Friday, June 23, 2017

93 BILLION LIGHT YEARS

This is the Westerlund I Star Cluster, a mere 15,000 light years away.
In it, there is a star so big that if it were in our solar
system it would reach out past the orbit of Jupiter.
See APOD  for more info.

Recent articles have reported that astronomers have now calculated the size of the universe. The long but interesting articles relate how scientists came to their current conclusion that the diameter of the universe is 93 billion light years. (Not miles: light years. A light year is the distance light travels in a year, or about 6 trillion miles. Do the math?) Those of us who remember a bit of high school geometry will realize that nothing was said about the circumference or the area of the universe. 93 billion is a big enough number, especially if it is multiplied by 6 trillion. That comes to a number in the sextillions. When they use the word 'astronomical' they really mean it. Only astronomers can think in that kind of numbers.

Just think on this: it was once believed that our own Milky Way galaxy, which over time has been estimated at various sizes, had the Earth at its center. Our galaxy is now known to be about 100,000 light years across – give or take a few light years - and we are out in its edges. The Andromeda Galaxy, the closest galaxy to ours, it is only 2.54 million light years away.



For those of us who regularly deal in miles or kilometers, or even the length of a city block or a football field, light years are almost mythical. To bring it down to earthly size, I suppose the Earth is not the seed in the watermelon or the flea on the dog, it’s probably not even like the proverbial grain of sand on a coral beach. No, I’d guess we’re more like an atom of carbon in that grain of sand.

In the days before World War II, Winston Churchill was preoccupied with the question of whether we are alone in the universe. In a 1939 essay recently discovered at the Churchill Museum in Missouri, Churchill, a great advocate of science, argued that humans aren’t all that special: “I, for one, am not so immensely impressed by the success we are making of our civilization here that I am prepared to think we are the only spot in this immense universe which contains living, thinking creatures.”

Makes you start thinking about the bigger picture - about all the now seemingly insignificant problems besetting our planet, and the relatively insignificant beliefs we hold. Start thinking about all the beings who most assuredly populate the countless worlds between us and the edge of the known, ever expanding universe. How do they live, what are their problems, who are their gods? Thoughts like this shouldn’t keep you up at night. Maybe, if you pursue them in depth, they'll put you to sleep.







Friday, June 16, 2017

THE POSTAL SERVICE COMES OF AGE

 Back in February, we marked the 225th anniversary of President George Washington’s signing of the Postal Service Act in 1792, establishing the United States Post Office. Today we call it the Postal Service. Coincidentally, in August of this year we will mark the 490th anniversary of the sending of the first known letter from this side of the pond, Newfoundland to be exact, to England, from Master John Rut, mariner, to Henry VIII. Though there were various methods and offices to handle the mails, including having Benjamin Franklin, working from England, act as Postmaster General, not much speeded up the mail in the 265 years between those two events. There’s not much more to be found on line to say who carried the letter to Henry VIII or even how long it took to get to him, but postal service has improved over the years. It improved, certainly, with newer and faster methods of transportation and organization, but these days it’s showing definite signs of decline and disuse.

At the website about.usps.com, you will find this:
  “The United States Postal Service is an independent establishment of the Executive Branch of the Government of the United States and operates in a business-like way. Its mission statement can be found in Section 101(a) of Title 39 of the U.S. Code, also known as the Postal Reorganization Act: The Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people. It shall provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall render postal services to all communities.”



Those are lofty ideals, but it seems to us these days that the Postal Service carries only catalogs, annual reports, fast food fliers, and miscellaneous junk mail. On line, we can get email, ecards, online billing, banking, and bank statements. Just as our use of cash is declining because of the almost universal use of debit and credit cards, so too, one day there will probably be little need for a government postal service. Carriers like United Parcel Service have trucks and personnel on the roads every day, and are already picking up mail deliveries. In the name of conservation of our natural resources, perhaps our laws will one day outlaw paper catalogs and reports. Even today, most of the information in them is easily obtained on line. These days it isn’t really essential that our regular postal carriers deliver to us each day – even three times a week could suffice – but carry on they do.



