The Andrus Trunk – for Roseanne

I had the honor of reading this poem in Picton, Ontario, at the annual meeting of the Historical Committee of the Canadian Friends (Quakers).

 

Wide boards cut from virgin trees
By racing water-powered mills,
Its nails of iron made by hand,
Ancient hinges working still.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Westward moved our pioneer fathers,
Through Connecticut to the Hudson,
Cleared the land with Friends and cousins,
Fed on potatoes, corn and venizen.

Their trunk held quilts and dear essentials,
It was sometimes luggage, sometimes chair,
A furnishing for the new log cabin,
Like a family member there.

Once it held a diary,
The record of a family’s tossing
On a wooden ship with sails,
From England to a new world crossing.

Cracks in its boards appeared at times,
Like the splits that came between
Loyalists and Patriots raising rifles –
Stirring hatreds unforeseen.

War, like passion, often heedless
Of its consequential harms;
To the victors went the spoils:
The Loyalist’s beautiful, hard-built farms.

Again the trunk was heavily laden,
Again the treasures and quilts it bore,
To Saratoga and finally northward
To Upper Canada’s southern shores.

New log cabins were built and cherished
As shelter from the northern cold,
Quilts from the chest brought warmth and comfort
As our family roots took hold.

Soon a home, a school and a Meeting House
Graced the community in the new land.
A sawyer, a joiner, and a village smithy
Provided the means for it to stand.

In time the trunk – no longer needed –
Found its place in a farmhouse warm.Chest of Andrus family showing dovetail joints
The Andrus men had toiled to build it,
A marker on their prosperous farm.

Yet deep inside the pine boards’ casing
Was the treasure most had forgot:
The diary of those long-dead travelers
Who left England and freedom sought.

This treasure might have slowly decayed
But for an Andrus son who looked to see
The tale of his ancestral fathers
And the words they wrote in their diary.

His name was Hercules (though small he was);
His keen eye scanned the written pages
From the family’s crossing and their new start –
Their place in The Colonies’ early stages.

We might still have this diary,
But poor Hercules had unfortunate luck:
A fire raged through his family home,
Destroying the diary when it struck.

And so the empty trunk remains
Kept by a cousin in a storage shed,
Empty of its historical cache –
Keeping history to itself, unsaid.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

A trunk is but a lifeless boxChest with Roseanne 2
Of the mute and stoic kind,
It keeps the family secrets
Without heart or hands or mind.

But to each succeeding generation
A human touch its help must lend,
To gather and protect the past
The family heritage to extend.

Ben, Elfleda, Cliff, Roseanne, all vital in their time,
Each with a loving heart, giving
To save what was and pass it on –
Sharing history with the living.

I thank you, dearest cousins,
Blessed be your memory,
The keepers of the treasures
My children’s children will someday see.

Chest of Andrus family Apr 22 2005 qf

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Thoughts on First (Brain on Second)

There are times when first is best in line
(Inheritance of riches comes to mind)
Or first to table when rations are short
And when playing certain games of sport

First born causes celebrations
Second enters with less elations
Or gifts – but who’s counting
Or noticing insecurity mounting?

Second has advantage to it
(Like when you’d really prefer not to do it)
Or when shy or meek
Or when testing depth of creek

Third is fine when counting scoops
Of ice cream or in lines of troops
Or for those whose arm is strong
And as the D.H. don’t belong

Fourth’s okay if in July
(For anything else, I’m not sure why)
Except in music if diminished
Or the other three you’ve finished

Fifth is easiest to plead
When truth will go against your need
Or fine in beverage of a sort
And you desire to take a snort

Sixth was fifth (the previous verse)
To add another would be worse
As poet I am second-rate
To the one in a million who is my mate

Outhouse Lady


Photograph courtesy of D. W. Andrus

Just when you think something is over and done with, just when you’re beginning to relax in the belief that you have fixed the problem, stemmed the tide, mended the fence, changed the subject, finalized the divorce, ended the occupation, switched the gears or slain the dragon… your cousin Don surprises you. Well, what ever did I expect, anyway? Don is a wizard too, and – as you must know – wizards never tire of having fun, so why was I surprised to receive a book of poetry entitled, “Muddled Meanderings in an Outhouse?”

You see, my mother was known by many as “The Outhouse Lady.” She was an artist, and her gimmick (the thing that caught the eye of potential buyers of her more serious work) was her display of small outhouse paintings accompanied by a sign which read: Hang an outhouse in your bathroom and count your blessings! $5 She would paint the stand of hollyhocks next to each privy to match the colors of the buyer’s powder room. People loved them, and my mother’s newfound notoriety solved the birthday and Christmas gift-giving problem for all the relatives: They gave my mother’s outhouses to their friends; they gave my mother everything ever produced that immortalized the outhouse.

I thought that part of my life was behind me…

Outhouse Lady (for Don)

She went out back in younger days
The Sears and Roebuck book to read,
Passed some time (if nothing else)
Seated by hollyhocks grown up from seed.

In later years she’d paint that place,
(Not the interior walls as you might assume),
But tiny pictures for five bucks apiece
To hang in modern indoor rooms.

She was dubbed “The Outhouse Lady”
And was known both far and wide;
Her children suffered embarrassment,
As from her fame they tried to hide.

Gifts would come at Christmas
From the painter’s nephews and cousins:
Calendars, puzzles, books of rhyme;
Outhouse pictures by the dozens.

The family bathroom became the repository
For this mounting pile of privy lore,
Until it became so full it was impossible
To use the place for what it was intended for…

What to do? And where to go?
Asked her desperate kids and spouse –
The solution (thanks to Port-a-potty)
Was a modern out-back house!

Through wind and snow we then took the path
To the new bathroom way out back,
(At least there was Scott tissue
Replacing that damned old almanac).

Years later we lost our privy painter,
And her “collection” was garage-saled away,
The bathroom was clear and clean once more –
‘Till your gift arrived today!

How important the inheritance
Of family lore and memories,
But I must scratch my head and wonder
How this mantle has passed to me?!?!

Bling

Glistening, gleaming, in-your-face bling,
Adorning strong necks,
Trickling between breasts;
Not the diamonds of city girls
Or the gold of the Inca princess,
But the pearls of the peasant class.

Dust-decorated, smeared bling,
Salt-shed paste diluted,
Body’s cast-off beads
Born of heat, by sun shimmered;
Stranger to beach basking
Or ocean’s spray.

Proud-heritaged, honest bling,
Of chores complete and fields tended;
Brown-skinned bling,
Wiped by calloused fingers,
Viewed in the well’s mirror
At the end of the long day.

Genesis

From parent to child the lesson was passed:
The fingers of exploring hands
Touching the forbidden; “Father knows best,”
The unspoken justification.

Gift of the guilty passes down generations,
The mute links of an unbroken chain,
Complicit in deed and denial of what is
Too shameful to speak out loud.

Stunned and disbelieving, silent at first,
The little girl withdraws in hurt and wonder,
Then suddenly runs screaming from what should have been
Bubble bath and rubber duckie grandfather fun.

Police car in the yard, statements taken,
The family shatters in shock and disbelief,
Unaware that Destiny’s child has broken
The painful sequence of perhaps a hundred years.