Sunday, May 10, 2009

Love's Austere and Lonely Offices

Years, decades, even half a century, has passed since my grandpa was a farm boy. Yet even now, in his eighties, he recalls with tender clarity the love of his father. Every Christmas, his father would let his sons sleep while he went quietly to the barn and milked the cows all on his own. When the milking was done he would make his way back to the house and rap on his sons' window and say "Christmas gift! Christmas gift!" Every year. This was one small way my grandfather's father said, "I love you." What came to my mind when I heard this simple tale was Robert Hayden's poem, "Those Winter Sundays."

Those Winter Sundays
Robert Hayden
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

"Love's austere and lonely offices." I love that line. Today is Mother's Day and I'm thinking of the many austere and lonely offices my mother's love holds--the things for which she is never thanked. I would like to thank her for a great deal of many things, like roses in the garden, music on the piano, and meals on the table. I would like to thank her for smiles, hugs, laughter, and beauty. It is her quirks that I love, like the way she leaves a dozen pairs of reading glasses scattered throughout the house. Or, her forgetful moments and silly sayings that she kindly lets us chide her about. I know little of love's austere and lonely offices, but I do know my mother is a good woman and I love her for this goodness.

Also, search this blog for Owen Sheers' "Not Yet My Mother" and Billy Collins' "Lanyard," both posted last May, and Collins again just recently. Great poems with a nod to mothers.

And to my sister, thank you for reading this little blog of mine.


Anonymous said...

Thank you. I heard this poem read on the radio the day before my father's funeral. He died the day before Father's Day. I would have liked to include it in his eulogy but didn't have access to a computer. I did include how his father brought the stove down from the attic the day he was born on a farm in Wisconsin, just one of love's austere and lonely offices, but my dad remembered that detail to tell me almost 85 years later.

RainLark said...

I think this is the third comment i'm leaving on your blog today... :) I am overjoyed that I stumbled on to this blog and now to this post...

Love's austere and lonely offices.

So many things to thank for, many of which i never saw, many that faded with time. I always forget, time after time. And then in those moments that you remember, you guilt, you regret.