Daisy, A life in verse
by Jason Reynolds
Teddy Roosevelt was President when Daisy was born,
in a small corner of the State of Washington.
She adored the memory of her father and mother,
Although she was only five when her mother died in the 1917 influenza pandemic.
To keep the family together her father moved to Echo, Oregon where she ate apples off trees and caught fish in the local creek.
The truth for the rest of us is that
We use our own age as a yardstick for all the others.
Only when we grow old do we learn the aged were once young.
Until then others are frozen at their own age,
The old were always old, the young will always stay young.
That’s why aging is such a shock, when we find an old person
In the mirror, or learn that Daisy danced the Charleston
In the roaring Twenties. or she listened to Benny Goodman
On the radio when capitalism failed.
She was living in Oklahoma when the wind and drought
Blew the topsoil and farmers away.
Newly married then,
Working in a flower shop next to an Army base,
That ignited in war activity by the end of 1941.
Only people older than seventy-five
Would remember the Walker Evans essay
In Fortune Magazine,
his harrowing photo of Allie Mae Burrough,
Etched like copper by suffering and hunger.
The children in those photographs are timeless. You could cut out
Their pictures and paste them in the newspaper
Today—and you couldn’t tell the difference.
Maybe it’s the clothes, or the smile,
The grown ups aren’t smiling.
I never got to ask Daisy if hungry men
Came to her back door
And if she gave them food.
I bet she did.
She was always generous–
Food was love,
Her appetite was hearty,
She certainly like the waitresses
And the other diners including children
She would frequently ask with her wide blue eyes
“Do you know how old I am?”
She counted her age as a matter of pride,
Proud too she looked thirty years younger.
It certainly wasn’t her diet,
but she never did smoke and she swore she never drank
Until the doctor told her there was no other solution
For the right arm that betrayed her with essential tremor.
But youthful she did look. Few believed her age.
Perhaps love kept her youthful.
She did pray a lot.
She enjoyed prayer and Jesus appeared to be one of her friends.
She grew up Baptist, thought Unity was too raucous
The Quakers too quiet for her in the beginning,
But change she did,
And good-naturedly went along, got along
And grew to love her new church family.
She repeated her stories,
With enough variation as to avoid boredom.
She met her beloved Ira at a baseball game,
Or a football game or sometimes he just picked her up
On the street. All of those venues were
OK with her, she never objected to reality
Or any of its near cousins.
It would have been an attack on art itself
If anyone chose to disagree.
Poetry and memoir have their own truth,
Their own permissions.
She didn’t argue with reality.
My homosexuality and other people’s health problems
Didn’t quite register. She had earned her pain,
She told us. She worked too hard all those years,
She told us, and admitted she was too darned old.
She was lonely after Ira died. .
Wisely she surrendered her driver’s license.
Her vision had faded. After the stroke,
Newspapers and books developed holes
In the print—she had to give up reading.
She loved reading but never complained about the loss.
But entertaining, even with her limitations—she continued to the end.
All the best dishes would be washed not once but twice
Before Thanksgiving and Christmas. Although her back
Would kill her afterwards, she insisted on
Helping prepare the turkey or vegetables,
The task at hand.
But years earlier when the Fifties arrived—
Houses, barbecues and the greatest economic expansion
This country has ever seen.
It didn’t include blacks or the rural poor
But few noticed.
Most of us got rich:
Daisy had her own executive job,
Her own office and office machines.
The firm was tidy, professional—
The fifties when the corporate ethos
Flew high above the USA.
The family watched quiz shows and westerns
Got their news like everyone else
From Walter Cronkite
Civil rights and the War in Vietnam
Flickered on the horizon,
Like bees at a company picnic,
Kennedy was elected,
Ira got a better job and Daisy had to leave hers,
They moved to Tualatin
Lived in a beautiful home,
Entertained frequently— Thanksgiving,
Christmas, New Year’s Eve
And summer parties.
Daisy loved bringing the family together,
She loved the garden which she and Ira
Planted and watched over.
And so the 70’s passed.
The 80’s brought Reagan and retirement:
Ira had saved enough to support Daisy
Until she was nearly 100 years old.
But Ira got cancer,
They sold the large house and garden in Tualatin
And moved to a large manufactured house
In Portland, a few minutes from major hospitals.
She missed the garden, the flowers,
No doubt, but she didn’t say a thing.
Instead she appreciated the new home,
Filled with her favorite furniture,
Lamps and bric-a-brac.
What was gone was gone.
She found beauty wherever she looked,
Flowers, trees and beautiful homes
Existed for Daisy.
She didn’t need to own them.
She made new friends at the Meeting House,
Thanksgiving and Christmas with new friends,
Mostly Linda’s friends who fell in love with Daisy—
But she was lonely when Linda went to work.
Unable to drive and now walking with difficulty,
She had started to fall, but with the fleshy padding
She bounced, bones unbroken,
She sometimes had trouble
With names and who was paired with whom,
But her love remained steady as the North Star.
She could have given lessons in acceptance.
She grieved for her husband,
She sometimes sadly said, “I’m too darned old”
But she bore excruciating pain with dignity.
Her sight started failing, but not her hearing.
She loved Big Bands and ballads from the 1920’s
Through all the decades until Andre Rieu
And Andrea Boccelli. She liked strong voices,
And discovered opera in the last few years.
She stayed in the moment and salvaged what she could,
More than many people decades younger than her.
Although she grew up poor and never went farther than the 8th grade,
Somehow she knew how to live,
We who knew her learned to measure the days of our lives we live today.