Poetry

Inspiring poetry by the famous and unfamous

My Motley Grandparents of Danville, VA

My maternal grandfather, Edwin Pendleton Motley, who was born in North Carolina in 1877, 12 years after the Civil War, descended from old American stock. His ancestor, Joseph Motley, came to the American colonies from Scotland as early as the 1730s.

In 1903 Edwin married Bertha Jackson Seago and they settled in Danville, Virginia. In their happy 44-year marriage, Mama Jake and Daddy Ed (as they were known) had 8 children: 7 of them had fairly long, healthy lives. My mother, Bertha Garnette Motley, was second youngest. Big families were a fact of life years ago. Mama Jake came from a family of eleven and Daddy Ed had seven brothers and I don’t know how many sisters.

Edward P. Motley and Bertha Motley my grandparents about 1890 or so
From stories I’ve heard and the poems I’ve read, my grandfather was a romantic. He played guitar, wrote poetry and sang to me as a baby. I wish I had more memories of him but he died at age 70, when I was only 4. I was told that I would run to meet him every weekday evening when he came home from the family furniture store. He would bring me some kind of little gift—a piece of ribbon or some kind of trinket to play with. Since he didn’t like sales, my grandfather handled the books for Motley & Sons, the family furniture store in downtown Danville, Virginia, and took the bus home for Mama Jake’s hot lunch every day. “He never came in the house that he didn’t go straight to Mama Jake and kiss her,” my cousin Amy Lee recalled.

Daddy Ed never needed to spank any of his children or grandchildren for misbehavior. He didn’t even need words, Amy Lee told me, since, “He could look a hole right through you.”

Besides being the family poet, Daddy Ed loved to entertain by playing his guitar and mouth harp. He had a good sense of rhythm and would sing little songs for which he had created the words and music.

My mother and I lived with Mama Jake and Daddy Ed in their roomy home on the corner of Berryman Avenue for a few years during World War II and a couple of years afterward. My father Victor, an infantry major, was serving in Italy when Daddy Ed wrote this poem in 1944 to my mother, Garnette. I would imagine the poem was for her birthday on July 22. I like to imagine that he sung it to an appreciative family audience as well.

Another year has rolled around,

To find Bertha Garnette still in town.

She has reached the age of twenty-three,

And started her a family tree.

Her baby girl, Victoria Anne,

The finest young one in this land,

She twines herself around our heart,

And with her we would hate to part.

While daddy Victor, over the sea,

Fights like hell, for you and me.

So we must care for Garnette and Viki,

She’s mighty sweet, but also tricky.

How in the world could sweet Sixteen,

Make herself the Major’s queen,

Secure for herself good things in life,

Without the struggles, stress and strife.

But anyhow, we wish for you,

Long life, good health, your lover true,

Your baby grow to love you most,

And Victor come back home as host.

Daddy Ed signed the poem: Mamma and Daddy

********

My mother’s first marriage to Army Major Victor Hobson ended in 1947 in Reno, Nevada, and she got married right afterward to Army Capt. A. Darby Williams. My grandfather, Edwin Pendleton Motley, died at the age of 70 in 1947, shortly before my mother and I traveled to Germany to live with my new stepfather in Murnau. 1947 was a milestone year!

My grandmother, Bertha Seago Motley, died in 1954 at the age of 72.  That was considered fairly old in those days. At least I had gotten to know both of these wonderful grandparents a little, and they had created lots of aunts and one uncle for me to enjoy over the next 53 years. My Aunt Rosie was the last to leave the Earth in 2007.

 

 

MAMA JAKE & DADDY ED – My Maternal Grandparents

Bertha Jake and Edwin P. Motley in older age

My grandparents, known to all the family as Mama Jake and Daddy Ed (a typical form of address in the South), had a happy 44-year marriage filled with the joys of children and each other’s company.

Big families were more a fact of life years ago. Mama Jake came from a family of eleven, the Seago’s,  and Daddy Ed had seven brothers and I don’t know how many sisters. Neither family were Catholic or Mormon, a common reason for large families these days. Family Bibles, testaments to life and death, were stuffed with information on births, marriages and even a few reasons for death. My cousin Nancy passed on a list of Mama Jake’s siblings, most likely from my grandmother’s Bible. Her brothers hadn’t fared so well in life: Henry died of poisoned liquor (I wonder if it was bootleg), John, a lawman, was shot by a bootlegger, and Albert fell accidentally—there were no details on these mishaps. I wondered about cancer of the heart, which befell a sister named Mary; two other sisters died from pneumonia and childbirth.

When I wanted to find out more about my grandparents, however, I knew whom to call: my older cousin, Amy Lee, a Danville native.  In my eyes, she’s the family historian because she was a witness and still remembers those long ago days.

Daddy Ed, who didn’t like sales, handled the books for Motley & Sons, the family furniture store in downtown Danville, Virginia, and took the bus home for Mama Jake’s hot lunch every day. “He never came in the house that he didn’t go straight to Mama Jake and kiss her,” Amy Lee recalled. Another relative has mentioned how kind he was.

