Writing Verse With Inspiration From Grandpa's Example

When my grandfather was in his 60s, he lost his sight. Yet, even afterward he wrote several poems (probably dictated to my grandmother). They had a touch of humor and hope.

My memories of him begin around that time, though I have some vague memories of when he could see. During that very early time, I have pictures in my mind of Grandpa drawing cartoons, or baking bread, or helping Grandma with her washing - sometimes heavy towels and sheets - by hand.

Later, after his blindness, he often sat in the same green overstuffed chair in their living room, listening to the large wooden radio. He knew all the news of the day, and when we grandchildren came over, he'd relay what was going on in the world or the small town where we lived. And, he'd always have at least a joke or two.

Then, sometimes he'd feel his way over to their organ with the ivory pedal stops, and he'd play tunes - hymns or "Stephen Foster" or "Danny Boy."

Or sometimes he would just pull out his harmonica and play while we sat enthralled. Like a storyteller, he'd draw us to the delights he created.

But the high point of the visit was when he would wiggle his large ears for us, a trick I've never quite understood the mechanics of.

Of all his gifts, though, what interested me most were the poems that came to him regularly. These were not poems that would be considered serious by most people's standards. Perhaps they could be termed almost folk-poems. He used meter and rhyme and wrote with humor or nostalgia about the things and people that meant something to him: my grandmother when she was young - with her soft Irish eyes and long brown hair - or his son's little terrier, or about one of us grandchildren (in fact, he wrote a poem for each of us).

My grandmother, again in her role of scribe, wrote them all down, and later when I learned to type I would type them up for him.

Sometimes I see him still in my mind and wonder about the rich world he had inside - the voices, the images - and it helps me remember that the creative spirit is stronger than any sorrow or trouble we may have; and that the poem or the dance, or the line, made by a brush with bright paint, is full of the light as well as the darkness of our lives.

As I have dealt with life's changes, I've found myself turning the moments, the people, and the places into poems. My own writing has often grown from my dark times, and yet I moved beyond it. I suppose consciously I wasn't thinking of my grandfather. I was doing what I felt came naturally, but I know that I learned from him.

His model taught me well. And maybe someday I'll master wiggling my ears.

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