I can’t believe she saved it all these years.
The yellow post-it note caught my eye as we sifted through cartons of my aunt’s belongings. Arline – my godmother and my mother’s only sister – passed away this past April. Long widowed and with no children of her own, it was left to Mom and other family members to empty Arly’s apartment.
For several days following her funeral in St. Paul, we gathered in Arly’s living room to give away furniture, toss obsolete files and sort bins of faded photos and mementoes.
“Remember this?” my cousin Pamela would say, picking up a travel souvenir. “I think you gave this to Arly.”
“May I have some of these?” my niece Katrina inquired, fingering glossy black and white photos showing Arly in tailored dresses, girlishly slim and sporting fabulous fashions from the 40’s.
But it was the photocopied poem that stopped my sorting. I dropped cross-legged to the floor and began to read.
“When they were little children
They often loved to go
With their father down to the shore
To watch, or play, or gather shells.
If the neighbors, calling, asked,
“The children – where are they?”
Serenely I could say,
“They’re with their father now,
Doing the things they love to do.”
But Arly had no children. And my aunt wasn’t known to collect poetry. Why had she saved this one?
It was a time for laughter
And sharing much –
The search for a crumpled sock
Somewhere along the road,
Tying a broken shoelace
Or cradling a sleepy head.
A professional woman most of her life, Arly was a crackerjack executive secretary for whom shopping was a sporting event. As kids we used to love to sneak into her bedroom to play with drawers full of necklaces, brooches and earrings of every color and description. Maternal is not a descriptor I would have chosen for her.
And I could know he’d not forget
Their simple needs
For wearing warmer jackets
And staying close to him.
Arly married for the first time at age 59, not until after my grandmother, incapacitated at home in the 1960’s from a stroke, and later my grandfather no longer needed her care.
So now that duty takes them on
To farther fields
Of new maturity,
How sweet to know
I can be just as sure
Of the tender mindfulness of God.
Whose love provides all good for them
Before they call!
In all-pervading fatherhood
He can be trusted with the care
Of his beloved own.
Arly’s faith was as quiet as it was strong. She didn’t talk about it. She lived it.
“Where are the children?”
Do you ask.
Let me say in steadfast joy:
With their ever-watchful Father
Who keeps them safe
And brings them home.” – Peggy Young Clark
The poet’s name was not familiar. These were words I’d never seen before.
Why had my aunt, who seldom displayed emotion in her last years other than an occasional wry joke or flash of annoyance, kept verses about children she’d never had?
And then I read the post-it note still attached to the upper left-hand corner of the poem, the writing unfaded across the decades.
“I came across this poem & thought of Babe with Marji going so far,” the note began.
“Why, that’s my mother’s handwriting,” my cousin said, peering over my shoulder. Babe is the family’s pet name for my mom, the youngest of three. Marji is what the family called me as a child.
“I sent her one, & since Marji said to pray for them, thought it might be good for us all.”
That was it. A simple note exchanged between two sisters-in-law regarding a niece who had recently married and was moving across the country.
A girl grown up from Marji to Maggie who had never lived far from home.
Far from family.
Far from the Midwestern soil that spawned her.
A girl who was moving close to the ocean trembling at the vastness of land between what she’d known and where she and her beloved were called.
And for nearly 40 years, Arly had kept those words, that note, that prayer. And never said a word.
Not to me, at least.
So now? Four months after she’s gone? I’m the keeper of the words, the note, the prayer.
And it’s my turn to say, in steadfast joy:
She’s with her ever-watchful Father
Who keeps her safe
And brings her home.”
ARLINE ROSE THORSON ANDERSON