Sep. 13, 2010

A Difference of Fifty-Three Years

by Noel Peattie

Here is a magazine called Seventeen.
It comes out on the stands every month.
The girl on each cover is welcome
as cherry pie; she's tubbed, pure,
her hair is up, or ribboned.
Her life is all dresses,
parties, and little pink wishes.
She says to the world, Oh hurry,
hurry up, please, and it does.

Here is a man about seventy.
Why isn't there a journal called Seventy?
Because he isn't as welcome;
because nobody wants to be like him.
He says to the world, Slow down;
my flat feet can't keep up with you.
He whispers, I'm still alive.

But it doesn't slow down, the world.
It keeps on hurrying; for, see there,
an impatient virgin is waiting.

(Every day, an old man is buried).
Every month, there's another young girl.

"A Difference of Fifty-Three Years" by Noel Peattie, from The Testimony of Doves. © Regent Press, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Sherwood Anderson, (books by this author) born in Camden, Ohio (1876). Anderson was 43 years old when he published Winesburg, Ohio (1919), a collection of stories about a group of characters in a small town who look ordinary on the surface but are full of misery and sexual frustration and violent desires.

It's the birthday of Roald Dahl, (books by this author) born in Llandaff, South Wales (1916). One of the few things he enjoyed about his childhood was that the Cadbury chocolate company had chosen his school as a focus group for new candies they were developing. Every so often, a plain gray cardboard box was issued to each child, filled with 11 chocolate bars. It was the children's task to rate the candy, and Dahl took his job very seriously. About one of the sample candy bars, he wrote, "Too subtle for the common palate." He later said that the experience got him imagining what a candy factory might be like, and from it wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964).

It's the birthday of the pianist and composer Clara Schumann, born Clara Wieck in Leipzig, Germany, in 1819. Both of her parents were musicians, and after her parents divorced when she was four, Clara was raised by her father, who taught her to play the piano. When she was eight years old, she performed at the home of some family friends, and 17-year-old Robert Schumann was so impressed by her playing that he dropped out of law school to study piano with Clara's father.

Clara made her formal debut at age 11, and she was considered a great pianist for the rest of her life. Her concerts sold out, she won all sorts of awards, and the critics loved her, comparing her to Beethoven. By the time she was a teenager, she was a much better piano player than Schumann, but he fell in love with Clara and proposed to her, and her father did everything he could to stop the marriage. Clara and Robert finally had to take him to court, and they were married on the eve of Clara's 21st birthday.

Clara raised seven children and continued to tour, compose, and perform, and it was largely because of her popularity and because people respected her so much that they gave Robert Schumann's work a chance, although many people still didn't like it. When her husband died in 1856, Clara continued touring, and played her last concert in 1891, 61 years after her performance career had begun. She died five years later, at the age of 77.

She said, "My imagination can picture no fairer happiness than to continue living for art."

It was on this day in 1743 that the Treaty of Worms was signed in Worms, a city on the Rhine River in Germany. Worms is one of the oldest cities in Germany, established by the Celts at least 2,000 years ago. Its name is associated with several well-known historical events. The Concordant of Worms in 1122 was an agreement between the pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, who had been competing for power for years. The Diet of Worms in 1521 was an assembly of officials from the Holy Roman Empire, famous for condemning Martin Luther with a proclamation called the Edict of Worms.

And on this day in 1743, the Treaty of Worms was signed to bring an end to the "War of the Austrian Succession." But the peace did not last long; it soon led to the Seven Years' War, of which a major battle and turning point was fought just outside Quebec on this day in 1759, the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, between the French and the English. The British decisively defeated the French, though both the young British general, James Wolfe, and the French general, Louis-Joseph Montcalm, were killed.

The Battle of the Plains of Abraham was the tipping point for the British army, and within four years almost all of France's territories in the New World had been taken over by the British. But even though Quebec was the setting for the battle that relinquished France's power in the area, it is the place in North America that has the most French influence today.

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