Saturday, February 27, 2016

Word Power

(Pangloss – a fictional character in the novel Candide by Voltaire)

          A February issue of The New Yorker magazine brought back thoughts of my grandfather, not the likeliest combination. My parents were long-time subscribers, but my grandfather Sam Woods was more of a Time or Saturday Evening Post kind of guy.
He was a geologist for the Sun Oil Company (Sunoco today) and spent as much in his leather jacket riding out on a horse to check the lines as he did poring over well reports. In spite of his college degree, he often referred to himself as “just a farm boy from Tennessee.” He’d really wanted to be a doctor, but there was only money enough for his brother Ed to follow through on that dream.  

          I only remember him from his retirement years, which were filled mostly with gardening and reading. He’d been successful at his job, and his big brick house in Tulsa had a number of flower beds to keep him busy. He’d come in at noon for lunch and a glass of iced tea after working in the Oklahoma summer sun for hours. He always wore khakis and one of his former business shirts, the sleeves pinking-sheared off above the elbows. One of my mother’s favorite stories was of a couple stopping for directions who thought he was the hired yard man. Later in the afternoon he’d clean up and settle into his arm chair to read, his unabridged dictionary at his side. 

         So there I was, deep into The New Yorker's article about a Colorado man who spends his time espousing the benefits of extreme thrift, the key to how he’d retired in his thirties. I'd hit a snag with a word, the adjective “Panglossian,” and I thought I knew what the writer meant  -  I’d certainly read Candide, probably written a paper on two on it. Nevertheless, I reached for my feather-light iPad (instead of my grandfather with his ten pound unabridged Webster's) to verify its meaning, and thought that as much as times change, they still remain the same.


  1. I still constantly refresh the meaning of words to my memory, which then turns the meaning loose again.

  2. Oh the memories this post triggered...
    My father did garden work in his old business shirts too. And his favourite was a silk one - which started life as a burgundy shirt and was decidedly pink after many, many washings.
    I have a weakness for dictionaries. I like the distraction that words geographically close to the one I am looking up can provide...

  3. Well, I can see why Panglossian would stump you. Great story about your Grandfather

  4. That sounds like an interesting article! I'll have to dig it out of my already rapidly accumulating New Yorkers. (I can never keep up with the danged things.) Love the descriptions of your grandfather.


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