Today, as I celebrate my birthday, I honor the amazing women that I have met in my life. This poem is based on a story that a woman from my hometown told me. She was in her 80s at the time, and I had always known that she was a writer and a poet. But she was also the mother of a large family, who felt blessed not to have lost it all on a night long ago in Minnesota. Today, she’s in a nursing home far from Marcus, still surrounded by family.
A Long Life in a Small Town
She knows the face
that shows up on her porch
to repair her air conditioner.
A quiet boy who had played ball
on the school field next door
with her sons. All moved away now,
school too, except Charlie.
Neighbors say he can fix anything.
He looks like his dad,
even more like his grandpa
with those deep blue eyes.
Later, in her cooling kitchen,
Charlie smiles when she tells him so
as he eats a slice of rhubarb pie.
She tells no one about the dream: she’s wearing a blue cotton summer dress, lying in the front seat of a new ’51 Fairlane way up north near Pipestone. She’s bleeding. The sounds of screeching brakes and twisting metal have stopped. But the cries of her baby girl somewhere beneath her have not. Their four boys in back are silent. And where is Jack? Then a car door scrapes open. Charlie’s face is above her, so far from home.
That night as her home hums
itself to sleep, she pulls the story
from memory like a crystal vase
from her china cabinet.
How a man from her small town
on a fishing trip for Northern pike
was first to come upon their crumpled car
in a ditch on a lonely blacktop.
And how he watched over her family
(all thank God alive) at a big city hospital
until he knew they were out of danger.
How he expected no thanks because
That’s what you do in a small town.
And how years later
he’d stop by the ball field next door
on warm summer nights
to watch the youngest of her eight sons
play ball with his grandson,
the quiet one with deep blue eyes.