Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Woman On Her Own


I went to work in ‘fifty three
At the local Daily News
To prove to Mom that I could be
A woman on my own.
An independent seventeen,
I wrote obits, and wedding notes –
I found it fun to telephone
For quotes to use in articles –
On who went where and what they did.

No casual clothes for working gals in 1953 –
My car hop friends were envious
That I dressed up for work.
I felt that I was all grown up.
Mom was

I went to work in ‘fifty five – a summer job
Out of town to prove to Mom
That I was grown
A woman on my own.
We sublet a flat, Leah and Elaine and I.
I worked at a Boston brokerage.
My boss was Mildred Hatch.
I worked with Ginny HaggartyAnd Helen Jack from Dorcester
My age, she was engaged to wed
A Cambridge man; her parents feared
She’d move away from Dorcester. 

I learned the Boston dialect –
A milkshake is a frappe, a spa -
A corner store, where tonic is a coke.
That summer my romance broke up
Those Boston girls - they saw me through –
The helped me laugh, and schemed with me
To get him back. It didn’t work.
When I went home to tell my mom how grown I was
Mom was

Then I grew up and had three kids and went to work – a full time job
From 8 to 5, two blocks away. We all came home for lunch.
A secretary at a church - whoever would have thought back then
That typewriters and secretaries would soon be obsolete.
I went to work to subsidize the children’s college years
And give those kids a chance to go
To school in a different town, and maybe get a summer job
Like mine had been. They did.

We moved once more – Move number ten
I went to college once again
Became a City Planner then,
Got “Planning Certified”
Became “Kay B – AICP”
And after working twenty years
Retired, with full benefits –
A woman on her own
With better things to do.
If Mom had lived, I know
She would

Friday, January 22, 2010

I have been so out of touch. I have just reseen Julie and Julia and am reinspired to blog.

Pick Up Your Bed and Walk

I am no longer in casts, the walker has been stowed away. I’m thinking of sending the boots to Haiti if I can figure a way. I have dusted off right shoes and my car keys. I am still slow, but walking. During my convalescence I have been writing poems which I’ll post. As I go along. My poems are no longer focused on broken legs or other malfunctioning parts.

It is my desire to put together things on the blog that I will later include in a second book. I am excited about the prospect. The first book was well received by lots of people and that has encouraged me. If I keep writing, I may connect with people via the blog, and that would be wonderful. I don’t know quite how to do that, but I’ll keep trying.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I Wouldn't Do That

"I would not do that," Mary Jessie said.
She's said that many times over many years.
She said that as I tried to comfort her
About the friend who never calls -
The kids who rarely help -
About the friend who hurt the feelings
of another friend.
I would not do that, Mary Jessie said.

"Of course I forgave her, told her so," she said,
"but even then I knew I would not be like that,
I would not fail to see a friend who's sick
I would not fail to help my mom
Whenever I was asked. I never would do that.
I would not borrow money, and neglect to pay it back
There are some things that I would never do," she said.

Me, I always try to understand.
I know I do not know just how it feels
to have another life,
Another life experience.
Me, I'm never sure just what I'd do
If I were someone else.

Yet even as I try to understand
To have compassion, and some tolerance,
Not to judge what isn't mine to judge
I hear this voice deep inside me say,
Me, I wouldn't do that. No. Not me.
As another voice asks,
Oh, really? Are you sure?

Sunday, December 6, 2009


If I call to Heaven and an angel answers me,
Will I be scared? You bet!
If I create a work of art
A painting that was never there before -
A poem -
Is it not of necessity less -
Than that which it was meant to represent?

Because no one can create all the facets
Possibilities, extensions,
Of anything
And then add on – not just mine -
But your imaginings, and that man's over there,
Or see what that child sees,
It must be less – my poem, my painting
Still I do not make that object less
Just by my effort.

If the angel isn't there, I don't care
Just so long as I think it is
And see my answer, hear my answer, feel it -
That's enough.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thoughts on Rilke

If I call to Heaven and an angel answers me,
Will I be scared? You bet!

If I create a work of art
A painting that was never there before -
A poem -
Is it not of necessity less -
Than that which it was meant to represent?

No one can create all the facets
Possibilities, extensions, emotions,
Of anything -
And then add on – not just mine -
But your imaginings, and that man's over there,
Or see just what that child sees
When gazing at that reality
In dimensions, from angles
I cannot portray.
It must be less – my poem, my painting
Than the reality it draws upon
And at the same time more
Because it frees imagination,
Not just mine,
But yours.

If the angel isn't there, I don't care
Just so long as I think it is
And see my answer, hear my answer, feel it -
That's enough.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Christmas 1940

What makes this season between Thanksgiving and Christmas distinctive one year as opposed to all the other years is when the unexpected happens, when plans and traditions have to be scrapped. In the end that Christmas is often special and, yes, memorable. With two broken legs, it is expected that this Christmas will be one of those unpredictable ones. And it brings to my memory another unpredictable Christmas.

In September of 1940 my father hemorrhaged from his lungs.. I was four and my sister was six. The country was still in a depression, and money was tight. Dad was an intense young man who had spent long hours making his way in the corporate world.

The hemorrhage changed everything in an instant. The diagnosis was tuberculosis which had attacked my father in a vulnerable spot, causing the hemorrhage. The doctor felt this was fortunate, inasmuch as it led to the discovery of the disease at a relatively early stage. However, tuberculosis was tuberculosis and at that time there were no cures. This was before there were drugs to treat the disease. The treatment then was food, bed-rest, sun, often relegation to a sanatorium. For many people TB was a death sentence.

