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Some Notes on Death

The world was justifiably shocked at news of this nation’s worst aircraft tragedy, when 273 died in a field near Chicago’s O’Hare Airport in May. There followed the most intense investigation, with the consequent grounding of the DC10s. Of course. Nothing less was in order.

But how matter-of-factly we accept the deaths of far greater numbers each week in automobile accidents (there are even greater numbers of survivors, many crippled for life, some worse than dead, yet alive). Because these victims die in a thousand crashes instead of one, should we do less in rigorously testing equipment and drivers?

Let us rage with equal passion against the moment’s calamity that kills hundreds and the day-in-and-day-out carnage that kills thousands and maims thousands more.

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Some evidence of the influence of television in our lives was to be found in the murder of ABC News correspondent Bill Stewart in Nicaragua in June. Stewart had been a reporter and anchorman for a Twin Cities television station for three years and so a daily visitor to our home and to tens of thousands of other homes in this area.

News of his death stung us. The videotape of his assassination was a document of anguish to each one who remembered the many accumulated hours spent watching and listening to Stewart. The outrage (and only then the sorrow) was as though a member of our very family had been the target of the Guardsman’s bullet.

Anent Stewart’s death: it seemed ironic to me that Walter Cronkite should preface the showing of the videotape of the killing with a warning to parents that they might not wish their children to see it. In many homes, where children watch what they will, they will see about 18,000 TV murders by the time they are 14 years old.

If they remembered Stewart, perhaps witnessing his murder would help to make the point that the hundreds of make-believe killings they see (often unlamented, almost always sanitized) are far removed from reality.

John Wayne, an American hero, died of cancer after an indomitable fight. He deserved credit for that and for his achievements as an actor. But, as some observed, he hardly merited the sainthood the posthumous publicity suggested. He had his weaknesses. He made his mistakes. A friend who worked with him found him irascible, petty, and domineering.

I liked John Wayne, but as a newspaper editor I printed the obituaries of scores of men and women who accomplished more in the time and space of their lives than John Wayne ever did.

What intrigues me about those whales that beached themselves in Oregon a few months ago is the possibility that the group had a leader. How elected, I do not know. And why motivated to make the desperate run for the beach, I don’t know, either.

But what loyalty he commanded! Did some of his retinue hesitate when he turned from the open seaways? Did some raise questions as they sped toward the shoals? Were there murmurs and mutterings?

As the monsters lay dying, did they curse their folly? Or was there solace in having followed, followed to the end?

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Dingbat 5

If you have duplicate dingbats or piece-border for sale or trade, please write.

Dangerous Childhood

While I recognize the wisdom of concern about the safety features of toys, I can’t help but be amused in recalling how my late cousin, Bill, and I spent many Saturday afternoons as kids casting lead soldiers in the basement of his home.

There were no restrictions on the sale of these outfits which came complete with molds of soldiers in various roles: infantrymen, machine-gunners, cavalrymen, etc., a small supply of lead, and a small crucible in which the lead was melted down.

We acquired additional metal from which we cast armies of lead soldiers by ransacking a dump pile behind the newspaper plant, where Linotype slugs and stereotype casts were discarded.

We would heat the metal, carefully pour it into the molds, and after impatiently waiting for them to cool, break them out before beginning the process all over again.

I don’t recall our ever having been seriously injured in the years we pursued this hobby. There must have been a few minor burns now and again. I do remember scorching several spots and burning at least one hole in the old carpet which covered the basement playroom floor where our “foundry” was.

Why, can you even imagine the furor there would be if such a “toy” were sold today?

Bill’s mother, my Aunt Freida, recently found two of the hundreds of soldiers we had once. I have them now, precious keepsakes of a happy (however danger-filled) childhood.

For several years now, I have been looking for one of the casting outfits at flea markets and rummage sales, but unsuccessfully.

* * * *

My wife’s left me, my son’s on dope, my daughter’s in love with a poet, and you ask me, ‘How is everything?’”

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Even this shall pass away.”
by Theodore Tilton

Once in Persia reigned a King,
Who upon his signet ring
‘Graved a maxim true and wise,
Which, if held before the eyes,
Gave him counsel at a glance,
Fit for every change and chance.
Solemn words, and these are they:

“Even this shall pass away.”

Trains of camels through the sand
Brought him gems from Samarcand;
Fleets of galleys through the seas
Brought him pearls to match with these.
But he counted not his gain
Treasures of mine or main;
“What is wealth?” the King would say;
“Even this shall pass away.”

In the revels of his court
At the zenith of the sport,
When the palms of all his guests
Burned with clapping at his jests,
He, amid his figs and wine,
Cried, “Oh, loving friends of mine!
Pleasure comes, but not to stay;
Even this shall pass away.”

Fighting on a furious field,
Once a javelin pierced his shield;
Soldiers with a loud lament
Bore him bleeding to his tent;
Groaning from his tortured side,
“Pain is hard to bear,” he cried
“But with patience, day by day,
Even this shall pass away.”

Towering in the public square,
Twenty cubits in the air,
Rose his stature, carved in stone.
Then the King, disguised, unknown,
Stood before his sculptured name,
Musing meekly, “What is fame?
Fame is but a slow decay –
Even this shall pass away.”

Struck with palsy, sere and old,
Waiting at the gates of gold,
Said he, with his dying breath:
“Life is done, but what is death?”
Then, in answer to the King,
Fell a sunbeam on his ring,
Showing by a heavenly ray –
“Even this shall pass away.”

Notes from a Journal

I often wonder who was the first to make a discovery. For instance, who was it, after unnumbered instances of expanding and contracting construction materials, who devised the formula for predicting those forces? So much we take for granted is derived from the inspiration – and hard work – of men and women forgotten.

What I wrote as a teenager seems in retrospect immature. But the other day I heard a musical composition, written by Felix Mendelssohn at the age of 15, described as a classic. Did an older Mendelssohn wish for a chance to rewrite?

My thanks to each AAPA’er who wrote to tell me how much they enjoyed my booklet, A Drop of Printer’s Ink. It was a labor of affection over almost two years’ time.

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The Gryphon
A hobby journal, hand-set and printed by Walter H. Brovald
St. Paul, Minn. 55105

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