Jan. 29, 2001

Once in the Forties

by William Stafford

Broadcast date: MONDAY, 29 January 2001

Poem: "Once in the Forties," by William Stafford, from The Way It Is (Graywolf Press).

Once in the Forties

We were alone one night on a long
road in Montana. This was in winter, a big
night, far to the stars. We had hitched,
my wife and I, and left our ride at
a crossing to go on. Tired and cold-but
brave-we trudged along. This, we said,
was our life, watched over, allowed to go
where we wanted. We said we'd come back some time
when we got rich. We'd leave the others and find
a night like this, whatever we had to give,
and no matter how far, to be so happy again.

It's the birthday of Oprah Winfrey, born in Kosciusko, Mississippi (1954). After a childhood in poverty, she worked as a radio reporter while in high school, and went on to study broadcasting at Tennessee State University.

"What I teach is that if you are strong enough and bold enough to follow your dreams, then you will be led in the path that is best for you."

It's the birthday of writer and feminist Germaine Greer, born in Melbourne, Australia (1939). She made her reputation in 1970, when she wrote The Female Eunuch, a book that helped mobilize the women's movement and made her one of the most important voices in feminism. Now, after 30 years, she has written a sequel: The Whole Woman (1999), in which she says feminism has not gone far enough.

"The most threatened group in human societies as in animal societies is the unmated male: the unmated male is more likely to wind up in prison or in an asylum or dead than his mated counterpart. He is less likely to be promoted at work and he is considered a poor credit risk."

It's the birthday of writer and environmentalist Edward Abbey, born in Home, Pennsylvania (1927). He worked as a park ranger and fire look-out for the National Park Service—an experience that served as the basis for his book Desert Solitaire (1967), a collection of essays explaining the devastating effect that tourism has on the wilderness. Anarchistic and outspoken, he was called everything from America's crankiest citizen to the godfather of modern environmental activism. The most widely read of his many books is The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975).

It's the birthday of Anton (Pavlovich) Chekhov, born in Taganrog, Russia (1860), the son of a grocer and former serf. He wrote short stories for magazines to support himself and his family while he studied medicine at Moscow University. By the time he was 27, he'd written over 600 stories, many of them humorous. Chekhov considered himself something of a humorist, even in the great plays he wrote around the turn of the century: The Seagull (1897); Uncle Vanya (1899); The Three Sisters (1901); and The Cherry Orchard (1904). These plays brought him great fame, but he was never quite happy with the style that director Constantin Stanislavsky used—emphasizing the tragic elements over the comedy. He suffered from tuberculosis, and was forced to spend his final years in Crimea, for his health. On the night he died, the doctor said he would have to send for oxygen for his patient, but Chekhov said, "Everything's useless now. I'll be a corpse before it gets here." So he sent for champagne instead, and as he drank, Chekhov said to his wife, "It's been a long time since I've had champagne." He died at the age of 44.

On this day in 1845, in one long column on the back page of the New York Evening Mirror, Edgar Allan Poe published his poem, "The Raven," which begins, "Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary, over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore..."

It's the birthday of journalist Thomas Paine (1737), born in Thetford, England, son of a poor farmer. After meeting Benjamin Franklin in London, and decided to go to America, where he wrote for the Pennsylvania Magazine. His 79-page pamphlet Common Sense (1776) argued for independence, and sold over 100,000 copies.

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