Wednesday, March 14, 2012

There’s a First Time For Everything, Along With a Great Book About It.

Since my graduate school days in Library media, where I spent countless hours in libraries learning about the plethora of reference sources, I first fell in love with Famous First Facts: A Record of First Happenings and Inventions in the United States. The 1964 Third Edition in my high school library (I don’t have the heart to weed it) comprises 1165 pages. Like most resources, there is an online version, but I found the Sixthth Edition published in 2006. The book is arranged by 600 pages of alphabetically listed famous firsts, with 400 plus pages of indices by year, days of the month, personal names, and geographical location.

The first entry is the “First abdominal operation”, see surgical operation: abdominal operation, which leads one to a description of an ovariotomy for an ovarian tumor in 1809 in Danville, KY, performed without an anesthetic. The patient, Jane Todd Crawford, was 45 years of age and lived to be 78. She may nevber have been notable for anything, but as a writer, I am intrigued by Jane Crawford. Here was a woman who braved surgery without anesthesia, and lived to be nearly 80 years old at a time when 60 was considered old. She was tough. A further internet search led me to a series of medical articles and books about her, where she is called a ‘pioneer heroine of surgery’. Already a mother oif four, Mrs. Crawford thought she had a late life pregnancy,, but Dr. Ephraim McDowell discovered a tumor, which at the time was fatal. She rode on horseback 60 miles to the physician’s home, where because the surgery was experimental. Given only a small dose of opium, Mrs. Crawford had to be helf down by several attendants. She reportedly sang hymns and repeated psalms. The tumor had been twenty two pounds, and she was fully recovered in less than a month.

I don’t know about you, but this story makes a great historical novel or a treatment for a film. Picture Meryl Streep or Julianne Moore cast as Jane, and Dr. McDowell played by Aidan Quinn or Hugh Jackman.

One first leads to a chain reaction of firsts.
The first boy I spent time considerable time alone with led to my first kiss, and later my first heartbreak. No kiss has ever been so anticipated as that first one, on a balmy summer evening under stars. We were alone in the world tha night, and the

I am reminded of a Rumi verse translated by Coleman Barks:

I would love to kiss you.
The price of kissing you is your life.

The person you shared that first meaningful kiss is always in your life, even if you never see each other again. Nothing replaces that first synergy between people.
First heartbreaks don’t necessarily salve the subsequent romantic calamities, but one learns from the first one, and perhaps learns how not to fall in love with another Mr. Wrong. Or some of us never learn.

In the Index by year in Famous First Facts, the first entry, dated 1007, records the first child born on American soil by European parents. Another possible film? And speaking of movies, the first moving picture with a plot was produced by A. C. Abadie.

Your assignment is to track down a copy of Famous First Facts at the public or college library. Open a page and find a selection that draws you in. Perhaps the first Railroad Guide or mail-order house. Let that entry be an inspiration for a story or poem. Extend your knowledge by doing further research. If this is your first time using FFF, Congratulations. Hopefully this won’t be your last.

Happy Writing.


  1. Jane Crawford's story is very compelling!

    1. I thought so, too. Amazing he gems we can find in reference books. The human story.

  2. oh my! jane crawford!!! you know that question - if you could invite 10 people to dinner, living or dead, who would you choose? i'm thinking she would be on my list. a woman i'd love to talk with. wow!

    thanks for sharing all these tidbits. very cool!!!

    1. I think she would have a great tale to tell.

    2. My cousin posted this to me about our grandmother, a feisty woman who loved to be 96.
      The first story of the abdominal surgery reminds me of our grandmother, Mable. In the summer of 1969 while living in the remote Kurtistown, Hawaii, on the Big Island, she had to be rushed to the hospital because she had burst her appendix just before we arrived to meet her. The surprise was that this was the 2nd time she ruptured her appendix. Some years before they discovered she had burst her appendix, withstood the pain and healed on her own! She was always one tough customer. This experience proved it to me. I remember her dilapidated house well. I had never seen bull frogs so big. They were the size of dinner plates and croaked so loud they would wake up the dead. It was terrifying at night at the thought of stepping on one of them. I was sure if I did so the frog would jump and I would be flat on my ass attacked by bull frog buddies. Sugarcane fields surrounded her for miles and the mosquitoes were legendary."