Charles Rammelkamp

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Degrees of Success

“Masters’ degrees are a dime a dozen,”
my father scoffed
when he learned of a nephew’s accomplishment,
his form of snobbery.

His doctoral degree from Harvard
had not been easy to achieve.
First, the war interrupted his studies,
four years in the army in the Panama Canal Zone
while America fought the Germans and Japanese.
Then married and back in Cambridge,
a baby and later twins,
mouths to feed,
a job back home in Illinois at a newspaper
before a tenure-track teaching position opened
at a college hundreds of miles away,
and then the mountainous teaching load,
the petty departmental politics,
until finally the dissertation was complete,
defended, the degree in hand.

Me, I have a couple of Masters’ degrees,
but I don’t think about them much;
they never really played a part
in my haphazard professional life –
just lines on a resume
when employers mainly cared about “skills.”
Besides, they’re a dime a dozen, right?

Yahrzeit Notices

My brother’s name was in the Yahrzeit list
in the synagogue’s weekly Shabbat program,
two-thirds the way down the “Remembered” column,
my own in the adjacent “Relation” row:
David, brother of Charles.

I didn’t recognize many of the names
in the list of the congregation’s dead,
most of them identified as “father of” or “mother of”;
some of the dead were grandparents
(Harold Schwartz, grandfather of Erica Levy).

But two names stood out below mine:
Joshua Rubin, son of Andy and Janet Rubin,
Amanda Rubin, daughter of Andy and Janet Rubin.
I didn’t know Andy or Janet,
not to mention Joshua or Amanda,
but I could only imagine a horrible accident
in which Joshua and Amanda had been killed,
bloody and tragic, the parents’ grief manumental.
Why else would a son and daughter be remembered
the very same week?  Why else would parents
be remembering the deaths of their children?

My big brother David?
Dead way too young.


Charles Rammelkamp’s latest chapbook, Mixed Signals, was published by Finishing Line Press. A new book, Mata Hari: Eye of the Day, will be published in 2015 by Apprentice House. Charles edits an online literary journal called The Potomac,