Apr. 18, 2007


by Kevin FitzPatrick

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Poem: "Characters" by Kevin FitzPatrick, from Down on the Corner. © Midwest Villages and Voices. Reprinted with permission.


Aunt Duly is here wallpapering our kitchen.
She is seventy-one years old
but still paints silos and moves pianos.
If I bet her, she will touch her palms
to the floor without bending her knees.

When she first sees me, long hair and beard,
she comes down the ladder waving her brush:
"Judas Priest, Kev, when I was a girl,
they used to beat guys like you with chairs."

She has been going up and down this last hour
as if her ladder is an escalator,
telling me about drunken gravediggers
or the grocer who wouldn't serve lawyers.
I'm afraid she'll slip or faint,

but she is coming down the ladder,
telling me about Barney Ruckle in the back pew
quietly mocking each bead during the rosary:
"Gimme a nickel, Mary. Gimme a nickel, Mary.
Gimme a nickel ..."

Going up the ladder
because she really does have work to do,
she pauses halfway and says,
"You know, they're all dead now,
all those characters who used to make us laugh."

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of publisher Clifton Keith Hillegass, born in Rising City, Nebraska (1918), the man behind CliffsNotes, the black- and yellow-striped pamphlets that students have used for literary study guides or substitutes for the real thing since 1958.

It's the birthday of famous lawyer and writer Clarence (Seward) Darrow, (books by this author) born in Kinsman, Ohio (1857). He once said, "I never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with a lot of pleasure."

On this day in 1906, an earthquake struck San Francisco. The earthquake began near dawn, at 5:12 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, and lasted for a little over a minute. Scientists later determined that the San Andreas Fault had moved about 23 feet. A policeman said, "[The streets] began to dance and rear and roll in waves like a rough sea in a squall, [then] sank in places and vomited up car tracks and the tunnels that carried the cable." A fire broke out that raged for three days and most of the city was burned to the ground.

On this day in 1775, Paul Revere made the famous ride that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote about in the poem that begins,

"Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

Paul Revere was 40 years old at the time, a respected craftsman, husband, and father of 16 children. But by warning revolutionary forces of a British attack, he was committing an act of high treason against the crown. He'd learned to hate the British when he served as an officer during the French and Indian War. Though he was fighting on the side of the British, he was treated as a second-class citizen by British officers, simply because he was a colonist.

During the winter of 1757, he waited with a group of colonial soldiers at Fort William Henry on Lake George for the British to show up with food and supplies. The British didn't arrive until spring. The 2,500 men spent most of that winter living on starvation rations, and 154 men died of disease and malnourishment. Revere never forgot the incident, and he never forgave the British.

On the night of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere heard the British troops were planning to march into Lexington and Concord to seize munitions and round up colonial rebels. So he set out for Lexington to warn of the British plans. He had to begin his journey in a rowboat across Boston Harbor, under the threat of a British warship, and then he borrowed a horse to ride all the way to Lexington, where he warned Adams and Hancock that the British were coming.

Longfellow fictionalized some aspects of the story to make it more dramatic. In the poem, Revere is the only messenger warning that the British are coming, when in fact there were several. Revere also never shouted, "The British are coming!" What he shouted was, "The Regulars are out! The Regulars are out!"

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




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