Wednesday, June 21

Chapter 45:

Two Poems by E. L. Stevens

Beneath the boughs of which I played

Beneath the boughs of which I played Sunday afternoons
As the recessional piped out the organ
Church-folk talking not of sermons;
The 49er’s playoffs
Joe Montana fans –
Or else of cattle and farm life.
"Good sermon as usual," we all say
Taken by the pastor’s hand willingly or un-
We move from under the eves of the entry
To the shade of the solitary tree:
Evergreen; whose shadow brought relief
Summers in the Valley
Where 115 in the shade is not obscure.
A small patch of earth surrounded the sturdy trunk;
Roots arching downward into the fertile clay-mixed soil.
The actual church lawn was small –
Thought much larger when I was young;
Where tag wove between friends and strangers and parents.
The building had been smaller once; –
You can still see the seam where the foyer now resides
Beneath the massive overhanging entry
Guarded by 3 symmetrical brick pillars which only match the new addition
5 windows painted with the scenes of Christ –
Birth, Garden, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension –
Along the North wall and not behind the pulpit as one might suppose
Causing only dimmed light to enter the sanctuary
No matter how many lights were on inside or cheerful the light outside.
Across the Eastern street were houses of those who do not attend our church
Which always puzzled me;
Maybe they didn’t care for the old-style movie-theater seating,
Or didn’t speak English.
Next door to our church was another church – and another across the street,
And at least 3 more one block South –
None of which were ever full on a Sunday...
But then, I never ventured off the church lawn of a Sunday,
Instead sitting or standing in the shade of the solitary tree on the lawn.

Mary Helen Wheeler Root Murrell

The sky and sea were her colors:
She wore them often on hot summer days of our valley;
Her head colored of the curled bark of peach-trees
Stolen from her father’s orchard in her childhood,
But faded into the stormy anvil of thunderclap with age.
Her eyes held the fire of knowing –
Experience is the greatest teacher –
Life itself stoking her wisdom.
Life was to be lived,
Not just read from her books;
Fun was to be had in little things:
Rolling socks with grandchildren then firing one after another at each other
Until parents were spotted –
Mad rushing to find the stray spent ammunition
Behind couches, tables and chairs –
Then all assume an air of innocence
Except for the smiles of all.

Time, the great nepenthe
Dulls all things:
Strength of limbs and body to heal;
Mind to remember: –
Though her childhood remained clear until the end;
Certain hymns,
Bible verses she had known from infancy –
Even when she could not remember the rest –
When the fire dimmed to embers;
When storm clouds dissipated to white wisps about her crown;
When life outside her bed
Also faded into memory.

A young girl in bare feet
Flitting about the peaches still on trees;
Her father at his work out of doors
Calls to her to come
Amid fragrant later blossoms of summer
To taste his peaches:
Fresh, handpicked;
Straight from pregnant boughs;
Stopping to drink in the camilla and rose scent
As she played about the canal:
A dragonfly.

She would know the answers to Wheel of Fortune
Often before the first letters were turned;
Beating contestants on the Price is Right
From her royal-blue armchair
With yet another book in her lap.
She had a large collection of recipes she never needed to look at
Having cooked and cleaned for her four children,
Those she took in to house from Chico State
And all her grandchildren.
She taught by doing:
4H as a younger mother,
And her grandchildren when old: –
At 9 or 10, my cousin, brother and I made a chicken dinner:
Fresh biscuits and trimmings
All under her guiding eye and hand.
Ages were equally capable under her direction;
Young and old were treated the same –
Never looking down on you,
But always making you feel a giant:
Capable of anything.

I never got to say a final farewell
Until at the grave-side I walked beside her one last time –
One hand on her casket rail.
This one-time champion fighter:
Six-way bypass when three was uncommon,
A second mother
Who was, and remains, an inspiration –
I always knew she was proud of me
As I was
And always will be
Of her.