Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Poetry and personal essays have been included in hard & softcover book anthologies. Collections of her personal items/ photos/ memorabilia are in major museums including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian. The Smithsonian selected her photo to represent all teens from a specific decade.
Yours 'till Niagara Falls
In a musty carton, I found my mother's 20th century elementary school autograph book; inside its blue leather cover was penned her personal message 'Go my little album, far and near, To all my friends I hold so dear, And ask them each to write a page, That I may read in my old age'.
It must have sounded somewhat romantic to a thirteen year old...dear friends...old age, and probably every girl wrote the same verse. I read some verses, then re-lived receiving my passage to high school album:
"Mom," I offered untouched pages in the school's standard brown leather book, "you write first."
The gold-tip Parker pen inked "To my darling daughter. May you be blessed with good health, long life, contentment, and have a future of peace and love. All my love, Mom."
"Oh, I knew it." I thought. "She wrote something lovey-dovey. Doesn't she remember that you don't do that!" Aloud I said "Thanks" and tried to sound as if I meant it.
My older sister, Carole, was next. "Yours 'till Niagara Falls. From your sister Carole who already graduated before you."
"What does Yours 'till Niagara Falls mean?" I didn't see humor in it.
"Niagara. Niagara Falls." Carole couldn't believe I was serious.
Carole began to laugh. Her body shook. "Go ask someone else."
I felt humiliated. I wasn't sure this was a joke, and Carole wouldn't tell me what the autograph meant.
Then my younger sister, Joyce, wrote. "Roses are red. Violets are blue. Sugar is sweet. And so are you. From your baby sister Joy." She then drew big circular roses all over blank parts of the page. "Okay, now."
I sighed and smiled weakly. So far, each autograph was a disappointment. I really didn't know what to expect, but like the wrappings on a gift made one feel excitement for what might be concealed, I felt I'd unwrapped a pair of socks rather than silk lingerie.
My mother's sister was in the kitchen steeping tea. "Want to sign my autograph book?"
"Oh, I'd love to. Oh I was a Flapper and so energetic shortly after. How I remember mine and what I wrote inside its cover: Go my little album, far and near, To all my friends I hold so dear, And ask them each to write a page, That I may read in my old age." Auntie's voice trailed off, "Dear friends and old age."
I handed her a pen.
Auntie began to recite a verse that ended with "But the best place to kiss her is to kiss her in the dark. Do they still write that?”
"I don't know yet, Auntie. I just got the book." I was realizing that I was going to get corny verses or flowery statements. But I couldn't answer what I was looking for even if asked.
Carole came into the kitchen. In sing-song, she recited, "Roses are red, violets are pink, I've signed your book, in stinky ink."
"I remember that one!" Auntie immersed herself in autograph nostalgia. Then with large flourishes wrote, "May you live as long as you want, but never want as long as you live. With much love, Auntie."
Carole, two and a half years older, handed me her graduation book. I read a pale yellow page aloud, "Don't take the ladder to success. Take the elevator. Dated 'till hector has pups." I didn't know what the last line meant. Was Hector supposed to be a male dog? The pink next page, in large writing, said "Remember Grant, Remember Lee, the heck with them, Remember me. Yours 'till Bear Mountain has cubs." I gave it back.
"Look!" Carole continued. "Dated 'till George Burns. Can't think, Brain numb, Inspiration won't come, No ink, Bum pen, Best of wishes, A-men. Don't you love this?" She shoved a light green page at me. It said 'Y Y U R, Y Y U B, I C U R, Y Y 4 me. Yours 'till England drinks Canada Dry."
I walked upstairs; my feet felt heavy. Passing my own room, I dropped the album on my maple desk, then went to the master bedroom.
I touched the pillow where my father's head slept. I'd called him at work, told him my autograph book was here and I'd saved a page in the front for him to sign when he got home. I was positive he'd pen something meaningful.
Now I'm calendar years elderly, yet find that hard to truly process. I thought about my mother as I concentrated on that tangible album validating her youth, innocence, schoolgirl existence. I stroked where her hand had written "...that I may read in my old age...", and wondered if she indeed had ever re-opened it?
published July 1998 Rochester Shorts
reprinted: The United Methodist Publisheing House summer 1999
reprinted June 2008 Clear Mt. Syndicate
“What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” ― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
Okay. Let’s call a rose putrid. Conjures up a disgusting odor, so that won’t work. How about dung, even though it is manure. Might we label that flower decay? Well, I just don’t think it would ‘smell as sweet’. Be my Valentine and here are a dozen red dungs; I thought about twelve yellow putrids but the stems still had the thorns so I decided on the red dungs. Pretty aren’t they?