Unless it is stolen or mislabeled, very little mail is undelivered these days. We Americans are fortunate in our postal service. But if you are a postal employee in far off places that consist of dozens of nameless inhabited islands or vast tracks of land, finding the proper recipient can be a trial. Now, a new London-based company has developed what3words. (see them at what3words.com/about) The system divides up the planet into 3x3 meter squares, roughly 10 ft. by 10ft, identifying it with a unique string of three words. For The New York Times office in Manhattan, it’s “zest.ropes.along.” For the Tonga Post headquarters, it’s “international.bashfully.placidity.” * Identifiers will also come in French, German, Russian, Spanish, and many other languages. If the sender knows the recipient’s three-word address, the local postal office can deliver. (And agencies like the Red Cross will be using it to pinpoint areas in need of disaster aid.)



*This writer lives at “wonderfully.homepage.dazzles,” or in that general vicinity, but don’t address any snail mail to me there. Our intrepid mail carrier isn’t yet ready to handle those three-word addresses.

Friday, June 9, 2017

THE QUEEN AT 91

 
The Queen and her Corgis

These last years have been quite eventful for Queen Elizabeth. In September 2015, QE II sailed on, outlasting Queen Victoria reign of 63 years, 26 days. Last year, she celebrated birthday 90. This past February, she celebrated her Sapphire Jubilee: 65 years on the throne. This coming November, she and Prince Phillip will celebrate 70 years of marriage. How many get to have a Platinum Anniversary?
According to Wikipedia, she now stands in 48th place among the longest reigning monarchs of the world. Those reigning longer: all men. The longest reigning, I see, was Sobhuza of Swaziland, who reigned for almost 83 years. He must have been exhausted!

Egad!


This year, Her Majesty, Elizabeth II, was ninety-one. I always remember her birthday. Always. Why? Because it is also my sister’s birthday: April 21. When I discovered that fact, I was delighted, especially since from an early age, oh, about ten or eleven, I thought the Queen was our Queen. After all, what’s a country without a President and a Queen? I thought that was the way it worked: one male for the business stuff, one female for the ceremony stuff. Remember, I was only ten or so.

If you were a Queen, and your birthday was in April, and that was a rainy month in your England, wouldn’t you want to really celebrate in month with a “higher probability of fine weather?” England’s monarchs have been doing this since the middle of the 1700’s. Come a fine Saturday in June, June 10 this year, the Queen will first inspect her troops. She once did this, wearing full military uniform, from horseback. Now she rides in a carriage, and you can be sure her handbag is close by.* She will join the parade down The Mall on home to Buckingham Palace, there will be the Trooping of the Colour near St. James Park, and it will all end with a flyover by the Royal Air Force.  (Excuse me, they call it a “fly-past”)

Were's her handbag?

I am an Anglophile, and an Elizabethophile. (Or should that just be an Elizabethan?) I love all the colour and pomp and ceremony. Not everyone does. There are those who say the monarchy is obsolete and the cost to the nation is too great. While these sentiments are ever-present, they swell back into the forefront of the news any time there is a grand event, like the birthday celebrations, or a wedding, or a coronation. In actuality, the royal family foot a lot of their own bills, and the public, to the tune of less than $1 per person per year, foot the bills for things security, international entertaining, and a laundry list of other things. Many think the tourism jobs and dollars brought in far offset the cost of the monarchy. Many anti-monarchists would like to have a republic with an elected head, a Supreme Court, and a written constitution, none of which they now have. They feel that the Queen should have the distinction of being Great Britain’s last monarch. But around 80% of the British population approve of the monarchy, and we can’t foresee that it will be abolished in the near future.

Meanwhile, sail on QE II.

