So I’d better keep composing
(While the muse is still in touch)
And produce a minor sonnet,
Though it won’t impress you much—
It’s not Shakespeare, Donne or Kipling
It’s not Edgar Allen Poe
Just a little rhyme from Mommy,
Just a verse to let you know:
You’re tremendously important/
And I’ll write you (if you’re patient)
A much better “pome” next year.
I’ve mentioned before that my mother is a serial crafter. She’s had a number of creative hobbies over the years–she does them intensely (not to say obsessively!), and then stops. And I do mean stops. Completely. Never to return to that craft again no matter how good she was at it or how much her family begs.
Only one of her creative endeavors has stood the test of time.
When I was a child, sewing was her passion. She made her clothes and the clothes for my sister and me. She made beautiful things, including my favorite–a bottle-green velvet prom gown, a glamorous sheath with 40 velvet-covered buttons down the back. My sister and I never had to worry that we’d get caught wearing the same boring old store-bought dress as someone else at a party!
Then she knit beautiful sweaters. She remembers reading knitting patterns in bed, to fall asleep, and using the best parts of many patterns to create her own designs. She re-upholstered furniture. She had a polymer clay phase (who didn’t?!), and so on.
All the time she was immersed in these creative outlets, she was a full-time teacher of first graders. She was the one who taught those little kids how to read and write; she introduced them to the power of language and helped them become “arthurs,” in the classic words of one of her little authors.
The thrill she got in teaching children to write, to express themselves in words, may explain the one creative outlet that she has pursued all her adult life. She may have been a serial crafter but she has been a persistent, prolific wordsmith, commemorating many of our family’s highs, and a few lows, in her poems.*
My mother is not a poet in the Yeats or cummings or Browning vein. She has always favored the Dr. Seuss school of verse, wordplay and impeccable rhyme, cleverness and fun. More Gilbert and Sullivan than Dickinson or Keats.
Where other poets seek to write timeless words that transcend an individual meaning to speak to humanity, my mother’s poetry has always been very personal, very tailored to the recipient, and very heavy on family in-jokes and code. As I’ve been re-reading them, I was interested to see how many it would be pointless to share because no one outside the family would get the jokes!
She has written dozens of poems over the years. starting, as she recalls, with one written for a boy she dated way back when. We don’t have a copy of that poem but we have many of the others and it is incredible fun to re-read them and recall the details of where we were in our lives at the time of that poem’s creation.
She wrote one poem, for instance, in 1982, that reminds me just how long I have had my “hands at home” orientation. A portion of the poem:
At easel, brush in
Hand, she toils
Pen and pencil;
(She’d never trace or
Use a stencil!)
And as for jewelry,
Pendants, pins and
Designed in copper,
Or fashioned from
A waxen mold.
She bought a fleece
Right after shearing
And played around
She washed it, carded,
Combed it, too.
(I’d call it silly,
Did that deter her?
Not a minute—
Built a wheel and
Learned to spin it!
When I finally (and finally is the only word to use here) finished my doctoral dissertation, she found 19 words to rhyme with “dissertation”:
After years of tribulation
(Some have called “procrastination”)
Comes the moment of elation:
Kerry’s done her dissertation!
Times of struggle and frustration,
Feelings close to resignation,
Loss of drive and concentration . . .
You get the idea!
Her gift for words has proven useful at untold birthdays and holidays, especially when she didn’t have quite the right gift or had a gift that needed explaining. She’s written some poems for landmark birthdays, like this favorite from when my husband turned 55:
You’ve got a lot
Look forward to,
So, let me now
It’s not the time to
We really cannot
Nor let ourselves
We really must
The chance to
We have the time
As eagerly we
The years and years
Of feeling great!
But she’s also commemorated odd birthdays, like me at 23 and my sister at 26. She’s used the poems to bolster us up when we’ve been having a rough time, assuring us the next job will come, the weight gain doesn’t have to be permanent, someday our princes will come. And when my prince did come, she wrote a superb poem, describing our tiny, private wedding on the lake, and included a verse about the three white ducks who came by to serve as bridesmaids:
Then the “bridesmaids” waddled over,
And participated proudly,
Dressed in matching white ensembles
And, as always, quacking loudly.
My sister’s brain surgery, my mother’s own torn rotator cuff, the scary mistakes made by the doctors when the ONLY grandchild was born . . . all have been commemorated in verse. Commemorating them this way, after the worst was over, served to focus attention on the happy outcomes and turn the trials into new family stories of perseverance and triumph!
It is because of my mother that we are a family that loves words—she’s passed this down to her girls. I love to write (no! really?) and my mother was, I think, happier than I was when my book and articles were published.
My sister uses words in crazy, funny, inventive ways that have passed into family lore. And all of us have multiple bizarre nicknames that she has bestowed on us: Do-Bob, Bucket, Mumba-qua-drumba—we know who we are!
The “only grandchild” has a lot of pressure on her but she gives every indication of being prepared to live up to expectations. She is already well known for the personal and loving messages she writes her family on birthdays and has a quiet, deadly, and intelligent sense of humor.
The people we bring into the circle need to be at the top of their word skills, too. I married a man who makes up numbers to tell me how much he loves me (ochenta-noventa-ciento-mil1000) and cries when he sings songs with sad words.
And at 80, after 41 years a widow, my mother married a man, a retired newscaster, who loves words as we all do. He uses them in ways that are precise, funny, sly, and that make us think. And he cries at sad songs, too.
Together, they live on the lake near us in summer and in Florida in winter. They do crossword puzzles, read, and enjoy witty repartee. They now have their shared moments of perfection, worthy of commemoration:
The sunsets we watched on the water,
The snowstorm of geese in their flight,
The horoscope-readings at breakfast,
The absolute darkness of night.
My mother is now 82. She worries that the words don’t come as easily as they once did and she sometimes struggles to find the right one. This happens as one grows older but it has to be especially frustrating for her, to whom words were always best friends.
She hasn’t written a poem in a while, and we miss them. But, still, we have years’ worth of her thoughts, and memories, and love to re-visit whenever we need a little boost and a laugh. How many people are so lucky?
Loving words from home . . . .
* My mother has often called these “pomes,” not poems, in part, she says, because it’s easier to find a rhyme for “pome.” I’ve never cared for that substitution, rhyme-worthiness notwithstanding, because I think it trivializes what she does!