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Do You Remember Barbara

Do You Remember Barbara

Barbara with her father on her wedding day.

“Remember Barbara,” begins a wonderful poem by Jacques Prevert about love and war: the Second World War and the destruction of the French port, Brest; the love of Barbara and the desolate loss of that love. It reminded me of my friend, Barbara, and the Alzheimer’s disease from which she recently died – Alzheimer’s rain of iron and fire gradually dissipating into clouds of unknowing. Barbara was one of the first persons I met when we moved to California from South Africa 30 years ago. Driving around, searching for a place to live, we were attracted to the green belts of the Bluffs, Barbara’s area it turned out. She worked in real estate and found us a home to rent. Barbara told me about how she had first taught school here in California, bringing up her two sons when her husband had left. Later she saw an opportunity in real estate and so got her license and made her own neighborhood her target. Barbara knew every house and plan. She seemed to know every tree and root, too. Our sink was backing up on a Thanksgiving day and who should drive by, as God-sent, but Barbara with the name of the only ‘roto-rooter’ who had the length of line needed to unblock the drain all the way to the street.

Barbara with her first horse.

Barbara and I got to know each other, both of us originating from small towns in the Midwest, Barbara from Iowa, I from Missouri. We both had ridden and shown American Saddlebred horses in our youth; we both were brought up Catholic. When Barbara discovered our two young children had never seen snow, she didn’t hesitate to take them to Big Bear to see their first snow. Barbara skiied, piloted a plane, traveled the world with her two sons. Barbara was a generous woman. Running into Barbara some years later, she told me of her year in bed “with some kind of flu.” I told her of our reversal of fortune and our starting an in-home care business. Barbara again did not hesitate but signed up as our first client with just a few hours, a few days a week. We helped her in her home where Barbara had helped her own parents when they were older, bringing them from Iowa so she could look after them. Barbara was strong-minded. Even while well advanced with Alzheimer’s, she was in charge. If she could not find the words, the look in her eyes told you what she wanted or did not want. About midway through Barbara’s Alzheimer’s war, Barbara was insisting upon visiting a rental that she had looked after in the past. My husband took her for a drive to distract her when she reminded him that her sons had guns so he had better do what she wanted! He smiled and kept driving. Barbara smiled too. She liked men. Remember Barbara.

Barbara laughing.

Donald & Barbara.

“Barbara”

By Jacques Prevert

Remember Barbara It rained incessantly on Brest that day And you walked smiling Radiant delighted streaming wet In the rain Remember Barbara It rained incessantly on Brest And I came across you on Siam Street You were smiling And I smiled too Remember Barbara You whom I did not know You who did not know me Remember Still remember that day Do not forget A man was sheltering under a porch And he called out your name Barbara And you ran to him in the rain Dripping enchanted blossoming, And you flung yourself into his arms Remember that Barbara And do not be mad if I address you as tu I say tu to all those I love Even if I have seen them only once I say tu to all who love each other Even if I do not know them. Remember Barbara Do not forget This rain wise and happy On your happy face On this happy city This rain on the sea On the arsenal On the boat Ushant Oh Barbara What a bloody farce this war. What has become of you now Under this rain of iron Of fire of steel of blood And the one who enclosed you in his arms Lovingly Is he dead or disappeared or indeed still living Oh Barbara It rains constantly in Brest As it was raining before But this is not the same and everything is ruined This is a rain of mourning terrible and desolate Now it is not even the storm Of iron of steel of blood But merely of clouds That simply die like dogs Dogs that disappear In the water flowing over Brest And will rot away In the distance far from Brest Of which nothing remains

“Affirmation,” a Poem by Donald Hall

“Affirmation,” a Poem by Donald Hall

To grow old is to lose everything.
Aging, everybody knows it.
Even when we are young,
we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads
when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer
pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,
that began without harm, scatters
into debris on the shore,
and a friend from school drops
cold on a rocky strand.
If a new love carries us
past middle age, our wife will die
at her strongest and most beautiful.
New women come and go. All go.
The pretty lover who announces
that she is temporary
is temporary. The bold woman,
middle-aged against our old age,
sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand.
Another friend of decades estranges himself
in words that pollute thirty years.
Let us stifle under mud at the pond’s edge
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.

