Apr. 3, 2006

An Old Woman

by Charles Henry Ross


by Charles Henry Ross

John, Tom, and James

by Charles Henry Ross

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Poem: "John, Tom, and James", "An Old Woman", and "Jack" by Charles Henry Ross. Public domain. by Charles Henry Ross. Public Domain.

            John, Tom, and James

John was a bad boy, and beat a poor cat;
Tom put a stone in a blind man's hat;
James was the boy who neglected his prayers;
They've all grown up ugly, and nobody cares.

                    An Old Woman

There was an old woman as ugly as sin,
Who lived upon Lucifer-matches and gin;
But she was so greedy, and ate such a many,
You could not have kept her a week on a penny.


        That's Jack;
        Lay a stick on his back!
        What's he done? I cannot say.
        We'll find out tomorrow,
        And beat him today.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1948 that President Harry Truman signed the European Recovery Program (known as the Marshall Plan) into law, which allocated more than $5 billion in aid to help revitalize the economy of European countries after World War II. That amount eventually grew to more than $18 billion, which is the equivalent of about $100 billion in today's dollars.

At the time, Europe was on the verge of economic collapse. Whole cities had been destroyed. Factories had shut down. The winter of 1947 was one of the coldest on record and many Europeans were unemployed and homeless, freezing to death.

Though the plan to help Europe became known as the Marshall Plan, it was not George Marshall who came up with it. In fact, it was a small group of lesser-known American strategists and diplomats who realized that the situation in Europe could result in communist takeover of the entire continent. So they turned to Secretary of State George Marshall, who as a well-known war hero and public figure at the time, hoping he could sell the plan to the public.

Marshall immediately bought into the idea and became its spokesperson. He announced the plan at the commencement ceremony at Harvard on June 5, 1947. He then went on a countrywide tour, promoting the plan to ordinary Americans. He later said it felt like he was running for president.

It was a hard sell. Most Americans were tired of all the sacrificing they'd done during the war, and they weren't too excited about continuing to sacrifice for the benefit of Europeans. The Marshall Plan might never have been enacted if a communist government hadn't taken control of Czechoslovakia in the winter of 1948.

During the quarter century after the Marshall Plan was introduced, Europe experienced its highest economic growth ever. Western Europe's gross national product increased by 32 percent. It was one of the most generous and one of the most successful acts of American foreign policy.

It's the birthday of the San Francisco columnist Herb Caen, born in Sacramento, California (1916). He started publishing his column "It's News to Me" in the San Francisco Chronicle when he was just twenty-two years old in 1938, the year after the Golden Gate Bridge opened. He continued writing 1000 words a day, six days a week, for almost sixty years. He only took a break to serve in World War II, becoming the longest-running columnist in American history.

At first, he modeled his column on the work of gossip columnist Walter Winchell, getting most of his material by hanging out in San Francisco's night clubs and bars, trading gossip with politicians and businessmen and ordinary folks. But he said, "What made the column was when I started to get corny and descriptive about San Francisco ... which I did because I ran out of items a couple of nights. I wrote these horrible, poetic ... things about the city, and people ate it up. ... From then on, I was in."

It's the birthday of Washington Irving, born in New York City (1783). He made his name as a writer in 1809, when he published his first book, A History of New York, a satirical history of the city from the point of view of an eccentric, old Dutch professor named Diedrich Knickerbocker. The book became so popular among New Yorkers that they began to call themselves Knickerbockers, and the term became the source of the name for the basketball team.

But he's best known for the short stories in The Sketch Book (1819). In two of the stories, Irving rewrote German folktales and transplanted them to American soil. The first of these was "Rip Van Winkle," about a man who falls asleep during British rule of the American Colonies and wakes up years later to find that he lives in the independent United States. Irving's other most famous story was "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," about the schoolteacher Ichabod Crane and his fateful encounter with the Headless Horseman.

"Rip Van Winkle" and "Sleepy Hollow" were revolutionary American short stories because they were among the first works of American fiction to suggest that America already had a history.

It's the birthday of the American novelist Leon Uris, born in Baltimore, Maryland (1924). He began writing in the early 1950s, inspired by his four-year tour of duty with the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II. His first novel, Battle Cry (1953), was his attempt to show the realistic lives of soldiers fighting on the front lines. He also wrote Exodus (1958), which deals with the struggle to establish and defend the state of Israel.

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