happening in
Since I visited the schools, the kids stop me on the street and give me the "Heil" salute. The professors in the schools do the same. I feel well known. One little kid who lives down the street was in a Religion class in the third grade. Every day he stops me to talk; he is the friendliest, most refreshing thing! Also the merchants in whose stores I have been, remember me and greet me. I shall miss my cherub-faced, jolly little baker from whom I buy desserts after dinner.
The people here don’t prepare for Christmas as early as we do, but signs are appearing [Dec. 7]. One sees pictures of the German Santa Claus now and then, and evergreens find their way into store windows…. The girls suggested that we have coffee together. We met the sister of one of them in the city with her fiance and went into a beer-garden and eating place where there was an orchestra playing semi-classical music. Sister and fiance had wine and the girls had coffee; I had milk. We sat there for two hours and a half over one glass of whatever each of us had, and just took it easy, listening to the music or conversing now and then. The place was quite crowded. Whole families would come there and listen and talk. A little boy about five years old, with a red shirt and blue suspenders walked proudly but absent-mindedly up and down between the tables snapping his suspenders and nodding his head in time to the music.
Berte and Maria work in a clothes factory all day, and as a result were unable to see me again until evening. They invited me to the State Theatre (government ownership & management is quite in evidence here) to see and hear a light opera. It was remarkably well played. The music was excellent and the acting perfect. The piece was Lorzing’s "Czar and Carpenter". I couldn’t understand very much of it, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was of special interest because it was the farewell performance by an old man, their chief comedian. He was an excellent singer and actor and seemed to have several more good years ahead of him.
The next day I took a couple of good walks up to the hills around here and
got a good panorama of the city…. There I saw the first German soldiers in
uniform that I had seen since entering
…German houses all have the windows on hinges. This and the presence of shutters on the outside make the German city look different. The drapes behind each window are on a drawstring and work like theater curtains.
The Catholic sisters seem to be a little fanatical or inconsistent. I have only noticed it from the outside - there is no [proselytizing] pressure brought on me here. They are friendly, and by saying that they are fanatical, I mean their religion is church-centered, and it is the church that seems almost fanatical. They serve all kinds of liquors here in this Catholic place. When one sees some splendid people here drink a little it throws a different light on that matter. [The writer’s years had been lived under strictly enforced Prohibition of alcoholic liquors.]
On the branch line to Fulpmes one single train runs, up and back, only four times a day. This was a holiday, and hundreds of children and grownups were packed into the narrow-gauge electric train. All of them had their skis and wore ski boots. It was one minute before departure and there was a line of twenty more waiting to buy tickets.
I managed to squeeze my suitcase into a rack and then went to the crowded
observation section, which was open to the outdoors. Skis stuck out of the
windows and were piled on an extra flat-car at the end of the train. It was a
traveling sardine can. Everybody was merry; they didn’t complain; they were out
for a good time, and nothing could interfere. Soon the narrow-gauge train had
made its way to where the snow lay more profusely and all the skiers left.
Before long I had the entire car to myself… The alpine scenery was marvelous.
We climbed onto the alpine slopes and could see far below how the river wound
in its canyon. My feet were very cold all the way up, but that didn’t spoil my
enjoyment. Soon we were higher in the mountains where they rose from right
beside us. At length we reached
After watching them shift cars in the station, I went into the village to look for a place to stay. I found several high-class pensions , but they looked too expensive. So I walked around on the icy paths that serve as streets running helter-skelter through the maze of houses, and tried one pension, only to find it that it is open only in summer. I looked at houses that had rooms to let, and there were plenty. Almost every one seemed to have such a sign. One house was well located but it had only standing cold water. I found another house so situated that it had a wonderful view of the mountains and also a sign saying running cold and hot water and central heating. I rapped on the door but no one came. Looking through the window, I saw a man with an Olaf Bull mustache, one of those double-jointed pipes, and earrings, sitting and reading a paper. I rapped on the window and he came to it motioning me around to the back door. There the woman of the house was working in the kitchen. She was buxom, but looked oppressed by hard work. She said that the rooms were good only in summer. In winter the central heating and hot water are turned off. She said that I could have a room with a stove that they would keep going, and I could have hot water from the kitchen when I wanted it. I asked to see the room and she said that she’d see: perhaps the young man was sleeping in it. He wasn’t, and it was a pleasant room. Out of curiosity I asked her about the young man. He was her eighteen-year-old son.
I wanted a room with running water though; so I tried other places including a pension in which the proprietor was asleep on a bench and could be wakened only when I shook him. None of the places pleased me and I was tired of looking; so I went back to Frau Mair, partly because I thought it would be interesting with the boy there. The room was very simple, but beautiful with lovely furnishings. Frau Mair did my laundry with the family wash the next day. It seems that these people do not bathe in winter, so I made arrangements for a bath at one of the neighborhood pensions, where I also ate dinner that night.
I have been here a week now, and it has been the happiest week of my trip. I
am in the middle of the Tyrolean
In my week’s time the Mair family has taken me in. They are simple, hearty country people. They treat me as one of the family and I feel and I feel as though I belong. I have gotten much better control of the language in this way, and have practiced the informal, personal form of conversation. Although the family speaks dialect within itself, they all speak fair German with me. The benefit does not lie there, though, rather in the fact that I must use German; and when the two boys are with me, it is a real pleasure, for we joke a lot.
I can’t make out the father. He was once a strong, forceful character, having served in the Austrian Army in the war [WW I]. Whether that was it, I can’t say; but he seldom speaks, works long but slowly, and appears intelligent only at times. He is 54, but looks like 64. Mrs. Mair is a hard worker – as are all of these German women; and she is very smart, not quick, but a wholesome, friendly soul. There are two sons: Ludwig, 18 and Karl, 16. Ludwig looks at least 21, and is quite handsome. He has not had much education however, and is not very interesting. He has a good sense of humor though, and is good company. He is a cabinet-maker, and works ten hours a day. Then he comes home and milks the two cows. I forgot to say that Mr. Mair is a farmer, and in that regard he knows his "onions".
Karl looks to be about nineteen. He is a peach of a fellow, and is very smart. He has had an excellent education and his capacity is enormous. He is as big and strong as an ox and a darn good companion. He has an excellent sense of humor and laughs frequently. He goes to school seven-and-a-half hours a day, except for a half day Saturdays, and of course a whole day on Sunday.
Half of the house here is a barn – in the basement are two cows, an enormous pig, thirteen chickens, one rooster, and a cat. The entire winter these animals stay in a dungeon-like smelly place because it is so cold outside. (Last night it was –4 degrees Fahrenheit). Next week the pig will be butchered. The farmers here store up wood and hay in log cabins in the summer on the hillsides, and in winter they bring it on sleighs to the animals in the basement, and to their home- fires.
There are three people here who speak a little English. The woman who owns
the pension speaks very little, so I always use German there. A girl who comes
for milk here every night learned English in
After supper the first day, I went with Ludwig to the movies. Movies come
only once a week here. They are silent films that are strictly censored. We saw
an old-fashioned tragedy about an immigrant who had gone to
After a rather sleepless night spent chasing the feather-bed-clothes around the room, I awoke to see the sun rise at ten o’clock from behind one of the mountains. It was great to see the mountains on the opposite side of the valley lighting up first. The sun also sets behind mountains and one can watch the shadows creep across the valley over the glistening snow, as its rises and sets….
…I had a bath at the pension. I shivered in the tub and out; it was the worst bath I’ve ever taken. I think I was the only source of heat in the room, including the tub itself…I did decide though, that I was sick of cold feet, so I bought a couple of pairs of wool socks and a pair of real walking shoes… Also I found that Karl and Ludwig had skis and would be only too glad to lend them to me. The skis required real shoes too; so I bought a pair at a combination living-room and shoe-store, with the whole family there, helping things along. I’ve never seen such shoe service. Actually they sorely needed to make a sale.
Fulpmes is a manufacturing village built on a
small mountain stream. The buildings are set right over the stream itself, and
there are plenty of waterwheels. There are 1,000 inhabitants and they all work.
They are a very self-sufficient folk, manufacturing all that they need with
water-driven power and machinery. The methods employed are much as they were in
1840, I suspect. It was indeed picturesque to see the masters and apprentices
working in their shops. The lanes were covered with ice; and men and horses
pulled real jingle-bell sleighs over them. The village seemed to have an excellent
balance between farmers and tradesmen. Everybody knows everybody else, and the
place has a settled and contented atmosphere. The church here dates back to the
I took a sled which the boys loaned to me, one day, and tried a little sledding. I guess I looked funny on the two-by-four sled with my overcoat flying, for soon four or five children gathered as spectators, and to their great delight the sled went down without me, and I without it, in an ungainly fashion…. In the evening Ludwig came home and I watched him milk the cows; it amused him to hear about my own first attempts at milking, including having my liver poked. Mrs. Mair had been preparing something very interesting for supper in the kitchen, and I asked her if I couldn‘t stay for supper since I liked the two fellows so well. She said I could do that; but I’d have to eat lunch always someplace else because she wasn’t licensed to serve meals.
The family eats out of a frying pan on the middle of the table. I, however,
have a plate to myself. They all dip into it and in remarkably short time the
food disappears. Papa swallows his mustache with it but manages to bring the
thing back in time to swallow its again with the next
mouthful. Maybe he intends to train it so that he won’t have to feed himself!
Their food is made mostly from milk and meal and is always cooked in a frying
pan. I introduced chopsticks to them because I found a couple of round sticks,
and they were greatly amused – had never heard of them. They asked me many
The next morning I visited Karl’s school – a very practical trade school.
They have half a day of schoolroom and half a day of shop work. Their shop is
excellent: better than anything I’ve seen before. The school, not a large one,
is run by the village, and something like $30 a year
tuition is required. Boys from all of Tyrol and some from
[End of diary entries]
[My original plan had been to leave Fulpmes for Innsbruck, for operas and concerts there; but when I went to the train station the week before Christmas, having learned rudimentary skiing and having enjoyed the Mairs so much, I turned back at the last minute, to spend Christmas there with them in Fulpmes. ]
Christmas Eve was an even bigger deal that Christmas Day. On Christmas Eve the entire village was in motion, with creches on display in all of the houses, gifts and greeting being exchanged, prior to late service in the church. The variety of nativity scenes on display was remarkable. It was a specialty of this community. It is the presence of the Christ-child himself that gets recognized here, casting a spell of joy and radiance over the entire village. For it is the Christ-child who gives the presents here, rather than Santa Claus. Beautiful music in the church; mountains and snow. Memorable.
On one evening when Ludwig and Karl and I were talking, Karl suddenly
stopped talking and looked serious. "Erdbeben"!
he said: Earthquake! I had scarcely noticed it. But
they seemed familiar with this phenomenon and awaited a possible aftershock.
Fortunately it didn't come. On another occasion Ludwig was asking me about
social practices in
"And he knows it?" I asked. Yes, he knew it. And it was one reason why he married Mrs. Mair, Ludwig said.
"Then is Karl really your blood brother, or not?"
"Don't know. Doesn't matter," Ludwig offered matter-of-factly.
When I left Fulpmes I returned into the Bavarian
The Bavarian dialect was something different again. In the town of
At another town I visited a girl correspondant, Ellymaria Mueller, where her father taught in a private
school. It turned out to be a Bruedergemainde,
Brethren sect. Her father took me to give talks to his classes, mainly about
life in the
[During WW II Ellymaria had a daughter born out of wedlock.]
Next came a girl in
Next in the Rheinland near
At another big city, my correspondent took me to the high court where accused Communists were being sentences, somewhat peremptorily I thought, for having led strikes. There was no jury, as is usually the way it is on the Continent of Europe. Three judges made short work of the sentencing.
Next I spent ten days in
As I was leaving
[As an Exchange Student at
My roommate is from
At the beginning of the year I wrote some generalizations that seem now to be inaccurate – now that I have become better and more intimately acquainted with some of the boys here. Their broadmindedness has been surprising, but more often than not it has been their reluctance to express an opinion on anything. This is especially true among the freshmen, who acknowledge ignorance and are reticent to be opinionated at any time. Exceptions of course do occur, and I am rapidly coming to realize what radically different people these Chinese are in their individualism. The best of chums may know absolutely nothing about each other’s backgrounds, homes, or about each other’s serious opinions. They have a remarkable faculty for being able to associate most enjoyably with one another and yet keep their individual personalities under the surface. It is surprising how little they say and know about one another. (I have asked three or four boys when they were born, and they have said, "I haven’t asked my mother." - age here being reckoned from New Years Day, of course.)
Another thing about these boys that I have just found out, is that when we foreigners ask a question that they consider impolite or un-tactful or too personal to answer, they will either become silent or, if pressed, will tell a lie in answer. This may explain my question about their birthdays. One of the boys wanted to have me correct a theme he had written for English. I was an autobiography. After I corrected, I asked him if some parts of it were really true. "Of course not,’ he said. Whether he was lying to avoid answering my question or whether he meant that one doesn’t reveal the facts of one’s life for general reading on paper, I don’t know.
The students here show very little interest in international affairs except
for the encroachment of Japan in North China… and in local politics, where
their interest amounts to a widespread condemnation of graft in office. Graft
here is quite terrific. This is a definite contrast to the serious focus of
American students on "world problems". The Chinese would rather enjoy
each other and what they have, poor as it is. There certainly is a difference
in outlook on things here among the students. Those who are truly Chinese have
a chance to see how very, very deep the difference is between East and West,
while the others from oversees or with various stages of contact with Western
ideas form a marked contrast in that regard. One of the local boys, Fung, is quite outspoken in his criticism of Westernized
Chinese. Chinese from Hong Kong he calls "
I was quite surprised the other day in the mess hall when suddenly a boy snatched up the salt bowl and rice bowl from his place and smashed the on the floor by his table. Then he threw a porcelain spoon at the waiter at his table. It turned out that the waiter had mixed the orders and given him the wrong dish. Adjustments were made by the head-waiter and the student body president, but the incident was not spoken about or referred to by any of the other students afterwards. It seems that most of the students in Lingnan come from wealthy families, and they are decidedly spoiled. They are very mean in their language to servants in general, but the servants and waiters seem to be used to it. The student who are not rich and who are supported in school by their families’ and villages’ combined sacrifices are somewhat different and more capable of appreciating the services given them. Our Exchange group shows the same tendency: of a person who has never worked manually or for someone else, or who has never had contact with working people.
Another characteristic, somewhat annoying to me, is that of interrupting. The boys seem to have no scruples about interrupting conversations anywhere, anytime. Many times when I have been in a room talking, another boy has burst in and started saying things without waiting for a moment to see what we were doing. I have now gotten used to it.
In general the Chinese boys are lighter in weight for their height than we are. This may be due to the slightly lower degree of nutrition they get from Chinese food; or it may be due to the fact that as students they neglect their bodies…. They don’t like to push themselves to the limits of endurance or strain themselves. I’m not sure that it does the boys a great deal of harm; but they might be better off with more exercise.
Most, in fact the majority of students have no use for organized religion. They call it superstition; and that includes Oriental religions. Many of them are followers of, or acknowledge the values advocated by the philosophies of the religions; but they have no use for them as institutions. Of course, the thoughts and actions of all of these analysts are largely controlled subconsciously by the heritage of Chinese philosophies – not known or spoken of as such. American movies are making a big change and they interest Chinese students now. As yet the movies reach only the rich who already have contacts with the West; but they don’t believe in or copy all that they see in them. Movies are still "entertainment", and almost that alone. American and English movies have given some Chinese a chance to see the West and to criticize and evaluate its culture. Chinese movies are very good and are made in large numbers, using both old classical and modern themes.
"City of the Dead"
There was an immense crowd in the hall and in its enclosure. I could easily understand how all three of the Exchange students had had their pockets picked. I made my way through the crowds out of the hall and into the smaller buildings in the rear. Here there were rows and rows of corridors lined with ancestral tablets and strips of cloth bearing the characters for dead ancestors’ names. Each tablet occupied a very small space – only 4" x 12" – so you can imagine the total number that would be contained in these long corridors. The corridors were filled with women squatting on the floor right in front of the tablets with their faces buried in their handkerchiefs, all of them wailing and sobbing at the top of their voices. Oh, what a din! It didn’t take long for the newcomers to go into this semi-hysterical state; but some of the people weren’t wailing, but were joking while their friends wailed. Would you like to hear a thousand women wailing sometime? Another thing that interested me about this affair was the modern means of fire protection: fire extinguishers, fire engines, etc., that were there – so unexpected at an affair that was wholly native in its other aspects.
On the way out I passed through the city of the dead, which is a section of old narrow streets lined with shops or stores (really storage houses) in which coffins with dead bodies are piled up awaiting a favorable [auspicious] time for burial. Some of the coffins remain unburied for as much as two years. The people live in these houses just as tough coffins were so much storage. I think that there might be some danger of disease; but of course the coffins are well sealed. It seemed queer to peer into a dark store through its doorway and see rows of coffins piled on one another inside. On the way out of this street I saw a beggar girl about ten years old in very advanced stages of sleeping sickness – the first case I’ve seen here. I understand that the number of cases of cases of disease that one sees on the streets has been greatly reduced in the last five years. One still sees lots of harelips and many blind or partially blind people; the number of people with one eye is surprisingly great. Pock-marked people (the first I think I’ve seen) are quite numerous, but that number is also becoming smaller.
The other day some of the Cantonese boys in the dorm took me into the city
to lunch and to see the Civic Auditorium. While we were in the restaurant they
read some Chinese papers that they bought there. "These papers are forbidden,"
one of them said, "because they criticize the government." They
seemed to relish reading. Several times the boys have been using items or
reading magazines, and casually remarking that these things were either
bootlegged or smuggled. In
One of the pathetic and revolting sights in canton is the sight of street
scavengers poking around in filth and refuse piles for junk and even for food.
The poorer scavengers, unsuccessful beggars, take up bits of discarded rot as
food from out of filthy gutters. The rich/poor contrast is becoming more and
more accentuated almost daily as Western "civilization" makes its
In the afternoon we went to see the
December 22, 1935
Most of the boys left the dormitory this Sunday to go to the city, but I know that there are at least three boys on this floor: they are gathered in one room, each with a musical instrument, and they have been playing all day. I now recognize one selection being repeated over and over as though in practice. One boy has a Chinese banjo, two stringed, tuned in fifths (when it's in tune). It is equipped with invisible castanets in its tummy somewhere so that by shaking it at the proper time you can be an orchestra. The keyboard is divided into a scale of notes of equal value, a whole-tone scale, but not the same as our whole notes, thus giving the impression of being out of tune. The second instrument is a Chinese violin that blares forth with no uncertain aggressiveness. Even the ancestors of the cats whose intestinal tracts are being tickled seem to be howling. Now I'm used to it, and I really like it. The violin looks like a broomstick with a beer mug at one end, held between the knees, and two "pine cones" at the other end, to tune by. The two strings, fifths again, are stretched over a bridge on a snakeskin, and they parallel the broomstick at a respectful distance from the bridge up to the pine cones. The strings are not pressed on a fingerboard, and the fingers slide up and down at will, producing weird but satisfying effects. The bow is located with its hair between the two strings; so that you play on one side of the bow for one string, and on the other side for the other string. The third instrument resembles a zither. It has three strings of wire for most of the notes, and each of those strings is divided by a bridge at about two-thirds of its length, and they are ingeniously arranged so that one has all of the notes in one limited area. It is played by hitting the strings with tiny ,delicate, bamboo clubs. It is the prettiest of the three, but could soon become tiresome. It sounds very much like a zither. [Cf. Hungarian cymbalum] Not long ago my roommate was in that room singing with the three as they played. Although Chinese music gets on many people's nerves, it doesn't bother me; in fact, I'm getting so that I actually enjoy it.
There is a toy here that consists of a spool which is whirled on a string stretched between two hand-held sticks, that gets tossed around, whirling, in a skillful manner. The northern Chinese use it more than down here. It makes a lovely whirring noise as it spins. Come of the artists can spin such a spool with only one knob.
One of the features of the last month has been a shortage of change. Before
The other day on a trip into the city I jotted down two things: The children of the boat people - Hakka's - playing around on the street near the river, have a rope harness on many of them, to which a healthy chunk of firewood is attached. It dangles around their butts and is there for fishing them out when they fall into the river. It also keeps the body from sinking clear to the bottom. The children seem to pay no attention to the dangling chunks of wood, hindering though they are. The other item is that Oriental women carry their babies as old as three years, tied on their backs. This is really quite common. In a sampan the other night a baby began to cry and wouldn't be silenced by its older sister. It cried until its mother, while rowing the sampan, tied the baby onto her back. Then it went to sleep immediately and flopped around as she bent her body in rowing.
Another thing is the number of street dentists who do business with the boat people and others. Their establishments consist of a tea table with instruments, a plain chair with head rest, a mirror, and an umbrella. A few of them have drills for polishing, run by foot power treadle. Each street dentist has a heaping dish full of teeth that he has extracted, some of them quite recently. One or two of these dentists are equipped to give novocaine, but most of them merely do extractions. All of their equipment gets pushed around on a tea-wagon, or cart of equivalent size.
Some of the medical (?) establishments have show windows with wax models or pictures of disease cases, and a pile of empty hypodermic tubes at the bottom indicates that those tubes,at least, have legitimate labels....
Professor Lee of our class on Chinese Civilization took those of us who were interested into the city to visit the home of a wealthy Chinese - a typical home of a Gentleman. It was that of Chan Yeong, Secretary of the provincial government, whose daughter was in our class. The home was an estate, walled in, and consisted of many separate houses surrounded by gardens. We were shown through a garden that in Chinese style was made up of potted flowers all beautifully trained and in unique designs and in skillfully blended colors.
On the walls of the Receiving Hall were hung a few beautiful paintings on scrolls suggestive of their meaning in only such a way as subtle Chinese art can be. Bamboo and pines and mountains were the themes. On one wall was a long poem on four scrolls. The furniture was of heavy rosewood and the many-type chairs were arranged in three rectangles inside the room. In the center of the largest rectangle, in its middle, was a double reclining chair like a throne, upon which were some green velvet cushions, for officialdom. Around the room, in exquisite taste and delicacy were dwarfed potted pines, bamboo and other trees, and the outstanding furnishings were little porcelain Buddhas, ivory Buddhas, and rare pieces0 of pottery in little glass cases. Mr. Chan's hobby, it turns out, is collecting these choice Buddhas, and in reading poetry. We saw some wonderful art pieces there, and for the first time I was able to"feel" the satisfying beauty of Chinese culture. It is simple but potent in its ability to suggest and stimulate one's appreciation of esthetic values. A marble slab, for instance, found to have some irregular black blotches on white, suggests mountains rising out of mist. The longer you look, the more you see in it.
The weather, politically, has been less tense but the students of the
government university staged a demonstration in
The remarkable thing about the meeting was that its results might have been grave, had a mob gotten emotional, for they might very easily, under any one of twenty out of 21 other leaders, have gone into the city, had a fracas with the police, done damage to Japanese property, and gotten themselves hurt.
Logistics problems of a Foreigner
I want to mention the hectic trip down to Hongkong
that I just made. My pen had been picked from my pocket, so had to buy a new
one and also buy Christmas presents that I couldn't get in
The Kwang Tung does not
dock even in
To my surprise I found four women instead of two in the sampan taking me from the SS Kwang Tung with all the impedimenta. All the way we fought about price; it seems that two of the women had affixed themselves to my service beyond the original contract. Besides, there was the problem of my having insufficient small local money. When we landed I gave the two original sampan women their money but the other two who had been yelling for a dollar all the way in, were still yelling. I had told them I would pay $.30. When I got off without paying them at all, they quickly came to my price; but since I had no local change, I had to pay them in HK money, which made it more than they were worth.
