Feb. 20, 2012
Three Dog Night
In the old days, before houses were warm,
people did not sleep alone. Not even
widows went by themselves into
the cold sheets of night. Rooms were
lit with lanterns and children were
encouraged to jump on their beds,
warming themselves, before they
crawled inside. You might sleep with
your cousin or sister, your nose
buried in the summer of their
hair. You might place a baked potato
in your blanket to help it remember
warmth. A fire would be lit but, after
awhile, it would smolder down
to the bone silence of ash. Everything
was cold: the basin where you washed
your face, the wood floor, the windows
where you watched your breath
open over the framed blur of snow.
Your hands and feet were cold
and the trees were cold: naked,
traced in ice. You might take a dog
to bed or two or three, anything to lie
down with life, feel it breathing nearby.
On this date in 1792, George Washington established the United States Post Office Department. Provision for a postmaster general — at a salary of $1,000 per annum — had been made by the Second Continental Congress in 1775, but there had been an attempt to organize mail delivery as early as 1639, when Richard Fairbanks' Boston tavern served as a central mail repository. The Continental Congress named Benjamin Franklin the first postmaster general; he held the position for a little more than a year, and the modern post office traces its method of operation directly to the system he set up.
It's the birthday of Ansel Adams, born in San Francisco (1902). When was 14, his parents gave him two gifts that changed his life. The first was a Kodak #1 Box Brownie camera. The second was a family trip to Yosemite National Park. He was so enchanted by the mountains and the forest that he would return to the park every summer for the rest of his life. His photographs of Yosemite and other wilderness areas would become familiar to millions of people.
He said: "I hesitate to define just what the qualities of a true wilderness experience are. Like music and art, wilderness can be defined only on its own terms. The less talk, the better."
Today is the birthday of author Richard Matheson (books by this author), born in Allendale, New Jersey (1926), writer of science fiction, fantasy, and horror novels. His work inspired Anne Rice, and Stephen King, who once said: "Without Richard Matheson, I wouldn't be around. He is as much my father as Bessie Smith is Elvis Presley's mother." He wrote for television shows like The Twilight Zone and Star Trek; several of his sci-fi novels and stories have been made into movies, including I Am Legend (book, 1954; film, 2007), A Stir of Echoes (book, 1958; film, 1999).
His novel Bid Time Return (1975) is the story of a man who falls in love with the photograph of a woman from the past and goes back in time to meet her, was made into the movie Somewhere in Time in 1980; the book was eventually reissued under the new title.
On this date in 1962, astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. In 1958, Glenn had been one of the men selected from an original pool of more than 500 candidates to be trained as the first astronauts. He met all the criteria for the program: He was a jet pilot with more than 1,500 hours of flight experience; he had a bachelor's degree in engineering; he was shorter than five feet, 11 inches; he was younger than 40; and he was in excellent physical condition. He was also a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Glenn trained for three years, and then, 50 years ago today, he boarded the Mercury capsule Friendship 7 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. In just under five hours, he orbited the Earth three times, reaching speeds of up to 17,000 miles per hour. After his first orbit, there was a problem with the yaw attitude jet, which controlled the module's heading. He had to take the module off of automatic controls and fly it manually for the final two trips around the globe, then he splashed down safely in the Atlantic Ocean, where he was picked up 800 miles southeast of Bermuda.
Glenn was a national hero, and NASA, unwilling to risk his life on future missions, essentially grounded him. In 1998, he was asked to serve as a payload specialist on the space shuttle Discovery; at the age of 77, he set another record as the oldest person to travel to space.
Today is the birthday of singer-songwriter Kurt Cobain, born in Aberdeen, Washington (1967). He was the son of an auto mechanic and a cocktail waitress. His parents divorced when he was seven, and the split was traumatic, which influenced a lot of the pain in his lyrics. "I remember feeling ashamed, for some reason," he told an interviewer in 1993. "I was ashamed of my parents. I couldn't face some of my friends at school anymore, because I desperately wanted to have the classic, you know, typical family. Mother, father. I wanted that security, so I resented my parents for quite a few years because of that."
He dropped out of high school three weeks before graduation, took a job as a janitor, and started playing in a band. They called themselves Nirvana, pooled their money — $606 — and recorded their first album, Bleach, in 1989. Bleach did well enough to get them a contract with a major label. In 1991, the group came out with its second album, Nevermind, which received rave reviews and propelled the band to stardom. The album featured the singles "Come as You Are" and "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Nevermind sold more than 24 million copies and Cobain became the reluctant poster child of Generation X.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®