Sunday, August 28, 2016


      Who was Ernestine Cobern Beyer, aside from being my beautiful mother?  Was she an obscure poet, now passé, whose words are not worth reviving?  Is her devotion to rhythm and rhyme quaintly anachronistic?  I don't think so.
      Good poetry never becomes outdated, and Ernestine was a genius in that art form.  In January of 1953, the publisher of Child Life, wrote in praise of her latest submission:  "There is no doubt that your talents in verse are truly outstanding.  I believe you stand a good chance of becoming the greatest children's poet of the day."        
     From the late 40s to the early 70s, Ernestine Beyer's rollicking verses appeared in Child Life, Wee Wisdom, Jack and Jill, and other current children's magazines.  One morning the poet woke up with the phrase "Birthington's Washday" repeating itself in her mind.  She reported to Jeeves (her name for her subconscious) that it seemed meaningless, but then she sat down and began to write with rapidity and ease.  The result was a poem about Birthington Biddle, a little boy who didn't like to bathe.  It
proved to be one of her best loved poems.

                                      BIRTHINGTON’S WASHDAY

Birthington Biddle (his friends called him Bertie)
Would have been nice if he hadn't been dirty.
So grubby and grimy was Birthington's face,
His appearance, alas, was a perfect disgrace.

You see, he believed soap and water were poison,
And tubs were for clothes--not to wash little boys in.
Crusted with dust which flew up from the street,
He grew heavier, daily, and slower of feet.

And though his poor mother could hardly endure him,
She couldn't, it seemed, either change him or cure him.
On the day he turned ten, Bertie found to his shame,
He could no longer run or take part in a game.

Just one final cinder, just one speck of dust,
Had at last overburdened the weight of his crust.

Yes sir, one speck had stopped Bert in his track
Just as one final straw broke the poor camel's back.

Mrs. Biddle came running, and seizing a hose,
She hastily soused him from cowlick to toes.
The water gushed out in a glorious squirt,
And merrily melted his coating of dirt.

Thank goodness, that crust which had made him look fat
 Was banished forever in two minutes flat!
 His mother was filled with unspeakable joy
 As she gazed at her clean little, lean little boy.

This was a day she would never forget --
 His birthday!  The day Dirty Bertie got wet!
 That gurgle-and-slosh day, that sputter-and-splosh day,
 Known in the village as Birthington's Washday!

                                                                                                     Leo Harrington



                                                                 Grace Lawrence
        “The Balloon Man” and many other delightful poems were published in 1992 in an activity book called Rhyme Time, based on the poetry of my mother, Ernestine Cobern BeyerUnfortunately, the editors chose to shrink the full-page illustrations, much to artist Grace Lawrence’s distress and mine. Why did they do this?  Because they wanted to make room for inserting exercises of their own devising, headed by titles like Thoughtful Questions and Drawing Fun, and they didn't want to copy the successful format of Rhyme Time's predecessor, Poetry with a Purpose. Result? The book was a flop.
     Those two editors are doubtless long gone, but if they weren't, and I could get my hands on them and their Drawing Fun,  I'd have no option but to shake them until their teeth fell out.



Flydo, the bird-dog, was cunning indeed,

Like all other pups of his loveable breed.

He had one funny ear that stood up like a flag,

And a spirited tail with a talkative wag.

But though he was gentle and just a bit shy,

From puppyhood Fido had wanted to fly!

Watching a motherly robin one day,

He studied her flight as she flew to a spray.

"If a robin can do it, I can if I try!

A bird-dog," he thought, "should be able to fly!"

With this in his mind, Fido sprang in the air,

But much to his sorrow, he didn't stay there!

Mrs. Robin, who always is friendly and nice,

Flew down to deliver some helpful advice.

"I think you went up rather neatly," she said,

"But it isn't good form to come down on your head!"

She eyed him.  "You're lacking a couple of things!

You need some equipment--you've got to grow wings!"

A rose, overhearing, leaned down from her fence

And murmured to Fido with charming good sense:

"Water makes everything grow, little pup!

Go sit in the hose, and your wings will come up!"

                                                                                                                    Grace Lawrence
Fido ran to the hose and he sat in a huddle,

His nose in the spray and his tail in a puddle.

He swiveled one eye.  Then he capered about . . .

For would you believe it?  His wings had come out!

Like a little propeller, his tail spun around,

And Fido, the bird-dog, took off from the ground!

He soared and he dove, and he coasted the breeze

In a manner that simply astonished his fleas!