Now I was about fifty feet away from, and about ten feet below, the street
where the rickshaws could haul my goods. There were men there with poles who would logically carry the goods up to the street. The
groceries weighed about 170 lbs. They wanted $.40 for taking the stuff that fifty feet. I told them I would pay twenty cents, which
even so was too high. They refused to come down in price, thinking they had me
over a barrel. Then I dragged the groceries myself to the place where rickshaws
could take the load. I'm very stiff today. The waterfront men just looked on,
and said nothing. One rickshaw coolie came to help me, but one of the
waterfront men started to beat him up for doing so because he hadn't got
the job. This made me plenty mad, and I broke out and swore at him in perfect
Cantonese. I helped two rickshaw men load the groceries and after one last
glowering look at the wharf coolies, I started down the Bund with three
rickshaws, headed for Lingnan's wharf in
It was 11:30 and I hadn't even had breakfast yet. At the Lingnan wharf the coolies hadn't enough change, so I had to overpay them a little, and then I was swarmed upon by sampan people. I shook them off, and got the Wharf Man to help me part of the way with my stuff. Then he quit and I had to drag it myself down to the launch. At the Lingnan dock the launch man and a rickshaw man hauled the stuff up to Henry's house, so my troubles were over. Counting up my funds, I then figured out that I had insufficient funds to have paid Customs in the first place, even if I had had to pay.
Jan 13, 1936
Being in a new environment has already begun to show effects on most of the
Exchange Students. Here we are free from family influence and the usual
societal constraints, and we are able here to think things out for ourselves
with a minimum of external pressure. Not only are we able to think, but
we are more or less compelled to re-evaluate for ourselves. It seems to me that
this radical change of environment is one of the greatest values in our being
Just before Christmas Jimmy (Y.C.) Yen visited our campus. I had heard of
him in connection with the Mass Education Movement, and I was glad to see him,
hearing him first at a faculty meeting to which we exchange students were
invited. He is a young-looking man, quite handsome, of medium height, but
rather thin. He is a fascinating speaker, has excellent English, but repeats a
great deal. For the last fourteen years he has been engaged in a Rural
Reconstruction Program which he founded. In his talk he pointed out that 90% of
the Chinese are country and village people - almost as large a percentage as
are illiterate. The great leaders of
Fourteen years ago he started his first community, now famous Ting Shen, and one of Lingnan's most
talented professors has left to join his movement. Dr. Yen had just returned
from our neighboring
Two days later he spoke to the student body in Mandarin, arousing them quite
as successfully as any one could. He is a wonderful speaker. He told them that
life was such that we must plan to suffer, and the thing to do is to plan your
suffering for the promotion of a common-sense cause. He said that
One of the interesting things to notice about my Chinese friends is their way of inviting and of handling acceptances. It seems to be done on the spur of the moment. Invitations seldom come early, and the host never seems to notice whether the guests come or not. An (un-tinged) un-Westernized Chinese will accept an invitation with gratitude, and then often fail to show up. His reason, if you are tactless enough to inquire, would be that he had too much business, too many things, to do. This is an example of their individualism. The idea, I suppose, is that the host makes it possible for you to go to his affair if you think when the time comes that you will enjoy it. The host wants you to enjoy whatever you enjoy most, and if you don't come, the host half-expected it and is not disappointed. No feelings are hurt. Excuses for things are not in order also, for they invite comparisons of values and they are seldom solicited.
Last Sunday a group of my friends came into my room and said, "Would you like to go to Chinese dinner with us?"
"Sure; if you would be kind enough to take me. When?"
"Right now. We will go on the bus to Honam. A friend of ours who is going to Japan to study asked us to go and we ask you to come. Do you go?"
I knew that this was a common thing - bringing a friend on your own invitation from somebody else, so I said "Sure". I also expected to see that the bus fares for the entire group would be paid by one student alone: they take turns doing that, even with paying for banquets, without keeping track of whose turn might come up next. In this instance we ate jointly around a round table (which is usual), sharing innumerable vegetables, lotus root, frogs, duck, fish, dirty rice, soups, and shrimps. I still am not sure what we ate. Toward the end of the meal three or four of the students suddenly disappeared and failed to return. Finally I finished and laid down my chopsticks. The remaining three asked me over and over, was I sure I had had enough. Then one student explained to me that in an informal dinner like this, one should leave the table immediately upon finishing, and take tea in the other room. With my big Western or gluttonous appetite, I had kept them there; it would have been rude for them to leave me there gobbling my fill, alone.
Returning from the dentist in
One night last week we noticed a healthy glow in the sky after dinner, and we knew it was a fire. I borrowed a bicycle and rode down the island toward the brilliant flames, but found that the fire was much too far away. In order to ride out there, I had used a path through the thousands of graves that dot this island. There is something particularly spooky about a Chinese graveyard with its mounds; and in this one there were many newly dug-up graves (either by grave-robbers or by relatives collecting bones so as to allow for new gravesites) so that the path was flanked by pieces of coffins, open graves, and piles of soil. In the red light of the fire I was glad to have a bicycle as company.
Last Friday morning Dr. and Mrs. Frank, Mr. and Mrs. Wallace, Miss Stoley, Westburg and I started to
spend three days at a monastery, Nam Wah, on the
First we rode across the plateau, but soon we began to climb along the
hills. On one grade the train went so slowly that it stopped altogether, and
the conductors took that opportunity to force off some non-paying riders
between the cars. One was actually led off the train by the hair of his head. Another
poor man had his basket of worldly goods merely dumped off; he stood beside it
mumbling resignedly to himself. The cars of the train, you see, are 1904
models, and they have open-air connections and platforms between them. That was
where I rode most of the time, collecting cinders, but getting full benefit of
the scenery. The engines were freight engines - slow. The track was very good
though, and when they get their new rolling stock from
As we left
The railroad soon met the brilliant blue river and followed along the side
of it through the hills that were rapidly growing to look like mountains. We
remarked quite often to one another how it reminded us of
At about noon the train entered a narrow, steep river gorge, and for half an
hour we had marvelous gorge scenery equal to the Rockies, and even to
We left the train at
Like most monasteries, this one was built against a wooded hillside. We
entered through an enormous, colorful archway building like the Arc de Triumph
in Paris, in which there were four gigantic figures about 30 ft. high. They had
varying expressions; but one of them held an enormous paddle in his hand. We
passed on through a garden with immense trees, to another building in which
there were several rows of gods, patriarchs, saints, etc. This second building
was of ancient Chinese architecture, and had an elaborate system of delicate
and artistic roof-braces consisting of crossbars and counter crossbars. It
reminded us all of the famous temples in
We were greeted by some clean-looking, bowing monks who took us directly to the guest house. No conversation – just took us in and made us comfortable for as long as we wanted to stay. We certainly received wonderful service from them. The language at Nam Hua was a peculiar mixture of Cantonese and Mandarin, and many of the monks spoke only Mandarin. The guest house was a new cement building on a hillock above the rest of the monastery. It had an open court, a large sitting room, and four plain, bare bedrooms with planks on sawhorses for beds. Everything was clean and we were given hot water to wash with.
At six o’clock we heard bells ringing and went to watch the ceremony of worship. It was just like Deng Wu except that here there were few monks, less monkey-business, and poorer chanting. The chanting was really pretty bad. These monks, however, seemed much more sincere than at Deng Wu; and in general these seemed to be in a higher type of order. Incidentally, they do their own work rather than hire it done by laypersons. [Deng Wu was Taoist, not Bhuddhist].
This Nam Wah monastery was founded by the sixth Buddhist patriarch, who is now a lacquered mummy enshrined here. He became a patriarch by tying a stone onto his back to make him heavier so that he could operate a treadmill to greater effect. Quite a story is attached to it. We took off our shoes and were led up the back stairs into a curtained shrine where, by candlelight, we saw the seated mummified body of the patriarch, coated in lacquer. None of us doubt that it is genuine. The monk also showed us some other lacquered sitting bodies, but they were less convincing. In the real one we could actually see folds in the skin at his neck. Upstairs we saw the patriarch’s thousand-year-old rice bowl, chopsticks L in a metal case), suttras, and the stone he tied to himself. The monk then took us to a tall, tall building in the second floor of which was hanging from an immense beam an enormous bell, two inches thick, twelve feet high and about seven feet in diameter. We wondered how they got it up there. I forgot to mention the patriarch’s shoes: they were pointed on the toes, as were all shoes at Nam Wah, and they had bells at the center of the thick soles to warn little creatures to get out of the way when the shoes were in use. Buddhists don’t believe in taking life, you know. We next saw the tall pagoda at the monastery and noted the hollow bamboo poles used as water pipes from the spring to the monastery.
We were served excellent vegetarian-Chinese food when we wanted it served, and each time, the cook came in and apologized for its being so bad; we of course told him the truth. Before going to bed we played a telegraph game in which the prize was awarded for the following telegram: "Patty (Mrs. Wallace) ran amok; chipped off lacquer and eloped with monk." That night the rats ran all around our rooms and jumped in and out of our wash-buckets. The following night we closed our doors.
The most surprising thing about monastery trips is that one goes to bed usually at 8 o’clock because everything is so dark and quiet, and sleeps the clock around. In the morning we climbed up to the top of the mountain behind the monastery and got a fine view of the adjacent mountain ranges and valleys. The valley below us was filled with rice fields that were skillfully terraced and used all available water and space. In the afternoon we went on a tour of exploration, in a gorge with precipitous sides and with as fair-sized clear-water stream rushing through over the jagged, bare rocks. Although there was no path, and really no entrance, we climbed up into the gorge for two hours, using all of our wits and muscles. In many places the rocks were impassable, and we had to climb up overhead through underbrush. It was grand scenery, and great fun.
On the way back we walked through the three little villages in the valley and saw how they grind and husk and pound their rice. The pounding is done with a six-inch wooden mallet beating into a round hole in a stone as tension is released from the then-falling mallet. Grinding to loosen the husks seems to be done by two circular disks of enormous size, one rotating on top of another, the surfaces being made of tough bamboo twigs, and these grind the rice between the disks on the exposed rough surface. The loosened husks then are blown away by a simple air blower. All of these devices are worked by hand where they can’t use waterpower.
Our second night at Nam Wah we were surprised to hear some chanting. After dinner, upon investigation, we found that the monks were gathered in the kitchen where a temporary altar had been set up. They were holding worship ceremony to the house-god or God of the Kitchen, who is supposed to rise to heaven on that night and report the affairs of the household. The kitchen, incidentally, was centered around two enormous stoves anchored in the ground so that they had to be fed fuel down steps into the ground. At Nam Wah they burned dry grass which they gather from the mountainside. At the close of the ceremony strings of firecrackers were lighted (behind our backs) by one of the monks to indicate the kitchen god’s entrance into heaven. We were all asked to go into the adjoining room, the dining room, where we found that tea and plates of cakes, peanuts, and water chestnuts had been set at the tables. We sat at a back table on sawhorse seats and soon the monks entered and were seated.
The tables were in two groups, one facing the other, and between the two groups at one end of the room was a table raised on a platform, and a monk with long hair (the others were shaved) and a long goatee of gray color climbed to the platform, tucked his legs up under himself and took the tea cup. Another monk came forward before the "throne" and said, "Please tell us a miracle story". He spoke in Mandarin, but Mr. Wallace could tell us that. Then the old gent told them to go ahead and eat, and told the servers to give them more tea. For a while at first the monks cracked peanuts, but apparently the story was a good one, for they soon stopped and just listened. The old man belched, cleared his throat, and spit vociferously during the tale, and I’m sure it was engrossing. When he had finished, he told the monks to wrap up the food that they hadn’t eaten and take it away with them. Whereupon each monk produced a handkerchief, wrapped up the leftovers and went away.
The next day Bill Westberg and I took our lunch
and went for a long hike. We followed a trail through another small gorge and
up a long, twisting valley with high mountains at the end of it. We felt as
though we were entering an enchanted valley, and the farther we went in through
the tall grass among the mountains, the more we felt as though we might as well
We left Nam Wah the next morning at sunrise. The
Franks, Miss Stoley, and Westberg
went back to
The town Pa Gong Hao was jammed full of pre-New
Years shoppers, and it was only with difficulty that we pushed our way through
the throng in the streets. At the river we dickered for price, and just before
we left in a large sampan to go down the river, one of the soldiers, apparently
a captain, told the boatman not to let us take any pictures. Actually there was
nothing visible to take pictures of, but the boatman said they were building
something that was carefully guarded from sight - he said even the Chinese
weren’t allowed to see it. People in canton say it is a munitions factory built
by German technicians. We rode in the sun under the sampan roof down the small
river and passed a small diesel riverboat stuck on a sandbar. We even managed
to beat that motorized boat to Fei Loi. Soon after leaving Pa Gong Hou
our small river emptied into the North river, very large; and we were soon
going down the
Around a bend about three-quarters of an hour down the gorge we saw a group of buildings at the bottom of a draw in the side of the gorge and extending upward into the rocks. There, isolated in the river gorge, was Fei Loi Monastery.
We went up the stone steps from the clear river and were conducted by monks into some homelike guest chambers above the river. Fei Loi had a lazy, peaceful atmosphere, ideal for romance, and its location was gorgeous (what else?) We felt that we could stretch our lungs with plum-blossom-scented air, and sit and look at the gorge or wander peacefully through the rambling courtyards, forever. We received equally courteous treatment at Fei Loi, and we had a very restful night on our boards.
Late in the afternoon when we arrived there, I walked up the stone path past
a beautiful waterfall, and past two houses that were actually nestled
underneath overhanging rocks as one sees in Chinese paintings. Chinese
painting, suggestive and grotesque as it is, does
really convey the actual scenery of the interior of the country. I climbed on
up the burned-over hills, making my own trail and doing some real climbing
until at sunset I was at the summit of the mountains around the river. It rose
as a jade-green ribbon lying flat at the bottom of the mountain-slopes. In the
distant valley, over the other lower mountains, I could see Pa Gong Hao and the railroad. In the opposite direction, beyond the
gorge, I could see the flat plateaus on which were the North and
We went to bed at 7:00 and more than slept the clock around. There was not a noise except the whistling of wind up the gorge and an occasional lapping of water when a boat slipped by. In the morning they brought us toothbrushes and tongue-scrapers.
The next day I started back for
While I was passing through Pa Gong Hou, the train whistled, and I arrived at the station in time to see it disappear in the distance. It was the last train that day. The Wallaces had asked me to go back to Fei Loi if I missed it, but that would cost too much. I bought some cakes and oranges in the station for lunch. While I was deciding whether to sleep in the station or try to find a board bed to sleep on in Pa Gong Hau, a trainman came to me and told me that there would be a freight train in a few minutes. Happily enough, it came - with two passenger cars attached. I went into the baggage car, which was full of chickens, and by fraternizing with the trainmen I got a free cup of tea.
When I arrived home, I found that my roommate had a friend in my room (I had told him he might do so) and that friend had used my sheets, my face lotion, my shaving tackle, and my slippers and had "borrowed" some writing paper…. The idea is that you should not be selfish and should let others enjoy what you have, among friends. We foreigners are just too dumb to enjoy the things that others have – in return for what they take from us.
Yesterday I suddenly remembered that I had passed my 21st birthday three days ago and had forgotten it completely. I wonder how often that happens! ….
…Lei Po-meng, one of my freshman friends, took me
into the city to his house in the afternoon. He lives in a semi-modern house in
the nice old Chinese district of Sai Kwan. I supped
tea and looked at paintings on the wall while we conversed. He had a
16-year-old brother and a 15-year-old sister who spoke a little English. All of
the children were attractive, but particularly the 9-year-old brother. Their
mother has had bound feet. She is very sacrificing as a mother, and is a fine
woman. I talked with her only through translation, however. By chance the
father was there, just returned from
Jan 28, 1936
Four days ago was Chinese New Years Day. The streets were jammed with people and business was humming as it does before Christmas at home; the atmosphere was festive - as close to our Christmas as the Chinese can come. Red drapes were hung on the riverboats, junks and sampans, while houses likewise were festooned with fine collections of New Years wishes at their doors. Shops were set up on the sidewalk, and the streets were a mass of color. Art curios were being sold cheaply, so that vendors could clear out their stocks and pay up their debts. New Years presents were being bought and people were hurrying around with pre-Christmas looks on their faces. Firecrackers galore added to the interest of this affair, and the place was like Fourth of July in that respect. Bombardments of firecrackers are still taking place, since the New Years celebration lasts a week.
Shuttlecock is extremely popular here: on the streets one sees all kinds of
children, soldiers, and even adults kick the feathered shuttlecock from one to
another keeping it in the air as long as possible with their feet. Another
thing I may not have mentioned is the nice big black toasted beetles sold in
Two days after New Year Lei Po Meng took me again to his home, this time for lunch. All of the stores were closed, but the streets were sprinkled with families walking as units in their bright new long-gowns with children too, making their official New Years calls on relatives and friends. They were certainly handsome in their bright silks, all cleaned up. One little boy got car-sick on the bus, spoiling his little brother's new clothes.
Lei's mother and little brother were the only ones home, and Sam Lan, another friend who had been invited, failed to show up. Lei's mother cooked the meal for the two of us herself, claiming that the servant was too poor a cook. We had roast pork fried oysters, duck cake roasted, boiled chicken, a plate of mixed mushrooms and vegetables, and oyster-and-melon soup - a wonderful meal. After lunch we talked, and Lei's little brother drew pictures for us with his pencil, really quite good. His mother did not eat with us but stayed in background. During dinner I asked, "Is that little servant girl your servant's daughter?"
"No. She is a slave girl, mui chai."
"You mean she is a servant not related to the other older servant?"
"Yes. She is not related. But she is really a slave. When there is a famine in the country, the farmers will sell a daughter as a servant to keep the rest of the family from starving. My father bought this girl for $50 when she was a baby."
"Do you just keep her here to work without pay?"
"Yes. We send her to school and clothe her."
"Can her parents buy her back again?"
"Yes, when the famine is over, if they can pay $50. Of course she was only a baby when they sold her."
"Do her parents come to see her?", I asked.
"Do they know where she is?"
"Will she always be your slave, or will she be given her freedom?"
"Yes. We will arrange a marriage for her when she is 18."
As with any kind of slavery, conditions depend upon the buyer. In
Lei took me for a walk around the city. One of the first things we saw was a dead body being taken down the street to the undertaker by two coolies who had the stretcher suspended from a pole between their respective shoulders. The body was covered of course. We passed a large house with elaborate decorations in black and white on an enormous arch constructed over the doorway. Lei said someone had recently died there. Incidentally, Lei's house was not decorated with lanterns and bunting because they were in the three years' mourning period for the paternal grandmother, who had died two years ago. Lei said that he couldn't be married during those three years, even if he wanted to marry and were engaged.
Farther into the city we were surprised to see Martial Law Guards again, and
soon some motorcycle cops cleared the street and an immense parade of
automobiles all decorated and full of notables rushed by, escorted by policemen
pedaling furiously on bicycles. In the middle of the parade was a large car
with the blinds pulled down containing the personage of Hu
Han-min whom they were welcoming back to the city. He has just returned from
Europe; he is a native Cantonese, was one of Sun Yat-sen's
co-workers and will soon be going to
Feb 13, 1936
Last night a report was given to some of the faculty by Mr. Taam, the Librarian, who went to Nanking representing the Lingnan faculty at a a conference of universities and high schools called by President Chiang Kai-shek. He had called the conference to bring about an understanding with the schools about the "National Crisis". It was hoped that he could stop student demonstrations and student strikes.
According to Dr. Taam, the representatives were
hustled to the tomb of Dr. Sun Yat-sen for ceremonies
in the morning, then taken to luncheon with Chiang on
the first day. Only the faculty representatives, not the students, were present
then. There were about 300 representatives and 200 detectives at the luncheon.
For three hours various representatives spoke from the floor, about 30 in
number, while Chiang and his Minister of Education took notes. Dr. Taam sat five detectives away from Chiang, he said; he
looked pale, but active, and in good health. Dr. Hu
Shih was the first to speak. He asked why Chinese troops had been withdrawn on
the arrival of Japanese troops in the North, and no obstacles put in the way of
the Japanese. Also, why the "secret" treaties concluded with
After three hours of questions and speeches, the Minister of Education closed the meeting, inviting written comment from those who had had no chance to speak. The following day he said he had stayed up half the night reading those comments.
On the second day Chiang gave a luncheon to the student and faculty representatives, with the press excluded. He spoke from three in the afternoon until seven at night answering the questions of the previous day and outlining his policy. Although not what he actually said, the gist of it was this:
There have been no secret treaties with
Compromise will be made with
If this is not possible,
Chiang trusts and has complete faith in all of his military officers, even
in the North. [One year later General Chang Hsueh-liang
of Manchuria kidnapped Chiang Kai-shek at Sian,
holding him for a promise to fight
Chiang will take blame for and suffer the consequences of anything that should happen.
In case of war, Chiang himself would go to the front and could be shot by any of his men if he failed to go.
The emphasis for the present is in strengthening and reconstructing and unifying the nation.
Chiang personally would guarantee the integrity of
Chiang needs the trust and support of the entire nation.
Next day the newspapers reported he had spoken on the New Life Movement. All
of the delegates were impressed by Chiang's sincerity and executive ability. On
the third day they were shown the military training schools at
One hates to see
Something that I have felt for a while and can now express is the hopelessness of trying to carry on a satisfying serious conversation with the local boys. It leaves me with a feeling that I'm licked. They know what is in my mind long before I say - even when what I say is an attempt to conceal what I'm thinking. This makes me mad, for I have always thought I was good at this knack, myself. Then, when they already see what I really have in mind for discussion, and I try to draw them out into the open and into frankness, they refuse to come out, and it make me feel like a fool for wanting to be direct. Their speech is hinter den Blumen (behind the flowers), so to speak, and I am convinced of its superiority. The boys are naturally masters of human relationships and unexpressed understandings: it is almost uncanny. It pertains only to conversations and relations of a serious nature. It is the basis for that elusive Chinese characteristic of disposition, humor, and harmony in relationships. I hope to learn more of this quality of smoothness in human relationships. I describe what it is and can recognize it as a valuable trait closely connected with the secret of the strength of the Chinese social order.
The other night some of my friends were talking in a room, one of them telling a story in an animated way with intense focus. The others put in remarks from time to time and split their long-gowns with laughter most of the time. I asked them afterwards to explain what they were laughing at. It was about a patent medicine barker who was selling cough medicine, but who had such a bad cough himself that he could hardly "bark". They thought this situation tremendously funny, and then began enlarging on it, some of them suggesting ridiculous things that might be in the medicine. One of them said that he may have been coughing on purpose so as to make you feel sorry for him and to remind you of your own tendency toward coughs and your misery at that time. The boy who got the biggest laugh though, was the one who suggested that the barker was trying to give his cough to his prospective customers - just to let them see for themselves how effective medicine really was, another added. "Yes," another said, "the satisfaction over getting rid of that terrible cough would be worth catching it for."
