Given My Druthers…

May 4, 2015 | 1 comment

Mary Woods Little

Mary Woods Little

My father often told me that I was a lot like his mother, Mary Woods Little. My Nana of ‘Nana and Bumpa.’ I really didn’t know her well. They lived in Boston and I grew up out here on the West Coast so, except for the occasional visit (like three in my lifetime) and a Christmastime phone call, I only knew of her.

She was a strong woman and, reading between the lines, I think she was the dominate ‘force’ of my father’s (and his brother’s) childhood. She was a “club woman” in the days that women didn’t work outside the home – not as paid workers, that is – but kept the wheels of their communities turning by doing “club work.” Nana never learned to drive (which I find incongruous to what I know of her independent spirit) and Bumpa chauffeured her all over the state of Massachusetts so that she could fulfill her duties as President or Chairman or Whatever of the Boston branch of the Massachusetts State Federation of Women’s Clubs.

She also was a passionate gardener and I heard many stories of how she would spy an interesting flower or unusual plant as they were driving along, and she would ask Bumpa to stop. Up she would march to the front door, introduce herself to the garden’s owner. and seldom failed to get back into the car without a cutting or a seed pod or whatever. Her own garden was a show place and people came from miles around to admire it and ask for her gardening advice. It’s that garden piece of Nana’s personality that seems foreign to me. I’d much rather be inside with a good book – either on the reading or the writing end.

Helen Richardson Espy

Helen Richardson Espy

In that way I most resemble my maternal grandmother, Helen Richardson Espy, aka “Granny.” She was retiring and tended toward inside activities – partly because she had seven children in the days when ‘women’s work is never done’ and working in the house was a full-time occupation. On the extrovert-introvert scale, she was well toward the solitary end of things and I’m sure that, given a choice, she would not have set foot in the garden. Not that I am shy or lack that outgoing gene of my maternal grandfather, Papa. It’s just that I much prefer writing to gardening and crave solitary indoor time to myself to get on with whatever my latest project is.

So imagine my surprise at running across this note in a letter my gentle Granny wrote to my Uncle Willard in the 1930s:

            My first startling memory of you was the year before you went to school. This made you four. I was working in the garden and you came along and asked what I was doing. “Planting forget-me-nots,” I answered. Then very softly to yourself I heard you say,
“Silently one by one in the infinite meadows of heaven
Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.”
Where and how at that age you had gathered this verse from Evangeline we never solved.
It was a year after this that I found your first poem “The Eagle” scrawled on the bottom of a candy box. It was that day that I embodied in you the fulfillment of my own ambitions and you became my dream child.

It’s that phrase “I was working in the garden” that throws me for a loop. It seems I can’t even blame my darling Granny for my tendency to avoid my gardening duties. Damn!

1 Comment

  1. Stephanie Frieze

    I hope the Willard story makes it into the Willard book and that THAT makes it into print!


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