Jun. 22, 2002
The Black Walnut Tree
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Poem: "The Black Walnut Tree," by Mary Oliver from Twelve Moons (Little, Brown & Co.).
The Black Walnut Tree
My mother and I debate:
we could sell
the black walnut tree
to the lumberman,
and pay off the mortgage.
Likely some storm anyway
will churn down its dark boughs,
smashing the house. We talk
slowly, two women trying
in a difficult time to be wise.
Roots in the cellar drains,
I say, and she replies
that the leaves are getting heavier
every year, and the fruit
harder to gather away.
But something brighter than money
moves in our blood-an edge
sharp and quick as a trowel
that wants us to dig and sow.
So we talk, but we don't do
anything. That night I dream
of my fathers out of Bohemia
filling the blue fields
of fresh and generous Ohio
with leaves and vines and orchards.
What my mother and I both know
is that we'd crawl with shame
in the emptiness we'd made
in our own and our fathers' backyard.
So the black walnut tree
swings through another year
of sun and leaping winds,
of leaves and bounding fruit,
and, month after month, the whip-
crack of the mortgage.
It's the birthday of producer and director Joseph Papp, born Yosi Papirofsky in Brooklyn, New York (1921), who grew up in poverty, helping his father support the family by shining shoes, plucking chickens, and selling peanuts from a pushcart. In 1954, he founded the New York Shakespeare Festival, and began staging free performances of Shakespeare in a church on the Lower East Side. Papp later convinced the City of New York to fund a permanent theater for free performances in Central Park; The Delacorte Theater opened in 1962 with a production of The Merchant of Venice. He expanded his efforts to the New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theater in 1967, dedicated to producing contemporary and experimental dramas.
It's the birthday of author and aviator Anne Morrow Lindbergh, born in Englewood, New Jersey (1906), who, with her dashing aviator husband, Charles Lindbergh, became known as "the First Couple of the Skies." In 1935, she wrote North to the Orient, a best selling account of one of her voyages with her husband. She went on to write many more successful books, including Gift from the Sea (1955), Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead (1973), and War Within and Without (1980).
It's the birthday of director, producer, and screenwriter Billy Wilder, born in Vienna, Austria (1906). He left Vienna in 1927 for a job as a reporter in Berlin, and eventually found work as a scriptwriter on more than a dozen German films. But when the credits for What Women Dream, his fourteenth film, rolled by, the names of the two scriptwriters, Franz Schulz and Billy Wilder, were missing. As Jews, they had been expunged from the program. Wilder left Germany for Paris. In 1934, he arrived in Hollywood with eleven dollars in his pocket. His big break came when Paramount studios paired him with the writer Charles Brackett. Together they wrote scripts for such films as Ninotchka (1939), Hold Back the Dawn (1941), The Lost Weekend (1945), and Sunset Boulevard (1950), which won Wilder an Academy Award and included the famous line, "I am big. It's the pictures that got small." He died earlier this year at the age of ninety-five.
It's the birthday of novelist Erich Maria Remarque, born in Osnabruck, Germany (1898), who is best known for his anti-war novel, All Quiet on the Western Front. At the age of eighteen, Remarque was drafted into the German army to fight in World War One. He was wounded five times. In 1929, the novel he had been working on for ten years was published. All Quiet on the Western Front is the story of one man's experience in the war; some critics called it the best anti-war novel ever written. The book was an immediate international success; however, it was banned in Germany, and in 1938, Remarque's German citizenship was revoked. He became a citizen of United States in 1947 and was married to American film star Paulette Goddard. He died in 1970.
It's the birthday of children's book author Harriet
Mulford Lothrop, born in New Haven, Connecticut (1844). The Five Little
Peppers and How They Grew was published in 1880. It was an idealized story
about a young widow with five perfect children, who, although they live in poverty,
resolved all their problems with constant cheer. Readers kept writing to ask
what happened to the Little Peppers as they got older, so Sidney wrote ten sequels
in which the girls all grow up to have happy children of their own, and the
boys all become successful businessmen with cheerful, dutiful families.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®