Feb. 16, 2010

Somebody's Mother

by Mary Dow Brine

The woman was old and ragged and gray
And bent with the chill of the Winter's day.
The street was wet with a recent snow
And the woman's feet were aged and slow.
She stood at the crossing and waited long,
Alone, uncared for, amid the throng
Of human beings who passed her by
Nor heeded the glance of her anxious eye.
Down the street with laughter and shout,
Glad in the freedom of 'school let out,'
Came the boys like a flock of sheep,
Hailing the snow piled white and deep.
Past the woman so old and gray
Hastened the children on their way.
Nor offered a helping hand to her—
So meek, so timid, afraid to stir
Lest the carriage wheels or the horses' feet
Should crowd her down in the slippery street.
At last came one of the merry troop,
The gayest lad of all the group;
He paused beside her and whispered low,
"I'll help you cross, if you wish to go."
Her aged hand on his strong young arm
She placed, and so, without hurt or harm,
He guided the trembling feet along,
Proud that his own were firm and strong.
Then back again to his friends he went,
His young heart happy and well content.
"She's somebody's mother, boys, you know,
For all she's aged and poor and slow,
And I hope some fellow will lend a hand
To help my mother, you understand,
If ever she's poor and old and grey,
And her own dear boy is far away."
"Somebody's mother" bowed low her head
In her home that night, and the prayer she said
Was, "God be kind to the noble boy,
Who is somebody's son, and pride and joy!"

"Somebody's Mother" by Mary Dow Brine. Public domain. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the printer Giambattista Bodoni, born in Saluzzo, Italy (1740). He came from a family of engravers, and by the time he died, he had opened his own publishing house that reprinted classical texts, and he had personally designed almost 300 typefaces. His typeface Bodoni is still available on almost any word processing program.

It's the birthday of Russian short-story writer Nikolai Leskov, (books by this author) born in Gorokhovo, Russia (1831). His novella Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (1865) was made into a successful opera by Dmitri Shostakovich in 1934.

It's the birthday of historian Henry Adams, (books by this author) born in Boston (1838). He came from a wealthy, famous family — his grandfather and great-grandfather were John Quincy Adams and John Adams, respectively; his father was a diplomat; and he was generally surrounded by accomplished men. But he was not happy about it, and he didn't want to live up to all the expectations that came with the Adams name. He went to Harvard, but he didn't do very well and didn't learn much. So he traveled all over, came back, and started to write — at first journalism, but soon he turned to history. With an insider's perspective of society, government, and power in America, he reimagined the role of the historian; he said, "The historian's business is to follow the track of energy; to find where it comes from and where it went to; its complex course and shifting channels; its values, equivalents, conversions." His most famous book was The Education of Henry Adams, an autobiography, and it was the first of its kind. Instead of a straightforward account of the events of his life, it was a long reflection on his internal development in relation to a changing industrial society, his personal ideas about America and about himself. It was written in the third person, and it was funny and cynical. Adams wrote The Education of Henry Adams a few years before he died, but he only published it as a private edition for his friends. After his death in 1918, it was reprinted for the general public, and won a Pulitzer Prize.

It's the birthday of the man who said, "Writing is the only thing I've ever done with persistence, except for being married." That's Richard Ford, (books by this author) born in Jackson, Mississippi (1944). He wrote about lost souls, and his wife finally told him that he should try to write about somebody who was happy. He agreed and tried to figure out where a happy person would live. He was teaching at Princeton, and he said: "I thought, well, nobody writes happy things about New Jersey. Nobody writes good things about New Jersey at all. And I thought, well, maybe that would be the thing to do." And so he wrote The Sportswriter (1986), the story of a man named Frank Bascombe, who is not exactly happy — his son has died young and his marriage has broken up — but who is a regular, good-hearted man trying to enjoy his life and take comfort in his job writing about sports. The Sportswriter got great reviews and made Ford's name as a writer, and almost a decade later he published a sequel, Independence Day (1995), which follows up on Frank Bascombe five years later, still in New Jersey, now working as a successful real estate agent. Independence Day became the first novel ever to win both the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Pulitzer Prize. And more than 10 years after that, Ford published The Lay of the Land (2006), his final novel about Frank Bascombe, now 55 years old and in what he terms the "Permanent Period." In this third book, Bascombe is dealing with prostate cancer, his first wife's widowhood, his second wife's return to her first husband, his daughter's sexuality, and a series of small and large violent acts.

Richard Ford writes out almost everything in longhand, with a Bic pen. Before he started to write The Lay of the Land, he spent six months filling a three-ring binder with notes, placing his notes in sections marked "realty" or "Frank" or "New Jersey." And he keeps all his notes and manuscripts in the freezer, so that if the house burns down, he might not lose all his work.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
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