Later in the day after the hemorrhage the family gathered its resources. George and Marjorie, Mother's brother and his wife, arrived, and my grandmother, whom we called Minna. Uncle Don and Aunt Jane, not relatives but friends, came. I have no idea who else came, but there was a lot of activity which I recall as being confusing.

There were decisions made in those first few days, and I have no idea how they were made or what went into them, but my parents established a pattern. They were not going to be defeated. They were going to make this altered situation work. The family would remain intact. And, where they could, they would enjoy the process.

First, Dad would get to stay home. He would be confined to his room. His dishes would be boiled. We were not allowed beyond the door to his room – but we could go that far. During the months of his recuperation, he was still very much an involved father.

The doctor came frequently and checked up on us. Ann and I were repeatedly tested (the scratch test). I would hide when Dr. Bartlett came, but he managed to find me in whatever closet I was secreted, and administer the test.

Minna came to stay. I think for a while there were nurses, and other help, but if there were, I don't think they were there long. Minna was Mother's support and confidante. She was convinced Dad would recover. Her optimism was catching. The trays that went up to my father were elegant – little touches, cloth napkins, covers over the plates.

The owner of my father's company offered to keep him on half salary during his recovery. What my parents didn't know at the time is my father would have to pay that half salary back by working at half salary another year when he returned to work. Money during the year of my father's TB was tight, and I'm sure it was a worry. My parents were survivors, and what fear they had that year they did not transmit to us. Cutting back became almost a game.

Mother and Dad played board games and cards, and listened to the radio together. Dad listened to football games, and charted them using a red and blue pencil. Their friends and neighbors gathered around. There were visits and gifts, often in forms of food. Someone brought Dad a “Dutch wife”, a pillow to place under his knees. I hid it. Dad did not need another wife, even a cloth one. Sometimes friends and neighbors took Ann or me for an outing. Uncle Don, who worked with Dad, came every day on his way from work.

Ann and I were part of the recovery plan. We were expected to behave, and I think Ann did. We both had birthdays that fall. I think we both had birthday parties. I don't remember mine, but I do remember Ann's. That was when I found that if you chew a sterling silver spoon, you can actually change its shape. When the crime was discovered, I blamed Nancy Renkinberger, because I knew my mother didn't like her much anyway. It took years before the Statute of Limitations would allow me to confess. Nancy wasn't invited back.

With the approach of Christmas, Dad was given permission to come downstairs for the first time. He had his choice of coming down for dinner or earlier, for the opening of gifts. He chose to be there for the gifts.

Friends who probably would not have given us Christmas presents in ordinary circumstances did that year. Ella Hume, across the street, gave us each hand painted soldiers that she had painted herself. She also gave us hand painted wooden ornaments, some of which I still have and treasure.

The picture I have carried of that Christmas is the family listening to a recording of Peter and the Wolf. I can see my father in his chair, listening with us. He is wearing his Christmas robe. Mother is beside him. Ann and I were acting out the parts. We circled the dining room table, being hunters, carrying the wolf, with the duck inside, to the zoo.

Then Dad went back upstairs, and his dinner, as usual, was served to him on a tray. We knew he would be down again. It would not be long.

Friday, November 20, 2009


In junior high in the late 40’s, there was in me a consistent conflict between who I thought I was and who I thought I should be.  So I went about the business of inventing myself. I dressed like Mary, laughed like Kathleen, tied my thick curly hair in a pony tail like Nancy’s, ignoring the fact that her hair was straight and much better suited to a pony tail.

Sometimes I would hear something, see something, and tell myself, “I can do that, if I only try hard enough.”  I watched Esther Williams swim. She was graceful, with a dazzling smile as she languorously stretched her arms in a backstroke.  If water got in her mouth, she gently blew it out. 

I grew up on Lake Michigan, with waves and undertow, not suited to languorously backstroking and blowing.  Nevertheless I tried.  Too often there was so much water in my mouth that I resembled a whale spouting rather than Esther blowing.  Diving like Esther was out of the question.  There aren’t diving boards on Lake Michigan, and if there were, my instinctive fear of jumping to my death kept me off them.

One day, before junior choir, I heard a friend of my mother’s, Peggy McKee, practicing.  She was on vacation from New York, where she sang professionally.  Her voice was rich, warm, expressive.  Listening to her, I was transported. Could I sing like that?  Could I make people feel the way I felt listening to her? 

Why not?  She had to start somewhere. I practiced.  I belted out Old Man River.  (I knew the words.)  I decided I was a contralto, like Peggy.  My sister, Ann, held her ears, and begged me to shut up.

We had one bathroom, shared by four people.  The bathtub had claw feet (when claw footed bathtubs were not stylish), and no shower.  Hair washing was done in the bathroom sink with countless cups of water poured over my head.  I would gaze in the mirror, arranging my soapy hair in the style of Marie Antoinette, and sing rising scales.  Well, almost scales.  They got a little flat in the upper reaches.  I would imagine myself living in Manhattan, catching a cab for rehearsals, dressing in elaborate costumes, being adored.

“Peggy doesn’t sing at the Met,” my mother told me.  “She sings professionally at big Manhattan churches.”

“She’s good enough to sing at the Met,” I said, starting another trill.

“Very few people are good enough to sing at the Met,” Mother said.  “Kay, it is possible to admire someone, without having to compete with them.  You can love good singing, and still not be able to hold a tune.”

Eventually, with a lot of family pressure, my singing career ended.  Sometime later I took up the cello. 

While at a music camp I heard Mary Ellen playing Malaguania on the piano.  Wow.  I had never heard the piano sound like that.  Could I do that?  If I memorized it? And practiced hours every day?  Could I play just one piece like that?  Well, that’s another story.