A MENSCH AMONG MAD MEN:

Everyone (ok, maybe not everybody) knows Don Draper, Pete Campbell, and Roger Sterling of “Mad Men” fame. They represent many of the Ad men of the 50’s through 70s. Rolling Stone Magazine described them in a May 11, 2015 article By Rob Sheffield as “depraved rogues…with so few moral standards.” http://www.rollingstone.com/tv/lists/50-best-mad-men-characters-20150511

 Harry never saw the show. I assume he would have silently thought as George Lois, a huge Madison Avenue figure thought, “The more I think and write about Mad Men, the more I take the show as a personal insult. So fuck you, Mad Men, you phony grey-flannel-suit, male-chauvinist, no-talent, Wasp, white-shirted, racist, anti-Semitic Republican SOBs!”  “George’s and [probably Harry’s] issue with Mad Men was, I think, that it was all too real – and it reminded them of everything they hated about the business as they had found it.”  (Andrew Cracknell, author of The Real Mad Men.) George felt insulted, but in fact it was all too real.

Alen Sands York and Sandy Teller were real 1960’s Ad men that were depicted on the hit TV show ‘Mad Men.’ Here is their take. The cigarette haze? True. The three-martini buzz?  True. The interoffice intrigue? True. Alen York ran a Manhattan ad agency through much of the decade. He remembered, “Impeccably dressed, impressively paid, mostly white men convinced a nation to buy whatever they were selling. And yes, the ad agency ethos included plenty of nicotine, booze and dips in the steno pool. It was the Wild West. Yes, there were beautiful women around. And there was a certain glamour from the outside to the industry – maybe more than it deserved.”

 “Rose Mendicino, a secretary at Ketchum, MacLeod & Grove is convinced some of the “’Mad Men’ plots came directly from the agency’s creative department.” “Big, tall, (Harry was 5’6”) suited, good-looking – well, some were good looking.” “Definitely predators. Married or not.”

She says the women in the agency generally knew – and readily accepted – their subservient status. “All the account executives, all the art directors, all the copywriters – no matter how dumb – were men,” she recalls. “I don’t even know if the women even thought about it that much. “A lot of them were looking for husbands.”  A 1967 survey of Ketchum employees reported: Three-quarters of the secretaries polled said they would marry an ad man if given the chance. 

Sandy Teller, head of Sanford Teller Communications remembers the broader, racier picture. “There was a great sense of power and prestige,” Teller says the attitude was one of, “I’m an advertising executive. And you’re (long, disdainful pause) … an accountant?”

Drinking was a way of life, in and out of the office. York remembers that any important business was handled before lunch. “We always knew that after lunch, you may as well forget about doing anything,” he says. “Clients, customers, three-martini lunches. They were finished for the afternoon.” Standing tall at the bar was part of the macho culture that dominated the industry. “In many cases, there was great admiration for the guys who could drink more, as if it was a great skill or talent.”

Little of that sounds like the Harry Greissman his family knew and loved. However, as a man of the times he had to go along to get along. He loved his work, and maybe those “3 martini lunches” witnessed by his oldest son Richard, but it is hard to believe he was like those Mad Men. His daughter Jamie recalls sometimes going to work with Harry when she didn’t have school. While there, she didn’t see “Mad Men”.

To her Harry was very proud to both show them (including brother Richard) off to his co-workers and show off his work to them. She would clean up his usually messy desk and dine at the “luxurious” “Horn and Hardart.” None of this sounds very “Mad Man” like. Richard would go to Harry’s office on school holidays. After Harry would very proudly introduce him to everybody in the office Richard would go to the art department where he would visit with Harry’s best friend, art director, Paul Zangas. Paul would give Richard colored pencils and paper and when older, let him use an intriguing wonderful machine: a light table and magnifier that would allow the user to sketch a larger version of a design. Richard would design cough drop boxes. He remembers Harry laughing heartily when Richard proudly displayed a design with a misspelled “cough dorps” –“I came in when someone was with him, the friend noticed it and they both laughed and I was embarrassed.”

Harry first worked at Morse International, one of the oldest ad agencies in the country. During the 1950’s Morse became the in house ad agency for Vick International Chemical company to market various home remedies, including what would become the world famous “Vicks Vapo Rub”. Harry was involved with the advertising for many of their products, and made sure his household had plenty. For 39 years everyone in the family had a lifetime supply of VapoRub, Lavoris, Cepacol, Oil of Olay, and during those trying teenage years, Clearasil.

