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Wigglesworth A-11 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Wednesday, September 10 2014 08:30

  While serving with fellow alumni as “Marshall” yesterday (September 1, 2014), I met some of the Harvard freshmen students who now live in Wigglesworth, the dormitory where I once lived.  In particular, I talked with the four residents of A-11, the very spot of my living with three other first-years.

However, we were not there during the first semester of 1947.  Harvard already had too many freshmen to accommodate all of us in the dormitories.  As a result of this overcrowding, most of us who came from families based near Cambridge had to wait till the following semester for Harvard housing.

So, in January 1948, I took up residence with two other Bostonians, Bob and Tom, along with Walt, a classmate from Washington, D.C. as I recall. The first two have died already as I presume our companion from the national capital has also.

The four new residents of A-11 proved delightful to talk with as we did while waiting to march toward a giant tent set up to protect all of us from the sun and perhaps rain. 

The only resident of my former quarters was first named Stone. Later when I looked up his name on the football squad I discovered him to almost double me at six-feet three-inches tall and weighing two hundred and seventy pounds.

I have since written him a letter asking for him to share with me the names of his confreres and their email addresses. He has not rushed to reply.

Both he and the other three did hurry to inform me of what they seem to consider most important about A-11.  It was the place where, in his own freshman years, Bill Gates dwelled. They had received from the college a list of all the students who have lived in that room. Of all the names, that of the famous Microsoft founder stood out.

I kept to myself the fact of having shared with Gates departing from Harvard after sophomore year.  Had the students discovered this similarity it would almost surely have not drawn me in their estimation any closer at all to the fame they feel toward that other erstwhile A-11 er.





ROGER PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Tuesday, July 08 2014 07:49

“Life Itself” is the title of a fabulous new film. I saw it on July Fourth of 2014 in an audience deeply caught up in its story.                    

This documentary centers on Roger Ebert, the critic who covered movies for the Chicago Sun-Times, television stations, and other media.

The film covers the whole range of Roger’s life, starting from his early years and finishing with his death in 2013. It gives much attention, of course, to his views of the movies.

Among the films noted in the film, I much appreciated Roger’s analysis of “Bonnie and Clyde,” a  film that he considered one of the best American movies ever made.

Much attention is given to his relationship with Gene Siskel, reviewer for the more prestigious Chicago Tribune.  Their association on television was often marked by insult and disagreement.  However, in time it led to an important friendship, as witnessed by his choosing of Siskel as the best man at his wedding in 1992.

That wedding made a huge difference in Roger’s life.  It brought to him Chaz Hammel-Smith, an Afro American woman of great personal charm and love.  This marriage, taking place when Roger was fifty years old; in large part it enabled him to endure terrible physical suffering.

That pain came from cancer of the thyroid and salivary gland.  This disease required many surgeries and difficult bodily arrangements. One of the features of “Life Itself” is frequent views of Roger’s face, something that I had to get used to, as I think others in the audience were also required to do.

For me, the ultimate appraisal of this film was thumbs up, way up.  It stands as a beautiful portrait of human life filled with achievement, along with missteps and suffering. I came away from this cinematic experience with renewed appreciation of what human life can be.

I feel grateful to Steve James for having made the film, though he himself has reason to thank Roger Ebert himself to the vital part he played in this movie’s making. And for being such an exciting person.  

SAD WAKE PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Tuesday, June 03 2014 08:23
The saddest wake I can remember came recently. It wasn't seeing my friend Joe in his coffin but it was the absence of a member of his family. That person was his oldest daughter whom I had known long ago.

Joe’s son took me aside and explained to me why that sister had not come. She, it turns out, had been long estranged from both her mother and her father. Her absence suggested a terrible break in their family structure. Apparently no one had been able to deal with the situation. Clearly I could not know how, nor would I have tried to take on such a difficult problem.

 As with such situations generally, it may well be that the reason for the breakup is lost by now. No one may know what brought the separation about. The parents are both gone now but it seems unlikely that the adult children will ever be able to remedy the break.

 Did my friend die with regret for his inability to redeem the split? It seems unlikely I will never know.  Nor is there much chance her siblings will come close to their sister who treated her parents like this.

Garrison1 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Wednesday, December 04 2013 00:00


Garrison Keillor, for me, ranks high among American masters of spoken language. I put him up there with Mark Twain though not, of course, as a writer. Keillor’s command of the story and the anecdote strikes me as superb, so much so that I love to listen to at lest parts of his radio show.

Better than that, last evening I had the chance to hear him and to see him up close.  That happened in the Unitarian church in Harvard Square.  Sitting in the second row, I could watch his every move and listen carefully to his speaking and singing.  Yes, he not only sang himself but coaxed the large audience to join him in hymns and other songs. 

