Monday, March 27, 2023

Poetry and the YMCA

During the first burst of Covid-19 when masks went up and doors slammed shut, everyone--regardless of their age--experienced an enormous sense of disconnect from their prior taken-for-granted, ordinary way of life. When this occurred and shut down businesses, schools, clubs, and services all over the nation, the essential staff of my local YMCA wracked its collective brains on how to help its significant membership of older adults, especially those who were living alone. First, it implemented a calling tree of volunteers to reach out on a regular basis to all its older members to make sure they were doing OK. Then it developed and offered special interest Zoom gatherings on a broad range of topics from armchair travel to cooking demonstrations for healthy eating, from Chair Yoga to exercise classes--just to name a few. One of the topics it offered was a poetry-writing group opportunity, probably one of the least likely subjects anyone would ever imagine the Y offering. But it did. And even now that the Y is operating in person to serve a full range of ages and needs, the poetry group still meets over Zoom.

I am still gathering with eight-to-twelve people twice each month to share poems we've written in response to a prompt offered at each meeting. We write; we read; we listen to responses--facilitated by Y staff and a local volunteer poet. The Poetry Potluck group of Greater Seattle has been thriving now for well over two years and its age range has broadened to include young, middle-aged, and older adults. People I've never met in person respond to personal poetry I present--something I've written in the two-to-three weeks before each of gatherings. We jestingly call it a potluck because if we get stuck (or busy), we can bring a poem we like that someone else wrote. That someone could be Shakespeare or e.e. cummings, or anyone! Below I'm sharing the poem I wrote in response to a 'run-on-sentence' prompt this week.


the berries burst and

bled into the batter

as Mother plopped

spoonsful onto the

skilled atop the woodstove

to stain my brain

forever with a taste like

nothing else in life and

prompted ecstatic moans

of m-m-m-m as syrup

made the rounds to

forever mingle love

with taste buds and has

me salivating tears

as I remember 

After everyone read their poems this week, one of the poets talked about the YMCA's fund drive currently underway. She reminded us how discombobulating it was as we experienced the Covid induced isolation, and how instrumental the Y had been in providing opportunities to connect with others. It was a short, sweet speech--maybe ninety seconds--but it was absolutely the perfect way to approach our group. When the Zoom call was over, I wrote this next poem in maybe ninety seconds, as well. It's true:  right message at the right moment delivered to the right group needs only 'a moment.'

Some musicians have 
perfect pitch
and delight their audience.
Some fund raisers make a 
perfect pitch
and move their audience.
Either way, it's perfect. 

If you have a YMCA in your community, consider supporting it with a one-time gift. From toddlers to oldsters, it provides a service that is essential for good health--connection and care--as well as healthy activities. All Ys are not-for-profit and have funds/scholarships to augment membership fees so no one needs to be turned away because they can't afford it. The YMCAs of our time embrace diversity and the needs of our era. Even a small gift can make a big difference.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

An old woman ruminates on the occasion of a non-event

Our community
still requires
masks as of 3/23

On March 8 I celebrated my most unmemorable birthday ever. It was actually rather freeing not to be fussed over. But it might have been the only year in all eighty-three with no cake, no singing, no candles, no packages to open. Other than two very lovely floral arrangements (also a balloon and some delish frosted pretzels) received from offspring and a wonderful hour-long Zoom call with all four, it could have been just any old day ('old' being the operative word). 

It's my very first birthday living in a retirement community, and I wasn't surprised about the absence of a candled-birthday-cupcake. Live flame is forbidden in our apartments, so it stands to reason it's not happening in the dining room, either. And because this community doesn't host a common celebration for residents' birthdays or post anything on a common bulletin board, I didn't expect that everyone here would toast me, drink to my health, or remark on my alertness (ha ha) at eighty-three. But no one? Really? I was both tickled to have not let it slipped and miffed that I hadn't shared it with anyone.

When I mentioned to my kids that no one here even knew it was my birthday, one of my sons countered with "Mom, do you know any of their birthdays?" and I had to laugh. Of course not! That's about the last thing anyone in our age group mentions about themselves. After age seventy-five, or so, we're all in in the same age clump!

If there was anything disappointing about my "non-event," it was the absence of snail-mail cards. I did get some cards via U.S. mail--a couple were from friends, but most were from commercial relationships, like Starbucks, the symphony, my bank, my realtor, etc. And yes, I did receive several electronic cards and loving text messages from friends and granddaughters. Although I can't set them out on a counter or table top, they can stay on my phone as long as I want them to. I can read them over and over, and there's a lot to be said for that. 