It seems he followed the David Ogilvy occupational mobility mantra as depicted in his famous 1963 book, “Confessions of an Advertising Man”. Whether Ogilvy knew it or not, what he described was not just fitting for his industry, his descriptions of the maturation of  “Every Industry Man” was almost universal in how it fit men of Harry’s generation. Ogilvy stressed youth in th  “creatives” of his industry and that after a while they run out of ideas and no longer do well for the company. He simply noted that if they were good loyal employees they would get kicked upstairs as did so many men of that generation. That was Harry. If not, or if they were more ambitious, they would look for work elsewhere. According to Ogilvy, an executive responsible for keeping clients had to be stable and easy to get along with. That also was Harry.

Harry went from being a “creative” (the ad maker), to a creative director (the boss of the ad makers) to an international marketing executive (the seller of ads internationally). His company, kept him on for 39 years. Harry was good, loyal, and in search more for security than ambitious job changes. He was, after all, that universal depression child of the Greatest Generation for whom security and safety were mantras. Perhaps he played along to fit in, or perhaps Harry had a totally different persona at work than at home. Or perhaps being Jewish left him on the outside looking in. After all, his friendship with Ben McClure was out of work sight.

Harry did rise through the ranks. In time, as a result of his fluency in so many languages, he became important to a company who did so much increasing business overseas. In the 1950s US companies extended operations into Latin America. Vicks opened a plant in Mexico. They sold heavily in many Latin countries such as Venezuela where forty per cent of imported consumer goods came from the United States. Proctor & Gamble eventually purchased Richardson-Vick in 1985 because they wanted to grow their overseas markets in Japan and Latin America. Vicks products were a huge part of that expansion. Harry became their lead man there. It led to the growth of rebel groups and resulted in Vice President Richard Nixon being attacked with stones when he visited Venezuela on May1958. Was Harry in danger as well?

Unfortunately, the company for whom Harry would work for 40 years was also involved in the most horrible consumer issues in American History: Thalidomide. Harry clearly was a company man. After all, he worked at the same place for almost 40 years. Once at the dinner table, Richard said, “Look at what happened when a drug company manufactured a drug to help women to deal with pregnancy issues – Thalidomide – and how horrific that was.” Harry threw down his napkin and said that was his company. Upset and angry, he left the table. By the late 1960s he was climbing towards his professional peak.

Two decades later, he would be “retired”. The 1960s looked like a very good decade for Harry. In 1964 he attended a “Voyage to India” reception featuring a designer fashion show of Indian inspired creations in honor of Mrs. B.K. Nehru, wife of the Indian Ambassador to the Unites States hosted by McCall’s Magazine. In 1968, Lew Zale, the Executive Vice President of the Zale Corporation, thanked Harry for notifying him of the CLIO award won at The American and Radio Television Festival. By March 1970, he had become Director of Creative Services for Vick International and was a member of the Executive Board of the annual Advertising Club of NY ANDY Awards Competition that had been founded in 1964. Later that year, as reported by Advertising Age, he was promoted to Director of Marketing Services.

David Ogilvy states that anyone who wants to rise to the top in advertising must be ambitious.

“A person can get by just being the go between men, but in order to gain power, you have to have more aspirations.” Harry was not the ambitious type. As someone whose formative years took place during the depression, he was more concerned with stability and security rather than ambition that might require switching or losing jobs. He always had a job that paid decently, but never was he a top paid guy. He was safe. His family was secure. That was what mattered.

It had taken him 20 some odd years to get to this point. Another “unspoken” reason a man with Harry’s talents did not rise through the ranks faster or higher was anti-Semitism. In non-Jewish owned firms, like Vick International, Jews were relegated to “creative positions” during the ‘50s and early 60s and not allowed into management ranks for years. Even “Mad Men” showed this.

In 1975, Richardson Vick moved from the Chanin Building, a roughly 50 minutes commute by train, to a brand new facility built on a densely wooded site in Wilton Connecticut, a drive of approximately the same length. The problem with this move, besides changing a routine Harry had been used to for approximately 25 years, was that to everyone’s worry, Harry now had to drive a car to work. Harry and Iris finally needed a second car. What did Iris buy for Harry? An AMC Hornet nicknamed the ”Green Hornet.” It was short, stocky, and cheap, in case he wrecked it.

