Mar. 25, 2002

The Last Uncle

by Linda Pastan

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Poem: "The Last Uncle," by Linda Pastan from The Last Uncle (W.W. Norton).

The Last Uncle

The last uncle is pushing off
in his funeral skiff (the usual
black limo) having locked
the doors behind him
on a whole generation.

And look, we are the elders now
with our torn scraps
of history, alone
on the mapless shore
of this raw, new century.

In the Christian tradition, today is Annunciation Day, commemorating the announcement to the Virgin Mary by the Angel Gabriel that she would give birth to the Messiah. In ancient Rome, March 25 was the traditional date of the festival known as the Hilaria. The festival honored the Mother Goddess Cybele, and celebrated the resurrection of her lover, Attis. It was the first feast day after the spring equinox, when the days begin to be longer than the nights.

It's the birthday of writer Toni Cade Bambara, born in New York City (1939). In the 1970s, she became a prominent civil rights activist, as well as a writer known for novels and short stories written in black street dialect. Her books include the short story collections Gorilla, My Love (1972) and The Sea Birds Are Still Alive (1977), and the novels The Salt Eaters (1980) and If Blessing Comes (1987).

It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer (Mary) Flannery O'Connor, born in Savannah, Georgia (1925). She studied creative writing at the University of Iowa, lived briefly in New York City, then returned to live with her mother in her hometown of Milledgeville, Georgia, after she was diagnosed with lupus. Her first novel, Wise Blood, appeared two years later, in 1952. She followed it up with a collection of short stories, A Good Man is Hard to Find (1955), the novel The Violent Bear It Away (1960), and the short story collection Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965). Her Complete Stories won the National Book Award in 1972, eight years after her death. She was a devout Roman Catholic, and once said that her stories were about "the action of grace in territory held largely by the devil." She said: "I can write about Protestant believers better than Catholic believers-because they express their belief in diverse kinds of dramatic action which is obvious enough for me to catch. I can't write about anything subtle."

It's the birthday of British novelist Paul Scott, born in Palmer's Green, England (1920). He joined the British Army in 1940 and was sent to India, where he served until 1946. He ended up writing four novels- The Jewel in the Crown (1966), The Day of the Scorpion (1968), The Towers of Silence (1971), and A Division of the Spoils (1975)-known collectively as The Raj Quartet.

It's the birthday of agricultural scientist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug, born in Cresco, Iowa (1914). After he received his doctorate from the University of Minnesota, he was sent by the Rockefeller Foundation to direct an agricultural research station in Mexico. There, he began to experiment with breeding a new strain of high-yield "dwarf" wheat. Using Borlaug's new strain of wheat, Mexican farmers tripled their production between 1944 and 1960. In his acceptance speech for the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize, Borlaug said: "The first essential component of social justice is adequate food for all mankind. Food is the moral right of all who are born into this world."

It's the birthday of American sculptor Gutzon Borglum, born in St. Charles, Bear Lake, Idaho (1867). The son of Danish immigrants, he's best known for his colossal, literally mountain-sized sculptures celebrating great figures from American history. He accepted a commission by the state of South Dakota to begin sculpting the faces of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt on the side of Mount Rushmore. He unveiled Washington in 1930, Jefferson in 1936, Lincoln in 1937, and Roosevelt in 1939.

It's the birthday of the great Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, born in Parma, Italy (1867). He was a young cellist in the orchestra at the opera house in Rio de Janeiro in 1886 when he was called on to fill in for the conductor in a production of Verdi's Aïda. He conducted the entire score from memory.

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




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