Jun. 20, 2002


by Linda Pastan

(RealAudio) | How to listen

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


My son is practicing the piano.
He is a man now, not the boy
whose lessons I once sat through,
whose reluctant practicing
I demanded-part of the obligation
I felt to the growth
and composition of a child.

Upstairs my grandchildren are sleeping,
though they complained earlier of the music
which rises like smoke up through the floorboards,
coloring the fabric of their dreams.
On the porch my husband watches the garden fade
into summer twilight, flower by flower;
it must be a little like listening to the fading

diminuendo notes of Mozart.
But here where the dining room table
has been pushed aside to make room
for this second or third-hand upright,
my son is playing the kind of music
it took him all these years,
and sons of his own, to want to make.

It's the birthday of novelist, poet, and short story writer Josephine Johnson, born in Kirkwood, Missouri (1910). In 1932, Johnson left college to help out on the family farm. She also set up a small table in the attic at which she began writing short stories. After several were printed in magazines, an editor called her and asked if she would consider writing a novel. She sat down at her attic table and began to write what became Now in November, a book about an isolated farm family driven into poverty by the Depression. Johnson was at home at the farm one day in 1935 when a reporter called to tell her that she had won the Pulitzer Prize.

It's the birthday of novelist Catherine Cookson, born in Tyne Dock, England (1906). At the age of forty, Cookson decided to start writing books, and by the time of her death in 1998, was one of the best selling authors in England and throughout the world. A survey taken in 1988 showed that one third of all the books borrowed from public libraries in the United Kingdom was by Catherine Cookson. Her books were family sagas in the genre of romantic fiction.

It's the birthday of playwright, screenwriter, and memoirist Lillian Hellman, born in New Orleans, Louisiana (1905). Hellman wrote several successful plays, including The Little Foxes (1939, filmed 1941) and A Watch on the Rhine (1941, filmed 1943). She also wrote three autobiographies, An Unfinished Woman (1969), Pentimento (1973), and Scoundrel Time (1976). Her next successful effort did not come until 1960, with the production of her play Toys in the Attic (filmed 1963).

It's the birthday of biochemist Frederick Gowland Hopkins, born in East Sussex, England (1861), who received the 1929 Nobel Prize for Physiology for the discovery of the essential nutrient factors now know as vitamins.

It's the birthday of composer Jacque Offenbach, born in Cologne, Germany (1819). He started his musical career playing the cello, and became a successful concert performer in Paris. In 1848, he became director of the Theatre Francais, but was more interested in composing than directing. His forte was composing witty, satirical comic operettas that became known as operas bouffes. He eventually composed more than ninety works for the stage, including Orpheus in the Underworld (1858), and Genevieve de Brabant (1859), remembered today because one of its melodies was used for the American Marine hymn, From the Halls of Montezuma. In the 1870s, Offenbach's popularity began to wane, and he undertook a tour of America in order to help pay his debts. He conducted concerts in New York and Philadelphia, and wrote about his travels in a book called Offenbach in America (1877). After returning to Paris, Offenbach wrote ten more operettas, but they were all failures. He became a recluse, determined to compose one last great work. He was working on what would become his most famous work, The Tales of Hoffman, when he died in 1880. The opera was completed for him and produced four months after his death, and was an immediate success.

In 1837 on this day, Princess Victoria of Kent became Queen of England when her uncle, King William the Fourth, died. Victoria was eighteen years old, and her first demand was that she stop having to share a room with her mother, and be given a room of her own.

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




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