Thursday, August 3, 2017


                                                   THE CONCERT
                                    Yelchior, dressed in his black and his white
                                    Sat down on his skinny old shanks
                                    And sang, the old dear, without worry or fear--
                                    And, too, I might add, without thanks.
                                    Outlined on the rail by a bleary-eyed moon,
                                    He sang to a distant Maltese;
                                    Keeping time with his tail, he emitted a wail
                                    In eleven malevolent keys.

                                    When windows flew open and nightcaps leaned out,
                                    He was thrilled to his flattered old roots,
                                    And he took a deep bow when his mounting me-ow
                                    Brought a thundering salvo of boots.
                                   "They cannot but recognize genius like mine!"
                                    Thought Yelchior, dodging a shoe;
                                    "Since they all stay awake for my talented sake,
                                    I will now rend and encore or two!"

                                    All evening he sang, but as dawn staggered in,
                                    (Worn out by the concert, I guess),
                                    He finished content, and he thought as he went:
                                    "I am surely a howling success!"
     In 1949, Ernestine sent some of her verses to Sandie and Patrick Wells, of KWKW radio in Los Angeles.  They became enthusiastic fans.  Their program, "Love's Notebook," was heard three times a week and featured almost anything in good poetry form, including contemporaries among the immortals.  Sandie began writing breezy letters to Ernestine  that lifted her spirits.

October 31, 1949
Dear Ernestine,
    "Neat Mrs. Murphy" will make her debut over KWKW on Wednesday, Nov. 2, '49.  And bless her neat soul for the laugh she provokes.
     We delight in your poetry—your choice of words, your humor.  And we only hope our constant praise doesn't ruin your head size.  If all the verses of Solomon's Travels are as cute as the one you enclosed, please DO let us see it—even if it takes the whole fifteen minutes, I'm sure the audience would chuckle as we did over the four liner we saw.  I'm trying to get our appreciation across to you so that you can know—even before your first poem's to be read—that you have two staunch fans here in L. A. and will soon have many more.             
                When Mrs. Murphy scrubs the floor     
                And wants no foot to touch it,
                She nimbly leaps from door to door,
                In order not to smutch it.              
                When she retires, she snuffs the light
                To let the darkness soothe her—
                Then sits beside the bed all night,
                To keep the covers smoother.