 


Coral Tree In-home Care provide caregivers, old-fashioned kindness, and neighborly support to older adults who want to live at own home safely, comfortably, and as independently as possible. Since 2010 we’ve helped more than 250 families in Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Newport Coast, and neighboring Southern California communities live safer, happier lives.
These Evening Bodies That We Wear

These Evening Bodies That We Wear

Yesterday evening, instead of spring cleaning, I was doing some fall trashing of old magazines that had gathered under tables in dead stacks, a heap of paper. Paging through a few of them, I stopped at the following poem I might have missed before. It read exactly as I felt last night, stiff from sitting, dizzy with a drift of glossy paper. The poet caught my aging body in its October nightdress.

EVENING POEM

Old scrap-iron foxgloves
rusty rods of the broken woods

what a faded knocked-out stiffness
as if you’d sprung from the horsehair
of a whole Victorian sofa buried in the mud down there

or at any rate something dropped from a great height
straight through flesh and out the other side
has left your casing pale and loose and finally

just a heap of shoes

they say the gods being so uplifted
can’t really walk on feet but take tottering steps
and lean like this closer and closer to the ground

which gods?

it is the hours on bird-thin legs
the same old choirs of hours
returning their summer clothes to the earth

with the night now
as if dropped from a great height

falling

–Alice Oswald

 


Coral Tree In-home Care provide caregivers, old-fashioned kindness, and neighborly support to older adults who want to live at own home safely, comfortably, and as independently as possible. Since 2010 we’ve helped more than 250 families in Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Newport Coast, and neighboring Southern California communities live safer, happier lives.
More Poetry

Do You Remember Barbara

“Remember Barbara,” begins a wonderful poem by Jacques Prevert about love and war: the Second World War and the destruction of the French port, Brest; the love of Barbara and the desolate loss of that love. It reminded me of my friend, Barbara, and the Alzheimer's...

Did You Know Walt Whitman Served as a Nurse during the Civil War?

Did You Know Walt Whitman Served as a Nurse during the Civil War?

Walt Whitman (1819–1892) was born May 31, 1819 into a working-class family in Long Island, New York. He worked throughout his life as a teacher and in the publishing and printing trades. Whitman also served as a nurse during the American Civil War, 1861–1865, which he said, offered him “the greatest privilege and satisfaction . . . and, of course, the most profound lesson of my life.”

He tended to tens of thousands of wounded Union and Confederate soldiers, nursing them, helping them write letters, bringing gifts.

“It was during this period [1861, the first year of the Civil War]that Whitman first encountered casualties of the war that was already lasting far longer than anyone had anticipated. He began visiting wounded soldiers who were moved to New York hospitals, and he wrote about them in a series called ‘City Photographs’ that he published in the New York Leader in 1862.

“Whitman had in fact been visiting Broadway Hospital for several years, comforting injured stage drivers and ferryboat workers (serious injuries in the chaotic transportation industry in New York at the time were common). While he was enamoured with the idea of having literary figures as friends, Whitman’s true preference for companions had always been and would continue to be working class men, especially those who worked on the omnibuses and the ferries (“all my ferry friends,” as he called them), where he enjoyed the endless rhythms of movement, the open road, the back-and-forth journeys, with good companions. He reveled in the energy and pleasure of travel instead of worrying about destinations: “I cross’d and recross’d, merely for pleasure,” he wrote of his trips on the ferry. He remembered fondly the “immense qualities, largely animal” of the colorful omnibus drivers, whom he said he enjoyed “for comradeship, and sometimes affection” as he would ride “the whole length of Broadway,” listening to the stories of the driver and conductor, or “declaiming some stormy passage” from one of his favorite Shakespeare plays.

