Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"A Piece of Red Calico" by Frank Stockton


Now, the VOA Special English program AMERICAN STORIES.


Our story today is called “A Piece of Red Calico.” It was written by Frank Stockton. Stockton was a popular writer in the second half of the nineteenth century. He wrote a large number of stories for children and other stories for adults. His most famous work, "The Lady, or the Tiger?," can also be heard in VOA Special English. Now, here is Steve Ember with Frank Stockton's "A Piece of Red Calico."



I was going to town one morning when my wife gave me a little piece of red calico cloth. She asked me if I would have time, during the day, to buy her two and a half meters of calico cloth like that. I told her that it would be no trouble at all. Putting the piece of brightly colored cloth in my pocket, I took the train to the city.

During the day, I stopped in at a large store. I saw a man walking the floor and asked him where I could see some red calico.

"This way, sir." And he led me up the store. "Miss Stone," said he to a young woman, "show this gentleman some red calico."

"What kind of red do you want?" asked Miss Stone.

I showed her the little piece of calico cloth that my wife had given me. She looked at it and gave it back to me. Then she took down a great roll of cloth and spread it out on the counter.

"Why, that isn't the right kind of red!" said I.

"No, not exactly," said she; "but it looks nicer than your sample."

"That may be," said I, "but, you see, I want it to look like this piece. There is something already made of this kind of calico which needs to be enlarged or fixed or something. I want some calico of the same shade."

The girl made no answer, but took down another roll of cloth.

"That's the right color," said she.

"Yes," I answered, "but it is striped."

"Stripes are worn more than anything else in calicoes," said she.

"Yes, but this isn't to be worn,” I said. “It's for a piece of furniture, I think. At any rate, I want perfectly plain material, to go with something already in use."

"Well, I don't think you can find it perfectly plain unless you get Turkey red," she said.

"What is Turkey red?" I asked.

"Turkey red is perfectly plain in calicoes," she answered.

"Well, let me see some."

"We haven't any Turkey red calico left," she said, "but we have some very nice plain calicoes in other colors."

"I don't want any other color. I want cloth to go with this."

"It's hard to find low-cost calico like that," she said. And so I left her.


I next went into a store a few doors up the street. I gave a salesman my sample, and asked:"Have you any calico like this?"

"Yes, sir," said he. "Third counter to the right."

I went to the third counter to the right. A man there looked at my sample on both sides. Then he said: "We haven't any of this."

"I was told you had," said I.

"We had it, but we're out of it now. You'll get that from an upholsterer, someone who recovers furniture.”

I went across the street to the upholsterer's store.

"Have you anything like this?" I asked.

"No," said the man, "we haven't. Is it for furniture?"

"Yes," I answered.

"Then Turkey red is what you want."

"Is Turkey red just like this?" I asked.

"No," said he, "but it's much better."

"That makes no difference to me," I said. "I want something just like this."

"But they don't use that for furniture," he said.

"I should think people could use anything they wanted for furniture," I said, somewhat sharply.

"They can, but they don't," he said, calmly. "They don't use red like that. They use Turkey red."

I said no more, but left. The next place I visited was a very large store. Of the first salesman I saw, I asked if they sold red calico like my sample.

"You'll find that on the second floor," said he.

I went up the steps. There I asked a man: "Where will I find red calico?"

"In the far room to the left. Over there." And he pointed to a distant corner.

I walked through the crowds of purchasers and salespeople, and around the counters and tables filled with goods, to the far room to the left. When I got there I asked for red calico.

"The second counter down this side," said the man. I went there and produced my sample.

"Calicoes are downstairs," said the man.

"They told me they were up here," I said.

"Not these plain goods. You'll find them downstairs at the back of the store, over on that side."

I went downstairs to the back of the store. "Where will I find red calico like this?" I asked.

"Next counter but one," said the man, walking with me in the direction he pointed out.

"Dunn, show this man red calicoes." Mr. Dunn took my sample and looked at it.

"We haven't this shade in that quality of goods," he said.

"Well, do you have it in any quality of goods?" I asked.

"Yes; we've got it finer." And he took down a piece of calico, and unrolled a meter or two of it on the counter.

"That's not this shade," I said.

"No," said he. "It is finer and the color is better."

"I want it to match this," I said.

