Today — April 18, 2017 — would have been my mother’s 102nd birthday (for that matter, it still is). She died almost three weeks ago after a long life in which she was many things:
Three-year-old singer of the song K-K-K-Katy to returning World War I soldiers; loving sibling of two wonderful sisters; biology student; graduate of Wilson College and lifelong member of an intimate group of classmate friends, The Old College Chums; Macy’s sales clerk; volunteer worker with disabled adults; civil rights and women’s rights advocate; college alumni administrator; avid bridge player; Unitarian-by-choice and alto stalwart of the May Memorial church choir; local library President; and loving spouse and mother.
She was many things, but, if there was a single thread that embodied her style, her sentiment, and, above all, her wit, it was her writing, which my sister, brother and I collected a few years ago, with the title, above, in her honor. Here are three examples:
From the annual Christmas poems she composed for more than three decades:
May your rose garden bloom
Free of beetle and blight
May the baby behind you
Sleep all through the flight
May your horse come in first –
Even second or third
May your aches and your sorrows
Take wings like a bird
May your memories deepen
And glow in your heart
As time does its healing
And love works its art
May sunsets and rainbows
Enrapture your sight
And hope joy and laughter
Surround you with light.
From the scores of verses she wrote for friends and special occasions:
My dearest Ol, come back with me
A long, long way in memory.
We see two young things full of sass
Preparing for their Hebrew class.
A heavy hand with lipstick, then
They dash down to the smoking den.
With clouds of smoke the air is blue –
They hope to smell like smokers, too.
Then off to class on time, they aim
For front row seats from which to claim
The sad reproachful smile all get
Whose red lips dare a cigarette.
Back home they fly, this naughty pair
And, cursing softly, climb the stair.
Onto the chair, the desk, they clamber,
This wicked Weir, this evil Hammer
And on the walls up near the ceiling
A note they write, brief, but with feeling.
They’ve long since razed Alumnae Hall
Gone are the room, the desk, the wall,
But wreckage lives and moves, and so
This thought should bring our hearts a glow —
Somewhere a scrap of truth, a bit
Says, “Dr. Strevig is a SHIT!”
From her stories, this excerpt from Maggie, a portrait of the African-American woman who helped in the house after Mom’s first child (me) was born:
She adored the baby, whom she called “Small,” because, she said, that was the name on the label in his shirts and gowns. Gradually, she took over his care on Wednesdays … One day, when Small was six months old, I came home to find Maggie playing with him on the floor. She was excited and proud because she had taught him to identify the colors of his blocks. “Pick up the red one, honey,” she said. He did … and continued correctly to pick out the blue, yellow, and green blocks. Maggie snatched him up and hugged him … “This chile,” she said, “he truly got a genial mind. Gonna be another Eisenstein.”
I had friends in for bridge, and Maggie stopped for a moment of girl talk. “Ah gonna buy me one of them secret hats,” she said. I broke the baffled silence that greeted this announcement. “Where can you buy one?” I asked cautiously. “Oh, they got them in Lord & Taylor’s in White Plains,” she replied happily, “Ah gonna get a red one, all shiny and spanglered.”
Thanks to Maggie, I know my colors. And, thanks to Mom, secret hats, all shiny and spanglered and all the other wonders of our amazingly welcoming, flexible, expressive language are as exciting to me now as red, blue, yellow, and green blocks were then.