Ah, there it is. Mia has it.

*Like the question “What does a Scotsman wear under his kilt?” the other burning question from the British Isles is “What does the Queen carry in her handbag?” She usually carries a comb, mirror and lipstick, a £5 or £10 note for any collection plate that might come her way, her eye glasses, and maybe some mints. Like many women, she may carry personal trinkets given to her by family members. Though we don’t know if it is in there at all times, the Queen does have a mobile phone to keep in touch with her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She carries no passport or personal identification – she doesn’t own them or need them. So, less than you might think, because her ladies-in-waiting do carry things like clean gloves and a sewing kit and safety pins for emergencies, but more than just a penny to spend in the loo.


Friday, June 2, 2017

ALICE IN WONDERLAND ON BROADWAY


Seventy years ago, when I was just 4, so I don’t really remember it at all, my mother took me to see the Broadway production of Alice in Wonderland. I remember her telling me in later years that I had seen the great actress Eva Le Gallienne, as the White Queen, but it meant little to me then. Today I know that Miss Le Gallienne co-wrote and starred in the play that combined the two Alice books, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and that on and off, she brought the production back to Broadway for a few performances. I can’t find a definite/probable date for our going to the show.

1947

Since then I’ve seen all manner of Alice adaptations. The Disney version sticks in my memory for the songs (I’m Late, I’m Late, and A Very Merry Unbirthday from the scene I loved the most – the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.) The 1933 movie version, which I’ve seen only once, I remember for all the wonderful Hollywood personalities as the book’s characters. I especially loved and remember Gary Cooper as the lugubrious (I love that word!) White Knight. I will have to see if I can find a video of that.

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch


But, book lover that I am, my favourite Alices are Tenniel illustrated editions of either book - and don’t I wish I had first editions!  The Tenniel drawings are how all the Alice characters look in my mind. There is no other Jabberwock, there is (are) no other Tweedledum and Tweedledee, there is no other Alice. 




Friday, May 26, 2017

THE WEATHER CHANNEL AT 35

Ah, yes. Here's an article printed in our community magazine this month. The weather is endlessly fascinating to me, not only its apparent quirks and the way it is the ubiquitous topic of casual chitchat, but the way we humans have such a great effect on it. Not that our esteemed president agrees, but, hey...  
  
- - - - - - -   

In the late 40’s, cable TV began as a service to bring broadcast content to mountain and rural areas of Arkansas, Oregon and Pennsylvania. A few clever people raised their antennas to great heights and brought the signals down to their TVs. One enterprising appliance dealer, John Watson of Allentown, Pennsylvania, realized he wouldn’t sell any TV sets if the townspeople couldn’t get the signals. Knowing about those high antennas, he put up one of his own on a nearby mountain, and ran a cable down to the town and in to homes where, for an installation fee and a monthly charge, the residents could watch the three broadcast channels, the affiliates of ABC, CBS, and NBC.

The idea spread country-wide, and gradually, cable network operators offered more and more “stations” or “channels.”  Many of us from the bigger cities and their suburbs had little awareness of the cable networks. One cable channel we heard about though, and wished we had, was The Weather Channel. Customarily, in the early days of television, we watched the local weather as a short spot, usually on around 6:20 p.m., on our favorite broadcast channel. Many of us remember Tex Antoine’s “Uncle Wethbee” on WNBC in New York City. As time went on and weather technology advanced, the forecasts became less hit-and-miss, and we could catch the weather on the morning shows, perhaps a lunchtime news report, and always on the dinner hour news.

Tex Antoine and "Uncle Wethbee"


Thinking that many folks would like to know the weather at any time of the day, or all day long, John Coleman, meteorologist and forecaster for ABC’s “Good Morning America,” had the idea for a channel to provide such information. In May of 1982, 35 years ago, The Weather Channel made its first transmission. While many believed it would be short-lived, the channel is still going strong providing forecasts and regularly running documentaries and other weather-related content. It maintains a website for local, national, and worldwide forecasting information.

