Dec. 26, 2000

untitled ("The first time I remember waking up")

by Wendell Berry

Broadcast date: TUESDAY, 26 December 2000

Poem: by Wendell Berry, from Sayings and Doings and An Eastward Look (Gnomen Press).

The first time I remember waking up
in the night was in the winter time
when I was about six. Papa had sent
the tobacco crop to Louisville
to be sold, and we sat by the fire
that night, talking and wondering
what it would bring. It was a bad time.
A year of a man's work might be worth
nothing. And papa got up at two o'clock.
And I woke up and heard him leaving.
He saddled his horse and rode over
to the railroad, four miles, and took
the train to Louisville, and came back
in the dark that night, without a dime.

It's St. Stephen's Day, in honor of the first Christian martyr (killed in 34 AD), one of the 7 original deacons chosen by early Christian church.

In England this date is called Boxing Day. It's the day on which you give little gifts to the mailman, the gardener, and the cleaning lady for services rendered the previous year; offerings for the poor are collected on this day in church boxes; and children go begging from door to door, as on Halloween in America.

It's "Wren Day" in Ireland: "wren-boys" go from house to house, carrying a holly bush adorned with ribbons and figures of birds, and singing:

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
St. Stephen's Day was caught in the furze,           
Although he is little, his family's great,
I pray you, good landlady, give us a treat.

Today is the first day of Kwanzaa (Swahili for "first fruits"), a 7-day African-American holiday created in the 1960s as a harvest festival—a time to re-establish links to the community and to an African past.

It's the birthday of black playwright Lonne Elder III, born in Americus, Georgia (1931). He's the author of Ceremonies in Dark Old Men, a play based on memories of an uncle who had been a numbers runner in Jersey City.

On this day in 1913, writer Ambrose Bierce disappeared. He was traveling with the army of Mexican rebel Pancho Villa, and most likely was killed during the Siege of Ojinaga, on the border between Chihuahua and the West Texas Panhandle, in January of 1914. From Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary:

"Historian, n. A broad-gauge gossip."
"Lawyer, n. One skilled in circumvention of the law."

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Jean Toomer, born in Washington, D.C. (1894), one of the Harlem Renaissance writer's in the 1920s. He's best known for his experimental novel Cane (1923).

It's the birthday of novelist Henry Miller, born in the Yorkville section of Manhattan (1891), the son of a German-American tailor. He moved to Paris when he was young to become what he called a "roving cultural desperado." He wrote his autobiographical Tropic of Cancer on the backs of earlier manuscripts. Because of their sexual frankness, his major works were banned in America until 1964; only in late middle age was he recognized as a serious literary artist.

It's the birthday of English mathematician and inventor Charles Babbage, born in London (1792). He was obsessed with building a calculating machine that would calculate the tables of logarithms by repeated addition done by trains of gear wheels; he also worked on an "analytical engine," using punched cards to perform various mathematical operations. Many of his ideas of the early 19th century were picked up, and were instrumental in the development of the electronic computer in the 1940s.

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




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