Currently I could get a legal Passport and omit my gender. Glad Stone is politically correct since it doesn’t end in ‘man’ or any stereotypical group. Happily my maiden name meets social standards unless society decides anything that seems to represent a color is discrimination, but, ha, my dad put an 'e' on it so, basically, it isn't a color. When I was writing for print-only-before-computers medical journals, one of my well researched yet readable material got printed Louis, definitely a man's name, and when I asked the editor about the non-able-to-be-changed error that wasn't 'me' and now male, he said he didn't think a woman could have written such a fine piece and maybe I made a typo re my name. I am not making this up! And this wasn’t a sense-of-humor coming from one who edited staid medical journals. That publication filed by year is still on shelves in medical libraries and only I know the author is Lois.
That bookshelf just does not ‘smell as sweet’ to me!
When do we get rid of Tennison, which is from the baptismal for the son of Dennis? Emerson is okay since the TV show Desperate Housewives used it for a girl, but it does have ‘son’ as the ending. Does society really need a John Doe and a Jane Doe anymore when we can more-easily just say J. Doe as sexual orientation might not be known?
George Gordon Byron is only really known as Lord Byron. Definitely his work should not be taught in school. Bad enough his iambic tetrameter just isn’t modern, but “She walks in beauty, like the night” just needs to be started with “It walks in beauty....” And, Lord! If we can discard Little House on the Prairie because a repeated word offends, I am offended by Lord Byron when his real birth-title was George. Are we to believe that his work is more important than Emily Dickinson “It was not Death, for I stood up,” as she allows death to be gender-free, and has no ‘Lady’ before her own name? But, uh oh, Dickinson does end in ‘son’.
There is actually an online site for gender neutral baby names. Reflecting non-identity is ‘in’, and there is also a webpage for non-binary names. “Nonbinary people may also choose to identify as genderfluid, agender, genderqueer, or enby.” When I was younger, queer was an adjective or noun, and, as the latter, more a put-down than a compliment. Had never seen these other words even as an English major when going to grad school at Teachers College, Columbia University, and one would think a prestigious Ivy League place would have given me this information! Oh, those words didn’t exist.
I really appreciate that words and society are not static, and life considers respect for any human a goal. Ruth Bader Ginsburg could not easily get a job because of gender and slowly opened some doors; Betty Friedan tried screaming her way through the openings but only aroused unrest. I did not get the salary of males doing the same job but I have lived to see Sociology of Marriage and the Family alter its textbooks telling women that any good wife can never do for her husband what a bad wife could do against him...message was be compliant and fulfill duties linked to being a good wife. Once ‘what do you do for a living’ was frowned on if a woman with children worked, then if she didn’t work she was looked on as ‘only a housewife’ as if she were brainless; now there are choices. A co-ed in the 1950's was assumed to be undergrad ‘to catch an MRS degree’ and those who wanted an education or profession were looked at with suspicion. So stigmas as these are gone. And for all humans, everywhere, as in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice: “If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die?”
Might it be okay if I put my name on a legal document, add my birth gender on a medical form, address someone as Mr. Jones, and still feel truly respectful for others’ choices in partners or life?
Birth Certificate: do not complete this form until you read the detailed information provided. We have printed this in Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, French, Russian, Italian, Portugese, Japanese, and English. There is an interpreter available for other languages, and do ring for that service and one will come and help you. Here is the guide to understand how to fill out the legal document.
Birther’s first name should be hand-printed on the dotted line; one’s last name must be omitted if incorrect. These are a few examples of incorrect: Shirley Temple Black could not use Temple as that refers to religious house, and Black is socially unacceptable. Also not satisfactory would be Betty White, James Brown; Morgan Freeman, Paul Newman are not allowed because of the ‘man’, Robert Redford needs the ‘Red’ removed, but there is a list provided on the reverse side of this paper. So, if your last name violates the social standards by having a color, a sexual identification, or the like, leave that completely blank.
Gender line for the offspring needs the birther to circle: undecided, neutral, none declared, possibly male, possibly female, might trans later so leaving blank, or ‘other’ which birther may write in by hand.
Birth-weight of newborn has an option that says ‘prefers not to give’ since a premature low poundage might receive an ‘anorexia stigma’, and a large baby possibly be put into the ‘eventually obese’ category. Height in inches can also be left blank for the same reason as ‘basketball career’ if long, or ‘shorty’ if fewer inches than average.
Sperm donor’s name should meet same standards as birther’s. If the last is Johnson, as an example, ‘son’ must be removed as that is gender orientation. So, if ‘sperm’ last name violates the social standards by having a color, a sexual identification, or the like, leave that line completely blank.
Personal address of birther will be recorded and posted online, of course. You may indicate ‘not available’ if you wish it to stay a secret.
Since footprints are not filed with police, internal revenue department, or such, only baby’s footprints will be allowed to be taken. This should make filling out the birth certificate form less future-thinking-emotionally-stressful as baby’s fingerprints will not be in ‘the system’.
