Paul Greenberg

The mind wanders. You never know where it'll take you -- high peaks or deep depressions, home sweet home or a juke joint. There's no telling what will set the neurons firing, one flashback following another. Till you're driving down some kudzu-lined two-lane just this side of Kilgore, Tex., with a familiar figure from your past who is much more present than the present. It's said we're lost in thought at such moments, but maybe we're just being found.

What took me back this time was the resignation of a university president here in Arkansas. It was precipitated by his having accepted a "gift" to the school that had just one little ol' condition attached -- that the donor's contract with the university be extended.

Uh oh. When that provision came to light, he decided the best thing to do was resign. But not before he'd explained that such extras are the norm in his business. He was just fitting in with the culture, you see. And if the culture is corrupt, well, at least he had adjusted to it well. Isn't that what we all want to be -- happy, productive, well-adjusted members of our society? Our university president was just doing business as usual.

I didn't buy it, but my father always told me I had no head for business. The next thing I know, he's back. Not that he's ever far away. Now and then I'll be walking down a busy street, and be startled by my reflection in a shop window. "Pa! What are you doing here?" One of the things he left me was his exact looks.

Some visits with him are clearer than others. Like this one. Maybe it's because his yahrzeit was the other day. That's the anniversary of a death in the family, when it's customary to light a candle and say Kaddish -- a prayer that doesn't mention death at all. But it does tend to bring back a lot of memories.

In this one, I'm in the dusty back of the furniture store my father started after the war, the Second World one, when an honest shoemaker could no longer make a living, what with all the cheap imports flooding the country. Why bother to have shoes repaired when you could buy new ones a lot cheaper?

So I'm in back of the store typing out the monthly statements, dutifully putting a Mr., Mrs. or Miss before every name. That's when Pa says, No, some of these envelopes go out without the title. I knew which ones he meant, the ones that went to folks with names familiar from the Bible, like Queen Esther Smith or Vashti Brown.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.