Writing Poetry As Memoir

Dziadzio My father's father

My father’s father

I’m in the process of recovering poems that I  have written over the years. I thought that I had lost them when I transferred all of my data from my old computer to the most recent one.  But with the help of the folks at our new Peach Mac Store, I was able to find them again and now am saving them as word documents.

Some of the poems fit into the genre of memoir.  The one I’m sharing with you in this post, is what Sundays were like when I was ten or eleven years old, when we would go to my grandparents home for Sunday dinner. Sometimes we arrived early enough to help with all of the preparations. My grandparents were from Poland and they did things the way they would have done in the old country.

The word Babcia is Polish for grandmother and Dziadzio is Polish for grandfather.

Babchia My father's mother

My father’s mother



(pozhí-veech), is the Polish verb to nourish, feed, refresh

Babcia rises early   kneads loaves
foaming with yeast set with amber jewels
scrubs spent trousers  socks and sheets
feeds them between clenched wringer jaws

She holds a squawking hen
against the block   the body flies
searching for its own lost head and then
hanging upside down from the apple tree
paints the grass below  I pull fists full of feathers
watch with sickened awe her hand disappearing
pulling ribbons of yellowblue guts  unsown seed

My brothers and I gather baskets of beans  lettuce
she collects dried shirts  socks
punches dough  pressing pockets
for mashed potatoes  farmer’s cheese
sauerkraut with caraway  stuffs sliver
of garlic beneath fat blanketing the roast

The chicken swims with carrots
onions  parsley  filling the kitchen
wisth Sunday smells  I stand
on the table under the arbor
picking grapes  then in the garden
where rhubarb hides me
fill on gooseberries and currants

This feast takes all day  we gallop
in and out playing Lone Ranger and Tonto
waiting for Dziadzio to carve the roast
share crackled fat  crusty rye dipped in pan juices

Joan Z. Rough

Growing Up Female

Zoe, not that long ago.

Zoe, not that long ago.

A recent post on my daughter’s Facebook page read,
“wow, a slumber party with her friends, and suddenly Zoe wants to take singing lessons and is wearing

Zoe, July 2013

Zoe, July 2013

My first thought was, “Oh No!” My second thoughts? “What fun! Things sure have changed since I was her age.”   Zoe will be thirteen at the end of September. Growing up and becoming a woman starts earlier and earlier these days. I’m actually surprised and grateful that Zoe’s burgeoning didn’t happen sooner.  Unlike a lot of early bloomers I’ve noticed lately, she’s pretty much on track with where I was at her age, almost sixty years ago.

 But now, as I squint back over the years, maybe I was fourteen when I first tried wearing makeup. It’s likely she’s a year ahead of where I was. Not bad! But still, strolling down Charlottesville’s downtown walking mall on a Saturday afternoon, you’ll see what look like ten and eleven year old girls trying to be eighteen. Zoe doesn’t dress like that … yet.

How parents let their little girls out of the house dressed in sexy clothes more appropriate for sixteen year olds is beyond me. But then I’m an old fart. I’ll be seventy-one in November. The years are going too fast and the world is changing at a pace that I’ll never catch up with … Though I try. I do have my MacBook, iPad, and iPhone.

I don’t listen to much of today’s music. I cherish the rock and roll of my teen years and stopped caring after the Beatles and folk singers, the likes of Joan Baez, weren’t “in” anymore.  Best of all I love the music of my mother’s era … that Big Band sound, jazz, and vocalists like Frank Sinatra. And fashions?  I love clothes with classic lines that are hip without trying to make this old crone look like she’s trying to be twenty-five again. I love linen and cotton … and just a tiny bit baggy. I don’t wear shoes with even the slightest of heal. It hurts too much. Yeah, like I said,”I’m aging.”

But back to those teen years and growing up. Makeup … mascara, eye liner, eye shadow, bright colored lipstick or nail polish were not allowed in my house. And forget, fragrances. I did manage to get, with my mother’s okay, a straight skirt with a slit up the back when I was around fourteen. I also wore felt poodle skirts and saddle shoes. But they weren’t sexy.

It was that hip hugging, tweed straight skirt that got my father’s attention. So when I walked out of the bathroom wearing it along with a tight, black turtleneck one morning, he had a fit. But it wasn’t so much the skirt and turtleneck sweater that made him loose his mind. It was the addition of mascara, eyeliner and lipstick.

