• Birthday Photo and Verse for Tom Thompson

    • Posted on Jan 26, 2014
    Tom Thompson was born 90 years ago this month, in January, 1924.  He worked at UNI in various capacities for decades.  I knew him first as a respected colleague in the Philosophy and Religion Department, then as my Dean in the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, then as a friend who made me think and rethink, who read and commented at length on my newspaper columns, and who provided a thread of continuity to life in Cedar Falls.  

    On Friday, January 17, we went to lunch at Beck's on the Hill in Cedar Falls--with another admirer of Tom's, frfe echeverria.   (See photo below) 

    In lieu of a birthday card, which seems silly and superfluous, I presented Tom with this verse---silly but heartfelt: 


    On Or About His Ninetieth

    January 17, 2014

    Tommy the T went and turned a ripe ninety!

    How can this possibly be?

    It can't be from eating his greens,

    Nor from yoga or counting his beans.

    Could he have found a fountain of youth

    in his jazz and a life less than couth?

    He was but 40 and four when I met him

    A sage and bright presence--you never forget him.

    An Oxherder staunch (sometimes loud)

    A regular lunch-mate and columnist proud.

    He complains about aging, all achey and painey

    Yet through it all he still is our brainey

    Friend Tom, still laughing and bitching,

    At fringey right wingers who get him a-twitching.

    How many books have we plowed through discussing

    The fine points of Freudian insights and cussing

    The starry-eyed mystics about us a-fussing

    With irrational thought that we find so non-plussing. 

    It’s true with his talent for herding the cats,

    Not to mention his sax with its sharps and its flats,

    He might have done more, yet now here’s the truth: 

    What joy to reach ninety with half of his youth!


    And congratulations on a life well lived, mostly.    

    --Scott Cawelti

    A lifelong fan  

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    Posted in
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    • Aging & Birthdays
  • Ode to the Aging and the Aged

    • Posted on Jul 31, 2013
    I wrote this for my fiftieth birthday, twenty years ago, which I celebrated with friends from Iowa in Regensburg, Germany, where I was teaching at the time.   They flew over just to drink German beer and celebrate.  Imagine that.   

    When I turned 70 last week, I dusted it off, rewrote passages, and offer it here as 
    a piece of doggerel that still seems to connect.  In fact, Dianne Phelps, who was there in Germany for my fiftieth, actually read it for my 70th last week in Cedar Falls.  Bizarre, really, but much appreciated. 

    Word geeks might notice that most of it is in iambic heptameter--the same meter as Poe's "Annabel Lee" --seven iambic pentameter feet to the line, though it takes awhile to get going in that meter.  

    On the Occasion of my 50th AND 70th Birthd
    July 19, 1993, and July 19, 2013

    Here's to the aging, and also to the aged--
    That's all of us, you know, from fetus to the sa-ged. 
    From smart young fashion-conscious things
    To barely moving coots in slings. 
    We're in the same old leaky boat, alas! 
    Though some are aging slow and some are aging fast.

    Some get gray and bald before their time, 
    Some hang on to hair and then proceed to lose their minds. 
    Some dump their mates in hopes they'll find some bliss
    By hooking up with nubiles who remember how to kiss. 

    Ah, it's all illusion, all a ruse, all a silly game 
    Aging, aged every one, we're remarkably the same.    
    We want more life than time allows, more youth without regret
    For some few years, we're even sure we'll live forever. Yet
    Gray creeps in, with pains and aches and wrinkles
    We wake up some fine morning to discover we can't tinkle. 
    Of course I speak of men right here, but women too wake up
    To feverish hot flashes that melt their futile makeup. 

    Right then and there we get a jolt that always gives us pause,         
    We're reached a point in life where we have to obey laws
    Of nature, so simple, brief, and clear--   
    When seventy comes we seldom feel like offering a cheer.  
    We've reached the time it's obvious to every living soul 
    That dying young is out of reach, and dying well a goal. 

    Next, a law that nature still enforces, 
    Makes sure we don't forget our most influential sources. 
    That before we die, we aging and we aged everywhere
    Must acknowledge finally who made us what we are.
    And thank all those who freely gave their trouble and their time
    To teach us wisdom, give us ways to ease a rocky climb. 

    Finally, that life itself demands a few good circumstances
    A drink, good food, good friends, and occasional sweet dances.
    As these go by, the will to live goes by as well, 
    When all are gone, those missing them must feel they've gone to hell. 

    And so, obeying these old laws today, I’m standing here declaring
    A round of thank-yous to good friends and everyone in hearing, 
    Though dying young is out of reach and dying well a goal, 
    Before I go I’m going to have good food, 
    Good drink, and oh, good friends, 
    Those occasional sweet dances.  

    And as for seventy-one next year, I guess I'll take my chances.


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“Even before the advent of the Internet, Cawelti’s columns went 'viral' in the Cedar Valley… the role of a columnist is to be thought provoking, to take tacks that shed a different light on an issue or possibly cause a reader to reevaluate a position. At the very least, it should bring clarity to a particular perspective, whether you buy into the commentator’s worldview or not.

Scott's work does just that.  Enjoy this collection of his writing.”

-Saul Shapiro, Former Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier Editor
Read Shapiro's entire introduction.


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