Two of the poems, the ones about my grandmothers, have been previously published. The ones about my grandfathers have not.
Tough as nails and savvy as a bookie,
She ruled us with fear of her sharp tongue.
She won us with her generous heart,
Keeping us stocked with candy and comic books and coins.
I learned to count making change at the counter
Of her little neighborhood grocery store,
And learned a smile and “Thank you, sir” or ma’am
Might earn a penny tip for a plain little girl.
She could out-dance the teens at any family gathering
And out-smoke any diesel engine.
She outlived three husbands, Prohibition, wars and Presidents – in years.
She outlived all of us – in zest for life and living!
Retired against her will, she turned to other interests.
Bingo and Word Search were her passions, ’til Alzheimer’s claimed her mind.
Escapes from nursing homes never lasted.
They always found her and brought her back again.
Until she made her great escape into Eternal Life.
They couldn’t drag her back that time!
You were a little frightening to me,
Whiskered and gruff-sounding, with a sharply hooked nose
And unseeing eyes, unfocused yet aimed in my direction.
I remember the smell of stale sweat and stale smoke
That permeated your little apartment, garlic and olive oil
Mingled in for seasoning.
A leg missing in your slacks, you were slowed down
But not stopped by the old accident.
You were an enigma, this strange fellow
Who always had a cold bottle of 7-Up ready for me
When we came to visit,
Who always pressed a coin in my hand when we left.
I grew up wondering how and why you came to be that way.
And when I heard the stories I felt amazement and awe at your resiliency,
Shame at your drinking and lifestyle,
Wonder at the turns of life that shaped you.
And I loved you fiercely, as best I knew how at the time.
I wish I could have shown you better how much I cared.
But you were gone before I was old enough to realize
What a precious treasure I had in having my Grandpa Vincent.
She used to make delicate lace, tatting shuttle moving
Faster than my eyes could follow.
She would take me with her downtown to shop, formal in hat and gloves
With carefully applied makeup below neatly coiffed blued hair.
I learned to sew at her side, working the treadle on the old White machine
In rhythm to “Bringing in the Sheaves.”
My recipe box holds cards written in her shaky hand, but much loved.
Well worn from frequent use – my comfort foods.
Before she left us physically, her mind relocated back to her own younger days,
Where she was safe from memories of her losses through the years.
They were all gone: her husband, my Dad (her only child),
Her brothers and their wives, her cousins, nieces, nephews.
Her doctors named her condition “advanced senility.” I thought it more her sanctuary –
A place of joy and comfort, living in her memories
Where she could joyfully visit and find a fleeting happiness
Until she could go home to be with her loved ones and her Lord.
Who were you-that grim looking man in the photo?
The man my grandmother loved, certainly.
The father of my father, brother of my great-aunts and uncles.
A brakeman on the Illinois Central Rail Road…
You were a Mason, a country boy gone to town.
Stern and unsmiling, I see you there in ancient black-and-white,
A moment printed for the future to behold.
All that I have to touch of you.
I know the facts, the dusty details, the stories retold.
The dates, the obituary on yellowed newsprint.
I know Granddaddy’s picture, reprinted on my heart.
Oh, how I wish I could have known the man!
If you have the good fortune to still have your grandparents with you, treasure them. Once gone, we cannot regain that knowledge, that experience, that love. All family members are precious, but grandparents especially so.