Several of the channel’s expert reporters are very well known. When raging snow storms or hurricanes strike, viewers look to Jim Cantore, and Bryan Norcross, among others, for the latest conditions. Viewers can’t believe that the reporters, and the unsung, unseen camera crew, would be out there braving winds and rain and snow as they do.

Jim Cantore, intrepid 30-year veteran of The Weather Channel,
out in the thick of things with, of course, his crew.
Did you think he was out there alone?

One “innovation” of The Weather Channel was the naming of winter storms. In times past we heard, in retrospect, of storms names like “The Great Blizzard of 1947” or the 1993 “Storm of the Century.” Just over four years ago, The Weather Channel started naming every wave of severe winter weather that threatened significant areas of the country. The official governmental meteorological offices do not look favorably on this naming, and it is doubtful that it serves any use beyond being a publicity gimmick for the channel.

The Weather Channel, headquartered in Atlanta, relies on their own technological equipment, as well as information from the National Weather Service, part of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the Department of Commerce. Weather and reliable forecasts are vital to commerce.



Old saws like the one that start “Red sun in the morning…” or “If it rains before seven…” are still around for our amusement and amazement, but accurate predictions have become essential in our every-day lives.
One of the pioneers of scientific weather forecasting was Robert FitzRoy, Captain of the HMS Beagle on which Darwin sailed, Vice-Admiral in the Royal Navy, second Governor of New Zealand, and one of the first scientists to recognize, in the mid-1800s, that the study of weather patterns of the past could help predict those for the future. Such predictions, which he named “forecasts” were vital for mariners, fishermen, and commerce in general. At first the idea was ridiculed, but gradually it proved its worth, and our great interest in forecasts began.



Thursday, May 25, 2017

600



600 – The first thought that comes to mind when I think of 600 is Alfalfa, marvelous member of Our Gang, reciting The Charge of the Light Brigade. And I remember the firecrackers going off in his pocket – “Canons to the left of me” - bang, bang, bang - “Canons to the right of me” bang, bang, bang. Sitting in front of the TV, waiting for the fireworks, we laughed to kill ourselves each time we saw them go off.  
That’s not how the lines really go, but that’s how I remember them. Years (and years!) ago on TV,  on the local stations, they’d repeat shows so many times that you got to memorize the lines. Because I liked poetry, I always remembered quite a number of lines from the great Tennyson poem. 

Half a league, half a league, 
Half a league onward, 
All in the valley of Death 
   Rode the six hundred. 
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!

Be that as it may, this is my 600th blog post. Blogspot keeps track of these things. My first one was posted back in September of 2011. I don’t post every day – I’m not that prolific a writer, and my days are relatively uninteresting to others – but once or twice a week I come up with something to share.

I do appreciate all of you who’ve stuck with me. Knowing you’re out there pleases me no end, and keeps me writing and posting. Tak.




Friday, May 19, 2017

EDWARD LEAR AND THE LIMERICK

The twelfth day of May each year is Limerick Day. Why? Because it is the birthday of Edward Lear, the poet and artist who perfected the form of this jaunty, sometimes naughty, type of poem. Scholars say that the name “limerick” was given to the form because Irish Soldiers, home from France where they were serving in the 1700’s, brought back to Limerick a song with a chorus that followed the AABBA rhyme scheme such as in this one from an unknown writer:

A bather whose clothing was strewed   A
By winds that left her quite nude A
Saw a man come along B
And unless we are wrong B
You expected this line to be lewd. A

This modern limerick from author Gary Johnson follows that pattern:

There was an old lady of Queens
Who survived on wieners and beans
Wearing Army surplus
Riding the bus
And stealing from vending machines

There’s a set pattern to the usual number of syllables in each of the five lines of the poem, and to the content of the lines. The first two lines set the scene, the second two tell you what happened, and the last line is “the kicker.”  This one, one of the most widely known, is by “Anonymous”

There was a young lady of Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a Tiger;
They came back from the ride
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the Tiger.


