December 12th

Eighty-six years ago
they married

during the Great Depression
with war on the rise

they meant for the ceremony
to be in September
but he had the mumps

so the wedding occurred
on the twelfth of December
before the justice of the peace

she wore a blue suit

on the day after Christmas
she turned twenty-one

Every December after
he gave her
a red poinsettia

he knew
how much she loved them

Across the decades
she’d jest about
having nothing
to look forward to
the rest of the year

with her anniversary
Christmas
and birthday all
in the same month

December
for her
was pure delight

celebrations
of Light
and life

In the last years
when he was gone
I gave her
a red poinsettia
during the season

for the sight
of her face alight
blue eyes bright

Someone else gave her
a silk poinsettia
after she went into
the nursing home

once when I visited
she was watering it

We did not know
all those years ago
that their wedding anniversary
would become
National Poinsettia Day

I just learned it

how she’d love it

just another sign
that love is divine
and lives on and on
and on

My grandparents, on my first Christmas.
Love lives on.

Photo: National Day Calendar

The blessing

My Dear Firstborn,

You were always the Lord’s.

I rejoice

that His divine purposes
cannot be thwarted

that your preacher-father
lived to see this day


that your first daughter
sitting beside me
as you receive your
Master of Divinity
is the same age you were
sitting beside me
when your father
received his

seven,
representing
fullness
and completion

in an endless
spiral of blessing
that flows on
and on
and on.

You have always
been my joy,
baby boy.

With love
and gratitude
and awe
at the divine work
of the Master

always,
Mom

Round yon December

a triolet for my grandmother

Come December, I’m remembering you
in the lights and silent night
—how years, like snow and feathers, flew—
Come December, I’m remembering you
at sight of ruby-red cardinals, too.
On the wings of the morning, all is bright…
come December, I’m remembering you
in the lights and silent night.

December is my grandmother’s month. She was born the day after Christmas, was married in the middle of the month at age 20, and died the day before Christmas Eve, at 90. She loved the season, children, cardinals, and the color red, symbolic of her name: Ruby. “Silent Night” was her favorite carol; whenever I hear it, she is near. Her home place and resting place are in the outskirts of a rural town named for the dawn… “on the wings of the morning” is borrowed from my favorite Psalm, 139, a hymn to the omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence of God.

The cardinal ornament in the photo was a gift from a friend yesterday. I hung it on the tree last night after choir practice with the kids at church. They’re singing “Silent Night” in the worship service on Sunday.

Grandma, you would love it all.

Sleep in heavenly peace.

Personality color poem

with thanks to Tammi Belko, host of today’s Ethical ELA Open Write. Tammi invited participants to take a personality color test and to write an “I am” poem based on the color results and their traits.

I took the test. I began to write a series of “I am” stanzas when the poem went running off in its own direction…

True Color 

I am
the three bands
on the ring finger
of my left hand:

one worn by
my grandmother
engraved with
her initials
and my grandfather’s
alongside
their wedding date:
December 12, 1936
(the day after
Edward abdicated
for Wallis)

one worn by
my mother-in-law
a 1953 engagement
between a widow
and a widower
with two children each
with the long reach
of duty in Korea
calling

one given
to me
on the day
I married
thirty-seven years
two sons
and two granddaughters
ago…

a poet
named after
fleeting morning ice
may say
nothing gold
can stay

but I endure
because

that is what love does

like many before me

I am gold

*******

Interesting…

Poem of perspective

On the the fourth day of Ethical ELA’s Open Write, Ann Burg invites poets to “Think of a moment in time— an historical moment or a personal one. Place yourself outside yourself — as a favorite tree, a flower, even an inanimate object who has witnessed this moment…”

The Upright Mahogany Howard
(c. 1920s)

I grow old
I sigh
I know you hear
my bones creaking
as you walk by
I have no mirror
but your eyes
and there I see
my beauty
is not faded
although
I’m scarred
and snaggle-toothed…
you may not realize
my proclivity
for touch-memory
but I tell you
that baby on your lap
presently pounding
my ivories 
has the feel of her
—one day,
she will play
and I will respond
living on and on
in the song
for the chords
never broken
vibrate once more
stirring the dust
of five generations
in my bones…
I am
your reliquary.

The piano was my grandmother’s most-prized possession. My grandfather bought it secondhand sometime during WWII. My grandmother intended to bequeath it to my aunt, who also played; my aunt contracted MS in her 50s and died before my grandmother. Grandma then offered it to me. I do not play, but my youngest son is an extraordinary pianist with a degree in worship music. His brother’s baby, my granddaughter Micah, ten months old, is already showing an affinity for music. She sat on my lap ‘playing’ Grandma’s piano last week, thoroughly enchanted.

Car poem: Galaxie Ride

with thanks to Susie Morice for the car poem inspiration on the Ethical ELA Open Write today

Galaxie Ride

One thing I knew
from the beginning:

We were a Ford family.

