Aug. 31, 2012

The Blue Address Book

by Jane Shore

Like the other useless
things I can't bear
to get rid of — her
nylon nightgowns,

his gold-plated
cufflinks, his wooden
shoetrees, in a size
no one I know can use —

I'm stuck with their blue
pleather address book,
its twenty-six chapters
printed in ballpoint pen,

X'd out, penciled in,
and after she passed away,
amended in his hand,
recording, as in a family

Bible, those generations
born, married, and since
relocated to their graves:
Abramowitz to Zimmerman.

Great-uncles, aunts,
cousins once removed,
whose cheeks I kissed,
whose food I ate,

are in this book still
alive, immortal, each
name accompanied
by a face:

Fogel (Rose and Murray),
47413th St., Brooklyn,
moved to a condo
in Boca Raton; Stein

(Minnie, sister of Rose),
left her Jerome Ave.
walk-up for the Yonkers
Jewish Nursing Home.

The baby-blue cover
has a patina of grease,
the pages steeped
in the cigarette smoke

of years spent in my
parents' junk drawer.
Though scattered
in different graveyards,

here they're all
accounted for.
Their souls disperse,
dust motes in the air

that I inhale.

"The Blue Address Book" by Jane Shore, from A Yes-or-No Answer. © Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1422 that Henry VI became King of England at the age of nine months.

He was King Henry V's only child. In 1423, the year after he ascended to the throne, English nobles from around the land swore loyalty to their toddler king. They also set up a regency council to make government decisions until he was old enough to do so.
It was about a century and a half later that William Shakespeare wrote a historical trilogy of plays about Henry VI. To get information about King Henry's life and times, Shakespeare used a reference book called The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York, written by Edward Hall and published in 1548. The three Henry VI plays were among Shakespeare's earliest plays, and they were huge box office successes, helping to establish him as a major living playwright. These days they're hardly ever performed anywhere.

Still, there are many quotable Shakespearean lines in the Henry VI plays, like:
"Defer no time, delays have dangerous ends."

"Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind;
The thief doth fear each bush an officer."

"Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep."

It's the birthday of William Shawn (books by this author), born William Chon in Chicago (1907), who worked at The New Yorker for 54 years and was the editor for 35 of them. Using a sharp No. 2 pencil, he personally edited Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, and he published them as long articles in the magazine before they came out as books.

He was small, with big ears, and he spoke in a high, mild voice, always considerate. When he sat at his desk his feet barely touched the ground. He was extremely shy and he never discussed his personal life. He didn't give interviews or pose in photographs, and even his co-workers knew almost nothing about him outside of the office. They always called him "Mr. Shawn." But his writers loved him, and he published many of the preeminent writers of the day, including E.B. White, John McPhee, Elizabeth Bishop, John Updike, Jamaica Kincaid, and J.D. Salinger.

He said: "Amid chaos of images, we value coherence. We believe in the printed word. And we believe in clarity. And we believe in immaculate syntax. And in the beauty of the English language."

It's the birthday of Maria Montessori (books by this author), born on this day in Chiaravalle, Italy (1870). She was a bright student, and she wanted to study engineering. So when she was 13, against her father's wishes, she entered a technical school, where all her classmates were boys. After a few years, she decided to pursue medicine, and she became the first woman in Italy to earn an M.D. degree.

As a doctor, she worked with children with special needs. And through her work with them, she became increasingly interested in education. She believed that children were not blank slates, but that they each had inherent, individual gifts. It was a teacher's job to help children find these gifts, rather than dictating what a child should know. She emphasized independence, self-directed learning, and learning from peers. Children were encouraged to make decisions.

During World War II, Montessori was exiled from Italy because she was opposed to Mussolini's fascism and his desire to make her a figurehead for the Italian government. She lived and worked in India for many years, and then in Holland. She died in 1952 at the age of 81. She wrote many books about her philosophy of education, including The Montessori Method (1912) and The Absorbent Mind (1949).

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




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