Mar. 29, 2005


by Linda Pastan

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Poem: "Grace," by Linda Pastan, from The Last Uncle © W.W. Norton.


When the young professor folded
his hands at dinner and spoke to God
about my safe arrival
through the snow, thanking Him also
for the food we were about to eat,
it was in the tone of voice I use
to speak to friends when I call
and get their answering machines,
chatting about this and that
in a casual voice,
picturing them listening
but too busy to pick up the phone,
or out taking care of important
business somewhere else.
The next day, flying home
through a windy
and overwhelming sky, I knew
I envied his rapport with God
and hoped his prayers
would keep my plane aloft.

Literary and Historical Notes:

On this day in 1973, the last American combat troops left Vietnam, ending the direct involvement of the United States in the Vietnam War. Several thousand civilian Defense Department employees stayed on in Vietnam after the withdrawal of troops. The last of these Americans were airlifted out of the country when Saigon fell to the Communists on April 30, 1975.

It's the birthday of novelist Judith Guest, born in Detroit, Michigan (1936). In 1974, she sent the manuscript of her first novel off to Viking Press. She didn't have an agent, and didn't send along a query letter or a synopsis first. The novel managed to catch the eye of an editor, and became the first unsolicited manuscript accepted by the press in 26 years. The novel was Ordinary People (1976), which went on to become a bestseller.

It's the birthday of American playwright and actor Howard Lindsay, born in Waterford, New York (1886). In 1908, he dropped out of Harvard, where he was studying to become a minister, in order to study acting in New York. He ended up joining several touring theater companies, working as stage manager, director, actor, understudy, or in whatever position he was needed. He also tried his hand at writing plays, but didn't have much success until he teamed up with another playwright, Russel Crouse, to write the book for the 1934 musical Anything Goes. The success of that musical launched them on a long and brilliant collaboration, which yielded the long-running play Life with Father (1939), in which Lindsay also starred, and the book for the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music (1959). The team also produced the popular play Arsenic and Old Lace (1941). Lindsay and Crouse won a Pulitzer Prize for their 1945 play State of the Union, and a Tony Award for lifetime achievement in 1959.

This day in 1865 marked the beginning of the Appomattox Campaign, the final campaign of the Civil War. As the fighting got started in Virginia—at Quaker Road and Gravelly Run—Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas, of Georgia, wrote in her diary: "I may perhaps be glad hereafter that I have lived through this war but now the height of my ambition is to be quiet, to have no distracting cares—the time to read-leisure to think and write-and study. Country, glory, and patriotism are great things, but to the bereaved hearts of Mrs. Stovall and Mrs. Clayton, each moaning for the death of their first born, what bitter mockery there must be in the words. Thus it is—I strive to get away, to forget in reading or in writing or in talking the ever-present, the one absorbing theme of war. I make no plans for the future."

On this day in 1792, Swedish King Gustavus the Third died, 13 days after being shot in the back during a midnight masked ball at the palace. The incident later inspired Verdi's opera Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball, 1859).

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