"I thought you didn’t care about the match," said the salesman. "You said you didn't care for the quality of the goods. You know you can't match goods unless you take into consideration quality and color both. If you want that quality of goods in red, you ought to get Turkey red."

I did not think it necessary to answer this comment, but said: "Then you've got nothing like this?"

"No, sir. But perhaps they may have it in the upholstery department on the sixth floor." So I got in the elevator and went to the sixth floor.

"Have you any red material like this?" I said to a young man.

"Red material? Upholstery department -- other end of this floor."

I went to the other end of the floor. "I want some red calico," I said to a man.

"Furniture goods?" he asked.

"Yes," said I.

"Fourth counter to the left."

I went to the fourth counter to the left, and showed my sample to a salesman. He looked at it, and said, "You'll get this down on the first floor -- calico department."

I went down in the elevator, and out on the street. I was completely sick of red calico.

But I decided to make one more effort.

My wife had bought her red calico not long before, and there must be some to be had somewhere. I should have asked her where she got it. But I thought a simple little thing like that could be bought anywhere.


I went into another large store. As I entered the door, a sudden nervousness took hold of me. I just could not take out that piece of red calico again. If I had had any other kind of a cloth, I think I would have asked them if they could match that.

But I stepped up to a young woman and presented my sample, with the usual question.

"Back room, counter on the left," she said. I went there.

"Have you any red calico like this?" I asked the saleswoman.

"No, sir," she said, "but we have it in Turkey red."

Turkey red again! I surrendered.

"All right," I said, "give me Turkey red."

"How much, sir?" she asked.

"I don't know -- say fifteen meters."

She looked at me strangely, but measured off fifteen meters of Turkey red calico. Then she touched the counter and called out, "Cash!"

A young girl with yellow hair appeared. The woman wrote the number of meters, the name of the goods, her own number, the price, and the amount of money I gave her, on a piece of paper. She probably wrote some other things, like the color of my eyes and the direction and speed of the wind.

She then copied all this into a little book. Then she gave the piece of paper, the money, and the Turkey red cloth to the yellow-haired girl. This girl copied the information into a little book she carried. Then she went away with the calico, the paper and the money.


After a very long time, the girl came back, bringing the money I was owed and the package of Turkey red calico. I returned to my office, but had time for very little work the rest of the day. When I reached home I gave the package of calico to my wife. She opened it and declared, "Why, this doesn’t match the piece I gave you!"

"Match it!" I cried. "Oh, no! It doesn’t match it. You didn't want that matched. You were mistaken. What you wanted was Turkey red — third counter to the left. I mean, Turkey red is what they use."

My wife looked at me in surprise, and then I told her my troubles.

"Well," said she, "this Turkey red is much nicer looking than what I had. You've got so much of it that I don’t have to use the other at all. I wish I had thought of Turkey red before."

"I wish from the bottom of my heart you had," said I.



“A Piece of Red Calico” was written by Frank Stockton. It was adapted by Shelley Gollust and produced by Lawan Davis. Your storyteller was Steve Ember. You can read and listen to other AMERICAN STORIES on our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com. I’m Bob Doughty.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Annie Oakley - Sharpshooter

I’m Steve Ember. And I'm Barbara Klein with PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English program. Today we report about Annie Oakley, a woman who became famous for her ability to shoot a gun and hit very small objects.


There are hundreds of stories about Annie Oakley. Many of the stories involve her adventures in the American Wild West. Others tell about her travels with Native American tribes. However, most of the stories are not true. She did not grow up in the Wild West, nor did she fight in any battles. Annie Oakley was a performer in a traveling Wild West show. She used her skill at shooting a gun to become one of the most famous sharp shooters in American history.

Annie Oakley was born in eighteen sixty in Darke County, Ohio. Her real name was Phoebe Ann Mosey. When she was six years old, her father died of pneumonia. Her family was very poor. She did not attend school. When she was nine years old, Annie went to live with another family on a farm. Then she became a servant for still another family. She later said that this new family abused her.

When Annie returned to live with her own family, she decided to help them earn money. She taught herself how to shoot her grandfather's gun and began hunting animals for food. She could shoot the animals without ruining the important parts of the meat.

She sold the animals to the people in her town. When she was fifteen years old, she had made enough money to pay for her family’s farm.

