a nice hot summer with lots of vegetables and flowers and fruits to pick
little rain, except for today, which was cool, misty, and actually soaking into the ground as I walked with my dog through the wet marshland and felt the coldness through my sneakers
the beaver pond, 3 acres, constructed over several years, beginning in 2006, wiped out some time between the last photo and sighting of a beaver patrolling, July 22 and last Sun, Aug 8, when we noticed its disappearance
for us, it seemed bitter-sweet, new life will take over and the beavers have cleared a field in the middle of a growing forest, but all the birds, etc. seem to have migrated elsewhere, except for a great blue heron which was scouring up some fish in a little pool when we went down today to check it out
For Aunt Margaret, who would have been over 100 years old today July 14.
And so it goes
the life running through our bones and our space and our blood
we create a structure full of ivory china laced with gold
and little pretty pots of flowers lining the shelf
real or fake, does not matter
our days go by, slowly some, swiftly others
the sun gleams into the living room, early morning
brisk, fresh air, we bake the cookies in late October to
be stored for the gift in late December
the spring comes with its sweet bird song
we visit Aurora to see the geese, so many geese
and Thursdays not spent there, spent somewhere
a luncheon, a shop, it goes on and on
and the structure we have made
Church on Saturday or Sunday
the neighbors, oh that Jody Rhode, what is he up to now?
no family to speak of, some connections down there in Binghamton
and slowly, we start to
until one day, we wake, and we pack for the hospital
no need to look back, we know that our journey’s end is here
and we know that the structure we leave behind
really never stood anywhere except in our mind.
The story behind this poem…
Aunt Margaret was our adopted aunt and she spent holidays and Saturday evenings with us throughout my childhood and into my thirties, when she died of old age. She treated us like family and we did the same. Aunt Margaret taught me many things over the course of my journey with her but most important, she showed me how important it is to be intentional.
Intentional in that what we do, say, write, and how we do it, counts, everything. I need to remind myself of her example. We need to think of the consequences of our actions and the feelings of others.
Every year at Christmastime, she asked me to go out to dinner or lunch with her one evening and help pick out gifts for her to give my younger siblings. I usually researched ahead of time and then brought a list with me. One specific year always comes back to me at Christmas.
It is cold out and dark, only the Christmas lights and lanterns shine in the town streets. Blustery, the snow kicks up into swirls on the road and sidewalks as we trudge from store to store, looking for the gifts. The gifts, one each for all five of us, will arrive on Christmas day, wrapped in paper and ribbons and little candies, each in different papers and each designed specifically for the recipient.
We walk down an alley way toward what was the Gorton Coy building and department store. To the right, we enter a charming little restaurant, I have no idea what the name of it is now and I do know it is gone, washed away like a lot of things during the Flood of 1972. We sit down to a prime rib dinner and there are little pieces of evergreen under a lighted candle in front of us. We chat about many things, stories told over and over, etched in my mind now.
Aunt Margaret adored her father, a German immigrant who made a lot of money in the stock market during the 1920s. You can see from the picture below that she was well taken care of, the fur around the beautiful little girl illustrates this point. She never mentioned that I recall, loosing so much during the Stock Market Crash of 1929, but it became obvious to me as I learned more about her. Aunt Margaret became for the times a big woman and a very devout Catholic, she never married. Her schooling must have ended at high school as she worked her entire life in a furniture store as a clerk. Just not the life I see for the little girl in the fur. Despite this, she never appeared bitter, just grateful for everything people did for her and for each day on the earth. Intentional in all her activities.
At the end of our dinner, she told me the story about why you must always come when your parents call you.
“I was playing with my friends and I heard my Father calling and calling me. I did not respond. He told me several times in the past this was not a good behavior and that he expected me to come when he called. I am about 12 when this happens and it is in the summer. ‘Margaret, Margaret, come home.’ I continued to ignore him.”
“Later that day, I arrived back to the house. Father looked at me and said, ‘You know that pony you wanted, well, it’s been here and gone. I told you young lady, to come when you are called.’ I felt bad but Father was correct.”