This one, also from the prolific “Anonymous,” has a punny ending:

There was an Old Man of Nantucket
Who kept all his cash in a bucket.
His daughter, called Nan,
Ran away with a man,
And as for the bucket, Nantucket.


The Nantucket limerick has spawned many more versions, both funny and lewd. Lear’s limericks were not naughty at all. He created them for children. One of twenty-one children himself, an older sister taught him to draw and paint. He became a drawing teacher, and an illustrator. The London Zoological Society hired him to paint a series of paintings of birds, which he insisted he had to paint from life, not stuffed specimens. Impressed with his work, the Earl of Derby hired him to paint pictures of the animals in his private menagerie. While doing the work and living at Knowsley Hall, the earl’s ancestral home, he befriended the earl’s grandchildren. For them he wrote poems like The Owl and the Pussy Cat, and limericks and other nonsense verse. His limericks are collected in one volume, his Book of Nonsense.



There was an Old Person of Mold,
Who shrank from sensations of cold,
So he purchased some muffs,
Some furs and some fluffs,
And wrapped himself from the cold.




There was an Old Lady whose folly,
Induced her to sit on a holly;
Whereon by a thorn,
Her dress being torn,
She quickly became melancholy.
                          






Friday, May 12, 2017

REMEMBERING YOUR TEACHERS

Here's another one I did for the magazine. I changed some of the original "we"s to "I"s, and adjusted it here and there to use it for this posting. I have a few teachers I remember for their quirky personalities alone, but there are three I remember who really made lasting memories of learning something useful. Teacher Appreciation Day falls every May. I did once have the opportunity to thank one of my teachers years after I left his classroom, and I made sure to let him know how much I appreciated his teaching.



When casually questioned about the teachers he remembered and what made them good teachers, my husband immediately said “Mrs. Cohen with the great legs – drove all the boys crazy – not particularly good looking, but great legs.” Well, although it’s a great memory, that’s not really the answer we were aiming for.

The teachers we remember fall into two categories. On one hand, there are those who taught our least favorite subjects, who bored us to tears and put us to sleep as they droned on and on, and whose classes and course content we only dimly remember. On the other, there are the ones who really taught us something and made a difference, the ones whose classes we looked forward to, and whose names, even some of their favorite sayings, we remember today.

My Latin teacher was always looking for "Volunteers: you, you, and you!"

Unless a subject was really right up our alley or the teacher made it interesting to us, the courses we had to take to complete graduation requirements or to fill in a class schedule are usually the ones we least remember. It is no surprise that we wouldn’t remember the teacher or a bit of the Calculus we had to take in order to fulfill the state mathematics requirement for a Teacher’s Certificate, especially when the subject we were going to teach was English.


It’s no surprise we remember the college prof who sprang those quickie quizzes on us to test whether we were “getting” it or not. It’s no surprise that I remember the high school Biology teacher who taught me the way to remember the taxonomic ranks: kingdom, phylum, class order, family, genus, species - King Philip Came Over For Grandfather’s Spectacles – and made dissecting a frog fascinating, not icky.



It’s no surprise that we remember the English teacher who made poetry interesting or enlivened a Shakespeare play for us. It’s no surprise that we remember the teacher who enlivened dry History’s dates and battles and personalities, by relating them to the Arts and Sciences what else was happening in the rest of the world. We remember the teacher who was also a team coach and never brought our classroom triumphs or failings on to the playing field or court. We remember the teacher who set us on the road to the profession we followed, or the pastimes we love to this day.



Don’t you sometimes think that you should have thanked those great teachers for what they gave to you? If nothing else, they gave you some lasting memories.






