My Mother’s Mother was a Poet

For this next installment about my writing journey in honor of my upcoming poetry book I want to share a different sort of self-discovery with you. This came in the form of learning about an older part of me, of one of my relatives: my mother’s mother, my grandmother. I hadn’t known it when I was younger, when she was alive, but my grandmother loved to write. She’d even been published in the local newspaper and according to her journal of poems she’d submitted to and won 4th prize in the “World Of Poetry” Christmas contest of 1982. In the 80s she took at least one writing class at a community college and aspired to write her own short stories, maybe a novel, in addition to her poetry.

The first I ever read of her poetry, at least that I recall, was not long before she died in 1996: “Wishes for my Grandchildren”. I didn’t understand then however what that meant and what it would mean to me that she wrote poetry.

Prior to the announcement of my poetry book I expressed interest in knowing more about my grandmother and her internal thoughts if you will. Consequently my mother so graciously passed my grandmother’s journals, poetry journal, and spiral bound poetry collection down to me. She told me that my grandma had sent copies of this “book” to her three children, her sister, and others. The pages were all neatly typed on a typewriter, with a light blue paper cover and black plastic spirals bound it together. She wrote about their farm in the spring, in the cold of winter, having to go to market, snow and rain. In her personal journal she kept track of the weather each day, something I admired when I read it and told myself I should adopt. I imagine adding these details to written memories would help to keep them fresh. She wrote about the simple joys in life, like the creek she loved, birds on the feeder, kind people in her life, and she absolutely wrote often about how much she loved babies – even once they were grown – especially her own and her grandchildren. For example, in February of 1983 she wrote:

“The only thing

smells better

than line dried

cloths – is

a baby after

 

– J.S.

 

She also wrote a lot about love, and from many perspectives. Some of her poems are about her admiration of romance and how she was a romantic, others the lack of affection in her marriage and love not returned. She wrote too about the many emotional quandaries she suffered inside herself, namely depression. There are poems about growing older and coming to grips with that; about saying what we mean, or do we; about going to college; and often about time.

January 1983

“Down scholastic halls –

I retrace my steps –

searching for a meaning –

for my return!

“Hi, how are you,”

a friendly smile

an interested voice

a love of knowledge & knowing

Oh yes, my search is fruitful.”

– J.S.

For the majority of her handwritten poetry journal she wrote in cursive, a sweet, young cursive like the hands of a child having finally embraced it. Then every once in a while I come across a small piece that is not cursive, the letters are more raw and unrefined but that’s not what I see. What I see are the origins of my own penmanship, especially my mother’s. But her cursive – Grandma’s – is much better than mine, it is beautiful and flowing, consistent and formal. My mother’s and I’s penmanship tend to be more like a combination of the two, very difficult to discern though at times so is my grandma’s! But I admire her use of cursive, it’s artistic. But then she adds curled ribbon like lines before and after her poems adding to the simple beauty of these handwritten pages. In some places she draws hearts, in others, boxes. And the variation continues. Some pages are more formal with one poem written vertically in the center of the page. Other pages contain multiple short poems or snippets of thought written in angled blocks paralleling or opposing each other. But then ironically this book stops in the spring before I was born. Let me tell you how bittersweet it was and is every time I reach that final page.

But first I must say something about my emphasis on her handwriting. Go back through your own handwritten pages – journals, school assignments, bills even notes to your children – and absorb your thoughts, your memories, your feelings. Our handwriting becomes a sentiment manifested and recorded. It is a visual representation of our personality at the time that exists without us present, markings of us left behind like animals leave their scents for others to find.

Unfortunately though it is escaping me now, I came across a piece in another of her journals that reached and surprised me. She wrote about how her words were plain, that she wrote like she spoke and while this wasn’t some beautiful lingual masterpiece akin to people’s perceptions of Shakespeare, Frost, Whitman, Dickinson, Angelou, and others, it was her work. All she wanted at the end of the day was for her words to reach and affect someone, that she expressed would be enough. Again, I was hoping to post this poem here today but it is M.I.A., when I find it I will post.

This sentiment is not unique to her or any one person, including myself, but I was still taken back when I read her poem. We had so much in common and neither of us knew it up until that point. Long before I read her work I had written a similar poem myself, though perhaps not as eloquent. Just as she had, one day I found myself reading about writing (well in her case she was reading other poems, I was reading about various forms of poetry).

My Place is Mine

I read

Of writing today

It seems

I fit a whole new puzzle

I don’t have the form

Or the rhymes

What I write is all mine

I can’t write on contact

It comes at no certain time

But I can still promise you

What I write is all mine

At first

My heart broke

As my sense of place

Fell out below my feet

And then my sense of self

Resurfaced

When I recognized

My place

And it is mine

– eLPy

In my own poem – posted above – I relive how I felt , from one side to the next in a matter of moments. Feeling at first like maybe my words aren’t enough, they don’t follow form or rhyme, they’re just mine, but then that’s it! That phrase “they’re mine” clicks and I know that that’s what makes my words special, because they are my own, they are my perspective, my little piece of the world. And when I read my grandma’s poem and it said much the same in so many words I was quickly moved to tears, and for so many reasons.

Here we were together in words, together in writing and yet so far apart in time. She had been dead 10 years and I was only then catching up to her but my chance to know her was gone. All I have are her words, and lucky for me they are deeply expressive. Even if they make me sad to know just how sad she was I still have these very real pieces of her. Then too here we are so much alike! She felt just like me; sometimes her words felt so plain to her, so simple but so true, so real. And that’s really all that mattered.

I found me in her, this woman I knew as my Teddy Bear grandma, short sweet and oh so cuddly (plus she loved teddy bears). I was 14 years old when she passed and while deeply saddened, I can still remember petting her soft hair in the casket just as she would have me brush it when I stayed over, I hadn’t really known her. Her writing has given me that chance although admittedly I am greedy. I want more! I want to sit down with her and tell her that she lives in me too; I want to share poems, words, ideas and sentiments. I want to relate to her on the level of a writer, and on the level of granddaughter/grandmother, and then too as related writers because we’re both poets and we’re related!

I found her in me through my love of writing, through our love of writing. You can say I found her again and then I found myself too like a long line drawn back in time. I see her at a table, a bench, her bed, by a creek. I want her to know that her words matter, her poems reached me deeply and that in fact she and they helped make me.

“It’s Me”

Every day, I’m surprised to see

This older woman – staring back at me,

from the cherry framed mirror, – there on the shelf

but, why do I see her, why not myself

 

Who is the person that I see

looking so melancholy back at me?

With toil worn face and graying hair,

where is the young girl, I last saw there?

 

She’s lost somewhere, here inside, and

that mirror was wrong for I know it lied!

Still bewildered at this face I see,

a young voice cry out in pain –

It’s me – It’s me -”

– J.S.

2 Comments

  1. Loretta Livingstone

    What a wonderful legacy. I am so pleased you were able to share these works your grandmother wrote. They must be a great treasure for you.

    Reply
    1. eLPy13 (Post author)

      Thank you Loretta! You’re absolutely right to call them a treasure. I was about 14 when she passed but I feel like I’ve gotten to know her better than ever through her work. This is an example of the impact our works can and do have and makes me that much more proud to share mine as well as hers.

      I’ve also learned through her work that poetry is such a great form of expression, especially for people who can’t or won’t release what’s going on inside them.

      I also learned through her the importance of believing in yourself and your work, letting it live.

      eLPy

      Reply

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