The drama department at Pleasant Grove (Utah) High School put on Ayn Rand’s play, “The Night of January 16th” when I was an underclassman there. It’s an interesting play — a murder mystery played out in a courtroom, with a jury drawn from the evening’s audience. The play’s ending differs almost every night, with a different jury coming to slightly different conclusions. Suggested posters for the play asked, “Where were you the night of January 16th?”
Years later that question came back to me as I rushed my wife to the maternity room at Charlton Methodist Hospital with contractions coming in quick succession, with a few minutes left in January 16th. The question made a good mnemonic to remember the date of the birth of our second child. Only later did I recall that the day is also Ben Franklin’s birthday — Ben being an object of some study and significant space on my personal library shelf.
The mnemonic helped settle some feelings of being left out — the rest of us in the immediate family having been born on “special days”: April 1, May 1, and July 4. We needed to find reasons that January 17th is special. Ben Franklin’s birthday fit that bill perfectly.
And, as of a decade ago, January 17 was the only day of the year on which a tornado had never been recorded inside the United States. To the best of my knowledge, that record still stands — another important distinction for a weather watching kid who knew the scientific names for a score of different clouds by the time he was four.
So, here’s a toast to Ben Franklin, the First American, the journalist and printer, great patriot and hoaxer, who never got the chance to be a fan of Ayn Rand. Here’s to weather, with all its artistry and scientific mystery.
I well remember where I was the night of January 16th: Happy birthday, and a toast to you, James. You may take the day off from school.*
James (black shirt, sorta front row), his mother, members and leaders of BSA Troop 355 and Crew 355 at the top of the Tooth of Time, Philmont National Scout Ranch, New Mexico, 2005.
* It’s snowing like gangbusters and they’ve closed the schools.