Becky was raised by a mother who loved poetry. She loved reading it, memorizing it, and reciting poems of every kind. Lucinda used poems to teach her daughter Becky how to solve life’s problems. At the age of 6, Becky learned through Shel Silverstein the importance of keeping a clean room.
Messy Room by Shel Silverstein
Whosever room this is should be ashamed!
His underwear is hanging on the lamp.
His raincoat is there in the overstuffed chair,
And the chair is becoming quite mucky and damp.
His workbook is wedged in the window,
His sweater's been thrown on the floor.
His scarf and one ski are beneath the TV,
And his pants have been carelessly hung on the door.
His books are all jammed in the closet,
His vest has been left in the hall.
A lizard named Ed is asleep in his bed,
And his smelly old sock has been stuck to the wall.
Whosever room this is should be ashamed!
Donald or Robert or Willie or--
Huh? You say it's mine? Oh, dear,
I knew it looked familiar!
These are words that resonated with Becky until her broken heart trumped her messy room. She was 16 when she fell for Beau, the boy with the flipped back long bangs, who sat next to her in Trigonometry class. It wasn’t long before they were lost in deep conversation, walking the school's hallways hand in hand, and eating lunch together. They fell in love, and six months later, Beau fell in love with another. It was then that Lucinda switched to another poem as she wiped Becky’s tear stained checks.
Touched by An Angel by Maya Angelou
We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.
We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love's light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.
Understanding that a life without love would be empty, Becky let the words of her mother’s recitation seep deep into her soul, as she vowed to love again.
As graduation approached, Becky was faced with the fear of the unknown. Where should she go to school? What should she study? Who should she live with? What would make her happy while she was away from home for the first time? She loved Math class the most in school. She excelled at it, but all of her girlfriends were going to major in Psychology, Art History, and Fashion Merchandising. They spent many hours discussing their desire to sail through their classes on campus, so they would have lots of time to focus on dating and having fun. Becky felt torn. Should she take the course they were taking, or challenge herself to accept a more rigorous curriculum? In talking with her mother one night, Lucinda began reciting yet another poem.
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
With her math degree in hand, Becky went on to become an engineer. A field dominated by males, but it was one that gave Becky the job security she needed for decades to come. While her friends struggled to find jobs upon graduating, Becky’s life became easier.
Soon the years went from changing diapers to piano lessons to cheering her children on in high school sports. There were days when they were all happy, days when most were sad. There were meals to cook, deadlines to reach, people to please, and a house to clean. And through it all, she took in her aging mother. One night when life felt like it was becoming too much, and Becky couldn’t go on, she found herself tiptoeing into Lucinda’s darkened room down the hall. She crept quietly up to her bed, and laid her check next to her mother’s, and in a rare moment of lucidity, Lucinda began to whisper one more poem.
Life Is Fine by Langston Hughes
I went down to the river,
I set down on the bank.
I tried to think but couldn't,
So I jumped in and sank.
I came up once and hollered!
I came up twice and cried!
If that water hadn't a-been so cold
I might've sunk and died.
But it was Cold in that water! It was cold!
I took the elevator
Sixteen floors above the ground.
I thought about my baby
And thought I would jump down.
I stood there and I hollered!
I stood there and I cried!
If it hadn't a-been so high
I might've jumped and died.
But it was High up there! It was high!
So since I'm still here livin',
I guess I will live on.
I could've died for love--
But for livin' I was born
Though you may hear me holler,
And you may see me cry--
I'll be dogged, sweet baby,
If you gonna see me die.
Life is fine! Fine as wine! Life is fine!
A poem that told her, “you’ve got this”. It was a poem that helped her feel reassured that “this too shall pass”. The poem told to her by a woman who’s loved her through it all. A woman, who could always lift her spirits throughout life by reciting one of her many memorized poems.
Lucinda is a classic example of someone who did not believe she had a life story to share, but in talking with her and her daughter, you can see that her love of poetry alone was the gateway into who she was, and why she did have stories about her life to share. Everyone has something about themselves that makes them unique. From hobbies, to thoughts, to lives spent in service, every parent has a life history to pass on to their posterity.
Let’s preserve these stories and these memories while people are still around to share them.