“Where do you think you’re going, young lady?” he asked. When I answered, “To school,” he told me to “Go back in the bathroom and wipe that garbage off your face and then change into something more appropriate for someone your age.” He told me to bring him all of my makeup and nail polish, which I had purchased with my own money. He threw it all into the garbage can. My tearful hysteria, must have given him second thoughts. Or maybe my mother had spoken to him. Later that day, he agreed to a compromise. He said I could have clear nail polish and the palest of pink lipstick. He, of course, would be purchasing them for me. I’m sure he thought that letting me near a makeup counter would brand me a whore and a slut.

After I’d saved up some more allowance I bought more makeup. I put it on at school and wiped it off before I got home. And my already deep dislike for my father, grew into something even worse. Ironically, today I don’t wear makeup of any kind. It just isn’t me.

As for the voice lessons?  I say, “Yes.” When I was twelve and wanted to take tap dance lessons by father said, “No, because you can’t make a living being a tap dancer.”  I guess he never figured out what growing up is all about.

I applaud Lisa for letting Zoe experiment with make up. It’s a new day, in a new world. God only knows what it will be like if and when Zoe’s daughter is twelve going on thirteen. I’m no Victorian, but I do hope the rush to be a grown up slows down a bit. Can you imagine little girls arriving in the world wearing mascara and eye shadow?


They Call Me Batty



There’s a gentle sweetness to this term for crazy: it conjures up an elderly woman pottering harmlessly about the garden, hair coming undone every which way, talking to herself (or the plants or the birds), oblivious to creatures of the human persuasion. It is closer to eccentric, or deeply peculiar, than to the harsher nuts, wacko, bonkers, or bats. It is not clear why bats (or nuts) are synonyms for crazy —considering that bats have radar, their flight is anything but. Still, before people knew about the radar, bat flight must have looked, well, nuts. Batty may derive from the phrase bats in the belfry, or from the name of the prominent English physician, William Battie (sometimes Batty), who wrote a Treatise on Madness in 1758, and advocated therapeutic asylums rather than prisons for the insane. –JS


A while back, as I was doing some writing, using Scrivener, I used the word “batty” and while looking for another word to use in its place, the above Word Note flashed up on the screen. I like that about Scrivener and only wish I could master the rest of the program. I’m not terribly computer savvy. I can’t even figure it out with “Scrivener For Dummies,” parked in front of me. So later this month I’ll be taking a class with a real human being so that I’ll be able to use the program for my further writing.

But back to where I was going with this wonderful note about the word “batty.”  My grand kids call me Batty, instead of Grandma, Nana, Ma maw, Granny, Gram, or any of the other names that are assigned to most grandmothers.

Zoe, almost thirteen now, started calling me Batty as soon as she started talking and then Noah, who will be ten next week, picked it up as well. I am now known to the entire family as Batty. Even my little nieces, Anya and Julia, call me Aunt Batty.

I don’t know what made Zoe pick that name for me, but I remember that when I found out that Lisa was pregnant, I was extremely happy. Besides asking for a healthy grand baby, there was one more wish I put out into the Universe: “I just don’t want to be called ‘Grandma.’ I’m way too young for that.” I guess the Universe heard me.

Zoe and me before my hair turned grey.

Zoe and me before my hair turned grey.

I was not in the room when Zoe was born, but  waiting out in the hallway, pacing back and forth, anxious because it had been a long and arduous labor, resulting in a C-section. Later I got the chance to hold eight pound plus, baby  Zoe.  She wasn’t one of those sleepy eyed newborns that just want to be fed and go back to sleep. She was wide-awake, seemingly noticing everything around her.  When she looked up into my eyes, I thought I heard her gasp, “I know you, but can’t remember from where.” Later on I began to think she recognized something very different about me and though we’d never met before, we were members of the same clan. When she christened me, Batty, I was sure of it. I think she is the only person who truly gets me.

And about that word note up above? Yes, I do potter about the garden, talking to the plants and the birds. I am getting elderly, but I’ve still got a whole lot of living to do. My dear neighbor, Harmon, is called “Gaga,” by her grandchildren. I often suggest we write a book entitled, “The Adventures of Batty and Gaga.” I think it would be a great kid’s book about grandmothers and how magical they can be. I would love to have purple hair in the book. And Harmon’s hair has to be fuchsia with yellow highlights! 🙂

June, 2013

June, 2013

P.S.  I just had the pleasure of spending the past week with both Zoe and Noah here in my home without their parents. It was a great time. We swam, saw movies, laughed, giggled, and even disagreed once or twice. I could relate to Noah being homesick. I clearly remember the painful days when I was a kid and was sent to spend time with my grandparents. I so wished I could make his pain go away.  On our last day together, while Noah went to see “Super Man,” with Uncle Mark and Granddaddy, Zoe and I went to lunch, had pedicures, and did some shopping.  When we got back into the car she said, “I’m soooo happy.  Thank you so much.”

