Tuesday Sep. 5, 2017

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Letter to My Husband Far Away

The house is not empty without you.
It thrums and bumps, the walls relax and sigh.
The water heater dutifully comes on, rumbles
with heat, waiting for your shower to start.
How many times today have I heard
your truck in the driveway, the floor creak
with your step, felt your breath against
the back of my neck. At least that often,
I’ve turned to tell you something,
or hand you a piece of cheese or plum,
but it’s two more days until you return.
It’s just me in this room, with this plum,
with this good fortune, with this far-flung love.

“Letter to My Husband Far Away” by Gillian Wegener from This Sweet Haphazard. © Sixteen Rivers Press, 2017. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

The Great Fire of London ended on this date in 1666. The fire had started on September 2, in Pudding Lane near London Bridge, after a baker neglected to properly extinguish his oven. It had been a hot and dry summer, with no rain for weeks, and there was a strong wind that night. The city’s wooden buildings were dry as tinder, and the fire spread quickly from house to house along the narrow streets. King Charles II ordered all the buildings in the path of the fire to be torn down, to serve as a firebreak, but the flames spread faster than the demolition. Finally, officials from the Tower of London started blowing buildings up with gunpowder instead. The winds died down and the firebreaks were more effective, and the blaze was finally brought under control at Pye Corner in Smithfield. The fire wiped out four-fifths of London’s buildings, and left all but 10,000 of the city’s 80,000 residents homeless. The medieval buildings, which lay within the old Roman walls, were gutted.

Samuel Pepys witnessed the Great Fire firsthand and wrote about it in his famous diary: “We saw the fire as only one entire arch of fire from this to the other side of the bridge, and in a bow up the hill for an arch of above a mile long: it made me weep to see it. The churches, houses, and all on fire and flaming at once; and a horrid noise the flames made, and the cracking of houses at their ruine.”

The French National Convention began the Reign of Terror on this date in 1793. The National Convention was an assembly of 749 deputies — most of them tradesmen and businessmen — that served as a governing body during the French Revolution. It was formed in September 1792, when it promptly abolished the monarchy and established the French republic. A year later, hostile armies surrounded France on all sides. Bertrand Barère, a prominent member of the Convention, gave a rousing speech calling for harsh punishment for enemies of the republic — this included aristocrats, priests, and hoarders — and said, “Let’s make terror the order of the day!” In February 1794, Maximilien Robespierre also defended the use of terror tactics: “Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is therefore an emanation of virtue; it is not so much a special principle as it is a consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to our country’s most urgent needs.”

The Terror lasted until July 1794; by the time it ended, as many as 300,000 people had been arrested. Of these, 17,000 were executed, and 10,000 more died in prison.

It’s the birthday of American writer Frank Yerby (books by this author), born in Augusta, Georgia (1916). He was the first African-American to become a best-selling novelist when his book The Foxes of Harrow (1946) became an international sensation. Yerby’s big break came when an editor at Dial Press urged him to try novels instead of short stories. Over a weekend, he wrote 27 pages of what would be The Foxes of Harrow, about an Irish gambler in pre-Civil War New Orleans. He received a $250.00 advance, and the book was later made into a movie starring Maureen O’Hara and Rex Harrison (1947).

Yerby wrote 33 novels in all, mostly romance and historical fiction, all best-sellers. He once said cheerfully, “I’ve written some very bad books.” About his critics, he shrugged: “Too many of them are failed novelists who don’t know how to read. They should be licensed, like doctors and lawyers.”

Frank Yerby immigrated to Spain in 1955 and never returned to the United States. He’d grown weary of the racial discrimination in the U.S., saying: “I’m glad to have escaped. There’s no hope for racial harmony in the U.S. and never was. America is just the world’s biggest banana republic. It does everything badly.”

About The Foxes of Harrow, he once remarked, “It comprises every romantic cliché in history.” Frank Yerby has sold more than 55 million books worldwide.

On this day in 1978, peace accord discussions began with United States President Jimmy Carter, Prime Minister of Israel Menachem Begin, and President of Egypt Anwar Sadat at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland.

President Carter was attempting to broker Arab-Israeli peace and end a 31-year war, but Begin and Sadat disliked each other so much, he often found himself ferrying messages and notes back and forth between cabins, because they men refused to meet in the same room. After 12 days, they finally reached an agreement. On September 17, 1978, what became known as the “Camp David Accords,” agreements between Israel and Egypt, were signed. It was first time peace had been brokered between Israel and any of its Arab neighbors.

When President Jimmy Carter introduced the Accords to the public, he said: “It’s been more than 2,000 years since there was peace between Egypt and a free Jewish nation. If our present expectations are realized, this year we shall see such peace again.”

In 1978, Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat shared the Nobel Peace Prize for their role in the Camp David Accords.

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