After we picked you up at the Omaha airport,
we clamped you into a new car seat
and listened to you yowl
beneath the streetlights of Nebraska.
Our hotel suite was plump with toys,
ready, we hoped, to soothe you into America.
But for a solid hour you watched the door,
shrieking, Umma, the Korean word for mother.
Once or twice you glanced back at us
and, in this netherworld where a door home
had slammed shut forever, your terrified eyes
paced between the past and the future.
Umma, you screamed, Umma!
But your foster mother back in Seoul never appeared.
Your new mother and I lay on the bed,
cooing your birth name,
until, at last, you collapsed into our arms.
In time, even terror must yield to sleep.
“The Strangers” by Patrick Hicks from Adoptable. © Salmon Poetry Ireland, 2014. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
Today is the birthday of American author Erle Stanley Gardner (books by this author), the creator of smooth-talking criminal lawyer Perry Mason, born in Malden, Massachusetts (1889). He became a typist at a law firm, soaking up legal terminology and trial tactics. With no formal training, he passed the California bar exam and joined a law firm. He found legal practice boring, though. He began writing stories about the people he represented and the things he saw at trial for pulp magazines. Gardner’s stories quickly became popular and he churned out more than 20,000 during his career, giving up his two-fingered typing and dictating to a series of secretaries.
When asked why his heroes always defeated villains with the last bullet in their guns, Gardner answered: “At three cents a word, every time I say ‘Bang’ in the story I get three cents. If you think I’m going to finish the gun battle while my hero still has 15 cents’ worth of unexploded ammunition in his gun, you’re nuts.”
Early characters included Lester Leith, a parody of the “gentleman thief,” and Ken Corning, a crusading lawyer who became the template for Perry Mason. Gardner’s first novel to feature Mason was The Case of the Velvet Claws (1933), which established Mason’s MO: he proved his client’s innocence by implicating another character, who soon confessed.
On this day 60 years ago, in 1955, the Disneyland theme park opened in Anaheim, California. More than 1 million people visited the park in its first seven weeks.
On this date in 1867, Harvard Dental School, the first university-based dental school in the United States, was founded. Before the school’s founding, aspiring dentists went to freestanding trade schools or learned by apprenticeship. The world’s first dental training program had been established in Baltimore in 1840, but dentistry wasn’t considered a branch of medicine, and programs were not included in curricula. Harvard Dental School represented a dramatic change in the way dentistry was viewed.
Prior to the 19th century, your treatment options were extremely limited: If you had a toothache, you went to the barber-surgeon — or even the blacksmith — to have the tooth pulled, with no anesthesia. The wealthy could afford to have the gap filled with a replacement tooth, which could be bought from someone who was willing to sell his or her own teeth. If you didn’t want to pay the premium price, you could buy the teeth of a cadaver. Sometimes these were collected from battlefields, and were called “Waterloo teeth.” A grave robber could get five guineas for a good set of corpse teeth. But buying replacement human teeth came with risks, too: You might contract tuberculosis or syphilis. Some people had dentures made from ivory, porcelain, or even gold. After Charles Goodyear invented the vulcanization of rubber, you could buy “Vulcanite” dentures made of hard rubber. By the middle of the 19th century, dentists were beginning to use nitrous oxide, chloroform, and ether to perform oral surgery painlessly.
It’s the birthday of editor Ernest Percival Rhys, born in London (1859). He worked as a mining engineer, and he set up a makeshift library with his own books and led book discussions for the coal miners. Then a publisher got him confused with a scholar named John Rhys and approached him about editing a series of books called Camelot Classics. Ernest Rhys turned out to be a good editor, and he moved on from Camelot Classics to work for the publishing house J.M. Dent and Company. Dent and Rhys conceived of a series of inexpensive works of classic literature, 1,000 titles in all. Rhys came up with the name: “Everyman’s Library,” from the medieval morality play Everyman. In the play, the character Knowledge says to Everyman: “Everyman, I will go with thee / and be thy guide, / In thy most need to go / by thy side.” When Rhys died in 1946, 952 volumes of the Everyman’s Library had been published.
It’s the birthday of Belgian astronomer Georges Lemaître, born in Charleroi, Belgium, on this day in 1894. He proposed the big bang theory, maintaining that the universe originated with a gigantic explosion of what he called a small super-atom, and that the universe is constantly expanding.
It was on this day in 1936 that the Spanish Civil War began. It started with an attempted coup by right-wing forces, who called themselves Nationalists, against the government, or Republicans. General Franco was at the helm of the Nationalists, and the Spanish Civil War was the first major threat of fascism in Europe. Tens of thousands of international volunteers went to Spain to fight on the Republican side, including thousands from the United States.