Nine years after the company moved, Harry moved closer to work, to Yorktown Heights. Originally, their plan was to sell it and move nearer work. However, Allan was just about to start high school, so Harry sacrificed.  Despite him being a horrible driver, he commuted each day to the office. At that point in time he did not look like a man still enjoying his job. Perhaps it was the driving. Perhaps it was being one of the oldest on staff. Perhaps it was a feeling that he was not as essential as he once was. Sixty plus year old Ad Men, unless a partner or top executive, were usually eased out of work and prepared for the exit door. Finally, after “14,080 days around the world”, Harry bid farewell to his career.

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SCHEDULE OF APPEARANCES HE COULD MAKE WORDS SING

book and me

 

·     Young Israel New Rochelle                    3/14      1:00 PM

·      Barnes and Noble Palisades Mall         3/24      2:00 PM
·      Peekskill Library                                       4/17      6:30 PM
·      Barnes and Noble Yonkers                     4/21      2 – 4 PM
·      Barnes and Noble Eastchester               4/22       TBA
·      Barnes and Noble Poughkeepsie           4/28    10 – 2 PM

·      Westchester Jewish Center MMNK     6/3       3:00 PM

·      Temple Beth Abraham                            June 2018

·      Temple Israel New Rochelle                  Fall 2018

·      Beth El New Rochelle                                TBA
·      JCC Mid Westchester                                 TBA
·      Woodlands Community Temple             3/20/19     TBA

REVIEW: Midwest Book Review……….. The Biography Shelf

He Could Make Words Sing  www.amazon.com

Synopsis: In “He Could Make Words Sing: An Ordinary Man During Extraordinary Times”, Greene presents the biography of Harry Greissman. His life story recounts the issues so many Americans faced both in the turbulent years of the 20th Century as what is impacting well into the 21st century: Immigration; Economic deprivation; Lost Love; War; Discrimination at work; The transition from urban to suburban life; A working couple raising a family. Harry Greissman life story will resonate with his fellow Americans who lived through those same times, and give insight to the new generation of what their parents and their grandparents experienced, lived through, and survived.

Critique: Aptly subtitled ‘An Ordinary man During Extraordinary Times’, “He Could Make Words Sing” is an extraordinary and compelling biography that is unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library 20th Century American Biography & Memoir collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that “He Could Make Words Sing” is also available in a digital book format ($9.99).

It is interesting to note that Harry Greissman’s biographer David Greene was raised and went to public schools in the Bronx. After graduating from Fordham University, he went taught social studies and coached football for 38 years. After retiring he was an adjunct and field supervisor for Fordham University, was former treasurer of Save Our Schools, and a program consultant for WISE Services, a 501c3 devoted to helping high schools start and maintain experiential learning programs for their seniors. More recently he is still working in high schools via the Bigs Project and Walkabout, both extensions of his work with WISE.

http://www.midwestbookreview.com/sbw/jan_18.htm#biography

 

A FIFTIES FAMILY:

cropped-greene-cover1.jpgMuch of 50’s life was either shaped or depicted by the newest must have gadget in everyone’s home, the TV. Television both reflected and altered American lives. The early 50’s birthed TV, as we know it. Maybe TV also birthed the 50’s.

 

Did “Father know Best”?  Why would anyone “Leave It to Beaver”? “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” gave you a sanitized peek at the Nelson family, semi celebrities whose sons, David and especially Ricky, gained fame as actors and Rock and Roll crooners. “The Danny Thomas Show” and “The Donna Reed Show” as well as others created an idyllic view of what American life should be, although that was tough to accomplish for most Americans.

 

The Greissmans were that family. Harry was the briefcase toting, fedora wearing, and pipe smoking commuting father. Iris was, while in Brooklyn until 1957, that pearl (probably costume) wearing housewife and nurturing mother.  Richard was clearly the fairly obedient son and Jamie, born almost two years after Richard, was the mischievous younger daughter. There were, however, subtle differences. Iris went off to work about the time Jamie went to Kindergarten and worked throughout their suburban lives. That was very different from most middle class white suburban American families.

 

This story might have been written for any of those TV family sit-coms, yet was true. When Iris was pregnant with Jamie, Harry turned to his sister-in-law Ruth and said, “I don’t understand what’s going on. Every time I turn around, Iris is pregnant.” Ruth turned to him and replied, “That’s the problem Harry. Stop turning around.

 

Saturday morning children’s shows were the baby sitters. Howdy Doody, Romper Room, Captain Kangaroo, Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, and Bozo the Clown fascinated kids as they learned through the characters’ antics.  What father would take his young three-year old son to the Howdy Doody Show dressed as Howdy Doody and sit in the Peanut Gallery with the other kids and their parents? Harry.

