Prompt: Passed Away, Not Forgotten
Australians have recently embraced the USA Halloween tradition, partly due to multinational stores such as Woolworths carrying Halloween merchandise. This year, I had a different experience, joining neighbours for a Day of the Dead party, a Mexican tradition. We gathered at one home, decorated with colourful skeleton paper cutouts. A table/altar was set up, where we could place something related to a deceased friend or relative. I enjoyed finding out more about my neighbours in terms of whothey chose to talk about and why.
I chose my grandma, Maude Nelson, a shy woman who bore five children and followed a strong religious faith (Methodist).
She was always busy—sewed a quilt for each of her 13 grandchildren, tatted a lovely lace doily at age 90, and lived to almost 100. A Kansas farm woman, her days involved caring for chickens and geese, gathering eggs, managing a huge veggie garden, canning the produce for future winter meals, and feeding workers during the June wheat harvest. She rose early, getting breakfast ready while her husband, Clyde Alvin, milked the cows. I never saw her idle, except on humid, hot summer afternoons, when she was sitting upright in her chair, tatting or doing other work, and fell asleep for a short time.
As a kid, I practised on their old player piano, and looked at WWI 3D photo images on their stereoptiscope. I loved roaming the wheatfields with their dog Sport, eating rabbit for dinner—my favorite, and fishing for catfish in the muddy rivers and ponds.
It was fun to go shopping with my grandparents in the nearby tiny town of Turon KS. There Grandma met up with her friends, and Grandad played cards in the pool hall. No respectable woman would enter the place, so when it was time to go,Grandma sent me in to tell him. I was fascinated how much she knew about kinship lines in that small community. I’d ask her, ‘Who’s that?’, and she’d explain that the person was my third cousin on my mother’s side, and someone ‘twice removed’ on my father’s side. Like I said, a very small town! She knew who lived on each farm or in each house, and their background. These ties were strong, and meant people knew they could count on each other whenever troubles struck.
When I was young and thought it important to be famous—to be SOMEONE—I asked if she too wished to be known beyond Turon, beyond Kansas, and even beyond the USA. She let me know that it was not much of an aim, compared to living a good life. Years down the track, I see her point.
Objects I still have that bring back memories of her:
- The metal knitting needles that she threaded her homemade doughnuts on, then spooned vanilla icing over them and let them drip dry.
- An early friendship quilt, with the embroidered names of her friends.
- Old postcard albums from traveling relatives. All the messages are written in pencil, probably because carrying ink and a quill pen would have been difficult.
- Her wedding dress, so tiny, and grander than anything I ever saw her wear, even on the Sundays when she dressed in her best to attend church. Clyde didn’t go to church but observed the Sabbath in his own way, adding a jacket over his clean shirt and overalls, and playing Solitaire rather than working.
- A couple of books, although I never saw her read anything except the farming newspaper, Capper’s Weekly.
- An old oak rocker that I’ve recently restored, plus a standing cabinet Victrola that I took home after she told me she was going to chop it up for firewood.
Maude Nelson Durham was quiet, supportive, kind, and she showed me in so many ways that she loved me. And I loved her.
PROMPT: Try writing a prose piece of a poem that captures something specific and telling about someone who has died, someone you feel moved to write about.
- What were their good and bad points, their strengths and weaknesses?
- In what way did they affect you at the time?
- Is there a particular incident you remember that showed their personality, character, beliefs?
- Has anything changed in terms of your view/assessment, then and now?
- If you could time travel back, what would a visit with them be like? What would you notice in terms of setting, conversation, actions?