A Letter to Mom

I wrote a poem using the Golden Shovel form that I learned from the poet Nikki Grimes. This form uses the words from one poem to create a new poem, using the original as the last words of each line. I was looking for a Mother’s Day poem, and happened across the words my son Carson once wrote to me. Thank you, Sonny! I honor you for the hard work, blood, sweat, and tears that you poured into me as a child; and want you to know that these have been small seeds planted in my life, but they have reaped a bounty of blessings on me.

To Nellie Harper (3/23/1920 – 5/7/1968)

Your letters to Dad came to mind as I
longed for a way to love and honor
your memory, your rich legacy. You
never imagined that strangers would look for
your quotidian news with pleasure. The
grace with which you accepted the hard
reality of separation and leaned into your work
kindles my affection and warms my blood.
You were never one to sweat
the small stuff, nor did you melt when things got tough. And

though you confess to getting depressed, tears
on your face are no memory that
your children hold. You
made tuna sandwiches and poured
milk with good cheer, not going into
a dither when money ran out. For me,
I wish I had studied these letters as
a young mother. They are a
fount of wisdom in child
nourishing. And

though we lacked funds, there was no want
in faith, in affection, in friendship. You
took your youngsters to
Sunday School, taught them to know
God, their Heavenly Father, and trust that
He would provide all of these
needs. What wealth we have!

Your story has been
full of love for people, both great and small.
You scattered seeds
of kindness and planted
strength, courage and truth in
my siblings and into my
beautiful and blessed life.
I miss you fiercely, but

I am grateful for your letters. They
remind me again of all we have
been given. Your investment in lives has reaped
a harvest whose yield continues, a
compounding bounty.
You sang a song of the faithfulness of
God, of morning’s new mercies, of blessings
all mine, of bright hope for tomorrow. On
this Mother’s Day I thank you for loving me.

The brothers: Jimmy, David, Danny, Johnny
The sisters: Margaret, Dorothy, with Carol (me) in front
The parents: Nellie and John Harper

Have and Behave

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I made a connection!! When my grandson misread “have” rhyming it with “gave” — the heavens opened, the light shone, the ground trembled. Could there be a bridge between have and behave?

Longtime readers of this blog know that I get terrifically close to tipsy on be- prefix words. New readers: I can’t explain it: I just love them. Betake, benumbed, befuddled, besought, beribboned. And on and on.

Have comes from Old English habban “to own, possess; be subject to, experience”

Behave comes from be- intensive prefix + have in sense of “to have or bear (oneself) in a particular way, comport”

::Happy sigh::

Isn’t life delicious?

Listening In on Grownup Conversations

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When I was a child, my bedroom was an upstairs windowless closet with a slanted roof. There was barely room for a bed to the left and a dresser to the right. A lonely light bulb hung from the ceiling. My dresses floated from a pole across the ceiling. Don’t think Dickensian: I loved my own cozy cocoon.

The room was at the top of a stairway that had two ninety-degree turns. As the youngest in a home where parents sent their littles to bed at 8:00 p.m., I often sensed that I was missing out on the important stuff of life. I’d hear the murmur of conversations that I wanted to be part of. I would tiptoe out of my bedroom and down the five steps to the landing where the stairs turned. As close as could be and still remain out of sight. Hugging my benightgowned knees, I would strain to hear the grownups talk.

Even when I didn’t understand the talk, I enjoyed the aura, the camaraderie. When laughter erupted, I sat in the darkness and smiled.

That, my friend, is how I feel reading C.S. Lewis’ academic work The Allegory of Love. I’m sitting in the dark, listening to the adults, not quite understanding all the fine points, but basking in the atmosphere. Smiling when I grasp a point, soaking up the delicious banter.

Happy to be in the company of such witty erudition.

Like that little girl long ago, I need patience. Lewis quotes Latin, Greek, French, Old French, Old English without translation. He writes about writers whose names I’ve never before heard. He uses words that have never come close to my radar.

Sometimes the words are clear. It was the misfortune of Jean de Meun to have read and remembered everything: and nothing that he remembered could be kept out of his poem.  Yeah, I think, I’ve heard sermons like that.

So I will continue sitting in the dark, craning my ear, hoping to hear something wonderful. Why? Because I’m stubborn; but mainly to be in the delightful company of CSL.

 

Sporting a tude

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Desuetude

I’ve written about my fascination with be- prefix words. I keep an annual list of words I come across (in the wild, so to speak) beginning with be-. Meghan Markle wore a bespoke party dress to her wedding reception. Some of 2018’s finds: dazed and bedazzled; betokening a boorish inability; bestrode the cannon singing; besmeared with the blood of human sacrifice; bestirred civic pride; his beleaguered camp. And on and on.

I find the suffix tude enchanting. It means the state or condition of an abstract noun. Quietude and plenitude — the dressed up versions of quiet and plenty. I love reading the word pulchritude, but don’t use it much because many don’t know that pulchr- means beautiful.

