Sunday Sep. 25, 2016

0:00/ 0:00

Ice Cream Stop

The circus train made an ice cream stop
At the fifty-two-flavor ice cream stand.
The animals all got off the train
And walked right up to the ice cream man.
“I’ll take Vanilla,” yelled the gorilla.
“I’ll take Chocolate,” shouted the ocelot.
   “I’ll take the Strawberry,” chirped the canary.
      “Rocky Road,” croaked the toad.
         “Lemon and Lime,” growled the lion.
      Said the ice cream man, “‘Til I see a dime.
   You’ll get no ice cream of mine.”
Then the animals snarled and screeched and growled
And whinnied and whimpered and hooted and howled
And gobbled up the whole ice cream stand,
All fifty-two flavors
(Fifty-three with Ice Cream Man).

“Ice Cream Stop” by Shel Silverstein from Falling Up. © Harper Collins Publishers, 1996. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It's the birthday of William Faulkner (books by this author), born William Cuthbert Falkner in New Albany, Mississippi (1897). Faulkner was named for his great-grandfather, a Civil War colonel who'd been killed in a duel, but the family name he inherited was indeed Falkner, spelled with no "u." He permanently adopted the additional vowel when applying for the Canadian Royal Air Force, believing it made his name look British. Having already been rejected by the U.S. Army Air Corps because of his height of only five feet six inches, he also lied about his birthplace, for good measure, and adopted a phony British accent.

Like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Faulkner was still in training when the First World War ended. This didn't stop him from returning home to Oxford, Mississippi, the town where he'd grown up, sporting an officer's uniform and claiming to have a silver plate in his head. He went to Ole Miss for a few semesters as a war veteran, even though he'd never finished high school, but dropped out of that, too.

It was, perhaps, one of the last times Faulkner pretended to be something other than what he was. Of the 19 novels he eventually wrote, 18 were set in the South; 14 of those were set in a fictionalized version of Oxford, the town that he strayed from but always returned to. Many of his characters and their exploits were based on his real-life neighbors and family members — like his great-grandfather.

As much as the rest of the world would always associate Faulkner with the American South, the South didn't always appreciate his representation; Oxford residents alternated between being angered by recognizable depictions in his fiction and disappointed when they weren't included. But it might have been Faulkner's stance on segregation that stirred up the most trouble. He condemned it, putting him at odds even with his own brother, but he also rejected the idea of federal intervention on the issue, putting him at odds with nearly everyone else. The South, he argued, needed time to get used to the idea of integration. When W.E.B. Du Bois challenged Faulkner to a debate on the topic in 1956, Faulkner declined, saying, "I do not believe there is a debatable point between us. We both agree in advance that the position you will take is right morally, legally, and ethically." Faulkner believed that a slow and moderate approach to integration was simply a matter of practicality.

He said, in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech: "I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's duty is to write about these things. ... The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail."

He also said: "It is my ambition to be, as a private individual, abolished and voided from history, leaving it markless, no refuse save the printed books; I wish I had had enough sense to see ahead thirty years ago and, like some of the Elizabethans, not signed them. It is my aim, and every effort bent, that the sum and history of my life, which in the same sentence is my obit and epitaph too, shall be them both: he made the books, and he died." His obituaries, when they were written upon his death in 1962, were substantially longer. The epitaph on his grave doesn't mention his books. It reads simply, "Belove'd/ Go With God."

On this day in 1957, 1,000 troops secured Little Rock Central High, allowing nine black students to enter and attend school. It was a historic day in the Civil Rights movement not because it was the first school to desegregate, but because it was the first time federal intervention was used to do so.

When the Supreme Court struck down the "separate but equal" doctrine in 1954, banning segregated public schools, it left up to individual states and communities the issue of how and when integration would proceed. Little Rock had approved a gradual approach; the high school would integrate first, then the middle schools, then elementary. But when the time came for black students to enroll in Central High, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus reneged on the deal, surrounding the school with National Guard troops on the first day of the year to protect people, he claimed, from the caravans of protestors on their way to Little Rock. In fact, the Guard denied entrance to the nine black students who attempted to enroll as a crowd of about 300 people gathered. Within days, the spectacle was over, but the Guard remained, napping on the school's lawn and reading newspapers to pass the time. The approach that Southern moderates like William Faulkner had preached was quickly turning from "go slow" into "don't go."

More than two weeks passed before a federal injunction withdrew the National Guard from the school. When Little Rock police officers escorted the nine black students into school on the morning of September 23, crowds of protestors outside became so menacing that administrators had the students slip out a side entrance before noon.

And so two days later, President Eisenhower ordered the Screaming Eagles 101st Airborne Division stationed in Kentucky to escort the nine black students back in — and ensure they were able to stay. By then, the national media attention on Little Rock had become intense, drawing massive crowds — although, as the school newspaper reminded students, the protestors represented less than 1 percent of the town's population.

Of the "Little Rock Nine," as the black students became known, only three graduated from Central High. Five finished their education elsewhere; one was expelled for responding to the constant harassments of her classmates, once by overturning a bowl of chili on a tormentor. (The bullies went largely unpunished.) All nine credited their parents for encouraging them to enroll — and attend class — despite intense scrutiny and racism.

It's the birthday of children's author and illustrator Shel Silverstein (books by this author), born Sheldon Allen Silverstein in Chicago (1930). As a youngster himself, he wanted to play baseball or be popular with girls, Silverstein once said, but he couldn't play ball and he couldn't dance. So he wrote and drew to occupy himself, developing a signature style and wit that would delight children all over the world.

It was never his intention. He began his career as a cartoonist while serving in the Korean War, publishing in the military's daily paper; when he returned from duty, he got a job as a staff cartoonist for Playboy magazine, where he also contributed several poems. It wasn't until a fellow illustrator who was finding success publishing for kids put Silverstein in touch with his editor that he was convinced to try writing for children. The blend of witty and wistful that would later become his trademark was initially off-putting to some, who told him his work was too mature for kids, but not enough so for adults. He proved them wrong by publishing four children's books in two years, including his most enduring — and category-defying — The Giving Tree.

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