Also we have eliminated is the Apgar screening test: Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, and Respiration. The impression of skin color is important in this particular investigation to determine whether a baby is jaundice or such, but that is prejudicial so we’ve discontinued this test. While it has provided a quick and somewhat efficient summary regarding the newborn’s health status, it no longer meets the social conduct of present day.
If a specific first name for the infant has not been accepted yet by family and friends, you may call the child ‘it’ as everything on the birth certificate may be changed later in life to suit the person, when grown, and be completely legal.
Should you have further questions before turning to the actual form to be submitted, you may call for the interpreter as it has memorized answers to every possibly asked question and in as many languages as it can. It also has a translator App on its phone for assistance.
Please know we welcome your newborn into society and thank you for choosing this particular place for birthing.
Dictionary definitions are sometimes so vague. I remember reading that motherhood means the character, spirit, or qualities of a mother. Just bearing a child brings the title. Isn’t there more to a word than its definition?
My mother so often repeated “bring people ‘flowers’ while they’re alive to enjoy the beauty and happiness they bring”. I took that literally for a time, shrugging my shoulders, and thinking her language was flowery as well. Eventually I grasped the phrase... the flowers were kindness, appreciation, understanding, praise, unselfishness, sympathy, loyalty, generosity, and actually telling someone that you care.
It’s so easy to fail to show appreciation, or praise, or be generous. We’re busy, and there’s plenty of time. We can always send ‘flowers’ next month or year.
When I got married and moved 1200 miles away, I was thrust into more roles than I realized I’d ever have, and they came all at once. I was high school teacher with 140 students a day, wife, full time cook and cleaner, full time typist of my med-school husband’s papers, laundry/ ironer without a washer or dryer and before perma-press, plus more. Before hair dryers and wearing rollers trying to make curls from wet-straight strands, only once did I decide to push aside the piles of student essays I graded as hair slowly dried, and, instead, I penned a long-long letter to my mother.
‘Mom. Our home witnessed both the living and the passing on. You made it a family’s house with no room restricted. Also, it was the only place no one had to pretend. I took my castles in air and attempted to put foundations beneath them and neither you nor Dad ridiculed. I revealed silly dreams without being mocked, cried over shallow disappointments without feeling foolish.
You always welcomed friends and relatives sharing joys or giving comfort. Religious instruction was strengthened as we practiced the philosophy of it in our daily goings. But, a big thing was your constant ‘being there’ when needed, lifting when we stumbled, helping us learn to make our own happiness, encouraging us to reach personal goals, and outstretching your arms with “I love you and am proud of you, my daughters”. And you trusted us.
Sharing experiences as a family, with Dad’s 16mm silent movie camera rolling to preserve as many moments as possible, strengthened our bonds. Living near Manhattan with theatre, ballet, opera, museums, concerts, and going together to be able to discuss our impressions from each of our vantage points in life, was incredible.
How did you manage to time it so you were home when any of your daughters came from school? Like your never going to sleep, when I dated, until I was safely in the house, you didn’t invade our space and ask questions. If I wanted to talk, I came to you, else you ‘disappeared’; same thing happened after school days. So I ignored you, but it was important that I knew you were ‘there’.
I so disliked the adage ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink’, and you so often said that. Now I comprehend: you advised and suggested but I had to make my own decision, mistake, or even use your decision without ever hearing ‘I told you so’. I could exercise my ideas, develop my own tastes, and not be mocked.
You didn’t lecture about marriage; you were a role model. You adored, encouraged, praised, respected Dad. You lifted his spirits when he felt down, shared when he was elated, daily lived ‘it’s better to give than receive’. It’s no wonder when Dad’s soul was suddenly removed from his forty-five year old body that his last words were “I love you darling.” He always brought you ‘flowers’.
So, my mother, as I sit here in Nashville, and you read this 1200 miles away, I send you this bouquet. Each flower is another trait of yours and is a full and beautiful cluster.”
Now I’m reading a yellowed letter I’d written decades ago; it was tucked among unsorted papers from my mother’s things that, since her death, I just never wanted to go through. I’ve often berated myself for not showing enough love and respect, not telling her often enough of her value, not embracing her for who she was and what she gave me as a person. My mind replays my times of indifference, concern about a phone bill (when long distance charges were by the minute) rather than make a call to California (where she completed her life), thoughts of myself and my own family needs and often using those as an excuse. But, the Nashville address, on a new-bride’s note, has me smiling because I’ve focused so much time on my hindsight and what I could have done differently, that I had forgotten I actually did bring ‘flowers for the living’.
©2008 The Jewish Press
reprinted May/June 2009 Over the Back Fence
syndicated March 2019 Clear Mt. Syndicate