Attitude may be the most common of these word cousins.  I love this definition: state of readiness to respond in a characteristic way. Gratitude and solitude are jewels.

I was surprised and delighted to read the word desuetude this week. It has ‘suet’ smack in the middle, which makes me think of elk butchering, but isn’t related. It means a state of disuse. I wonder if desuetude is in desuetude.

Then I came upon this sentence in a biography of Josephine, wife of Napoleon. “I make this confession to you in all sincerity, that I may allay your inquietudes.” And, while my tude radar was up, “solicitude in reference to the accommodation of her attendants” winked.

 

 

 

 

Take Me Down

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My grandson, reading a Harry Potter book, came across this: “A shout rent the still air.”

Me: Do you know what rent means?

Him: Like rent a house?

Me: That’s one definition. But that’s not what this ‘rent’ means. Oh, hey, I have a story for you.

He’s an accommodating kid. I like him a lot. This is my story.

In my family, when I was growing up, we read a chapter of the Bible every night right after dinner. We each read two verses aloud until we finished the chapter. We read about people in extreme grief ripping their clothes and putting ashes on their head. The word our translation used was ‘rent’.  

In second grade, we were spelling ‘rent’. My teacher started to say that there was another meaning. My hand shot up and waved. I didn’t need to wave it, because no one else’s hand was up. “To rip or tear,” I cheerfully informed the class. “Very good, Carol!” the teacher said. 

The memory still makes me glow inside. And smile.

There was a small silence.

He glances at me, a smile starting to form on his mouth.

You were in second grade?

I nodded.

Wow, Nana, you’ve been holding on to this a long time.

I get a glimpse of what this is looking like.

Yeah, well, that’s kind of pathetic, eh? I loved knowing the right answer, I guess.

The smile has taken up residence in his eyes. He shakes his head.

No, Nana. You loved being the only one who knew the answer.

Boom! Busted! Sliced and diced!

 

How Can I Keep from Reading?

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Why I Read, 1

The first answer is easy: because I can’t not read.

I grew up in a book-filled house, the youngest of seven kids. We read in bed, we read in the bathroom (picture a child pounding on the door: “I really have to go. . . and I know  you’re reading!”), we read on the porch swing, we read on the front steps, we read on the couch (we called it the davenport), but we didn’t read at the dinner table. That was considered rude. In the same way people today sneak a look at their cell phone under the table, we all at least once tried to read a book on our laps. We always got caught.

After dinner, we grabbed RSV versions of the Bible and read a chapter of Jeremiah. I know we read other books, but I only remember Jeremiah. (Honestly, in second grade my teacher asked us to define rent. I threw my hand up and swirled it around until she called on me. To tear your clothes.)

We read at the same table while gulping down cold cereal. Every inch of the cereal boxes. Over and over and over. Riboflavin, B12, sold by weight not by volume. Battle Creek, Michigan. 49037.

My dad never left the house with less than four books. Because, you know, you never know.

We grew up without a television (my dad’s choice) so reading was the first avenue of diversion available.

Reading became a habit that followed me into my adulthood. It is my default.

a-day-without-reading

 

 

The Habit of Be-ing

DSC_4059It is my favorite cozy: snuggled in with a grandson, listening to him read. When Noah sounded out the word “before” we took a detour.

Oh, I love be- words; I actually collect them, I said.
You do?
Yes, let me show you!

I grabbed my journal. I am burdened with an insatiable urge to show-and-tell.

DSC_4088Be- words delight me, I explained. So when I spot  one, I write it down.

Later, when all the rest of the house was napping, I watched Noah cut and paste. He decided to make a little booklet. Well, now. Here’s something even I could help with. We could make you a be- book, I shamelessly suggested.

DSC_4063He started scanning every Bob Book in his possession, not the best place to find vintage words. But he found a few! I didn’t quibble about words that began with be that weren’t the prefix be- e.g. Benjamin, best, bend. One has to start somewhere.

DSC_4061When Noah loaded up to go to Safeway with Papa, he grabbed his book and a pen in case he found some more be- words. They found themselves in the beer section (a word he missed!) when Noah backed up into a stack of whiskey. It’s what they call in literature a destabilizing event. Curt threw out his hands trying to steady the waving bottles, mentally calculating the cost of this quick trip to the store. Fortunately, none fell.

But, suddenly, Noah is sitting on the floor with his book in front of him, writing down “Beam.” Few lessons could be found in a more unlikely location.

DSC_4079The next day Noah told Aunt Lindsey about his book. The first words out of his mouth were, Well, I love be- words. Like boat and baseball and balance? she asked. No, b-e- words like before and below. His younger brother Levi chimed in, I love be- words, too! What is your favorite? she asked him. Begin! What is your favorite? she asked me. I looked at her, a vibrant newlywed, and smiled. Beloved.