It is to Zoe and Noah that I owe my thanks for stepping into my “Batty” world for a week and allowing me to observe life through their eyes. When Bill helped with a few extra dollars so that Noah could buy a book he wanted badly, he asked Bill to call me, so that Zoe and I might have the same deal.  He deeply believes in being fair, and doesn’t want his sister to lose out. I just love it!

P.P.S. Some may say I‘m a bit peculiar and a bit eccentric, but I’m far from crazy. Zoe is not yet “batty,” but one day, when she grows into the wild woman she’s destined to be, I’m sure she will be as batty as I am. But never crazy.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

P.P.P.S. After reading this Lisa reminded me that Zoe weighed in over ten pounds.  It was my son, Mark, who was 8+ pounds and his birth was also by C-section.  Must run in the family.



Getting Lost

DSC00269“When we lose our map, our real knowledge of the path begins.”

Mark Nepo, Seven Thousand Ways To Listen

One Halloween evening, a very long time ago, when I was maybe in second grade, my mom helped me get dressed up as a gypsy. We drove to town and got lined up to be in the village Halloween Parade. It was complete with a high school marching band, police officers on horseback, and lots of other kids just like myself, all in costumes, ready to pick up the candy that the watching crowd would be tossing along our path as we marched down Main Street.

Mom stood right next to me and as we all started to move along, she dashed off to the side of the street, promising she’d be there, walking along with me the whole way. I remember being scared. I didn’t know any of the other kids and I’d never been in a parade before. I was a shy little girl, so there was no spontaneous going up to other kids and introducing myself.

I tried to keep an eye on Mom, as I moved down the street picking up O. Henry Bars, Almond Joys and all sorts of other sweets that were tossed my way. I was sure these goodies would overflow the orange paper sack I carried and that at home, I’d have to hide all of it from my little brother.  I imagined having enough candy to last me until next Halloween when I would simply do it all over again.

But halfway down Main Street, I realized that Mom wasn’t where she said she’d be.  I stopped in my tracks, looking up and down the street for her, as all of the other boys and girls kept marching by picking up all the loot.  The street was lined with what I thought were millions of people, but I couldn’t find my mother among them.

I started to cry. I stood there in terror, not knowing whether to follow the crowd or to go back to where I thought we had started.  A very kind man, dressed up in firefighting gear, came up to me and asked what the matter was. I told him I was lost and didn’t know where my Mom was. He took my hand and led me down the street to where the parade was breaking up. After a few very long moments, there she was, as concerned about me as I was about having lost her. She gave me a big hug, thanked the Fireman, and we piled in the car and went home. Needless to say, there were few pieces of candy in my bag, but I did have my mom and I was safe and sound.

I think about that story a lot whenever I’m in a strange place and don’t know exactly where I’m going. Fear still stalks me when I think I’m lost and will never be able to find my way home again. And too often I’ve held back, not allowing myself to venture out into the world, afraid of finding myself in a rundown slum, surrounded by the world’s most incorrigible creatures, begging for my life.

But then I tell myself, “Hey, what’s wrong with you?  We’re always lost and like Dorothy in the Wizard of OZ, we never know where we’ll find ourselves from one minute to the next.  Might as well, slow down and enjoy the scenery.”

Like the time Bill and I found a tiny perfumery, tucked away on a hillside on the Burren in County Clare, Ireland. Driving through that rocky stretch of ultra rural countryside, we got mixed up and horribly lost.  The road signs all seemed to be pointing in the wrong direction.  We were trying to find our way to Galway from Shannon where we had just that morning arrived on the Emerald Isle. It was a scenic and beautiful route and had we not gotten lost I never would have found the little vial of flower mastery that I later took home with me.  And we would never have found the roadside restaurant where we enjoyed some of the world’s best mussels flavored with heaps of garlic.

wr-1These days I still get lost both outwardly and inwardly. I’m discovering that allowing myself to wander about in the unknowing of life is much easier to manage than I thought … and the best way to discover the beautiful world I live in.

How do you feel about getting lost? Do you turn it into an adventure or like me get scared?

Trees and Books

Zoe and Noah climbing a tree.  The Outer Banks, 2007

Zoe and Noah in a tree on the Outer Banks, North Carolina, 2007

“A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called ‘leaves’) imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time, proof that humans can work magic.”  – Carl Sagan