Harry took Richard to the circus and to a local amusement park in Rye NY where the two of them went on a mini roller coaster called the “Wild Mouse”. Scared as he was and clinging to the bar – Richard looked over at his dad and they were laughing together. Together they strolled through the park, holding hands while Richard would look up and see Harry’s sweet smile. Yet, as was the manly style of those from Harry’s generation, there was not much hugging.

 

Harry also took Richard into Manhattan to go the Museum of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium. Looking up at the manufactured night sky awed them both. They felt lost in the universe because the room was so big. Richard had brought a camera with him and was so awe struck he left it behind. When they went back to get it Harry seemed more bemused than angry. But that seemed to be the Harry way. When Richard would, as he often did, pick something up off the floor and try to chew it, Harry, who looked so big to a small child, simply took it away and told him not to. No anger. No punishments. No yelling.

 

When the family moved to Ardsley, Iris became a suburban oddity, a working mom. Although TV scenes usually depicted the suburban American family eating breakfast and dinner together, that was not the case in many American families, or the Greissman household. Harry was off to work before the kids had breakfast. Iris would be sure the children and she all ate dinner together early enough for them to do homework and left a plate for Harry to eat when he returned home. Sometimes she sat with him, but most times he ate alone, catching up in the newspaper, with a Dewars on the rocks. Those scenes were definitely not part of sitcom America.

 

Ten Kenneth Road cost Harry and Iris the ungodly sum of $17,000 in 1957, approximately $145,000 in 2016 dollars. It was a huge investment for the family. We sold it in September 2016 for $769,000. The Greissmans traveled up to “the country” to see the house while it was being built. It was a very typical new 1950’s suburban development filled with young families who established the neighborhood together and grew as friends as a result, so it became easy to meet many couples through their kids meeting other kids on the streets. These peers shared the same sets of 1950’s norms and values. Harry became a suburban commuter. He met Marty Conrad, a neighbor up the street, and together they would go to the train station. When Harry became best friends with fellow tennis player Marty, Jamie became lifelong friends with their daughter Donna. Either Iris or Marty would drive to the station fairly early. No one allowed Harry to drive. Harry and Marty loved playing cards – they had a bridge game with some fellow daily travelers. The train had benches that could be shifted so you could have two adjoining seats facing each other and they’d play fourhanded bridge. The Greissmans, Fagins, Kagels, Charnins, Rosens, Nassaus, and Friedmans shared long lasting bonds even when they moved, as became the custom, to Florida later in life.  When the Friedman’s son Randy fell to his death from Yosemite Falls on a teen tour the families pulled even closer. Tennis was a constant with Edgar Finsmith, who lived two doors down.

 

Just as in those TV sitcoms, Ten Kenneth became a place for friends and family. Harry and Iris, mostly Iris, would entertain in their small dining room. The kids, as kids then and now did, retreated to their rooms, once permitted, to play with each other or with friends. Ruth’s children, cousins Arnie and June, were so much older that they baby-sat until Richard and Jamie went to bed and then went back with the adults.

 

Harry and Iris’s social life revolved around card playing. Iris loved to cook and entertain, Harry was charming but could be an inconsistent conversationalist in social situations. There were some dinner parties with long silences because he didn’t participate a great deal, yet there were others where he would dominate the conversations.

 

The old Brooklyn visited each other on a rotating basis. Work friends would sometimes, but less often come around. Paul Zangas, the creative art director at Richardson-Merrell, was Harry’s closest work friend with whom Harry played tennis together and sometimes went out.

 

Harry would, on occasion invite other work friends like Ben McClure, a “big boss” Vice President, a very cosmopolitan guy, who had lived in France.  Ben and Harry sometimes went out with the wives but their friendship was out of sight in the work place. Was it because Harry was an underling or Jewish?  We don’t know. It was another “50’s” thing.

 

They were one of the first families to move in. Luckily for six-year old Richard and 4-year old Jamie, there were to be many children with whom to grow up and become longtime friends.  Richard became best friends, and still is, with Bobby Alter who lived right next door. He and Jamie would go there to play while Iris and Harry went to the construction site feet away. The house sat in the middle of a steep slope, rendering the back and front yards relatively unplayable for the kids. It was the only house in the development with the garage in the back, producing a large asphalt “playground” and a terraced back yard. Note that back then there were no mandatory railings for decks. The kids would play up there and in the warmer weather play tetherball with nothing to prevent a fall to the hard surface below. Imagine that now? The doors at 10 Kenneth were never locked. Richard and Jamie came home from school and did their homework. Richard played with Bobby Alter from next door. Jamie put on a bathrobe and called Iris at work to see what chores needed to be done. Ok, that was a bit strange….

