1976, December 8: Letter from Peter to G&H

One-page typewritten letter on 3-hole-punched lined paper. The background is that a couple of notes ago, Peter referred to himself as “The Scuffler” in passing, and apparently George and Helen asked him what he meant by that.

Handwritten note at the top of the page: Signing myself “The Scuffler” was actually a joke, but since you asked ...

Dec, 8, 1976

Dear Parents --

Well I just sat down to write this letter, when I realized, looking at the date above, that it is your beautiful son's, my brother John's birthday today, so I got up and called him at 9:45 p.m., almost too late. Now I'm back, sitting beside the altar in our living room, eating lentil soup and try ing to figure out what does the word " scuffler" mean?

Herewith are some selections from the OED -- asymptotic to my meaning.


Scuff (also skuff):A rowdy crowd, rabble; also, one of such a crowd.

To scrape with the feet; to wear off by treading.

To shuffle with the feet.

Scuffed: Worn, shabby.

Scruff: Applied to what is worthless or contemptible; refuse, litter.

Scruffy: Covered with scurf, scaly.

Scuffle: A scrambling fight; an encounter with much hustling and random exchange of blows; a tussle.

Scuffle: A gardener's thrust-hoe.

Scuffle: To struggle confusedly together or with another or others; to fight at close quarters in a disorderly manner, with pulling, pushing, and random delivery of blows; to tussle.

To contend vigorously or resolutely.

To struggle along.

To go in hurried confusion; to move with much effort and fuss.

Scuffle: to scarify or stir up the surface (of land) with a thrust hoe.

Scuffler: one who scuffles.

1642 "Tom Nash his Ghost" (title page) "To the three scurvy Fellowes of the upstart family of the Snufflers, Rufflers, and Shufflers; the thrice Treble-troublesome Scufflers ... ."


Well then, to me, a scuffler is someone who is struggling, however successfully, with the problems life sets them; in short, a struggler, (in Greek, an agonist). In particular, my connotations include images of scruffiness (scuffedness), of being somewhat worn around the edges; tattered or shabby; but yet still vigorous and resolute; also, the image of a digger, stirring up the surface to see what may be found, like a chicken scratching out a living by shuffling its feet; a scavenger making forays over the turf; a random gleaner snaffling (scrogging) whatever seems useful and shuffling on past the rest. Also, perhaps, snuffling, because of having scuffed up so much dust with the thrust-hoe (horse-hoe). The chicken lowest on the pecking-order list definitely has to do some scuffling (in Japanese, the word is xxx "geza-no-gyo," literally work or discipline of the lowest seat...) in order to survive. But "the last shall be first"-- the scrawny snot-nosed street-kid is smarter, tougher, stronger, wiser, than the loll-a-bed fat-cat suburban "vidiot"... . Also the idea of wrestling with an angel for a blessing -- "health is the overcoming of disease" ... . (No struggle, no health -- like those dogs brought up in germ-free atmosphere -- they can't survive in the outside air ... .)

But of course struggling without being principled (having principles) leads to downfall too -- witness R. Milhaus Nixon, the struggler (there's a fascinating in-depth study of him called "Nixon Agonistes", by Garry Wills). For him, the sturggle (I meant struggle, but for him, maybe it was a sturggle...) was an end in itself, not a means. Wills depicts him as a locomotive, working up a head of steam, and chuffing on down the track--never mind where the track leads, the head of steam is the important thing to him... .

I've run out of space, time, and energy. (square centimeters, seconds, and ergs). Have a beautiful vacation. Please say Aloha to Hawaii for us homebody howlies (haolis?).

Much love & Light from

Peter, Marcy, Jed & Joaquin


We had one of those compact OED editions, the kind that comes with a magnifying glass.

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