Dec. 19, 2004


by Thomas R. Smith

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Poem: "Housewarming," by Thomas R. Smith, from The Dark Indigo Current © Holy Cow Press. Reprinted with permission.

In my dream I was the first to arrive
at the old home from the church. Wind

and night had forced through the cracks.
I pushed inside, turned on the lamps,
lit a fire in the stove. Frozen oak
logs stung my fingers; it was good
pain, my hands reddening on the icy
broom-handle as I swept away snow.
On Christmas Eve, I prepared a warm
place for my mother and father, sister
and brothers, grandparents, all my relatives,

none dead, none missing, none angry
with one another, all coming through the woods.

Literary and Historical Notes:

On this day in 1957, The Music Man by Meredith Willson opened in New York at the Majestic Theater in Manhattan. It's the story of a small-town librarian named Marian Paroo and a traveling con man, Harold Hill, who sells band instruments to the boys of the town, and plans to skip town before the instruments arrive. It ran for 1,375 performances.

It's the birthday of playwright Howard Sackler, born in Brooklyn (1929). He wrote many plays, including The Great White Hope, about a boxer named Jack Jefferson, based loosely on Jack Johnson, America's first black heavyweight boxing champion. The play won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1969.

It's the birthday of singer Edith Piaf, born Edith Giovanna Gassion, in Paris (1915). When she became a cabaret singer she changed her name to Piaf, which is street slang for sparrow.

It's the birthday of Constance Garnett, born in Brighton, East Sussex, England (1862). She went to Cambridge, where she began studying the Russian language. In 1893, she visited St. Petersburg to check out current writers and books. She met the Tolstoy family, and had dinner with them. She returned to England and began translating Turgenev's complete works, which took her seven years; then she translated Tolstoy's Anna Karenina--which took her just half a year--and then his War and Peace. She moved on to be the first to translate the works of Dostoyevsky and Chekhov, not stopping until she was 85 and nearly blind. In all she translated over more than 70 volumes into English.

It's the birthday of Henry Clay Frick, born in West Overton, Pennsylvania (1849). He became a partner of Andrew Carnegie, and, after they feuded and parted ways, Frick made it one of his missions in life to one-up his former colleague. When Carnegie built a mansion in Manhattan, Frick spent five times as much on his own home. When Frick died, he left his home —and his extensive personal art collection—to the city of New York; the museum is now called the Frick Collection.

On this day in 1776, Thomas Paine published the first of 16 "American Crisis" papers to spur on the Revolutionary Army and his fellow colonists. The first paper opened with the words "These are the times that try men's souls." George Washington ordered that the paper be read to all the men getting settled at Valley Forge.

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