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Collected Short Works, 1920-1954 by Bess Streeter Aldrich – Susan’s Newsletter April 2010 & May 2017


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April 8, 2010 Susan's Newsletter (Love of Graveyards) 
Followed by May 7, 2017 (Three generations of women - of a mother meeting her grandmother & great-grandmother, all aged 8, in a dream)
The Collected Short Works 1920-1954 by Louisa May Alcott

April 8, 2010 Susan's Newsletter (Love of Graveyards)

Good morning!!!  Or, do wec not say “good” when the wind makes us vocalize words we don’t want to admit we’re thinking and the temperatures are freezing again?  Well, good, because of the perfect coffee/filler combination and the scene of the cat in the laundry…those alone make the greeting worthy of print!

What is it about the springtime – the green shoots coming out of the ground, that makes me want to turn into the cemetery?  To say hi.  To tell them what’s happened since they were covered with snow last fall.  What is it about the birds beginning to fly over that makes my car want to veer that direction?  That made me yesterday speak casually to Camden as we drove by the gate, “We need to go in and see Grandpa and Grandpa.  To take them spring flowers.”  Why did that driveway not beckon me for the last 6 months, and now call my name?   Because the grass is coming alive again.  The same grass will be growing there where Camden played.  Where my mind rested.  Where I found peace.   Where I could enter scenes from the past that I wanted to remember.   Where I could make peace with what I wanted to forget.  Where I found time to notice the little details of flowers, markers, love from mothers, love from family members, pain.  Where eternity seems so real.  Where heaven is only a glance in the distance.  Where the dress I know my mother best in is only five feet under me….I like that thought.  Strange, I know.  Where I always wish I’d remembered to bring flowers before the spontaneous decision to go.  Where time doesn’t seem to make changes.  The same grass.  The same trees.  The same water pump.  The same scenes in my head of a little week old baby…a three week old…a toddler, a kindergartener that got to “drive” before school in the quiet mornings on the little roads around the tombstones.  Where Happy Meals and Blizzards were devoured after school…where a dear child wonders and lets me dream.  Where he would feel the letters on the tombstones and with pride say the letter he was learning.  Where the toddler in my mind would pick up a little red fire truck every time we went – a fire truck on a young boy’s grave that had sat there for years…that will be there when we enter again soon…the little fire truck…I always want to know the mother that laid it there.  Was it his mother?  Was it his favorite toy?  We know it will be what we search for each spring…as the snow melts off of the little tombstone marker.

Why is the cemetery one of my favorite places?  Last night I read a short story by Bess Streeter Aldrich on a discussion in a cemetery in a small town.  I thought I should save it to write for you nearer Memorial Day, but this is when the reading is fresh….so I won’t wait to write for you what I loved reading.  This is from The Collected Short Works 1920-1954.  A book that sits by my bedside for when I’m tired.  I always love these short stories…

The Outsider…This short story takes place during a Memorial Day ceremony at a small cemetery.  A woman was perturbed by the children playing and the women talking near and on the graves during the ceremony.  She was “shocked” that the setting seemed as a “picnic” rather than a serious occasion…”Please forgive me for saying it, but it seemed there was a complete lack of awe and reverence.”  Here is part of the response of the oldest woman present, “Aunt Millie.”  She begins with telling about the first little baby buried, 90 years ago…how the little quilt was pieced for him by the pioneer women…how the grand tree was the first to be above his grave…then a farmer died  and his family asked if he could lay next to the little boy…so they built a little fence to keep out the coyotes…then a woman died in childbirth and the fence was enlarged…then children died from diphtheria…a settler from tetanus…the hill got covered with more of their family members.

more people out here now than over in townBut for a long time back in those old days people brought baskets and got together for visiting near the old tree.  Then after awhile the trees they’d planted in town got big enough and nobody brought baskets out here anymore.  but I guess what you call irreverence might have got started on account of the tree and never stopped when we got a little park in town…children play around the tombstones and folks laugh and talk a lot.  But I never thought of it as lacking reverence.  I wish I could explain to you that it’s something deeper.  This reunion that people have out here – it does something to the folks who have lost their loved ones.  It’s like the ones sleeping out here still belong, are still a part of their families.  I stood by Rachel Acton just a few months ago when they brought her boy home from Korea and she said, “Aunt Millie, it’s comforting to think he can lie right where he played.”  Believe me, I do see how it must look to an outsider. 

I assure you sorrow is just as deep here and grief just as terrible.  Only there’s something here in this cemetery eases both of them.  I’ve seen people bowed with grief and then up would come some of the warm-hearted friends to visit and it would take away a little of the lonesomeness…when we laugh and talk and visit across the graves of those we loved, it’s as though the ones sleeping here are still a part of our lives, as though there wasn’t any death at all, as though life is everlasting – still unchanging, and going on.” 

The short story ends with this beautiful paragraph…Aunt Millie stood up.  The little grandson came and leaned against her.  “We must go, Dickie.”  She put her hand on the boy’s head.  “Where’s that loud toy of yours?”  “I put it there.”  The boy pointed to the grave of his baby brother.  The red-painted squawker lay inside the white syringa wreath as though it were a symbol of something warm and human connecting the noisy living with the quiet dead.

