Archive for the ‘Columns’ Category


And speaking of Superman…

April 10, 2023

Yesterday’s little flight-of-fancy about being Superman was inspired by the following “classic” column….

* * * * * * *


by Jack Crowther

[from the Rutland Herald, November 23, 1986]

We all need to feel we count. This thought occurred to me recently when 4-year-old Bill from next door approached me on the back porch and asked, “Where’s the other Cruther?”

Actually, there are three other Crowthers besides me, but the boy knew our children’s first names, so he had to mean my wife. I told him she was inside.

He went around to the front door and rang the bell. When my wife answered, Bill informed her that he would be taking a nap presently and therefore was unavailable to anyone who wanted him.

She thanked him for letting her know, and Bill went sleepy-bye, secure in the knowledge that he had the decks cleared for his nap. From such beginnings, chief executives grow.

Bill displayed a healthy attitude, even if he overestimated the effect of his naps on the Crowther routine. He knew he counted, and that’s one of the foundation blocks of a productive life. Without a sense of our own worth, everything we do seems irrelevant.

People’s self-worth goes up and down like the stock market. Sometimes at dinner, people in our family will check up on each other.

“How’s your self-worth?” my wife will ask me.

“Down 2 points in moderate trading,” I might say. “And you?”

“Oh, I had a pretty good day. “Up 3 and a quarter in light trading.”

We include the children. “How do you feel about yourself?” we ask.

“Black Tuesday,” our daughter will say. “I think I did lousy on my science test.”

We try to buck her up. “You’re sure to rebound in the third quarter,” we say.

“And you, son?”

“Unchanged,” he’ll say.

“Unchanged from what?”

“From OK.”

“Just OK?”

“Yeah, my self-worth is fine, OK?”


Unless you’re a trained insecurity analyst, you may not spot the telltale signs of a decline in self-worth. Some people can hid their feelings.

I used to believe in keeping feelings in. I was a card-carrying member of the John Wayne school of psychological survival. If I was feeling down and someone asked me how I was, I’d say, “Fine.”

An exception to that was during my compulsive honest phase, when an extreme truthfulness plagued me. During that period, people would ask me how I was, and, if I was unhappy, I’d say, “Fine . . . physically.”

I soon got over that, thank goodness. Complete honesty was impractical. It spawned too many lengthy conversations that began with the question, “Well, what about mentally?”

After that, I learned to keep some things to myself. I learned to think the qualifying phrases instead of saying them aloud.

“How’s your self-worth?” people would ask.

“Fine,” I’d say, even if down deep I wasn’t. Then I’d continue silently to myself, “Compared to when I wrecked the car.”

Now I’m more open about feelings, depending on how much time I have. One reason is that my wife found a way to get around my deceptions. She didn’t need to ask me what kind of mood I was in. She would tell me what my self-worth quotient was and challenge me to defend it.

“You seem to be at a low ebb today,” she’d say.

This irritated me, and I would sometimes respond with, “Oh?”

I didn’t want people telling me I was at a low ebb and asking for explanations. Sometimes my reasons seemed anemic.

Of course, not all bad moods come from being down on oneself, though many amount to that. We are the authors of our own fates, we tell ourselves. If things have gone badly, we’re to blame for not conquering our problems, we think.

Perhaps I dwell on this subject because, for a couple of hours recently, I lived the illusion of being a super-capable individual whose worth was almost incalculable. On Halloween, I dressed up as Superman, and in my shocking blue tights, blue top and red cape I almost believed I was Superman.

Though I didn’t fly through the air when I stretched out my arms in Superman’s patented flying position, I knew I had the right stuff. All that was needed was just a little bit of magic and off I’d go.

Throwing my right leg up for a vertical takeoff was as natural as getting up from breakfast, and if I failed to clear tall buildings with a single bound, only the alignment of the planets or the air pressure or some geophysical quirk was keeping me from it.

