Monthly Archives: November 2021

dealing with a blow (death)


My wife and I just got the totally unexpected news from one of our best, dear friends that his wife died yesterday.

She had been ill for some time. She was immobilized, bedridden, for a good part (if not most) of the time, and needed constant assistance. Our friend, who is retired, had little time to himself. When he wasn’t at home caring for her, he was out doing errands such as shopping for food and taking care that other necessities were met. He never complained. That is not his nature.

Yesterday, our friend’s wife managed to attend Thanksgiving dinner nearby with a son and in-laws, accompanied by her husband. She died suddenly on the way home.



I couldn’t help thinking of the worst experience, without question, I had of death; and probably the worst experience of my whole life: my mother’s death at a young age from cancer.

It nearly tore our family apart. Not because of any disagreements among us (in the nuclear family), but just because of losing our mother and our father his wife.

Two things that I shared with my wife on hearing the news today of the death of our friend’s wife were as follows.




When my mother became gravely ill, and treatments appeared not to have been successful, I sank into a state of depression, as did my father and siblings. (Our father’s mental state — depression — seemed the worst.)  Yet, it was sort of “abstract,” in a way, at this point. I couldn’t quite contemplate my mother’s death.

By the time she died, a few months later, I had somehow — partly from talking about my mother’s condition with friends — become more realistic or “objective,” or however one might put it. I was no longer denying that my mother’s illness was terminal.

Yet, when my mother died, inevitably, after a short period during which she was at home briefly and then returned to the hospital, it was a terrible blow. The way I perceived it was: I knew in my rational mind she would not get better and was going to die, but not today.

She died in the spring. I made a visit to my father that summer. He did not talk about my mother, as I recall. He seemed less depressed than he had been a few months before.

I brought this up with my therapist. I said something to him to the effect of, my father looks almost happy. He is active again, enjoying life.

My therapist replied that this was normal: enjoying life. My father, he said, was resuming his life. His zest for it.

Death in such circumstances — unendurable to contemplate, something you are never prepared for — can also be a release and a relief.

Roger W. Smith

   November 26, 2021

my student essay on Tolstoy


Roger’s biographical sketch of Tolstoy

my Tolstoy essay – typed version

my Tolstoy essay – TRANSLATION


I am posting it again.

I am very proud of it. It was written in the 1970s.

I told my therapist, Dr. Colp, that I was taking an advanced Russian evening course at NYU.  l said that based on my previous study, I belonged in the intermediate course, but I wanted to be challenged. Made sense to him.

The paper was based on oral presentation in class. Dr, Colp wasn’t given to fulsome praise. But when I told him I gave a talk in Russian, he was impressed — “in Russian?” he said.

I learned Russian script in the introductory course I took, but I have forgotten it mostly and could not do as I did then: produce a handwritten paper.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2021

it don’t exactly curve


… toward the end of his life, … [Walt] Whitman saw that baseball was beginning to reflect some unsettling cultural changes. … the game … seemed to be conforming to anti­democratic tendencies in the culture. One particular rule change symptomatic of the overall drift of the sport particularly bothered Whitman. [Horace] Traubel records Whitman’s concern in May 1889; Thomas Harned, a devoted friend, had come to see Walt after attending a baseball game, and Whitman jumped at the chance to talk about the state of the sport:

Tell me, Tom-I want to ask you a question: in base-ball is it the rule that the fellow who pitches the ball aims to pitch it in such a way the batter cannot hit it? Gives it a twist-what not-so it slides off, or won’t be struck fairly?

Harned affirmed that this indeed was the case, and Whitman’s response indicates that he still followed the game even if he was now too debilitated to attend: “Eh? That’s the modern rule then, is it? I thought something of the kind-I read the papers about it-it seemed to indicate that there” [Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, 5:145].

The rule that concerned Whitman has to do with the way the ball could be pitched. The original Knickerbocker rule forbade the throwing of the ball; instead, the ball had to be pitched underhand, smoothly, so that the batter could hit it. This rule had been refined over the years, first requiring that the hand not be raised above the hip, then requiring only that the hand pass below the hip as the ball was pitched, then only below the waist, then the shoulder (allowing for sidearm pitching). Originally, then, the pitcher’s function was simply to put the ball in play by allowing the batter to hit it; one player usually pitched all the games. But as the skills of the players became more refined, the pitcher’s role became more strategic. In 1884 the National League removed all restrictions on a pitcher’s delivery, and by 1887 batters could no longer call for high or low pitches. The curveball, which occasionally had been accomplished underhand-style in the 1870s, now became a requisite skill. Whitman, however, was not impressed with this new skill and saw the rule change as endemic of the deception and lack of openness he saw creeping everywhere into America; we can hear echoes of the anger and despair of Democratic Vistas in his response to Harned, “denounc[ing] the custom roundly,” as Traubel tells us:

The wolf, the snake, the cur, the sneak all seem entered into the mod­ern sportsman-though I ought not to say that, for a snake is a snake because he is born so, and man the snake for other reasons, it may be said.” And again he went over the catalogue-“! should call it everything that is damnable.”

Harned is described as “amused” at Whitman’s response, but Whitman seems in earnest. He has obviously had the matter on his mind for some time and has engaged in some lively debate about it: “I have made it a point to put the same question to several fellows lately. There certainly seems no doubt but that your version is right, for that is the version everyone gives me” (With Walt Whitman in Camden 5:145).

— Ed Folsom, Walt Whitman’s Native Representations (Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp. 46-47



I was playing sandlot softball and baseball into my mid-50s. My hitting seemed to get better as I got older. I recall one pitcher though, Edward ______ — much younger than me, of course — on a playground in Queens whom I couldn’t hit. A fat pitch would come in slow, looked so tempting, I would swing, and the ball would break DOWN under my bat. Mightily swing and a miss. “I can never seem to hit you,” I said to Edward once. He laughed. “it’s always lights out for you?” he said.


posted by Roger W. Smith

  November 2021

true wisdom


My mother died tragically at a young age of cancer.

I overheard her once one evening in our house when as far as she knew no one was listening saying several times, repeatedly, to her herself, “I am going to die. I am going to die,” as if an incantatory saying could ward off evil; or better yet, help her face it. She was obviously terrified.

Hearing her say this alarmed me.

Several years later, I shared this with my wife Janet. It seemed in a way that cancer had unhinged my mother.

“What was wrong with that?” my wife said. “She was dying.”

My mother knew it. I, at the time, could not admit or face it.


– Roger W. Smith

   November 2021