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Thursday, August 3, 2017

(2) I'M WAITING FOR A GIRL WHO CAN SING AND WRITE POEMS.

       In January of 1953, the editor of Child Life, Ernest Frawley, wrote to Ernestine:  "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 . . . ."
     The next two years were busy and productive.  Ernestine Beyer wrote several books for children, continued to appear in Child Life and other children's magazines, and was honored by awards from The National League of American Pen Women.   In the spring of 1972, she received first prize for a religious poem and was invited to a banquet in Washington, D. C.
     Ernestine described her trip to Washington in a talk she called “Thank-you, Jeeves.”
     I spent the night of April 10 at the Mayflower Hotel.   In the afternoon, buses took three hundred Pen Women to the White House where attractive young ladies escorted us from room to room so we could see the entire lower floor with its beautiful portraits and famous mementos of the Presidents who have lived there.  At 2:30 p.m. we formed a line to meet Mrs. Nixon whom I had not seen before except on TV.  As I took her hand I marveled at her youth and beauty.  Moving on, I saw a long table set with exquisite taste.  We were served tea and many different kinds of cookies.  I thought it all utterly delightful.
     After the tea, we returned to the Mayflower just in time to dress for the Letters Banquet; and there I had the pleasure of meeting many compatible women, some of whom marched up to the platform to receive a prize.  When my name was called, I did the same.
    I had planned to return to Boston the following day, but as I was packing my bags, I noticed that the telephone was flashing red.  I thought there was something wrong with it.  When I picked up the receiver a voice informed me that Congressman James A. Burke wanted to speak to me.
     "There must be some mistake," I said.  "He must have me confused with someone else."
     "Don't hang up!" said the voice hastily.  "Here he is now!"
     I still felt sure there had been a mistake.  But Congressman Burke insisted he wanted to see me—wanted, in fact, to have me as his guest for lunch at the Cannon Building.  "I read the article about you in the Herald-Traveler. If I am delayed a bit," he said, "my assistant, John King, will look after you, and bring you to the dining room."
     Still perplexed, I accepted his invitation to lunch.  Congressman Burke sat on my left, John King on my right, and on his right sat Mrs. Burke, our gracious hostess.
     Congressman Burke talked to me about his son's interest in writing poetry.  He questioned me as to how I had happened to turn to writing.  From the article, he knew that in my early years I had been a singer.  I told him that after my husband passed away and many problems and trials confronted me, the "sing" had gone out of me. It was then that I returned to my first love, writing.
     I then told him of my discovery that the subconscious mind could be of great help to anyone engaged in creative effort.  "Just before I go to sleep, I ask my subconscious mind to work out a story or poem.  In the morning, I take dictation.  All I do is furnish the pencil."
     Realizing I was neglecting Mr. King on my left, I turned to him.  John King was one of the handsomest young men I've ever seen.  Not only was he tall and graceful, but he reminded me of a character in one of my stories.  Many years ago, I wrote about a spoiled little princess who had dimples at the corners of her mouth that appeared whenever she compressed her lips to say a word beginning with B or P.  It was useless for her to cry "Begone!" or "Piffle!" for those dimples popped out and turned the words into a compliment.   Mr. King had dimples exactly like that.
     "Have you any sons who like to write poetry?" I asked him.
     "I'm not even married!" he replied.
     "How did you ever escape?" I asked.
     Looking down at me, he said:  "I'm waiting for a girl who can sing and write poems."
     After lunch, Congressman Burke took me all around the building, introducing me to important people who run this country's business.  I met Wilbur Mills, Chairman of Ways and Means, Congresswoman Louise Day Hicks, Congressman Broyhill, and many others.  After I had made the rounds, Congressman Burke took me outside and asked me to stand on the steps of the Cannon Building and have my picture taken with him and John King.
     With many thrilling things to think about, I returned to Boston, believing the adventure concluded.  But it wasn't.  I was busy writing, one day, when suddenly a verse that obviously belonged in "The Pool" was given to me by Jeeves.  Evidently I had failed to take his dictation correctly!  What now appeared on my writing tablet was what should have been the closing verse of "The Pool."
     Yet even without this last verse, which so belatedly "came" to me, the poem had won an important prize, and had been accepted by Ideals Magazine.   I rewrote "The Pool," adding the new verse that I think closes the poem with a tender simplicity it didn't have before.  I mailed it to Ideals, and soon received a letter, saying this revised version would be put in the files.  It may be a long time before it is published, but I hope when it appears in print that my last version will have been the editor's choice.   I have to play fair with my good servant, Jeeves, who works so faithfully with no salary save the wages of my thanks.
      Ernestine was puzzled when she received a large volume of the Congressional Record after her return  from Washington.  Then she turned to the page noted on the cover and found a warm tribute.
[I tried to enlarge the printed test but got no cooperation.  Mom (or Jeeves), ever the perfectionist when it came to her poetry, amended a line to "luminously lie" in the quoted stanzas from the prize-winning poem.]
     Toward the end of Congressman James Burke's tribute to my mother, he says, "I am being serious when I say that meeting her yesterday made my whole day brighter, that much easier, and this is not a quality in a person that one encounters too often or forgets too quickly.  I hope that she is with us many more years and continues to share with us all her vitality, all her enthusiasm, all her spontaneity. . . ."
"My Isha" by Dr. Kathleen Malley-Morrison
      Throughout my childhood, my maternal grandmother, known as “Isha” to her grandchildren, spent her summers with my family.  She was a magical poet, whose clickety-clacketing on her typewriter drew me to her room like a magnet.  I often visited her in the evening to hear what she was working on and then went back in the morning to see whether Jeeves had helped her through whatever block was interfering with her progress.  She always made me feel that, like Jeeves, I helped her perfect her poems.  Hardly able even to talk without slipping into verse, she once wrote this poem about our collaboration:        

