Sunday

Jul. 14, 2002

Clara: In the Post Office

by Linda Hasselstrom

SUNDAY, 14 JULY 2002
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Poem: "Clara: In the Post Office," by Linda Hasselstrom from Roadkill (Spoon River Publishing).

Clara: In the Post Office

I keep telling you, I'm not a feminist.
I grew up an only child on a ranch,
so I drove tractors, learned to ride.
When the truck wouldn't start, I went to town
for parts. The man behind the counter
told me I couldn't rebuild a carburetor.
I could: every carburetor on the place. That's
necessity, not feminism.
I learned to do the books
after my husband left me and the debts
and the children. I shoveled snow and pitched hay
when the hired man didn't come to work.
I learned how to pull a calf
when the vet was too busy. As I thought,
the cow did most of it herself; they've been
birthing alone for ten thousand years. Does
that make them feminists?
It's not
that I don't like men; I love them - when I can.
But I've stopped counting on them
to change my flats or open my doors.
That's not feminism; that's just good sense.

Today is Bastille Day, a French national holiday commemorating the storming of the Bastille Prison by French citizens in 1789. The Bastille was used to store munitions, but more importantly, it was where political prisoners were held by the French monarchy. Voltaire had been imprisoned there, as had the Marquis de Sade. The storming of the Bastille marked the beginning of the popular uprising against the monarchy that became the French Revolution.

It's the birthday of poet and essayist Linda Hasselstrom, born in Houston, Texas (1943). Her father was a rancher, and she began working on a cattle ranch in South Dakota when she was ten years old. She writes about the joys and hardships of life on the Great Plains, in books like Windbreak: A Woman Rancher on the Northern Plains (1987) and Feels Like Far: A Rancher's Life on the Great Plains (1999). Her poems have been collected in Dakota Bones: The Collected Poems of Linda Hasselstrom (1992).

It's the birthday of electrical engineer Jay Wright Forrester, born in Anselmo, Nebraska (1918). In 1945, he founded the Digital Computer Laboratory, where he designed an early digital computer known as Whirlwind One. While he was working on the design of the computer, he realized that the available systems for storing information were slow and unreliable. He worked on the problem for several years, and in 1949 came up with a magnetic cell that stored data in three dimensions. His invention became known as random-access magnetic core memory-what we now refer to as "random-access memory" or "RAM." It's what most digital computers use to store information.

It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer Isaac Bashevis Singer, born in Radzymin, Poland (1904). He grew up in Poland, and published his first novel there before immigrating to the United States in 1935. There he got a job as a journalist for the Yiddish Newspaper, Jewish Daily Forward. He continued to write his novels and short stories in Yiddish, but personally supervised their translation into English. His novels include The Magician of Lublin (1960), Enemies, A Love Story (1972) and The Penitent (1983). The Collected Stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer was published in 1982. He wrote about Polish Jews living in a world that vanished forever with the Holocaust, and infused his work with Jewish folklore and mysticism. He was awarded the 1978 Nobel Prize for Literature.

It's the birthday of novelist Irving Stone, born in San Francisco, California (1903). He was widely known for his biographical novels about such historical figures as Vincent Van Gogh, Michelangelo, Sigmund Freud, and Charles Darwin. His first novel, Lust for Life (1934), was rejected by seventeen publishers before it was finally published. It's biographical novel about painter Vincent van Gogh. His most famous novel is The Agony and the Ecstasy (1961), about Michelangelo. He said: "I don't believe in inspiration. I believe that you get to your desk, you stay there, you work, you think of nothing else. You write and you write, and in the end you write something good."

It's the birthday of novelist Owen Wister, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1860). From 1889 to 1891, he practiced law in Philadelphia and spent his summers vacationing in Wyoming. His most famous work is the novel The Virginian (1902), which made the cowboy a popular stock character in American literature. It has many of the classic "Western" elements, including a school teacher from back East who falls in love with a cowboy, and a climactic showdown between two gunslingers.



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