Inheritance

inheritance

I stumbled across this poem as I was prepping for teaching a poetry unit this month, and its beautiful images of time, surrender and memories absolutely enchanted me. So often I think of those inheritances from my ancestors – both the tangible and intangible – and breathe with gratitude that I carry their stories with me.

Inheritance

BY PHILIP LEVINE

A rectangular Bulova, my Zadie
called a dress watch, I wore it for years,
and though it gave the wrong time
I treasured the sense of community
it offered, the beauty of certain numerals —
the seven especially, the way it leaned
into its subtle work and never changed,
and signified exactly what it was
and no more. In dreams I learned
that only the watch and the circle
of ash trees surrounding me, and the grass
prodding my bare feet, and of course
my nakedness were necessary, though
common. Just surrendering my youth,
I still believed everything in dreams
meant something I could parse to discover
who we were.
As I write these words
in sepia across a lined page I have
no idea why they’ve taken the shape
I’ve given them, some cursive, some not,
some elegantly articulated, others plain,
many of no use at all. They go on working
as best they can, like the Parker 51
that spent its coming of age stumbling
backwards into Yiddish or the Bulova
that finally threw up its twin baroque arms
in surrender to the infinite and quit
without a word. The Parker still works
and is never to blame. On good days
it works better than I, and when it leaks
it leaks only ink, never a word best
left unsaid.
As a boy I would steal
into Zadie’s bedroom, find the watch
in a velvet box, wind it, hold it
to each ear — back then both worked —
to hear its music, the jeweled wheels
and axles that kept time alive.
There is still such joy in these tokens
from back of beyond: the watch,
the Parker pen, the tiny pocket knife
he used to separate truth from lies,
the ivory cigarette holder —
a gift, he claimed, from FDR
who mistook him for a famous
Russian violinist. I could call them
“Infinite riches in a little room”
or go cosmic and regard them
as fragments of a great mystery
instead of what they are,
amulets against nothing.

Source: Poetry (January 2015).

photo credit: Writing For Rosie via photopin (license)

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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My Great-Grandmother Was A Dress Designer

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I still have boxes of lace and buttons my great-grandmother Grace left behind, lingering like shadows of a world I never knew. She died in 1965, months before I was born, her life history playing as a background script throughout my life.

I feel her spirit whenever I walk into the old adobe cottage originally purchased by my great-grandparents. My mom lives there now, and for three generations, this tiny home on the California coast has been the place my people go to live when they’re done with the big city or just need a change in their life. That’s how Grandma Grace ended up there. After decades as a fashion designer and businesswoman, she chose to retire from her successful design company in St. Louis to start a new adventure in California, pulled by her love of stone houses and a desire to be nearer to her only child (my grandmother).

My great-grandmother was a woman who knew what she wanted, and she wasn’t afraid to go after it.

To read the rest of this piece, please visit SheKnows.com, where it is featured as part of their ‘Women In History’ series.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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My Eccentric Grandma Grace

One of Grandma Grace's dress designs.
One of Grandma Grace’s dress designs.

My mom lives in an old adobe cottage originally  purchased by my great-grandparents. For three generations this tiny home has been the place people go to live when they’re done with the big city, or just need a change. I’ve been told that Grandma Grace loved stone houses; maybe it was their solidity that drew her to them, or the way one feels so anchored to that place when sitting by the fire on a cool summer afternoon. Maybe it was just her opinionated spirit, a woman who knew what she wanted-I’ll never really know for sure.

Grandma Grace has always been a sort of eccentric shadow in my life. Although she and Pops moved to California in the 1940s, the adobe wasn’t the first house she bought on the California coast; legend has it that she was a huge fan of log cabins, and chose one as a summer vacation spot long before she made the move from St. Louis. Some people say it’s still haunted; personally, I believe them. Spirits like hers don’t just leave easily.

She was a small woman, with a huge personality. Not many women in the early 1900s had the courage to start their own business and employ their husbands in their dress designing company, but Grandma Grace did. She was the original entrepreneur, starting off by sewing her own clothes, then churning that home business into a successful design company. I still have boxes of lace and buttons she left behind, lingering like shadows of a world I never knew.

When I think of women in the 1940s, I think about a culture which required civility, meekness, and a certain sort of knowing one’s place in the world. I’m not sure I would have survived. At that time, women were unlikely to be the head of a household, own businesses or be divorced – and my Grandma Grace was all three. Of course, she ultimately remarried my great-grandfather, with my grandmother as her maid-of-honor; just another example of eccentric Grandma Grace.

I can just imagine Grandma Grace and her ladies together, teacups in front, maybe a flask to their side, discussing their desire to be themselves despite what conventional stereotypes might have dictated for women at the time. A sort of modern-day book group – without the book, but with the drinking.  I like to think she would have agreed with people like Bertrand Russell who said, “Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.”

I have to believe a bit of her eccentric spirit lives on in me today. I think she would have liked that.

This post was inspired by writealm.com’s word of the day, |eccentric|.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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