Aug. 18, 2003
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Poem: "The Cure," by Ginger Andrews, from Hurricane Sisters (used by permission of the author).
Lying around all day
with some strange new deep blue
weekend funk, I'm not really asleep
when my sister calls
to say she's just hung up
from talking with Aunt Bertha
who is 89 and ill but managing
to take care of Uncle Frank
who is completely bed ridden.
Aunt Bert says
it's snowing there in Arkansas,
on Catfish Lane, and she hasn't been
able to walk out to their mailbox.
She's been suffering
from a bad case of the mulleygrubs.
The cure for the mulleygrubs,
she tells my sister,
is to get up and bake a cake.
If that doesn't do it, put on a red dress.
On this day in 1958, Vladimir Nabokov published his controversial novel Lolita. The novel is about a man's obsession with a 12-year-old girl, and four publishers rejected it in the United States before it was accepted by G.P. Putnam's Sons. Nabokov had struggled with money for most of his adult life. He inherited $2 million from an uncle, but his family lost much of their wealth during the Russian Revolution. To earn a living, Nabokov taught boxing and tennis, and wrote Russian crossword puzzles. He never purchased a house, even when he became a professor, preferring instead to rent from other professors who were on leave. He worked during the day and wrote his books at night, sometimes in the bathroom so the light wouldn't bother his family. No book he wrote in Russian or English earned him more than a few hundred dollars, until Lolita became a bestseller and made him wealthy. Lolita's royalties allowed him to quit his job as a college professor and move to Switzerland, but even then Nabokov chose to live his last years with his family in a shabby Swiss hotel. Lolita begins: "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita."
It's the birthday of the first English child born in America: Virginia Dare, born in Roanoke Island, Virginia (now North Carolina) (1587). Her mother was Ellinor White Dare, daughter of the Roanoke colony governor, John White. They were among the 120 settlers who left England in 1587 on an expedition sponsored by Sir Walter Raleigh. Virginia Dare's life is a mystery. Nine days after she was born, her grandfather, Governor White, left the Roanoke colony for England, to try to get more supplies. He returned on this day in 1590—on his granddaughter Virginia's third birthday—with a relief expedition, but the settlers, along with the infant, had vanished. There was only one clue, carved on a post: the word croatoan. No one knows for sure what happened to the survivors of the "Lost Colony." Many people think they were absorbed into the Croatan tribe of Native Americans.
It's the birthday of one half of the Lewis and Clark exploring team: Meriwether Lewis born near Charlottesville, Virginia (1774). He grew up with Thomas Jefferson as a neighbor and family friend, and when Jefferson became president, he asked Lewis to be his personal secretary. They spoke often about exploring the West; Jefferson hoped that if someone could map an overland route to the Pacific Ocean, settlers would follow. When the United States made the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Congress set aside $2,500 for the expedition, and Lewis chose Lieutenant William Clark, his friend from the army, to help him lead it. It took them three years to go from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean and back. Lewis was the more scholarly of the two explorers. To prepare for the trip he went to Philadelphia to study botany, zoology, and celestial navigation. He kept meticulous journals and recorded everything they saw: prairie dogs, grizzly bears, Native American tribes both friendly and hostile. He brought back drawings of salmon, stuffed birds, plant specimens, and the locations of streams and springs along the western route. On their way back home, Lewis and Clark met traders who said the explorers had been given up for dead. When they came into St. Louis on the Mississippi River they were greeted as heroes, with cheering crowds along the shore, gunfire salutes, and ringing bells. Lewis was made governor of the Louisiana Territory as a reward in 1808. But he never finished the official report that Jefferson had requested, and in 1809 he died in an inn near Nashville from a gunshot wound. Most people believe it was suicide.
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