Soon her ability to shoot a gun became well known in her town. When she was sixteen years old, she was invited to a shooting contest with a famous marksman named Frank Butler. Frank Butler claimed that he could shoot better than anyone else. Annie surprised everyone when she won the competition. She shot all twenty-five targets, while Frank Butler was only able to shoot twenty-four of them. Perhaps their shooting abilities attracted them to one another, because Annie and Frank married in eighteen seventy-six.

In eighteen eighty-two, Annie took the name Oakley. She and Frank Butler started putting on shows together, demonstrating their abilities to shoot a gun. Frank Butler was the star of the show and Annie Oakley was his assistant. However, sometimes she did her own shooting. Two years later, Annie Oakley met the famous Native American chief, Sitting Bull, at a performance. The chief liked her skill in shooting and also her personality. They became friends. He gave her the name “Little Sure Shot” because of her shooting ability and because she was only one and one-half meters tall.

(MUSIC: "Colonel Buffalo Bill")

In eighteen eighty-five, Annie Oakley and Frank Butler joined another traveling show. It was called “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.” William Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill, ran the show. For sixteen years, Annie Oakley was the star of the show while Frank Butler was her assistant. Posters for the show called her a “Champion Markswoman.”

The Wild West show became very famous all over the United States. All of the performers demonstrated their skills. Many of the performers had fought in real gun battles while settling the western part of the United States. They wanted to bring the excitement and mystery of the Wild West to a show that people would like to watch.

Annie Oakley did tricks that showed off how good she was at aiming and shooting a gun. She could shoot a small metal coin thrown in the air from twenty-seven meters away. She could shoot the thin edge of a playing card and then shoot it six more times as it fell to the ground. She could shoot the ashes off of a cigarette her husband Frank Butler held in his mouth.

In eighteen eighty-seven, Buffalo Bill took the whole Wild West show to Europe. They traveled to many countries and gave many performances. They performed in England for Queen Victoria. Annie Oakley received a lot of attention. The newspapers wrote stories about her and she took part in many shooting contests.

The Wild West show returned to Europe two years later. By this time, Annie Oakley had become even more famous. The Wild West show performed in Paris, France, for six months. Then the performers traveled to Germany, Italy and Spain. In Germany, the Crown Prince asked Oakley to shoot the ashes off of a cigarette that he held in his mouth, as she famously had done with her husband. She asked the Prince to hold the cigarette in his hand instead and did the trick easily.


When the Wild West show returned to the United States, Buffalo Bill decided to change it to include scenes from the life and culture of the Wild West. These scenes included train robberies, gunfights and conflicts with Native American Indians.

In nineteen-oh-one, Annie Oakley was in a train crash that badly injured her back. She had five operations. Annie and Frank wanted to stop traveling so much and have their own home. So they left the Wild West show. They built a home in Cambridge, Maryland. They liked this area because it had a nice community and there were many places they could go hunting. Annie Oakley and Frank Butler took part in community activities. Oakley gave shooting lessons and demonstrations at the local county fair.

Annie Oakley wrote a book about her life that was published in nineteen fourteen. It was called “Powders I Have Used.” She also wrote many stories about hunting and fishing. Some of these articles tried to get other women to begin hunting. She also tried to get women to learn how to shoot a gun so that they could defend themselves.

During World War One, Annie Oakley offered to help the military. She proposed to train a group of women volunteers who would become soldiers in the war. However, the United States did not accept this offer. She also offered to give the American troops shooting lessons. She traveled across the country and visited many training camps. She gave shooting demonstrations and raised money for medicine and supplies.

In nineteen twenty-five, Annie Oakley and Frank Butler moved back to Ohio to be near her family. They continued to give performances. But Annie Oakley was sick. She died on November third, nineteen twenty-six. Her husband Frank Butler died eighteen days later.

Annie Oakley has been remembered in many ways. People have written movies, songs, plays, books and television shows about her. One of the most famous examples is the Broadway musical play called “Annie Get Your Gun.” Irving Berlin wrote it in nineteen forty-six. In one of the famous songs from the musical, Annie Oakley and Frank Butler sing "Anything You Can Do." The singers are Ethel Merman and Bruce Yarnell.

(MUSIC: "Anything You Can Do")

The musical is still being performed today to remember a woman with an unusual skill. She showed that women could be just as good, if not better, than men. We leave you with "There's No Business Like Show Business" from "Annie Get Your Gun."


