Wednesday, January 22, 2020

My godmother, Genevieve

My godmother, a woman I didn't meet (except as an infant at the Christening service) until I was twelve, was always an enigma. Never having her own family, the gifts she sent me for Christmas and birthdays were things she herself probably enjoyed. But a child doesn't necessarily appreciate sachets or small jars of jams and jellies. In fifth grade she sent me earrings, a gift that shocked my mother! No 'nice girl' in the 1950s wore earrings! I still have the sterling silver earrings and wore them a lot in my twenties and thirties, until I finally had my ears pierced.

Sadly, throughout my grade school and junior high years, Genevieve was just a woman to whom I had to write thank you notes twice yearly. When I was in junior high, she lived less than seventy miles away, and my mother periodically arranged for luncheons for the three of us at a restaurant in her city, so Genevieve and I could become better acquainted. But by then, even my mother had little in common with Genevieve, so as I recollect, the lunches were formal, restrained, and awkward. What they were not was fun.

To make matters worse, from first-grade until I was in college (!), I could never remember how to spell Genevieve when it came time to writing a thank you note for a gift I couldn't yet appreciate. Even now, when I just typed her name, I could still hear my mother loudly calling out the spelling rhythmically in reply to my question as I sat at the desk in my room: "G E N . . . E V . . . I E . . . VE." In fact, even now, that rhythmic breakout is the way I remember the spelling.

But in 1971, two years after my mother died, and long after Genevieve had reduced her remembrances of Christmas and birthdays to small, densely handwritten notes with well wishes and weather news, she sent me an amazing gift. It's a treasure that I recently came across wrapped in acid-free tissue in a draw in my dining room chest-of-drawers. I have transcribed the accompanying note (at least, the part describing the gift). I was absolutely thrilled to be the recipient of such an amazing treasure, and wrote her a note oozing with genuine appreciation.


February 23, 1971
Dear Sallie: Under separate cover I am forwarding to you an antique linen buffet scarf woven in 1850. One of my father's aunts held the royal patent to furnish all the linen for Buckingham Palace. The mill was located at ______ [ed. note: I cannot make out the name--it looks like Lapham, but there is no such place. Is it Harpham?], England. I have in my possession several pieces and would like you to have one. I don't know whether you have your mother's love of antiques, as I know so little of your interests, hobbies, etc.; since it takes 12 days for a package to reach Seattle, I am mailing early with the hope that it reaches you around March 8.

Needless to say, it did reach me and I love that it was entrusted to me by Genevieve Bale, my godmother.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Extended Family: A warm and fuzzy stand-in

When my sister-in-law, Joan, emailed that she was sending me photos from her large family gathering over Thanksgiving, I was expecting a little packet of 4 x 6 photos in the mail. I actually wondered why she'd written to give the heads up for what was obviously a self-explanatory piece of mail. 

Hah! Little did I know what was coming. The postman rang the bell to alert me to the puffy package the size of a bed pillow he delivered. I couldn't have been more surprised to find the photos Joan had promised inside--printed on a giant blanket! Jay's two sisters, along with seven of Jay's nieces and nephews and with their children and spouses cover its surface.

Yes, a soft, fuzzy, washable coverlet for chilly nights (and amusing conversation when draped over a chair in the living room and a friend stops by) is unique among my photo albums. With Seattle area's unusually snowy and chilly last few days, I find myself swooping around the house in the evenings, enveloped by Jay's family. Nice feeling . . . to be literally covered by their photos! Besides, I feel like royalty in my one-of-a-kind robe. 





Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Optimism for 2020

At the top of the Douglas fir tree in this recent photo, notice the huge nest. It belongs to a pair of bald eagles, and the tree is on my street, just one block from where I live. Because my street has no outlet, I walk or drive by the tree whenever I leave home. In the nine years I've lived here, the eagles have raised quite a number of eaglets in that nest. In early summer of 2019, their lone eaglet fell to its death as it fledged. It was a sad event for everyone in our neighborhood.
 
Within these last several days, there are signs the eagles are fixing the nest up, an early activity of a new breeding season. Even if we don't see them flying in, we know there's activity because of 'whitewash' (birder talk for bird scat) on the pavement below, and multiple small branches and twigs cluttering the street along the eagles' flyway. 

I know it's inappropriate to anthropomorphize animal behavior, but poetically speaking . . . I'll say the eagles are exhibiting hope and optimism for the new year, and I wish that for all of us.  

