Monday 27 November 2017

Poetry Monday: People

The topic this Poetry Monday is "people" - join Diane, Delores, Joan (in the comments here) and me as we take on this wide-open-to-possibility theme. You can take part, too; leave a poem at any of our blogs or on your own. If you do the latter, please leave your blog address in the comments so we can come along and cheer you on.

Get comfortable, people, because we're going to take the long and winding road to this week's poem.

On Saturday afternoon I decided to head into the countryside to a craft sale I'd never been to before. I wasn't sure exactly where it was, but the community wasn't very big and it wasn't far from where I grew up so I figured I'd find it. But when I reached the hall where I thought it might be, there was no signage and only a couple of cars in the yard. I decided to check another venue on a side road in case the sale was actually there instead, but I still didn't see any signs and by that time I was well along the side road and there was a rather large truck on my back bumper, so I had to keep to the speed limit or risk being flattened and before I knew it I was way out in the country where I went to high school.

And since I was that far along, I thought I'd keep going out to the little community where I grew up. The route I followed was the same route I took home from school on the big yellow bus every day for six years, so as I drove I remembered all the kids who got let off along the way. Eventually I got as far as my old home and a bit further to the church where we were married and then I turned around and drove back to my current home by way of a different country route which we used to take to get to town every Saturday when I was growing up. And so I saw even more homes of more people I knew until I moved away as a university graduate on my own at last.

So I never did make it to the craft sale but that drive certainly stirred up a few memories for me. I recalled my best friend of many years, and realized I need to call her because it's been too long since we've gotten together. I was reminded of the older boy who spent his summers working on the farm across the road from us, and what a gentleman and a hard worker he was, with a great sense of humour. I remembered the poor family whose kids always seemed to be grimy-looking; their parents spent their money on cigarettes and booze and I always felt bad for the kids, but the daughter who was about my age was one of the kindest girls in school. There was the lady who played the organ in church every week; she played at our wedding, too. There was the church itself, the setting of many a potluck dinner and many a community concert, one of which included yours truly on the recorder, and one of which included my brother and three of his friends lip-synching to a Beatles hit, and all of which included fudge for sale at intermission and not a drop of water in the building. There was the empty lot of land where our telephone operator's little house used to stand; my mother gave her a home permanent every so often and the one time that I went with her, I was put in front of the old-timey plug-style switchboard, given a ten-second lesson on how to connect people if the phone rang, and remained sitting there, paralyzed with fear that it actually would ring. (It didn't.) I recalled the live-in housekeeper of the farmer one house down, who kindly welcomed us with cookies and milk, and often a shiny dime, when we knocked on her door, and who looked after my brother and me the time we had chickenpox and my mother was teaching. I remembered the retired nurse who lived two houses down, to whom my mother sent my brother when he stepped on a board with a nail in the end - it flipped up and the nail went into his forehead right above his eye. I saw the empty land where our two-room schoolhouse used to stand, and in my mind I saw the kids playing in the yard at recess.

And mostly I thought about my own family, and the house I grew up in. It was sold a few years after my dad's stroke. It wasn't in great condition to start with and with no one living in it, it was going downhill fast. He sold it to the first buyer who came along, who - as it turned out - didn't have the means to keep it up either. The house is empty now; the flower gardens my mother laboured over with love for years and years are now overrun with scrubby trees and long grass. The vegetable gardens my father put in every year and gave carloads of food from are long gone to grass as well. The garage where my father spent so much of his time tinkering and doing car repairs for the neighbours is falling in.

It was a melancholy way to spend a gray fall afternoon and I was glad to get back to my town and re-surface in the present. Nothing is the same as it was, and I'm not sure I'd even want that. But I wish I could step back in time just for a few minutes, and have the future spread out before me like the full blue sky on an early summer day, and a community of hard-working, kindly neighbours at my back.

After all that, we need a very short poem, don't we? Emphasis on "short."

My People

The people of my childhood
Are frozen in time in my mind
Like black and white photos--
Like a group school picture,
A community baby shower,
A card party,
A dance,
A Sunday school picnic at the park.
So many are gone now,
Living elsewhere,
Or no longer living.
But, always, they will remain
In a little flame of memory
Burning in my mind's eye.


Thank you for reading. It was a long post, and I appreciate you hanging in there.

A community shower; I'm not sure if it was a baby shower or a bridal shower. It was my first; I was all of three months old. Can you find me? (That's a kindly neighbour who is holding me.) You can see part of an old-fashioned telephone at the top of the photo, just left of center. The baskets of gifts for the honoree of the shower can be seen on the floor. All the women wore dresses. And most of them wore high heels. I wore a diaper and a nightie. By the time I got old enough to be the guest of honour at a shower women were mostly wearing trousers. Way off topic, I know.

