Oct. 3, 2007


by Marie Howe

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Poem: "Marriage" by Marie Howe. Used with permission of the poet.


My husband likes to watch the cooking shows, the
building shows,
the Discovery Channel, and the surgery channel.
Last night, he told us about a man who came into
the emergency room

with a bayonet stuck entirely through his skull and
Did they get it out? We all asked.
They did. And the man was O.K. because the blade
went exactly between

the two halves without severing them.
And who had shoved this bayonet into the man's
head? His wife.
A strong woman, someone said. And everyone else

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of American novelist Gore Vidal, (books by this author) born Eugene Luther Vidal, in West Point, New York (1925), whose grandfather Thomas Gore was the first U.S. Senator from Oklahoma. Vidal spent a lot of time reading to the old man from the Congressional Register and from books about the Constitution, and he fell in love with American politics and history. His writing career was almost ruined by a scandal about his 1948 novel The City and the Pillar, which discussed homosexuality a little too frankly for most readers at the time. But he made a comeback with a series of novels about historical figures, including Lincoln (1984), a novel about the president from the collective point of view of his family and colleagues. Gore Vidal has also run for political office twice, once as a candidate for the House of Representatives and once as a candidate for Senate, on a platform of taxing churches, nationalizing natural resources, and reorganizing the United States government as a parliamentary system. He lost both times. His book Imperial America: Reflections on the United States of Amnesia came out in 2004.

It's the birthday of the veterinarian and author James Herriot, (books by this author) born James Alfred Wight in Sunderland, England (1916), who became a veterinarian in rural Yorkshire and loved it so much that he decided to write a book about it. He spent 25 years making plans for the book, but didn't start writing it until the day his wife told him that he never would. He went out and bought some paper that same day, published two books in two years, If Only They Could Talk (1970) and It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet (1972), and they became best-sellers when they were packaged together as one volume called All Creatures Great and Small (1972). James Herriot said, "If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans."

It's the birthday of Emily Post, (books by this author) born in Baltimore (1873), whose marriage broke up when her husband lost his fortune in a stock panic, and then it came out that he was having an affair. Post became one of the first divorcees in her high-society circle, and she started writing to support her two children. She published several novels, and an editor suggested that she write an etiquette manual when he noticed that her novels were full of observations about etiquette. She thought etiquette manuals were awful, so she set out to write a different kind of etiquette manual, more about treating people decently than just following rules. The result was her book Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home (1922), and she wrote about etiquette for the rest of her life — Emily Post, who said, "Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use."

It's the birthday of the memoirist and novelist Bernard Cooper, (books by this author) born in Los Angeles (1951), who struggled with his sexuality while he was growing up and finally decided to go into therapy, hoping for a cure. His doctor was trying out an experimental therapy, so he injected Cooper with the truth serum sodium pentothal to help him talk about his repressed desires and get them out of his system. It didn't work, but Cooper said it was a wonderful experience, and it helped inspire him to write his first memoir, The Truth Serum (1996). His most recent book The Bill from My Father (2006) is about a bill he received in the mail from his father itemizing every expense he had incurred on his father's bank account since the day he was born. The bill totaled 2 million dollars.

It's the birthday of John Ross, born near Lookout Mountain, North Carolina (1790), who became acting Chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1827. He spent his early life trying to design a new government for the Cherokees, based on the U.S. government, with a constitution and three separate but equal branches and democratically elected leaders. He respected the American justice system so much that when the state of Georgia tried to force Cherokees off their land, John Ross chose not to go to war, but instead took Georgia to court. It was the first time that an Indian tribe had ever sued the U.S. over treaty rights, and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. The case was decided in 1832, and Chief Justice John Marshall wrote in his opinion that the state of Georgia did not have jurisdiction over Cherokees and therefore could not force the Cherokees to leave their land. But President Andrew Jackson refused to enforce the decision. He said, "John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it."

Six years later, 15,000 Cherokees were forced out of their homes at gunpoint by American soldiers, gathered together in camps and then forced to walk to the new "Indian Territory" west of the Mississippi, an event that became known as The Trail of Tears. The camps had horrible hygienic conditions, and an epidemic of dysentery killed an estimated 8,000 Cherokees, including John Ross's wife.

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




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