between the crosses, row on row...” I heard this poem written by Colonel John McCrae discussed on NPR Veteran’s Day. It’s a well-known and beautiful poem written during WWI.
Last Tuesday, when I heard the first line of this poem I was transformed to my young self, a small little girl of about 4 or 5 years old. I was instantly back in time. I was sitting on the hump of our family car’s backseat sandwiched between my two older sisters. My father was driving our family Oldsmobile, a sort of doo-doo brown sedan. My mother was in the passenger seat. Our Welsh Terrier, Tippy was perched by her back legs on the knee of my sister, her front paws and head resting lovingly on my dad’s shoulder.
We were on an annual family vacation, driving along some backroad, undoubtably lost, looking for our destination. My father was never big on stopping to ask for directions, instead, he would use this time with his captured audience, to recite his favorite poems.
“Flanders Field” was my mother’s favorite and the first poem she always requested. From there, one poem would float into another as miles and miles of countryside passed by us and my father’s youthful memories of beloved poems would surface to be recited.
My oldest sister, Barbara, seemed to have a greater love for his poetry than I. She, being ten years older than I would, along with mother, request one well-known poem after another. I quickly grew bored with these big, flowery old fashion words and my small mind would drift off, at least I thought it did.
My father was a trial attorney. He also taught adult Sunday School classes, forever. I think he felt he had missed his calling and would have been more content in life teaching, than practicing law. All this being said, my dad was an emoter. He could orate like no one else, and he loved any opportunity to do so.
So year after year, vacation after vacation I grew up with my father’s voice resonating through our family sedan. “By thy long grey beard and glittering eye, wherefore stopp’st thou me?” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge) “Life is real! Life is earnest!” (Longfellow) These verses are second nature to me now.
I am a bit surprised when my father’s voice travels through the years and I realize my small mind did, in fact, absorb the words, the meanings, the feelings beneath my father’s prose. I find myself now on road trips, driving past some lovely country setting and suddenly my mind lights on a verse from my father's repertoire. “Let me live in a house by the side of the road and be a friend to man...” (Sam Walter Foss) On vacation, sitting by a lake or ocean watching the sun set, I hear his words “Sunset and evening star; and one clear call for me...” (Tennyson) I smile and think of my father’s gift to his family.
I feel like we’ve lost something in this high tech age. Today, children sit in the backseats of cars with headphones and DVR’s, watching their movies of choice. Those priceless family moments seem to be a thing of the past today. Don’t get me wrong, if I had had the opportunity 30+ years ago to have my own children watch television, instead of repeatedly asking “Are we there yet?” I would have been the first to plug in the movie.
What I have realized when these poems resurface in my mind, is not sadness that things have changed, instead, how important words are in molding and shaping children.
I understand when I hear my father quoting, “Blessings on thee little man, barefoot boy with cheeks of tan...” (John Greenleaf Whittier), that my words should be blessings to my grand children. I may not be reciting poetry, but I pray I am giving encouragement and praise. Telling them how much I love them, how proud I am of them, how amazing they are.
Last Friday, Harper was to take something important to school for Show and Tell. This item was to begin with the letter of the week, an “H”. Brooke asked Harps what she was going to take that morning before leaving for school.
Harper looked around her room and her eyes fell upon a framed picture that sits by her bed.
“I’m going to take this picture of Grandy and me!”
Brooke said, “Well okay Harper, but what does that picture of Grandy and you have to do with the letter ‘H’?”
Without hesitation Harper said, “hhhHeaven! Grandy is in Heaven!”
Steve has now been away from us for over 16 months. A large part of this little 4 year old’s life has been spent without her Grandy. I have no doubt that Grandy’s sweet voice, his words of love, praise, encouragement still resonate in Harper’s mind. I am sure she can still hear Grandy’s sweet voice echoing through her. I know his words, his life, his actions have made a huge impression on our oldest grand children, as they speak often of their grandfather.
Our words are our legacy. I hope I will be remembered as gifting my family with words that will increase the measure of their lives, as I had two of the best teachers walk before me. “And departed leave behind us footprints on the sands of time.” (Longfellow)
For what it’s worth,
Proverbs 25:11 “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”