(For Dick & Angie)
It was the early 1960’s when high school was everything
it should have been, and all that it shouldn’t.
Drinking and driving was not only the norm, it was
weekend routine, along with partying and fighting, if needed.
We fantasized finding a Mrs. Robinson, while reality
found us experiencing uncertainty with women our own age.
Forecasted by brittle branches and gray leaves, the inevitable illnesses and
deaths took seats at our 50th reunion; perennials until we weren’t.
Dick was too ill to attend, so we gathered in his hospital room and
retold tall tales until his comedic spirit forced him to smile.
The last time we saw him alive was at his daughter’s home; we
stood like silent tombstones — surrounding his bed.
He felt like shit and was cranky as hell; so one by one,
we wandered off like tumbleweeds — collecting at the kitchen table.
But in short time, he appeared in his wheelchair--
rolled out by Angie, his high school sweetheart and angelic wife of many years.
She gently parked him next to me. I instinctively reached
under the table and privately held his hand.
He looked at me with calm astonishment — both of us a bit bewildered.
But I like to think it was just what he needed.
I know it worked for me.
For many of us, June of our senior years in high school remain the most significant month for vivid graduation memories no matter the number of educational degrees we may have later acquired. At least it is for me. I graduated high school in June of 1966 and we celebrated our one and only (as of this writing) high school reunion in 2016, our 50th. That evening inspired this poem as well one I will share with you in an upcoming selection in several months.
This poem was initially published in the January 2021 edition of cc&d magazine, titled “You Won’t See Me,” vol. 305. I surprised the “Angie” of this poem with a copy after its publication and received a thank-you note more beautifully written by her than anything I could ever hope to produce.
Bit and harness chaffing,
always a capricious climb—
Strength sometimes failing,
seldom steps of sweet rhyme.
He to her left—
She to his right—
him and his might.
They knew each other well—
But it wasn’t sonnets
for which they fell.
When he picked up a stone,
their rhythm fell askew—
She took the extra weight,
until remaining steps were few.
A life of travail,
then one night came the shot—
His loss unrealized, until
morning brought her not.
They paired him with another.
She was impatient to start.
It was lighter on the load--
but heavier on the heart.
This poem was influenced by the lengthy marriage of my maternal grandparents, with their relationship commencing with their respective needs and desires of their families and friends. My grandfather, who was from Sicily, had first come to America alone, planning to have his then wife and their three children join him after he got situated. She passed away shortly after he left and his new wife (who became my grandmother), who was from Naples, took him and his children on. If that doesn’t sound romantic, it’s because it wasn’t. The family never called it an arranged marriage, but it was sure close. My grandmother’s love for his existing three children coupled with his sense of fatherly obligation led to their life-long marriage including four additional children with many wonderful and colorful relatives and our experiences to follow.
This poem is a tribute to them and their relationship and their gift to all of us as being the best grandparents in every sense of the word. My grandmother passed away in 1995 at the age of 96, and my grandfather passed away in 1983 at the age of 90. They are still with me every day.
This poem first appeared in, “STORIES THAT NEED TO BE TOLD, A TULIPTREE ANTHOLOGY 2019” published and printed by Tulip Tree Publishing, LLC.
Joseph J. Ridgway, Author
In addition to writing children’s literature historical fiction, Ridgway is an award-winning poet, being consistently nominated for numerous prestigious Pushcart Prizes for his stellar poetry. Further, the author is an accomplished essayist, with his writings appearing in a variety of nationwide publications.