Friday, May 5, 2017

UNDER THE KNIFE

Here's another one of the essays I wrote for our community magazine. It's a follow up on one I did a good while ago on The Fork. I don't think I'll follow up with an article on The Spoon: after all, the original 'spoons' were our hands. They're still in use today. 

your basic, utilitarian cutting edge

Knives, the cutting edge, have been around since man discovered that the sharp edge of a rock or flint would cut into an animal carcass. What would cut into an animal carcass would also be effective as a weapon for hunting, self-defense, and war, and as a tool for the dining table and the operating table. The cutting edge has been developed and enhanced, from the Stone Age to the age of lasers and waterjet cutting machines we have today.

not the sharpest knife in the drawer

But the knife we celebrate this month is the humble table knife. It is said that on a May day, 380 years ago, in 1637, the French Cardinal Richelieu, churchman and statesman, invented the table knife. “Invented” is probably not the correct word for his ordering the staff to round off the points on all the household’s knives. “Intuited” is probably closer to the mark. He realized that removing the stabbing points would improve table manners, making impossible the picking of teeth. It would stop the eating of meat off the knife points, and, most importantly, deter the occasional stabbing of fellow guests. Forks came into greater use at the table.
In later years, Louis IV banned pointed knives from any table, and banned them from use as a part of a person’s daily attire. Unless he had nefarious notions, a person no longer needed to carry his own knife. His host or his household would supply him with the proper table implements.

fancy or plain - always deadly

Knives for hunting and combat are legion, and as diverse as the cultures that invented them. (And let us mention, in passing, the wonderful Swiss Army knife. Among other blades and tools, there’s a table knife somewhere in there.) Knives for the kitchen are purpose-built, from the butcher knife to the boning knife. Most Michelin-starred chefs have sets of knives that they treat like pampered children. Most household chefs have a few “old reliables” they wouldn’t be without.
In most non-European cultures there are no table knives. Any food item, animal or vegetable, that would require cutting was cut into edible pieces in the kitchen. All that were required at the table were chopsticks, spoons, a rare fork or two, and facile fingers. Before Victorian times, table knives in the west were standard, and their blades were less sharp. In that era’s spirit of invention, where dining became an all-evening event, the upper echelons of society came up with all manner of spoons, forks, and knives. They did it because they could, and because it provided a bit of one-upmanship in a time when it now seems like that was all those folks had for amusement. They had dinner knives, fish knives, game knives, butter knives, and additional knives, as needed, for fruit, cheese or other foods. We’d think they could have used the same knife for meat, fish, or game – but no, each had its own knife.

Laguiole - one of the best steak knives in the world

Any good, sharp knife can be used for steak, but the steak knife, so named, came into common use, and to the table, with the advances in stainless steel after World War II. We’ve kept the butter knife on the table for use at a more formal meal, and on some expansive table settings there are table forks and knives for each of the main courses, to be removed with the empty plate. The rest of the unusual knives, as well as their fellow forks and spoons, are now to be found tarnishing in the silverware box or as collectables on eBay.



Friday, April 28, 2017

WORST USE OF A TREE


On Arbor Day in 2015 I posted an article with the poem “Trees Need Not Walk the Earth” and a story about my oldest granddaughter. I took another look at that blog this week, and I was struck with the almost offhand caption I wrote for the picture below:


“…and the First Prize is awarded for The Best Use of a Tree”


In these recent years, I have become more and more aggravated by the worst use of a tree: junk mail and catalogs. Truly, almost all the paper in our weekly recycling is just that: junk. It comes in and goes right into the bin. It’s a shame. 



Friday, April 21, 2017

PENGUINS




I love penguins. I always did like them, but they became special favorites when my mother made herself a gorgeous wool, portrait-collar dress. The sides and back were black, the front panel and collar were white. She called it her penguin dress. After that, I bought her a penguin or two – a sculpture, which I still have, and a Steff penguin called Peggy among them – and I’ve always been alert to things ‘penguin’.


