Tag Archives: Betty

Conversing with Betty

All paintings by Betty Peterson. Click on photos of paintings to enlarge. The reflection of my hands superimposed over the hand in her painting was purely accidental, but I love the implication of our work being combined in this piece.  R.I.P. Betty, friend of twenty years. The one sketch and watercolor of me was done in a small bar/restaurant in Tequila as we were waiting for my broken-down van to be fixed on our way to the U.S.  The other painting of me she gave to me as a surprise, using a photo I had in my blog. She added Morrie, not realizing this was a photo of me in my wedding dress in 1987. Love how Morrie was suddenly transported back in time.

Conversing with Betty

You are the first person I see every morning—
there on my wall and hanging from my curtain rods––
your heart and talent painted onto watercolor paper,
matted, framed and preserved under glass.

Your  freed spirit spreads out into my room like memory––
the sorties to find pre-Columbian treasures,
van breakdowns on the road to Tequila and road trips to the border,
shared secrets, successes and heartbreaks.

My friend, your life expired while mine still runs its course,
but you have left the women you gave birth to
 behind you on paper and on canvas.
Their eyes follow me upon my rising, look over me in my sleep.

In them, I retain the best of you
here in my heart and on my walls,
grateful to have you still around me,
conversing in our favorite language.

Rosehips

 

Prairie Rose

Prairie Rose, sister of mine,
here at a distance,
I imagine you in full bloom
before your long winter.

I gather the best parts of you close in memory,
taking care with your acicula, as I have my whole life,
wondering why you seemed to need those parts
that kept us from clutching you too closely.

I thank you for seeding the future of our line.
Your grandchildren, the harvest of your life,
playful as otters even in their twenties,
award your existence by theirs.

We bring you with love back to where you came from,
 scatter your fallen petals
on the prairie loam,
and shovel it over that you may join it.

In case you didn’t know it, as I didn’t, “acicula” are needlelike parts: thorns, spines, bristles, or needlelike crystals. The singular form is  “aciculum.”

The rose hips are where the rose seeds are contained. Not doing any deadheading of the old rose blooms will allow the rose hips to form, which can then be harvested either to use the seeds inside to grow a new rose bush. Rosehips may be eaten, taking care to avoid the hairs that line the inside of the fruit and often times cover the seeds. They are literally itching powder and uncomfortable enough when they come into contact with your skin, let alone ingesting them!

Word prompts today are otter, shovel, harvest, acicula and mine.

My Sister’s Camera

Click on the photos to enlarge and read captions.

Although the subject of these photos seems to be mainly me, the actual subject is the photographer. I was just her compliant model..These are all photos taken by my sister Betty Jo, who was eleven years older than me. Her other frequent subject was my sister Patti, four years older than me. Since the photos seem to start when I was about ten or eleven months old, I think perhaps Betty Jo must have received a camera for her birthday the year she turned eleven. It was another time when cellphones had not been invented and even cameras were rare. I remember a black box camera and wonder if that was hers or if by then there was a newer model. Whatever the camera, she was a natural in choosing and composing shots. Betty passed away yesterday, Nov. 5, 2021, and these pictures and the following poem are my tribute to her.

My Sister’s Camera

Videos and photos are doorways to the past.
Without these visual triggers, how long would memory last?
The emphasis of daily life infringes on what’s done.
Memories of childhood? I fear I would have none
if my sister’s camera had not been there to snatch
every special moment that she was there to catch.

Her photos chronicled our lives, forestalling our forgetting,
capturing tranquility or happiness or fretting.
The fragrant past floods out from them in scents I now recall:
new-cut grass and wheat and dust. That tiny baby doll
I carried everywhere with me until its rubber rotted.
That smell of crumbling rubber with which I was besotted.

The cherry trees and trellis, those friends far in the past
The memories of dress-up that were never sure to last
without my sister catching them with her inquisitive eye.
She watched with care and caught them, never knowing then that I
would chart my childhood through her photos—life tumultuous or calm
caught there in the camera she cushioned in her palm
and clicked into the future with just one lowered finger,
insuring that my fleeting past was sure to always linger.

The pictures of her childhood were few and far between,
but the pictures that she took of us when she was  a teen
form a history of our pasts so memories won’t fade.
I wish that I had told her the difference she made.
Why do we wait too late to take time for these reflections
that might have helped us to express our genuine affections?

The last time that I saw her, months ago, so little there.
My lips upon her dry cheek, my fingers in her hair.
Conversing with her empty eyes, my attempts to reconnect
when the time was past that she was able to reflect
on her memories of taking them. What caused her action bold
to put me in the wheelbarrow when I was ten months old
and snap that classic picture. Was her camera new that day,
a present on her birthday, the 23rd of May?

Did she take other photos that I have never seen?
Besides her younger sisters, what subjects filled her screen?
We were her willing models, accustomed to the orders
of an older sister who adjusted hems and borders
to frame the perfect photo that survives to this day
to remind us of the sister who has quietly slipped away.