Keillor is much taller than I had realized.  At six-four he stands high and makes his presence felt.  At age 71 he is no longer young but has attained what he terms “the scriptural three-score-and-ten. So along with his humor, he does display a kind of wisdom about life.

I enjoyed the many limericks he recited from memory.  And his stories about growing up were entertaining.  He claims to have sent word to a monastery in Iowa asking for admission.  Fortunately, he received no reply so enrolled in the University of Minnesota which nurtured his writing skills.

Taking the opportunity of being in the front I was one of those who asked him a question.  I expressed pleasure at his account of becoming a newspaper reporter and told him I had long ago been a copy boy at the Boston Globe. Did he think newspapers would survive, I asked?

Yes, he believed strongly in their importance to society and felt confident they would endure.  This response evoked applause from the large audience. 

Another person asked if Garrison experiences writer’s block. No, he said, never.  That’s because, in his view, what a writer does is write. You don’t find a dentist feeling dentist block, he said.

At the end of the presentation we sang again (not tuneless I, that would have been blasphemy). Then people formed a long line that snaked through the length of the church while he, standing, autographed the his new book of poems.

An evening to be remembered.  


Five Minute Talk PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Friday, November 22 2013 08:47
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This week I delivered a five-minute talk. I spoke in front of some seventy-five members of the Cambridge Club. Most in the audience were civic friends of mine, and could be relied upon to welcome what I say.

In preparing this talk I was mindful of Blaise Pascal, the great French savant, who is credited with saying: “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.

Actually, I did have time to craft my short talk. And I seem to have delivered it right on schedule. 

What pleased me most about my presentation was the laughter that came from the group.  Perhaps they felt good about it and free to laugh, knowing how short it was going to be.

My chosen subject was the Howl, the paper I publish several times a year for neighbors and interested others. I presented it as something I have done for the community. That, after all, is what qualifies each Cambridge Club member to belong.

I presented the Howl as a service that enables members of my neighborhood community to discover one another.  This benefit applies especially when new residents join our district.  They become known to all readers when they introduce themselves in print or allow me to do it for them.

In telling the audience about the name Howl, I amused them by referring to my short street and to the poem by Beat poet Allen Ginsberg.     They also stayed interested when I cited a few of the typical items the Howl has published.  A wedding photo, book reviews, a trip to Japan by my next door neighbors, fine photos of birds, and urchins coming around on Halloween were some I mentioned.

With my last item I paid tribute to the anthrophobes who grace our street.  Few in number, they do not respond to the Howl.  But even they sometimes have their names appear in this even-handed publication.

My brief presentation was followed by something like an hour-and-a- half talk given by two high-ranking officers from the Cambridge Police Department and the chief of the Fire Department. These gentlemen explained in detail the events of the Boston Marathon bombing and Cambridge’s part in responding to that crisis.

They left me valuing even more what was said by Pascal.


JFK at BC PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Monday, November 18 2013 09:46

As the fiftieth anniversary of President Kennedy’s death approaches, I am mindful of the speech he gave at Boston College in the spring of 1963. I was sitting in the large crowd gathered to hear him help celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of the college’s founding.

The words I have remembered from that talk came at the beginning. That’s when Jack made the audience laugh by calling it “a great pleasure to come back to a city where my accent is considered normal and where they pronounce the words the way they are spelled.”

This line was typical of the man’s sense of humor and, like so much else that he said in other speeches, added to my loss at his outrageous death.  When this latter event happened I was living in Wales, far removed from my grieving home nation.  But I was helped by my colleagues from other countries who, for days, gathered around the television set and mourned the loss of JFK.


POPE PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Wednesday, November 13 2013 10:39

Harvey, a close friend, reports with continuing excitement his meeting with the pope last week. 

He had received an invitation to a public audience where he was invited to a seat on a stage where some thirty other people had assembled. After an hour, he was brought to the pope who spoke with him in Spanish and English. 

 A Protestant theologian, Harvey does not accept the validity of the papacy.  However, on this occasion he was deeply moved to meet the still new holder of that office. 

This is what especially moved him: “As we parted, he took my hand in both his and asked me to pray for him.  I intend to.”

About Pope Francis, he writes to me: “He is a VERY impressive guy.”

PRIZE PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Wednesday, October 09 2013 07:53

Last evening, I attended a forum of some twenty-five candidates for election to our city council.  In between two of the sessions, I went out of the auditorium into the corridor to see friends and acquaintances. To my surprise, one of those I encountered was a college classmate and near neighbor, Martin Karplus.