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Poetry and Dopamine

Last night I went to Bothell's own monthly poetry Open Mic night, held at our local gallery, Tsuga. I love the event--one of the many things I began doing after becoming a widow. Participating in activities I'd never done before was a way to enjoy myself without associating the activity with Jay, thus making me feel sad. I've written poems and read poetry all my life, but had never been to an Open Mic until late 2014.

Although I enjoy these evenings enormously, I attend only five or six a year because of other events I enjoy also fall on Saturdays. Sometimes I read poems; sometimes I just listen. The evening always begins with the Guest Poet, an invited poet who reads for twenty or twenty-five minutes. Then Open Mic begins, and anyone can sign up to read for up to five minutes. The audience usually averages ten or twelve participants, but last night there were five people present--three poets, me, and one audience member.  (It seems December's Open Mic Poetry night fell on the same evening as an annual wine-tasting event in downtown Bothell, so although lots of people were walking around the neighborhood, most carried wine glasses, showing off their Christmas sweaters or seasonal, silly head wear and were there for anything but poetry.)

I had printed off a few older poems quickly when I realized I could attend last night's event (my Saturday night plans had fallen through) and headed out to the gallery. I didn't anticipate reading, but 'just in case,' I wanted to be ready. When it turned out so few poets showed up (including the Guest Poet), I was glad I had something to read. But I wasn't prepared for the reaction I got to "Falling Gently," a version of which was on my blog in December 2009 as  "Sidewalk Carol."

"Why hasn't that been published?" the Guest Poet asked, then quickly added,"Astonishing that it hasn't been!"

I won't deny it--that comment made my day, maybe even my week. Audible sounds during the my reading had conveyed its resonance to me, but I wasn't ready for such a strong and explicit remark. Weird how a little bit of flattery gets the dopamine flowing. I smiled demurely at the question--immensely flattered--and thought to myself, 'Well, it's been published it on my blog,' Today I decided to publish it again, mainly because it's been slightly revised since I posted it ten years ago.

Spoiler alert: the word "dopamine" in the title of this post is only about how good it feels to hear a compliment--not how you will feel after reading the poem.

FALLING GENTLY . . . a homeless woman sings her carol to the passerby

I see snowflakes falling gently
Each one different and unique.
I hear church bells in my mind
Ringing in the night's mystique.

Once upon a time remembered
A little child was homeless born.
A baby boy without possession,
His swaddling rags inviting scorn.

I see snowflakes falling gently
Each one different and unique.
You treat homeless people badly
Consider us pathetic, weak.

A child today died on this street,
Hundreds more are huddling, cold.
You pay them no attention, withholding
Frankincense and myrrh and gold.

Mary, Joseph, Babe in arms
Bound in love and covenant
Fled to Egypt seeking haven
Left their home--itinerant.

I see snowflakes falling gently
Homeless people, young and old.
Curled up tight on bus-stop seats,
Shivering, frightened, freezing cold.

Merry Christmas to my friends--
The beggars on the street.
We can't close our doors like you
To keep it private, upbeat, sweet.

City homeless, what a shame!
Not your problem, we've no food.
You want Christmas pure and merry
With nothing ugly to intrude.

Could you gift us from your surplus?
Could you share with us your gold
Could you be both hope and harbor?
For us homeless? Hungry, cold!

Bless me, Jesus, Savior, Friend.
Help me, Jesus, Lamb and King.
Grant compassion, help them see
Your presence here in everything.

I see snowflakes falling gently
I hear church bells in my mind.
Remembering the homeless Baby,
Please resolve to be more kind.

Jesus knows not wealth or status.
Through my tears the snowflakes blur.
He was homeless just like we are.
Gold and frankincense and myrrh.

Sara J. Glerum
Copyright (c) 2019

Sunday, December 1, 2019

When an address becomes a home

For a number of years the old signs on HWY 522
were removed. A few years ago private funding
enabled a new sign with the old slogan
to be erected in a downtown park.
When Jay and I got serious about simplifying our lives by moving from our home in Lake Forest Park  to a condominium, we were open to living just about anywhere in the northern part of Seattle or its suburbs. After a prolonged hunt for a place with all the amenities we wanted, we knew almost the minute we stepped inside the condo we ended up buying that it was right for us. Only one small drawback, we thought: it was in Bothell. And why did that bother us?

