I was recently given a collection of writings from my great aunt, who recently passed away.
I didn’t know her well, and only saw her a handful of times in my life. But she still made an impression on me – maybe because I felt in her a kindred spirit. Now that I have her stories and poems that give me more insight into her, I feel even more of a connection. They have given me a picture into not only my great aunt, but also my into my grandmother and great-grandparents that I wouldn’t otherwise have. She was a story teller; it was the family stories that always spoke to her – not the simple names and dates of birth and death that genealogists fancy (much as they do with me).
This poem of hers is one that really spoke to me. It is a story of family, of history, of a stoicism that was so valued in her generation and those before.
Joie Heaton Willette
When Ma said: “it can’t be helped,” we knew
Something bad was happening.
We were being warned that there are things
That don’t get better
And this was one of them.
I remember how it felt
When the heart fell down and lay barely
Beating in the very bottom parts of the belly.
“Intolerable” seemed the right word then.
But we five knew:
When things were all wrong and there was
No chance for change
We were not to make it worse
With awkward questions and certainly not with tears.
There was to be no fussing.
We were to be still. “Just be still.”
I don’t remember the passage of time
Nor the silent groan of prayers that must have made
The misery shift a little to the side.
But eventually the heart relaxed
And rose again to the ordinary work
Of ordinary time.