Apr. 12, 2008

Grandpa Putting Salt on His Ice Cream

by Jay Leeming

He would hold the salt shaker
in his right hand, and tap the end
over the dark chocolate.
"It enhances the flavor," he would say.
He had more ice cream in his life
than his ancestors ever did, and more butter,
and more milk, and more eggs.
And when these things filled his veins
and pulled him down,
when the barn of his heart caught fire,
it was those ancestors that his eyes
rolled back to see;
strong Norwegian brothers
driving their cows out of the fields
towards the market and the city,
towards railroads and electric lights,
towards world wars and cameras,
towards his body, his thoughts
and his life.

"Grandpa Putting Salt on His Ice Cream" by Jay Leeming, from Dynamite on a China Plate: Poems. © The Backwaters Press, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1633 that Galileo Galilei was put on trial by the Inquisition for supporting the theory that the Earth revolves around the sun. He had angered Pope Urban VIII with a book about his views. The case was referred to the Inquisition, and in 1633 Galileo was brought to Rome to undergo his trial. His book was officially banned by the Church, and Galileo was sentenced to an unlimited period of house arrest in his home in Florence. He gradually went blind and died in 1642.

In 1835, Galileo's Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems was finally taken off the Vatican's list of banned books. But it wasn't until 1992 that the Catholic Church formally admitted that Galileo was right.

It was at 4:30 a.m. on this day in 1861 that the first engagement of the American Civil War broke out at Fort Sumter. A 67-year-old secessionist and farm-paper editor named Edmund Ruffin volunteered to fire the first shot to strike the fort. He later said, "Of course, I was highly gratified by the compliment and delighted to perform the service."

People in Charleston watched from rooftops as Fort Sumter was hit with a barrage of cannon fire for the rest of the day and into the next. The fort was ultimately hit by 3,341 shells, but amazingly none of the Union soldiers were killed or injured in the shelling. The only casualties of the engagement came during the ceremonial gun salute of surrender.

It's the birthday of Tom Clancy, (books by this author) born in Baltimore, Maryland (1947). His father was a military man, and Clancy always wanted to follow in his footsteps and become an officer. But his eyesight was so bad that he was disqualified for service. So he got a job as an insurance salesman and spent all his spare time reading magazines about military technology, such as Combat Fleets of the World and A Guide to the Soviet Navy.

He worked his way up in the insurance industry until he was running his own business, and then one day he realized that he was bored by his own life, and so he decided to do something different. He had long wondered what would happen if a Soviet submarine tried to defect to the United States, and that became the basis for his first novel, The Hunt for Red October (1984).

Instead of focusing on the fistfights or the sex lives of his characters, Clancy concentrated more on the technology. He described the Soviet submarine in intricate detail, the way it moved and maneuvered, and all its weaponry and hardware. The book got passed around among officers and generals and eventually made its way to Ronald Reagan, who said he loved it. That endorsement from the president helped turn The Hunt for Red October into a huge best seller.

It's the birthday of Scott Turow, (books by this author) born in Chicago (1949). He wanted to be a writer from an early age and got into a writing program at Stanford. But he was newly married and living on food stamps, and he said, "It finally dawned on me that I was not James Joyce."

So he went to law school and got a job as a prosecutor in Chicago, and he spent eight years writing his first novel, Presumed Innocent (1987), which became one of the best-selling novels of the 1980s.

It's the birthday of children's book author Beverly Cleary, (books by this author) born in McMinnville (near Yamhill), Oregon (1916). She's the author of a series of books about a girl named Ramona Quimby, who wipes paint on the neighbor's cat, draws pictures in library books, and locks her friend's dog in the bathroom, without ever realizing that she's bothering anybody. Cleary's books include Ramona the Pest (1968), Ramona the Brave (1975), and Ramona Forever (1984).

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