Penguin

by William Jay Smith


I think it must be very nice
To stroll about upon the ice,
Night and day, day and night,
Wearing only black and white,
Always in your Sunday best—
Black tailcoat and pearl-white vest.
To stroll about so pleasantly
Beside the cold and silent sea
Would really suit me to a T!
I think it must be very nice
To stroll with Penguins on the ice.




Friday, April 14, 2017

IT'S A FUNNY THING YOU SHOULD MENTION THAT

Rock Cakes - this is the first photo to come up in Google Images,
and they look perfect to me. 

How many times has it happened to you: you hear something out of the ordinary in your daily life, and then you hear it again, even the same day? I had that happen twice today.

First case in point. This morning I read in the N.Y. Times email Morning Briefing about the child-molestation scandal at Choat Rosemary Hall. O.K., a cover up, etc. Tsk, Tsk. Later, I was proofreading the May issue of our community magazine. One of our astute writers had written piece on President John F. Kennedy who was born 100 years ago in May, 1917, and went to prep school at, yes, Choat. How often would Choat come up in the daily scheme of things?

Then, Frank was reading one of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot mysteries. He stopped and asked me "what are rock cakes?" I told him. Being an Anglophile, I know about such culinary delights. Then I started reading a Kindle version of Rise, by Karina Bliss. What were they having for tea? Yes, rock cakes. Another quirky coincidence. 

I love when this happens!  



Friday, April 7, 2017

ERSKINE CALDWELL

This is another article I submitted to our community magazine. Caldwell died just thirty years ago this month. That would mean I was 44 then, but I really had little knowledge of him and hadn't, as far as I remember, read any of his work. Delving into his life and work has been quite interesting. 





Did you ever hear anyone describe a place as being “right out of an Erskine Caldwell novel?” In the musical classic The Music Man, one of the busy-body ladies is describing Marian the Librarian – “She advocates dirty books: Chaucer, Rabelais, Balzac!” If the show had been set in the middle of the 1900’s, the lady might have added Erskine Caldwell.  

Caldwell’s output, which included about fifty novels, dozens of short stories, non-fiction, and editing, was, along with his travels, far reaching. With his second wife of four, the photographer Margaret Bourke-White, he collaborated on three photo documentaries, including Have You Seen Their Facesa pictorial about the troubles in the rural South. 



The two most well-known of his works, Tobacco Road and God’s Little Acreboth of which were made into movies, are set in that poor, rural south. Caldwell, who died 30 years ago this month, wrote about the social problems, the racism and the poverty, in works that won great critical acclaimHe said: "I could not become accustomed to the sight of children's stomachs bloated from hunger and seeing the ill and aged too weak to walk to the fields to search for something to eat. In the evenings I wrote about what I had seen during the day, but nothing I put down on paper succeeded in conveying the full meaning of poverty and hopelessness and degradation as I had observed it." 



Born in Georgia in 1903, Caldwell’s parents were a Presbyterian minister whose Scots-Irish ancestors were here before the American Revolution, and his schoolteacher wife who was descended from English aristocracy and landed Virginia gentry. Ira Caldwell’s itinerant ministry took them all over the rural south during his son’s formative years. The writer’s maxim is “write what you know,” and Caldwell came to know and champion the rural poor. He wrote of the working men, the farmers and share-croppers, the factory workers. He wrote vivid descriptions of their lives and their living conditions.  

While his works were getting critical acclaim, they were condemned elsewhere for their profanity and explicit sexuality. God’s Little Acre, published in 1933, was banned, where else, in Boston. The Georgia Literary Commission recommended that anyone reading it be jailed. The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice had him arrested and tried. He was exonerated. Caldwell’s fellow southern writers, among them Margaret Mitchell and William Faulkner, condemned him for painting such an awful picture of their beloved South. All that was about 85 years ago, and times and social mores have certainly changed - or have they?