Last week, just before the new semester, I decided I needed to take a trip
in the three days before school started again. It was so late that I could find
only three Chinese boys willing to go, and none of the Exchangers wanted to,
because they had just come back from trips themselves. At nine o'clock on the
night before I was to leave, two of the boys found they had failed in
Mathematics and decided to stay for a make-up test. The third boy wouldn't go
without the others. I had already bought cookies and sandwiches for four, so I
chased down to the other dormitory and tried to get some other Chinese boys to
go at the last minute. In one room there was a boy who said that he and three
friends were planning to go to the same place on the same bus as I had planned
to take. I hurriedly invited myself to join them and promised to meet them at
the 7:30 bus in
I arose at 5 o'clock and after breakfast I took a sampan up the cold dark
The road was unpaved out of
We made a short stop at the crossing of the
We left the bus after a three-and-a-half-hour ride, getting off at the foot of the mountain. On our walk to the monastery (2 miles) we passed large earthenware pots sitting in the fields or reposing in niches in the hillside. They contain the exhumed bones of peasants' ancestors. I guess this shows that the Chinese urn their burials.
Chung Hui, the Taoist Monastery, was shoved into the woods at the foot of the mountain. Like Buddhist monasteries in appearance, with rambling halls, courtyards, and temple buildings reminiscent of a medieval castle, it offered lodging and food to travelers. It had the distinction however, of having a new guesthouse with clean wooden beds and bedding, and differed a little in that some excellent mural paintings of real art were on the upper parts of many of the walls. I was amused at the boys saying repeatedly how still and quiet it was; but when I considered that they never escape noise of some kind or another in the city, this was not surprising.
The Taoist monks were all old men with beards, Chinese length, their hair tied up into a knob on top of their heads. Their hats were of an ancient Chinese style. These Taoists have great freedom and the monks are all allowed to visit their families and wives whenever they wish. They are all roguish old fellows with a half belief in fairies, one of whom each of them himself wants to become, and they worship spirits.
In the afternoon we took a walk to another Taoist monastery, Paak Hok Chi, about three miles away around the base of the mountain. Although not so large as Chung Hui, it was essentially the same. But it had electric lights, as did an adjoining house or country villa belonging to an army official. We walked up a little stream in the ravine and saw a modern powerhouse with its little dam and water system. Going on up the bank above the stream we passed through some lovely scenery characterized by bold, round rocks sticking up out of the grassy and slightly wooded hills, individually and on top of one another. Such an effect can be seen in some Chinese paintings. Some of the rocks beside the trail had beautiful characters carved into them - bits of poetry or moral exhortations. Finally we reached a natural bridge - the first I've seen - which looked so natural as to seem unnatural. By that time we were in the clouds and the boys were tired, so we retraced our steps.
The main temple hall of the Taoist monastery looked much like a Buddhist temple except that the three images at the front of the room had beards, the drapery was cleaner, the hangings were of polished brass, and the altar more orderly. On both sides of the main altar were tables each containing four paintings, making eight altogether, each with its own little altar. As nearly as I could make out, they represented the spirits of the ocean, fire, rain, volcanoes, sun, moon, etc. The priests knelt before the pictures and recited the Tao Teh Ching in chant, with drums, symbols, bells, etc. as accompaniment. They did not walk around the room or kowtow as much as the Buddhists, nor did they sign with their fingers. The sense of rhythm seemed to be quite pronounced, and one or two of the monks twisted their bodies in rhythm as they chanted the classic. Probably the average visitor would not notice the difference between this and a Buddhist setting.
That afternoon a monk with a twinkle in his eye took us into the woods nearby to see the scenery. We followed the pine-trunk water pipes up the hill, and soon we were walking up a path through queerly shaped boulders and freak rock formations. One stone was perched precariously on top of a large rock and was said to have "flown" there. The monk had a tale about each freak rock formation, most of them dealing with fairies and immortals. There was a cave under a rock in which there was a black-faced idol contemplating incense before him. Another cave was said to have been smaller at one time and to have grain pouring out of it. A greedy farmer sought to get more from the cave to sell, but when he made the cave larger, the flow of grain stopped. Still another cave had its entrance half-covered by roots from small trees growing on top of its doorway. All the way up the trail there were pieces of poetry carved on the rocks, and my friends were continually stopping to read and admire them. They seemed to have a calm enjoyment of everything evidenced by their silent and leisurely contemplation. The few poems that they translated for me were choice bits. At one place there was a rock gateway through which the path led, called " Gateway of the Clouds". Beside it were characters:
"Each speck of dust will meet its raindrop;
each cloud from heaven at the cloud-gate stops..."
On our return we were shown a well at which a certain saint was supposed to have become a fairy after drinking the water. In our living room at the monastery there was a painting of Li Tai-po lying drunk on his lute, a wine jug beside him and the moon shining through the plum-blossoms.
We received very good food at the monastery: Taoists are not vegetarians - but the monk thought it queer that we refused his wine. We ate a lovely dish of something like caviar which was supposed to have turned another Taoist priest into an immortal fairy.
I must confess that that night I seemed very close to understanding the Taoist sensing of the supernatural, and I found it easy to understand how the country people can worship rocks and trees in their animistic beliefs. It seemed the most natural thing in the world at Lo Fau Mountain, and I almost felt that there might be something to this supernaturalism. What had they put into that heavenly food?!
The second day we went about seven miles around the base of the mountain to spend the night in Wang Lung Monastery higher up the mountainside. It was like the others in appearance, order, etc., but it was dirtier. The path leading to it followed the upper bank of a ravine, crossing and re-crossing from time to time the stream that made many lovely waterfalls as it flowed down from the maintain. Again the trail was lined with occasional carved messages on the rocks. At the back of this monastery was a small house where there were five or six nuns, chanting while we were there. Some local views hold that they are nymphomaniacs whom the monks are pleased to gratify.
We spent the afternoon climbing about the mountainside and looking at the monastery. I found that they were burning rice-husks to use in polishing brass; it seemed to be effective. We went with another quaint old monk to see a lovely waterfall about 100 feet high, but not running with much water. Nevertheless it was lovely to watch, and the Chinese boys sat looking at it for a long time. Near the waterfall were some bushes on which were located some nests like large birds' nests made of leaves. I had seen some of these being carried on poles in villages below. The boys said that they were ants' nests (I saw the ants) and that these ants kill harmful insects in the trees, and therefore the nests are collected and taken to orchards and gardens.
High on the mountain we arrived at a large cave formerly used by bandits, it was said. The cave was large enough to accommodate 50 people, and was formed by one tremendous overhanging rock. A small stream trickled down through one side of it. A Chinese cook-stove and an altar with a stone on it saying "Seat of the Gods" were the only things in this immense cave.
At this point I observed that, with few exceptions, the southern Chinese students and gentry have very little physical endurance and strength. Some of them have sports and normal play now; but those with a Chinese education are rather weak. They acknowledge readily an unfavorable comparison to foreigners, and attribute that difference to the higher nutritional value of Western food as compared with what the Chinese can get.
These boys became quite frank in telling me about the Chinese family system, social patterns, and about their homes. Apparently the Red Chamber Dream is an authentic portrayal of many traits of Chinese morality and the family system as it still exists in current tradition. Their morality is wonderfully high, and their restrictions tight. But the boys told of the autocratic, dictatorial power of their elders, about the conditions in their own families, and many other things I wanted to know. One of the boys is the second son of his father's concubine; says that the legal wife is jealous of his own mother and that she, his own mother the concubine, tries to keep peace in the household. Another boy is the third son of the third concubine; says the concubines' and legal wife's children live in different houses. Another boy say says his mother, the legal wife, asked the father to take a concubine, and they live in perfect harmony. The fourth has only legal relatives. All of these guys are given a liberal "Western" education by their parents and will be allows to select or approve of their own wives. They surprise me with their common-sense evaluation of their own Chinese social system and the changes it is facing.
I haven't mentioned the great Chinese custom of spitting whenever impelled. Cuspidors are placed within shoot-able distance from every section of a Chinese home, and where there are no cuspidors they use dirt floors. Several of the monks spit long and loud while talking to us.
I was surprised at the monastery in the evening to see one monk walk through with an opium pipe and an opium lamp. It is not unthinkable that he took it for himself, but it may have been for one of the guests. In the evening my friends admired the calligraphy shown them by the monks before we went to bed. Calligraphy is truly an art. That night we heard the booming of the gong, the beating of drums, and the tinkling of bells in droning rhythm as the monks did early morning pre-dawn prayers. It is an uncanny noise in stillness of the night.
I must relate the ceremony of going to the toilet in this last, or for that matter, in most any monastery. You apologetically whisper the magic words "Tai Bin" to a monk, who immediately shouts it loud enough to jar your teeth. Then the word is shouted down through the corridors in matter of fact way, "Visitor wants to do #2". The message is relayed vocally until the monastery resounds with it, then another monk ask you again, just to be sure you mean "now", and leads you to someplace in the dungeon or outback which is in many monasteries not only padlocked, but actually barred heavily. In this monastery a coolie had to be summoned to take down the bars. With an assemblage of escorts to see you in, one of them asks solicitously, "Have paper?" Then they go away.
The third day at Lo Fau Mountain it rained. So we
decided to leave. Under borrowed umbrellas we made our way through the slimy
mud to the village below to wait for the bus. In two hours it came, already
fully loaded. We crowded in, standing up, but fortunately soon got seats as a
few people got off. The road was hard but covered with slippery muddy soup. The
bus went from 30 to 40 mph including curves. I thought for sure we would never
Feb. 29, 1936
The Chinese boys are really marvelous at tennis. It is amazing how expert they are. That and Track are the most favored sports (because of the individualistic element) while soccer comes next.
The other day when I went to the Rice Hall for lunch, the waiter was careless about handling my order, and made no effort to get my food for me. Chan Kwan-man, the littlest boy at my table, grabbed a butter dish, marched up to the waiter, said, "Hey you!" and then conked him on the head with the butter dish, telling him to get my food for me. I was sorry that it happened, but it was really quite funny to see happen. I got my food, of course.
Many of the students and, in fact all literate persons in
Three weeks ago when I went to the
The other day I came into a room where three of my local friends were laughing at an overseas Chinese boy in his attempts to read magazine advertisements written in Chinese. What he couldn't actually read he was improvising rather cleverly and getting lots of laughs. It seems that although he could speak Cantonese, he could read only third grade stuff.
The other night we had an interesting example of the slowness of old Chinese moral attitudes to adapt to modern trends. At an all-college mixer only one-fourth of the girls showed up, and most of them were overseas girls or girls with acknowledged boy-friends. The other one-fourth sat on one side of the hall, by themselves. Lawrence Lew-Kay (USA-raised) tried to get them mixed up with the boys by having a grand march not for dancing but for seating first a boy then a girl, in turn. At his announcement about 15 of the girls left the room, and when it came to the Grand March itself, none of the boys would step out and do it. Finally the westernized ones stepped out and after a sad and embarrassing delay, the feat was accomplished. About 75% of the girls here are never known to speak to, or to answer, a boy, under any but unusual circumstances; for in old China when a couple didn't know each other until marriage, acquaintance was regarded as the first and irretrievable step toward matrimony, or else as a sin - much as kissing and petting used to be monitored, with us.
In a bull session with some of my Chinese friends last week, we were comparing Eastern and Western notes, and somehow got to exchanging some personal information. As I have been doing until this last month, I told them frankly what the state of things was in my own bailiwick, but when it came time for one of the boys, Shen Lan to speak up, he didn't offer anything pertinent. I asked more questions trying to get him to respond in kind, whereupon he gave ridiculous answers which were supposed to be funny, but which made a fool out of me for asking such questions. Of course, I then realized I had been indiscreet in pushing him, but I was angry about receiving lies or evasions when I had told the truth from my side; so I told Shen Lan indirectly, through talking generalities to the other two boys, that I wanted truth for truth. I knew he was smart enough to hear a rebuke, and I thought the other two boys not smart enough to catch on. The effect was that he had been embarrassed by it, and if the other boys had understood my veiled reproof, he lost face. Later that night, in thinking it over, I realized that because of the cultural and national differences, I should not have expected him to answer my questions in an American way, and I began to be sorry for both my indiscretion and over having scolded him.
The next day both he and I felt that relations were not comfortable, and I invited those boys to dinner at Baxter House. Late that night Shen Lan, (who is a tall boy of northern Chinese ancestry) came to see me in my room. He told me I had been angry the night before because he didn't answer my probing; said he had not told me the truth in order to test me, for if I became angry when he lied, he would know that I had told the truth from my side; he said that his first responses were true, but when he saw that I was pressing and doubting him, he fabricated; he said that he doubted sincere friendship because of certain things I had said during the past month, and he was glad to "test me" and find a favorable result. I told him that the things he had doubted about me last month were my attempts to change from Western to a Chinese mode of acting. He had not understood the change.
That was his effort to patch up the misunderstanding; the Chinese don't seem to like misunderstandings. His way of doing it was very gracious; he lost no face, and I lost no face. Whether or not what he said in doing this, was true, I don't know; but the main thing was resumption of normal relations between us. He patched the thing up in a skillful way that I could not have done. In this sort of thing he has taught me much about the Chinese viewpoint and way of doing things interpersonally. He is a wonderful fellow, from whom I can and have learned much.
A few nights ago I invited the four boys who had gone to Lo Fau to Dr. Frank's faculty house to play games and chat. It was their first visit to a Western home. Two interesting questions were asked: Did we Westerners use our living rooms when we weren't receiving guests? and, Since Dr. Frank was a successful professor and a man of degrees, had he taken a concubine yet? I explained the Western moral, religious, and legal injunctions about marriage, about which they had known of course as ideals but about which they wanted to know the actual practice. They, like other Chinese students, have the Western monogamous family standard for themselves personally, but they just wanted to know more about actualities. We played "Pit", talked; and they ate banana cream pie, thanked us and departed.
Last Saturday I went with the Social Science Club to visit the Municipal Insane Asylum formerly under missionary supervision. They turned us loose in the place to look around as we liked. They had 440 women and about 600 men. Thirty percent of the insane were Chinese from overseas, and I heard some incredible swearing in English besides spirited tirades about religion, sex, politics, etc. Ninety percent of the overseas were syphilitics. Thirty percent of the total men were victims of opium; fifty percent, of alcohol. The harmless childlike ones ran around loose in the yards playing and jabbering. Some had their hands tied behind their backs. Others were kept in solitary confinement. Most of them slept in large rooms closely crowded together. They haven't enough funding to effect many cures or to do much more than keep the place clean, but they deal with the patients kindly, with Oriental patience. Very few cases seem to be violent; but some of the patients were kept in bed under wire screens. They didn't seem to be unhappy. They had medical treatment, baths; spacious grounds, good food. It was really quite surprising to see such an institution in existence here.
We also visited the
The two movies Crime and Punishment and Les Miserables have been here within a week of each other. I took some Chinese friends to both pictures and was amazed to find that all of them liked Crime and Punishment much better. Les Miserables with its idealism was not suited to their practical outlooks. They though it good of course, but not so good as Crime and Punishment. Most seemed to think that Javert was right and that law is necessary; that he committed suicide partly to save his face and partly because he couldn't face up to all-evident facts; they thought Jean Valjean a fool not to shoot Javert when he could. But in spite of their failure to sympathize with the spirit of Jean Valjean, they remain kind themselves, considerate, benvolent, and honorable people. Strange, isn't it, how the "heathen" can be kind and so much our equals - in some instances our superiors - without having our precise emotional and spiritual ideals! Lin Yu-tang calls it common sense and the experience of centuries. I think I begin to see what Shao-chang Li meant when he said: Taoism is the kettle, Confucianism the fuel, Buddhism the water, and Christianity the flame. Perhaps to put it differently, Christianity is the steam that can make the Chinese engine go. Still, my impression is that the Chinese students, by and large, will remain uninterested in religion, and through their own methods and peculiar self-inspiration, will accomplish in the end what we accomplish with our steam.
I saw Dr. Thompson do a one-hour combination appendectomy and hernia with
one incision under spinal anesthesia at the
April 8, 1936
I took a late afternoon steamboat to visit
Lotteries flourish all over the place. The first night I got there I walked
around through streets lined with brothels, two- and three-story houses with
the girls and woman managers sitting inside the doorways. Half of the houses
that I saw were closed, vacant, and I saw only one white man on the street
looking for such a place. Of course they really do business. I was told
that during the past year, business for prostitutes had fallen off so much that
over half of the owners had declared their establishments bankrupt. That
element may disappear from
On the furthermost peak of the peninsula there was a new building, a radio
station, to which I climbed. I found a young man, an American, who introduced
himself as the Pan-American Airways engineer. We had a fine chat, and he told
me they were ready for the Clipper as soon as political matters could be
straightened out. He showed me their landing sheds below, and their radio
station. Of course if trouble comes from the Japanese in
It was amusing in my wanderings about the town, to speak to Caucasians in Chinese
in order to be conversant. The front wall of a church is left standing in
In the evening I went to try to find the home of Ng Sek-Kan, one of my Lingnan friends. I found the neighborhood, but didn't locate the exact house. In making inquiries I met a 21-year-old Portuguese , a very fine fellow, who spoke good English and perfect Chinese, who introduced me to one of his friends, told me lots about the city, and took me to a movie. They visited with me until time for me to sail. Both were Eurasians.
May 23, 1936
Last weekend we exchange students went for a "conference" to
discuss what we'd done and hadn't done during the year, going to some hills a
short distance from Hongkong, where a foreigner at
Higher on mountains above where we were staying was a "Christian" monastery called Tao Fung Shan. It consisted of a fine group of new buildings in Chinese style on a beautiful location overlooking a valley, with surrounding mountains, and with a great view over the bay from the ocean which runs in like a fjord. This monastery, run by Scandinavian Lutherans, is open to all Chinese who are interested in religion of any kind. Dr. Karl Reichelt, head of it, is an extraordinary scholar of Chinese religions, and his talks with the religious men who come there seem to be the backbone of its work.
We went there for meals, eating in the dining hall with the four Taoist
priests, ten Buddhist monks, one lama, and 12 Christian students from all
It was a different and significant type of mission. It is known to Buddhists
and Taoists all over
Yesterday I went back to Lik Kau village to do more investigation for a Sociology report. While I was there a flood arose, and by the time I left, I was wading through water up to my knees, carrying my shoes. The Chinese took it like everything else, calmly; although crops and other things were being ruined. I took a sampan back almost the entire trip to Lingnan through the orchards and over the path I had walked just four hours before. Very heavy rains for the past week and a high tide had caused this flood. Since the tide soon went down, relatively little damage was done, however.
[These Marble Hills in Guangsi have become "must-see" tourist attractions, developed as such in the Communist era.]
We then progressed to another hill where we visited some beautiful chrysanthemum gardens in a temple courtyard at the base of the hill. They train their chrysanthemums on short sticks so that they grow in geometrical designs in the pots. It was here that, in taking a photo, several from the group broke off some of the lovely and treasured blossoms. Glaring at us and breathing heavily, the gardener said nothing. One careless act like that can breed more ill-will than twenty Exchange Students otherwise could imagine….
At last, late in the afternoon, we went into the marble caves in one of the hills. They are really quite immense and are just as I had expected such a cave to be. The stalagmites and stalactites had made very grotesque figures. We took two little rowboats into the grottoes with kerosene torches and had a very educational as well as thrilling time. The caves aren’t used as tourist bait  which is a relief after American ways….
Once back in the city, we invited our efficient and patient guide to have dinner with us and we had a real banquet on the top floor. Along with quantities of other food, our guest put away 6 bowls of rice and a pocketful of melon seeds! After dinner he announced that he wanted not 40 cents but a dollar for his services for the day. We had planned to give him eighty cents, but with this announcement we cut it to sixty cents. He tried to raise an awful fuss, but we reminded him, in the presence of the restaurant staff, that he had had two free meals and good ones, besides his pay. He still yelled for more and then we reminded him he had consumed six bowls of rice and three free cigarettes besides. The restaurant men had already begun to laugh at the absurdity of his demands, and soon our guide left, blushing over much loss of face. This is typical of economic relations here: everyone tries to get as much as he can, but won’t cry if he can’t. Bargaining and financial hassles are half of life over here, both for foreigners and for natives. For us it is very unpleasant, but for them it is a reality of life.
From our restaurant we looked down into a house across the street and saw
two men smoking opium at a lower floor than ours. Later we walked around the
streets, followed by crowds of about 50 to each of us, and at 10 o’clock got
onto a riverboat to go back down the river by night. The beds on the boat
consisted of two raised platforms, one on each side of the boat with boards
separating one bed space from another. There were beds for 28 persons on each
side of the boat, all in one room with each space crowded against the next one,
and an aisle down the middle of the boat. We all flopped and unrolled our
blankets, some of us successfully sleeping. The boat didn’t sail until 2 AM,
and people went through our room shouting and talking all night; furthermore,
the boat vibrated so much that sleep was a luxury only for those who were the
most tired. I slept best of all, only waking ten or twelve times to kill
insects or to try not to hear somebody talking a few feet from my head. In the
morning early, the boat anchored back at Sam Sui, the
railroad town. All of the sampan people came into the big boat to look at us on
our boards. They brought all their "friends and relations",
particularly to see the girls in our group. Finally they went away and we got
up and took a sampan ashore. This was one of the most interesting nights I have
ever spent. Once on shore, we got the train that left at dawn, and we were soon
Two days ago two German girls from Tung Shan
across the river came over to the campus to listen to a radio program over the
only short-wave set on the campus. The sister of one of the girls was to
broadcast greetings to
Harold Fulkerson (Stanford) has had an infected leg ever since the 2nd of
September when we left
CHAPTER 11 The Great Outdoors
The Great Outdoors was originally not part of my plan. Little precedent for it stood in the family heritage. Dad had been captain of his college football team in the 1890's,
but that had seemed irrelevant and unbelievable -
because I had never seen him play games. For me to ski/climb/hike/camp in the
Sierras, the Rockies, the Cascades, the Olympics,
There might be two explanations: first, growing up in the Puget Sound area
of timber-harvesting and where sea and mountains met, where outdoor recreation
was a big thing; and second, having a big brother who rode horses and also
guided people to the top of
Physical Training as such, in school, was a pain, regimented and artificial,
contrived devoid of adventure; it was a show-off opportunity for those who
needed to score that way. One Saturday when I was ten, I got up early, fixed a
bag lunch, and sneaked out to walk ten miles along a suburban trolley line to
In the summer of 1929 when I was 13, brother Joe became assistant leader of a boys-camp concept that had just been dreamed up by the private company then operating concessions in the national park. It called for boys 14 - 18 to be given a month in the park riding horses around the foothills of the mountain and thus encircling it on the Wonderland Trail; then spend a week at Paradise Valley, and climb to the summit of the peak after conditioning themselves first on the snowfields and glaciers. The cost of the entire package was very high - so high that in this, the first year of the stock-market crash, only a handful of boys enrolled. But promotional photos were needed for next year's brochure; so I was to be among some local boys who were recruited surreptitiously at bargain rates to facilitate advertising and to make the enterprise appear to "take off" successfully right from the start. Our picture, glissading on Paradise Glacier, is still on one wall of the lobby at Paradise Inn.
Also at age 13 it had been my fortune to join a very active boy scout troop headed by Scoutmaster Dr. Frank Madison, a
I began driving the family car at 13 after practicing clutching to shift gears back and forth in the block in front of our house. In those days a hundred-mile trip could take a day: because there were few road signs, and stretches of paved road were few and short. In the early 1920's one might expect to have a flat tire in a 200-mile jaunt. With two-wheel, small-radius brakes, cars going 35 miles/hr could require 50 yards to come to a stop.
