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With age, a letter writer's wisdom

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January 26, 2013
  • Carleton Ralston, who turns 100 this week, is one of The Times' most prolific letter writers.
Carleton Ralston, who turns 100 this week, is one of The Times' most… (Los Angeles Times )

Since 1990, reader Carleton Ralston has been something of a regular presence on The Times' letters page. As Gale Holland noted in her column Friday, the Eagle Rock resident, who celebrates his 100th birthday this week, has had 19 letters published in The Times, an impressive count. His missives have three things in common: They're short, focused and well written. In other words, Ralston seems to know the formula for having his letters published.

As Holland wrote, among Ralston's several recurrent themes is "how to judge politicians." But Ralston has also exhibited a wisdom that not only comes with age and experience but also (by my reading of his letters) a keen eye and considerable wit. In honor of Ralston's birthday, and of his sage observations over the years, here are some of those missives.

-- Paul Thornton, letters editor

On Oct. 1, 2010, in his last letter that ran in The Times, Ralston wrote:

"What does an old duffer like me, a 97-year-old veteran of World War II, have to offer young voters? It's this: Read the story of your United States of America. It is more exciting than any novel. We outbluffed, outsmarted, outfought and outproduced the great powers of the world. And wound up with an unbelievable government 'by the people.'

"The very existence of our country is in your hands. Learn to count on what a candidate has done, not what he is going to do. Push through the ballyhoo to the crux of a question."

Responding to an Op-Ed article, Ralston wrote in a letter published on June 11, 2005:

"[Lisa Grunwald] contends that wishing happiness for children is unrealistic, and parents should rather emphasize such obtainable goals as humor and the sharing of troubles.

"In a long life (age 92), I have observed that women are more interested in making friends and influencing people than men are. To most men, a rollicking good time is leaving the city behind and entering the haven of his home. For this, a boy should learn a fast, straight left to the chin and a way to make a living.

"I once found myself screaming with delight high in the sky in my ultralight airplane. And I can understand the happiness of a man sitting alone on a mountain, taking in God's wonders below."

In a letter published on Oct. 18, 2003, Ralston displayed the biting humor found in many of his letters:

" 'Teaching Lessons of a Lifetime' (Oct. 14) brought to light a teacher who has wisdom and kindness for the young, still, at age 90. Gray hairs do not equal desuetude. I am 90 also. I drive a car that will do 140 mph; not with me in it. This well-loved teacher says that laughter contributes heavily to longevity. I have concluded that pessimism is important. Murphy's Law applies to life as well as mechanics.

"If misfortune can befall, it will befall, and plans must be made for resistance. Being cheerful is healthy -- if you can swing it. Your dog consumes sticks, garbage, poop, and, when he pukes, it will be nowhere but on your new white carpet."

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