Many writers fear the semicolon! They stay away: too difficult to understand. Too confusing. What are the rules for using it? Well, first, it has NOTHING to do with the colon (another story there).

Of late, the semicolon has had a revival of interest because of Project Semicolon/The Semicolon Project (which see). Then the meaning of the semicolon project morphed into a tattoo movement: [colon used here to explain what follows]: “A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.”

Others use the punctuation symbol to help remind themselves of struggles with mental illness–much like AA members have tattoos. Those curious ask, “What does that tattoo mean?” Struggle, survival, addiction, strength, adversity.

Imagine that a piece of punctuation [in the Greek language it represents a question mark!] has become more than the-dot-on-the-comma. It’s the talk of the town! Media publications, social media, classrooms, blogs about writing, and publications about punctuation.

Nevertheless, it’s a grammar thing/punctuation mark: IT IS A SEMI-PERIOD! A partial stop, a slow period/end stop that keeps going. It ends a sentence, yet connects within that sentence.

A. It connects when and, or, nor, but, for, so, yet, still are not used:
–I earned my pay increase; Fred is still working for his. [a full, yet slow stop]
–Our sales are a bit slow; however, they will pick up during the winter.
–Her maintenance fees overwhelmed her; then she moved out.

And a semicolon can separate, like a super-special comma, for clarity in a sentence.

B. It separates in long sentences, or sentences with many commas:
–Next year we will have offices in Winona, Mississippi; Winona, Minnesota; St. Cloud, Florida; St. Cloud, Minnesota; and in Denver.
–He recently started a new hobby, collecting model airplanes; but he still has his collections of stamps, coins, and model trains.

The semicolon isn’t really manic or depressive; it’s not bi-polar; it’s not suicidal. It is, however, a “big-people” piece of punctuation, needing to be understood. It produces a marriage of sentence parts (I kissed her on the mouth; she, in turn, slapped me.)

The humble and often-misunderstood and misused semicolon is special for readers and for writers. IT MUST NEVER INSTILL FEAR.



“And what does your father do?”

“He’s a bread truck driver.”

“Where does he work?”

“Deppe-Vienna Baking Company.” [It used to be known as the Vienna Model Baking Company, then Deppe-Vienna Baking Company, 1015 Willow Street, Chicago.]

“Got any ‘bread’?” [dough? money? the eating kind?]


Our family never lacked for bread: white, rye, French–and even had enough “sweet rolls” and dinner rolls.

My dad worked “forever” for a bakery that primarily serviced restaurants, steak houses, hotels, diners, and food canteens. He’d bid for routes, sometimes traveling within downtown Chicago, the Near North Side, or to oil refineries or cement plants past the South Side.

When I was in grammar school, I used to help him plan his routes and orders, even making out charge slips. When I was older (14-16, or so), I used to go to work with him, during summers or on non-school days.

I would ride with him in our ’52 Chevy, at one or two in the morning, to the bakery and garage, from the South Side to North Avenue and Clybourn. Since I was not allowed into the loading area, or near the trucks loading inside (labor laws), I would have my pillow and sleep in the back of the Chevy.

Sometime around 4 or 5 a.m., I would hear the knocking on the car window. Next to the car, with its engine running, was the shadow of the dark-green truck, with my dad telling me to get going. I’d grab my jacket and climb inside while he’d get settled behind the steering wheel.

“Get ‘em up!” he’d shout. “Let’s go!”

I’d quickly move into the truck, jumping up the step, away from the open sliding door, and find a spot on the floor behind him (couldn’t be seen), smelling the fumes of gasoline and oil. But as noticeable as the fumes were, the deliciousness of smells from chocolate-covered donuts or cherry Danish would push away the noxiousnesses. Oh, the smell of freshly baked “goods” (“Bakery goods”). [Memories of this special spot returned dramatically to me while I positioned myself on the floor of a B-17, behind the pilots, a ride I took in 2001; I was then in position for takeoff.]

And “take off” we did, my dad and I, pulling away from the neighborhood of the trucks beginning their routes.

Metro VanInternational Metro Van

The interior of the truck had an aisle wide enough for an adult person to walk to the rear-entry door, which on some trucks slid up into the roof, while on others opened outward. Facing the aisle on either side were shelves and racks, holding trays of baked breads, fried donuts (French, my favorite), cakes, cake donuts, and other goodies like éclairs and special- order dinner rolls.

bread truck insidesTRUCK INSIDES

A pile of white unfolded delivery boxes near the front of the truck needed to be assembled. So here I became the under-age bakery-truck-driver helper. (My dad called me his needed “help,” often disappointed when I could not go with him.)

Traveling to each stop, whether in South Chicago or Gary, Indiana, I would assemble a box (or boxes) and “put up” the orders. I followed the route book of cards held together with two large rings. A dozen this, two dozen that; ten loaves of rye; a dozen extra-large white (sliced square bread, pound and a half loaves or two-pound loaves), wrapped in waxy white paper.

