Anguish Languish

Feb 28, 2014 | 6 comments

1980 Birthday Card

1980 Birthday Card

This is the first birthday in thirty-five years that I’ve not received a card from Gordon.  Usually silly, sometimes hand-drawn featuring his signature rabbit, Ambrose, the cards came faithfully every year beginning in 1979 with my first birthday after we met.

There were cards for every other occasion – and often for non-occasions, too!  For holidays of every variety and for anniversaries and bon voyages – always a card from Gordon!  There were letters, too.  Often they were for no reason in particular.  It was just something that Gordon did, not only for us but for all of his many, many friends.   As long as Roy was living, Gordon signed these ‘love letters’ (for that’s what they were)  “Roar and Gore.”

He wrote every day.  Over his first cup of morning coffee, he ‘greeted’ friends and relatives by writing a note or a letter often with a personalized picture of Ambrose – “at least one a day” he said.  He had a “Birthday Book” in which he tucked cards by dates all ready to mail and never missed anyone’s special day.  Merona Frank wrote me the other day from California and said she “knew something was wrong” when she didn’t get a Christmas card from Gordon this year.  I’m sure scores of others shared that ominous feeling.

Disappearing Translation

Disappearing Translation

Back in the eighties Gordon and I exchanged a number of communiqués in Anguish Languish which is a way of replacing all the words of a message with others, similar in sound but unrelated in meaning.  A fine example is the story of “Ladle Rat Rotten Hut” (Little Red Riding Hood) by Professor Howard Chace of Miami University and can be found in Willard Espy’s 1971 book The Game of Words.

But, in typical Gordon fashion, he took Anguish Languish to new heights.  Instead of using Standard English words, he reduced his message to pictures so the recipient of his messages had to do a double translation!  My very favorite is an oversized birthday card he sent to me in 1980.  It is framed and on my office wall.

Birthday Card Close-up - Copy

Birthday Card Close-up

It begins with a picture of a deer, followed by a slice of watermelon with an arrow pointing to one of the seeds.  Then comes a kneeling person after which is a minus sign, the letter ‘L’, and then the minus ‘L’ repeated.  First translation: Deer Seed Kneel Take Away the L, Take Away the Second L.  Second translation:  Dear Sydney.

It continues with a fist (First) hippo (Happy) birdie (Birthday) two ewes (to you) and goes on from there.  It’s a long birthday message and even Gordon agreed that it was a bit convoluted.  It was presented to me in person that year so he assisted in the deciphering.  In 1984 we revisited it and both had a hard time ‘reading’ it, so Gordon wrote out the translation and pasted it on the back.  Unhappily, some little munchkin critters have eaten away much of that delicious piece of paper (YIKES!) and without Gordon, I don’t think I can do an accurate translation anymore.

They don’t call it “Anguish Languish” for nothing!  And today, for me, the double-meaning goes far beyond translation difficulties.  How I miss, you dear Gordon!  Wee awl due!


  1. Linda J

    I didn’t know this about Gordon. He sure had a wonderfully fun side. I love hearing that he had that daily morning coffee, send friends greetings ritual. I guess I do that with email now, but somehow it’s not quite the same as sending ‘hard copies.’

  2. Stephanie Frieze

    You honor Gordon with your memories. Hopefully his kittypuss will become an amiable companion.

  3. Nancy

    Sidknee: Eye LVD yore tri butte two gore dun. Eye re: member hymn. Hee cud bee chuck ling ‘rum heave in n’ow!

  4. Jo

    What a precious memory you have to treasure. Also, happy birthday.

  5. Robert & Senta Cook

    Saddened by Gordon’s passing. Reading your Blog is pure pleasure. Glad we discovered it. Happy Birthday.

    • sydney

      Darling Bob and Senta!
      I have a note to you “in progress” and will get it off today. So many things to catch up about… I can’t thank you enough for making contact!


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