“There’s Superman,” people said as I rode through the streets of the city on a flatbed truck.

I waved. People responded.

At 6 feet, 170 pounds, the illusion of the Man of Steel was a trifle lightweight. I was more suited to portray the Man of Aluminum. Nevertheless, I played Superman and felt super, until a woman on the sidewalk called out, “Hey Superman, did you go on a diet?”

I swelled up my chest in a heroically doomed effort to expand my dimensions, distending my ribs to the point of pain.

“Nice try,” she said.

Ever since then, I’ve been a little down.

Physically, though, I’m fine.


A chip off the old block?

August 20, 2019

by Jack Crowther
Rutland Herald
October 21, 1990

Living with an elementary school teacher means:

Being asked, out of the blue, questions like, “Do we have any green cardboard?” or, “Where can I find a picture of a wheat field?” Questions cooked up overnight or hatched during housework, when her mind was still in school. Questions like, “What’s that stuff from whales that’s used in perfume — amber what?”

Living with an elementary school teacher means being expected to know the names and quirks of 15 or 20 children whom you have never met, including several with the same names.

It means differentiating between the two Chads and among Sara, Sara, and Sarah using only context clues. Obviously, Chad-who-never-finishes could not be the same Chad who wrote the wonderful seven-page story about his pet duck.


Living with an elementary school teacher means learning a dictionary of educational terms, all of which have different meanings than those encountered in normal conversation. Terms like “chapter.” For example:
Q. “What does she teach?”
A. “Chapter.”
Q. “What?”
A. “She’s the chapter teacher.”
Q. “What chapter does she teach, and what book are we talking about?”
A. “No, no. She’s the teacher for the Chapter I program. You know that.”

Of course.

Living with an elementary school teacher means being expected to understand, without reference to an interpreter or glossary, terms like: Title I, basal, whole language, conference (as a verb), in-service (as an adjective), heterogeneous groups, self-contained classroom and cooperative learning.

Living with an elementary school teacher means being asked to color in 17 mimeographed turkeys while watching your favorite television program. This is impossible to do, but don’t expect sympathy. She would do it herself but she’s coloring 17 Pilgrims.

Living with a teacher means finding folders, boxes and stacks of learning materials all over the house. It means posters and charts suspended from hangers in closets.

It means learning that every scrap of paper worth saving is worth laminating to protect it from flood, smudge, slush, tearing, fraying and wrinkling. It means learning that a teacher’s greatest joy in life is in pulling out from a household cranny a fully prepared unit on dinosaurs.

Living with an elementary school teacher means appreciating the many kinds of meetings that one profession can generate. There are team meetings, faculty meetings and staffings, all different. There are parent conferences, district-wide meetings, curriculum meetings, committee meetings and level meetings.

If you wonder why the teacher in your family is not promptly home at the end of a school day, she is probably in a meeting. Missing at breakfast? It must be a before-school meeting. Gone after supper? A night meeting.

Living with an elementary school teacher means seeing her off to an endless progression of workshops and courses. They represent an ongoing quest to surround and contain the world of learning, not just what to teach but when and how to teach it.

Living with an elementary school teacher means literary discussions based on leading books of the day; books like “Bridge to Terabithia” or “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” Forget the New York Times best seller list. It’s not relevant to grade school.

Living with a teacher also means learning that, for many reasons, some children will not fulfill the bright promise of youth. But it also means celebrating small triumphs just often enough to nourish optimism. It means rediscovering weekly and monthly and yearly a child’s capacity for growth.

Finally, living with a teacher means a vicarious enjoyment, tinged with envy, of school vacations. It means a chance, several times a year, to witness enormous relief, tempered by the knowledge that school, like the seasons, will come again.


Happy 50th Anniversary, Mom & Dad!

