Wednesday, August 23, 2023

On Being 78

All the while

I lean closer to hear what a friend is saying

I take the steps one foot at a time

I squint to read the fine print

I search for the name of a favorite writer

     or the name of that beautiful blossom

I consider the fact that my father never reached this age 

I celebrate

that I am here.

that I feel well despite two bouts of cancer

that I no longer hesitate before striking up a conversation with a stranger

that I am still writing--even some stuff that’s pretty good

that I take time every morning to check in with myself, the world, the birds

that, though I have lost many friends, the circle keeps widening

that I still challenge myself to try things I thought I couldn’t do

like dancing or traveling to France by myself. 

Yes, I am growing old

But I'm still growing!

Friday, May 19, 2023

Writing Implements


they are not there--

those tiny pieces of graphite 

        with inspiration attached.


after you've ground down the pencil

to its last grain of darkness

it's better to try

a leaky pen.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

The Sister I Never Met

Her name was Carolyn May—named for our two grandmothers—Carrie Rose Schneeloch and May Reid Gilpin. August 5, 1943, marked both the date of her birth and the date of her death. She arrived full term, but was never able to take in that first breath. 

She was buried in a tiny casket in the Rose family plot in Oak Grove Cemetery. Her name was never engraved on the granite stone beneath which already rested our Rose great-grandparents, Great Aunt Lottie, and Grandma's first husband Joseph Roberts. Later Grandma and Grandpa Schneeloch would join them. 

When I was born two years after Carolyn, my mother would talk about her, and I began to think of her as the perfect sister that I would never measure up to. Carolyn never would have painted the new wallpaper with shoe polish, Carolyn never would have knocked out Mother’s front tooth with a tuna fish can, Carolyn never would have cut a hole in Ann McGinity’s red sweater. Never having lived to make mistakes, she remained free from blame. 

As I grew and heard more of my mother’s story, I gained a better perspective. When I was about two years old, she became depressed, and not understanding these feelings or where they were coming from, she talked to Dr. Leff, our family doctor. He suggested that perhaps what she was experiencing was grief that she hadn’t dealt with over losing her first baby. He comforted her as best he could and encouraged her to find something that brought happy thoughts.

She chose singing. She had always loved to sing, so she began to use this as therapy, starting to sing whenever the dark mood would come upon her. Her repertoire was extensive ranging from Irving Berlin to Nat King Cole to Methodist hymns. 

It wasn’t until she was in her nineties that she told me more details about Carolyn. It had been1943, in the middle of World War II. Nurses were scarce, many having volunteered for the service. It was her first pregnancy, so she relied on her sister Gertrude who, by that time, was the mother of five boys. Gertrude’s pregnancies and births were free from complications, so she thought that’s what she could expect. Other friends at the time had hired private nurses to be with them as they knew the hospitals were short-staffed, but she decided against it. 

After she arrived at the hospital, it soon became apparent that there was a problem. The nurse on duty was tending to other mothers, so that when she finally came and called for the doctor, the baby had been in distress too long to survive.

Here it was seventy years later, yet her feelings of guilt were still fresh. All those years she had lived believing that had she hired a nurse, had she done something different, she could have saved her child. 

I had never heard this part of the story before, did not full appreciated the scar it had left. To me, my mother was a happy and optimistic person, always trying to look on the bright side of life. Perhaps all that singing had worked its magic.

because she continued smiling and singing until the very end.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Remembering Sonny on Memorial Day

Sonny was all I ever heard him called, though officially he was George Gilpin, Jr., son of my Great Uncle George. I never met him as he died two years before I was born, but my mother, aunt,  and cousin Ruth used to talk about him a lot, recalling stories of when my mother went to Atlantic City to babysit for him and his sister Alice and the times they enjoyed at the beach. But mostly what they talked about was how First Lieutenant George Gilpin, Jr. was killed, shot down over Africa in World War II. 

As a child I didn’t fully comprehend the grief that they shared. They talked about a lot of other relatives I had never met. They were just names to me then. It wasn’t until I started working on my family tree that I began to understand who he was and the tragedy of his story. 

First I found the pictures of the boy they had known: the laughing boy lifted high as he played
at the beach, the young fisherman standing at attention presaging what was to come not ten years later. Here was a real flesh and blood person who was loved and lovable. Here was a happy boy who became a serious and patriotic man who enlisted in the Army at 19 a month before Pearl Harbor. 

