Dec. 16, 2009
When I First Saw Snow
Bing Crosby was singing "White Christmas"
on the radio, we were staying at my aunt's house
waiting for papers, my father was looking for a job.
We had trimmed the tree the night before,
sap had run on my fingers and for the first time
I was smelling pine wherever I went.
Anais, my cousin, was upstairs in her room
listening to Danny and the Juniors.
Haigo was playing Monopoly with Lucy, his sister,
Buzzy, the boy next door, had eyes for her
and there was a rattle of dice, a shuffling
of Boardwalk, Park Place, Marvin Gardens.
There were red bows on the Christmas tree.
It had snowed all night.
My boot buckles were clinking like small bells
as I thumped to the door and out
onto the grey planks of the porch dusted with snow.
The world was immaculate, new,
even the trees had changed color,
and when I touched the snow on the railing
I didn't know what I had touched, ice or fire.
I heard, ''I'm dreaming ..."
I heard, "At the hop, hop, hop ... oh, baby."
I heard "B & 0" and the train in my imagination
was whistling through the great plains.
And I was stepping off,
I was falling deeply into America.
It's the birthday of Jane Austen, (books by this author) born in Hampshire, England (1775). She published her books anonymously; the byline stated that the book was by "a Lady." Not many people read her books while she was alive, though among her small devoted readership, her novels were highly esteemed. She died in 1817. Five decades later, in 1869, her nephew published A Memoir of Jane Austen, and his book spawned widespread interest in Austen, which led to the reprinting of her novels. It also touched off a sort of mania for Austen in the 1880s, known as "Austenolatry." It wasn't until the 1940s — more than 100 years after she had died — that Austen's work became the focus of large volumes of academic scholarship.
Today members of Jane Austen Societies all over the world are celebrating her birthday with a tea or luncheon. There are lots of groups devoted to her work and thousands of people who call themselves "Janeites." In the U.S., "Janeites" likely belong to JASNA, the Jane Austen Society of North America, founded 30 years ago, in 1979, with its first meeting at the Gramercy Park Hotel in Manhattan.
JASNA holds a yearly meeting in a North American city, a three-day event that's somewhere between a scholarly conference and jovial literary happy hour. There's a theme chosen for the meeting. This past October, the meeting was in Philadelphia, and titled "Jane Austen's Brothers and Sisters in the City of Brotherly Love." There's lots of dancing (English country dancing, mostly) and there are Box Hill-style picnics, modeled after the one in Austen's novel Emma.
Austen said, "A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of."
And, "Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance."
It was on this day in 1944 that the Battle of the Bulge began. It took place in the Ardennes forest, a snowy mountainous region of Belgium, France, and Luxembourg and lasted for more than a month. It was the last major German offensive, and it was the bloodiest battle of World War II for Americans troops. While estimates about the number of American casualties differ, the U.S. Defense Department lists 19,000 killed, 47,500 wounded, and 23,000 missing.
Among those taken as prisoner of war by the Germans was a young infantry scout named Kurt Vonnegut. (books by this author) He'd only been in the front lines for five days when he got trapped behind enemy lines and taken prisoner. Within a month, he was sent over to Dresden and put to work in a factory producing vitamin-enriched malt syrup for pregnant women. He and his fellow American prisoners were detained in and slept at an underground warehouse in Dresden that had been a meat-packing facility and storage locker before the war. The building was marked "Schlachthof-fünf": "Slaughterhouse-Five."
Then, in February 1945, about two months after the Battle of the Bulge began, British and American forces started firebombing Dresden. The firestorm created by the massive Allied bombings killed nearly all of Dresden's residents, but Vonnegut and other POWs survived because they were three stories underground, in that meat-storage locker.
Vonnegut published his novel Slaughterhouse-Five in 1969, a quarter century after he was captured at the Battle of the Bulge and a witness to the Dresden firebombing. In it, he wrote:
"It is so short and jumbled and jangled, Sam, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds.
And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like "Poo-tee-weet?"
The Battle of the Bulge ended on January 25, 1945, after Hitler agreed to withdraw German troops from the Ardennes forest. Less than two weeks later, Allied leaders met at Yalta to discuss occupying post-war Germany.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®