May 30, 2019

As of tomorrow, my parents will have been married for 50 years! I hesitate to say “celebrating” 50 years because, at the moment, they’re mostly working hard on moving from their current home to a new place across town. But, anyway … 50 years! In recognition of this milestone, I am posting a relevant column — one of my all-time favorites — by my dad.


by Jack Crowther
Rutland Herald, April 1, 1984

Contemplating the approach of our 15th wedding anniversary, my wife observed, “I think it’s pewter.” A pause. “I don’t like pewter. You can’t put it in the dishwasher.”

Such is the state of our marriage after a decade and a half. Sentiment hamstrung by convenience, tradition clobbered by practicality, symbolism outlawed by appliance manuals. Yet it survives.

In fact, the 15th anniversary isn’t pewter at all. It’s watches. But watches don’t go in the dishwasher either, so the point still applies. If it’s not dishwasher-safe, she has no use for it. I count myself and the children as exceptions to this standard, though a “dishwasher safe” label might improve our standing.

How to summarize those 15 years and the preceding courtship? Certain cycles have repeated themselves, as they do in the dishwasher. The quiet purposefulness of the fill cycle, the turbulence of the scrubbing, the fresh prospects of the rinse and the warm glow of the drying. It’s all there.

We met in the summer of 1967 at a public sailing club in Boston. They taught sailing and let out boats not far from the band shell on the Charles River. After you learned to sail, you taught the beginners. This offered a good opportunity for a chap to impress a young lady by showing off the arcane skills and colorful language of the skipper.

“Belay that purse,” I’d say with the authority of one who had battled wind and wave from Cape Horn to the Sea of Okhotsk.

My wife wasn’t the only female companion to sail with me on the Charles. Another possible romance had foundered when the boat had capsized. In some waters, tipping over might be as much fun as sailing, but not on the Charles. It’s too much of a working river, carries too much Bay State waste to be a swimmer’s place. An unplanned dunking was more taint than treat for my crew, and I never saw the girl again.

But I fared better with my future bride. We kept upright and avoided the treacherous Storrow Memorial Embankment.  Out of gratitude for her survival or interest, or both, she invited me over for stew.

The rest is history, though largely unrecorded until now.

I was new to the ways of love and underwent the usual bizarre changes in behavior. I made a cake and shared it with her. An ingenuous little pastry, it was yellow, one layer high and without frosting. But she loved me for it.

Well, at least she didn’t laugh.

At least she didn’t laugh loudly.

At least she didn’t laugh loudly in front of me.

Another time, I made dinner, served wine, and put on a tablecloth. Photographic evidence proves she was still smiling after the meal. She believes that I made spaghetti with store-bought sauce. That I could have pulled off such a culinary feat stretches credulity, but she’s not one to exaggerate.

Our courtship had its ups and downs. I moved to Vermont. On weekends she’d come up or I’d go down to Boston. Once we broke up for a couple of weeks. It was my doing, but I must not have liked it much. I broke down and called her up. After that things settled down a bit.

These things tend to reach a point of decision, and they did with us. I proposed. She accepted. Our parents accepted. Her church accepted. The Chicago city clerk accepted.

On a late spring day in 1969, the awesome ship of matrimony slid down the ways in a Chicago suburb and set its course, cheered by a waving throng and tacitly admonished as well: beware the conjugal straits; tempt not the storms of estrangement.

The crew of two somehow thought they could handle it. Why, they’d sailed the Charles River, hadn’t they?



Crosscurrents of Heredity

November 13, 2016

Although my son does not especially remind me of myself, my dad does. The “My Track Record” blog as a whole is somewhat reminiscent of his weekly newspaper column from the 1980s; moreover, some of my entries seem to unintentionally recreate specific columns. For example, after posting my own musings on heredity, I checked the archives and found the following.

Crosscurrents of Heredity

By Jack Crowther

[from the Rutland Herald — September 18, 1988]

My first cousin once removed out in Guthrie, Okla., thinks my son looks like my father when he was a boy. Even though she’s only seen our son in a picture, I take her impression seriously. She knew my father as a boy, and I never met the old man until later.

