I own precious few family heirlooms. One I treasure is a worn black leather-bound pocket-sized ledger filled with poems.
It first belonged to my great-aunt Nan, who inscribed it with her name and address in 1918, when she was 13. Three decades later, in 1947, the book came into possession of her niece, my mother, who was then 14. I don’t know if the book was a gift or if my grandmother carried it from home when she left in 1926. Along with the poems is a list of family birthdays and some addresses, which seem to be written in my grandmother’s hand.
The two young women who collected poems in this book lived worlds and an ocean apart. They didn’t meet until 1971, when my mother accompanied her mother on a journey home to England to visit her sisters for the first time in 45 years.
A common thread between Nan and Mom was their love of poetry. They also shared a sense of humour. Nan, a lesbian, penned “Matrimonial Maxims” in the black book:
1. You needn’t run when you have caught your bus but remember you still have to pay the fare.
2. Let bygones be boygones.
More than half the book’s entries were written in Aunt Nan’s hand. Mom wrote only a few poems, none original — though she did compose her own poems under the pen name Leona Dare. She included a Tennyson poem she recited often when I was growing up and throughout my life. At the end of hers, when so many of her memories had vanished, she still remembered almost every word of Tennyson’s “Tears”:
Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.
Tears flowed last Sunday when my family gathered to throw Mom’s ashes in the Salish Sea. It’s been nearly two years since she died. It was time.
For some in the family, we were saying goodbye. I said goodbye to Mom two years ago. Sunday, for me, was a time of family bonding. Of coming back together after two years apart. Of celebrating the love we share as a family. The family Lorraine brought into the world, so that her love would live on.
Lorraine asked very little of her family. She wanted us to love her for herself, and for the sake of love. I know this because, at 14, she wrote Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s words in the little black book of poems she shared with her aunt:
If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love’s sake only. Do not say,
“I love her for her smile—her look—her way
Of speaking gently … “
But love me for love’s sake, that evermore
Thou mayst love on, through love’s eternity.
The last poem Nan included in the book before she passed it along was titled “Ashes of Love.” No author is named, so I suspect it was she.
We met, we loved – how long ago
Both thought that it would last
How could we dream a flame so strong
Would flicker out so fast.
All that is left are ashes rare
That in the years to come
Must serve as silent memories
As we sift them one by one.
According to my treasured black book, long before Ella Fitzgerald sang “Our Love Is Here To Stay,” a poet named L. Fitzgerald wrote “Love Will Stay”:
Apples redden and fall away
Violets wither and fade with May
Beauty may vanish but love will stay.
June and August no more will lend
Golden glow to the garden’s end
Sunbeams vanquish the flowers they send.
Hush! be silent − the world is vast
And all about us shall soon be past
Loveliness falters but love shall last.
Always and forever, Mom, your love will last.