Monday Jan. 26, 2015

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Happiness

Why, Dot asks, stuck in the back
seat of her sister’s two-door, her freckled hand
feeling the roof for the right spot
to pull her wide self up onto her left,
the unarthritic, ankle—why
does her sister, coaching outside on her cane,
have to make her laugh so, she flops
back just as she was, though now
looking wistfully out through the restaurant
reflected in her back window, she seems bigger,
and couldn’t possibly mean we should go
ahead in without her, she’ll be all right, and so
when you finally place the pillow behind her back
and lift her right out into the sunshine,
all four of us are happy, none more
than she, who straightens the blossoms
on her blouse, says how nice it is to get out
once in a while, and then goes in to eat
with the greatest delicacy (oh
I could never finish all that) and aplomb
the complete roast beef dinner with apple crisp
and ice cream, just a small scoop.

“Happiness” by Wesley McNair from The Town of No and My Brother Running. © David R. Godine, 1998. Reprinted with permission.   (buy now)

On this day in 1784, Benjamin Franklin (books by this author) wrote a letter to his daughter saying that he was not pleased about the choice of bald eagle as the symbol of America. He wished it had not been chosen as a "representative of our country" because, he said, it is a "Bird of bad moral Character." Franklin wrote about the eagle: "Like those among Men who live by Sharping and Robbing, he is generally poor, and often very lousy."

There was a different fowl that Franklin championed as a true representative of the budding United States: "The Turkey," he wrote 231 years ago today, "is a much more respectable Bird, and ... a true original Native of America."

It's the birthday of cartoonist, novelist, and playwright Jules Feiffer (books by this author), born in the Bronx (1929). He said of his childhood: "The only thing I wanted to be was grown up. Because I was a terrible flop as a child. You cannot be a successful boy in America if you cannot throw or catch a ball." He decided early on that he wanted to be a comic-strip artist, and when he was a teenager, he went to work for cartoonist Will Eisner. Then, he started drawing his own cartoons in the pages of The Village Voice. His strip in The Village Voice was one of the first cartoon strips to deal with adult themes such as sex, politics, and psychiatry. For most of his career, he has drawn and written all of his work in Central Park, which he considers his office.

It's the birthday of Irish statesman, co-founder of Amnesty International, and winner of the 1974 Nobel Peace Prize, Seán MacBride, born in Paris (1904). He's the son of Maud Gonne, the woman whom poet W.B. Yeats worshipped and embraced as his Muse. Sean's father was Major John MacBride, a military leader whom Gonne chose to marry over Yeats and whom Yeats considered a "brute." John MacBride and Maud Gonne separated when their son was a child, and Sean grew up in Paris with his mother, speaking French as a first language. He was still in France, age 12, when his father was executed for helping to lead the Easter Rising, the 1916 rebellion where Irish nationalists took over government buildings in an effort to force the end British rule of Ireland.

But not long after the Easter Rising, Sean MacBride headed to Ireland, joined the IRA, and fought in the Irish War of Independence from Britain. Then he was imprisoned by the new Irish Free State's government during the Irish Civil War that followed, because he was opposed to the terms of the Anglo-Irish treaty, which had come at the end of the war. When Sean MacBride got out of jail, he went to law school.

He worked as a lawyer for human rights cases around the world, investigating abuses by governments against civilians, especially ones that happened in times of war. He was one of the founders of the human rights group Amnesty International, and held several United Nations posts throughout his life, including Assistant Secretary-General and President of the General Assembly. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974 (exactly 10 years after Martin Luther King Jr.) for mobilizing "the conscience of the world in the fight against injustice." About a year after that, he was given the Lenin Peace Prize, making him at the time the only person in the world to get both Nobel and Lenin Peace Prizes.

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

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