I imagine Uncle George and Aunt Olga were apprehensive as their only son enlisted, but I can't imagine their unbearable grief when they received the awful news about his death--painful news that spread throughout the family.

I had never asked where Sonny was buried, just imagining he was buried in Atlantic City. Then one day as I was perusing military records, I found not only a record of his burial but a picture of his grave. 

There was  his memorial, just one white cross in row upon row of crosses in Africa American Cemetery in Carthage, Tunisia. He had never made it home. Not only had Sonny and his tragedy become real to me, but then I thought of all the other families who had received the same unbearable news. All those young souls, full of life, silenced too soon. 

So on this weekend when we lift up all those who have given their lives, I remember Sonny and all the others, like college friends who were killed in  Vietnam, and so many others gone too soon.

Friday, February 4, 2022

Angels, etc.

I was just listening to a program about the late Rachel Held Evans who became well known as someone who came from a very conservative Evangelical home, but who began to question the literalism of the Bible and wrote about this in a blog and several books before she died very suddenly in her 30s. While she became very popular nationally, the strict Evangelicals around her were very critical. Much of that criticism fell upon her father who taught, among other things, a course on Angelology at Bryan College, the college named for William Jennings Bryan, famous for helping in the prosecution of John Scopes in the famous Scopes Monkey Trial. I had never heard of Angelology before, and I’ve never been a real believer in angels. Now I’m really curious about what the curriculum is.

Disagreements about angels and such are not new. In 1765 poet William Blake saw his first vision of angels while walking on Peckham Rye. "A tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars." He returned home to share his thrilling experience with his parents to be met by threats of belt lashings from his furious father, who thought he was lying. His mother interceded, saving William from a whipping. 

My Great Aunt Corinne would tell stories of angels whenever she came to visit. The one I remember best was about the time her granddaughter Bonnie had wandered out into a busy street and was about to be hit by a speeding car when an angel came and whisked her out of the way. I was probably 7 or 8 when I heard this, but even then I had doubts about unseen spirits jumping into traffic to rescue children. It wasn’t until years later that I began to ask about the innocent children who weren’t saved. Did they not have a guardian angel? And if not, why not? Still I am not so cynical that I don’t believe that there are things that defy logical explanation, and I believe there is a greater reality than that which we can see and measure.

My mother has been dead nearly 14 years, and my father 32, yet sometimes just as I am waking up, I sense their presence. Also when I’m working on my family tree, exploring the lives of people who died long before I was born, I feel a connection beyond a date and a name on a page. Like Ruth Forman, I feel surrounded by souls.

Last night I watched a Nova program on the ancient Mayans. I found it fascinating. I imagine those archeologists finding fragments of a 1000-year-old cup covered with Mayan hieroglyphs must have felt something similar. Someone more than a 1000 years ago painted the story of a war on the cup, and now people in the 21st century were reading it and making a connection to these old, old souls.

While I feel these non-physical connections, there is a surety that Dr. Held and Aunt Corinne have that I envy.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Snowy Morning Wanderer

On this white white morning
not the blue jay, nor the cardinal
have camouflage,
nor the large black cat
who appears from time to time.
I see a faded red collar.
Who would have left her out
in such weather?

Then I remember Patsy
a sturdy feline, a gift on my seventh birthday
who wandered off on a similar winter day.
When he did not return
I knew my first desertion
the pain of offering my love and devotion
to another being
whom I could not control.

A week later
when he ambled back home
appearing well and well-fed,
what had I learned?
That those we love can break our hearts?
that cats will do as they please?

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Hair Conditions

 I admit it--I am vain. At the first sign of gray hair, I began visiting Claire, my hairdresser, every six weeks for a "cut and color." Now after a year of cancer treatments, I have very little hair and all of it some shade of gray. It's easy to take care of, and I'm saving on shampoo and conditioner, but I wish it were longer and closer to its previous color.

Of course, aside from washing my face and brushing my teeth, I don't have to look at myself, so it's easy not to think about it. Then yesterday, I got the good news that one of my poems was accepted for publication. The bad news is they want a "head shot."

Which Jane should I send?

Jane of a year ago?

Bald Jane

Turbaned Jane in Chemo?

or fuzzy Jane today?

Which will win out--my vanity or my honesty?