File name: D060245 Description: Loaf of white sliced brad Photographer: Jennie Hills Science Museum Date: 12/05/06 Colour Profile: Adobe RGB (1998) Gamma Setting: 2.2THE BEST THING…SLICED BREAD 

The usual first stop was at 6 a.m. Sometimes my dad had a set of keys to enter a diner or neighborhood restaurant. I’d hop off the truck, knowing the correct key, and open the door. He’d be behind me, with boxes in arms, or loaves in hand.

Put the order on the counter–or change an order. Lock the door. Lights out? “Get ‘em up! Let’s go!” And off we’d go. Next stop. The routine. I’d turn over a route card–or may even have had the next order “prepped.”

And so it went…

I entered high school. My dad continued for many more years, mostly without me as I took other jobs–though I might rarely be his help as much as I could.

Vienna-Model became Deppe-Vienna; Deppe-Vienna became part of “Burney Brothers Better Bread.”

burney brothers better breadBURNEY TRUCK 

My dad retired.

The End.


But…those memories. These little stories and anecdotes that occurred within those times. Anecdotes containing wisps of smiles or frowns, accidents and missteps that led to my growing or growing years:

Images of smiling chefs readying piles of shrimp for 5-star restaurant diners. My starting the engine of the truck trying to “help,” not knowing the purpose of a clutch… Driving skills learned from my dad: Quickly preparing a dozen mixed donuts for policemen at 5 a.m. (Was that a red light?) Hearing once–and only once in my entire life–my dad shout “F**K!” (not “fork”). Seeing my dad work hard, really hard, in awful Chicago weather. My learning maps and directions, my way around Chicago; my planning truck delivery routes, and eating delicious meals free from favorited favored customers (my first T-bone steak!).

OK: it wasn’t always sweets and good times, especially being a back-seat sleeper, early riser. Nevertheless, what fun (mostly) I had.

And the memories: Ah, the memoriesofatime.

Each of us has had some kind of special relationship with maple-frosting long johns, or custard-filled bismarcks, or finger-lickin’ sugared donuts–a relationship that began in childhood. I, on the other hand, had a special relationship with my dad while in his bread truck, driving around the streets of Chicago, probably eating a favorite French donut. What good luck!

I hear him often in my mind’s ears: “Get ‘em up! Let’s go!” “Sweets” to my ear.

* * *

NOTE: About the title: Grammarly, it’s ok in Chicago. We knew that “going to get some bakery” meant dozens of donuts or apple slices or various “sweet rolls” (almond, cheese, cherry, lemon, pecan, etc.) We weren’t on a mission to “buy some bakery company”

So, “Wanna’ come with? To get some bakery?”

© James F. O’Neil 2015

Critical reading is “a process of evaluation or categorization in terms of some previously accepted standards. [Phew!] It is a logical examination of data which avoids fallacies and judgments on an emotion basis only.”

From our beginnings, we develop cognitive skills that allow us to move through our experiences with reading and viewing. We find our way toward explanation, analysis, evaluation, and–perhaps–appreciation.

Of the many skills (some researchers posit some 180), a short list is worth noting. Readers of this can identify how many you know about what you know, or thought you knew.

DISTINGUISHING fact and fancy; fact and opinion
DRAWING conclusions
ESTABLISHING sequence; cause and effect
FINDING information (to prove or disprove a statement)
FORMING an opinion
INTERPRETING implied, not stated, ideas
JUDGING reasonableness and relevance
MAKING inferences, judgments
RELATING story experience to personal experience

LEARNING THE ALPHABET, in order, is such a skill that is so basic, so important: How would one EVER be able to “look it up” without KNOWING/MEMORIZING the alphabet? [Let’s see: Does “eleemosynary” come before “elementary”?]



I have been a War Lover as long as I can remember. I loved John Wayne as a military hero: Flying Tigers, The Fighting Seabees [the word “Seabee” comes from initials “CB” which in turn comes from the term Construction Battalions], They Were Expendable, Sands of Iwo Jima:

john wayne sands of iwo jimaJohn Wayne

 Then Steve McQueen, in The War Lover or Hell Is for Heroes or The Great Escape.

 I grew up with Two-Fisted Tales comics, and Frontline Combat.

 frontline combatFavorite War Comic Book

“CALL UNCLE BILL!” my mother shouted from the bathroom. He came on a Saturday morning, March 10, 1951. Off I went to see The Steel Helmet at the Ogden Theater in Chicago (at 63rd and Marshfield, a favorite place I could walk to). And after the movie–VOILA!–I had a new baby brother. That was neat. Go to the movies–and get a brother. (That is one of my fondest memories of a time–and one of my favorite movies, yet to this day.)

