For my mother, on her birthday

23 Jan

My mother gave me a collection of poems the day I graduated from high school.

That might not sound like such a big deal, but this particular anthology was inscribed to her by the Kansas City, Missouri branch of the American Association of University Women “For Highest Scholastic Achievement,” and given to her the day she received her diploma as valedictorian of the class of 1957.

It’s a little piece of my mother’s past that my sisters and brother would also have been very happy to receive.  It’s mine.

On the flip side of the page occupied by the University Women (whoever they were), my mom wrote out for me, in her own hand, a familiar poem featuring my name.  A sweet gesture, especially considering that she chose the name herself.

But, aside from that, who doesn’t like receiving a poem?  And who doesn’t like hearing her own name?

Since that day, I have been placing myself strategically in a chair next to the door, ready to meet all who enter.  Some perceptive folk have remarked that there is something studied about the way I jump up and greet newcomers with a kiss.

I have my reasons.

And yet, despite all my efforts and all the years that have passed, my mother remains the only person ever to present me with that poem. It’s discouraging.

But I still have the book.  A thousand pages of poems.  One in my mother’s handwriting.

Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in!

31 Responses to “For my mother, on her birthday”

  1. Cyberquill January 23, 2012 at 9:05 am #

    Who doesn’t like hearing her own name? I, for one, never liked my name, so I don’t particularly care for hearing it. (Given you said “her,” however, you may have been referring to females only anyway.)

    • jenny January 24, 2012 at 5:01 am #

      CQ, I have noticed that some folks around here call you by your given name, but I have NEVER done that.

      Is that why you like me best?

      • Cyberquill January 24, 2012 at 11:52 am #

        No. One of my neighbors has a dog named Jenny that I sometimes take care of when the neighbor is out of town. That’s my favorite Jenny.

      • jenny January 25, 2012 at 6:30 am #

        She’s cute.

        Nobody has a dog with your name. You’re still my favorite Cyberquill.

  2. Carrah Clayton January 23, 2012 at 9:21 am #

    Who could even dream of having such a daughter?

    • jenny January 24, 2012 at 5:02 am #

      No, Carrah Clayton, you’ve got it turned around. This is the “Who could even dream of having such a mother?” post.

  3. Andreas Kluth January 23, 2012 at 9:48 am #

    I wish I were capable of greater appreciation for two things in life: 1) opera and 2) poetry.

    The fact that you are intimidates me a bit.

    But this one I get. Coz I have kids. I just don’t do it in poetry.

    • jenny January 24, 2012 at 5:11 am #

      Nah, you like poetry. (Let’s not put it in terms of “appreciation” — that makes it feel so stuffy and zaps all the possibility of fun. Nobody ever talks about having appreciation for football.)

      C’mon, you like at least one poem rather famously in “Hannibal and Me.”

  4. Paul Costopoulos January 23, 2012 at 10:38 am #

    Is no ninny.
    She entertains many
    and never tires any.
    Keep them coming,
    They give me spring.
    Eases the going,
    till next spring’s coming.

    • jenny January 24, 2012 at 5:22 am #

      Paul, this is so sweet!

      And it’s especially so because when I wrote this post I was thinking about the foolishness of the expectations that literature creates, and how life disappoints, but art sticks around to console.

      And then you write something that makes me think that life might be pretty good too. 🙂

  5. Thomas Stazyk January 23, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    Lovely sentiments from your mother.

    But when it comes to poems with your name in them, be careful what you ask for:

    There once was a woman named Jenny
    She liked Chekhov and Dostoyevsky.
    She read them in Russian,
    And invited a discussion,
    But I couldn’t join ’cause my name’s not Yevgeny

    • jenny January 24, 2012 at 5:25 am #

      Ha! Do you know why this is extra funny? The name Yevgeny has a female variant: Yevgeniya. The nickname for both is Zhenya.

      If you’ve ever been in a language class in America, you know that students adopt names in the target language, and sometimes they stick.

      I was Zhenya, for years and years, and, in fact there are many people (in America) who never learned my real name. My in-laws, I think, are still a little unsure. 🙂

  6. sledpress January 23, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

    I am just mugged with wistfulness, imagining what it might be like to be related to *anybody* who knew even one poem that didn’t start “Roses are red, violets are blue.”

    • jenny January 24, 2012 at 5:30 am #


      Roses are red,
      Violets are blue,
      A bunch of my relatives
      are dunderheads too!

      🙂 🙂

  7. Mr. Crotchety January 23, 2012 at 3:31 pm #

    Your siblings would have been happy to get the collection, but then they weren’t valedictorian, were they? I guess they didn’t want it bad enough.