I mention my cousin’s impression because it differs from my own feeling that the boy favors my wife’s side of the family. Of course, these varied perceptions are common. People pick up on different looks and traits and decide that young people take after one relative or another.

Living close to the offspring and knowing both sides of the family tree, parents can see the crosscurrents of heredity mingling in the children and in ourselves.

For example, my wife and son bite their tongues during periods of mental concentration, a trait that is traceable to her father. Biting your tongue is not something you do naturally, and to me it always seemed like a step toward cannibalism. I’m happy to chalk that one up to her side.

Sometimes the similarities between one family member and another don’t last. Our daughter started out looking a lot like my sister but then began wearing aqua. That caused a sea change in her appearance and wiped out any resemblance.

I find traits in myself reflecting my mother and father. Between my father’s hard logic and my mother’s empathy, I swing like a chimp. I ape one parent, then another, sometimes both at once. At times, I hang above the tangled jungle of life for days trying to figure out which way to go.

My wife is a worrier like her mother. And she’s thrifty like her father. Needless to say, she worries about money. It’s a dubious inheritance.

It’s easy to spot some of my wife’s and my habits and attitudes in the children. Our daughter is quick and intuitive, our son deliberate and logical, differences mirrored in my wife and me. Arguments around here are a circus of contrasting styles — like Mike Tyson going up against a voodoo priest. But that’s what makes families interesting.

Ironically, the ways in which the children resemble us parents aren’t necessarily their most endearing qualities. Some traits of the children that vex me are my own qualities.

The children, in turn, are surely vexed by parental habits they judge can only have come from outer space. For now they can’t say much, or we’ll put them to work cleaning the baseboard registers with cotton swabs.

But in our inevitable dotages certain of our traits will become exaggerated, and our children will grow bolder. They’ll quietly complain to each other that we drive them up the wall with this fixation or that nervous habit or some other quirk of character.

Even now, looking inward, I wince to see traits that one day will harden and make me an odd duck. And yet, if we look closely at our children, we can see the seeds of their own idiosyncrasies. They may be entering the years of cool judgment of their elders, but they will be judged in turn.

The circle of life turns a full 360 degrees, and some day our children will have assembled their own resumes of whims and kinks. Hardly anyone who takes the full course in life gets through with a rating of “normal.” There are simply too many frogs in the gene pool, and each of us gets a few of them. Or maybe some of the frogs hop aboard as we pass through the low marshes of life. You tell me.

Another perplexing thing about this subject is the tendency of children to defy their parents’ examples, however excellent. Actually, I find their independence reassuring.

First, it relieves us of some responsibility. Second, it makes the topnotch moms and dads look a little more ordinary.

If a child grows up into a ne’er-do-well, we can always say to ourselves, “Well! They didn’t get that from us. We did our part. The kid must be a throwback to someone in the Oklahoma clan.”

And on the occasions when our children rise above us in merit, we can salve our egos by saying: “Okay, they succeeded where we didn’t, but they couldn’t have done it without our help. The talent was there in us, lying dormant. We passed it on and nursed it to full flower.”

We can also enjoy the times when we realize that no, our children will never be as good as we are at certain things, like juggling or tree recognition. It’s easy to be generous in those cases. We can say, “That’s OK, kids, we’re a tough act to follow.”


Columns as memory crutches

March 22, 2011

On Sunday night, Liz and Phil and I watched Marley & Me, a movie based on the book by journalist John Grogan. Not being a dog person, I was moved most by the moments where, as the family dog ages and then dies, Grogan’s family flips through his old columns about the dog to relive the good times. My dad was also a journalist, with his own stash of columns about family life, to which I still return occasionally.

On Monday I had surgery. Several months of physical therapy has not proven that efficacious for my insertional Achilles tendinopathy, so my Haglund’s deformity, often called a “pump bump,” was shaved down, and some soft tissue between the bone and tendon was scraped away. I will be on crutches for two weeks and will not do any running in the next three months.