There I am!

Question:  What kind of community did you grow up in?


Elephant's Child said...

Tears here.
My parent's home was sold after she died. And then sold again. Then demolished and replaced with a McMansion. My nasty inner self sneered when they ripped up the forty year old wisteria and concreted over where it lay. I was right. Last time we drove past the roots of that ancient wisteria were breaking up the driveway.
Our community was filled with children and stay-at-home mothers. Vegie gardens, chooks, and kindness.

only slightly confused said...

A lovely posg steeped in memories and emotions and a beautiful peom that says it all. Bridal and wedding showers have changed greatly over the years it is true...I kind of miss the way women always dressed up for these events. I think it showed respect for the guest of honour.

Joanne Noragon said...

The same childhood, except we walked to school, so we picked up companions as we went. It was good to be in communion with so many people.

Steve Reed said...

Wow, what a trip down memory lane for you! I love hearing your recollections about your small-town upbringing. The part about getting a "shiny dime" made me laugh -- I had a great-aunt who gave me and my brother new pennies every time we saw her. Even though a penny was already worthless by then, we always appreciated them, because they came from her!

It's so sad your family's house is empty. It was hard seeing our house sold a few years ago, but at least someone else is living in it now.

Red said...

It's surprising that when we live in a place it doesn't seem to change. when we go back we see many changes. I enjoyed your nostalgic look at the old home town.

Marie Smith said...

Such a lovely post. I wrote somehing similar today. We carry them all with us, Jenny. They were all in the car with you that day. They are only a thought away.

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

I try not to live i the past but the past lives forever in me.

jenny_o said...

I'm cheering for your wisteria, EC! And glad you had a gentle and supportive community.

jenny_o said...

And men dressed up, too, for community events. I miss seeing it all although I get enough of being in "good clothes" at work :)

jenny_o said...

"In communion" - what a good way to put it.

jenny_o said...

Yes, a dime was worth something then, too! And you're right, it wasn't the money but the person giving it that is remembered fondly.

jenny_o said...

Yes, so true - the trees are bigger, the houses are smaller . . .

jenny_o said...

Oh, so well put, Marie. You got me all misty-eyed, all over again.

jenny_o said...

Exactly - and well said.

Janie Junebug said...

Your poem is beautiful. You can't go home again. Thomas Wolfe was right.


dinthebeast said...

I don't travel much anymore, but sometimes I look at places in Eureka on Google maps to see what they look like now.
They've built a new barn on the acreage where I grew up, and all of the surrounding land has been subdivided.

-Doug in Oakland

jenny_o said...

Thanks, and you are right. And so was Thomas.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading of your trip into your old neighbourhood. It's nice to go back, but it isn't the same is it?

Every time I went back to Yorkshire to visit my mum I would go back to the village where I was born and grew up and it wasn't the same. I would be upset by how scruffy it had become and vowed that I wouldn't go back and never did.

My contribution this week is also about ancestors.

Wouldn't it be lovely,
To go back in time.
To visit ancestors,
In the fullness of their prime.

To see first-hand,
Of the lives they led.
The struggles they had
And the thoughts in their head.

Also on this visit,
I would be interested to know,
Which part of which ancestor,
Continues to grow.

My mind was working overtime,
And it was plain to see,
That all my ancestors were pieces,
With the end result being me.

Enjoy your week.

Joan (Devon)

jenny_o said...

Those are major changes in your home place. Google maps is really helpful for things like that.

We have a Eureka around these parts too! I can just picture the moment they were named ...

Yorkshire Pudding said...


When they came
We gathered beneath
The electric glare
From their stainless craft.

In smoky rainbow light
A silhouette emerged

Fearful of revenge
Or justice or blame
We struggled to say our given name -

jenny_o said...

Yes! I think about those things, too - where did I get this quirk or that part of my looks. Well said - we are all a sum of different little pieces.

Thanks for contributing, Joan.

jenny_o said...

A completely different take on "people" - I like it, Mr. Pudding.

dinthebeast said...

I know, right? Eureka California was named by some guys in the 1850s who were searching overland for Humboldt Bay, and one night they brought water back to camp and noticed it was saltwater...

-Doug in Oakland

Diane Stringam Tolley said...

Wonderful, Joan! I'm trying to identify my pieces now . . .

Diane Stringam Tolley said...

And now I want to know what 'they' were! :)

Diane Stringam Tolley said...

I'm lost in your softly-lit past, Jenny! Such clear, beautiful memories. And the poem is perfect! Thank you!

e said...