In 1929 we nevertheless went to
There in southern
My outer clothes were soon torn to shreds, and even for me to backtrack, having given up my goal, took every wisp of my remaining strength. It verged on panic. I had foolishly risked disaster. When I later surveyed the distance more realistically, and the obstacles intervening, it appeared just crazy to have attempted this feat. (Students knew how to get there by road.) Trying to hide the folly was likewise stupid because cuts, scratches, and shredded clothing told the story all too well.
In high school years, mimicking older siblings, I got into tennis, and
enjoyed an occasionally wicked serve. Skiing and football, for a time, seemed
to compete with my explorations on foot. And when I brought a three-speed
bicycle with me from
While at the University of
When searching for a place in Maryland to spend weekends with sons Stephen
and David, I looked for a spot near or adjacent to a park or preserve, close to
the woods. It took the shape of a house that had been built at the time George
Washington had just been born - a 3-storey stone house with walls 18 inches
thick, into which mice would burrow and occasionally die, necessitating incense
inside. Actually I rented only the ground floor. The owners of this old house
The Mountain Club of Maryland was one of the clubs of nature enthusiasts and
outdoorsmen that had been founded to take responsibility for maintaining a
section of the
As heritage from my scout days and western experience, this was an activity
that I relished: adventure in nature, in particular building or repairing
trails. My boys, for their part, liked overnight camping and backpacking. In
time I took responsibility for maintaining the "poison-ivy" stretch
One thing leads to another - another kindred thing more often that to something
For about three years after retirement, I went to Harpers Ferry A.T.Conference headquarters weekly to write letters in answer to inquiries from persons who planned to hike either the whole Trail or parts of it. In those days we tried to send back hand-written, personalized responses to those letters of inquiry.
Unlike many other persons active in the trails movement, I did not set out to hike the whole A.T. from end to end. Instead, I hiked about two-thirds of it, in bits and pieces over the years. For one thing, at the time when I might have considered taking off four months or so to do it, more than 200 miles had been pushed onto roads as private landowners feared weirdo’s and hippies and withdrew permissions for hikers to use parts of their land.
In 1978 the National Scenic Trails Act of 1968 was updated and given funding
by the Congress in response to an aggressive program of education and
persistence on the part of the trail clubs. At that point the existence of a
continuous, uninterrupted through-route for the Trail was seriously threatened,
and the National Park Service was authorized to secure lands to protect it in
perpetuity by creating a corridor from
By 1980 the National Park Service had geared up to meet this responsibility, and one of its first steps toward land acquisition was to try to handle it smoothly and with a minimum of conflict. Since the original A.T. route had been established through good relations with local landowners who respected conservationist hiking enthusiasts, NPS wanted to start with that approach pattern, using local and regional persons for initial contacts, rather than NPS's land-acquisition staff.
In the middle states, the largest block of privately-owned lands were those
across the Cumberland Valley of Pennsylvania. It lay within the section that
our MCM had charge of. My one mile of poison ivy (to which I am not reactive)
was the only piece of Trail in that stretch that was
not on a highway, because adjacent farm and residential properties always had
precluded use of any actual trail. The NPS staff, having prepared detailed
maps, had consulted us trail-workers as to the most feasible alternate routes
in places where their land-acquisitions would afford permanent protection and a
desirable route for a national scenic trail. As part of that process for the
The next step was for me to talk with landowners along the proposed route, alerting them to the national (and state) legislation that authorized and would pay the costs for this relocation of the trail, presumably requiring them to give up some land - in exchange for market price or better. Where relevant, I would mention possibility of an easement, of life estate arrangements, or of leasing back under permit for continued agricultural use - sharing the land.
I moved up to the Valley for about two months. Within about two weeks it
became apparent that word was getting around to the effect that a government
agent was picking up land with threat of condemnation. Whereas some of my first
contacts had been somewhat friendly - I was invited to dinner at one house - at
another I was also entertained but shown how much land this particular
developer owned and how influential his connections were, both locally and in
As things evolved, it took the NPS and the trail clubs twelve years to solve this matter. Four different alternate routes were considered - in order to relieve pressure that was coming from where the recommended route was located. One such alternative followed an abandoned railroad line, out under the sun for seven of its miles. Another alternative would implode on similar land with an even larger set of landowners farther west. A third was really not feasible from the viewpoint of a sensible trail route; also far too costly. Meanwhile a counter alliance of Audubon, Garden Club, Scouts, and other civic-minded citizens was formed; so that, with superior sustaining power, they ultimately could sway the swells of public opinion. Simultaneously NPS agents were concentrating, one by one, on various landowners with actual cash offers. They had learned which landowners would hold out, so they concentrated on the others. Together we altered the route here and there so as to avoid some of the main hard-heads. Word began to get around that financial benefit was to be gained; that adjustments of various kinds were available; and that the Trail did not threaten local welfare or safety.
In consequence to my work on this volunteer assignment I received a consolation citation from the National Park Service; also similar recognition from the Keystone Trails Association and from the Appalachian Trail Conference, which made me an Honorary Member.
Then in 1986 came a somewhat related new adventure, also involving government and the Trail. NPS's detailed "segment" maps of the A.T. were available to me, and they showed landowner identities and information that was less readily available on
state maps - and in greater detail. Having just
been given a set of these maps for
JP told me he had hired a young man to patrol
As Ridgerunner working hourly part-time for the
State, I had a radio and a uniform and wore an I.D., but I did not have police
powers such as the rangers possessed. (They were akin to State Police) The
At the time my duties began, there were about ten miles of the Trail in
In April I worked only on weekends; then full time until the end of October (busy month because of leaves turning color ); then weekends again until December. My responsibilities were to answer questions, to keep track of vagrants or eccentrics, to look for fugitives when necessary, to educate regarding proper use of the Trail and woods, to dish out comfortable PR, to report to the rangers situations that they would respond to - such as drug use, alcohol consumption by minors or in excess, trespass or vandalism. In compromised or uncertain situations that didn't call for the law, I could simply advise people what to do, or tell them what was wrong with what they were doing. I had first aid training and was supposedly available for such accidental emergencies; and I knew whom to call by radio. If I saw fires starting on a small enough scale I could put them out. If large, report them. I was to report to the trail maintainers obstacles or washouts that needed their attention. I was to check up on shelter use and to deter abuse or "partying" by non-hikers. If was a job rich with variety. Usually I walked with a pack and radio, ten to fifteen miles a day.
At first there were some run-ins with persons who had been used to doing just as they liked, or who claimed to have a landowner’s permission; there were motorbikes or 3- or 4-wheelers; there were hikers who wanted to camp just at their own convenience, leaving fire-rings and worn spots beside the trail. There were polluters. Loose dogs. Lost dogs. Lost children. Lost adults. Injured persons who refused treatment. Homeless persons. Separated groups. People who resented uniformed persons. People from all over the world engaging in this great hiking adventure.
A few incidents might be of interest. The most bizarre of these was when I encountered a middle-aged couple who were about to camp at an undesignated site. They said there was a weird man occupying the shelter they had intended to use, and they were afraid to stay there. On reaching the shelter, I found a bearded man dressed exotically and with feathers in his hair, preparing food on his small gas stove, to offer as sacrifice to two dolls that he had placed on an improvised altar at the opening to the shelter. Another man, also there but not with him, stood by.
Without mention of or reference to the dolls, I asked the eccentric what his destination was and what his plans were. Evidently he was used to being confronted: he pulled out his I.D. cards, showed me his money, conversed quite naturally, asked me how far it was to the nearest place where he could buy tobacco, and told me where he was from and where he was going. I could see nothing peculiar or worrisome about him except for his homemade religion. A few minutes later the other man who was there called me aside and said that he had the same impression of this eccentric. So I merely checked the next day to see if he had moved on. He had.
With regard to injuries, the worst case we had was an end-to-end hiker who
slipped on rocks and broke both arms while checking his fall. Another
through-hiker behind him helped him to bushwhack down the mountain to a road
where a driver stopped to take them to a hospital. On those same rocks a woman
of 74 also had fallen the year before while on a fund-raising hike on behalf of
the Lupus foundation. A frail woman, she had abrasions on her head. I came upon
her at the nearest shelter where she was sitting, having stanched her bleeding,
but unnerved. "I’m supposed to meet my son this afternoon at five at
Sensing that ranger assistance with transportation was needed, I suggested she take some more time to recover. I didn’t want to tell her that help would be on the way, because that was not yet a certainty. I excused myself under pretext of looking for something I had dropped on the trail, but instead I high-lighted for a gain of elevation so that my radio message would assuredly get through. It did, and a ranger started en route in a vehicle.
Then upon my return to the shelter, the hiker had vanished! Had she gone away in confusion? Which way did she go? Fortunately I found a bloody Kleenex on the trail toward Penmar. So it was back up the hill to intercept the ranger and tell him to intercept her at the next road crossing on her route to Penmar. Presently he called: "Here I am. Where’s your subject?" Before I could reply, he was on the air again. "Oh, here she comes out of the woods, just now." She declined to be taken anywhere for medical treatment by us; so the ranger took her to Penmar to wait for her son. I saw her there two hours later, and she seemed o.k.
Historically, the most dramatic instance was when I met the man who three
months later murdered a young man and a young woman at a shelter in
With reluctance, "
"Headed south? Where did you stay last night?"
After hesitation, "On the trail."
"Just camped out? It’s best to stay at a shelter. Where are you headed for? Do you need supplies?"
"I’m traveling back and forth between front Royal and Delaware Water Gap for a while." (Which proved to be true.)
"Where do you think you’ll be tonight?" I asked.
Muttering: "Don’t know yet." Three months later when I saw the
artist’s sketch of the wanted man, I recognized the likeness immediately,
‘though the artist had given him a head of hair. He was apprehended about six
weeks later when he crossed the bridge from
In the course of this work I developed a high respect for the ranger staff. They were always cooperative and prompt to respond when needed. They knew their business and were resourceful. They knew the importance of tact and courtesy even when confronting crimes and transgressions. An example occurred when it was discovered that a loaded pistol was in the pack of one malfeaser when he accidentally abandoned his pack and came back to claim it. I had been surprised at the courtesy and kindness extended by the ranger whom I had called because of this illegal fire and defiant partying, when obviously a citation would result. He was disarming the man verbally.
[part toward the end of The Great Outdoors – Ch 11]
There is nothing of particular note regarding adventures such as are common
for others who also backpack, hike or work in the midst of our world's natural
wonders - our national parks and national forests, or in the Alps or the
Rockies. Each such adventure can be a story in itself. I have climbed
Three experiences nevertheless seem distinctive to me. First,
a year in the
In the 1940's, performing work for the US Forest Service, I was one of six young men assigned to build cement watering-troughs for sheep that grazed under permit on desert tracts near Yerrington in western Nevada. Sheep ranchers paid for permits to graze their flocks seasonally, on government lands. Occasional water-holes could be found in the desert, and they could be developed with water stored in them for high demand when a hundred sheep might all arrive simultaneously to try to assuage their thirst.
The desert - not sand, but rocks and sagebrush - is, like the sea, an environment of its own sort, with some distinctive creatures and birds; but after a rain, a desert will have its own profusion of flowers. But like the sea, it can have the vastness of a deep void. The six of us lived for several months out in that sea of sage, in four trailer-houses arranged like a U: one was our cookhouse; one adjacent to it was our dining and lounging area; another was our bunkhouse; and the fourth was our shower and washroom facility. We never saw anybody except for our once-weekly trips to re-supply.
We made moulds, mixed and poured cement into them, coaxed water from unlikely little seepages into storage cisterns and on to the troughs. Among ourselves we came to know one another quite well. The one who cooked would take a little time off early (or late, mornings) from construction work. That was the setting.
One weekend when we were driving our stakeside truck 30 miles across the desert on its unpaved road, (each one of us chose to take such trips in order to feel reassured that the rest of the world still existed), we found ourselves approaching a small cloud of dust and an overturned vehicle. A woman, somewhat dazed, wandered nearby . She was incoherent but otherwise seemed unhurt. Inside the car was an unconscious man whose shoes had been knocked off. We pulled him out and laid him out on the floor of our stake-side; put the woman in the truck's cab; and took off as fast as possible back to the village we had come from with our supplies. She was unable, en route, to give us any helpful information. The man did not stir.
At the village there was a doctor who had an infirmary of sorts attached to his office, a young man. Examining the injured man's eye pupils, he remarked, "Well, I can sew up his cuts: the undertaker will appreciate that." At this point the woman seemed to become somewhat more alert, and wanted to use a phone. But she could remember no useful numbers to call. It seemed that she was not related to the man except casually, or extra-maritally. She showed no interest in identifying the man either for us or for the doctor. He seemed wise to the situation; maybe he knew more about it than he felt we needed to know. Sensing that this might be so, and feeling as though this had become a dead end for us, we left - but with quite a bit to talk about besides ourselves, for a change.
There were six - two women and four men. We had a staff of five Sherpas and from 10 to 13 porters depending upon how many could be recruited for their agreed stints. Some walked barefoot; each carried on his back, suspended from a strap across his forehead, a load of about 120 pounds. The Sherpas guided and cooked and set up camp each night. Our route was from Trisuli Bazaar north and west, through scarcely visited areas - lots of agricultural valleys, miles of stone-paved stairways and terraced hillsides, and quaint and varied inhabitants. Rather than the Buddhism of Tibet, we were encountering animism, Hinduism and Mohammedan villages and temples.
Our group did not reach more than 15,000 ft. elevation but in ten days, we
saw some of the best mountain vistas in
Third, an expedition in the 1970's that wanted to climb the highest peak in
the New World - Aconcagua in the
Loaded down with climbing gear, we flew to
The chalet proprietor, who knew the local military people and was eager to
help us, tried his connections - but to no avail. They
said we could climb anyplace else in the Andes other than
The horses took our gear about 15 miles up a river valley, and we camped on the moraine of a glacier where lemmings were all over the ground. The next day we moved up about two-thousand feet to a high camp adjacent to a steep snowfield. After that we started climbing up another two thousand feet, using ropes, to about 19,000 feet. At that level we hoped to be able to see a peak we could conquer; but instead we found we were on a ridge that became an isolated island surrounded by glacial valleys. At that altitude our judgment was adversely affected by lack of oxygen: it is very tricky, because one gets an utterly false sense of elation and well-being. I first became aware of it when a chunk of rock as large as my head hurtled down from above the snowfield and passed just six inches above the top of my head. So we admitted weakness and insufficiency and began the trek back.
But this time we had no horses, and we still had all of our gear. We wound up carrying about 120 pounds each - even after abandoning climbing boots and other precious gear so as to lighten our loads. It was a grueling grind back to the chalet - except for the final few miles when we were able to hitch a ride on a maintenance pickup truck.
By way of sequel, the boys went back to
But another misfortune loomed. By mistake I took a local train - which
proved colorful and adventurous - but which put me in the vicinity of Machu-piccu after dark. It evolved that there was a local
stop called Machu-piccu which was not where the
tourist buses are, and locals on the train told me to get off there. So I had
to carry my baggage a few miles in the dark on the railroad tracks to the next
station. It proved to be utterly out in the sticks. Some local boys were
playing at the station however, and when I told them I would walk up to
mountain to Machu-piccu even though I was too late
for the bus, because I had reservations at the
Back again in
Beginning in 1988 ATC and the trail clubs sought to take over part of the
responsibility for training and financing the Ridgerunner
In that regard, we can note the program’s effect in
This pertains to classical music.
Mother was an excellent pianist and soprano singer. Her repertoire included pianoforte works by Schubert, Brahms, Chaminade, Liszt, Schumann, Chopin, Debussy. She sang in the Ladies Musical Club, but she never performed at the keyboard in public: she preferred to day-dream that she was on the concert stage. We had a large collection of phonograph recordings, mainly of concert artists' performances and of the Philadelphia Orchestra under Stokowski. I memorized most of those records in my mind.
As just a kid, I went to concerts given by Paderewski, Kreisler, and Rachmaninoff. Pakerewski was grandiose and graceful, Kreisler a bit impish, and Rachmaninoff bored but fully competent. Rachmaninoff kept giving encores of pieces other than his Prelude in C-sharp Minor until finally looking angry and belligerent, he launched into it - as much as to say, "there you are, you saps: I wish you'd never heard it before. I hadn't; so what are you going to produce?"
Later I heard cellists Piatagorsky and Emanuel
Feuerman. At Feuermann's concert with the Chicago
Symphony I sat in the first row right in front of him and was amazed to see how
heavily he sweated as he played. I saw George Gerschwin
play his Concerto if F with the Seattle Symphony just a few months before his
death. He had just returned from a vacation in
Later on, with Harvard's Pierian Sodality orchestra, I played 'cello in the premier of Aaron Copland's A An Outdoor Overture, with him conducting - through we had been rehearsed by somebody else so that his gestures would not prove weird to us.
When I compare the quality of performance that we hear at the end of this century with earlier efforts - particularly by less than top artists - it is amazing not only that there are so many high-caliber performers today, but that the quality of interpretation and technical competency has risen enormously. That is partly a result of a richer source of supply - a larger population is certain to produce a larger number of prodigies; but it is also because people have been hearing, throughout the century, more and more and better and better renditions through high fidelity and broad bandwidth transcriptions. Technology and greater availability of fine music have combined to boost its betterment.
When it comes to composers however, maybe the 20th century has not advanced of the preceding two centuries. With the possible exception of Mahler whose productivity extended over into the early 1900's, only a handful of recent composers have reached the heights of the classicists. With respect to semi-popular and light classics however, including movie scores, we have been more fortunate.
I began with piano at age 7, under a teacher who was not highly gifted and whom my Mother favored out of pity because that woman had a clubbed foot. At age 9 I had had enough and wanted to switch to organ. Then my father bought a 'cello and tried to teach himself to play; but because of his age, 55, he could not refine the specific muscles needed in his bowing arm; so he gave it up. Then when I was eleven, he persuaded me to take it up - which I was willing to do because carrying it around, at my size would be a spectacle before the public, as well.
So I carried the 'cello half a mile to the streetcar and back, for my
lessons. They were given by a nervous woman whose playing was by no means
inspirational to me. After two years Dad arranged for me to get one afternoon
each week away from school to go to
At that point, at Dad's insistence, we had formed a string quartet in
Several musicians from our high school orchestra were selected to go to
Fortunately I have escaped one of the hazards that orchestal
players sometimes face: deafness. At a recent
performance of Bruckner's Eighth Symphony in
At 14 I began voice lessons under the choir leader who sought to build up the choir by giving free lessons. With a baritone voice but without any tremulo, my voice was o.k. for choral purposes, but I did not solo much. Our church choir presented Gilbert & Sullivan's The Gondoliers in which I sang the Duke of Plazo Toro; and in the high school's performance of The Desert Song I sang the role of Ali-ben-ali, keeper of the harem. (The boys taunted me by saying I was the only one who could be trusted in the harem.) I sang in the Boys Glee Club too; but with operas usually I was needed in the orchestra.
During those school years one episode stands out: an unexpected success
story. In the eighth grate a new boy entered our home-room class, Hugh
Thompson. He was the son of Oscar Thompson who was editor of the NYC magazine, Musical
America. Oscar had married a
Soon our junior high school presented an operetta, The Pioneer's Papoose, and Hugh sang the leading role, still using his soprano voice. Then in high school he became active in dramatics. When we presented The Desert Song Hugh was cast as General Birabeau, a non-singing part. Clearly he was disappointed. Then I was asked to sing a solo in high school assembly. I declined and suggested that Hugh be asked to do it. Hugh later told me that singing at that assembly gave him the determination he needed to pursue his goal.
Four years later Hugh was a top-rank operatic performer at the MET in NYC. He had voice-trained at Julliard, had some corrective surgery that improved the resonance in his voice, and he had become the Met's leading baritone. I had looked forward to hearing him on the Saturday afternoon Met broadcasts, particularly during the war years. Next I knew, he was concertizing around the country after the war, but no longer singing at the Met. Why? I wondered.
In a letter some 35 years later, Hugh explained. When he was at the top at the Met, Composer Richard Rogers had heard him and approached him saying, "I'm working on an operetta South Pacific which has in it a role I'd like you to sing." (Emile LeBec - "Some Enchanted Evening") Hugh signed a contract for Broadway performances. But when Imressario Bing heard about it, he told Hugh that if he sang on Broadway, that would be the end
of his Met career: it had to be exclusively the Met.
Hugh passed this information back to Rogers, who said in effect: "O. K. I'll let you out of the contract if you can find another met singer in your stead." Hugh then recommended Ezio Pinza because he knew Pinza was having difficulty with high notes recently. But Bing would not forgive Hugh Thompson for having "defected".
As a 'cellist, I played for three years in the symphony orchestra in Tacoma,
and on one time in Seattle; at University of Chicago where we played once for
Hindemith one of his new pieces; then Oakland, California; then Harvard (where
my stand partner in 1940 was Andy Rice, who unexpectedly turned up again as we
played together 58 years later in the Columbia Orchestra in Maryland). In
Through the years my tastes among classical composers have shifted. For a while Mozart was favorite, then Bach, then Brahms, the Mahler, then Bruckner, then Dvorak. Most of Beethoven has seemed ostentatious and bombastic - with some outstanding exceptions. Beethoven is fun to play because of the quirks and challenges present in his craftsmanship; but I usually feel that he has composed for effect or for self-satisfaction more readily than he has composed for audience enjoyment.
One concluding comment: in the last fifteen years of the century there seems to have been an unheralded contest between recording orchestra to see which one can play compositions fastest and most showily. It seems to me all the notes of the scale were intended to be heard as each composer wrote them, not sloughed over; not as many artists, and ensembles, can perform at rapid speeds, glissading or simply hinting at sequences of notes rather than lining them out, trying to make an than impression, or just so that the conductor can make the performance sound brilliant and stunning.
[Another incident relating to music and involving a 20th century composer appears in PART I "Chiang Wen-yeh"]
Here, "Ideology" includes beliefs, convictions, aspirations, outlooks, religion, motivations, goals.
Much of it, in youthful years, was simply inherited, consisting of formulated opinions, creeds, dogma. It was as if the family had overspecialized in such things. We were great at being able to explain and justify where we stood. It seemed that the "brighter" you are, the more aggressive can be your assertions; hence the more secure and assertive you can be.
But way back in Sunday School I always had misgivings about what seemed to be exaggerations, fantasies, or dreams. Somehow, I could not accept symbolism - translate from symbols to realistic counterparts - for each realm seemed to have its own differing entourage of relevancies. I couldn't conceive of God as having the attributes of person: that wasn't enough. And if God was beyond being human, upon what should our knowledge of God be founded?
As a child, therefore, I think I more or less put God on hold. But there was no denying that people around me acted and talked as if there was reality there. One had to accept that fact, and it didn't seem to do any harm; in fact, in some ways, especially at Christmastime, it seemed to do a lot of good.
Social conscience - a sense of obligation toward the society and a need to conform to code, so as to preserve social harmony and cooperation, that conscience was clearly valid and indispensable. Such recognition did not need to come from religious indoctrination; it had plenty of sanction in historical land contemporary realities.
When I reached 14, I concluded, at first privately, that God exists in all of us - that each of us has a piece of God within us. At that same time I decided that Jesus was an historical figure who had been deified by humankind out of desire and needs
of their own. When I expressed these views to my Dad, it shocked and upset him. I was talking Humanism, denying spiritual values, he said; and for him, that was reprehensible: it was heresy. He and I never did get back on the same wavelength: we never discussed any religious concept further. And, as for codification of morality, such formulas were abundant just in our cultural environment. Kipling's IF for instance, which I mounted on the wall.