                         To My Granddaughter

Kathie's eyes are bright, alive, her manner, blithely charming,
And though her years are only five, her wisdom is disarming.
When she, at times, invades my room, I leave this peaceful place;
Astride Imagination's broom, I soar with her in space.

Within my own she lays her hand, and with a compass true,
She guides me to that happy land which long ago I knew.
Contemporaries, she and I! For though my hair is white,
Whenever Kathie passes by, she leaves me young and bright!
       From the late 40s to the early 70s, Isha's rollicking verses appeared in all the popular children's magazines.  She also became a regular contributor to adult publications like The Ladies' Home Journal. Except during my recalcitrant adolescence, we remained  close, and the summer after I graduated from college, she sent me a letter with the following remembrance:  
      I've been thinking of you as you used to be at ten -- my unsparing, always right little critic.  Heaving a story a second time you would state -- oh so truly -- "You spoiled it, Isha.  I liked it better before!"  And I remember a time when you lay on my arm, one long-ago afternoon.  No word had been spoken between us for quite awhile.  Then suddenly you said: "Isha, are you thinking about sheep?"  And I had been!  I'd been lying there, staring at the walls which roofed my bed, thinking that I'd like to have a fence painted with lambs going over it—little lambs to count as I went to sleep.  You had read my mind with utter accuracy!   So all these years you have nestled in my heart, having a most special place.  I yearn, now, for your success and for your happiness.  Any good that comes to you will be a good that comes to me.  Be sure to share what you can with me.  A joy shared is a joy doubled. . . . .
       As Ernestine grew older, it pained her when magazines accepted her verses, then failed to publish them for a year or longer.  Shortly before her death in December, 1972, she wrote to a magazine that had accepted a verse the previous winter. In reply to her plaintive query, the editor said:  "I am sorry we cannot publish your poem as soon as you would like, but we have to plan our layouts in advance."  The poet wasn't happy with responses like this.  "How long do they expect me to wait?  Do they think I'm immortal?”
      Ah, Mom, some of us do . . . Some of us do.         
 [from "The Pool," closing verse]
                                  Deep darkness falls.  I turn at last to leave,
          Pursued by dreams which I can not forget.
          I do not stay to meditate or grieve.
          I am at peace although my eyes are wet.
          For I have learned how like the pool am I—
          The pool which faithful to the distant sky,
          Still glows with gold although the sun has set.
June 5, 1977
to my sister Janeth                                                                                 
      I have started re‑reading P. J. Wodehouse's books.  He is such a delight that I feel thrilled, rather than overwhelmed, at the thought that I have seventy more to go.  His humor is timeless, his Bertie Wooster hilarious, his Jeeves priceless.   How could Mom miss with her own personal Jeeves working with her subconscious, helping her to extract its latent gems?  As I laugh aloud over The Inimitable Jeeves or Carry On, Jeeves, I have the lovely feeling that Mom is smiling over my  shoulder . . . .                                         

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