So, dear, when you're walking some day in the park,

And you hear a strange song that is more like a bark,

Look hard, very hard, for perhaps that is Fido

Whom now all the crows and the robins call "Flydo."

Yes, maybe that's Flydo up there in the sky,

Happily teaching a fledgling to fly!



A certain king of great renown

Saw everybody upside down.

It much disturbed him day and night,

So topsy-turvy was his sight.

To try to cure the good king's eyes

There came a doctor old and wise

Who dosed the king with horrid brews,

And poured red pepper in his shoes.

These things the patient king endured,

But when the doctor cried, "You're cured!"

His Highness blinked and glumly said:

"Sir!  Must you stand upon your head?"

Came other clever doctors, then,

Distinguished and important men.

"The Cold Cure is the very thing!"

Said they, "Let's try it on the king!"

They promptly wrapped him in a sheet

With lumps of ice at head and feet.

Although it was a famous one,

This cure was very little fun.

"You're healed!" they cried.  "Without a doubt,

Your sickness has been frozen out!"

But they were wrong -- for all that froze

Was just the royal nose and toes.

Well, being men of great resource,

They tried the Hot Cure next, of course.

But though they baked him toe to brow,

His sole response to this was "OW!"

Then came a wizard, tall of hat,

Who cured the king as quick as that!

He simply turned him upside down

And stood his highness on his crown.

"Hooray!"  The king’s relief was vast.

"You all look right side up, at last!"

                                                                                  Grace Lawrence



Long ago, and far below the sea's gigantic gale,

Meranda lived -- a mermaid with a most becoming tail.

Her face was sweet and merry, and her voice, enchanting,


As it mingled, light and airy, with the ocean's somber


King Neptune heard and was so stirred, he called his

wizards three.

"I want to keep Meranda's song!  It must not die!" said

"Come, wizard and magician!  Show your skill and your


And grant the wish I'm wishin'!  Catch this lovely song

for me!"

The wisest of the wizards did not have to ponder long.

Said he with verve, "A shell will serve to hold Meranda's

His brothers cried, "Be quiet!  You're a fool!  You can't
deny it!"

But the king replied, "Let's try it!  This will prove him

right or wrong!"

Meranda, then, began again her captivating art.

She held a shell and sang to it while Neptune stood


She charmed the king completely with the tune she trilled

so sweetly --

And the shell retained it neatly in its iridescent heart.

                                              Grace Lawrence

Go find a shell and listen well and tell me what you


Though wave and wind have dimmed and thinned that

singing, once so clear,

Through walls of pink and yellow you will hear the

ocean's cello . . .

And a murmur, soft and mellow, will whisper in your ear.



As I was walking through a wood, one cool September day,
I chanced to see a stranger standing jaunty, in my way.
There wasn't much about him to remark about, I guess--
Unless it might be possibly the matter of his dress.

I couldn't help from noticing the jacket he had on,
For glory be! 'Twas greener than McGillicuddy's lawn!
Except for that, there wasn't much to stretch a pair of eyes--
Unless I should be mentioning the matter of his size!

It's really rather seldom you'll be meeting on your walks,
A bit of man who measures seven inches in his socks.
I looked at him and looked at him and kinda thought it over,
While he stared back, his little head just level with the clover.

"You're not a native of the town!" I presently decided.
"No, that I'm not!" the little man quite cheerfully confided.
"Well then," I went on thoughtful-like, as sharp I looked him through,
"I'm thinking you're a stranger, here." Said he: "I think so, too!"
Said I: "Could be that you're a man who's kinda shrunk a little!"
"It could be now!" he answered me, a trifle noncommittal.

Then, standing up all fine and straight, he faced me like a hero.
(The brash of him whose size was little more than two times zero!)
Then sweeping off his tiny cap, he said with quite a bow
"Good luck to you, long life to you--and I'll be leaving now!"
With that, the little fellow went. 'Twas queer, I do declare!
He didn't walk away from me. He simply wasn't there!

Well, as I wandered homeward with the sunlight in my eyes,
I talked it over with myself. (Myself is wondrous wise!)
Said I: "He was a pipe dream! Aye! He surely was the type!"
"Fiddlesticks!" Myself replied. "You've never owned a pipe!"
And thinkin' of the matter, very sober in the dawn,
The both of us decided I had met a leprechaun!

Poetry with a Purpose 1987 Artist, Grace Lawrence 


                                                                                                 Grace Lawrence