A little harsh in my mind given what we know about a 12 year olds natural proclivity to rebel against parents. All the same, it showed the consequences, not getting the horse, to the intentional behavior of not responding to her father’s request that she come home.
At the end of our meal, Aunt Margaret said to me, “This Christmas, I am going to give you a gift that you can keep forever and someday, you will hopefully, look back and say that my old aunt gave me this and you will remember me.”
We walked to the car and I said I was excited to get the gift. I waited patiently for it to arrive on Christmas day and as a girl, felt like I was growing up, when I opened it to find a beautiful engraved stone box for keepsakes. I think it is the only gift I have still from the Christmases of my childhood. I use it and I’ll never throw it out, I will just have to find someone to pass it to, along with the story of Aunt Margaret. Perhaps that was her intent.
For fifteen years I drove by this house. I imagined many scenes taking place here.
Other people tell me they do this. They make up vignettes when they see people, places, and things. I think at one time I saw lights shining through the windows. However, for most of the time this farmhouse, barn, and the silos stood abandoned.
I liked this farm sitting up on the hill and removed from the road. I took scenes from old antique photographs and wrote them on the place. On a crisp fall day, I imagined people filling the silos in the 1930s. At twilight on a summer night, I saw Mary Ellen swinging under the tree while the little sisters and brothers played tag in the yard. And in the winter, traveling down the snowy road, I saw a Christmas tree in the window and a farmer with weather-beaten skin dressed up like Santa. I liked imagining the life lived, completed with the red and brown chickens running up and down the driveway.
In 2007 I began a vacation during a cold April. I shop for antiques and I told my colleagues that before the bats arrived to nest in the barn, “I was going on a treasure hunt in there.” Maybe, hidden, lay some object worth my next 50 years of expenses.
On a Saturday, crisp and sunny, I started digging through boxes. I found letters written on thin pieces of paper. They were handwritten to Hib? Hib, I did not know that person but some letters were addressed to Barbara. Barbara was my friend and as her family called her, Hib. I knew her well and loved her. I was crushed the day she died in 2000 at the age of 81, a bag of fresh picked beans in her hand, she collapsed 5 feet from her husband’s buried ashes and the place where she went to talk with him. Often placing a stone on a plate above his ashes. When she passed, she left things behind. I found more of the letters, I brought them into the house.
That night, I read the story of Barbara’s family: they lived in Worcester, Massachusetts during World War II; her mother took sick during the war with something, and it was cancer. They suspected her mother knew. The letters were written to Barbara from her father and brother. Barbara was a teacher in the early 1940s and then went to France as a volunteer for the Red Cross.
Her parents loved her, it flowed out of the father’s letters; her brother had a fierce determination to stay positive despite the war; and by the last letter, not only had the mother passed, but so had the father. Reading them felt like travelling in time to the center of Barbara’s narrative. Holding those letters, peering into the lives of people long gone, I drifted to my time with Barbara.
In a letter to a sister named Marnie and dated September 27, 1949, Dick Ballou wrote these lines about the “fun and tugging”pulling things apart at the family home, 81, they called it.
“We cleaned down from top to bottom, readying stuff for the movers…And one could wish that we were doing it all to refurbish it for Charlies and Eva (their parents) to return to enjoy through a decade of the peace and quiet they so well knew how to cultivate and appreciate.”
The last line so eloquent, gave me the roots of Barbara’s statement in the late 1990s. On a warm, late August Sunday we sat outside and she gave us a run down of what people were doing, running here and computing there. Barbara concluded, “You know when I was growing up my father proclaimed it a good Sunday if we read the New York Times all afternoon and enjoyed one of my mother’s dinners.”
I gave the letters to her daughter. I wanted to keep their magic, for the times when I needed to think positive and keep things in perspective. I saw a friend and co-worker, John, one day while I copied them. He asked me about the letters. A few days later, the letters about to be delivered, John arrived with a shoe box full of treasures for me. Vintage post cards and stamps from the 1900s…something to keep, he said, and enjoy. I found my treasures that spring, they just were not what I expected.