Then when Dad died suddenly two years later, and when I could see how greatly he had been esteemed in the community, my thinking took a different turn. Not that I came to believe in his immortality - or anybody's, for that matter; it was simply a matter of feeling remorse and guilt, and of feeling an obligation to try to achieve and to be successful: life's values had to be taken more earnestly to heart. So began two to three years of
devout attention to my ideals. I attended church religiously
and became active in church youth-group and other activities. Representative of
that phase in my life, perhaps, was an incident at summer church youth camp at Seabeck on
Virginity was part of the righteousness code.
I think I took devoutness from religion and applied it to my own sanctity, of course wholly without realizing that this is what was actually taking place. Social morality however, which had sanctions both in the religious heritage and in the intellectual realm, particularly in those idealistic times, remained solid and real. Would compromises become possible?
As regards ideology, the university's intellectual atmosphere threw a new
light on everything: so much was new! Particularly the sages
and philosophers of ancient
Concern over a program to advance world peace took highest priority in youth
group discussions at the University YMCA. After the European adventure (see
PART II, Hitler Takes Power ), all of this was welcome
fodder for thought and earnest endeavor - even more so, of course, after the
So discussions about international and interracial relations, and about labor rights and social justice, - these became the fulcrums of our crusades. I joined movements; wrote letters to newspapers and to congressmen; spoke up in meetings; attended rallies. This was a new and more specific focus for religious convictions. It was the atmosphere at the time, and it seemed likewise to grow out of national efforts to move beyond the Depression, into a new era.
Our crusades for pacifism and economic reform characterized all of us as
1930's "hot-heads". And in my situation after returning from
Conventional religion seemed content with itself and hardly concerned over socio-economic changes; in fact such changes were rued as threatening to true Faith. Certain liberal leaders however found in religion not variance from, but support for their aims and programs. Among the pacifists the Fellowship of Reconciliation, which I joined, was out in front. But it was not a worship group, and its program was overtly political.
Fundamental to my beliefs and goals was a faith in youth and in education: knowledge would mean power - power to make changes for the good; thence came a commitment to higher education as a career. I could not foresee how graduate school, with its intensive pressures to master details and to look at all sides of every situation, would become seemingly unsuited to my ambitious goals. Then when the time came and the nitty-gritty of graduate school specialization imploded, it was simply a chore that had to be carried out with patience over the time it took.
In consequence of my earlier pacifist connections, when actual, declared war
broke out in the fall of 1941, I volunteered to assist Quakers of the American
Friends Service Committee, in their ministry to urgent needs of resident US
Japanese who were being displaced from the west coast. Some were being
imprisoned because they belonged to certain patriotic Japanese social groups,
such as war-veterans. Others, even American citizens who had been through
school with me, were ordered to report for evacuation, leaving behind their
property and most of what they owned. It was hard for me to believe that
blanket racial discrimination was being carried out thus by the
Evacuation started first with
We ate Japanese food: kelp and seaweed; turnips and pickles; and I lost weight. Occasionally FBI military people came in to remove a man or small group of men. On one occasion fisheries people came to interview one man whose calling had been to dive for a particular kind of kelp from which agar-agar, now vital with respect to the war effort, was obtained. They wanted him to tell them how it is done. Naturally he cooperated.
After the American Japanese were interned in their camps, the Quaker workers and I visited Manzanar and Poston, located inland on deserts, bringing to the internees news and encouragement and trying to bolster morale behind the barbed wire. It was sad to see young couples deprived of privacy. It seemed anomalous that some of these young men were being drafted.
Drafted myself in June of 1942, I began four and a half years of Civilian
Public Serve. I was 26, a pacifistic idealist with beliefs reinforced by three
successive years of graduate education in three of the country's prestigious
Civilian Public Service was the alternative to military service. It was for
those who wouldn't even serve as "meds", unarmed. It was like the
CCC, mostly manual labor in backcountry camps, usually for the Forest Service.
The camps were operated by the three pacifist religious sects - Quakers
(Society of Friends), Church of the Brethren, and Mennonites; and there was no
pay. We received allowances of $7/month. Leave was infrequent.
"Liberals" or "non-affiliates" were sent to Quaker camps
partly because the Quakers would accept them more openly; but also because
their presence there might prove less disruptive of pietistic traditions. This
CPS program segregated the objectors, making them less visible to, and less
interactive with the public at large; it gave them no
privileges nor income; and it forced the avowed pacifists to get along
with one another in circumstances of stress. It was brilliantly conceived and
carefully supervised by General Lewis B. Hershey whose
In the case of us idealistic crusaders and would-be paragons of virtue, with ideas as how everything should be done, this was poetic justice - putting us all together, in competition with our own kind. Would-be saints can be a pain....Consequently the CPS years were bound to serve as cooling-off time.
I was first assigned to the Quaker camp at
We rotated assignments: cooking, washing clothes, cleaning, making repairs,
and well as changing job assignments. The food was adequate but frugal and
monotonous. Work was arduous, difficult, and routine, for six days a week, 8 to
Already in the Sino-Japanese war scene in
For three months in the summer of 1943 nevertheless, I was in training first
When October arrived, exotic duty such as Fred and I had had, was ruled out.
I returned to a CPS forestry camp east of the Sierras, as reported elsewhere in
this account. But that summertime escape to Pendle
Hill and Yale and
For a year I served as an attendant-nurse at the Infirmary of Byberry State Hospital in the northern suburbs of
I was assigned to a ward of 48 beds, the "terminal" wing of the infirmary where chronic cases were sent to spend their final days. We worked in teams of two. One third of our patients were restrained to their beds; the others wandered around or just sat. There was usually about one death per week. Occasionally there were scuffles or fights. Some patients would decorate themselves or the wall with feces. A few were contorted into pretzel-like configurations from having spent years curled up in fetal position. Besides us CPS men there were occasional worker-patients from other wards, clear-minded enough, most of the time, to be useful and to help out during the day shift. The situation was not totally bereft of humor however. As a rule, deeply psychotic patients do not talk to one another, but I recall one senile man at the far corner of the ward, imagining that he was in dire peril, calling from his bed, "Oh save me! Quick, come and help me, before I fall in!" Then from the opposite end of the ward came a voice, from another bedridden senile man, "Hold on, now. Hold on tight! I'm coming, and I'll save you! Yep, I'm on my way!"
"Oh thank you! You're gonna be a hero. God bless you. I hope you can stand for being a hero. Where are you now?"
"At the corner of Olive and 32nd st; but don't worry, I'll get to you; I'll save you. So hold on."
"Well, don't dally or fool around; get here as fast as you can or it'll be too late."
"I'm coming; yup, here I am! Now aren't you glad?!"
"Gee, thanks. Oh boy. There that feels great; but what took you so long?"
"I'm still coming. Just hold tight."
We changed beds (not enough clean linens available half the time), hand-fed patients, changed dressings over chronic wounds, showered, emptied urinals, distributed limited medications. Very few drugs were dispensed in our ward because its patients had already been adjudged terminal and most of the insane had become accustomed to suffering silently.
At Byberry (which improved significantly after the war), I began to think that my absolutist pacifist stance might have been a mistake. It had isolated me from what everybody else was involved with; and why should I have thought myself to be something special? Certainly I had not got far toward crusading successfully for my beliefs in the world; no, in fact the world had ignored me and gone its own way. Why should I be left behind? I asked my mother for money to take flying lessons at the nearby local airport, and she came through.
WW II came to a complete close while I was still at Byberry,
but my release from conscription did not come until winter of 1946. The Quakers
by that time were fielding not only another ambulance group, but a rural
rehabilitation team - perhaps to be sponsored and financed under UNRRA (U.N.
Relief and Rehabilitation Agency, then headed by Mayor LaGuardia from NYC). So
I went with a team of other pacifists to a training program regarding tractors
to be used in rural rehabilitation. Unfortunately that program got delayed; but
out of it came different work connected with UNRRA in D.C. Hopeful that it
might lead to actual relief work in
What influence would two years of intensive psychotherapy (akin to
psychoanalysis) have on the ideology (beliefs) of an intellectual in his early
30's? In 1947, upon return from
That sanitarium was Chestnut Lodge at
Respecting therapy, the prevailing approaches were those of two internationally known gurus: Frieda Fromm-Reichman, who stressed interpersonal interdependence, and Harry Stack Sullivan who emphasized the social implications of all behavioral stances and interrelations. My own therapist was being supervised by Sullivan. It seemed to me that he absorbed the best that Sullivan had to offer, plus a unique Inquisitional style of treatment that was of his own devising. These therapists got to know you inside out. You got mad at them; you got depressed; you agonized; you had to grope for possession of your own soul. The end result was to put a more solid perspective upon everything - so that you trusted yourself, with confidence, when that was all that was left to you. It did not depend upon what you believed, nor upon hoping for the external world to change. You didn't just take pills; and it wasn't magic.
Following Chestnut Lodge came marriage; and with marriage and children one tends to accept and value conventional situations, such as church membership, voting, club affiliations, etc. So I went back into the Presbyterian fold, and entered community affairs: wrote articles and edited little periodicals;
joined community organizations, attended neighborhood events.
It seemed there were plenty of organizations or movements that needed support. I campaigned for and supported certain selected election candidates - Democrats as it happened - and the ones I have supported have had long and fruitful terms in office.
Locally, on the fringe of our Relay, MD community we discovered that a
certain research lab facility operated by Martin-Marietta Company had buried
toxic wastes underground (some of them surfaced in somebody's back yard). We
took the issue to the EPA, and I made a trip to
Another local campaign related to how reading is taught: the Dick-Spot-Jane method that produces almost illiterate handlers of the language. I taught my three boys to read, easily, at age 5, before they met Dick and Jane; and they've each separately expressed their thanks. In trying to get the professional Educators to see the problem, I wrote a "Syllabic Workbook" for remedial use by Dick-and-Jane victims, or to assist the phonics approach; but nobody would publish or promote it.
My new, more modest crusading impulses later found two main outlets: nature conservation & trails; and social justice concerns. Nature and trails has been dealt with in detail elsewhere in these annals, with one exception. It has sometimes seemed to me that I have specialized in lost causes, and here is one sample:
The original National Scenic Trails Act that was passed in 1968 during the
Johnson administration authorizes a "Potomac Heritage National Scenic
Trail". Dreamed up by a zealous bureaucrat, the proposed trail was to
extend from the C & O Canal eastward along the Potomac to the Chesapeake
Bay – and on both sides of the river, no less; westward along the Potomac and
over the Alleghenies to join the existing Allegheny Highlands Trail SE of
Pittsburgh. No federal money was to be appropriated, and because of Senator
Byrd's alert and protective cover for coal and timber interests, none of the
Trail was allowed on
I spent six years, between other things, covering much of the ground,
talking with landowners, conducting explorations with hiking-club members,
mapping various alternate routes. Others meanwhile had determined that it was
no longer feasible to consider anything along the river east of
Westward out of
At one point we thought we could get an easement to use an abandoned Western
Maryland Railroad route between
Finally, after three years of exploration and effort, I was able to establish a through route about 60 miles long, depending upon verbal permissions from four different landowners parts of whose land the route crossed. We mapped it and we prepared a small guidebook for the route, and I put up markers at critical junctions. As far as I know, it was used by only three groups subsequently. Moreover, there were no hiking clubs in the area which might, or could, maintain the trail - in spite of long stretches on State forest lands, jeep trails, and cleared power lines.
Meanwhile county and commercial interests in
Thus the Potomac Heritage trail evolved into a drawing-board fiasco; but I felt I had carried it farther than it had ever deserved.
Social justice refers to my having spent several senior years with certain members of Presbytery of Baltimore's Peace and Justice Committee. We made monthly visits to our Maryland Senators and sometimes also to Representative in Washington, each time with one of two major concerns that were founded on positions taken by our national deliberative body, the General Assembly, which meets annually. Those pilgrimages, however, were not graced by altruism alone, because I relished what the Senators would tell us about inside maneuvers, and similarly what we would learn from two-hour briefings by the Presbyterian Washington Office as to what was happening inside the Beltway.
In the late 1960's the eminent Theologian Paul Tillich
That local church soon had to merge with a neighboring Presbyterian Church, to worship over there. At first we had two different congregations, habitual clusters, using the same worship but not really keen on fraternizing or collaborating on a one-to-one basis. At that point a new pastor, the first Presbyterian woman pastor in the Baltimore Presbytery, entered the scene. She was neutral of course, which was helpful; and her friendly and inclusive and attentive manner eventually brought cohesiveness to the new congregation of one single church. Her Gospel was one of social congeniality and relaxed friendship. It was not strong on theology, which was somewhat surprising because she had graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary. In those days, late 1960's however, the Princetonians didn't expect their few women students to be preaching and teaching: more likely they were husband-hunting, having a preference for men of the cloth. Actually our reverend mother did marry a Presbyterian man of the cloth after all, and they had two young giant basketball-playing sons.
The old church building in Relay, then unused, was made available to a group of Roman Catholics who were forming a congregation with ties to the new University of Maryland campus ministry, in an ecumenical endeavor. These were strongly liberal Catholics, considered to be almost theological renegades from set orthodoxy, who continued to rent the church - and who worshipped jointly with the original Presbyterians at regular intervals even after buying the old church building in 1998.
One thing I learned during Phase 2 is that a truly spiritual realm can be approached only in meditation or prayer, because it is contingent upon becoming detached from more immediate, lesser pre-occupations; and it must be devoid of pre-conceptions, for it must be totally receptive, even to disappointment, should that eventuate. Ideologies, in contrast to that, can inflate us with a false sense of importance - or make us believe that strategies alone will supply all of the answers.
I was always an eager theater-goer but a very critical one.
Besides, there was hardly a first-rate movie film between 1925 and about 1980 that I did not see. That included documentaries travel and foreign films as well. As to taking part myself, I acted on stage in junior high school and in my Senior Class Play at high school; and in my teens I also had lead roles in a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta and in Romberg's "The Desert Song".
In later years I acted again in movies and in TV commercials, and again on stage.
As an audience member I tried to attend plays whenever I could, whether
professional or amateur. But beginning in the late 1970's, after our social
Anyway I became very unhappy about dramatic offerings, both name plays and lesser new plays. I actually began to believe that I could write better ones myself than those I was seeing. There was precedent for me to try: in 1957 I had written a play about a mental sanitorium using people I had known at Chestnut Lodge as models for its characters. It was a heavy tragi-drama and it revealed a lot about psychotherapy. Most people's first attempts at play-writing tend to have large elements of autobiographic material; and so too it was with this play which I called "Never Say Die".
Strangely enough, Never say Die almost made it. At least what happened was that I sent it to an NYC impresario who liked it and recommended that I rework some parts of it. That I did. But then l heard nothing for some time. When I inquired by phone I was told that my play had been set aside because "Sweet Bird of Youth" by Tennessee Williams had arrived and taken priority. That was the end of "Never Say Die". I revised it somewhat in 2000, but it has never been performed.
Then, 22 years later when a local theater group had just started giving
stock plays at the Relay Town Hall, I not only got involved in acting some key
roles, but began to write plays that this company might conceivably perform.
Most of them were comedies, and about a dozen such plays evolved over a period
of ten years. I was convinced that plays should make people in the audience
feel something, and make them think about the play afterwards; they didn't have
to be sensationalistic, preposterous or coarse. Only one of my plays was
produced, receiving 12 performances in
For ten years in the 1980's and 1990's I have been connected with the
Baltimore Playwrights Festival under which from three to seven small local
amateur theaters fill their summer venues with plays that win productions in
competition. That has put me in contact with contemporaries in the community of
amateur theaters, which in
I was on stage also, even at age 80; but had trouble remembering lines as age advanced - particularly if the lines seemed awkward, unconvincing to me, or unnatural. I have noticed that some of the best amateur actors, in addition to the stringent pride they take in their work, are capable to become, temporarily, the very character they portray; and in some instances their own natural characters are either bland or exotic. Isn't everybody? Yes. But most of us lack ability to switch into another character completely, in and out. I suspect it is also a characteristic that can affect their ability to memorize lines quickly and accurately.
Stage acting also gave an opportunity for me to make a bit of cash as I starred in several medical training films and in TV commercials - as a victim of cataract, heart attack, depression, hypertension, and as a pharmacy customer. These stints could be fun: for instance in one film at a nursing home I had to throw a bedpan at a nurse. Work before the camera is time-consuming, highly repetitive, fragmented and somehow unconvincing - almost as if entirely phony. I acted in only three big-screen movies, but without speaking roles.
I have abandoned about four of my plays and have rewritten the rest at least once. Trying to get plays considered, accepted, and produced calls for a special knack. It often depends ultimately on who knows whom and who trusts whom. I have had no luck with promoting plays, because I don't know how to do it.
It would be unfair to leave the theater window before telling you about two
incidents that occurred in community theaters in
At Vagabond Players (which boast to be the oldest continuous playhouse in the country, starting in 1916) a drama more real than was expected, and more diverting, broke out when one of the characters on stage was attacked by somebody in the audience. It was not the drama's realism that provoked it; no, something totally different. One of the actors had noticed that a particular member of the audience seated close to the stage had brought into the theater something like a crowbar and a bottle, stored under his seat. This actor tried to get word to somebody backstage to check on it, but before he could devise a suitable exit to do so, the man had stood up, loudly denounced his targeted actor as a "son of a bitch betrayer!" and thrown the open bottle and gasoline onto the actor. He was then intercepted just as he was about to ignite the gasoline with his lighter. It was a personal feud that had intruded into the play, apparently over the break-up of an intense relationship. Police and the law took over, and the crowbar was not used.
Another incident occurred in 1996 when I was onstage at the Fells PointCorner Theater in "Nothing Sacred". Written by George F. Walker, a Canadian, it is based on Turgenev's novel FATHERS AND SONS. In our cast the father and the son were in real life father and son, both first-rate actors, yet, as in the play itself, of different minds and dedications. The generational gap embodied here in two different eras, so to speak. The play climaxes with a pistol duel between father and son in which, on the second exchange of shots, the son is mortally wounded. I was playing the old family retainer who dispensed the pistols and counted the paces as the father and son faced their fate(s). Well, one night, for some strange reason, the father's pistol failed to fire the shot that was supposed to wound his son. Only click! Whereupon the son turned his pistol on himself, suiciding instead of being shot. We carried him out as usual, and it slightly changed the exact thrust of the play; but nobody in the audience seemed to catch on, I guess that's the real essence of theater, after all: make them believe what they see! The young man's final deathbed scene could proceed - thanks to the actor's presence of mind.
A real tragedy did occur however, because a year later this young actor died of a drug overdose. When that happened, his father was playing the role of the William Jennings Bryan character in INHERIT THE WIND, and despite the personal tragedy of losing his son during the show's run, he didn't fail to give outstanding performances. Hardly any of us in that large cast knew about his loss. A few of the father’s lines were halting on one particular night....
Why does "parenting" appear here as a special topic? For most people, parenting is a natural process, one that gives tremendous satisfactions, but disappointments as well. It appears here because in this instance it became complicated.
There were two marriages and three sons were born. There were two divorces, and two of the sons I did not raise and one I raised alone. That happened because both mothers met with misfortunes. Attorneys and judges were involved; doctors as well.
Betty Miller (Carter) became my wife in 1950, when I returned to Harvard to
complete my higher academic degrees. She moved north from
Stephen, a blond with blue eyes, was born in 1951; and David, with dark complexion, was born a year and a half later.
Betty was quite disappointed because she had wanted a daughter. She seemed
not to care much about David, though she didn't neglect him completely. In 1953
This cut deeply because I was very close to both children: I had taught
Stephen a lot of his vocabulary, and I gave David much special attention to
make up for the times his mother ignored him. Both were quite attached to me
and to our
A year later Betty had a psychotic episode and was cared
for by staff personnel at Chestnut Lodge. At that point she phoned
asking me to "come and get the boys". They seemed happy to be back in
Betty had never wanted to talk about her background, and it wasn't until
we'd been married about two years that she told me how she had come to be
adopted by the Millers at age nine, from the orphanage. When she was five, she
and a younger half brother had seen her own mother shot to death by a man who
was not her father, because of a new infidelity. Her blood father had already
remarried and moved to
Betty went to court again, with the same result. But two years later, in 1960 I remarried and this time I did get custody with hopes that at last there would be a unified and nurturing family atmosphere. It lasted a year this time before Betty went to court once again, well after a divorce action that I had filed in 1956, and she had custody of the boys from then until they finished high school. During two of the summers I was able to have the boys for two months at a time and took them across the continent and on various outings.
The custody matter was complicated by its costs. Lawyers' time was not cheap. But beyond that, with a second marriage in the offing, it was like trying to support two households. Besides, my payments to Betty were sustaining her way of life and irregular expenditures, only a small part of which appeared to directly benefit our sons - actually to the contrary.
The second marriage was to Joan Johnson, a schoolteacher who had recently
taught servicemen's children in
Stephen and David were back with their mother, and I found a neighbor woman whose fifth child was the same age as Martin, who was willing to take care of him when I was away at work. Trying to find competent and desirable housekeepers, as I learned during all of these struggles to take care of the children, was virtually an impossible feat. Mrs. Andersen was ideally suited to give Martin good and loving care.
One day however, a neighbor called me at work 20 miles away, with word that
Joan, then released from the State hospital into the custody of her brother in
Then I found a housekeeper, Mrs. Nell Miller, a widow whose boyfriend would arrive every Saturday to take the two of them to the horse racetrack(s). Mrs. Miller was not a warm person by nature, but she competent. She stayed until Martin was old enough for school.
The foregoing had proved stressful for me, and a cancerous tumor had started to grow in my large intestine (where my maternal grandmother had a similar tumor. My problem was misdiagnosed by three different physicians however, before that was corrected two years later. Meanwhile all three sons would occasionally join me on Mountain Club hikes and overnight excursions. Joan and I divorced four years after Martin had been abducted. She was able to work subsequently and she continued her psychiatric consultations.
Betty was hospitalized intermittently and ultimately thought to be an Alzheimer's patient. She was in a nursing home for more than twenty years. In 2000 the postman handed me her ashes one day at the door.
Now we turn to the sons. Stephen was a brilliant student and won a
David had problems concentrating in school, possibly partly because he was
loaded up dilantin and phenobarbitol. He slithered by with mostly D's, but played
clarinet in the school band. He showed little interest in becoming an achiever.
Upon graduating, he worked as a roofer in a company owned by a friend's father
for two years, then chose to move to
Martin Pierce, the third son, was the one that I raised alone, from eight
months of age. Serious by nature, well
coordinated, but not particularly warm in disposition, He became a strong hiker
and outdoorsman. His high school class
featured him as its valedictory speaker. He won a full scholarship at
In his second year at
“Okay”,” I said, not wanting to be uncooperative. I got out my reference dictionaries of names of places, names of persons, and calendar conversions. To my amazement, as we worked down the columns of characters, the boy was able to read right along, translating expertly as if from some innate capability that was totally beyond my reach. I had studied classical Chinese written language for at least five years, yet there he was outstripping my capabilities in an amazing way!
Therefore, it was no surprise when Martin Pierce continued his
Wei-shen, although she had a small son, decided to
add medicine to her biophysical qualifications.
She entered medical school at the
So, parenting proved difficult. It took a lot of effort. My unfortunate marriage situations - why those? It seemed to come with the terrain, partly because of the turbulent middle part of the 20th century and partly because of distinctive features of my social heritage: cultivated saints can have trouble over affection, both receiving and giving.
