When my father turned fifty years old, my mom and I wrote a poem for him. I have had it framed and next to my desk since finding it in an old box of photos years ago. It’s probably the first one I ever composed (or helped compose), since I was only five years old at the time.
My mom had always loved poetry, and used to read it to me quite often. Especially at bedtime, I got sonnets and stanzas as much as stories. We read through works of Longfellow, Poe, Yeats, and others.
So I guess it was fitting that she wrote my dad a poem at some point, one for a special occasion. My father was much older than my mom – she was 27 and he was 45 when I was born, the daughter of his second marriage. Fifty wasn’t that far away for him when I came along, somewhat unexpectedly as I was always told.
When I found the typed, framed poem several years ago going through a box of my dad’s old belongings it became a very special treasure. Although I recalled my mom reading poetry to me, I didn’t know she’d ever written anything (or at least remembered she had). This was not only something of my mother’s, but it was my father’s, too, a memory that belonged to both of them at the same time.
It also came to represent a shared connection between the three of us, across time and space, through poetry. Years after they were both gone, passed away, I found this small, simple thing that brought us back together.
Then today, removing the poem in order to put it into a nicer frame, I found something else behind it: a letter from my mom to my dad, including a handwritten version of the poem, and an old photograph of my father. I unfolded the letter, and found my mom’s beautiful handwriting still clear and precise. Tucked away, none of it had faded or aged. All of the sudden, it was like she was speaking to me from another room.
And then I saw the photo, the young image of my dad, how he must have looked when they first met. Reading this other, more private note she had written to him, that he had framed and then kept together, touched such a deep place in my heart that I couldn’t move for awhile. I simply sat with them and wept.
My parents have been gone for so long now, I don’t remember the sound of their voices. But finding the poem, “Fifty,” and today the letter and photo, helped me hear them again in whole other way.
Like most parents, they were not perfect people. My father and I had a very troubled relationship growing up, as I’ve written quite a bit about, and what I remember of my parents’ marriage was equally difficult. There were lots of arguments, yelling, and crying, usually after my father had been drinking, and typically over the business they owned, which consumed much of their lives.
But it was not all dark. There are good memories too, and I can say that both my parents were more than supportive of my writing and artistic efforts my whole life.
For years, one of the first paintings I’d done in my early teens, a watercolor seascape, hung over my dad’s desk in his office at home. He’d owned a small art gallery when I was little, and we still had paintings hanging throughout the house. He never thought I could make a living as an artist when I’d expressed that interest in high school, but he never doubted or questioned my talent.
And of course, my mom was always my champion. She loved all my drawings and paintings, and any writing that I did. She encouraged me to do whatever I loved. After she passed away while I was in college, despite my father’s misgivings, I switched my major from biology to English and art.
Even though later on I sort of understood what he’d been talking about and chose to pursue nursing, as well, I never lost the urge to follow my creative impulses. Thanks in large part to my parents, I never felt there was anything I couldn’t do, or at least try, in my artistic pursuits.
Today I was reminded of both of them again, and my gratitude for the gifts they gave me, and are still giving me. The poem is a thread through time, woven by the three of us, and will carry me forward in my journey.