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Donna's post entitled "attenuate" (and BobC's post about "If I had my life to live over") reminded me about my dad. It is a sad story but it has some relationship to the process Donna mentions in her posting on the web page that gives you a word a day.

My dad grew up in Port Richmond. He was the second oldest of four children and his dad was a ships carpenter. His parents had nothing when they arrived in America as Norwegian immigrants, and they certainly did not money for anything but subsistence. The the kids would go out to wander along the railroad tracks picking up lumps of coal to burn in their stove.

My dad wanted to go to college after graduating from high school but there was no money for that.

He took a job working as a call boy on Wall Street in the Stock Market. This is when he realized that the main difference between the haves and the have nots is what they say and how they say it. Most people don't ever say anything profound and those that do only do it occasionally. Most of the time people spend time getting things done and that happens more effectively when you are not being esoteric.

Well, it helps to be esoteric sometimes if you want people to believe you have something they don't. If that is how you want them to feel. My dad bought a thesaurus and took a course in elocution.

Every day he would learn a new word and try to use it as much as possible in appropriate ways so that by the end of the day it was his. He also tried to pronounce it properly, having studied elocution.

In time, he was indistinguishable from those who had been to good colleges and he had earned enough money to buy a good suit and good shoes. People asked him for advice because he looked and sounded successful.

This emboldened him so he decided to start a business. He opened an "Employment Agency" and soon he was successful in placing men in jobs which required credentials he lacked. On the other hand, he was being respected professionally by the employers who hired men he sent. His trademark brochure showed a picture of himself speaking on the phone. He was proud of his vocabulary and his speaking style, and he was effective.

Well, that did not last too long because the depression of 1929 made all the jobs and his business go away but my dad was lucky to get a job for himself as a book keeper at Bethlehem steel that lasted the rest of his life.

Now comes the sad part of the story. In 1950 he started having seizures that affected only one side of his body and briefly distorted his speech. They were controlled with medications and he was able to keep working without much interference.

He kept up his "word a day" vocabulary growth for 20 more years. We all did. It became a sort of family thing to learn words from the thesaurus. We also were not supposed to speak StatNislandese. At least, not in front of him.

In 1970, his siezures increased slightly and he started using some "esoteric" words in place of more common ones. He would also occasionally substitute crude words in place of acceptable ones with the same meaning. This was very disturbing to all of us but none of us, including me, understood what was happening to him.

I had graduated from Medical School so I should have known. He had "Aphasia" which is the inability to form words from thoughts. It is a sign of brain dysfunction. No one could detect aphasia in him because he had too many substitutes for words.

Then, one day he had a really bad set of seizures and was admitted to New York Hospital for evaluation. They found a brain tumor that was located near the speech center and near where motor impulses that control the right side of his body were located.

Looking back retrospectively on his medical history, it is clear that that tumor was growing there for over 20 years.

The fact that he had worked so hard to increase his vocabulary and continue to function, had prevented the discovery of the tumor and assured sadly that when it was found there was little that could be done to save him.

Never-the-less, his last two years of life in Saint Roses home in Manhattan was an important time for me. We talked about things from a different perspective and he shared his pride and courage and love. He also was able to say how proud he was of me and that he loved me.

This was the first time in 26 years of my life that he admitted he was proud of me, and it was just before he died. He also was able to admit that he was sorry he had not said that sooner, but he was afraid that I might lose my motivation to do better.

Thanks, Donna, for bringing back these memories. And, thanks BobC for the Bombeck quote. They have helped me remember the gift of language and love that my dad gave me. Art



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