June 19, 2021

The Gentle, Sweet Man

 Like on the day before Mother's Day, I took a Zoom writing workshop with Laura Lentz.  This one encouraged us to write About Your Father.  This is what came from this workshop today.

I lived in the shadow of my mother and that long shadow obscured my father and I really never saw him or knew him. So now I write a love letter to him.



Dearest Willy Walt, Poppy,

Sweet artist never realized,

Handsome

Athletic (you tried to teach this uncoordinated girl tennis)

Troubled

Resurrected

 

I cherish the few stories you told me about your life:

About leaving your art to become a bill collector during the depression and learning the hard way to never ask a debtor “where is your dog?”

Singing war songs around the barbeque as if you had been there, but Washington was far from the front.

The change in you that you told me about when you, the staunch Republican, was assigned to the most hated Democratic of men only to learn respect for the man in the wheelchair who expressed concern for you.

That’s all I knew of your past.

 

But even in my ignorance about you, you kept from me all your troubles

Your disappointment

Your disagreements with Ruth

The loss of your two older sisters to a diphtheria outbreak only two months before you were born and the sadness of the house for years in your childhood

The loss of your beloved kid brother to TB only months after he was best man at your wedding

I never knew until I began just now to research your life.

 

I’m sorry I only saw you as someone to fix, to cure of your alcoholism

 

I’m sorry a nurse had to show me how you longed for your art studied so passionately in your youth in the haunts of Cooper Union and the Art Student’s league (another thing I did not know) and help me bring you back to it.

 

I’m sorry I never acknowledged your true nature:

Shy

So sweet

So gentle

So kind

So lost

An artist never realized

 

That brain tumor that took you from me, that was what made me truly see you.

I wish I could tell you how much I loved you. I hope you will forgive me my sins of omission    



   

 

 


May 20, 2021

For Anna Belle


On the day before Mother's Day this year I took a (Zoom) writing workshop with Laura Lentz. The best $39 I have ever spent on a writing course. (Note: I started a free six session course with another writer also this Spring but the less said the better about that one. I only made it through three sessions.)

In this Laura Lentz course we were encouraged to write for 13 minutes "About Your Mother" but I found myself very stuck and, while I produced a stilted story, I was dissatisfied and the next day I sat down to write for 13 minutes about the woman who was not my mother but who (as one of the commenters later said) "mothered" me.

For Anna Belle on Mother's Day

I can still smell the odor of your Yardley’s Lavender powder and the Nivea cream you used on your age-crippled hands.
When we slept in the same room, in the blackness of night and the naivety of my age, I thought you sang in your sleep. Now I know that that high pitched sound was the animal cry of keening for your two daughters, dead very young from diphtheria, deaths you blamed yourself for because you had nursed other children in the neighbor in the throes of the same deadly disease. You believed you had brought it home.
So, late in your life, past the age when you had finished mothering your surviving boys, you found a difficult young girl to love and you threw yourself into the job as much as your Edwardian upbringing would allow.
You knew I needed the calm, quiet and understanding that was unfound by me in my stern and unavailable mother, wrapped up as she was in her own blaming life.
You never scolded but you painted my world with a soft glow of evening lamplight, of peace and love and permission to be me, not the Spock-perfect child that my mother wanted.
Even now the sight of house dresses and black brogues or starched white nurses uniforms and thick stockings bring me comfort. And my own hands becoming crippled with arthritis make me remember how much you were able to do with yours.
You died only two years after my mother in a far away town.
Your patient work was over.
I hope that in me you found a place to love that you were denied by the deaths of Anna and Elizabeth.
Know, that even if I can’t tell you, I loved you so much.
(Pictured: Anna Belle in 1960 at the age I am now.)