A valentine to my Mother, Jane Parke Carpenter, 1923-1999

Got up this morning, and a poem came. Whenever this happens, I am amazed and grateful, for as W.S. Merwin once said at a poetry workshop, (and I am paraphrasing, from memory), “After writing a poem we often feel that it’s our last. Another will never come.” But somehow, they do.

And I don’t believe in “writer’s block” anymore. I just wait. Sometimes for weeks, even months, and then one arrives.

So here is this morning’s poem, triggered by a memory of my Mother, who having lost her own Mother at the age of 10, always feared she’d not know how to “mother” when her 4 children arrived at that memorable age. But she overcame all such doubts, at least in the minds of her children. I’m sure my recent departure from a local Head Start program also led to many of the feelings that arise in this poem.

An Afternoon Memory

My Mother taught me to like
Melba toast
Tomato aspic
Watermelon rind
and Coffee.

She’d be in the kitchen,
Wedged between the ironing board & countertop,
Where Arthur Godfrey would croon and drone on
From our Philips radio,
Through our hour together.

She’d be pressing the hot silver iron over and over
Into my Father’s handkerchiefs,
While I cut out clothes for my paper dolls
From page after page of imagined fabric.

And best of all, we drank coffee–
Mother, from her everyday Melmac mug,
And I, from one of her Royal Copenhagen demitasse cups,
Half full of milk and sugar,
So as not to keep me awake
From the nap that always followed,

Where she stopped everything to read to me,
Sing her childhood songs:
“Oh, Do you Know the Muffin Man,” and
“My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean,”
Teased me to sleep with a back rub,
And always, one more story.

She’s been gone now for sixteen years,
But when my little pre-school students ask,
“Where is your Mother?”
I look around the room, at their make-believe
Kitchen, the toy ironing board and little wooden iron,
The plastic tea set, the nap time cots, and answer:
“In Heaven,” which means, “here, in my heart”.

Mom probably in her early 20's, in front of Chateau Frontenac

Mom probably in her early 20’s, in front of Chateau Frontenac

Mom with her first child, my brother Tim

Mom with her first child, my brother Tim

Mom & me by car

Mom & me by car

Mom, Tim, my older sister Carol, and me

Mom, Tim, my older sister Carol, and me

Mom, Carol and me at Catskill Game Farm

Mom, Carol and me at Catskill Game Farm

Mom with Carol, me, and little Jim at Ft. Ticonderoga

Mom with Carol, me, and little Jim at Ft. Ticonderoga

About Nancy K. Carpenter

After 25 years in Texas, I've returned to Upstate New York to start a new life. In this journey, I've had to turn to my pen to make a living, as both a writer and teacher. One of my biggest challenges has been to catch up with the changes in technology that passed me by while I was raising my sons, riding horses, and raising hay on a farm outside Dallas. A writer, poet, teacher, and tutor, I have had to give up "fighting Gutenberg," as I used to say, and come to terms with the internet-- Macs, PCs, eBooks, iPads, and the world of cyberspace. These are my musings about life and the road that led me to this blog--my latest attempt to join the 21st Century.
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6 Responses to A valentine to my Mother, Jane Parke Carpenter, 1923-1999

  1. Leslie says:

    Great one. I think that tomato aspic and watermelon rind was our own personal hell.

    • Oh yes, but great grist for the poetry mill! My friends thought that tomato aspic was a sort of blasphemous jello, and with the addition of a tiny dab of mayo, worser and worser. But I think watermelon rind just might make a comeback. Like chutney, it’s one of the condiments I seem to see in cookbooks more and more. And “unpickled” watermelon
      rind is a treat for horses. Go figger!

  2. Tom Atkins says:

    A lovely, tender piece. And you are right about writer’s block. It will come when it comes. Keep opening yourself up to it!

    • Thank you, Tom. And you and I agree about “writer’s block.” I’ve seen entire books about the subject
      on bookstore shelves. Yikes! Guess that’s one way to break WB! Write one of those. Eee Gad!

      • Tom Atkins says:

        it used to bother me, but I have to say, now I just plow through. What If what I write for a while is crap? It’s still writing. It keeps the brain moving, so that when it’s ready for inspiration, I’m not quite as rusty.

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