 

In contrast, this is the only photo I have of my sister Betty as a child. Without someone like herself to take them, she was more rarely depicted in photographs.

Prompt words today are tumultuous, fragrant, infringe, emphasis and doorway of past,

Memories of Betty

 


This is one of my favorite photos of my sister Betty, clearing out
her dorm room in college to come home for the summer.

My sister Betty Dykstra Wilcox passed away early this morning, November 5, 2021. Eight years ago, at the beginning of her battle with Alzheimer’s, I wrote this poem about a visit Forgottenman and I made to her house to try to alter it a bit to enable her to live independently for as long as possible. He scrubbed pots and pans and organized the kitchen while I sorted out and labeled bedroom drawers on the outside to indicate contents. When she grew distressed over our sorting out of items in the upstairs storage room, he whisked her off for smash burgers and she returned happy.

I will always be grateful for these last warm memories of my sister before she slipped completely into the clutches of Alzheimer’s. Every night, we three sat on the front steps. Forgottenman played his guitar and sang and the little girls from across the street would come running to sit in the grass and listen. One night their folks joined them and another night when we were in the backyard playing croquet with Betty, one of the little girls went into Betty’s house, got his guitar and brought it out to the backyard requesting that he play!

Then one night when we came in from the front yard, she wandered into the music room and we heard strains of piano music coming from her piano. It was the last time I ever heard her play, and this is the poem that was the result:

 

When My Sister Plays the Piano

The first notes, beautiful and true, float like a memory through the air.
In the week I’ve been here in her house with her, she has not played the piano
and so I thought her music was gone like her memory of what day it is
or whether I am her sister, her daughter or an unknown visitor.

Yet on this morning after her 76th birthday celebration,
music slips like magic from the keys: song after song
from “Fur Elise” to a sweet ballad I don’t know the name of—
sure and correct at first,
then with a heartfelt emotion we had both forgotten.

“Slow Boat to China,”
“Paper Doll”—
song after song
expressed
in an unfaltering language—
some synchronicity of mind and hand
her brain has opened the door to.

While I listen, time stands still for me
as it has for her so often in the past few years
as yesterday and today shuffle together to
crowd out all consideration of future fears.

For ten minutes or more, she segues
from melody to melody
with no wrong note.
Then “Ebb Tide,”
a song she has played from memory
so many times,
dies after twenty-four notes.
Like a gift held out and snatched away,
I yearn for it, pray she’ll remember.

After an uncharted caesura, her music streams out again,
sweet and sure, for a staff or two—
the sheet music giving her a guide her brain so often can’t.
But after a longer pause, I know it is lost
like the thread of so many conversations––
a hiccup of memory, folding itself away.

“What a Friend We Have in Jesus” chimes out
like the tolling of a bell.
The wisp of the old hymn, two phrases only—
before it, too, fades.

That sudden muffled sound.
Is it a songbook displaced from its stand as she searches for another,
or the lid of the piano quietly closing on yet another partial memory?

R.I.P. Betty. Next July at the town reunion in Murdo, the town we grew up in, we’ll have a memorial for her and bury her ashes in the family plot. xoox

Forgottenman just sent me a video of Betty he took when he joined us for Thanksgiving right after we first met in person. In the first part, she is just inventing a song, but afterwards, I suggest she play “Ebb Tide.” She’s not able to play it on the little keyboard but she does play “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” which she always played because it was one of my father’s favorites. It is pure coincidence that both of these songs are mentioned in the poem. A nice synchronicity.

 

Model A Still Going Strong in the 1950’s

These are photos of my sister Betty and her future husband Denis at her spring formal at Cornell College, Iowa in the mid-1950’s. This car was his pride and joy and I remember going on weekend rides in it when I visited them.

For RDP’s Yesterday’s Cars

She Always Sleeps with the Radio On

My sister Betty, ages three to seventy three


She Always Sleeps with the Radio On

Each night,
      as I negotiate
              the squeaky stairs
                   from her attic guest room
           down to the bathroom
     one more time,
I hear the voices.

I imagine them as her companions,
    drowning out night sounds,
        freeing her mind from its hard task
of remembering.

Tonight, she sits on a lawn chair
on the grass. I sit on the front steps,
listening
   to a friend on the
     steps next to me, strumming, strumming,
as my sister and I sing along
in high school harmony.

The little girls across the street
       are the first to come,
       tiny lawn chairs in arms,
  to plop themselves in front of us
for the concert.

As they settle, my sister says,
“Now, back to the music.”

Moments later, their mother follows,
   bringing initial happy news
       of their upcoming trip
to a lake where last year
a teenage girl had been abducted,
         a segue to more disturbing news
of yesterday’s daylight intruder
flushed from a house a block away.

I’d noticed
    the police car
       circling, puzzled
           by his vigilance as we walked
      the neighborhood today.
 I’d smiled at the man on the bike who didn’t look
      a part of this neighborhood, wondering how he’d fare,

but now I feel the threat of him.