Using crutches has not been that fun. The reason I thought it might be fun is that, when my sister was six years old, she walked around with crutches as a form of recreation. She was perfectly healthy; she just liked pretending to be injured. I wouldn’t be able to recall any of the details, except that my dad wrote a column that immortalized her affectation. What a nice treat to be able to travel back in time and laugh about it all over again!

* * * * * * *

The Smells Of Christmas Just Past
By Jack Crowther
[from the Rutland Herald — December 30, 1982]

The day after Christmas our daughter was hobbling around the back yard on crutches.

Poor thing, you’re saying, the holidays spoiled by an accident.

Not so. Her femurs were fine, her tibias true, her metatarsals more than capable of carrying her around the green squishy lawn.

Fact was, she wanted to hobble around the yard on crutches, despite the lack of a suitable injury. Despite, further, the absence of real crutches. She had to find a couple of forked sticks to serve the purpose.

Inside were a Fashion Jeans Barbie Doll, twirling baton, puppy purse, toy organ and other ingenious products of human manufacture. But there she was, little more than 24 hours after ripping the paper from her presents, preferring the fantasy of a gimpy gam.

Actually, she had started out by using the baton as a cane. Oh, she twirled some. But it also performed nicely as a cane, until the light steel tubing collapsed under her weight.

Then she had an L-shaped baton. Trying to put a good light on keen disappointment, she noted that at least “L” was her favorite letter. After that she had to use sticks for her lame game.

Her friend came over to play and they both hobbled around on one crutch. Pretend broken legs must be contagious.

The forked sticks were easy to find. The winter hasn’t left much snow yet, but precipitation of sticks appears to be keeping up with the seasonal average.

The above was really just a sidelight of our Christmas, however. The essence of the celebration was a smoked ham, the centerpiece of the holiday meal. Writing this on the 27th — wait, let me go check. Yes, I have just been out to the kitchen and can report that the smell is still there.

My wife’s hair even smelled of smoked ham, and that led to the only real injury of the holiday. We were asleep Christmas night after the day’s excitement and ample evening meal. But I must have worked up an appetite by about 3 a.m. when I rolled over in my sleep and smelled smoked ham on the neighboring pillow. A Pavlovian reflex evidently set my jaws in motion, and my teeth seized on my wife’s ear.

Fortunately her scream woke us both up before any serious damage was done.

So much for the smells of Christmas. The sounds ranged from the fervency of John Cougar’s “Hurts So Good” to the inspiration of the “Hallelujah Chorus” to a halting “Farmer in the Dell.”

Our son likes Cougar and had asked for and received his album. Whether a 9-year-old can comprehend the substance of “Come on baby, make it hurt so good/Sometimes love don’t feel like it should” is doubtful. A friend of his once referred to the hit song “Centerfold” as “Center Pole.” But some elemental link in the music seems to bridge the gap in understanding.

My own musical preference on Christmas Day was for “The Farmer in the Dell,” which I played 18 times on the toy organ, the song being the shortest in the book that came with the organ. In case you don’t know it, it goes like this: 1 4 4 4 4 4 5 6 6 6 6 6 8 8 9 8 6 4 5 6 6 5 5 4.

No one applauded my playing, perhaps because Christmas is a time for giving. In “The Farmer in the Dell,” you recall, everyone takes — the farmer take the wife, the wife takes the child, and so on — except the cheese, which stands alone.

For Christmas dinner, I set aside the organ, since I couldn’t very well play — not even “Farmer in the Dell” — and eat at the same time. Our song voted for John Cougar. In the boy’s favor, the song, “Can You Really Take It (All the Way Down)” does seem to suggest the digestive process.

But my wife and I voted for Christmas carols, and carols it was.

And that was Christmas, still a smell but now just memory of sights and sounds, all mostly pleasant. And the mark is nearly gone from my wife’s ear.


