The story my mother told me goes something like this: When she graduated from high school, her father told her she had to make a choice. Either get married or go to college. He was not paying for college if she was going to get married. She chose marriage over Brown.
She also, however, told me she should have been a nun. This proclamation never made much sense to me no matter how many times it was stated. My mother was not Catholic, or any other denomination I could discern. She drank, smoked profusely and gave birth to 3 children. I never witnessed any sort of repentant behavior that even remotely gave me pause that my mother would have been suitable for convent life.
What my mother lacked in true religious fervor was robustly atoned for by her love of all variety of writing.
When she was in sixth grade she was given a poetry book for perfect attendance in Sunday School. Yep, Sunday School. I was told that this poetry book was the only good that ever came out of church. I do not know if that included the Bible. I was a preschooler, who was I to question. Let me rephrase that. I was a smart preschooler; I did not question.
The book has always looked like this. I never asked why or how the cover was lost. My mother would have had it about 48 years, and I have had it about 28 years.
Being a compliant and good natured child, my mother set about instilling in me a love for all manner of writing as well. While she made it abundantly clear David, the oldest child, was her all-time favorite, I was the youngest, the only girl and of a sensitive nature. This sensitivity mixed with my mother’s authoritarian rule actually made for a healthy contrast where poetry was involved. Instilling her admiration for poetry would not be difficult, because her enthusiasm was contagious and oh! she could recite with such passion and soul.
We dove right in, my mother and I. And I am pretty sure I was the only 4 year old in my neighborhood who could recite around a hundred poems from the 19th century. I recited “The Duel” (Eugene Field) on command: “The gingham dog and the calico cat, side by side on the table sat…”
When I was quiet or withdrawn, my mother would look at me. “The world is too much with us; late and soon.” (Wordsworth).
If she needed me to help her: “Will you walk into my parlor? said the spider to the fly.” (Mary Hewitt).
When she finished a book that she really enjoyed, she would recite the whole of “There is no Frigate like a Book…” (Emily Dickinson).
And every spring: “Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.” (Joyce Kilmer).