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Learned Discussion

June 2024
1min read

As an eighteen-year-old in the summer of 1953,1 sometimes served as driver for my eighty-year-old grandmother, Constance Parsons Hare. On one occasion I drove her into Manhattan for a luncheon she had arranged for about twenty of her oldest friends at the Colony Club. As we sat down, at different tables, I noticed that I was the only person present younger than about sixty. This observation did nothing to diminish my teen-age argumentativeness and distaste for polite conversation. Having recently written a prize-winning school essay on McCarthyism, I was eager to educate my elders about the evils of the senator from Wisconsin. After a few confident sentences, it was apparant that all but one of those at my table considered McCarthyism an inappropriate topic for luncheon conversation. My resolve only strengthened by this cool reception. I focused my efforts on an elderly gentleman who showed interest by pressing me to clarify and justify my opinions. With each new question, my rhetorical juices flowed stronger. This old fellow, I told myself, needs to learn something about the importance of civil liberties. The longer this onesided conversation went on, the more pained became the expressions on the faces of the others at the table, but to my puzzlement no one interrupted, and the old gentleman remained serenely attentive.

On the drive home my grandmother was horrified to hear my account of the conversation. She told me that the “old gentleman” I had been attempting to enlighten on civil liberties was Judge Learned Hand, the most respected American jurist living. After scolding me thoroughly, she explained that she and Learned Hand had been friends since they were painfully shy teen-agers standing together on the sidelines at summer dances in Lenox, Massachusetts.

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