Mar. 12, 2013

My Old Aunts Play Canasta in a Snow Storm

by Marjorie Saiser

I ride along in the backseat; the aunt who can drive
picks up each sister at her door, keeps the Pontiac
chugging in each driveway while one or the other
slips into her overshoes and steps out,
closing her door with a click, the wind

lifting the fringe of her white cotton scarf
as she comes down the sidewalk, still pulling on her
new polyester Christmas-stocking mittens.
We have no business to be out in such a storm,
she says, no business at all.

The wind takes her voice and swirls it
like snow across the windshield.
We're on to the next house, the next aunt,
the heater blowing to beat the band.

At the last house, we play canasta,
the deuces wild even as they were in childhood,
the wind blowing through the empty apple trees,
through the shadows of bumper crops. The cards

line up under my aunts' finger bones; eights and nines and aces
straggle and fall into place like well-behaved children.
My aunts shuffle and meld; they laugh like banshees,
as they did in that other kitchen in the 30's that
day Margaret draped a dishtowel over her face
to answer the door. We put her up to it, they say,
laughing; we pushed her. The man—whoever he was—
drove off in a huff while they laughed 'til they hiccupped,

laughing still—I'm one of the girls laughing him down the sidewalk
and into his car, we're rascals sure as farmyard dogs,
we're wild card-players; the snow thickens,
the coffee boils and perks, the wind is a red trey
because, as one or the other says,

We are getting up there in the years; we'll
have to quit sometime. But today,
deal, sister, deal.

"My Old Aunts Play Canasta in a Snow Storm" by Marjorie Saiser, from Lost in Seward County. © The Backwaters Press, 2001. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this day in 1987, the musical Les Misérables (The Miserable Ones) opened on Broadway. It's based on Victor Hugo's (books by this author) novel by the same name. Both follow the lives of several — mostly poor — characters in early 19th-century France.

French songwriter Alain Boublil got the idea to produce Les Mis in 1978, while attending the musical Oliver! in London. He shared his idea with composer Claude-Michel Schönberg, who said, "Let's do it."

The 1980 Paris production was a success. When Les Mis opened in London in 1985, it was a blockbuster. It crossed the pond to New York two years later. Americans embraced the show with equal enthusiasm.

The New York production won eight Tony Awards in 1987. It ran 16 years, making it the third-longest-running Broadway musical. The London show has never stopped, and is now the world's longest-running musical.

It's the birthday of children's author Virginia Hamilton (1934) (books by this author). She was the youngest of the five children Kenneth Hamilton and Etta Perry Hamilton raised on a farm near Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Hamilton wrote 41 published books for children and young adults, including The House of Dies Drear (1968), The Planet of Junior Brown (1971), M.C. Higgins, the Great (1974), Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush (1982), and Her Stories (1995). M.C. Higgins, the Great, an Appalachian coming-of-age tale, was the first book ever to win the "grand slam" of children's literature: the Newbery Medal, the National Book Award, and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award.

During her career, Hamilton won almost every award that exists for children's literature.

Virginia Hamilton died of breast cancer on February 19, 2002.

Virginia Hamilton said: "There are three things I can remember always wanting: to go to New York, to go to Spain, and to be a writer. It feels nice to have done all three. I haven't had to want anything for some time."

It's the birthday of poet and author Naomi Shihab Nye (books by this author). She was born in 1952 in Saint Louis, Missouri, to Miriam and Aziz Shihab. Nye's late father was a Palestinian immigrant from Jerusalem, and her mother is German American.

Nye grew up in Saint Louis, Jerusalem, and San Antonio, Texas. Nye's literary work reflects her travels and her experiences in a family of mixed religions and cultures. She explores diversity in all of her poetry and fiction. She weaves personal stories against backgrounds of cultural confrontation.

Nye has written and edited nearly 30 books of poetry and fiction for children and young adults, including the picture book Sitti's Secrets (1994), the poetry anthology This Same Sky (1996), the novel Habibi (1999), and the book of poems You and Yours (2005). She has won many awards and honors for her writing, including four Pushcart Prizes.

Nye wrote, "To me the world of poetry is a house with thousands of glittering windows. Our words and images, land to land, era to era, shed light on one another. Our words dissolve the shadows we imagine fall between."

It's the birthday of writer, editor, and publisher Dave Eggers, (books by this author) born in Boston (1970). In 1991, while Eggers was a student at the University of Illinois, both his parents died of cancer. He dropped out of college and moved with his eight year old brother Christopher (Toph) to California to raise him. He dropped out of college, moved with his little brother to California, and set out to raise him. Meanwhile, he made a living as a writer and a graphic designer — and rebelled against his responsibilities by leading a fairly wild social life. As it turned out, Dave and Toph raised each other.

Eggers described this experience in his creative memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000). The book was a huge commercial and critical success. Among other honors, it became a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction.

Since then, Eggers has launched his own publishing company, founded a tutoring center and writing school, and written and edited dozens of books and screenplays. Among these are What Is the What (2006), the story of a Sudanese orphan who immigrates to the United States, and screenplays for Away We Go and Where the Wild Things Are (both released in 2009).

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




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