I have kept two poems, that my mother wrote to me as a messy teenager, concerning the state of my bedroom …
Ashes to ashes
Dust to dust
If you don’t do it
I must. I must.
Ran the mop under your bed
From the foot up to the head
And found everything a girl might need.
Yes, your room is so complete
and it really looks quite neat
‘til the jungle underneath the bed was freed.
Now I’m opening a store
from your bed to R front door
and a ladder out the window’s all I need!
These poems are over 40 years old now. Both are written in pencil, and look as if they were scribbled on-the-fly. One is on a piece of cardboard from inside a package of panty hose; the other on torn construction paper.
It’s strange that I have kept them all these years, tucked away in my father’s old trunk with other memorabilia. What’s even stranger is … that of all the things a mother might do to motivate a messy teen … mine wrote poetry.
But her verses were not just for me. Whenever a birthday needed to be acknowledged, or a thank you note sent, or a whimsical moment captured, my mother would find some rhyme or word picture that would almost certainly bring a smile. For a long time, I have known that her marriage, my childhood, and all our losses, learnings, and leavings were recorded here and there about the house, on bits of paper and in notebooks.
She and I have often talked about sorting through her poems, and putting them together in some way. In fact, I have a letter from her, written in 1980, following a road trip to visit my sister, Nancy, at her summer job in Valleyview, Alberta. She had included several poems with the letter, typed on her old Smith-Corona. On the last page, she had added a hand-written note, saying, “You said you would edit!”
So here we are … twenty-five years later … editing.
We knuckled down to the task this past spring. She says it was the day that Astrid, her friend from girlhood, sat at her dining room table absorbed in a book of her poetry, that she realized, maybe … just maybe, it might be of interest to others.
And so we began. She sat with her boxes at the sunny window in her condo, and sorted, typed, and then e-mailed each poem to me. It took her two months. And from there we re-sorted, edited, punctuated, formatted, and remembered.
You are holding the result in your hands – over 200 pages of poetry, from 1950 to the 1980’s. She tells me there is still another volume (or more) to come!
Originally, she wanted to compile them only for us, her four daughters, as a keepsake. But then, what about the grandchildren? And friends? The list of people who might want a copy grew. So we agreed that she would write in Chapters to the four of us, and that I would write this Foreword to everyone else.
For a while we considered doing a complete genealogy and chronology as background for the poetry, but finally decided to include most of those details as comments and captions under pictures, interspersed throughout the book.
But very briefly, the story you will read about in these pages, through poetry and some prose, flows through the Chapters.
In the first and second Chapters, you will see that we were a traditional family, with two parents and four daughters, born in the 1950’s. We lived in a simple post-war housing development on the West Island of Montreal. We were part of the baby boom.
In the third Chapter, my mother tells about the death of her father from cancer, in April 1967, and how, soon after that, my grandmother moved from Wakefield, Massachusetts, into our house with us. Now we were a household of six women, one man, and one bathroom!
In the next Chapter, you will read about the death of my father, who was killed by a drunk driver while on a business trip in England in May 1968. We were in shock.
The final Chapter begins to tell how our lives were changed forever.
I dedicate my efforts on this book to all those who have had their lives permanently changed by someone who chose to drive a vehicle while impaired.
And I want to thank you, Mum. Thank you for holding our memories in these beautiful, honest words.