This spring, I had the pleasure of joining Delaware poet Maggie Rowe for a day teaching prose and poetry at the lovely estate of former federal judge and Delaware native, Hugh M. Morris. The fieldstone house known as the Judge Morris Estate was built in the late 1700s, and is decorated in the style of the 1930s, the period when Judge Morris resided there. The home is now part of White Clay Creek State Park.
Our day was called Writes of Spring because we wanted to use the season as inspiration. My group met in the historic kitchen, and 12 of us crammed into a room with an open hearth and brick floor, surrounded by kitchen utensils used long ago. The ambiance alone was inspirational, so in the afternoon, we did a free write using the space. The instructions were to look around, choose an object that spoke to you, and write a short piece about it. Jane Miller chose the window. George Petit chose the soup tureen. Wendy Schermer chose the cooking bowl, and went home to complete a full short story about it. Jane, George, and Wendy have generously shared their pieces below.
In the poetry room, Maggie had her group browse through a variety of postcards, old books, magazines, and other paper ephemera. The work of Otis Scott, Greg Wright, and Jean Youkers are posted below.
I am very pleased to be sharing the words of my fellow Delaware artists. The Writes of Spring workshop was supported by the Delaware State Parks and the White Clay Creek State Park, and the Delaware Division of the Arts.
Most of the writers I know toil away every day in libraries, coffee shops, offices, or tucked in some corner of our homes. To spend a day in a beautiful historic setting, with poets and prose writers who can find inspiration in a utility item from the past or an old piece of paper, is a gift.
My purpose in sharing the work below is to, first, share the work of these talented artists. Second, to demonstrate that inspiration can be found anywhere if you look for it. Third, to encourage people to cherish our history and historic sites. Visit an old home! A poem or story may find you there.
by Jane Miller
He was a man so he didn’t notice things. But I noticed right away the curtain hanging straight without a tie-back, the way it never was, black and white gingham threadbare in the weak morning light.
The bloodhounds found a bit of it later, on a prickle bush and later, tied muddy round her hands. She had made those curtains herself out of scrap cloth Mrs. Denton sold at the general store. Hand-sewed them because she had no machine.
I ran my fingers along the edge of small stitches after they dusted it for prints even though the detective man told me I couldn’t. I wanted to touch what her hand had once touched, what she had made with love as she made me. Her hands were gentle, not meant for cruel things.
Grandmom’s Soup Tureen
by George Petit
It was Christmas morning and the kitchen was in its usual state of barely controlled chaos of dinner preparations when Nancy’s mother sent her hunting for a bowl to serve the mashed potatoes. The pantry dishware cupboard was already mostly denuded of any of the acceptably ornate serving dishes for a holiday dinner table, but after a frantic few minutes of searching Nancy pushed aside a wooden mixing bowl in the back of the lowest shelf and spied her grandmother’s delft-style soup tureen, with its maize-colored prints on white-glazed porcelain, tucked deep in the darkest corner of the shelf. Success at last!
As she pulled it out an image popped into her head of her grandmother from all those past Christmases before she passed standing at the front door holding the soup tureen containing her famous French onion soup in front of her, and her late grandfather standing right behind her wearing that silly Santa Claus hat and balancing a tall stack of Christmas presents; both of them grinning gaily.
“Look, Mom,” Nancy called out to her mother as she emerged from the pantry. “I found Grandmom’s soup tureen. We can use it without the cover and it should be just the right size.”
“As soon as her mother turned and saw the soup tureen her complexion paled. After a few seconds of hesitation she said, “No, that won’t do, Nancy. Please find something else.”
“But, Mom,” Nancy argued, “it really is a perfect size, and it’s been years since…” She stopped herself in mid-sentence, remembering exactly when it had last been used.
“Okay,” Nancy then said, and turned back to pantry with Grandmom’s soup tureen.
The Mighty Tor
by Otis Scott
I was a giant if a man, all bone and muscle and structure complete. A booming voice
to enthrall, a chest that could crush barrels while the other men retreat.
My forearms and grip were the size of another man’s legs. My mustache could smother a lion’s dregs.
So when you see a crowd parting
in the midst of the day,
Or a mad rush for hiding from my anger – don’t stay!
Run to protect your innocent family,
run to keep alive
for I am the Mighty Tor
right in front of your eyes!
Search for satiation of my frustration only after gathering your
cannons, swords and the like.
Remember, I am the Mighty Tor! and I am angry tonight!