And then, older, I became so aware of content and history. In addition, after years with studying and teaching Shakespeare–and reading of war, like The Iliad and The Aeneid, like For Whom the Bell Tolls or All Quiet on the Western Front–I realized that if the essence of a tragedy is our awareness of the WASTE OF GOOD, then surely the essence of war is double tragic: waste upon waste.

I asked, What of this loss of all that is good or could be good in a man?

War brings out the worst: disregard for all that has been taught to be valued, to be sacred: life and property, manhood itself. It is often a rite of passage, a ripping from the womb of adolescence or youth (or younger, with boy-soldiers), tearing at morals, sensibilities, a sense of love and decency. And war tears apart, rips from limb to limb, often literally.

This is nothing new: we have wars, we live war. Some live for war itself; for some, it is a job, maybe even a duty. Sometimes only the players change; sometimes the same territory is fought over and paid for again and again, in human life, in human misery.

Arma virumque cano: “I sing of arms and the man,” Virgil put it so aptly many years ago (29-19 BCE) in a “great” war story. However, what is so “great” about a war story, so great that I “love” such tellings of action or characters in military situations.

A war story is truly a work of art, a play that pits human against human in extremis, in the extreme. It is a show from an artist’s perspective, a show of good and goodness–if such is possible in this Game of War, which relates hurt and hurting, winners and losers, death and destruction.

“Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies,” said Picasso (1923). The artist of war, as in Guernica, shows the truth of the story: that war IS hell, that war IS a double tragedy, that the truth of war needs to be told, to be shown: heroes die, we die. Death is real: portrayed, acted, dramatized.

guernica Guernica

Of course, there is often much more to it: morality, politics, history–even theology (a story of gods and about God, perhaps?). For me, however, it is character (Saving Private Ryan), story (The Hunt for Red October), emotion (even with Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” mournfully played while I watch Platoon, tugging at my senses). Sometimes I cry, I mourn, I laugh (even); I am moved. I often think of the artist trying to exorcise his devils (Shakespeare’s “war” stories like Othello?), showing the waste of souls (like Apocalypse Now), or relating war’s errors and futility (A Bridge Too Far).

I am a War Lover. I have my favorites, even those about love-in-war (like The English Patient). But I do hate war and what necessitates it and what it does solve or not solve. Yet I am not a “hawk” by any means. Nevertheless, I have accepted the reality of it. And I am aware as an American citizen that I am a recipient of the spoils of war (The Patriot). And so it goes (SlaughterhouseFive). Perhaps, someday–highly unlikely–we may experience A Farewell to Arms.

© James F. O’Neil   2015

ADDENDUM: Full Metal Jacket was recently “voted” the best war movie ever made–arguably, very arguably. Stanley Kubrick’s film was “victorious” in a title matchup of Military Times‘ “Military Movie Madness,” downing Patton by a sizable margin vote to determine the best military movie ever made.

full metal jacket

Notes from an old college handout, 1960

By Abbé Ernest Dimnet [1866-1954]: “Dimnet invites the reader into a state of honesty, where he [or her] evaluates himself [or herself] as a thoughtful human being.” (Wikipedia)

“Whatever we read, we must first comprehend and, when we have comprehended, criticize.”

“Comprehension is the first and essential step in reading.”

“There is an abyss between people who want [literature] to be as accessible as the morning paper and people in possession of, or in search of, culture.”

“Criticizing is only another aspect of the effort to comprehend. The word in its etymology means ‘to judge,’ and, in fact, we think of a critic as a competent, not carping, judge.”

“Teachers should attach the greatest value to the school exercise called literary analysis.”

A student must acquire the habit…not to receive anything as true or beautiful, but to consider everything as a problem.”

“We should be given the habit of critical attention so that our first contact with anything worth the effort will give us as keen an impression as we are capable.”

“Comprehension is criticism, and criticism or judgment is a mere synonym for THOUGHT.”

“I think that the self, in its quest to be free and solitary, ultimately reads with one aim only: to confront greatness. That confrontation scarcely masks the desire to join greatness, which is the basis of the aesthetic experience once called the Sublime: the quest for transcendence of limits.

“Our common fate is age, sickness, death, oblivion. Our common hope, tenuous but persistent, is for some version of survival.

“Confronting greatness as we read is an intimate and expensive process . . .”



Allan Bloom

Has anything changed in education since the publication [1987] of this evocative and controversial book?

Subtitled: “How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students”

Again: What is the place of the humanities programs on college campuses?

What should an “educated” person know?

Should there exist a “core” of required readings for all students?

Does any of this really matter in our culture today?

THESE are some of the Great Human Questions HUM 2930.

“The ultimate challenge in education is to go to the individual human being and help her or him become what otherwise he or she would never become.”


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