This program was written by Erin Braswell and produced by Lawan Davis. I’m Barbara Klein. And I’m Steve Ember. You can learn more about famous Americans on our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.

Monday, August 2, 2010

"Mars Day" from Voice of America

DOUG JOHNSON: I’m Doug Johnson.

FAITH LAPIDUS: And I’m Faith Lapidus with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Mars Day at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington is a celebration of our solar system’s most famous planet. The event, on July sixteenth, was a rare chance for planetary scientists to share with the public the mysteries of Mars.

(MUSIC: "Mars"/Gustav Holst)

DOUG JOHNSON: Of all the planets, none has captured the world’s imagination like Mars. Its reddish color and changes in brightness over time make the planet an unforgettable sight.

In “Cosmos,” the television science series from the nineteen eighties, scientist Carl Sagan talked about some traditional ideas about Mars. Some of these ideas are from the English science fiction writer H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds.” Others are from the mistaken science of Percival Lowell, the American astronomer who believed intelligent beings lived on Mars.

Wells described Martians as threatening. Lowell imagined them as the hopeful engineers of great works. Carl Sagan said that both ideas influenced the public deeply.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Today, Mars continues to excite -- not as the object of science fiction but of scientific study. Space scientists have collected a wealth of information from spacecraft that have orbited, landed on and dug into the Martian surface.

The Smithsonian’s Mars Day offered a chance for people of all ages to touch Mars, or at least a piece of it. Allison and Alycia from Silver Spring, Maryland, brought their children, Grace, Sam, Ryan and Emma. They heard about Mars and its geology from experts. They could see a test version of the Viking landers that reached Mars in July of nineteen seventy-six.

They also saw meteorites known to have come from the red, or reddish, planet. Eight-year-old Sam learned that the ancient description of Mars as red is not exactly right.

SAM: “ It’s actually really orangish more than it’s red and it’s also kind of brown too. It’s not really red.”

Emma is six. She found out about the volcanic activity that has shaped the surface of Mars.

EMMA: “That the closest thing to Mars—the stuff—is from volcanoes mostly.”

DOUG JOHNSON: Orbiting spacecraft have shown a huge mountain on Mars called Olympus Mons. It is over twenty-five kilometers high and the largest known volcano in the solar system. Volcanoes on Mars suggest to Sam that the same kinds of processes that take place on Earth happen on other worlds.

SAM: “You’ll find something on Earth as close to what is pretty much on Mars. Like the volcanic rocks because I actually think those are very interesting.”

Mars Day offered Allison and Alysia’s children a chance to learn more about a world that humans may set foot on within their lifetimes. Emma is already looking forward to that day.

EMMA: “There are all sorts of rovers and stuff up there that are waiting to be discovered when people go up there.”


FAITH LAPIDUS: Can a space rock be a rock star? Meet Allan Hills 84001. American scientists discovered this meteorite in Antarctica in nineteen eighty-four. But it formed on Mars long before that. Scientists believe it is more than four billion years old.

A piece of Allan Hills 84001
Mario Ritter
A piece of Allan Hills 84001

Allan Hills 84001 is as close as any meteorite comes to being world famous. Visitors to Mars Day crowded around a piece of the meteorite in the huge Milestones of Flight Gallery. They were listening to an expert who is in charge of meteorites at the Smithsonian.

CARI CORRIGAN: “I’m Cari Corrigan. I’m a geologist over at the Natural History Museum. I curate the Antarctic meteorite collection at the museum, so we have about nineteen thousand six hundred seventy-five to be, you know, really vague.”

DOUG JOHNSON: Cari Corrigan does research on meteorites from Mars and the moon. She says the best places to find meteorites are very cold or very dry places.

CARI CORRIGAN: “They fall all over the Earth, not just Antarctica, but the best places for us to find them are the deserts because they don’t get weathered and they don’t break down as easily.”

Cari Corrigan says the search for Antarctic meteorites started in the late nineteen seventies. There are about forty Martian meteorites worldwide although there may be more hidden in collections around the world.

FAITH LAPIDUS: In nineteen ninety-six, a NASA study announced the discovery of what appeared to be the mineral remains of very simple forms of life in the Allan Hills meteorite. Research has shown that these possible fossils were not formed while the rock was here on Earth. They also have been linked to the presence of liquid water.

The true nature of the mineral formations remains the subject of debate. But one thing is sure. The discoveries in the meteorite helped shape policy and exploration efforts at the United States space agency, NASA.