When we lived in Lake Forest Park, we'd travel through Bothell frequently. It has much-used Washington State Highway 522 running through it, so it's a necessary pass-through for a lot of destinations. Large signs used to greet drivers on both ends of the city limits: "WELCOME TO BOTHELL FOR A DAY OR A LIFETIME." You couldn't miss the signs; you couldn't avoid them; you simply had to read them as you sped through town. We used to laugh because we never spent any time in Bothell--it was just a place on the way to somewhere else. A day? What would you do for a whole day in Bothell? We used to launch our canoe on the Sammamish River in a Bothell park, but that was the only reason we ever stopped.

One of those Sunday mornings when Jay and I were on our way somewhere, one of the welcome signs had been roughed up by mischief-makers. We couldn't help ourselves and burst out in prolonged laughter. Instead of saying Welcome to Bothell, some smart-assed kid had sprayed out the BOT so the sign read, "WELCOME TO HELL FOR A DAY OR A LIFETIME." Even as we signed the mortgage papers several years later, Jay teased, "We're gonna do this, right? for a day or a lifetime?," adding, as he snickered, "and we hope it's not 'hell'."

Now, these nine years later, I realize I love living in Bothell. Why? Because with its population of 44,000, it's the just right size to be involved in as a citizen. There're plenty of ways an ordinary person can step up, help the city, and have a say in what's happening. In this era of feeling like we're being rolled over in so many ways, it's great to feel heard and seen as a citizen. I have friends in nearby cities who don't even know the name of their mayor, let alone recognize him if he were in the same grocery line. But by just occasionally attending city council meetings and participating in city feedback sessions, I recognize (and am recognized by) the city manager, council reps, and various members of city staff when I see them 'out and about.' It's empowering to feel visible and heard. I've had helpful conversations with city police and even sat down with the fire chief last year to help write a statement for a new fire station proposition in a voters' pamphlet.Yes,I try to be a good citizen, but my small gestures of help come back tenfold as a gift to me.

After telling the City Manager one afternoon in a community 'talk-back' session about a confusing left-turn lane by the library, it was fixed the next time I drove to the library! Thinking it was a happy coincidence, I mentioned it to her the next time I saw her. "Oh, Sara, we're so glad someone told us! We never would have known about it if you hadn't said something." And why am I writing about this today? Because Bothell made it on my 'gratitude list' this weekend--something I often overlook doing until our trusty Thanksgiving holiday brings it to my attention. Thank you, Bothell.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Seeds Cede a Memory

"Poor Persephone!" Whoever would think that to herself, as she dips into a breakfast treat? Maybe some old woman ruminating to herself at her kitchen table? Yes--that's exactly what I was thinking as I began eating this delicious bowl of fruit. 

In a rare moment, because I'm really bad at determining when a pomegranate is ripe, I decided to put one in my grocery cart. I was  delighted to find it juicy and tasty when I peeled it. Munching on the elusively flavored, crunchy, bitter-sweet seeds brought back a flood of memories from childhood about  Persephone whose ingestion of a mere six pomegranate seeds forever assured the barren growth period we call winter. 

Note the dried up pomegranate at the bottom
of the illustration in the 1930s edition
of Hawthorne's Tanglewood Tales
When my father read aloud Nathaniel Hawthorne's Tanglewood Tales to me in early grade school, the Greek myths  were told with Roman names for the gods and heroes. And the stories were definitely simplified and prettified. So Hawthorne's telling of the story involves Proserpina (aka Prosperpine) who's kidnapped into the underworld by its king, Pluto (Hades in Greek myth) because he yearns for a pretty, young companion. Of course, since the story was adapted for children, 
Hawthorne entirely skips what most of us know of the myth--that Hades kidnapped Persephone, raped her, and kept her imprisoned in his kingdom, the underworld, until she was rescued by her mother Demeter (aka Ceres in the Roman version) and the god, Mercury (aka Quicksilver in Rome).

But because she'd eaten a mere six pomegranate seeds, she'd be required to return yearly to Hades, and Demeter, goddess of the earth's fertility, would grieve until she returned. I loved this story as a child and considered Persephone truly amazing for holding out half a year before she ate the tiny seeds. 

A simplistic summary of a complex myth isn't my point, however. I'll digress enough to mention I was lucky enough to study Greek mythology in college and thereby learned the harsh version of this and many other stories that minced no words for misdeeds and demons. But I've never forgotten the my first exposure to the story as a child in the 1940s, hearing it from the perspective of what was OK for children to hear almost 100 years earlier when Hawthorne re-imagined it.

What's interesting to me is how seventy years after hearing the story, it came back to me with every crunchy pomegranate seed I ate from that bowl recently. This post is just a long way of saying that stories remain in our heads a long time--sometimes forever. So much of what we retain is connected to storytelling in some form or other. In fact, stories reign!