Granddaddy could recall
his first glimpse 
of a Model T.

Daddy always spoke
with a trace
of yearning for 
the white Thunderbird
he gave up
after I was born.

I came along in the era
when cruising the Earth
was not enough;
governments sought
to be the best
at hurling humanity
into space.

In the hazy gray memories
of my early days, 
one bright pop of color
stands out:

Grandma’s car.

Ford Galaxie 500
fire-engine red
rocket-sleek
aerodynamic
meant for racing

curious choice
for a grandmother.

She loved it.

Granddaddy bought it used
never imagining, I suspect,
that it would carry us
through three decades.

No power steering
—that silver steering wheel, 
a full cardio workout—

no AC

—sweltering in southern summers:
when I was twelve 

I left a stack of 45 rpm records
on the rear window dash
and they melted, 
rippling up
just like ribbon candy.
Grandma would tuck a Kleenex
into her cleavage
to absorb the sweat—

seats trimmed in red leather
upholstered in scratchy red fabric
studded with silver dots
—I like to think they were stars—

I cannot remember seatbelts.

Over the years
the red fabric
faded to pink
and began to split.

By that time I’d learned to drive
having practiced
with the old red Ford
on the old dirt road
of my father’s childhood home.

Grandma said:
“Honey, if you can drive this,
you can drive anything”

—and she was right.

The Galaxie and me. Grandma took this photo. Can you guess her favorite color-?

Daddy with his pride and joy. I believe the T-Bird had a red interior.

Anniversary of twelves

On the twelfth day of December, back in the Great Depression, my grandparents were married. My father was born the following October in a tenant farmhouse.

That’s my grandmother’s wedding band in the photo. It’s not the one she received on her wedding day. That ring was thin; it wore “clean through,” Grandma said. Broke in half due to overuse, in the days when washing machines had wringers, in an era of canning and preserving, in the time of sharecropping cotton and looping tobacco.

This is Grandma’s replacement ring. She had her initials and Granddaddy’s engraved inside, along with their wedding date. A wide gold band, made to last.

It is my ring now. I wear it every day.

Often thinking of December 12th.

For it’s not the only anniversary.

Almost thirty years after my grandparents married, their youngest daughter got married. On the same day.

She was eighteen. A senior in high school.

Her husband, my uncle, was going to Vietnam.

I went to that wedding. In utero. I wasn’t born for another five months. My presence was obvious; my mother couldn’t fit into the dress she planned to wear. She had to rush out and buy a new one that day.

My young aunt mailed black-and-white baby pictures of me to my uncle on his tours of duty.

He brought these pictures back home with him.

Fast forward three decades…

On December 12th, exactly sixty years to the day of my grandparents’ wedding, my husband and I learn that we will have another child.

A second son. Our last child.

My grandparents lived to see him and know him. To tell him they loved him, like they always told me.

It is a day of remembrance for me, December 12th. A deep and quiet knowing, a dark-blue glittering gem that I carry in myself in the middle of the holiday season. Meaningful. Valuable. Priceless.

I think of the long-ago Decembers. Family gatherings, celebrations. Layers of blessing. A blanket unfolding again and again to encompass the next generation.

I am a grandparent now; the mantle is passed.

It is one comprised of faith. Of courage and commitment. In it lies the story of persevering against unknowable odds. The Depression. Vietnam. In it I find strength for living now. I know that what keeps us pressing on is having someone to press on for.

Numerologists might wax eloquent on the significance of the number twelve, in all its powerful associations. We mark our time by twelves on the clock, by months in the year…there are ancient connotations such as twelve Olympians, twelve disciples, twelve tribes of Israel, twelve of days of Christmas… twelves go on and on. Twelve is considered the number of perfection, cosmic order, completion. Just now I recall that our second son was born in our twelfth year of marriage. I am not a numerologist, only a poet contemplating patterns. Not a mathematician, just a wonderer. A believer. Pythagoras is said to have said: “There is geometry in the humming of the strings, there is music in the spacing of the spheres.”

I sense a geometry in dates and a musicality to years…a song of life and the living of it. For me, this is the lesson of 12/12. There’s something of eternity in it.

Which makes perfect sense, if twelve is God’s number.

The song is love.

*******

Many thanks to Two Writing Teachers and the Slice of Life Story Challenge community.
And to readers…you’re all part of the story and the song.