Poem Plucked from a Postcard
by Greg Wright
Our train slides by snow-covered Glaciers as sunrise finds weather-hardened fishermen cutting contrails across the lake. The stillness after the engines die allows for idle chatter and casual conversation to carry to the eagles and osprey bathing in the beauty of the lake. Trees on a small island shelter and shade both beachcombers and those who work the lake for a living. The island and the eagle call across the mirrored surface as the mountains stand silent watch over the eons.
by Jean Youkers
the card calls to me in pink
cherry blossoms line the walk
where pedestrians glide by,
wearing kimonos and grace
outside the charming tea house,
horizon echoes matching pink
blue waters meander by
nostalgia for beach days reigns,
my mind breathes the scents of spring
though far away, the tea house
brews peace and beauty for me –
my teacup overflows
Nana’s Cooking Bowl
by Wendy Schermer
When Emily entered her Aunt Irene’s kitchen for the first time in 22 years, she immediately saw the large wooden bowl she had known as a child, but hadn’t seen in decades. Emily placed her hands on the bowl, feeling the smooth wood beneath her fingers. She picked it up off the shelf and smiled. This had been Nana’s bowl – the one she’d used to make cookie dough when Emily and her sisters came for Christmas. They had worked together in the hot kitchen, with Nana letting Emily, Gretchen, and Vicki (short for “Victoria”) take turns stirring the batter as Nana told stories about baking cookies with her own grandmother, using the same bowl.
Emily couldn’t understand how the bowl had ended up with Aunt Irene, who had no children, instead of her mother, Karen, who had three daughters, all of whom had baked cookies with Nana. She only knew that her mother and Aunt Irene had stopped talking 22 years earlier and it was only now, with Aunt Irene’s death, that she was allowed to enter her aunt’s house.
Hearing a car door slam, Emily looked out the kitchen window and saw her mother, Gretchen and Vicki heading up the walk toward the back door. Emily threw the door wide open, stepped onto the back porch and as they climbed the steps, hugged each in turn. Ushering them into the kitchen, Emily pointed excitedly to the wooden bowl she had placed on the kitchen table.
“Remember Nana’s cooking bowl?” she asked.
Her sisters both grinned, but when her mother saw it, her mouth set in a grimace. Seeing this, Emily faced her mother.
“What?” she said, and then added, “And don’t say it’s nothing!”
Karen looked at each of her daughters and sighed. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Oh no you don’t,” said Emily. “It’s time you told us what happened between you and Aunt Irene.”
Gretchen and Vicki nodded in agreement.
“Time,” said Gretchen.
“Talk,” said Vicki.
The four women sat at the kitchen table. Karen reached out and touched the bowl gingerly, then pulled her hand away.
“You loved baking cookies with Nana, didn’t you?” she asked
The girls all nodded.
“All right, I’ll tell you what happened, but it will sound silly.”
“Don’t care,” said Emily. “Tell.”
Karen sighed. “When you girls were young, I told your Aunt Irene that I was going to ask Mother – Nana – to give the bowl to me, for you girls. That made Irene angry. She said that when she was a little girl, Nana had told her that the bowl would be hers because she was the eldest daughter and the bowl had always gone to the eldest girl. Irene had then reminded me how much she had loved making cookies with Grandma Shannon – your great-grandmother. She also said that just because she and Uncle Richard couldn’t have children wasn’t any reason for her not to have the one thing that provided her with happy memories of Grandma Shannon. We started yelling at each other, then. I thought Aunt Irene was being selfish, she thought I was being selfish. I should have just dropped it, but I didn’t. I called Nana the next day and told her about my fight with Aunt Irene. I also told her that Aunt Irene had no use for the cooking bowl, so it should be mine, for you girls.”
“What did Nana say,” asked Gretchen.
“She didn’t say much. Just that the wooden bowl went to the eldest daughter, and that was Irene. I was so mad that I didn’t speak to your grandmother for a couple of weeks. We only started talking again at your birthday party, Vicki. She had made that beautiful quilt for your bed, just like she’d done for Emily’s and Gretchen’s 10th birthdays. Remember? She said that when you reached the double digits, you got a special gift. I couldn’t stay mad at her. But I stayed mad at Aunt Irene. I don’t know if you noticed, but Aunt Irene and I were barely speaking to each other at your party, Vicki. Anyway, when she was leaving that day, she told me she was heading to Nana’s, to pick up the cooking bowl. She had convinced Nana that it would be best to give it to her then so the matter was settled. I couldn’t believe she had done that, and told her that I’d never to speak to her again if she took the bowl. She just laughed and said that would be fine with her. And that was that – we never spoke again, even though Nana talked to both of us about how stupid we were being. And we were stupid, weren’t we? But it didn’t matter. Neither of us would budge.”
Karen reached out and touched the bowl, again.
“Nana said she wished she’d never used this bowl to bake cookies with all of us. Baking cookies together was supposed to build pleasant memories, not painful ones. Poor Nana, Irene and I made her so sad. And for no good reason.”
Karen stood, lifted the bowl and handed it to Emily. “It’s yours now, Sweetheart. Promise me you’ll never let it divide you from your sisters.”
With that, Karen gave each of her daughters a big hug, and headed out to the car.