Shed a few tears here, Jenny...

jenny_o said...

Oh man, that is a great story!

jenny_o said...

Thank you, Diane.

jenny_o said...

Come sit beside me, e, because so did I, both on the drive and while writing. So many wistful feelings.

Diane Henders said...

Your childhood sounds very much like mine. In fact, your kindly neighbour in the photo looks a lot like a kindly neighbour we had, too. :-) There's nothing like those small communities, both the good and the bad.

The old buildings on our farmstead have gradually become one with the earth, too. I used to drive by every time I went back to Manitoba, but I stopped doing it a few years ago. Nothing there but memories now...

jenny_o said...

Yep, memories and melancholia.

Martha said...

Oh my gosh, I actually teared up and felt my heart being squeezed reading this. This is like time travel, and you took us along with you. I imagined all the people and scenes you shared. What a great post! This is the way I feel whenever I visit my hometown, particularly the area I grew up in. And even though I grew up in a big city, we lived in an area that was so community-oriented it felt like being in a small town. When I walk those streets I get all teary-eyed and nostalgic. A lot of good memories.

Geo. said...

The telephone in the wooden cabinet in our back porch is asking, "Hey, who you callin' old fashioned?" This post and I have so much in common, Jenny, and I was impelled to write a poem that occurred after a really dedicated Frontier Technician spent his afternoon chasing my internet server and telephone dialtone here :paste and click --

I know how hard it is to look back at the last bits of friends an loved ones. Just this evening, when I finally tested my PC connection, I got a message that a mutual friend --once so full of life and humor-- passed at 69. Makes me sad and a bit jumpy at my own mortality. I take solace in furniture, old doors, things that need old-time tools to serve again. That's what my poem is about. Go see, or if I can beat Norma's table setting frenzy, I'll post it here.

Geo. said...

I open a barn drawer and
Tools ask, "What do you
Want us for?" -- a task, a
Chore, seldom called for,
But delighted you are there
For scraping, planing,
Chiseling and all remaining
Arts of heartfelt repair.
"We know," they say.
"It's why we stay in this
Barn bench drawer, in dust.
Old things need renewal,
What we are for. We must--
Table, the old door, we must."

Yorkshire Pudding said...


When they came
We gathered in
The electric glare
Of their stainless craft.

In smoky rainbow light
A silhouette emerged

Fearful of revenge
Or justice or blame
Our hesitation tinged with shame
We found we could not say our name -

jenny_o said...

I see you have been tinkering, YP! I like the changes and I very much like the underlying idea.

jenny_o said...

Why is it that the good memories make us cry?? It's good that you had that kind of community even in a big city.

jenny_o said...

Message to your telephone: I am old-fashioned, too. It's a compliment!

Message to Geo.: I'm sorry for the loss of your friend. Sixty-nine is too young and losing a good friend always comes too soon.

jenny_o said...

It's good to have the talent to repair and renew old things. In a lot of cases they were sturdier and better made than the recent stuff.

I wonder ... can you renew old people with different tools?

Janie Junebug said...

I've never read any of his books.

kylie said...

I enjoyed your post, especially the part about your dad's vegetable garden.
My parents still live in the house where I was born and on first reading I thought that not much has changed around there. I was over at mum & dads this week with my daughter who was asking questions about the past and mum recalled the time a teenaged neighbour had a kitchen fire and ran to mum for help. Mum passed my baby sister over the fence to another neighbour and went to put out the fire (someone else actually got it out before she got there which was a good thing)
I can't imagine that happening these days!

Yorkshire Pudding said...

"They" were beings from outer space or Canadians.

Chicken said...

So it wasn't because they discovered gold? I just assumed (with the usual results haha)

jenny_o said...

Gracious! No, it likely wouldn't :)

dinthebeast said...

Actually the Gregg party were trying a different approach at getting rich off of the gold rush. They were looking for Humboldt Bay with the idea of using it as a way to ship supplies closer to the miners that San Francisco Bay. It only partially worked, though, as the land between the Bay and the mines was really hard to pass before they built highway 299...

-Doug in Oakland

LL Cool Joe said...

There is a song by David Cassidy called "Can't Go Home Again" which talks all about this subject. I really can relate to some of what you've written, although my past was traumatic so I've buried most of my memories so deeply that I remember very little of my childhood at all. Interesting post.

jenny_o said...

I went looking for that song on Youtube and fell down a black hole of Cassidy interviews. It was nice to catch up on that a bit.

A bad childhood is better not remembered, I think, except as a guide for what not to do to our own kids. I think you have that covered, Joey. That takes a strong person.