I recently went to a memorial service for the mother of a friend.
You can tell a lot about a person by the things people say about them when they’re not around, and by the memories of the people who love her.
They talked about strawberry shortcake and Volkswagens; falling trees and fireworks; telephone calls and Pretty in Pink. But what they were really talking about was love.
You can also tell a lot about a person by the memories and thoughts she shares through her art.
Ruth’s family offered her paintings to the gathering, an invitation to take a piece of her home with us.
The colors and mood of this one grabbed my attention:
Ruth was also a poet, and we went home with a book of her poems, written over all the decades of her adult life. Here are four of the ones that found a place in my memory:
There are no secrets.
They are plainly seen
in the pain and sadness
of a woman’s eyes.
The gossamer veins in the porcelain cup
Reveal a pattern,
like the crinkled folds in a love letter
impulsively crumpled, then rescued, smoothed.
The cup comforts my hand, warming, loving –
its healing roundness a balm of
honey mint and tea.
If this cup was carelessly dropped,
Shattering into fragments like falling stars,
if this should happen,
Falling, shattering, scattering china amidst
dust and crumbs on the floor –
I would sweep it all up, then carefully select
Just one piece – the largest, smoothest curve
of pure white china –
and place it gently on the window sill
in the warm pristine morning light.
Ladies of the Day Room 1956
tired of searching for a wandering,
feisty old person singing
Christmas Carols to herself and
muttering in German, they put her away.
They took me to see her in the
I saw patients being
led through the halls with staring
opaque glass eyes and silly smiles.
A beaming round faced colored woman
padded over to us on swollen feet and ankles
spilling out of her green institutional
told me in her lilting voice about the fish
she caught last night, cooked it
at it and it was so good,
smacked her lips, praised the Lord
laughing showing a
And she was led away, humming to herself.
My grandmother – think, boney – paper-skinned
complexion as white as her hair,
fire barely flickering in her pale blue eyes
looked blankly at us.
she was hell on wheels, once.
Agitated, she asked “where’s Mama?
there’s something I have to ask her
when are we getting off this train?”
Grandma gripped my had so tightly,
I thought it would break.
Waking with a delicate thread of a dream
just at the fringes of memory –
I should have grabbed a pencil, jotted down
the elusive thoughts and tied them
to paper before they slipped away.
the longing sensation lingers in my consciousness
somewhere under the busy-ness
of the day.
If only the thoughts had a name –