How do I follow-up such a beautiful sentence?  With the realization that time goes so quickly.  That tonight as we lay in bed and go over our day we will write our epitaph for the day’s events…for our thoughts, our goals, our actions, our moments.  We are the only ones to determine how we respond to what comes to us today.  Will we look into the eyes of those we meet with kindness, not knowing their burdens?  Will we look up to the hills or drop to our knees if presented with what we don’t know if we can bear?   Will we keep this thought in our minds, through all of our moments of time flying with the winds we can’t stop, Be still and know that I am God?  Will we keep all in an eternal perspective – the perspective that all is okay.  That we cannot see the top of the quilt – only the disorganization of the threads underneath?  Will we take the time to look into our children’s eyes – to notice what they are loving, doing, reading, thinking… to give them our undivided attention, even if only for a few moments?  What will our epitaph tonight read for the moments we can’t get back today?

Go, take on your day.  Make the minutes worth living.  Be still.   Sitting at the cemetery – looking at all of the lives, the generations, the coming and going, the insignificance of the details that seem so large to us daily, seeing the perspective and trying to sort out what will make a difference, what is worth our efforts?  Are we keeping the perspective of our lives here being only a small time period of the creation of our soul?  Are we “stepping heavenward” – living our lives in prayer so that if we do die soon we will not find the step into God’s physical presence very far, for we are living in his presence now?  Thank you for letting me enter your world again this Thursday morning.  Thank you for your constant encouragement for our business.  I thank you, even if I wasn’t working if you were able to come in, I noticed, and I thanked you in my mind!  Susan

Latin for this week:
infinitas infinitio - eternity, infinity, endlessness.
ad perpetuam memoriam – to the perpetual memory

Interesting definitions (grin)
coimetrophiliac, koimetrophiliac

The Collected Short Works 1920-1954 by Louisa May Alcott
Mother in a dream playing with her grandmother & great-grandmother, all aged 8.
Susan’s Thursday morning note May 11, 2017
Good morning!  Beautiful green Nebraska scene.  Verdi Prati (green meadows in Latin).   Bird songs so different than their balking yesterday morning after their night of storm.  Now calm and resorted to working on their messed up battered nests with quiet twirps.  This morning I will be rewriting out of a scene written in 1919 “Across the Smiling Meadow” by Bess Streeter Aldirch.  A meadow where three little 8-year old girls joined hands with their dolls and walked, each from a different generation meeting in a feverish dream.  What birds were singing for these little girls?   Grandmothers to the little birds I hear?  Do these birds picture theiir great-grandmothers and mothers and hear their bird-songs in their minds?  The songs they were taught to greet the world each morning by their mother birds?   How I can imagine all the generation of mother birds meeting with their youngest offspring and singing their chorus together instead of over decades.

This story is from Bess Streeter Aldrich (famous for Lantern in Her Hand).  She has a book of short stories, The Collected Short Works 1920-1954.  This is probably my favorite book if I could keep just one.  The stories are all light, written during the war.  Aldrich states that she wanted to write “reality” that was not dark, not harsh reality, just stories of families, moms, kids.  Stories to be read at the end of long stressful days during war.  This book has been by my bed for eight years.  The stories I read at night when my parents died, the stories I read at night the first week Camden was born as I held and fed him in the middle of the night.  The stories I read now when I don’t have energy for any other stories.

Across the Smiling Meadow by Bess Streeter Aldrich:

This short story impacted me so much.  In my words…A mother was lying in a hospital bed dying of a series influenza (which killed 22 million in WW1).   During her worst moment she began to hallucinate.  (She heard vaguely her daughter asking her daddy, “What’s a crisis mean?”)  She herself was going away now on the long journey.  She knew that.  And the queer thing was that she didn’t care.  People called it “dying.  They seemed to fear it.  She had feared it, had lived in dread of it, up until now.  It was nothing, after all.  It was just dropping all responsibility.  There were others to look after things.  She wouldn’t have to be responsible for the big house out on Sheridan Avenue, nor church work, nor club work, or Edward’s comfort, nor Natalie….at the thought of Natalie she came up on the definite desire and held tenaciously to it:  She must take Natalie with her. 

In her hallucinating she walked into her home, but she walked into her home as the age of her eight year old daughter….”Natalie!  Come with me, Natalie, I’m going to take you with me, dear….your mamma said you could come.”  “What is your name?  asked the daughter.  “Jennie.”  “Why, that’s my mamma’s name, too.”  Natalie grabbed her little doll, “Baby Bumps” and they passed the crying family members and headed to the fence behind the house.  The little girl commented to her new friend (the mother now an 8-year old)…”I never knew this big, grassy place was out here before!”  They had entered a meadow behind the house.  Jennie (mother) explained they’re going across the Smiling Meadow.  “I’ve never been there before, but I’ve always wanted to go.  I think I can find the way.  I’ll try to explain it to you, Natalie, but it’s just a little hard to understand.  You know how time keeps going on and on, and how children always grow up?…Well, nobody ever turns around and goes back the other way, gets little again, you know.  But every little girl wishes she could go back to play with her mother.”  She came closer to Natalie and drew her head over to whisper: “Listen!  Crossing the Smiling Meadow is going back.”