     Before long, according to TV-Radio Life’s reports, listeners were "topping their list of favorites with Edgar Allen Poe, the Brownings, Ogden Nash, Richard Armour, and Ernestine Cobern Beyer."      
June 22, 1951:
Dear gay, mad, tipsy lil' Ernestine,
     (Well, now the cat is out of the bag, that's just how we talk about you around our house.)  It's funny the way I approach writing to you.  I'll be thinking -- ugh -- mail to answer, and then your tipsy little scrawl will peek out among the envelopes. And while no one's looking I'll sneak out your letter and answer it, feeling quite like we'd left a pile of dirty dishes in the sink and had sat down in the midst of chaos to have an extra cup of coffee and some conversation. 
     You asked regarding comments on Solomon.  Well, we have one letter here from a listener, which arrived the day after your program, and I quote from same: "We enjoyed your wonderful program last night, it was just perfect."  She didn't mention "Solomon" by name, but you were the program, my dear, so I don't know what else she could have been referring to.  Pat said even our engineer laughed aloud.  (We keep him as a gauge -- when we get him to chuckle, we figure it must be amusing because usually he grimaces or scowls at us.)
     When you get tired of Jeeves, perhaps you could will him to me.  He seems like a most invaluable little guy to have about!
     Such clever rhyming in "When Santa Got Stuck" -- "buoyance and annoyance," "hysterics and derricks," "adventure and censure." Ohhh, how things like that please us.
     Well, my dear, the truant officer just pointed a glaring finger at the stack of mail yet to be answered and so I leave ya for now.   Gleefully, Sandie and Patrick
[from "Solomon's Travels"*]
                But Solomon Solomon chuckled and crowed
                And read to himself with delight,
                            So he failed to perceive when his chimney took leave  
    And his roof sailed away like a kite!         
     Ernestine's financial state involved a continual balancing act, steadied now and then by loans reluctantly accepted and rapidly repaid.  "You have enough responsibilities, Ed dear," she would say to my husband.  "I want to paddle my own canoe."
(from Training the Subconscious Mind")
     Writing for children is pleasant work but not particularly remunerative.  Nevertheless, I continue at it because it is, I think, what I am supposed to do, what I am capable of doing.  The good Lord created the lark that soars and sings in the sky—and also, the cricket that chirps in the grass.  What matters most to me is that I often feel, as I take dictation from Jeeves, that I am in touch with something outside of myself. 
     “There is one mind common to all men,” said Emerson, who compared our individual minds to the inlets in an ocean of universal Mind. Edison, too, believed he got his ideas from a source outside himself.  “Ideas are in the air,” he would say.  Reading along these lines, I grow more and more interested in what I cannot see, touch, hear, smell and taste.   I am intrigued by what my five senses cannot tell me.  I ponder the mystery of man's mind, yearning to comprehend.  I guess you might say I am busy, trying to unscrew the unscrutable! [Correct spelling is inscrutable, but I prefer Mom's.]
               A beauty beyond all believing
               Has startled my eyes:
               The sight of a falling star cleaving
               The slumbering skies.
               A flash!  Then the heavens absorb it.
               I sigh in the night,
               And think of my life's fettered orbit‑‑
                           And the wonder of flight!
     In October of 1951 I received a panicky letter from Los Angeles where Mother had gone to visit Sandie and Pat.
Dear Babs,
     This trip is jinxed!  First the rain!  Waited hours!  One trip canceled, another arranged.  Held up hours before they took off.  Arrived Chicago with 1 min. to catch second plane.  All day from 6 a.m. till the next morning all I had was coffee and a skimpy box luncheon.  I arrived here with my nerves jumping and twitching and my breath alarmingly short.  Heart thumping.   Couldn't sleep — not a wink.  I felt as murderers must.  O—to turn back the clock!  To wake up in Boston!  My stomach felt and still feels as if a fist were knotted in it. .  .. I ask myself do I dare stay a few days to see if I like it better—get over this awful loneliness, hatred of Calif  — do I dare or will I get sick?  If so I'd rather be sick at home than here.  Will see Sandie tonight—with me at the point of tears!  My nerve reserve is evidently small.  Alas that I should learn the hard way!   Darling!  I'm too far away from you!  It's awful!  But I'll work it out—probably will just come home....Mother   
To my husband, she wrote:
Dear Ed,
     The miles and miles of impersonal space oppressed me as I lengthened the distance between myself and those I love most in all the world—you and Barbara and your children, Janeth and little Walter.  I was panicked at first, and was so sick at heart with my first experience with home‑sickness that I was desperately ill—physically.  What power our minds have over our poor bodies.  I felt I must turn around and fly back or die!— literally die!
     But children sent off to camp suffer, I suppose, in the same way, then in a day or so, become adjusted.  Had it not been for the capers my heart kept cutting and for my sleeplessness, my common sense would have comforted me—the knowledge that I would adjust.  I was afraid I would be sick in bed in a stranger's house before that took place!  Adding to the situation was a feeling of fright since my money had dwindled alarmingly.  In panic I wired you, and you, dear Ed, answered with touching promptness.  I have now the wherewithal to make it possible to return—and that being the case, the panic is vanishing and healing, begun.  My nervous margin is small, I guess, and I was frightened to recognize a shortness of breath and tension which were forerunners of my break‑down a few years ago.  To be frank, I feared a second.  I assure you, however, that I'm all right now, and believe I'll have a marvelous winter.
     My landlady and I clicked immediately.  Isn't that nice?  As for Sandie and Patrick they are all I had hoped and more.  Sandie said "Wait till you meet my poets!  You won't have a moment to be lonely in!"  
       I rarely received a letter from Mother that wasn't accompanied by an entertaining rhyme.  One spring day in 1952 I was treated to "The Concert," a six stanza poem about a cat named Yelchior who spent the night serenading an unappreciative audience.
     "Dear Babs," Mom wrote, " I don't know whether this is any good or not, but it was fun writing it."
And what fun it was reading it, especially this stanza's tongue-in-cheek inside rhyme:  
                                 Outlined on the rail by a bleary-eyed moon,
                     He sang to a distant Maltese;                               
                     Keeping time with his tail, he emitted a wail
                     In eleven malevolent keys.
      Ernestine's sense of fun was accompanied by a sense of ambivalence about the meaning of life.  Who knew for sure, she asked herself in "Query Without Answer":
Is life a plan whose point we lack?
A dream—a blunder?
Why stretch the mind upon the wrack           
Of fruitless wonder?
Is death, man's enemy and friend,
Awaiting, grinning,
The unimaginable End
Of no Beginning?
     And yet at other times her poems expressed more confidence.  As the daughter, then mother of a preacher (my brother, Dick), she yearned for a faith in the hereafter.                                         
                                        Limited Vision
          Once upon a morning    
          Not long ago, I stood 
         And marveled at the beauty 
         Of mountain-range and wood.
         Today, alas, the valley
         Is all that I can see.
         The mountains all have vanished
         That once looked down at me.                   
         But they are there, though hidden;
         They have not taken flight.
         A veil of mist surrounds them
        And shuts them from my sight.                  

        O learn, my soul, this lesson:
        God, like the mountain-range
        Will never, never vanish,
        His glory never change.                     

                                If mists of doubt obscure Him,
        Let me not trust Him less,
        Nor let my clouded vision
        Hide His foreverness.

      In a letter written to Janeth, after attending the funeral of our Aunt Ruth, she let her family know how she felt about such rituals:
      I am more than ever of the opinion that funerals, except for the truly great, border on the barbaric.  I want nothing at all -- no flowers -- no display of my hideous old overcoat,  nothing but a prayer from the family, and that inaudibly.  Of course, if darling Dick feels hurt by this, I'm willing for him to pray aloud -- only to the family.  No friends, nothing.  I will not be there.  Either I will be extinct or "on my way."  I truly believe in the latter idea due to certain experiences which (to me) furnish proof of further progress.     
      Whichever fate it is, I still want only a thought now and then in some loved one's heart.
     That you have in full measure, dearest Mother.

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