It's the same for voice messages--and although I usually clean up voicemail every week, there are two I will not intentionally ever erase. Both are messages from my late husband, Jay. One is from 2013, almost exactly one year before he died. It's a message intended for me to hear before I started home from an errand I was running for us, warning me about a street blockage preventing access to our home. It's dear and thoughtful. I love listening to it sometimes when I'm missing him a lot. Hearing his voice makes him seem like he's in the same room with me.

The other voicemail is from the following year. We were on the last vacation together we would ever have, and he is calling me from our Key West hotel room. In the message he's annoyed because I'm not answering my phone. Exasperatedly he explains that now he'll have to put his shoes on and come downstairs find me somewhere in the lobby. Oddly, I also love listening to that one, too, especially when I'm feeling sorry for myself as a widow. It's grounding to hear it; sometimes he was annoyed with me and vice versa. Hearing the little scold in his voice is the perfect reality check. It can be all too easy to glorify our dearly departed ones, and that message brings me back into reality. Yes, our electronic age has lots of perks!




Monday, February 20, 2023


We’ve all read ad nauseum about the documents we elders need to have executed before ‘the time’ comes: a Last Will and Testament, Durable Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney, Health Care Directive, etc. Then there’s the list of bank accounts and passwords, names and contact information for any professional helpers you rely (i.e., attorney, accountant, etc.). We should have our insurance policy numbers on a list, as well as any bills that are auto-paid, subscriptions that renew without confirmation—and the list goes on and on.

But only a couple of days ago did I realize there’s a list I’ve never seen mentioned, which is every bit as important. FRIENDS! I want my friends (the ones in the first several circles of an intimacy diagram) to hear about my death from a family member or first-tier friend, not from a published obituary or an offhand comment three months after the fact. I need to have a list of friends (those in the first two-three tiers) with their names and contact information at the top of the pile of directives.

Because our offspring didn't settle close to where their parents ended up living, they don’t know most of my friends, the ones I’ve made in the  thirty-seven years since returning to Seattle. And because family visits in Seattle are generally just a few days, I have little opportunity to arrange introductions. I’ve always accepted that probably my offspring and many of my friends will meet only if there is an end-of-life celebration for me. But many people in my realm don’t read newspaper regularly and most don’t ‘google’ friends names on the chance they’ve passed, so how will they know if someone doesn’t contact them?  

Of course I have an old-fashioned address box, which I use for Christmas letters, but not all of those people need to be notified early on about my passing. Some of them I keep in touch with because they were associates of Jay’s or long-ago neighbors whom I haven’t had any live contact with for a decade or more. I would hardly expect bereaved family members to get through that list. If friendship is limited to a once-a-year ‘catchup,’ the person isn’t going to sink into sorrow because of missing early notification. But likewise there are local friends with whom I don’t exchange cards and whose names are not in my address book. Their contact information is only in my cell phone. But even with access to my phone, how will my offspring determine which one is a friend and which a Subaru salesman or window-washer for the condominium?  

OK, now I’m going to stop writing and start my list. I'm hoping that--if appropriate--you will do the same.  

Monday, February 13, 2023

Aware and unaware: We coexist

Squirrel nest and jet plane
First  Church LLC
and Kaiser Permanente
Seattle Central
Looking up while waiting for a ride recently, I was struck by the old and the new, the animal-made and the human-made items of our world, the duplicity of the unaware and the aware in our modern lives.

The squirrels, whose nest that is at the top of the trees, don't care about Valentine's Day, three-day weekends, or the rising prices of eggs. The trees don't think about  people experiencing homelessness or the Seattle City Council candidates. The jet pilot must care enormously about unidentified flying-objects being shot down by our military, and healthcare workers and pastors of churches have to be profoundly aware of shortages of staff and dwindling congregations.

Since the beginnings of plant life, bare branches would have swayed in a midwinter breeze.

Since the beginnings of animal life, a squirrel’s nest would be visible in a leafless tree.

Only in the last ten millennia have large buildings such as these visibly stood as markers of human hope, care, wisdom, and grace.

Only since the last century would a jet plane become a dimension in a skyscape.

But overarching our forever world is the breezy beauty of a sunny February day.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

I wrote this poem in 2021
but did not take the photo.
As with most of my poetry,
I set it aside and just now
re-read it. I think it aged
well, but did it yellow as
it did so?