As the beautiful story progresses the two little children then play in the backyard and playhouse of Jennie (mother) as the backyard was set up in her day.  Natalie kept exclaiming, “This is exactly as my mom told me her house looked like!”  They knew where everything was…they grabbed Jennie’s China doll.  Then the two of them continue walking across Smiling Meadow.  The grass begins to become coarse and high and sprinkled with gay-colored flowers.  “It’s a wild land…Look!  It’s a prairie schooner.”  They cross a rail fence and at the end of a lane is a little brown house.  “There it is!  called Jennie triumphantly.  “I never saw it, but I know it.”  A new little character runs out of the log cabin, “There she is,” laughed Jennie excitedly.  “I never saw her, but I know her.”  “You’ll love her, She’s Mary – Mary Burdick”.  The three of them then walk down the lane, all at the age of eight.  Mary with her corncob doll, Jennie with her China doll, Natalie with her “Baby Bumps.”  Their play is described, the different time period is described as the girls exclaim over changes and play, laughing, not surprised with their instant familiarity of each other. 

Then the story changes.  Mary asks them to stay.  Natalie insists, “Oh, no!  I have to get back to the hospital to see my mamma…”  Mary clasps Jennie’s hand, imploring her to stay.  Jennie (the mother) (struggling between desire to let go of the fight and die, or to live)…”I will.  I like it here.  I’ll stay with you always, Mary.”…Natalie leaves the scene with her Baby Bumps.  The two look after her and realize it’s not the right time to “go back” – but to survive the illness and come back with Natalie.  Mary stands with her corncob dolly…All are with tears.  Good-byes.

This beautiful short story is so hard to portray in my words.  The mother and grandmother becoming eight-year olds.  All playing together.  Three generations.  I just absolutely love this idea.  What if we could go back.  What age would we choose?  If I could sit at the Green Gateau in Lincoln I would choose my age now.  Sit with my mom when she was 49, my grandmothers when they were 49, my great-grandmothers when they were 49.  All of us.  Sitting together.  Ordering whipped cocoa and then going shopping together!  Which would be the most “Susan”?  How similar would we be?  At what age would we have to go to be the most similar?  Before life’s details change us?  At 49 we would’ve all changed so much that I wonder what would still be our similarities?  Would we need to go to the age of eight?  Then what scene would I choose?  I believe walking barefoot in the cornfield.  Muddy feet.  Giggling.  Me at eight.  My mom at eight.  My grandmothers at eight.  My great grandmothers at eight.  All holding hands.  At this age how similar would we be?  Same giggles?  How many generations back would I have to go to find the most similar “Susan”?  Which scenes would I see traits of Camden and Shaun?   I just love thinking about this.  At what age will they truly all be when I see them in heaven?  Do you think God will give us the gift of being little girls together for a little bit?  Of being young women together for a little bit?  He created us as women – I hope he realizes how much we would love that!  If not in heaven, then will he let us have that dream?   And for Camden and Shaun.  Could they, at least in their dreams, meet their dad, their Grandpa Williams, their Grandpa Kremer, their great-grandfathers on both sides, their great-great grandfathers.  Could they meet them at different ages?  Who are they the most like?  Where would they find different traits of themselves?  I love this idea.

Bess Streeter Aldrich is truly my favorite author for when I just want to relax.  I highly recommend that you begin with any of her books.  She ends this story as I will my note this morning.  The mother, Jennie, wakes up with no fever in her hospital bed with all exclaiming that she gave them such an awful scare.  She asks for her Natalie.  The little one comes to her bedside and Jennie asks her daughter, “Did you –  like –  going back – with me – to Mary Burdick’s?  The little girl stared stupidly.  “What, mamma?”  The father had great tears rolling down his cheeks and hands Jennie Natalie’s hand.  He turns to the doctor and said, “Mind must have been wandering, I guess, doctor.  Mary Burdick was her mother’s maiden name.”  But the woman kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.  Do you hold dreams in your heart of when you see someone that has died in your head?  The dreams we all long for that rarely come?  I relate so with that line, for whenever I have the privilege of only a small smile from mom or dad in my dreams – I wake up…pondering the dreams in my heart.

Thank you for letting me enter your world this Thursday morning.  Summer begins.  Mother’s Day.  Memories.  Tonight as we have the opportunity to write our epitaph for the moments we will no longer get back will we have words worthy of inscription?  Will we look into eyes?  Will we look to the heavens?  Will we listen to the bird songs?  Will we notice the flower?  Will we pick up a book?  Moments going through our sand-timers even as I type.  We can’t stop any of the sand, but we can mentally stop the moment, remembering, dreaming, and noticing.    Life.  Beautiful.  Our gift.  Susan

Latin for this week
Tempus omnia sed memorias privat – Time deprives all but memories.

Works Cited:
Aldrich, Bess Streeter.  The Collected Short Works 1920-1954.  Lincoln.  University of Nebraska Press.  1999.