• Epitaph for Elmer

    • Posted on Jun 15, 2014
    Published on March 1, 2008.  I repost it here in honor of Father's Day and Elmer Cawelti, who died late February 2008.  I miss him.  


    My dad Elmer lived five years shy of twice as long as my mother.

    Beany, as everyone called my mom, (she was bean-pole skinny) ) died when I was twenty.  He died at 95 early last Monday morning.  

    In that forty-five years he remarried, changed jobs, retired, traveled, and most of all became a role model as a husband, father, grandfather, neighbor, and friend. To everyone who knew him in one or another of these roles, he served almost as an ideal. Or at least that’s how it seems to me now, having known him for six and half decades. 

    Until my mother died he and I weren’t all that close.  He tended to be the reinforcer of her threats, as well as the distant, busy working man that so many fathers become to their younger children.  He lectured me on my sometimes unruly temper, and usually didn’t miss a chance to berate me about my general klutziness. 

    After Beany’s death, though, we began to spend more time together.  He transformed into quite a different man, especially after he married Jane, our family’s longtime friend and his second love.  He became, well, just plain fun, generous with his time, completely non-judgmental, and breathtakingly good-natured and optimistic.

    When he began to get down, he would mutter out loud,  ‘I’ve got to get my mind right” and sooner rather than later, he found a brighter side. He actually developed a mental habit of seeing goodness and humor everywhere. That’s a prescription every doctor would support, and probably one of the reasons he lived so long.

    He didn’t pursue happiness; he found it, in his friends, his cards, his jokes and joshing, which were almost constant, and his kindnesses to everyone.  As his neighbor Les Huth told me, he was the class act in our family. 

    Though I felt sorry for myself when my mom died, realizing that she would never see my children, my years and years of friendship with Dad has almost made up for it. He could never replace a mother, but he made a world-class father.

     When I came into his room last weekend, I woke him from one of his many naps, and I asked if he had been dreaming.  He hadn’t been dreaming, he said, but thinking.  “What about?” I asked, wondering if he had caught a glimpse of an approaching light.  “I’m thinking about what a great family I have,” he said. 

    We had become a mutual appreciation society, and for that I’ll always be grateful.

    Now, one of the many passions he bequeathed to me was a love of music, and he and my mom encouraged me to sing and play almost before I could walk.  From my dad’s example, I learned to love music, and to sing harmonies almost as effortlessly as he did.

    Angeleita and I sang this simple old folk song, not for him, but WITH him, last Saturday afternoon, 36 hours before he died.


    Down in the Valley, the valley so low.
    Hang your head over, hear the wind blow.
    Hear the wind blow love, oh hear the wind blow,
    Hang your head over, hear the wind blow.

    Dad sang those old folk tunes, and whistled so well,
    His harmonies echoed, gave hearers a thrill. 
    The best words were spoken, by a neighbor so wise,
    He knew Elmer’s presence made everyone high.

    He said it and meant it, and now it’s a fact.
    No doubt about it, you’re dad’s a class act.
    Down in the valley, the valley so low
    Hang your head over, hear the wind blow. 

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    Posted in
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    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
  • Santa Barbara Shootings: We Were There

    • Posted on Jun 08, 2014

    This column appeared in the Waterloo Courier today, Sunday, June 8.  My family was  eating a few miles from where Elliott Rodger began killing students and his roommates in Isla Vista, a small section of Santa Barbara.   We didn't know about it until the next morning, and then realized it could have been us.



    Friday night, May 23, I stayed in a Santa Barbara motel in a room next to my son and grandchildren.  

    We enjoyed several afternoon hours at the zoo and the motel pool, taking in the glorious California coastal weather. Walking two blocks around suppertime to an Outback steakhouse, we stayed blissfully unaware of the mass shootings four miles away.

    The next morning when we heard the news, we were shaken.  Horrific.  Senseless. Insane.  Within walking distance.

    Elliott Rodger could have driven by and shot us to pieces, making us part of his “Day of Retribution.”  

    Well, not quite.  Turns out Rodger wouldn’t have bothered with a strolling middle-aged family. He targeted women, specifically pretty blond women, the kind he desired but couldn’t attract.

    Because he thought they avoided him, he grew to hate them, madly and deeply.  He made plans to capture and torture a few, including their boyfriends.  Rodger created a 140-page manifesto, which he called “My Twisted World.” He emailed it just hours before his killing spree.  

    It’s a hard read, filled with angry rants against not just women, but also men who succeed in dating women—‘brutes,” he calls them.  In fact, Elliot Rodger hated the whole world, calling mankind “disgusting, depraved, and evil.”  

     He ends with, “All I ever wanted was to love women, and in turn to be loved by them back. Their behavior towards me has only earned my hatred, and rightfully so! I am the true victim in all of this.  I am the good guy.”  

    Deeply twisted. 

    Yet how many thousand teenage boys feel rejected, neglected, avoided, made fun of, by the women they desire most? How many of them long for long-term relationships but fail?  How many struggle with acceptance, unable to make friends?  

    In fact, that’s teenage life at times: Lonely, frustrating, self-pitying, lost.

    It’s the school of hard knocks, and most of us eventually grow up and find some of what we want—enough to feel happy most days.  

     That’s what reasonably healthy people do as they become adults.  But Rodgers suffered from serious mental illness. His reality was upside down and inside out; his roommates wanted him to move out.  He stabbed them all to death.     

    At what point do we intervene, putting such lost souls not just under surveillance but in hospitals?  Clearly, that’s where he belonged, and clearly, he should never have gotten anywhere near weapons, including knives.

    Given the warning signs, including threatening videos and that manifesto, he should have been picked up and kept for observation.  Yet police did interview him a few days before his rampage, and found him polite and “normal.”  Unfortunately, they didn’t read his rage-filled online rants or his video postings. 

    Even if they had, they couldn’t arrest him under current laws.  Freedom of speech protects all kinds of crazy talk, as it must.    

    In other words, nothing could be done until he broke the law. He was privileged, leisured, and behaved within legal boundaries.   That’s the most disturbing aspect of Rodger’s killing.  We’re helpless under current laws.  

    A new bill allowing police to impose a “Gun Violence Restraining Order” is now being put before the California legislature, and that might have worked if his parents and police had intervened and a judge had agreed.  

    Yet there are hundreds of Elliott Rodgers out there, and few do anything but rant.  How many can we lock up?  How many more police and investigators will it take? 

    Given the easy availability of guns and the pervasive desensitization of killing provided by “shooter” video games and blockbuster movies, we’ve created a culture where sick minds become dangerous.  

    It could have been me and my family.   It could be you and yours.  

    We keep repeating “Not One More!” at rallies.  

    Until next time.     


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    Posted in
    • Death
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    • Crime
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
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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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