Mars landers and rovers were designed to look for signs of liquid water that may have flowed on Mars in the distant past. And the search for evidence of Martian life was reborn. Looking down at a piece of the famous rock, Cari Corrigan suggested its historic importance.

CARI CORRIGAN: “So we have huge programs that came from this one research project about one football sized rock.”

Allan Hills 84001 is a plain-looking rock. But, the forces and heat that transform meteors into meteorites can create beauty as well.

CARI CORRIGAN: “This one is beautiful. This is one of my favorite rocks. You can see that black stuff on the outside, it’s called the fusion crust. And that’s what forms on the rock as it comes through the atmosphere. So a tiny bit of the outside is melted and is left with this really thin glass on the outside.”


DOUG JOHNSON:Long lines formed near another exhibit.


Children and parents waited to have a chance to work with a robot. Orbiters, landers and rovers have all been used to explore Mars. But the NASA rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, are the closest things we have to the space robots of science fiction.

The rovers were launched in two thousand three. They can think for themselves in a limited way.

Spirit and Opportunity have wheels, an arm and camera eyes. Spirit stopped operating in March. But Opportunity continues to communicate with Earth. Both have traveled across many kilometers of the Martian surface performing experiments along the way.

FAITH LAPIDUS:On Mars Day, hundreds of people waited for their chance to use robot technology. Dan Grunberg is a student at the University of Maryland. He has been working on Mars Day for four years. He supervised the two robot activities.

Dan Grunberg helps a young robot operator
Mario Ritter
Dan Grunberg helps a young robot operator

DANIEL GRUNBERG: “I’ve always loved working with the robots. And when I first started it was a challenge working with the robots, understanding how they worked and figuring them out. But over time, we slowly got used to it and we try to make it as kid friendly as possible because kids are what we gear towards and they’re the most important people that come through.”

FAITH LAPIDUS: In one activity, children try to get a robot arm to pick up a block and place it in a cup.

DANIEL GRUNBERG: “On station one, we have robot arms. And what happens is the robots have different joints like a human arm -- one at the shoulder, one at the elbow, wrist and then a claw. The kids are able to maneuver this with a remote control. A lot of it is like a human arm or like a space arm that you might find on the international space station.”

Another robot is designed to move and turn in a way that is similar to the Mars rovers.

DANIEL GRUNBERG: “And what happens is we have mazes and the children are able to organize the robots and see if they can get them through the maze within a certain time period.”

Judging from the long lines of people, the robot activities were the most popular at Mars Day. Children and many parents were completely absorbed in the robot-assisted tasks. This shows that the robots developed for Mars have won over a new generation of explorers.


Jim Zimbelman with some of Michael Benson's works from "Beyond: Visions of Plantary Landscapes"
Mario Ritter
Jim Zimbelman with some of Michael Benson's works from "Beyond: Visions of Plantary Landscapes"

JIM ZIMBELMAN: “My name is Jim Zimbelman. I’m a planetary geologist here at the Air and Space Museum. And what does that mean? It means I am trained in geology, but with interests in the other planets and Mars in particular.”

DOUG JOHNSON:Jim Zimbelman shared his studies of solar system geology with the public through images. The pictures he used are part of an exhibit called “Beyond: Visions of Planetary Landscapes” by artist Michael Benson. The exhibit shows detailed and colorful images of solar system objects including Mars.

Jim Zimbelman said Michael Benson started with publicly available images from NASA. But he used computer processing to turn them into something more -- works of art.

JIM ZIMBLEMAN: “It’s all information that is out there for anybody to look at, but Michael looked at tens of thousands of images on the Web, picked the ones that he liked, got the raw data and then did the processing.”

There are a growing number of high quality images of Mars from NASA. Last week, the space agency announced the most accurate maps ever of Mars. They show surface formations as small as one hundred meters. The maps are available for the public to use, study or turn into art. But the goal is to prepare for future robotic and human visits to Mars.

FAITH LAPIDUS: This program was written and produced by Mario Ritter. I’m Faith Lapidus.

DOUG JOHNSON: And I’m Doug Johnson. You can listen to part four of the science fiction story “A Princess of Mars” on our program AMERICAN STORIES this Saturday. You can find the whole series on our website, voaspecialenglish.com. You can also find a link to images by Michael Benson. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.