Yellow  by Sara J. Glerum

 it’s a noun

an adjective

an intransitive verb

when it’s painted on a bus

we know who’s inside

when it’s painted on a car

we know we could herald it

it’s uninvited like dandelions

and sour like lemon pucker

tasty like spread on warm bread

lends its fragrance to cheese

and radiates from sweet corn

it’s my favorite precious metal

and my long-gone teddy bear

and the gorgeous linen sundress

stained into ruin by breast milk

it’s the color of breast milk itself

it heralds spring with highlights

it beams through summer sun

it warns of coming autumn

and perks up winter drab

it’s my birth month’s flower

and a child’s crayoned stars

it can make people happy

except when it’s their teeth,

eyeballs or a tuxedo shirt

it can make a person sad

when it overtakes a book

or crinkles a long-saved letter

when our mother departed earth

we asked the florist to weave a pall

of roses in her favorite hue and

yellow became for us her daughters

the color of heartbreak

the color of devastation

the color of mourning

the color of memory

it’s rarely seen in gloomy paintings

except to make the dark seem darker

and on its own it bursts with joy

like angels shining forth

to quench our thirst for light


Sunday, January 15, 2023

A fresh look at a stale reality

An apple a day keeps the doctor away . . . a trite saying that is actually damn good advice. I eat apples often but because my teeth are old, began to dislike biting into them in the traditional way.

When I admired the clever device my son, Phil, had in his kitchen, I received one like it for Christmas several years ago. Thus I have eliminated biting through apple skin. Now I core the apple and immediately dispose of it, then slice it and eat it as finger food. Much easier and convenient, too.

A couple days ago I didn't see the corer in the drawer where it was supposed to be (yeah, that aspect of old age with its brain fuzzies), so I cut out the core with a knife. For fun--just because I was holding the knife--I cut it in half, then half again. And what to my wondering eyes did appear . . . but this beautiful star! 

Years ago when I taught preschool at our Catholic parish, using a new and beautiful program for three-, four-, and five-year-olds conceived by Bonnie Dreves (blog post from 9.13.14, Power of Small). One of the lessons in the nine-month curriculum, Wonder, helped four-year-olds discover hidden beauty in surprising places. Teachers halved strawberries to discover hearts and facilitated discovery of the stars inside apples in the same way for a strong visual component in the lesson. What a joy it was to see four-year-olds react to these small gifts. I'd all but forgotten about the star that resides inside every apple.

Seeing it fresh made me step back in gratitude and even a bit of wonder. Beauty can be found in the most unexpected places. 

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Linda and the Unforgettable Event

It was a devastating moment in a child’s life—age eight. My guess is that Linda, who triggered the event, doesn’t have any recollection of what happened that December day in third grade. I do, though, and will never forget it, at least until dementia wipes it clear. It happened at the morning recess on the playground at St. Nicholas Girls' School. By the time recess was over, my life had changed, but I held everything inside until the dismissal bell rang.  

When school was out that afternoon in 1948, I got into the car, wet from running through the now pouring rain where my mom had parked in front of the school. I couldn’t keep it inside any longer. Mother didn’t even have time to greet me before I burst into tears.
“Linda called me a baby . . . and everyone on the playground laughed  . . and they called me a baby too,  because . . . because,” and here the sobs so overcame me so I couldn't finish the sentence. My mother started the car and pulled out onto 10th Avenue and headed the car south toward Madison St. where we'd turn east for home. She was quiet but I could tell she was listening.
I covered my eyes and tried to push the tears away, but they kept coming. The windshield wipers were echoing the chant: baby/baby/baby.  Mother remained silent, so I continued. “Because . . . because I believe in Santa Claus!” I finally blurted it out. “But they’re wrong, aren’t they? They’re wrong about Santa Claus! He’s real . . . I know he is. Daddy said he is and Daddy doesn’t lie. He’s real . . .  isn’t he?”
What felt like miles went by before she spoke.
“Oh, dear Sallie, forgive us for not telling you sooner, but . . ..”  There was a big pause here and looking back, I'm sure she was fighting back her own tears, “. . . but no. Linda was right, he isn't real. Daddy and I are  Sa. . ..”

I covered my ears to not hear the rest. Mother kept driving and I kept sobbing. At one point I looked up and saw the radio towers on Madison Street blinking above me. This didn’t make sense. It couldn’t be right. Just last year Daddy and I were listening on Christmas Eve and we heard  his bells! My tears kept gushing and the windshield wipers kept squeaking. Baby/baby/baby.
Once my father had told me he saw Santa in the sky. He knew more than even my mother did and lots and lots more than Linda did. How could this be? My mother was telling me Linda was right? that Linda knew more than my father? Baby/baby/baby. I cried all the way home and almost all the way to dinnertime.
If I were to meet Linda now, I hope I could be gracious to her. But remembering the person who took such glee in shattering her classmate’s belief in Santa would make it challenging to be genuinely interested in pursuing an adult friendship with her. It was bad enough having Santa Claus disappear from the real world, but being the target of the playground chant baby/baby/baby made it mortifying.  A visceral memory, for sure, and still evoked anytime I drive by the radio towers on Madison Street in Seattle.