 

An added bonus of moving to Ardsley is that it put Harry nearer to the brother he would spend the most time with. Lou and his wife, Anita lived in upper Westchester, along Lake Mahopac where Harry, Iris and the kids would often go. Their daughter, Susan, was one year younger than Richard, and one year older than Jamie, so they took turns playing together. Louis was fairly affluent. His house was very modern, with very manicured lawn and gardens, a large back yard, and a dock with a boat on the lake. They had a garage with two cars. Lou was very fond of Cadillacs and always had at least one. Visits there were always difficult because it was clear that Harry and Iris did not like Anita. It was especially hard on Iris because Anita was cold and often condescending. Iris would talk about how uncomfortable she was around her. Anita could be harsh, condescending, and opinionated.  She was somewhat cold, and austere. This was unfortunate, because Lou was Harry’s closest relative, both emotionally and geographically.

 

Regardless, Lou and Harry were inseparable. The speedboat was a great attraction for the kids that always gave young Richard a thrill to ride and even drive the boat. Harry was not much of a water person. He didn’t water ski, but the kids did. Iris would get in the water to wade but was not a swimmer. There was a lovely, well-positioned, slate deck where the parents could sit, play cards together, yet watch the kids playing in the water. When Lou had a stroke, and lost his speech Harry was devastated. He shared Lou’s frustration when he struggled with words and slurred his speech. Harry was the very attentive, caring brother who saw a lot of Lou during that time, visiting him in the hospital and later when he was recovering. It must have been a crushing blow to have his closest and most worshipped sibling so debilitated.

Life had to go on none the less.

http://www.itascabooks.com/he-could-make-words-sing.html

ON DIANE RAVITCH’S BLOG

GET THE BOOK TO BETTER UNDERSTAND THE REFERENCES:

cropped-greene-cover12.jpg

David Greene, teacher of teachers, author, and photographer, offers these thoughts and reflections in this time of anxiety. He says this is a “mashup” of the last chapter of his new book, He Could Make Words Sing: An Ordinary Man During Extraordinary Times.

He writes:

Relax. We are just ordinary people living in our own ordinary times. As my friend Harris sarcastically says, “We all think our times are the most extraordinary ‘evvvvverrrr’.” However bad things might seem as we read this today, they are really rather ordinary historically. Our times do not compare with the extraordinary times Harry Greissman’s generation faced.

Yes, we face economic inequality and loss of jobs, but the unemployment rate is under 5%, not hovering at 25% as it did in the GREAT Depression. Yes, we face racial issues and de facto segregation, but de jure segregation is pretty much gone. Black Lives Matters would have had a far more difficult task then, when lynching was rampant and whole neighborhoods in cities like Tulsa Oklahoma were burned down by whites. Watch the new movie, “Mudbound” as a reminder of Black Lives in the south in the 1940s.

Broken Healthcare system? Then, there was none to break. Medicare and Medicaid were mid 1960s inventions. The numbers of veterans with wartime injuries, both physical and emotional during World War 2 was in the millions, not thousands. The environment? Coal fired furnaces were everywhere. I played in a coal chute as a kid in the Bronx. Whole cities were covered in clouds of grey smoke and soot. Choose a domestic problem, any problem, and it was worse when they grew up. What rights did women have then? For the first fifth of the 20th century, they couldn’t even vote. I know that Tom Brokaw’s “greatest generation” had it far worse than my privileged Boomer generation, Generation X or today’s Millenials.

Of course, today’s new stories and cable shouting matches called newscasts scare the living shit out of many of us. We are still stuck in the longest war in our history, and face terrorist threats daily, these are nowhere as horrific as the death and destruction of World War 1 (when poison gas bombing was used as a weapon de jure), the Armenian Genocide (before Syria even existed as a country), World War 2, the Holocaust, the Korean “conflict” and the Vietnam War. North Korea is not exactly the same nuclear threat the Russians were, especially during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. We sat at the edge of our chairs watching Kennedy square off with Khrushchev.
Refugees refused? Border walls? How about turning away victims of the Holocaust? Poison gas in Syria? NO comparison to the Nazi poison gas chambers relatives of American families died in.

The Red Scare? McCarthyism? The Civil Rights struggles? Selma? Birmingham? Mississippi murders? Kent and Jackson State? The assassinations of MLK and RFK? Battles in the streets of NYC between hardhats and hippies? The whole world WAS watching. The Pentagon Papers? NIXON?