Where do I stand on the scale of human dispositions or temperaments? In what way(s) am I like everybody else; and in what way(s) am I distinctive or different? For adolescents these can be haunting questions. Apparently my own adolescence has been a prolonged one, in some respects still incomplete, because in this area I am still finding answers - even in the closing years.
The family heritage takes a peculiar stand regarding sociability as a handmaiden for individuality. It ingrains Anglo-Saxon reticence regarding intimacy - physical intimacy in particular. We are not a touchy-feely sort. Maybe we don't fully trust one another not to try to steal something from one another. Would mutuality threaten that distrust?
Anyway, physical affection in the family abjured sentiment: it tended to be formalistic in substance. We didn't really trust our innate impulses not to sweep us away in a flood of passion that might deny us our intellectual controls. Of course nobody ever explained this, partly because you can't talk about what passion is without getting somewhat close to it. But the message of avoidance was there, hedged with almost sacred mystery.
Under the Victorian codes, people were supposed to approximate paragons or saints, at least outwardly; and physical intimacy was carefully regulated whenever possible. Sex should not exist - why? Maybe because angels and deities, being supernatural, were above that sort of thing. It was to be considered simply sub-human.
Social intercourse operated under fixed rules. When puberty hit me at age eleven (as it did with both of my brothers), the only thing I knew was that babies did not just appear as if from heaven, and that was something I had figured out for myself. I had had no inkling that seeking pleasure could be partner to the procedure of procreation. Dreams gave broad hints; but not until after I turned 12 did neighborhood boys show me the true secret - which, because of the Heritage, I immediately considered sinful. But it was unavoidable; this precious secret called for experimentation and exploitation. But what about girls and women? Weren't they free from this sort of dilemma? Everything I knew and had seen seemed to be convincing of that fact. Women only became involved in order to get babies. That was their sole motive: to get married first and then to have a baby.
Interaction between people, between sexes, was publicly regulated, codified. All social and cultural activities operated in such a way as to support this code. How come I didn't fit into it, or it to my apparent needs? So this new, important, very personal aspect of my existence had to go underground.
In retrospect I have come to realize, belatedly, that my early puberty indicated a hefty endowment of glandular over-development - a very vigorous prostate. Sex was pervasive and irrepressible. I could masturbate three or four times a day in adolescence, and erections were a continual problem. As far as girls were concerned, I felt I had to avoid them or at least avoid interpersonal closeness with them, otherwise --. Objective platonic relations were o.k., but that was all.
Meanwhile I learned of course, through more relaxed interaction with other boys, that some of them faced problems similar to my own, as we compared notes and kidded around. But that was at an infantile or animal level; it didn't count, except as education or entertaining diversion. At that time there were two social worlds: the formal, significant, adult, real world of grown-ups, and the more relaxed and changeable world of those who had not yet been initiated into the adult world. In this second world you could be yourself; whereas in the adult world you played a role that took over some responsibilities that hitherto had been avoided.
Gradually as adolescence progressed I observed how the adults dealt with this matter: how some of them retained in secret the allures of personal privacy and independence even while conforming - even if somewhat superficially or half-heartedly - to the adult code. As regards females, I remained a virgin until an episode with a prostitute at age 19. That didn't clarify anything, nor was it satisfying: it was simply mechanical. I began to conclude that a more appropriate outlet for impulses of lust would be with persons similar to myself and therefore without emotional involvement and within a framework of adventure rather than one that involved intimacy of personality. Then I discovered that such liaisons were possible also with similarly inclined females - though I could never be sure that they would not want to cling, or blame, or claim.
Aware of this upsurging dynamic in my private life and its social implications, I sought medical advice - at each graduate school's health service, for example - and I took a year of hormone injections, which seemed to change nothing; I also interviewed with Dr. Alfred Kinsey for the Kinsey report on sexual practices and habits (which was somewhat reassuring).
Even after my two marriages - both of which were satisfying to me regarding physical intimacy in every respect - I did not realize for years and years that probably I could be classed as bisexual - or, as I prefer to term it, ambi-sexual. During my married years, incidentally, sexual urges were fewer but greatly enjoyable; they were in the proper social context for human beings. I had found out quite early in the game that I couldn't stand confirmed homosexuals who practiced sex, particularly those who wanted interpersonal, lasting love relationships. No, promiscuity was closer akin to my sexuality - except with persons I really cared about enough to want to live with like a relative in a family setting. The ideal relationship was physical intimacy accompanied by intellectual and emotional compatibility such as marriage nurtures. In other respects one can have recourse to lustful episodes that are merely temporary substitutions, readily forgettable gratifications of an itch.
In the final analysis the thing that counts is the way we interact with others - in humor, in stress, in conflict, in mutual joy, in creative efforts, in simple companionship: the way we listen, encourage, criticize, share, help, instruct, sympathize, empathize, contribute, - even complain.
In my sexual ventures I have always tried to be careful not to hurt another person - at least not by intention - and by good fortune that has usually been the case. But some episodes in the past were not wholly discriminating and did become known - and talked about - and held against me, particularly when it was thought that I might be out-and-out homosexual, impelled by predatory motives. (This is an understandable discrimination, because one element in most sexual liaisons can be an exploitation of the weakness or vulnerability of another person. Sometimes it arises out or vengeful motives, but it can also arise from envy - from a desire to find in some other human being something that one desires to find within oneself. Low self-esteem is a high component of this.)
I think that homosexuality is not helpful to society. It is relatively fruitless behavior. Bisexually inclined persons can sometimes make a choice in that regard; it has happened again and again both in past generations and in our times. But certainly I do not find myself in position to criticize - and certainly not discriminate - against anybody whose sexual outlets, however distinctive, do not harm or denigrate other persons' self esteem. It is particularly important to protect young persons from being exploited in their inexperience and vulnerability.
In this century we have seen a cycle from Victorian perfectionism and abstemiousness to full open license regarding sex, to the point of an AIDS epidemic and battles over contraception. Population control has become a must.
It is tempting to consider that maybe the two most significant single developments of this century have been atomic energy and birth control. Second to that, perhaps, enhancement of the transfer of information.
CHAPTER 17: Inventing a Talkwriter
[Explanatory Note: Toward the close of the century an automatic dictation device with a broad vocabulary of print-out words was marketed for the first time. In essence it was an elaborate computer program coupled to certain high-powered computational device. You could dictate a memo to it and watch it print out the results as you went along. Thirty years prior to that, using the term "talkwriter" which I coined, I had set out to try to design a device of that nature, and seven patents resulted, in time - but without a finished product.]
Characteristics of the marketed product were:
a) it first had to memorize for each speaker's voice the various distinguishing ways that he/she enunciated, in context, some 35 different speech elements - an exercise that took at least 25 minutes for each voice, only one at a time;
b) with running-speech (no artificial pause inserted after each word so as to separate it from others around it), it depends upon techniques developed for strategic intelligence needs in picking out individual words (e.g., names) from bodies of spoken material; so it needed contextual background. Consequently it instead of yielding results word-by-word in real time, it dishes out phrase by phrase; that was because it needed context in order to find the right words in the right sequence. It didn't work too well with words in isolation. Under those limitations, at deliberate, careful dictational speed, an accuracy rate of 97% is claimed.
My design called for somewhat less precision of print-out. Intended for instantly transcribing first drafts, and using a few occasional phonetic transcriptions that would allow a reader to reconstruct what had been intended, this device would accept input from about 90% of the potential users after only 20-30 seconds' adjustment to voice traits for each new voice. It calls for slow but not disconnected speech; and by improving the quality of their diction, users can get better results: the machine will "learn" to give better results as the user find out how best to enunciate for it. Since its design involves elaborate phonetic details to a greater extent, and a phonemic analysis of the language, it will be more versatile at using different voices, and will be more word-dependent on the oral side, than the marketed devices are. The Talkwriter will yield a more precise representation of what was said, whereas the new commercial devices will yield more polished written texts. A print-out capacity of 100,000 words comes with the newly marketed versions, whereas the Talkwriter offers about 20,000 of the most commonly used words, with phonetic spelling for others; but specialized vocabularies and addition of new words could be added.
A P P E N D I X: I N V E N T I NG A T A L K W R I T E R
[The following is an account of my failure to become an innovator and entrepreneur,
appended here because it is too specialized and detailed for most readers. In 1967 when the writer was suffering with undiagnosed colon cancer and had just given up law school at night, he thought he could develop – and possibly market – a device that could convert
connected-word (running) speech instantaneously into written print-out. That endeavor took up his spare time and eventually exhausted a family inheritance. It was an effort that lasted over a span of thirty years but fell short of success. Meanwhile, a different kind
of approach to that sort of invention was marketed by other established commercial enterprises and approaches –despite the author’s seven patents.]
It will help first to distinguish differences between the commercially available devices that are now marketed cheaply and the kind of "Talkwriter" that I designed and partially developed as a prototype. The closest commercial rival to my Talkwriter approach has the following characteristics:
it is a computer-connected program: it operates only with a p.c. (personal computer). Its aim is to achieve near-perfectly-textual, visual read-outs – with 97% accuracy,
based upon an exhaustive dictionary of printout words.
it can handle only one speaker’s voice short of needing half an hour to adjust to another voice. It has to distinguish and memorize, for each speaker’s voice, the distinctive was he/she enunciates some 35 different elements of speech, doing so in the context of natural talking.
With running speech (no artificial pause inserted after each word so as to
separate it from others around it), it depends upon techniques developed for strategic intelligence needs in picking out individual words (e.g., names) from bodies of spoken material; so it needed contextual background. Consequently instead of yielding results word-byword in real time, it dishes out phrase by phrase; that is because it needs context in order to find the right words in the right sequence. It doesn’t work too well with words in isolation. Under those limitations, at deliberate, careful dictational speed, an accuracy rate of 97% is claimed.
My Talkwriter design called for somewhat less precision of print-out. It was intended for instantly transcribing first drafts and,using a few occasional phonetic transcriptions that would allow a reader to reconstruct what had been said, that device would accept input from about 90% of the potential users after only 20-30 seconds’ adjustment to voice traits from each new voice. It calls for slow, but not disconnected, speech; and by improving the quality of their diction, users can get improved results: the machine will "learn" to give better results as the user finds out how best to enunciate for it. Since its design involves elaborate phonetic details to a greater extent, and uses a phonemic analysis of the language, it will be more versatile at using different voices; it also will be more word-dependent, orally, than the marketed devices are. The Talkwriter will yield a more precise representation of what sounds it heard, whereas the new commercial devices will yield more polished written texts. A print-out capacity of 100,000 words comes with the newly marketed devices, whereas the Talkwriter offers about 20,000 of the most commonly used words, with phonetic spellings for others; but specialized vocabularies and addition of new words could be included in the Talkwriter.
What happened with the Talkwriter idea? Here’s the story….
a) The Concept
b) Problems and Objectives
c) The First Design and Initial Quest for Acceptance
d) The Two Tier Method
e) Conflicts and Potential Conflicts
f) Joint Partnership and Other Efforts
g) The Carnegie-Mellon Assessment
h) The Funding Quest Continues
i) Development Work at RELA in 1987
j) Continuation after RELA
k) Terminal Blind Alleys
"Talkwriter" refers to a device that can convert spoken words into written ones automatically and instantaneously – seemingly a magic microphone that listens to and renders in writing what it hears; or, it can direct action in obedience to what it hears, serving as ear for a servile device. A talkwriter thus appears to recognize or comprehend speech. It seems to take the meanings that speech intends and translates them into either commands for mechanical responses, or into equivalent expression in writing.
This art has been given the name "speech recognition", and the talkwriter device is a specialized instrument for implementing it.
The term "speech recognition" is in some ways misleading. Supposedly it means mechanical identification of spoken words – to extract meaning from what is uttered: a form of mechanical perception. But "recognition" is a poor term because the
"-cognition" part is a human accomplishment that involves interpretation. As such, it cannot be wholly mechanized – not unless we use robots to handle that.. Mechanized speech "analysis" would be a more appropriate term, because that describes what is being attempted without stressing interpretative results. The person who reads, or who seeks to understand, will always be the ultimate interpreter of speech.
One trouble with speech "recognition" as a name for this technology is that it implies there can be perfect conversion or equivalence between oral information, for one thing, and data to be revealed at the other end, including writing. The real substance of communication, actually, is semantic in its nature – as sign language shows us. Concepts are involved, and comprehension is in some ways a creative process. We perceive sometimes all, or sometimes less, of what is intended for us, depending upon how well we grasp what is being conveyed.
Words are symbolic representations, whether in speech or in writing. Spoken language is one system of formulation, and writing is another. Both systems of course have many things in common; but their details and their conventions are rather different. Both convey and embody meanings for us, so we think of them both in the same light; and, since we are always looking for meaning, we either minimize or control whatever distinctions exist in each system different from the other. We forget, for example, the years it took us as children to learn to read. It has been already learned; and once that has been done, we don’t want to re-learn it whenever we need to use the skill. We want comprehension to be as instantaneous as possible; we don’t want to wait; nor do we want to work too hard to achieve it.
Since speech consists of phonetic sounds, and since our written language does not have perfect phonetic spelling, to go from speech to print takes some translation. It is the kind of translation that includes some of the skills we had to use in learning how to read and write. Although it would be possible to provide a direct phonetic transcription of what a voice is saying, such writing would not be immediately readable without new, special training.
So, if we want a direct conversion from speech to readable, regular writing, without wasting time, instant translation of some kind or other, must occur. This means that, where our "recognizer" sits, some sort of processing will be needed before recognition can take place effectively. The usual practice is that we get meaning from context, through experience and through quick judgments on our parts. Straight phonetic equivalence will not afford all such advantages. Even when there is good phonetic representation, it will not give us perfect automatic comprehension.
Another problem lies within the spoken material itself. How intelligible is it? Can it be understood without repetition?
If a machine is to be made to listen, it will have to use certain standards in order to differentiate similar sounds one from another. It will need to distinguish and identify specific speech features as being distinct from the others, as does the human ear. Moreover, those particular features that it distinguishes must be the ones that prove distinctive within the language being used – not just as between different voices. Those features must be the ones that will be recognized universally as being distinctive for the language, regardless of the speaker.
Our alphabet, of course, started out as a very ingenious attempt to distinguish such features and to represent them visually. But today’s alphabet and spelling constantly are deviating more and more widely from today’s speech. Consequently, analysis of speech sounds is far more complicated than simply to look for equivalence to letters of the alphabet. The translation process that will bridge the gap between written and spoken material, and that will identify each of the word elements that are present in it, first must "hear" crucial features of the spoken language being used.
A further complication is that, unless word entities can be detected in speech as it progresses (it issues forth as a steady stream of sounds broken only where a speaker breathes), words will be lost and comprehension by machine will be laborious or impossible – certainly not instantaneous.
Like any other labor-saving or time-saving concept, the idea of being able to convert spoken words into writing directly is not new. To get an automatic direct response to verbal commands by mechanical means long has been a common wish. The first patents issued for devices that hopefully might accomplish such objectives appeared in the 1930’s; they were designs for mechanical "ears" and voice-driven phonetic printers. None of them worked to a usable extent.
Then in the late 1970’s devices that could do the reverse – convert written materials into their oral counterparts –first appeared; and that aroused new hopes. Simple inversion of the process does not work however, partly because the written input materials are always quite specific and "pre-worked"; moreover, one standard, artificial voice is what gets put out. In the opposite direction, of course, speech-to-writing, varied voices and pronunciations and dialects complicate the inputs; besides, ordinary speech confuses the separation of words from one another; finally, spelling requirements complicate the printout. So speech recognition, though much desired, from the 1960’s to 1990, alternately rode the waves of hope and despair.
A dictation machine that could produce standard business letters, with punctuation and paragraphing and appropriate capitals, for instance, doing so directly in response to dictation would have an enormous ideal market, even if it could perform only when tuned to the voice of each speaker separately. Short of that, could any other kind of speech recognition technology succeed commercially? Most investors and enterprisers concluded, on a large scale, that it could not.
Then what about a machine that could identify only certain words and respond to those, and then build upon that? Fine. But then, which voice or voices? Which words? Can those words be recognized when adjacent to others? What kind of accuracy? No, it appeared that speech-to-writing could be achieved no more readily by concentrating upon the speech sources than by working on the printout, to make it fast and accurate enough. Different problems lay at each end of the proposition.
The best that could be done, perhaps, was a) to get delayed, limited-voice transcriptions that were not easily readable; or else b) get speaker-dependent conversions limited to 1000 or less pre-selected words. Developmentally, such was the situation that had evolved by the late 1980’s.
Problems and Objectives
Given marked variations between voices and pronunciations, and given problems of finding precise word-equivalents in the two different mediums - the spoken and the written – what kind of bridge would it be possible to build, and what kinds of traffic could use it? Indeed, would there be sufficient traffic to warrant having any kind of bridge at all? But if so, what kinds of adjustments or compromises could accommodate the largest amounts to traffic on that bridge?
First assumption: conversion or translation from speech must be instantaneous, in real time, word-by-word. There must be no time lost between printout and the original input. This will also allow speakers to see their mistakes, or their progress, or needed corrections, immediately.
Second assumption: the printout must be directly readable without special training: it must include as much regular spelling as possible, so as not to delay reading.
Third assumption: the input speech must be fully intelligible: it must be of adequate quality. Phonetic features that are salient for the language must be enunciated so that they are phonetically distinctive and identifiable.
The composite results, with these three assumptions, could be a verbatim, immediate display or representation of what was spoken: it would be a "first draft", readable by anyone, that could be edited, stored, or used verbatim. It would not be polished orthography perhaps; but whatever is gained in sacrificing some conventional orthographic features and esthetics, to the eye, is TIME. It could prove a viable trade-off.
At the speaking end, an arbitrary ceiling on speed of input may have to be lowered, so as to enhance clear diction. A deliberate speed of about 120 words per minute – usual dictational speed – would be required, because beyond that, too many sounds become clipped, truncated, elided, or omitted, which makes words incomplete for a machine that hears them through built-in precision. So the ceiling is imposed for the sake of intelligibility. Users benefit from feedback by the machine as to specific vocal shortcomings in their diction, if any. The degree of intelligibility is reflected by how distinctively the various speech sounds are pronounced. A careful speaker is rewarded by a more complete and more accurate transcription.
With respect to getting widespread commercial use of such a device, the most important assumption is to render it multi-voice instead of speaker-dependent. It must be a versatile machine; it must not waste time adjusting to the characteristics of each different voice before it can do its job.
Definition of intelligibility is closely linked to multi-voice capability, because intelligibility lies inherent in contrasts within the structure of the language, regardless of traits in individual voices.
The ultimate assumption is this: instant, readable printout from multi-voice inputs at dictational speed will constitute traffic heavy enough to warrant constructing a talkwriter bridge. It will be a bridge that will convey at least eighty percent of the traffic that might wish to traverse it. Though that might not completely close the gap, there will be, nevertheless, functional conversion of speech into its readable counterpart.
By the beginning of the 21st century two somewhat different applications of speech recognition were available commercially. One was a narrow bridge across the gap between voice and visual representation of it, and the other was a wider bridge. The narrow one worked for only a limited number of words and/or phrases, so its uses were restricted. It could be made to accommodate various voices (i.e., it was "robust" on the vocal side) but it was quite limited as to how much it could hear. Automated phones use it for schedule information, for place names, phone numbers, stock-answers, or short and standard inquiries – all within limited contexts, and situationally.
The wider bridge will take you through the whole dictionary, with benefit of grammatical structure and prosodic aspects of the language included. Its aim is to offer the robustness, inclusiveness, and precision of a perfectly written, printed text. It is expected to hear anything whatever. However, it can do that only voice by voice, person by person, one at a time, with half-hour readjustment required for each change of a speaking voice that start to cross its bridge. So, rather than being a consistently wide bridge, it is in reality narrow at the vocal end and wide as the sky at its "hearing’’ end.
That sort of wide bridge is achieved by storing up an exhaustive bank of word-models from the whole dictionary, together with the grammar patterns of the language, in a bank of "templates". [Footnote: Templates characterize various clusters (sequences) of phonemes, or of word-spellings, for each word, wherein a "match" is sought when the major features of the cluster are predominant but the minor features don’t count; that is, patterns match or superimpose when the highlighted features coincide as superimposition takes place.] The character of these patterns has been determined from cumulative samples of different voices saying the various phoneme sounds of each word, and, for matching, the spellings that correspond. The dictionary sits there, at the wide end of the bridge, awaiting pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to come across in appropriate shapes, one by one, in the proper sequence. Appropriateness of the phoneme patterns in the dictionary (recipient component) was determined by experiments with a multitude of voices. That is how the 35 key phonemes were pin-pointed and stored up as bits within the templates.
Now here comes a speaker - a user – with a voiced input. In order to match what he/she has said against the stored bank of word-models, we have to be able to pick out, among the 35 phonemes, just which ones are present, and in what order. That must be done instantaneously land in the right sequence. So, in order to accomplish that, we need to know precisely how a particular voice shapes and utters each of the phonemes – also how they will be influenced by the sounds adjacent to each of them (transitions from one sound to the next one). That is where the half-hour of voice analysis that was required of each user comes into the picture – having already been done. Such is the narrow end of the bridge, when using that particular method.
The Talkwriter approach also relies upon phonemes – pretty much the same ones - but not in the same way. Although it also stores word-models in templates at the hearing end, before it gives to them inputs of voiced phoneme strings, it pre-groups those strings into presumed word shapes, AND in that process also refines the input in such a way that differences between voice traits become secondary. To put it in other terms, it employs its analysis (337 classes of word shapes) to define the relevant clusters of phonemes that are suited to match the waiting ears at the other end of the bridge.
In short, the Talkwriter method handles phonemes with greater sophistication. That is how it offers a consistently wide bridge over the gap between spoken words and the way they get identified (i.e., the way the dictionary templates are matched by their voiced input counterparts.)
The First Design and Initial Quest for Acceptance
Early in 1988 about eight months of work still was needed to be done to complete the first operational prototype of the Talkwriter; and about $150,000 was needed in order to complete that prototype. The first model as to be suited particularly for speech therapy and to train hearing-impaired or speech-handicapped persons to speak more accurately. It would of course also show instant readable printout from varied voices without having to be lengthily tuned for each voice. It would demonstrate that the Talkwriter design is capable of handling automatic dictation that would yield instant first drafts.
By 1988 efforts to bring development to that point had cost the inventor about $125,000 of his own funds; he had obtained seven relevant patents in the US and abroad; about 85 companies and seven venture capitalist groups had been solicited; and an attempt to form a limited partnership had been made; applications for three small business grants had proved unsuccessful – the Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Education, and support had been sought in vain from the Veterans Administration and from the City of Baltimore; also
Serious thought about designing a talkwriter began in 1967, but I did not coin and use the term "talkwriter" until about two years later, after the design had been drafted. The concept germinated innocuously when my son David then in middle school asked about "phonetics". His father recalled a conference in 1952 on speech phenomena and their mechanization, held at M.I.T. Some papers had been read and discussed there regarding progress in speech recognition: views had been optimistic. (At that time I had been working on some studies of intelligibility of radiotelephone messages in aviation on behalf of the U.N.’s International Civil Aviation Organization, under contracts let by the U.S.Civil Aeronautics Administration.) Here, fifteen years later, the schoolboy’s question seemed to suggest looking into reasons why speech recognition appeared to have languished. Mechanical speech recognition had seemed to be a plausible concept; so why hadn’t it moved ahead? In those post-war times, certainly it was not for want of funds.