Like father, like son

June 18, 2006

This being Father’s Day, I feel compelled to write something about my dad — not just because he’s a good dad, but because he is and has always been a writer I look up to. He worked for the Rutland Herald for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist, and subsequently did freelance work and taught seminars on effective business writing. It’s the columns which impressed me most, with their reliable mix of humor and wisdom, and this blog is, to some extent, an attempt to emulate them.

It took many years before my own writing style bore any resemblance to my dad’s. Even my college articles for the Williams Record were full of unnecessary digressions designed to showcase the author’s flair for ridiculous analogies and puns. Somewhere along the line, though, I got better at implementing such Dad dictums as, “Use no more words than needed; make every word count.”

If this blog’s prose is at least occasionally concise, funny, and/or lyrical, I have my dad to thank for that. And so, as a small Father’s Day tribute, I’m reprinting one of my favorite columns of his. Enjoy.

Autumn In Lane 1

by Jack Crowther

[from the Rutland Herald — October 15, 1983]

You can usually get an inside lane on a weekend at the city’s splendid running track next to the vocational school. That makes it congenial if you want to run a mile or two, because the distance is shorter on the inside lanes than on the outer ones. I don’t know why this is so, but isn’t there a principle of geometry that says, “The shortest distance between start and finish is the inside lane”?

The kids and I went out on a bright, blustery Sunday. The leaves on East Mountain had begun their fall show, warm colors announcing a cold season. The wind through the valley sang its October warning, “Button up, toughen up, get ready.”

The boy and the girl did their stretching exercises on the sun-warmed track. It seemed to me that if the inside lanes were better for running, the outside lanes might be better for stretching the leg muscles. But I hesitated to do much coaching on the basis of mere logic. So I kept quiet and they did their stretching on the second and third lanes, which seemed a moderate, sensible approach.

My daughter wondered if I could do “this.” “This” consisted of getting down on the knees and leaning back, back, back, until the head and shoulder blades rested on the track. Good for stretching the thighs, she said. I knelt and leaned back, but could move only 45 degrees past vertical. I moved from Lane 3 to Lane 6, but even with that and a series of gutteral noises could only bend another degree or two.

Good sport that she was, she gave me a second chance, this time on the “pretzel,” an exercise in which you sit down and interlock your arms and legs so that you look like one. Just seeing it made me dizzy with thirst, but I agreed to try. I chose to straddle Lanes 2 and 3, since the exercise involves both stretching and bunching up. All went well until the point at which I was ready to lock my right heel over my left thigh, when I toppled over.

She laughed; I laughed. Yet in the laughing, as in the gaily colored leaves up on East Mountain, was there not a telltale sign of my own athletic autumn? A season of tighter muscles, stiffer joints and shorter breath?

It was time to run. I kept the watch. My son was hell bent on improving his time for a mile. In an effort to stack the cards slightly in his favor, I moved out to Lane 3, figuring the seconds might be longer there, while he ran in Lane 1. The girl didn’t care about time; she was out for the fun of it. She had on a pair of mud-stained Miss Piggy joggers, but her step was light and springy as she circled the track.

I could not have kept up with my son, even though he judged his performance that day abominable, and probably not with my daughter. The boy is 10. I’m embarrassed to say how old the girl is, but she not only wears Miss Piggy joggers, she is still learning to read.

I tried once this summer to accompany the boy on a run of about a mile on city streets. Down Lincoln Avenue was fine. Up over the first small hill, no problem. My longer strides ate up his smaller ones. Down to Vernon Street, piece of cake. Across Vernon … Across Vernon … Well he left me. Short of killing myself, or maybe even dying in the attempt, I was not going to stay with him.

Of course, getting myself in condition would make a difference. But to fall back on that rationalization is perhaps to admit on a personal level that, yes, the leaves up on East Mountain are turning, the breeze carries a chill and a mile is a long way to run, even on an inside lane.