For writers, a book dedication is a big deal. When it is your own book, once you decide who to honor, you write and re-write the tribute to get the sentiment just right. When you are the designated dedicatee, you are touched and overwhelmed with feelings of humility and gratitude at the generous gesture. At least that is how I reacted the other day when I received a copy the anthology, “Opening Closed Doors,” and realized The Scribblers had dedicated their publication to me.The Scribblers and I met through a writing workshop I conducted earlier this year at the Murray-Calloway County Senior Citizens Center. We worked together for four sessions, and then they presented a public reading at the Center in April, to celebrate National Poetry Month. After that, I went back to my own solitary, creative work, and they continued to get together once a month. Their joy and creativity have not flagged, and now they have published their own anthology.
The results are, WOW! There’s no other way to say it.
Their first poetry assignment we worked on as a group was inspired by Kentucky Poet Laureate George Ella Lyon’s “Where I’m From.” “Opening Closed Doors” uses that motif in some of its most moving writings. For instance, Kathy Culbert’s poem describes herself as being “from prairies and from river cliffs,” “tall peaks and ocean waves.” “I am from the stillness and from the earth,” she declares. “I am from the universe./ I am from God.”
Gerry Mellon claims other territory for herself. “I’m from dust-raising hoofbeats,” she says. “I’m from a dust-to-dust woman/ who buried five husbands.”
Daphene Mowery’s take on “Where I’m From” remembered World War II. “…seeing my grandpa/ following the mule and plow. My other/ grandparents listening to the war news on/ the battery radio. My uncles in their/ army uniforms. Ration stamps for sugar and shoes…”
Elizabeth Rose’s stunning rendition of where she’s from featured a strong woman, her mother, “Who was beaten by an alcoholic husband who later abandoned her and their five children…// Who hung on for years and years by her fingertips until all of us kids were grown…”
Froggy Gish admits to growing up poor. “I’m talking beans and taters for lunch,” he says, “and then beans and taters for supper. Don’t get me wrong. I can still eat my share of beans and taters.”
Not every piece in the anthology uses “Where I’m From” as the springboard to writing, but almost all focus on some aspect of the past or growing up. Eva Wetmore’s lovely remembrance, “My Favorite River,” thinks of the water as always “gently winding its way to the great sea, rising and falling like a sleeping infant.”
Annette Sitton reminisces about the time Don and Charlie decided to build a mountain cabin. “…the logs they cut needed to be peeled and dried for a year before they could use them,” she explains. “In the meantime, they decided to build a road across the mountain.” And that is when the fun began.
One of my favorite poems in the anthology, by Ruth Daughaday, Is an apology. She regrets her own shortsighted-ness. “My mind/ Was closed to/ Your/ Own viewpoint.//I often/ Don’t think about/ Another way/ Of looking at things,” she confesses.
Wilma Jean Sanders’ recollection of the 1937 flood features her father’s steady and calm reaction as the waters continued to rise. When two in-laws stop in to see if the family needed help, Wilma’s father was playing the banjo and singing, unperturbed.
“You’d think you didn’t have a care in the world,” one son-in-law remarked.
“I’ve not,” Wilma’s Daddy declared. “My measuring stick said today that the old Tennessee River is dropping and I’m celebrating.”
Besides meeting once a month and compiling their anthology. The Scribblers also hone their craft with THE FUNNY BONE NEWS, a publication they distribute at the Senior Center. Edited by Gerry Mellon with assistance by Eva Wetmore, they keep their readers laughing.
As I read and re-read “Opening Closed Doors,” I keep thinking of the endless debate over the question, “Can writing be taught?” The esteemed young writer, Rivka Galchen believes that, “…in most every intellectual endeavor, the extremes of its work come from an unteachable dark.”
On the dedication page of “Opening Closed Doors,” The Scribblers claim that I gave them the wherewithal to put their memories into words, but I know better. They all had stories to tell, I just helped them unlock the door, open the floodgates, light a candle that let them remember details they hadn’t thought of in years. They had the wit and courage to write it all down.
The Murray-Calloway County Senior Center is located in the Weaks Community Building at 607 Poplar Street, Murray, Ky. Log on to http://www.murrayseniorcenter.org/ for more information.