Some quick library research failed to reveal exactly why there had been no success as yet; but it did disclose what was being done and what the main problems appeared to be. Engineers and acousticians were working with timing and frequency measurements, assisted by spectrographic diagnostics, and they were trying to isolate and identify reliably the various speech sounds. Their best efforts identified isolated sounds only, with reliabilities from 83% to 95% depending upon which phoneme it was (a phoneme is any speech sound that is used distinctively from the others in the language – e.g., akin to alphabetic letters and some combinations of some of them). But they were having less than 70% success in the case of plosive (stop) sounds p,t,k,b,d,g, Except for those, such results looked encouraging. But wait! – all of the sounds were being uttered alone, without anything preceding or following them, and always by the same (identical) voice in each case. When those same sounds were sought within words or with different voices, they could not be caught. Such identifications of speech sounds furthermore were accomplished not in real time, but retrospectively, after lengthy analysis. A time-consuming process was being required. One of the main problems seemed to be wide variations of frequencies that shifted erratically with speakers’ voice traits.
Why should the differences between voices with respect to the same sound be so critical? If one whispers, the same sounds are intelligible regardless of the speaker’s voice. Previous studies nevertheless had hardly considered what whispering is. That suggested that perhaps whispering could provide a common denominator for the characteristics of each speech sound, independent of voice differences.
So, some spectrograms were made at the
Of course there were other problems as well that would have to be solved in
order to get a dictation machine that would produce readable text instantly.
Other researchers were apparently assuming that if phonemes could be tracked
and identified successfully, conversion from speech to text would result almost
automatically. But wasn’t that one of their handicaps? It seems there were five
other difficulties as well. The first was how to print out words as rapidly as
they were being spoken. In 1967 fortunately the Selectric
typewriter appeared, followed soon by other rapid-print devices; so that
requisite already was being met. The second problem was how to print out the
phonetic data inherent in speech in readable form. The third problem was how to
separate and identify word-units from within the stream of speech sounds being
uttered continuously – a most imposing challenge. The fourth was how to
reconcile male and female voice differences – how to discriminate and identify
speech sounds within a wide pitch range. The fifth problem was how to detect
and differentiate the various components of speech (the phonemes) in REAL TIME
– actually during their transitory presence, before the next speech sound
appeared. It seemed that nobody else was addressing each of these questions
seriously, nor in relation to one another. In 1968 IBM
in N. Y., and Bell Laboratories in
Late in 1957 I hit upon a method that could solve spelling and word-separation in one blow. From an analysis of the phonemes of the language and how they combine in recurring sequences, it seemed that if one took four categories of the phonemes, there would be 377 distinguishing patterns which combined in various ways to make up virtually all the words of English. We would look for those patterns, build upon them to define word-structures; we would analyze their constituent phonemes, and from that, determine whether there were matches against patterns of that same kind that we had pre-stored, word by word. Connected to the stored word-patterns would be the conventional spellings, also coded, so as to be released when that particular word was identified (matched) by the oral input. Any speech sounds that did not fit into words, would appear in phonetic spelling in their proper places between otherwise identified words. That way, nothing would be lost, and words not spelled properly could be sounded out by readers. The rubric of 377 sequences and the stored combinations of them, in sequence, also simplified word look-up: it was not necessary to scan an entire vocabulary in order to match a voice input against spellings. This real-time operation was essential to success of the overall design.
Once that method for handling lexical and parsing tasks became available, only two problems then remained: 1) identifying phonemes in real time, and 2)doing so regardless of speaker. The answers would have to lie in careful study of spectrograms, which were then the only available detailed visual representations of speech. Study of them, together with study of articulations in speech, disclosed that certain potentially valuable information did not show up adequately on spectrograms: it was distribution of peaks of power within the spectrum, which spectrograms only hinted at by their almost imperceptible intensities of shading. A study done at Bell Labs fifteen years earlier had taken measurements in another way however, so those, together with other values derived from spectrograms, served to set up boundaries for determining which speech sounds were which. From that evolved the talkwriter’s bandwidth-amplitude comparison technique that became essential to the multi-voice aspects of the talkwriter’s design. It also made possible double identification of each sound – which was also an aid to accuracy. To further facilitate real-time operation, all identification circuits were to be open simultaneously at all times, enabling identifications to occur sound by sound, in sequence. Various distinctions between silence and breaks that were parts of certain speech sounds, between simple vowels and compound ones, and between voiced and unvoiced speech sounds likewise were provided for.
That method for phonemic analysis of speech inputs completed the design by solving the two remaining design problems in one coordinated process. It was necessary only to connect that operation to the already designed lexical print-out in such a way as to make further allowances for timing and phrasings. The lexical (and printing) operations would be digital, and the phonetic analysis done by hardware.
At that point, in 1967, with an integral design for a dictation machine falling into place, criticism or acceptance next seemed in order, so I wrote it up and sent it off, hopefully to be published. Just at that same time however, the editors of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America announced that they were closing down their section on speech recognition because research in that area, like alchemy, was misleading: only the human mind could accomplish what proponents of speech recognition aspired to do.
So, academia evidently no longer had an interest in proposals for speech recognition. Scientific American also rejected it. Notwithstanding, it was possible to obtain a patent on the talkwriter design. That application was filed in 1968. Even if it seemed unbelievable to some, it could be made proprietary – patented. Since what had evolved seemed to be the only sensible way to make a dictation machine, chances were that eventually somebody else would do it also, pretty much in the same way, and might claim to be its inventor. Another consideration was that to patent it was one way to publicize what had been done.
A patent puts on record the existence of an invention, showing how it can be produced, and in exchange for showing how, an inventor receives exclusive proprietorship of it for seventeen years. No need to submit a working model: feasible concepts alone also can be patented, so long as instructions are provided such that a qualified craftsman could follow them to brings it into being. Then, an actual device, so made, can be marketed exclusively; or given to others to do so, by the patent’s license. A patent also spells out in stated claims just which aspects are new.
Deciding to patent the Talkwriter concept was a critical matter. In academic and scientific circles it had disadvantages, because patenting could be regarded as selfish, particularly if the idea had broad ramifications and varied applications: one does not usually "pre-empt" findings that could broaden scientific activity. Moreover, researchers in industry look to scholastic researchers for discovery of principles that they can simply turn into competitive products at their discretion. Proprietary ownership of a broad new technique is, to many, just not cricket. It appeared that patenting thus did stigmatize the talkwriter regardless of its subsequent merits, because it would become an exclusive product when it succeeded. On the other hand, without being patented, the concept appeared doomed.
Use of generic categories of speech sounds – both to identify phonemes and to parse words.
Use of bandwidth-amplitude comparisons to identify certain phonemes and phoneme-groupings.
Provision for up to 12,000 conventional word-spellings (using templates)
Real-time processing of all speech utterances.
Algorithms for processing lexical outputs word-by-word in real time.
Provisions for punctuation in the printout.
Identification of patterns of phoneme-sequences within English.
A brief announcement of the patent appeared in The New York Times and was followed by a call from a large investment firm recommending that it be allowed to arrange for a Talkwriter Company to be organized and to go public with sale of stock. Meanwhile however, during the three years it had taken to process the first patent application, a few details of the design appeared to need correction, and I wished to carry development to a more advanced level before allowing investment by the public. For example, the first patent called for both a throat microphone and a regular microphone in tandem; but meanwhile, by 1970, a single regular microphone became desirable; in fact, a patent for it had been applied for (L #3,846,586 Nov 5, 1974). That patent also included better detection of stops (plosive sounds). Still other improvements in detecting and identifying diphthongs (compound vowels) also had been made in 1970 and were covered in patent #3, 808, 371 April 13, 1974. Those supplementary patents had not yet been issued when going public was proposed. More development work was needed.
A design for a viable product nevertheless seemed to be at hand, and it needed development and sponsorship. Between 1968 and 1974 consequently, a program of letter-writing and telephoning ensued. An invention of this sort, an expandable new technology – having tremendous market potential, it seemed - should interest large companies, particularly those firms already working with electronic advances such as semi-conductors.
Within that period of five-and-a-half years, approximately 85 different firms were contacted, particularly those working in related areas and those that already were looking into speech recognition. There was no response whatever from about two-thirds of them - sometimes despite phone calls. Most of the large companies that did respond required signing of an agreement that would acknowledge they might be developing internally something parallel or similar and that the extent of an outsider’s protection did not exceed the scope of whatever patents might be involved. Such companies seldom revealed what they themselves were doing along related lines. Of the 85 companies, only six responded by openly leaving room for further discourse. Another twenty-two who responded either said "no" without explanation, or said that they were not in a position where they could consider an investment of time nor of funds. Hewlitt-Packard, G.E., Texas Instruments, IBM, RCA, Xerox, and Westinghouse rejected it.
The six who opined that the design had merit and should be pursued – but who said they themselves could not fund such development – were: Arthur D. Little Co., CALSPAN, Knowles Electronics Co. (Chicago), Atlantic Research Corporation, Battelle Development Corporation, and a researcher in the British Postal Service. One endorsement came from a researcher in the Defense Department’s (then) Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA).
In 1973 the 3 M Company sent an executive to look at the talkwriter
design, and a discussion was held in
The early talkwriter years, 1968 to 1973, were dark ages for speech recognition generally; it was in ill repute, seemingly at a dead end. Until 3 M in 1973, hardly anybody would approach speech recognition with anything but skepticism. Its problems were regarded as being beyond solution by techniques of current know-how. So, one task that could be carried forward without outside help would be to encode the actual vocabulary words. That would ready them for computerized processing; it would carry forward development of the lexical end of the talkwriter - work with the orthographic templates, without financial sponsorship. It was the inventor’s work and did not require staff nor funds. That began a laborious year of work in applied linguistics – which proved enormously rewarding.
At that same time, in 1974, pattern-matching techniques using templates had been discovered by other engineers and researchers – aided by techniques attained by new high-speed computers. Whole words, not just phonemes, could be matched. A revival of speech recognition ensued and restored its respectability. Various small companies were being formed, and some large ones also set up new operations, again hoping to achieve effective mechanical conversion of speech into its written analog. Did this mean that those others would achieve their goals ahead of the Griggs talkwriter? Perhaps. The talkwriter’s hopes were for success through its superior linguistics and keener understanding of the problems. In that context and spirit, work on lexical analysis and its formulation proceeded.
The Two-tier Method
Unfortunately an alarming difficulty presented itself. The method of parsing that had been proposed in the first patent proved imperfect in its mode of implementation. Although its essential processes seemed to be correct so that it could fit in as intended, it wouldn’t accommodate the words without making some changes. The fault was that my original analysis had been based upon the written language, upon ITS syllables, rather than upon those of the spoken language. It evolved that the spoken language has no inherent syllabic distinctions: it was not possible to reconcile phoneme groupings in spoken form to correspond to syllabic entities in the written medium!
Quit at this point? No. Look deeper into the problem. How about arbitrarily designating certain sequences within the spoken language so that they would serve as counterparts to syllables in the written language – even though not wholly equivalent? Doing that led to discovery of certain patterns of stress in the spoken language, and to recognizing how various sounds became altered depending upon their positions within various special sequences. When systematized, this concept showed about 338 sequence patterns for the oral language instead of the 377 patterns that exist in the written medium.
It also showed that, in the spoken language, there are about 6,500 distinctive word-patterns comprised of various combinations of the 338 sequences. That discovery put the talkwriter project at the threshold of its two-tier method for identifying words of the spoken language in their own right, which meant consequently being able to convert spoken words into their counterparts in the written medium. In the midst of the A’s of the chosen vocabulary when it was being encoded, it became apparent how well this tactic worked. Then in quick succession, other advantages began to appear. The two-tier method would allow for omission of unessential features in various spoken words; would allow for their distortion by a speaker, yet usually the word still could be differentiated from other words in the language. It also provided a way to handle stressed and unstressed parts of words. That meant it could also accommodate some dialectal variations. Beyond that, the two-tier method made it possible to encode different versions of the same word, so that it would be recognized from any one of several kinds of inputs – i.e., from different kinds of voice traits.
Thus the two-tier method - which focuses on processing the spoken input – evolved and was applied, in 1975, to encode a vocabulary of about 12,000 words. Not only was it significant as a new technique in its own right, but it had saved the talkwriter design and strengthened it as well. Encouraged by that prospect, I again approached 3 M and others who had been interested earlier, to let them know about this advance. There was no response. Either the engineers couldn’t understand the two-tier method because of its linguistic ramifications, or everybody had been diverted in excitement over template technology. Despite all such excitement however, nobody else was yet able to convert speech into written words.
Between 1976 and 1980 some efforts were made to find out whether the Griggs talkwriter technology with its two-tier approach would interest certain of the small companies that were flush with enthusiasm for using templates. Obviously they had all obtained funding somehow and were energized to make a conquest of speech recognition. With the small companies, as with the larger ones, the very fact that the Griggs process was patented whereas theirs were not, made them wary and reluctant to correspond, to acknowledge receipt of anything or to hold oral discussions. The reason: their operating with computers and digital programs, which, at that time, were not patent-able under any circumstances. They all believed, or hoped, they would be able to achieve speech recognition through their own efforts (that was before the limitations of templates became fully apparent), and in confidentiality, without obligation to anyone else’s inputs or involvement.
Study of the difficulties with templates and the kinds of results they yielded between 1977 and 1979 revealed to the inventor another weakness of detail in his original patent. What templates were failing to do, for one thing, was to measure adequately bursts of energy in narrow bands. That suggested a need for a new and better scale of measurement regarding bandwidth-amplitude values than the one that had been offered in the original patent. The earlier values a weren’t sufficiently accurate, - not clinical enough. Furthermore, the Bell Labs data from twenty-five years before had been misinterpreted, and "average" values among some 85 voices had been misconstrued as being definitive for an entire classification, whereas the actual values varied so much between individual speakers, that they would not prove effective without being better defined. That applied most particularly to vowels. So new parameters were needed for differentiating vowels, in order still to ensure multi-voice capability.
To determine those new vowel boundaries and to re-check other bandwidths and
amplitude values so as to make them suitably precise, would require laboratory experimentation and hiring a staff. Funds would be required. It was an impasse; and there was a thought that others working on speech recognition now might indeed stand a chance of getting there first.
By that time, in 1979,Exxon was entering the field; Xerox was pursuing it; IBM vowed that its work was going strong; Texas Instruments was talking about voice-operated computers. Various smaller companies were marketing speaker-dependent voice-controlled devices. Still, nobody yet could show an output of written text. DARPA (Defense Dept. Research) was said to have a device that could find about 2,000 particular words when picking them out of random speech. All other processes were either speaker-dependent or in slow time, or were limited to about one hundred carefully chosen words.
Using family funds in 1979, I hired the part-time services of an electrical engineer, an electronics technician and a physics researcher, and set about to revise experimentally the talkwriter’s boundaries between oral phonemes. I retained the method of using broadwidth-energy comparisons that had been disclosed in the first patent. Analytic studies were done using a home-computer to get Fast Fourier Transform representations instead of spectrograms. (FFT’s are complex mathematical calculations that can measure the amplitude of vibration at a particular point (time) at a particular instant.) Four voices were used: two male and two female. Normalization was accomplished by making all values relative to the total input amplitude of the entire spectrum. Doing so was also a feature of the original disclosure. The result was that
new values were derived for definition and identification of all of the phonemes as well as of their generic classifications. An apparatus to implement certain of these as example tests, was built in hardware. It proved to be designed so well that it worked perfectly after less than an hour of final tuning.
With the bandwidth-amplitude comparison method validated by results with that apparatus, the new boundaries were made part of a new patent application in 1980. It covered both the phoneme-detection improvements and two-tier method for handling lexical processes for word identification, word separation, and spelling. The algorithms needed for such lexical work were included in the patent because a recent Supreme Court ruling on patents allowed including computer programs that converted data from one medium to another medium. The patent was issued as #4,435,617 March 6, 1984 "Speech Controlled Phonetic Typewriter or Display Device Using Two-Tier Approach", with 28 claims. By way of continuing the project, it cited the preceding patents.
Conflicts and Potential Conflicts
In the course of the patent search (to clear the application for the 1984 patent), it was discovered that in 1976 a patent had been granted to a NASA employee, on its behalf, for a method of differentiating and detecting speech sounds and displaying them for hearing-impaired persons. The method was allegedly speaker-independent, multi-voice, in real time, and it used comparison of bandwidth amplitudes as sensors. Donald Lokerson had obtained the patent, and NASA was offering it for license either exclusively or non-exclusively. (Lokerson subsequently took it exclusively and formed a company which dissolved in 1987).. In 1982 NASA offered to license it to me; but because there was a mutual overlap of certain of its claims with similar ones in the earlier Griggs, patent, I felt the NASA patent was not needed. Nevertheless, Lokerson, proud of his device, loaned it to me for study. It had three fixed bandwidths and used varying ratios between them to identify phonemes, whereas the talkwriter’s method used multiple bandwidths with fixed ratios for each phoneme. The NASA device was indeed multi-voice capable, and it did distinguish, in real time, certain vowels and the nasal phonemes. Lokerson held that it would handle other speech quirks as well; I thought not. Degree of loudness could distort the NASA device’s performance, and it lacked a means of normalization. Still, some adaptation of it might result in simpler delineation of vowels. In a preliminary way, Lokerson and I discussed teaming up to take advantage of their similar approaches and to get funding and to form a company; but such an arrangement did not materialize because each party though his method superior and more inclusive. Lokerson had acknowledged that there was overlap in the claims of the respective patents; there was no interpersonal conflict over that.
As the time came in 1981 when the two-tier patent was granted, the patent work had been taken to a new patent firm – one that had been recommended by the part-time talkwriter engineer for whom it had also done some work. At that point, of course major capital was needed as well – about $500,000 to complete a talkwriter prototype. This new firm of patent attorneys, Fleit and Jacobsen, said they knew an investor who might be interested in supporting the talkwriter project. He was another client of theirs, a millionaire who was Vice-President of a local firm that markets modems, and he was looking for a new venture. Merrill Solomon, this prospectively interested venture capitalist, got into the initial tests of the talkwriter’s new phoneme detector. He was eager to learn all about speech recognition technology, full of questions, probing for the distinctive factors, apparently reluctant to believe that the trick was to be found in linguistics rather than in engineering.
Solomon arranged for a long conference with the patent attorneys and me,
pressing as to the validity of the talkwriter patents
- whether they were really solid. In the course of six weeks, Solomon became
well acquainted with the part-time engineer that I had hired; he also made a
Then Solomon, without revealing it, established Voice Processing Company, in
Why did Solomon attempt to appropriate the new technology in disregard of the inventor? Was he simply following a venture capitalist pattern? Probably it was because he saw prospect of profits in the talkwriter concept and a leading role for himself as well. He was looking for a whole enterprise that could be bought – one that he could take over and operate himself; proprietary rights may have seemed secondary to those objectives – or was he trying to appropriate them for himself…?
Solomon regarded speech recognition as engineering only; and his failure to understand the linguistic nuances handicapped his company. For if his company should move deeper into the talkwriter’s design, it would soon run afoul of the two-tier patent.
So there were entrepreneurial weaknesses in Solomon’s scenario. On the technical side however, Solomon’s move toward Dr. Victor Zue was an astute one, because Zue, out of all engineers researching speech recognition, alone knew and used phonetics. Zue could read spectrograms quickly and accurately almost as if they were newspaper headlines; his familiarity with the characteristics of speech elements was phenomenal among engineers, and his methods for mechanizing recognition of them indeed looked promising. Zue’s expertise with speech sounds, if combined with features of the talkwriter design, might well have resulted in definitive speech recognition. But Zue did not see the talkwriter design as offering anything particularly advantageous. The fine points of the two-tier method are not easy to grasp, for anyone. Zue accepted financial help from Solomon in order to pursue his own approach, regardless. For my part, I knew that spectrograms lack certain information, even in the field of phonemes where Zue was king. Zue also showed little propensity to analyze the particular aspects of linguistics upon which the two-tier method is based.
Academics and business people alike were seeking a technological breakthrough that would come about through research projects involving teamwork among their own groups of colleagues. For an independent inventor to accomplish the same, was implausible. Of two possible courses which would be the easier for him?– to penetrate engineering with linguistics concepts, or to convince investors and business people regarding the merits of the talkwriter idea? With patent coverage available now, the latter course looked best. The most urgent need was to complete a workable prototype in order to convince both researchers and investors that the talkwriter design would work. To find a way to build a working model therefore became more important than any sort of promotional effort. It seemed crucial.
Joint Partnership and Other Efforts
On the technical side, we had built, by 1982, in an attache case, an apparatus that showed how certain speech sounds could be detected and identified while they were being spoken, regardless of speakers’ voice traits. There was also a coded vocabulary of about 12,000 spellings that could be displayed instantly when triggered by appropriate phoneme indications. To complete the process for all speech sounds, and to put it all together, would cost about half a million dollars. Filters, timers, and comparators, with their circuitry, would be used to recognize the remaining speech sounds; and a small, dedicated computer would parse the sound-analogs into writing – into words and/or phonetic indications. The finished prototype when assembled would be the size of a two-drawer filing cabinet.
When Solomon took his money elsewhere, the question was how to continue. For one thing, it would make sense to implement the print-out process by computer, making use of the large vocabulary that had already been coded. To do so would show the merits of the two-tier process and would demonstrate the versatility of word look-up and lexical capabilities of the design. If we were to just simulate inputs of phonemes – as though from a fully developed phoneme identifier – in sequence - we could show how words would be separated from one another within continuous strings of phonemes of normal connected speech; and we could show how quickly those words would print out. Doing so would call for computer programming. To hire even the part-time services of a programmer over a period of one or two months would strain available resources; but, short of $300,000 of effort, it was the only way to continue.
On the university campus I then found a computer specialist who was capable
of programming the word lookup, but he did not have time available. He
suggested two others, one who was just establishing his own computer business
after having helped to establish yet another business; the other, a close
friend of his, who was budget officer at the university. Those two, Walter and
Mark, proposed forming a joint partnership, a talkwriter
company that would have three principals. That entity would be floated through
the Mercantile Trust Bank in
Walter meanwhile reviewed carefully the talkwriter design. He concluded that the entire process could be carried out in software – entirely digitally. Not only would that reduce its size – to that of a table TV – but it would also enhance accuracy and adjustability. It would be simpler and cheaper and it would perform more reliably. Computer chips, which then were just coming into use, could make it all possible.
Walter set up a telephone line to his computer, and we stored the coded vocabulary on a disc. Walter then devised a demonstration of the Talkwriter’s lexical process, using a limited vocabulary, such that simulated phoneme indications of spoken sentences could be released by key, in sequence, all at once, and the words that had been in the sentences would appear, separated, suitably spelled, on the computer screen as fast as they could be read.
We then demonstrated both the computerized word display and the phoneme detection attache case, pointing out that further expanding both and connecting them to each other was all that would be required to complete the prototype model. That dog-and-pony- show was presented to three different groups of venture capitalists and about a dozen other prospective investors, including professional financiers and various other professionals. Some were enthusiastic; some were taciturn and non-committal; others were skeptical or even agnostic, believing that undefined pitfalls lay ahead. After about 6 weeks, only about $100,000 had been committed, partly because the bank agent changed jobs; so the entire effort fell between cracks and no partnership was formed.
Venture capitalists were looking for a finished product. Marketing is what they wanted to finance: "Bring it to us when it is completed". Other reluctance to invest stemmed from absence of accreditation or authoritative endorsement; from resistance to
novelty; from doubts about the demand for such a thing; and from skepticism that it could really work, after all. Maybe they thought it looked like the Three Stooges. On the practical side, there was also resistance to unconventional spellings for homophonic words (brake-break; lode-load; thyme-time).