“House of the Rising Sun,” stops dog-walkers in their tracks
  as the litle ones
     sit on the sidewalk
         stringing beads I brought,
capturing this night
to hang around their necks:
gray plastic elephants,
            pink stars,
                   orange hearts,
                           green dolphins strung midleap
on sparkly purple cord.

This night strings us all together:
                  beads, words, music, the night sounds
of insects and frogs,

                                                 happy stories interspersed with fearful ones,
traffic from the busy street one block away.
             Hungry mosquitoes,
                    gathering suddenly,
are what break us apart.

     As we climb the stairs,
             her door
                        next
                            to the only
                                   bathroom
                     in the house
              closes.

For the first time 
    in the week I’ve been here,
          I hear no radio
                on my nightlong explorations
down the stairs.

At ten o’clock, 1:30 and 3,
          the hall outside her bedroom
                         stays silent,
          this evening’s full company
flooding over into the night.

We have exhausted her mind, filled it, worn her out.
           She stlll feels our presence.
                     
                                Four a.m.

A creaking door, and once again,
          silence becomes
        a cup for her to fill.
            Something is needed
to relieve worry—
to leave no room
    for either remembering
  or the lack of it.
I hear them then, insistent, down the stairs and in the hall.

                       Voices all night long.

 

 

The prompt word today is insist.

Bewildered: Gray Walls with Boxes

 

Gray Walls with Boxes

Once I knew words that fit together.
Now my mind still has the answers,
but rarely lets me in to find them.

People who seem to know me
bring pizza in a box
and we eat it in front of another box I’ve forgotten the name for––
a small world with other people moving in it that I don’t know.
Sometimes words appear in a ribbon on the bottom edge of that box
and I wonder if I understood them
if they ‘d tell me what I’m supposed to do.

On the walls are other flat boxes
with people frozen in them
and I think it is my fault.
There is something I am supposed to be doing.
There is something I am supposed to be doing.
“They are your pictures, Mother.
They’re there for decoration—
for you to enjoy,”
a woman tells me
when I ask her
if she’d like to take them
home with her.

I don’t belong here.
My high school boyfriend
must be wondering
where I’ve gone
and my daughter is as confused as I am,
claiming to be her own child;
and then one day my sister comes
and I have to laugh because they all
look so much alike—
my sister and her niece and her niece’s daughter
whom they try to convince me
are my daughter and my granddaughter––
so many layers of daughters
that it is too hard to keep them
all in mind.

But then that floats away
and I am trying to remember
when I am leaving this hotel
and I feel I’m not suited to run for president
although all those people
cheering at that big convention in that little box
want me to––
that little box they turn off and on each day,
sometimes before or after I’m ready
to have it turned off.

And they take me to that large room
where all those silent older people sit.
I do not want to go into this room,
but I am lucky, and we move through it.
Someone’s daughters have come to put me
into a box that moves us through the world
without walking. At first, I am so surprised by it,
then I remember what it is
but can’t remember the word for it.
As we sit in it, the world moves by
too fast, scaring me, and I try
to weep unnoticed.
But then they take me out of it,
give me popcorn
and lead me into a very large room
with many people sitting down
and an entire wall with larger people
moving on it, and it is so confusing, like déjá vu,
for I remember being in a room like this before,
but I don’t know if I’m supposed to
make them do something other
than what they are doing
or if I’m already controlling them with my thoughts
or if I’m supposed to be
up there on the wall with them.
I can’t remember whether these people
on either side of me are my sisters
or my children or strangers,
sitting chair after chair down the long aisle.

Most days, I am so sad all day long,
but sometimes my real self
comes to visit and I think,
how did I become a martyr like my grandmother
and why can’t I stop myself from crying, just like her?
One gray wall meets another at the corner
and I’m sure
that I am being punished
for things I did but can’t remember.

That blank face
in the mirror
has me in it,
but I can’t get out
and for a moment I know, then forget
that this is why I cry
and cry and cry
and cry.

 

I think the deep stage of bewilderment that Alzheimer’s brings us to is the biggest fear of many of us who are over the age of sixty.  I’ve written poems about earlier and later stages of this dread disease, but  this poem describes as closely as was possible for me the way my sister Betty seemed to be feeling at a couple of different stages of her dementia.  Her delusion that it was she who was running for president the year Obama was elected, her befuddlement over the television and later over the art on the walls, over the identity of family members, and finally her astonishment over being in a moving car and at the movies.  This may have marked the last time we took her out of the care facility where she still resides. I went to see her a few months ago and still plan to write about her present state. Anyone who has a loved one in some stage of this heartbreaking disease will know haw hard it is to imagine how they may be feeling and how equally hard it is to write about it.  That is why I keep putting it off. I’m running this poem again after five years because it seems to fit today’s prompt, which is bewildered.