This morning, to my astonishment, I discovered that Martin has received the Nobel Prize in chemistry.  Along with two other scientists, he was recognized for “the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems.” I have no idea of what this means but I take pride and feel joy at what a friend has been recognized for accomplishing.


I also take it as significant that Martin was taking part in an event of importance to our community.  It would not be until today, the next morning, that he received the telephone call informing him of his honor.  I may not see him anytime soon to speak congratulatory words to him, but I already take great pleasure in this event and my own good fortune in having encountered the winner at almost the time his prize was announced.

CALLS PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Tuesday, October 08 2013 08:07

Frequent phone calls, frequent mailings, occasional front porch visits - - these are the way we figure in the current race for the 5h Congressional District seat. Our former congressman, Ed Markey, served my part of town for only a few months, before going on to a senate seat. 


That was the result of the way we were redistricted out of our former political location, thanks to the unwanted changes made by our state legislature. That move caused us to lose Mike Capuano, our congressman for the previous ten years or so. I liked Mike and would have elected to keep him, but we weren’t given that option.


As I explained to members of my Monday evening audience at one of our local assisted living facilities, those among them who are also getting frequent calls and mailings from the seven candidates for the seat are those who have voted in the past.  They are the only ones who hear from those running; other people are judged not worth contacting because the chances are they will not be voting. So, people can feel good about themselves knowing they re the valued ones. At times they may feel imposed upon, but to my mind they have good reason for celebrating recognition as real voters.


Experiment PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Thursday, October 03 2013 07:52

Yesterday, October 1, marked the first time I have composed a talk by speaking instead of by writing. To do so I used a new program called Dragon dictate for the Mac, surprising me by spelling virtually all my words correctly.


How practical this new program will prove to be I do not now know. As I continue to experiment, I hope to find a variety of uses. Currently, its flexibility amazes me while it adds to the wide range of abilities that my computer offers.


This blog has been dictated by me rather than written. If it is less well written then my usual material, please understand I am trying something new.

CARLOS PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Saturday, September 14 2013 09:53
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Several days ago I received the following email:

 “Congratulations on your birthday. You happen to be my senior- by 3 months.

 Are you and your equally aged brethren in the U.S. as concerned as I am about the goings

on in the world ?  What about the young ?

 Does age affect people´s judgment in such matters?

  Start with Syria.  Whoever attacked these poor people with gas did something

indescribably mean.

But even if their government did it, a  U.S. attack  widens the conflict (another Vietnam, Iraq ?).

The whole Near East is very much of a mess with innumerable Islamic factions fighting each other

and Israel standing by to protect itself. Is the role of the U.S. to directly enter into this mess ?

 Go on with Manning and Snowden. Were they right or wrong ?  Or partly right and partly wrong ? 

Should they be punished for their deeds or misdeeds ?”



            This message came from my friend Carlos. He was taking note of my birthday, one that came close to his own.

            He also shared some of his recent thinking about the world, as he likes to do frequently. I always enjoy receiving his perspectives and sharing views with him.

Carlos is one of my best friends.  This holds true even though he lives in Monterrey, Mexico, a place where I have never been.

We became friends during our freshman year in college. That friendship ranks as one of the most valuable of my experiences during that time. Over the decades since then, we have managed a few meetings, both in Mexico and in Cambridge.

A truly memorable reunion took place in July 1969 when I was spending a month in Cuernavaca, Mexico.  Carlos invited me to spend a few days in his home in Mexico City.

 That is when I became acquainted with the Spanish phrase “Mi casa es su casa” (“My home is your home.”) Such was the hospitality offered me by Carlos and his wife that I learned the meaning of the motto and still treasure it.

During my visit, we happened to visit a small village on July 21, 1969. It was there, in a tiny café, that we watched Neil Armstrong land and walk on the moon.  I will never forget the drama of that event, as we saw it together in that unexpected place.

I am glad that Carlos and I can still witness world events together.

In answer to his first questions, I would say that my age peers feel strong concern about the issues he cites. Currently Syria preoccupies all of us. And we question whether President Obama has made the right moves. 

When I sit down for weekly lunch with friends, all eighty and above, I am glad to see how they readily they start discussion of national and world questions.  We are at least as concerned as are the young people in our vicinity. 

I have some memory of a time when old people were thought not to care about such matters. They appeared to us to be focused on their own present, without much concern for the future. 

Nowdays, a greater number of older Americans enjoy good health and abundant educational opportunities. Maybe that is why they can confront the future along with younger people, and share in their worries and hopes for the world.

Perhaps I know the wrong people, but I am going to assure Carlos that those I have contact with really do care about our nation and our world.

That does not mean we know the answers any better than our juniors, but it does mean that the issues remain important for us.




















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