Sunday

Jun. 29, 2014

Illinois

by Philip F. Deaver

I recall a catbird on the wire
between my house and the corner pole
and the dense green maple leaves
and the grass growing fast below
and the peonies, tulips, the sidewalks
stretching down each block to my friends,
and from out of the houses, the voices
of neighbors camped nearby for life,
those close to us in spirit,
those held at arms length, and they us,
and I know when I recall this bird
dancing on our phone line and
singing upwards toward a mate
invisible in the waving treetops,
that it isn't exactly the bird I'm remembering
but the slant of light and the swell
of humid Illinois summer
pressing in around her.

"Illinois" by Philip F. Deaver from How Men Pray. © Anhinga Pres, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1776 that the first mass was conducted for settlers at the Misión San Francisco de Asís, in the place that became the city of San Francisco. The colonists had arrived at their new home two days earlier, after a journey of many months. Spain was the major colonial power in the western half of the Americas. They were well established in Baja (lower) California, but wanted to expand into their territory of Alta (upper) California. They established five missions and two military garrisons throughout Alta California, but these outposts were run by just a handful of soldiers and Franciscan friars. The settlements were dependent on supply ships sent up from Baja California, which had such a hard time sailing against the winds that they were often blown out to sea or destroyed on the rocky coast. The Spanish viceroy sent Captain Juan Bautista de Anza to search for an overland route. He was successful, so the Spanish authorities decided to continue their settlement northward, all the way to the port at San Francisco. This time they hoped to have a real settlement, with a group of families.

Captain Juan Bautista de Anza was an excellent soldier and a much-admired leader. He recruited more than 200 people for the journey. In September of 1775, the settlers set out from Horcasitas, about 175 miles south of what is now the Mexican border. They were often thirsty and exhausted, and they journeyed through treacherous conditions during a bitterly cold winter. In March of 1776, they reached Monterey — a journey of nearly 2,000 miles. Leaving the settlers behind in Monterey, Anza set out with a small group to explore the San Francisco Bay and choose a spot for a settlement. One of his companions was a priest, Father Pedro Font, who wrote in his diary: "The port of San Francisco is a marvel of nature, and might well be called the harbor of harbors," and, "Indeed, although in my travels I saw very good sites and beautiful country, I saw none which pleased me so much as this. And I think that if it could be well settled like Europe there would not be anything more beautiful in all the world." Anza and his party chose a spot for the mission. That day was the Friday of Sorrows, one week before Good Friday, a holy day of remembering the sorrow of the Virgin Mary for her son's suffering. Anza named the spot Laguna de los Dolores. He went back to Monterey full of enthusiasm, but the governor of California didn't think San Francisco would make a good settlement, and refused to let Anza take the settlers there. Anza went back to Mexico. It was said that the settlers wept openly when he left.

Soon the Viceroy of New Spain ordered the governor of California to settle San Francisco. Anza's second-in-command, Lieutenant Moraga, led the settlers from Monterey to San Francisco in June of 1776. They arrived on June 27th and made a temporary camp at the place that is now the intersection of Dolores and 18th Streets. The next day they built a makeshift chapel out of branches. On this day in 1776, a priest named Father Palou offered the first Mass underneath those branches — just five days before the Declaration of Independence was signed on the other side of the continent. This is considered the founding date of the Mission of San Francisco de Asís, nicknamed the Mission Dolores.

It's the birthday of surgeon William (James) Mayo, born in Le Sueur, Minnesota (1861) a co-founder of the Mayo Clinic and the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, in Rochester, Minnesota.

Mayo said, "The aim of medicine is to prevent disease and prolong life, the ideal of medicine is to eliminate the need of a physician."

Today is the birthday of composer, librettist, and lyricist Frank Loesser, born in New York City in 1910. His father was a classical pianist and a piano teacher who tried to discourage his son from pursuing popular music, but to no avail. Because his father didn't approve, Loesser was largely self-taught. In the late 1920s, he became a staff lyricist for a music publisher, and none of his songs really went anywhere until Fats Waller recorded "I Wish I Were Twins" in 1934. Loesser also started performing in nightclubs in the mid-1930s; two years later, he moved to Hollywood. He got a job with Universal Studios, and then Paramount, and wrote lyrics for several notable popular composers, including Hoagy Carmichael ("Two Sleepy People" and "Small Fry").

He was assigned to the Army's Special Services as a songwriter during World War II; the first song for which he wrote the music as well as the lyrics was also the first big hit of the war: "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition." He wrote the official song of the U.S. infantry — "What Do You Do in the Infantry?" — and also wrote morale-boosting songs for the shows that soldiers put on in camps.

After the war, he wrote the perennial Christmas favorite "Baby It's Cold Outside" (1948) and went to Broadway. He won the Tony Award for music and lyrics for Guys and Dolls (1950) and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961); the latter also netted him a Pulitzer Prize for drama.

Frank Loesser once said, "Loud is good."

It's the birthday of French aviator and writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (books by this author), born in Lyon in 1900. He was rather a poor student, and he failed his entrance exam to the naval academy, but he joined the French army in 1921, and that's where he flew his first plane. He left the military five years later and began flying airmail routes into the Sahara Desert, eventually becoming the director of a remote airfield in Rio de Oro. Living conditions were Spartan, but he said, "I have never loved my house more than when I lived in the desert." He wrote his first novel, Southern Mail (1929), in the Sahara and never lost his love for the desert.

In 1929, he moved to South America to fly the mail through the Andes, and he later returned to carry the post between Casablanca and Port-étienne. He worked as a test pilot and a journalist throughout the 1930s, and survived several plane crashes. He also got married in 1931, to Consuelo Gómez Carrillo. She wrote of him in her memoir, "He wasn't like other people, but like a child or an angel who has fallen down from the sky."

He rejoined the French army upon the outbreak of World War II, but when the Nazis invaded France in 1940, he fled to the United States, hoping to serve the U.S. forces as a fighter pilot. He was turned down because of his age, and, homesick and discouraged, he began his best-known book, The Little Prince (1943). The following year, he returned to North Africa to fly a warplane for France. He took off on a mission on July 31, 1944, and was never heard from again.

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

 









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