Wednesday Mar. 23, 2016

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The Happiest Day

It was early May, I think
a moment of lilac or dogwood
when so many promises are made
it hardly matters if a few are broken.
My mother and father still hovered
in the background, part of the scenery
like the houses I had grown up in,
and if they would be torn down later
that was something I knew
but didn’t believe. Our children were asleep
or playing, the youngest as new
as the new smell of the lilacs,
and how could I have guessed
their roots were shallow
and would be easily transplanted.
I didn’t even guess that I was happy.
The small irritations that are like salt
on melon were what I dwelt on,
though in truth they simply
made the fruit taste sweeter.
So we sat on the porch
in the cool morning, sipping
hot coffee. Behind the news of the day—
strikes and small wars, a fire somewhere—
I could see the top of your dark head
and thought not of public conflagrations
but of how it would feel on my bare shoulder.
If someone could stop the camera then…
if someone could only stop the camera
and ask me: are you happy?
Perhaps I would have noticed
how the morning shone in the reflected
color of lilac. Yes, I might have said
and offered a steaming cup of coffee.

“The Happiest Day” by Linda Pastan from Heroes in Disguise. © W.W. Norton, 1991. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It was on this day in 1775 that the lawyer Patrick Henry spoke at the Second Virginia Convention in Richmond, a meeting of American colonial leaders that included George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The four-day assembly turned into a fierce debate about whether or not to raise a militia and arm Virginia in the fight against the British. On the topic, Patrick Henry delivered a famous speech that probably included the line "Give me liberty or give me death!" At least, some people thought he did.

There was a problem with Henry's speeches. They were charismatic and passionate, but afterward, no one could remember what he had said. Thomas Jefferson said of Henry: "When he had spoken in opposition to my opinion, had produced a great effect, and I myself had been highly delighted and moved, I have asked myself when he ceased: 'What the devil has he said?' I could never answer the inquiry."

The speech wasn't written down until 1816, by Henry's biographer, William Wirt. Wirt talked to people who had been present at the speech and had them reconstruct it from their memories.

It's the birthday of science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson (books by this author), born in Waukegan, Illinois (1952). He's the author of stories set in the past and future, stories set on Pluto, Mercury, the slopes of the Himalayas, and the ice of Antarctica, including the Mars trilogy and the Orange County trilogy.

It's the birthday of the man who won the 1937 Nobel Prize in literature, French author Roger Martin du Gard (books by this author), born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France (1881). His life's work was chronicling the fictional Thibault family in a series of novels known as Les Thibault, which he published over the course of two decades, from 1922 to 1940. It's considered a roman-fleuve, a French term that literally means "river-novel." It refers to a series of novels written by one author that are about the same few characters (often family members) — usually a saga where the historical backdrop plays a prominent role in the fiction, and the author often provides a sort of running commentary on the era.

It's the birthday of writer Louis Adamic (books by this author), born in Blato in what is now Slovenia (1899). He came from a family of farmers and immigrated to the United States at the age of 14. He wrote about travel, the labor movement, immigrant life in America, and Eastern European politics in books like The Native's Return (1934), Cradle of Life (1936), and Two-Way Passage (1941).

Louis Adamic said, "My grandfather always said that living is like licking honey off a thorn."

It's the birthday of Fannie Merritt Farmer (books by this author), born in Boston (1857). She's known for publishing the first cookbook in American history that came with simple, precise cooking instructions.

She compiled all the recipes she had ever learned, along with advice on how to set a table, scald milk, cream butter, remove stains, and clean a copper boiler. At first, all the publishers turned her down because they reasoned that these were all things young women could learn from their mothers. Finally, Little, Brown agreed to publish the book if Fannie Farmer would pay for the printing of the first 3,000 copies. It has sold millions of copies since.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®