“So his hospital visits began with a kind of obligation of friendship to the injured transportation workers, and, as the Civil War began taking its toll, wounded soldiers joined the transportation workers on Whitman’s frequent rounds. These soldiers came from all over the country, and their reminiscences of home taught Whitman about the breadth and diversity of the growing nation. He developed an idiosyncratic style of informal personal nursing, writing down stories the patients told him, giving them small gifts, writing letters for them, holding them, comforting them, and kissing them. His purpose, he wrote, was “just to help cheer and change a little the monotony of their sickness and confinement,” though he found that their effect on him was every bit as rewarding as his on them, for the wounded and maimed young men aroused in him “friendly interest and sympathy,” and he said some of “the most agreeable evenings of my life” were spent in hospitals.

“By 1861, his New York hospital visits had prepared him for the draining ordeal he was about to face when he went to Washington, D.C., where he would nurse thousands of injured soldiers in the makeshift hospitals there. Whitman once said that, had he not become a writer, he would have become a doctor, and at Broadway Hospital he developed close friendships with many of the physicians, even occasionally assisting them in surgery. His fascination with the body, so evident in his poetry, was intricately bound to his attraction to medicine and to the hospitals, where he learned to face bodily disfigurations and gained the ability to see beyond wounds and illness to the human personalities that persisted through the pain and humiliation. It was a skill he would need in abundance over the next three years as he began yet another career.” From “Walt Whitman” by Ed Folsom and Kenneth M. Price

In 1855 Whitman published the collection of poems Leaves of Grass, which the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson called “the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom America has yet contributed.” Whitman continued to rewrite, refine, and republish Leaves until his death in Camden, New Jersey, March 26, 1892.

I have always loved Whitman’s poem, “Miracles.”

 

“Miracles” by Walt Whitman

Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the
water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night
with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer
forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so
quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.

To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle.

 


Coral Tree In-home Care provide caregivers, old-fashioned kindness, and neighborly support to older adults who want to live at own home safely, comfortably, and as independently as possible. Since 2010 we’ve helped more than 250 families in Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Newport Coast, and neighboring Southern California communities live safer, happier lives.
Still Growing

Still Growing

A Girl keeps Growing

 

Sometimes it takes a bit of apparent nonsense to return us to the pith of common sense. This year being the century and a half marker of Lewis Carroll’s ALICE, that wisdom struck me again. As Alice ate the cake she kept growing. “Curiouser and curiouser!” cried Alice, (she was so surprised that she quite forgot how to speak good English,) Who has not found a curious loss of good grammar growing older? Who has not gone blank with the spelling of a word?

 

As Alice grows like a telescope, she pities her distancing feet, wondering who will put on their shoes and stockings. She tells her poor little feet they must manage the best they can. She vows to be kind to them though for “perhaps they won’t walk the way I want to go!” And so when our feet or legs don’t work as well as they used to, perhaps we might take Alice’s lead, staying flexible and just trying to manage them as best we can.

 

And as to the ‘enormous condescension of posterity’, listen to Father William.

“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head –
Do you think, at your age, it is right?

“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “as I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door —
Pray, what is the reason for that?”

“In my youth,” said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
“I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment — one shilling a box —
Allow me to sell you a couple?”

“You are old,” said the youth, “and your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak —
Pray, how did you manage to do it?”

“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose —
What made you so awfully clever?”

“I have answered three questions, and that is enough,”
Said his father. “Don’t give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I’ll kick you down stairs.”

Lewis Carroll

humpty-dumpty

 


Coral Tree In-home Care provide caregivers, old-fashioned kindness, and neighborly support to older adults who want to live at own home safely, comfortably, and as independently as possible. Since 2010 we’ve helped more than 250 families in Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Newport Coast, and neighboring Southern California communities live safer, happier lives.