Thanksgiving legacy

I once read of a young woman preparing her kitchen for Passover. Amid the traditional cleaning and purging, she had a sense of taking her place in the long line of women who had done so before her, throughout history. As if the rituals of tradition invoked their presence, for within the actions lie inextricable, unbroken threads of purpose, holiness, praise, gratitude…

On the eve of Thanksgiving, I have a similar sensation. Driving to the grocery store, armed with a list of ingredients for foods that my children have requested (deviled eggs and carrot cake chief among them), I am enchanted by autumn’s alchemy. Late afternoon sun gilds the trees along the roadside. The blending of red, orange, bronze, some trees already bare, preparing for winter…for a moment, for mere seconds, I imagine there are figures running through these flickering sunlit woods. If I could look long enough, or just right, I might catch glimpses of people as they were in times past, maybe even my childhood self. Burnished memories still living, beckoning…snapshot scenes of Thanksgivings, with card tables set up for the children. Heads bowed in prayer. My grandfather’s humble blessing, his knobbled, work-worn hands. Grandma’s deviled eggs and potato salad, Mama’s carrot cake (the hit of every holiday gathering), Grannie’s rum pound cake…lifting that big old Tupperware lid, the first whiff nearly knocking me down, but the moist golden richness after…incomparable. I find myself yearning for a slice of it now.

In the process of cleaning and preparing for the holidays I reorganized a closet. I found a box of Grandma’s things. Letters and cards given to her over the years, her green-bronze jewelry box containing her clip-on “earbobs”. Old photos. Books and trinkets I’d given her. Her diaries, dating back to when I was twelve. Programs from my school plays. Her funeral program. And I think about how life is the story of love, sacrifice, survival. How she and Grannie did much with little, raising children during the Great Depression. How they held faith and family above all else…how they do not feel far from me, even now, as I write these words. My own granddaughter, their great-great granddaughter, will be four weeks old on Thanksgiving Day. I have a profound sense of taking my place in a hallowed line of legacy and love. With abiding gratitude. And joy, shining like the immutable sun on the autumn trees, in the ongoing story of survival. The turning of pages, new chapters, in a gilt-bound book…

Here’s to all the blessings that were, are, and are still to come.

Our precious Micah

Reflections of gratitude: Spiritual journey

For my newborn granddaughter, Micah

What shall I tell you about the day you were born?

Your Grandpa and I were waiting in the carpool line to pick your big sister up from kindergarten when your dad texted: Micah is here! 9 lbs!

Gratitude flooded our hearts as photos flooded our phones.

We wept at sight of you. Your sister would say “happy cried.”

Looking at your beautiful rosy face, a thousand thoughts fluttered in my mind, like birds descending from the azure sky, landing one by one on soft, moss-covered branches…

I remembered it was supposed to storm that day, and it didn’t; the late October sun shone for all it was worth, illuminating the countryside with brilliant gold, orange, yellow, and scarlet.

I forgot the shadows, worries, and grind of daily life.

I remembered the story of my own birth, told over and over to me by my grandmother: She, Daddy, Granddaddy, and Grannie stood looking at me through the nursery window, Grandma “happy cried,” Daddy said I looked just like Granddaddy.

I forgot to be sad about not going to the hospital to see you on the day you were born due to limited visitors in COVID protocols.

I remembered that I’d be able to come the next day, and that it would suffice.

I forgot there was even a pandemic.

I remembered the joy of your father’s birth, the fierce motherlove which surged in my veins, which surges still, and exponentially now, for you.

I forgot about fearing my own inadequacies.

I remembered to wear Grandma’s locket.

I forgot, until your curious big sister opened it, that your father’s newborn picture was nestled inside.

I remembered the promises of God, that blessings fall on the generations of those who love Him, my precious, precious baby Micah, daughter and granddaughter of pastors: Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments (Deuteronomy 7:9, ESV).

I have never forgotten that.

Thankful for the infinite grace of God. Love you always, Micah. – Franna

********

with thanks to Denise Krebs for hosting November’s Spiritual Journey Thursday group, with a focus on gratitude.

and also to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge.

I am deeply grateful for you all.

Shimmer of being alive poem

Late September

across the street
the first few spots
of yellow dot the lush green
abundance of trees
despite the searing blueness of sky
and bathwater-saturated
Carolina air

lingering summer

yet in it I feel a tinge
the tiniest tinge
an almost imperceptible
coolness

deep in the wooded shadows
from a sun-patched limb, no doubt,
a lone cicada takes up his rattle
crescendo, decrescendo


they were late arriving this year
but still here

driving to work
along the winding backroads
a darting from the left
two gray squirrels, 
scampering in tandem
right in front of me
on the double yellow lines

I stop for them 
they stop for me

after a moment
of squirrel contemplation
one continues on across
but the other, the other
turns back
with something in its mouth

not an acorn, something hanging
pale-colored
I’ve never seen the likes
but instinctively know:
that’s a baby squirrel

and on I drive, thinking
of the old squirrel twins book
my grandmother read to me
so long ago

and of how I shall read it
to my own granddaughter
arriving in a few short weeks

the morning September sun shimmers
rose-gold in my rearview mirror
like promises steeped in time

I no longer dream of dying
like I did when I was nine
now, in my first tinge of autumn
I dream of new babies born
every night

*******

with thanks to Sarah Donovan at Ethical ELA for the inspiration to write poetry
around moments of knowing “I am alive.”