Dec. 19, 2008

Very Pretty

by John L. Stanizzi

Point O' Woods, South Lyme, August, 1999

So early in the morning,
and yet too hot for her to walk
even a step or two.

We sit her in a plastic lawn chair,
secure her with a bed sheet
huge and cool around her frail body,

and Ma, elegant and 70 pounds,
waits with apprehension
to be lifted to the top
of forty-seven steep and crooked steps

to the landing that overlooks
the cottage roof where a gull sleeps,
and below that
a sail on jeweled green water.

At the top,
with the sun impatient for 97,
we stand with her a moment
as she looks out on the bay.

Very pretty, she says, very pretty.

And I think of those words
as sweetest memory
the very moment
she is speaking them.

        for Katherine Conkling

"Very Pretty" by John L. Stanizzi, from Ecstacy Among Ghosts. © Antrim House, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1843 that Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, whom Dickens described as "a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner. Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire." In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge learns the Christmas spirit of generosity from three ghosts who show him his past, his present, and his future.

Dickens' previous novel, Martin Chuzzlewit (1842), was a flop, and he was strapped for cash. Martin Chuzzlewit was satirical and pessimistic, and Dickens thought he might be more successful if he wrote a heartwarming tale with a holiday theme. He started writing in late October and worked hard to get it done by Christmas.

At the time of the book's publication, the celebration of Christmas was somewhat controversial. Puritans in England and America argued that Christmas was a holiday left over from the days when pagans celebrated the winter solstice. Many Christians felt that the extravagance of Christmas was an insult to Christ. But A Christmas Carol was a huge best-seller in both England and the United States, and it set the tone for Christmas as we know it today: a season of generosity, feasting, and merriment.

It was on this day in 1941 that the Office of Censorship was created. It was a special emergency wartime agency ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He appointed Byron Price to head the agency. Price was a veteran journalist, the general manager of the Associated Press.

Price advocated a system of voluntary censorship for the presses, and it was successful during World War II because the war had popular support. In general, most reporters — as citizens and as journalists — shared in the prevailing sense of sacrifice and patriotism that the government encouraged.

The press refrained from reporting information about troop movements, the locations of forts, and the development of weapons — most notably of the atomic bomb. Many members of the press knew about the "Manhattan Project," which Price later called the war's "best-kept secret."

It's the birthday of Jean Genet, (books by this author) born in Paris, France (1910). He's most famous for Our Lady of the Flowers (1944), one of the first serious literary novels to celebrate homosexuality. Genet wrote many more novels and plays, including Miracle of the Rose (1946), The Thief's Journal (1949), The Maids (1954), and The Balcony (1956).

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