Apr. 8, 1998
Home Thoughts from Abroad
The Sensitive Plant (excerpt)
Buddhists observe today as the birthday of the BUDDHA, the most important holiday in their calendar. He was born around the year 563 B.C. and lived until 483. B.C. He was given the name Siddartha at birth and is thought to have lived in India. Buddha means "the enlightened one" in Sanskrit.
It's the birthday in Annapolis, Maryland, 1955, of novelist BARBARA KINGSOLVER. The family moved to rural eastern Kentucky when she was a girl, and she wrote about it in her first novel, the 1988 The Bean Trees. She said, "if I was going to write anything worthwhile at all, I knew I would have to honor who I really was, a kid who grew up, literally, in the middle of an alfalfa field." She wrote it while pregnant with her first child, when she had severe insomnia. She sat with her typewriter on her knees in a closet, the only place in their little house where the light wouldn't wake her husband. It's now been translated into a dozen languages.
It's the birthday in Harlem, 1920, of jazz singer CARMEN MCRAE, who got her start like so many jazz greats, at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, winning an amateur talent contest in the late 1930s. She could play the piano, she could sing, and she could write: Billie Holiday had a hit with McRae's song "Dream of Life," in 1939. She never had the fame of Ella Fitzgerald, or Sarah Vaughan or Billie Holiday, but critics and jazz lovers say she was every bit their equal. Tunes like "Alfie," "The Music That Makes Me Dance," and "Mean to Me," won her an NEA Jazz Fellowship award for lifetime achievement.
It's the birthday of lyricist EDGAR "YIP" HARBURG, in New York, 1898. He was the owner of an electrical appliance company that went under the Great Depression, then he started writing lyrics for Broadway. From personal experience, he wrote the hit "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"...then went on to win an Academy Award for "Over the Rainbow" from the Wizard of Oz.
Silent film star MARY PICKFORD was born on this day in Toronto, 1893. She had long blonde curls and in movies like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Pollyanna and Little Lord Fauntleroy played the young, sentimentalized teenager which won her the title of "America's Sweetheart" though she was always arguing with the studios, and a Hollywood joke back then ran that it took longer to write her contract than to make her movie. In 1920, she married actor Douglas Fairbanks and the wedding was a national event; for years the parties in their Beverly Hills mansion were the place to be. Together with Charlie Chaplin they formed the first major movie company, United Artists.
It was on this day in 1513 that the explorer, Juan Ponce de Leon, landed in FLORIDA and claimed it for the Spanish throne. He'd already completed the conquest of Puerto Rico, and was searching for the fountain of youth. He landed on Easter Sunday near what is now St. Augustine, and thought at first the new land was an island. He named it "Pascua Florida," Spanish for "Flowery Easter."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®