Relax. This is not to disparage those in duress today. God know our world faces too many serious man-made problems. We have Trump and his reality-TV version of the world that is becoming all too scarily real. Environmentally, like the Wicked Witch of the West, the world is mellllllting. The immediacy and verbal violence in social media’s, divisiveness and fear mongering stresses us to no end.

Are we as bad as Orwell’s1984 or Asimov’s Fahrenheit 451 predicted? No. We aren’t even as bad off as what was “predicted” in “The Man In The High Castle”, Philip K. Dick’s alternative history novel and the TV series based on it…All we have is “alternative facts”.

But if we take the long historical view of human endeavors, how special is our time? Even the “Jetsons” predicted we would be farther along technologically than we actually are. Where are our flying cars and personal robots? Alexa doesn’t compare to Rosie.

Relax. There is a monologue in Steven Levenson’s play, “If I Forget”, spoken by the patriarch of the family, Lou Fischer, who in the year 2000, is a 75-year-old World War 2 Veteran. In it he describes the horrors of being one of the American soldiers who liberated Dachau. After a long sigh, he says as I believe many of his generation would have said, “For you, history is an abstraction, but for us, the ones who survived this century, this long, long, century, there are no abstractions anymore.”

https://dianeravitch.net/2017/12/22/david-greene-relax/

NEW BOOK REVIEW

http://www.sdjewishworld.com/2017/12/18/life-described-of-a-20th-century-man/

SAN DIEGO – History teacher David Greene has written a combination social history and biography of his father-in-law, Harry Greissman, an advertising man.

We come to know Greissman as a child of immigrant parents who scrimped and saved so that Harry could go to college. He later went off to World War II, thinking he’d remain an enlisted man, but was made into an officer who could teach others the vagaries of artillery targeting.  He fought in Germany, and because of his facility with languages, stayed after the war to assist in the research necessary to prosecute Nazi war criminals.

After coming home, he joined the advertising profession—a trade in which he would advance to the security of middle ranks, but never to the top, as the pinnacle of the profession, then, was guarded jealously by Gentiles.  Harry nevertheless was happy.  He moved with his wife Iris from Brooklyn to the Westchester suburbs, where they raised three children—the youngest, Allan, a surprise, who came ten years after the second child.

As the book title suggests, Harry had a way with words, and he could use them effectively not only for his advertising agency, but in helping a Westchester county politician rise to town office, and in aiding daughter Jamie (whom author Greene married) to submit the best idea for naming a school project.

Harry’s memories of the Depression made him tight with money, but Iris often got around his frugality.  His true love was tennis, and the heirs who played it with him, felt a strong sense of camaraderie.  But, at other times, he was reserved, unlikely to say “I love you” out loud, and when he played tennis with others, his children sometimes would feel jealous of his time.

World War II must have had an impact on him, but it was not something he would readily talk about.  Clearly, he had felt a sense of duty to his country, and was dismayed when his children’s generation did not respond during the Vietnam War to their nation’s call to arms with the same sense of patriotism.  Perhaps the fact that his oldest son, Richard, had a fairly high draft number secretly relieved him.  Who wants a son to go off to war?

We can sense the impact on Harry of these two cataclysmic events—the Great Depression and World War II – but afterwards, as the 50’s Cold War, 60’s protests and assassinations, 70’s Watergate scandal and OPEC-spawned price inflation; 80’s Reaganomics; and 90’s Dismantling of the Soviet bloc, pass by, it is harder to see the nexus between these events and Harry’s life.  Harry read about all of them in the newspaper, preferably on a porch, while smoking his beloved pipe, but did they really impact his life?

Greene doesn’t attempt to prove any connection; these events go by like a newsreel at the movies.  Something to watch, and maybe consider, before the main feature.

I dare say that without Greene’s tender recollection of his wife’s father, few people outside of his family and circle of friends would today have heard of Harry or noted that he passed away at age 82 on December 18, 1997.  Greene has left us far more than a family memoir—although He Could Make Words Sing certainly is a superlative example of that genre.

What Greene does in this book is to prompt us to remember some of the events in our parents’ lives, and our own, with some nostalgia; to reflect on the comparisons between the generations of Harry’s family, and our own; and to wonder how our parents’ lives, our own, our children’s, and our grandchildren’s have been influenced by international events, domestic social movements, and changes in the economy.

Isn’t that the role of a teacher after all?  To help us crystallize relevant questions, and to provide us with the tools to seek their answers?