My Grandmother's Gifts
        Lee Larsen, University of Northern Colorado, junior in English 
 
    I have a book in the top drawer of my dresser; it is titled One Hundred and One Famous Poems.  This book is an anthology of poems and prose which was compiled by Roy J. Cook in 1929.  The pages of this book look as if they were pages from one of those ancient manuscripts which archeologists discover in Egypt or France.  The cover is an unnamable, faded color that is created by time and by the oil deposited by hands as they held the book, and it has an intricate black border that surrounds the title which is printed in an elegant script.  On the cover page, there are barely legible notes that tell the page numbers where favorite poems are located, and there are other handwritten notes scattered throughout the book.  These notes are in my grandmother's handwriting because this book was my grandmother's book; now it is my book.  Sometimes, it makes me sad to read from or look at this book, but usually, it brings me a sense of comfort and peace.  Reflecting on this book as I do now allows me to remember how wonderful my grandmother was and how she contributed to what is good about me.

     Before I was old enough to comprehend the meaning of the poems in this book, my grandmother sat with me in her lap and read these poems to me.  "If," by Rudyard Kipling, was her favorite poem (her bookmark still marks this poem).  Whatever other poems she might read to me, she always recited this poem when reading poetry from this book.  Years before I heard the terms anaphora, assonance, or alliteration, I felt the power of the poet who used these devices in his or her work.  Slowly, I began to understand what it was that these now long-dead poets were saying to my grandmother and me.   I learned to love the beauty of the written words when someone who truly loves them gives them voice.  This is one of the gifts that my grandmother gave to me: she gave me a lifelong passion for words.  I do not mean words as they are used in daily speech but rather words that are used deliberately and passionately.  In this way, she taught me the strength and the consistency of the human spirit at its finest.

     Looking at this book, I remember other things my grandmother and I did together.  When I was young, she would telephone me at my home and ask me, "Whom am I talking to?"  I would tell her that I was Mary (Mary, Mary quite contrary) or Mary who had the little lamb or some other nursery rhyme character; she was always Mother Goose.  Maintaining our new identities, we often talked for hours in this way.  I never realized what a special gift these conversations were until I found out that many children never played this type of games with someone older than they.  Because she was such a creative person herself, my grandmother valued and fostered creativity and imagination in others.  While using the book to teach me how to discover my stories, my grandmother used these games that we played to teach me how to be the narrator of my story.  She taught me not only that I can be anyone I want to be but  also that there is always a safe place in my imagination where I can retreat and find peace.

     Do not misunderstand what I am saying about my grandmother; my grandmother did not teach me to live in a world of illusions.  By playing these games with me and teaching me the beauty that is found in poetry, she taught me that life is more than the physical reality that surrounds me, but she never let me forget that I always had to deal with the physical aspects of life.  It was from my grandmother that I learned how to sew, cook, and clean.  She did not teach me these things because I needed to know them to find a husband; she taught me these things because they were a necessity for my survival.  My grandmother was a feminist  (a female who believes that all people are equal) before anyone in our small farming town knew what a feminist was.  She didn't marry my grandfather until she was twenty-two years old (an old maid for that time).  She worked as a stenographer after she finished high school but quit working when she married my grandfather; then, my mother was born, and my grandmother took care of my mother and my grandfather.  What is important here is that she did these things because she wanted to and not because she felt some misplaced sense of duty or because she could do nothing else.  In this way, she showed me how to live my life in the "real" world and how to at the same time preserve the imagination and creativity that we found in her little book of poetry.  She helped me to understand that I must maintain my wonder of the incredible beauty that exists in the world regardless of how common that world might sometimes seem.

    That little book of poetry reminds me of all of these things about my grandmother: it reminds me of the way she looked physically; it reminds me of how she would sing when she was working in the kitchen; it reminds me of how warm and comforting her hugs were.  Having this little book allows me to experience the same feelings that I felt when my grandmother was alive.  This little book of poetry also helps me to understand the continuity of life.  This book will someday become unreadable; then, it will eventually turn to dust (hopefully, not in my lifetime).  In the same way, my grandmother is no longer physically present, yet by holding this book, I again see and feel my grandmother's presence.  In a real way, she is with me as much now as she was before her death.  This is the continuity of all things: the book will cease to exist, but the poets who found their voices in the poetry this book contains live on in other anthologies that I have, and although my grandmother no longer exists in a corporal sense, she lives on in the talents and beliefs that I have.  Yes, sometimes looking at this book makes me sad, but when I reflect on it as I do today, it makes me realize how fortunate I am to have had both this book and my grandmother in my life.