Mama Jake not only took care of her husband and  seven children, but she “did everything for everybody” in the neighborhood, including Moseley Memorial Methodist Church, a few blocks away, Amy Lee said. She was also a fine seamstress and known for her silk ties, which she sold. My mother had the same natural inclinations–help your family and everybody else as well!

Daddy Ed never needed to spank any of his children or grandchildren for misbehavior. He didn’t even need words, Amy Lee commented, since, “He could look a hole right through you.”

Besides being the family poet, Daddy Ed loved to entertain by playing his guitar and mouth harp. He had a good sense of rhythm and would sing little songs for which he had created the words and music.

My mother and I lived with Mama Jake and Daddy Ed in their roomy home on the corner of Berryman Avenue for a few years during World War II and a couple of years afterward. My father Victor, an infantry major, was serving in Italy when Daddy Ed wrote this poem in 1944 to my mother, Garnette. I would imagine the poem was for her birthday on July 22. I like to imagine that he sung it to an appreciative family audience as well.

Another year has rolled around,

To find Bertha Garnette still in town.

She has reached the age of twenty-three,

And started her a family tree.

Her baby girl, Victoria Anne,

The finest young one in this land,

She twines herself around our heart,

And with her we would hate to part.

While daddy Victor, over the sea,

Fights like hell, for you and me.

So we must care for Garnette and Viki,

She’s mighty sweet, but also tricky.

How in the world could sweet Sixteen,

Make herself the Major’s queen,

Secure for herself good things in life,

Without the struggles, stress and strife.

But anyhow, we wish for you,

Long life, good health, your lover true,

Your baby grow to love you most,

And Victor come back home as host.

Daddy Ed signed the poem: Mamma and Daddy

APRIL IS A BLESSING

Of all the months in the calendar, April has the most beautiful name. It’s fun to say; it seems like a song. When I looked it up, I discovered the word was a short form of the Greek word for Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, also known as Venus. No wonder I love the name!

Who can argue with the beginning of marvelous Spring, at least in the Northern Hemisphere? Chaucer sang its praises in the prologue to his famous Canterbury Tales. I still remember the first four lines from my William and Mary college English course—we read Chaucer in 14th century Middle English and the first lines went like this:

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote

The droughte of Marche hath perced to the roote,

And bathed evry veyne in swich licour,

Of which vertu engendred is the flour…

Essentially, Chaucer is describing how April rains relieve March drought and soak the roots of plants to produce April flowers. I enjoyed the rhythms of the words and the challenge of deciphering what they meant. These words were already beginning to take on a more modern form and are recognizable.

As an English major, I also had a course in what was in the 1960s deemed Modern English Literature. Poet T.S. Eliot, an American who became an English citizen in the early 20th century and died in 1965, was considered a modernist and known for his famous  complex poem The Waste Land.

Eliot apparently wasn’t enthusiastic about April. Written in 1922, The Waste Land is a poem of disillusion and despair and is especially known for the lines:

April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land.

The month of April has been a good one for me. I was married twice in April to the same man! Since Hans was stationed with the US Army in Mannheim, Germany (my dad had been his commander), we got married there in 1965. German law required a civil ceremony, which was accomplished in Mannheim-Kafertal on April 7. A few days later on April 10, we had a church wedding in Frankfurt, where my parents were stationed.

Seven years and a baby daughter (Heidi) later, my son Hansi was born in Los Angeles. It was April 11, 1972. This year Hansi turns 40 and he is also getting married—a great source of celebration! Even though I am divorced, I can truly say April is a month of love.

As a reminder that life has its ups and downs – April 15 is usually tax filing day. And this year April 15 marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Oh well, nothing’s totally blissful!

 

Me & Baby Hansi -- His Christening

 

Two Powerful Poems

I enjoy good poetry–poetry that speaks to you. It can be a reminder to keep you going, despite your challenges. Or something that just makes you feel wonderful. I’ve loved Robert Frost’s poems since college, especially the one below because it reminds me that I took a road in life that was unique and just for me. And it has made all the difference.

The other poem is a powerful one from a 19th century English poet, William Ernest Henley. Many of my readers may know the last two lines. I was inspired by watching the great movie Invictus (also the name of the poem). Morgan Freeman plays the indomitable and courageous Nelson Mandela in this movie about the World Cup for Rugby in the mid ’90s that was held in South Africa. It also reminded me of the current World Cup.

THE ROAD NOT TAKEN – Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

INVICTUS — William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the Pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how straight the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul

Remembering some poetry

The warmth of summer helps me remember some good poetic expressions from 19th century English poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

As I am growing older, I can’t help but reflect on these good words from Browning’s poem Rabbi Ben Ezra:

Grow old along with me!

The best is yet to be,

The last of life, for which the first was made.


His wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote the immortal and inspiring How Do I Love Thee:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of being and ideal grace.

I love thee to the level of every day’s

Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

I love thee freely, as men strive for right.

I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.


Alas, Elizabeth died young. Perhaps she sensed this in her poem.

Poetry – Play Me

PLAY ME

Play me like your private instrument,

Finger my frets if I’m a guitar,

Moisten my reed with your tongue,

If I’m your clarinet,

Listen to my notes,

That start low and rise to a crescendo,

Play me, like a cello,

Draw your bow tongue across me,

Play me until the player

And the played are one.

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