Another Day in the Country
Reciting the poetry of a lifetime
© Another Day in the Country
I sat chatting with the Domino Club one day. Its members weren’t playing games. Shawzee was nodding, about to go to sleep — an ongoing vexation of his. Mabel wasn’t feeling up to par. No dominoes for her today, and playing with only three people was not enough fun to make the effort.
Suddenly. Mabel confided that she was a poet and began reciting the most delightful verse.
The sheets struck up the band, one windy day
By drumming a staccato 4/4 time.
The wash frocks shook their shoulders in a very naughty way
While the panties did a rhumba on the line.
With graceful bend of knee and kick of toe
A group of stockings fell and rose, and,
While they tapped a spritely rhythm to and fro
My heart danced with the chorus of the clothes.
I didn’t have pen and paper with me to write it down, so while we were chatting, I said, “Mabel, remember that poem about the dancing laundry? Could you recite it again for me?”
On her good days, Mabel could remember, but those days were becoming few and far between. She shock her head. Her tummy was hurting.
Shawzee offered her a couple of Tums from his pocket stash. She put one her mouth, settled herself, took a deep breath, and started to recite: “The sheets struck up the band one windy day…”
As she recited, she forgot her tummy ache and the second Tums melting in her hand.
She was struggling to remember exact phrases, reciting quickly, like a little girl who knows her piano piece by heart but only if she doesn’t think about it and only if she plays fast, letting her mind recall the phrases on its own, like fingers that hold memory at recitals when you are nervous.
She starts again at the beginning, going over and over the lines, faster and faster.
“The sheets struck up the band one windy day,” she starts again, willing all the lines to be present. “The wash frocks shook their shoulders in a very naughty way.”
She giggles at the naughty frocks shaking their shoulders, anticipating the line about panties.
Again and again, she tries, but on this afternoon, Line 7 is gone.
Through the time I’ve known her, Mabel has told me stories of her childhood, growing up on the wrong side of the tracks in poverty.
Her father left shortly after she was born and started another family elsewhere in town.
Finally, a couple of old maid aunts took her in and raised her. They had a player piano in their sumptuous living room, and Mabel, as a little girl, would go in and pedal furiously, pretending she was playing the piano.
She learned the words to all the songs and would sing at the top of her voice but never learned to play.
She became a nurse — a wonderful, compassionate one. She was married twice in her life. She had two children. And now she had Andy as her companion.
“Isn’t he a lovely man?” she would say, looking at him.
And he was a wonderful man — patient with her forgetfulness, reminding her kindly over and over, assuring and reassuring, as if he were the father and she the child.
“Now, darlin’, that’s your coffee there. Just go ahead and drink it before it gets cold. You want me to get you more?”
Mabel gets lost on her plate some days, let alone in her place setting. She hoards food like a hungry waif who lived by the railroad tracks and wears the same lavender outfit day after day.
But when she hears music, she springs to life, knows all the words to the old songs, and sings while lustily tapping her toe.
When I come, she greets me with smiles, but five minutes later she can’t remember who I am.
“She won a prize for that poem,” Charlotte reminds us. It’s a miracle to me that Charlotte, who also has memory failure, remembers this. “She won second prize in the nation.”
“I did?” Mabel asks. “I don’t remember that.”
Then she blushes with humility and pleasure.
“Oh, my dear,” she pats Charlotte’s hand. “You are so kind. Thank you.”
I thought to myself that I will be so kind when I am in their shoes, that I will recite my poetry and have friends to listen.
Come to think of it, on another day in the country, I am in their shoes. Thirty years have come and gone since Mabel gave me her poem.