Wednesday Apr. 13, 2016

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My Father Whistled

only when he was nervous
about fixing something, anything.
It was an aptitude he lacked.
He worked as a weaver
in a silk mill, then as a chauffeur,
and then he fell
into his life’s work, at which he excelled:
he drove a truck filled
with clinking milk bottles,
and deposited them on doorsteps,
front and back, and some even in the fridge.
I called it whistling, but there was little or no
sound: he’d make the whistle-lips
and blow a song of air, of breath,
hitting the muffled higher notes
when the nut did not fit the bolt,
when a belt needed an extra hole…
He put the snow chains on himself.
He’d usually get it done.
He never asked for help,
and was given none.

“My Father Whistled” by Thomas Lux from To the Left of Time. © Mariner Books, 2016. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It's the birthday of Thomas Jefferson (books by this author), born in Albemarle County in Virginia in 1743, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, as well as countless pieces of legislation, reports, notes, letters, essays, and even books on farming and gardening. He was also famously well-read and a great lover of books; his personal library was the largest private collection in the United States — 6,487 volumes on history, philosophy, and fine arts — when he sold it to Congress after the British burned down the Library of Congress. (The lost library was less than half the size of Jefferson's.)

It's the birthday of Samuel Beckett (books by this author), born in Foxrock, Ireland, a Dublin suburb (1906). He studied French literature in college and then went to Paris, where he met James Joyce, who by that time was almost blind and working on Finnegans Wake. Beckett became his assistant. He read books to Joyce, took dictation, and walked with him around Paris. He idolized Joyce so much that he began to smoke like Joyce and walk like Joyce. He tried to write in Joyce's meandering style, but Beckett said, "I realized that my own way was in taking away, in subtracting rather than in adding."

Beckett eventually found his own voice and wrote many novels and plays, including his most famous, Waiting for Godot (1952). In 1969, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

He wrote, "Where I am, I don't know, I'll never know, in the silence you don't know, you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on."

Beckett wrote, "My mistakes are my life."

And, "We are all born mad. Some remain so."

And, "Dance first. Think later. It's the natural order."

He also said, "Nothing is funnier than unhappiness."

It's the birthday of writer Eudora Welty (books by this author), born in Jackson, Mississippi (1909). She wrote several novels, including The Optimist's Daughter (1972), but she's best known for her short stories, which she wrote, rewrote, and revised by cutting them apart with scissors at the dining-room table.

You can tour her house and garden in Jackson for $5, the house at 1119 Pinehurst Street that Welty moved into in 1925 with her parents when she was 16 and lived in until she died in 2001. The garden was planted by her mother Chestina so that there'd be something in bloom each season. There are larkspur, hollyhocks, and snapdragons for the spring; phlox, zinnias, and blue salvia for the summer; asters, chrysanthemums, and spider lilies for the fall, and camellias and pansies in winter.

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