Walter and Mark thought it was just bad breaks – such as the bank agent’s
preoccupation with finding himself a new job; general atmosphere in financial circles
that year; depressed investment activity generally in the wake of inflation.
They then got a free-lance entrepreneur friend of theirs to try contacts with
the large computer firms, with a view toward working up a joint enterprise
together with them. Their friend was to get a percentage, as finder’s fee. Only
one firm WANG, proved to be interested. So we took our demonstration to WANG in
Kurzweil himself, a dynamic young man, had successfully marketed a breakthrough device that could orally sound out printed matter, and he was flush with confidence that he could achieve the reverse of his process. But with speech synthesis like his (creating artificial speech) input is always from only the 26-letter alphabet - it is standardized; and so is he vocal output. Recognition of speech variations is a far more complex matter - as Kurzweil’s people soon learned; it is much more difficult to work with highly diversified inputs. From voice to writing is far from just the reverse: making writing hearable is a snap.
So the joint partnership with Walter and Mark never materialized Walter withdrew from the effort in order to concentrate on developing his own computer business; and Mark, having fiscal management skills only, was not needed.
It was then 1983. Despite considerable hype, nobody was yet marketing a dictation device or speech recognition product that handled the language as a whole. A potential market of billions of dollars per year nevertheless was being postulated - by market analysts who were professionals. Only a few speaker-dependent, limited-vocabulary gadgets and toys and some specialized devices were being marketed. Voice-command for sorting mail and for use on assembly lines had been tried and found to be either unsatisfactory or uneconomical because of voice-trait dependency, environment noise, inaccuracies, or operational weaknesses.
To return to the quest, the Department of Defense neither returned phone calls nor acknowledged letters. Most other federal agencies’ budgets faced cuts or already had been drastically reduced. The Veteran’s Administration?
V.A. headquarters in
In the spring of 1984 the two-tier patent was issued, but it had no
perceptible effect. Had anybody seen it? Had anybody understood it? After
trying again to get various large companies to give new responses – now that
development had proceeded beyond initial sketches - and after finding no
interest - I responded to an invitation from the US Patent Office to
participate in its annual National Inventors Exposition. Held in
The demonstration was busy all day, and it showed how well the attache case responded to different voices, one after another. Seven contacts resulted from the
Exposition. Unfortunately only three of those warranted follow-up. One was a referral to the Baltimore Economic Development Corporation, a quasi-official institution, which indeed was followed up. Another was a small business owner, an attorney as well, who contemplated forming a joint enterprise. But his wife did not fancy the idea. The third was a micro-processor engineer who wanted to work on the project; but there was no way to hire him.
Baltimore Economic Development Corporation sent a man to learn about the talkwriter, and he concluded that he might be able to help with development if other support could be found as well; BEDCO, that year, might consider matching somebody else’s investment, he said. (He provided a list of venture capitalist firms in the middle-Atlantic area; and I wrote to most of them and received only one acknowledgement out of 18, and it was a flat negative.)
The Carnegie-Mellon Assessment
Credibility was a major problem for this talkwriter approach. For one thing, speech recognition by machine had become an engineering matter, dubious of accomplishment. In times of expensive team efforts and corporate achievements moreover, and with massive expenditures to solve outstanding problems of technology, if results could be obtained, the "system" itself would do the job: a solution could not pop up from a single, unknown or unaccredited source of from an isolated inventor who, for all that anybody might know, could be another crackpot. After all, if IBM couldn’t solve the problem since 1968, nobody could.
Endorsement was needed, from established authorities, because patents had
not done it. The best authorities in 1985 – most prestigious – were Victor Zue at MIT and Dr. Ron Cohn at
I then wrote to Zue offering to pay him for an assessment. Zue wrote back that he was no longer available to consult, since he had his own company (Solomon’s? – he did not say so.
Dr. Cohn gave a similar response, saying that "a conflict of interest" precluded him from obliging personally; but he did recommend two of his academic colleagues who might be willing, Brannon and Phillips. They consented. So I spent a morning going over the talkwriter design, and then the two of them spent the afternoon jointly composing a letter of assessment. They recognized that the talkwriter’s lexical aspects were more advanced than any they knew about; they said that the approach was reasonable and plausible as an integrated method. But they fudged a little regarding phoneme detection using FFT amplitude measurements; perhaps that was because they were just beginning to look at FFT’s themselves there at CMU; and they still were skeptical. They thought the Griggs approach to phonemes was too simple; it appeared to bypass much of the work that Carnegie Mellon was doing. The Phillips-Brannon assessment nevertheless afforded a stamp of respectability for the talkwriter design. That should make it less easy to dismiss, out of hand. The talkwriter now was accepted in the race for eventual speech conversion. The letter’s implications however were that the real merits of the talkwriter method related to future levels of development – to levels achieved only after phoneme detection would have been perfected. Phillipps and Brannon did not see that several difficult problems of phoneme recognition were being compensated for, or resolved, in the two-tier approach.
The Carnegie-Mellon endorsement consequently proved less helpful than had been desired. Although perhaps it may have facilitated certain subsequent contacts, it was not strong enough to impress or convince skeptical investors. The nub of the matter really as that Zue and the Carnegie people – and G E’s expert in England as well – all believed that, until it was possible to pinpoint with precision the identity of every single speech phoneme uttered (or presumed to be there), it would be impossible to proceed to the next step – of delineating and identifying words. With what they had, they couldn’t yet make it work. From that point of view it was either impossible or pointless to look for words without X-raying the speech spectrum.
The Funding Quest Continues
The Carnegie-Mellon assessment showed how difficult it was to understand the two-tier method; even the specialists themselves had trouble over it. Was it best to try to make it comprehensible to the academics and researchers so that they could promote it? Or would it be better to shelter its advantages somewhat, like a trade secret, so that an investor would benefit from that, and so that the patents would be that much better protected? Since my immediate search was for an investor, I decided to shield the two-tier method; and I did not promote or advertise it in areas where potential competition might benefit from, or use it, as stimulus to work along related lines.
With those considerations as guidelines, the quest for funding continued. In 1985 one contact with a large company got a response the Dictaphone Corporation sent a committee of technical persons to look into the talkwriter. During their two-hour visit it was not clear whether they had understood the linguistics aspects – particularly the two-tier method’s full advantages. Dictaphone said it was not interested. They had probably concluded it posed no immediate threat to their existing business interests; they did not believe it would work soon.
At that juncture no further development work could be done because it would
require specialists and special equipment – unavailable without funds. Early in
1986 an audiologist at the
The BEDCO suggested trying the government’s program of grants for small business – the SBIR program. In its programs for 1986 appeared a slot for devices used to educate or train handicapped persons under a possible U.S. Dept. of Education grant. An application was submitted and subsequently reviewed by three judges. Two of them gave the talkwriter some commendation and scored it 87% and 90%. The third reviewer, a statistician, rated it only 35%. So, despite an administrative review, it failed. Possibly the statistician was himself also a member of the Education Department’s bureaucracy.
If the inventor might sell his house, that would provide funding to carry development one further step. In 1986 what could be done with $75,000? And by whom? Expensive overhead charges of the kind that private industry and universities charge, would cut in half the work that could be done for that figure. Most important, however, was to decide what steps would best show off the merits of the talkwriter concept. Development of word-selection by the two-tier approach, it was determined, should come first: show off the entire stored vocabulary. To do so would cost $20,000 if part-time labor were hired to do it. Skeptics nevertheless would still find such a presentation only partly convincing, and it would lack accompanying proof that actual voice inputs would be able to drive it. So, some degree of phoneme recognition also would have to be linked to the printout so as to show that the entire process could be come effective, able to separate words in real time, responding to actual spoken inputs. To develop digital identifications for a few, rather than all, of the phonemes perhaps might meet that purpose….how about fifteen phonemes representing all classes of sounds, so that all the various processes that were proposed, would be demonstrated? Of course it would be possible to get printouts for only a small number of words that contained those sounds alone. Actually, when fifteen such phonemes had been chosen, they would allow 330 different words to be fulfilled – and quite a few sentences. Those 330 words would then appear on a screen regardless of when they appeared in any sentence or context. In addition, each of the fifteen sounds should appear on the screen whenever each of them occurred as part of another word.
With respect to the rest of the large vocabulary, in order to demonstrate its scope, phoneme signals for all phonemes, simulated, could be inputted by key. That would
demonstrate completeness of the vocabulary, and it would show instant word-identification and word-separation, as well. The costs for such development steps should be less than $100,000 altogether.
Where could it be done? In the Baltimore-Washington area were two small electronic development firms that could handle special project such as this. The closest one had proved dilatory and negligent when asked to draw up a cost estimate; besides, work attitudes did not give promise of adequate performance. The other one was run by a former , long-standing employee of venture-capitalist Solomon, who "would not be available to work for the Griggs talkwriter," he said.
Another possibility might be to hire, on a moonlighting basis, qualified
experts employed at companies engaged in defense work near
Then there came a phone call from
Development Work in
One significant impediment to the talkwriter’s
During the first six weeks, progress was hardly perceptible because of troubles with getting a suitable chip to handle FFT calculations. But a portable Toshiba T1100+ computer was obtained, into which to load the encoded vocabulary and to display it.
The word-look-up algorithms, implemented digitally, were to be transferred from a central VAX to that Toshiba, later. Some unanticipated problems arose over transfer of the vocabulary from previous computer discs to the systems being used at RELA, but those were surmounted. Some mistakes we made in programming the word-parsing method; but the worst of them were remedied by the fourth month. Word-parsing then worked satisfactorily except for short words of less than four phonemes, which occasionally would not parse correctly. Results nevertheless were good enough to demonstrate satisfactorily that readable textual print-outs would appear – at rates as high as ten to twelve words per second. That was far faster than speech, and almost too fast for the eye.
Work on phoneme identifications, on the other hand, did not move well. Although the design for a suitable, flexible device, versatile in application and capable of adjustment and expansion, was made by RELA, it failed to operate as designed. Such failure became apparent only at the beginning of the fourth of the five months.
Did the fault lie with the values the inventor had set earlier, despite the fact that they worked well in hardware (in the attache case)? Or was the difficulty caused by engineering errors at RELA? The researchers at RELA then adapted the apparatus to analytical mode, using spectral displays, in an effort to locate the source of trouble. I then discovered that RELA had not ascertained all of the conditions under which the previous parameters had been obtained. Last-minute efforts were made to get RELA’s digital device to perform suitably. I tried to devise new parameters suited to its characteristics. But it would operate only speaker-dependently – like most other speech recognition devices. Had they simply used the cookbook? Even though speaker-dependent, moreover, it operated less convincing than did the hardware attache-case apparatus from six years before!
Had they been twiddling their thumbs? Were they actually not competent for this area of engineering expertise? The RELA workers now began to suggest a wide variety of solutions, some of which called for almost a re-design or different approach.- as if they had not fully grasped the nature of this project, from the start. Perhaps that was why their foreman had divulged so little about their work - as I meanwhile was busy with lexical matters. By this time his $72,000 had been used up. Was the problem with trying to digitize the concept? RELA said "no", and RELA continued its work, proposing that it would find venture capital and would contribute some sort of investment of its own, in order to continue development work on a second-stage project, against which the cost overrun of the first stage then could be charged. In the sixth month RELA held a design review session participated in by ten of its top engineers. They concluded that the design was solid and correct; but various new things needed to be tried in order to supplement the design and make it work. Some of their proposals made sense to the inventor and some seemed not to be fully relevant. Was RELA mainly hoping to cash in on what had appeared might become a bonanza for it?
At that point I left RELA, uncertain where the specific problem lay – and with a cost-overrun of about $20,000 which had to be defaulted. RELA had not been a complete waste however, because some usable results could be seen in the Toshiba’s demonstration of lexical tricks that the talkwriter could perform. Ill will was evident nevertheless because RELA had expected to pursue a second-phase program for the talkwriter and had located local venture capital with which to do so. Notwithstanding that fact, I felt it necessary to tell even the venture capitalists there that, in my opinion, future work with RELA would not prove advantageous.
Continuation after RELA
The RELA failure was disastrous. Not only had time been lost in a race against possible competitors who might themselves happen upon a process similar to the two-tier method, but also the inventor’s resources were gone. The talkwriter concept could evolve no further unless investment or sponsorship could be found for it.
So it was urgent to find out what went wrong with RELA’s
work – whether the problem lay with the original concept, or with digitizing,
or simply with the specific steps that had been taken. I then borrowed $5,000
and hired a recent engineering graduate from the
Meanwhile, parallel to RELA’s engineering efforts, two other talkwriter developments pertaining to funding were taking place. First, the inventor was preparing two new SBIR proposals at the time RELA started its work. Both proposals were to Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Each grant would be $50,000, and if only one of them became available, development at RELA could continue beyond the initial five months already contracted for. With BOTH grants, not only could the original talkwriter work be pursued, but advances also could be made in its efficiency and performance qualities, moving it closer to marketability.
One of the defense proposals responded to a solicitation for a device to advance the extraction of speech features (certain words) mechanically. That was already in line with current talkwriter efforts, and we regarded our method to be superior to all others. The other proposal responded to a solicitation calling for a device that would extract intelligence (meaning) from oral materials that were of conversational or casual nature (radio or phone materials). I thought he saw how that could be done with a new adaptation of the talkwriter design and with a new infusion of the two-tier methodology. It would be a method that could extract the gist of what is being said, – but with less-than-verbatim transcription of it. Because work under both grants would fit in with the RELA project, RELA asked to participate in preparing the SBIR proposals, and did so. Both proved unsuccessful however, as was learned in April. That news came at the very time weakness in the RELA development work was coming to light. Although there was no direct feedback as to why the SBIR proposals to Defense failed, a plausible explanation appeared early in May. It went back to Lokerson, the NASA engineer. The two proposals to DARPA had pointed to kinship between Lokerson’s method and the talkwriter’s bandwidth amplitude comparison methods; it had recommended making use of such techniques. Meanwhile having come upon reference to "Loker Systems", I had written to Lokerson to ask if he had a company that was marketing speech devices. In reply, Lokerson said his company had suspended operation despite having received an SBIR grant the previous year from DARPA which, he said, had not been renewed or extended. . So DARPA people apparently had concluded that Lokerson’s method fell short of what they wanted. It would be logical for them also to conclude that, since the Griggs method might be headed in a similar direction, it should not receive consideration toward getting a grant.
The DARPA proposals were completed in the sixth week of RELA’s
work. After that, RELA sought to find an additional way to finance continuing talkwriter work, because RELA knew the inventor himself
lacked further resources. RELA’s first move was to
introduce a young entrepreneur with recent experience in reorganizing and
refinancing faltering enterprises. He wanted to be CEO of the new talkwriter enterprise, confident about raising the needed
capital to make it viable. He was between positions at the moment and was ready
to move ahead, perhaps somewhat overzealously – maybe because he had recently
remarried and wanted to stay in
The next man, head of a small technological company, was not interested in
the talkwriter at all. The third man represented a
local venture capital firm. Very much interested, he offered flexibility as to
the kind of support he would arrange. His company, in fact, became the one
venture capital group that I felt I could trust; and it was also the one that
RELA later, with some reluctance, was willing to turn to for help when phase
one was faltering and expiring without other prospects on the horizon. It was a
firm, however, that never did spell out how much it would invest, nor what it
would expect in exchange. It was a local
The fourth RELA financial introduction meanwhile took place. It was a member
of RELA’s Board of Directors who represented a
venture capital firm in
The first finance man who had wanted to become CEO then returned – this time with a proposal that he try to find a large company that might agree to a joint venture or to some kind of sponsorship. He would make such a contact for a finder’s fee of five percent of the transaction. (Meanwhile he had found another situation for himself and was moving away from boulder.) He said he had a very large company offer a starter – one that had an eight-billion-dollar-per-year business. It proved to be U S West, formerly AT&T in the western states. In consequence, one of U S West’s executives visited RELA accompanied by a highly qualified speech-recognition scientist, Dr. Kalyan Ganesan, who had formerly worked in the Exxon speech endeavor. Both men were optimistic about what they saw, despite unsuccessful attempts by RELA’s people to gloss over phoneme deficiencies.
The specialist was particularly perceptive as to the merits of the approach.
The two visitors recommended that U S West pick up and continue development
work at RELA, sending from U S West one or two of its own staff to supervise
the work. Great news! Clearance with U S West was needed, procedurally; but
then it evolved that funds for 1987 were already tied up. Subsequently a
RELA, having learned that U S West could not proceed immediately, turned to
the third venture capitalist firm, in
The would-be-CEO, now-turned finder then produced another possible avenue of
support after the break with RELA. It was a prestigious NYC venture capital
firm, which proved to be well versed regarding speech recognition efforts. Its
representative came to
The president of SRS (which was already being subsidized by several venture capitalist groups) carefully read the talkwriter materials and patents. He then praised the patents and spoke of the talkwriter as being a worthy competitor in the race for ultimate achievement of speech recognition; but he implied that his technology was totally different (probably new neural network techniques), so that talkwriter technology would not interest his SRS.
In the Boulder-Denver area by end of summer, several researchers had become aware of the talkwriter approach; and it even looked as if a development team might be contemplated there. An audiologist on the research faculty at U. of Colorado was eager to participate, and another faculty member who had been trained at Carnegie Mellon also was interested, In Denver itself, at the Center for the Performing Arts, which is well endowed and where speech research already was in progress, a doctoral staff member likewise was interested, A part-time visiting staff member at the Center, from the University of Iowa, also expressed some interest. The Center, it so happened, was where U S West would be collaborating on behalf of its in-house speech recognition program. But how would it be possible to get funding that could bring together a group of such variously affiliated experts to establish a project there? It was no longer possible, after the split with RELA, to use the local venture capital that RELA had lined up for its own advantage. An additional problem was shortage of space at the Center: there wasn’t room to add more staff, and work space itself was insufficient. An outsider with no local base and no resources could not possibly take advantage of the expertise and interest that otherwise might have been used, for lack of funds.
Terminal blind alleys
Knowing that work could proceed much faster if additional funds could enable a larger team to work and obtain more of Dr. Shamma’s time, I applied for a grant from a new program under the Social Security Administration. He proposed completing a talkwriter prototype especially suited for use in training deaf and speech-impaired persons to speak, and to afford immediate, direct communication to the hearing-impaired. Social Security was soliciting proposals for grants up to $150,000 for devices that would improve employment prospects for handicapped persons; and the talkwriter seemed to meet such objectives.
The Social Security proposal of 1988, although recommended by an external
panel, failed because it did not appear to be a demonstration project of
sociological or rehabilitative nature. It did not fit into the conventional
pattern of projects funded by S.S.A. So work with Shamma
and two graduate students, available by itself, would not be enough to warrant
pursuing it. Consequently, later in 1989 I returned to inquire at a private
institute that promotes telephone devices for the deaf; and its deaf director
referred him to a deaf businessman who operated a small engineering firm. Since
his firm was not large enough to undertake Talkwriter
development, he in turn referred me to a researcher at Gallaudet
College in Washington D.C. Gallaudet then referred me
to another deaf person who manages a rehabilitation R&D operation in the U.
S Office of Education; Dr. Dick Johnson. Johnson then referred me to two
possible program centers familiar to him, either or both of which might take an
interest in the Talkwriter, and which Johnson thought
might assist with funding for pursuing that interest. One was a private
industrial research institute that already was working on a project jointly
with Gallaudet. The other was the Education
Department at the
Still other leads that had evolved along this pathway through the community of the deaf also were pursued but did not materialize.
On December 7, 1991 I exhibited the word-separation and parsing aspects of
the Talkwriter design as semi-finalist in the
National Search for Computing to Assist Persons with Disabilities – PA, DE, DC,
MD, VA WVA section. One of the other exhibitors, Dr.
Arthur Kaufman, who had worked on medical vocabulary for Kurzweil,
told me that he had seen in
That culminated the Carnegie-Mellon methodology, which began with phoneme recognition and then moved more in the direction of recognizing features of the stream of speech such as appear in the 1990 Talkwriter patent for fast speech. Patterns that represent various sequences of speech sounds inherent in words of the language apparently have been classified so that they correspond to its written-word components. In the dictionary compartment stored corresponding patterns are scanned for matches, word by word. Evidently the matching is performed rapidly enough, probably with the aid of semantic and stochastic refinements and formulations, to provide word-by-word recognition of the spoken input. This would mean that the lexical or dictionary processes are indeed extensive. Capability to handle multi-voiced inputs results from judicious tracking of the right features of vocalization when using a matrix of appropriate criteria. The high price of the unit reflects its complexity and the multiplicity of its calculations.
Two advantages that the Talkwriter method would
have over the
In late summer of 1991 I learned that the Institute for Deafness and Other
Communications Disorders (of NIH) had grant funds available. Accordingly I
submitted a modification of his proposal submitted earlier to Social Security.
Owing to a change of personnel, I did not succeed in getting specific
endorsement from the
In a final promotional move, I gave a presentation at the Johns Hopkins Dept of Electrical and Computer Engineering where some speech-recognition work was being done, financed by a sizeable contract for half a billion dollars for five years, from the National Security Agency (NSA). I hoped they would then recommend his project so that APL could conclude its arrangements to be his sub-contractor. I showed Dr. Moise Goldstein, Dr. Andreas Andreau and some graduate students the word-parsing process and delineation of speech sounds, generically, by hardware. Surprisingly, instead of recommending the project for APL, they were interested in it for their own pursuits, there at JHU. When such a project at JHU was further defined, it was assigned to a faculty member who was a specialist on miniaturizing devices; and that person was intent upon applying his own field of expertise without first understanding the acoustical and lexical problems that remained to be worked out in the Griggs design. He assumed that’s it was workable in every respect, as is, and only needed to be miniaturized.
Consequently I decided that this arrangement was unlikely to prove fruitful.
That was the point at which his interest in promoting the talkwriter
decided waned. I had been there before, in
However… about two months later I learned that the U S West expert, Dr. Kalyan Ganesan, was then living
only thirty miles away, knew how to revise the talkwriter
design, was eager to undertake doing it on a part-time basis, but could provide
no funding. At that point in time, the p.c. speech recognition program, "Naturalspeak" from Dragon Systems in
A final anomaly was that the son of one of my nieces had been living his adolescent years – unbeknownst to me - in the household of one of the senior designing engineers at Dragon. That was the engineer who had written Dragon’s rejection of the Griggs proposal for joining forces or collaborating. The boy’s father was his close colleague in the work at Dragon. Nobody can allege family favoritism!
So . . . although the aim had been to design and promote a universally available, cheap, dictation machine for instant first-drafts, for broad use, the market instead came out with a somewhat different product intended for more specialized applications.
In this were three ultimate ironies: 1) patenting had not helped – on the contrary, it appeared to have hindered; the patents had not afforded protection against this outcome.
2) the analogous commercial product that WAS marketed sells for under thirty dollars.
3) this has become an age of industrial pre-eminence; so single inventors are anomalous.
* * *
I still believe that the two-tier Talkwriter approach – which concentrates upon oral inputs, using "word-envelopes" and superimposed "word-skeletons" – when augmented by an initial speaker-voice adjustment from a call-up sentence - could serve 95% of English-speaking persons: a) for producing first drafts instantaneously; b) for speech therapy; c) to orally command servo mechanisms that perform various tasks. Using the technology of 2001, it is entirely possible. No p.c. (personal computer) dependency required. Unit price under $300.
[F I N IS]