    • jenny January 24, 2012 at 5:36 am #

      Wow, Mr. Crotchety! Sure. I like your version; I’ll tell the story that way next time.

      By the way, I have an excellent memory: Weren’t you valedictorian at the high school whose principal insisted on cutting the final scene of “The Grapes of Wrath”? Seems to me you were bragging about that over at the Hannibals way back when.

      • Mr. Crotchety January 24, 2012 at 8:52 am #

        Nope. Different Crotchety.

  8. Christopher January 23, 2012 at 9:08 pm #

    Your commemoration of the collection of poems your mother gave you so long ago would make this a special birthday gift for her.

    That she, as a woman, got a highest scholastic achievement award in 1957 says much for her.

    • jenny January 24, 2012 at 5:38 am #

      You know, Christopher, that collection of poems is just like the family bible that you have (and have written about).

      And my mother? Yes, she is something.

  9. dafna January 25, 2012 at 1:32 am #

    o.k., my words are not falling in line today. i would love to reply in rhyme.

    would any of you who speak dafna kindly create a rhyme?

    about the quality i like the best in jenny… can never surmise what her reply will be. has the ability to surprise amongst all our homogeneity. it takes a long time to know someone, it will be a while before we see beyond the smiles and understand the stuff that really makes her tick.

    how many times have i seen a reply and wondered, “what will she say to that?!”

    • jenny January 25, 2012 at 6:30 am #


    • Andreas Kluth January 25, 2012 at 9:31 am #

      As instructed by dafna, here is a limerick BY dafna:

      There once was a lass who started a blog,
      soon rose up out of the blogosphere’s fog,
      with her wit so surprising,
      she lifts souls a-rising,
      though she could be that Internet dog.

      • dafna January 25, 2012 at 2:27 pm #

        Bravo and Thank you Andreas!

        now one that rhymes with “fish” 😉

  10. Man of Roma January 25, 2012 at 9:39 am #

    You sitting strategically in a chair next to the door ready to jump and kiss newcomers – it is such a sweeet image, Jenny, after one has read your mum’s full poem. I think two qualities you have (that seldom go together): acute intelligence & sweetness.

    On another note, it makes me reflect what responsibility parents have when children are small: one small action can produce big consequences (I’m glad my daughters are now adult lol).

  11. Paul Costopoulos January 25, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

    I once knew a Mrs Fish
    At the market she sold fish
    And being unselfish She even shared her shellfish.
    Pardon me for being impish.
    Now I do feel sheepish.

  12. jenny January 25, 2012 at 8:01 pm #


    It’s almost too much of a treat to come from work and read your comments, the funny ones and the sweet ones. Thanks.

    Dafna/Andreas: I love a running gag more than just about anything. Even more than…oh I don’t know…chasing squirrels, for instance. Woof.

  13. dafna February 6, 2012 at 1:07 am #

    hi jenny,

    i added a bar mitzvah post to jacobsgreatadventure blog. it has a family photo in case you or the others who found their way over the first time would like to see what jacob and i look like.

    hope you don’t mind me giving the link here.

    • jenny February 6, 2012 at 5:58 am #

      You mean this link:


      1. Dafna does look like Sean Young. Geez.
      2. “Since Time Began” gets a plug. Yay.
      3. Jacob has that “today I am a fountain pen” smile.
      4. “Me and ma on the bimah” suggests a new Hannibal parody: “Hannibal and Me…on the Bimah: Failure-schmailure, pass me the herring.”
      5. I want that girl’s tights.

  14. dafna February 10, 2012 at 12:35 am #

    hi jenny,

    thanks for the comment!

    and the compliment about sean… how does the italian saying go? at a certain age a woman must choose between her ass and her face. not fishing for compliments, but i’d like to get one or both back to the way they looked only a few years ago. i am not at peace with either.

    that girl is my niece Bella or “belly”. that is our only family photo of the day! i’ll bet the tights come in your size.

    #3. i had not seen jacob’s eyes twinkle like that for many years, and not since 😦
    #4. no kidding… there was more than one “hannibal and me” theme that could have applied through out the whole process!

    from my pm’s you know i had to be so very careful about what to leave in and what to leave out and what parts to de/emphasize to make sure it was a success to the only eye that mattered…Jacob. (oh yeah, jacob is one-eyed like hannibal…kiddin’)

    if you ever find your way to the pictures of the event, i think you would be impressed at how much “bigger” it looked. our small intimate (and creatively financed) celebration seem equal in jacob’s eye to the $20K+ parties!

  15. dafna February 10, 2012 at 12:43 am #

    p.s. post already….

    there is enough in the news for fodder. how about “glitter bombing”. this kid is being charged with “throwing a missile” along other things.

    talk amongst yourselves – or jenny give it you special brand of wit.

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