THE GREATEST REWARD, MY SONS

As a young wife and mother,

I wanted nothing more than to have children,

and to be there, for them, as they grew up.

I thought that  having newborn babies was

the greatest reward–

but then they became toddlers and I thought

this was the greatest reward–watching them

learn to speak and eat by themselves and

discovering all that life has to offer.

Then they became youngsters going off to school,

learning how to read and write,

and do multiplication tables–

and I thought this was the greatest reward,

as I became involved with their school and became friends

with some of the teachers,

and was a volunteer in their classrooms.

I taught my son, Steve, how to play Scrabble and

took them to book stores and thrift shops

to look for books.

I took all four of them on vacation trips to Ohio

to spend summers with my parents,

and boasted proudly that I could travel

with ease with all of them–including twice

on a Greyhound bus across country.

Then they became older boys and I thought

this was the greatest reward,

because we bought a camper and started

going camping with them.

Then they became young men and I thought

this was the greatest reward as they brought

girls home to meet their mother.

Then they were truly men, with wives

and children of their own–and yes,

I knew that this was the greatest reward,

for now there were grandchildren to love

and share my life with–

so, perhaps, in retrospect–it wasn’t any one

single period of time that was the greatest reward–

perhaps it was being able to recognize

that each stage in their lives

was the greatest reward.

 

Sandra Lee Smith

Originally posted May 9, 2009

Updated October 7, 2018

SURVIVING THE OREGON TRAIL, AN AMERICAN CHILDHOOD PART 3

My name is Sarah Carter and I was nine years old the day

my pa came home and said to ma “We’re moving far away!”

We’re going to go to Oregon–I hear the land is free!”

I don’t want to go to Oregon” ma said and turned to me

Go fetch your brother, wash him up, supper’s almost done–“

This another scheme of yours?” she hissed when I had gone.

But I heard the words she said, and knew that it was true,

Pa fell for ever’ get-rich-quick that fell down from the blue;

It ain’t like that!” I heard him shout and then I had to go find Bud,

That onery lil’ brother of mine was always in the mud.

But next we knew, my pa had bought a Conestoga Wagon,

And he had mama packing up, although her feet were draggin’

He had a sale and sold most ever’thing that ma called best–

Pa said she wouldn’t need her china cups when we went west.

The farm and furniture was sold and piece by piece was gone,

With the money pa bought flour and beans and things to take along,

friends came to call and say goodbye and early one May day,

We climbed into the wagon and soon were on our way.

**

At first it was a lark for Bud and me; we didn’t know no better,

and all was fine for us as long as we had sunny weather,

In Independence we met with folks and joined a wagon train,

and on the day we started out, it sure ‘nuf began to rain.

Bud and I were nestled, snug in quilts, we had no fears;

While mama cried, her head down low, so no one saw her tears,

Pa kept after those two oxen, who trudged as the mud got deeper;

I heard him swearing at the one, he swore he wouldn’t keep her.

I wish that I could say it was a lark as time went by,

But it was fearful all the way–you know, I wouldn’t lie.

Ma kept us fed with beans and salt pork and surely it was loving,

when she made a special treat with her big Dutch oven.

I remember once that Bud and I found berries growing wild,

selfishly, we ate them all-you know, I was just a child–

We crossed some rivers, scared to death, afraid that we’d all drown,

and only heaved a sigh as soon as the wagon wheels touched ground.

And late one night, I wakened when I heard a baby cry–

I wondered where it came from, but knew I mustn’t pry;

And now–my ma laid down with us in quilts that kept us warm,

I tended to the baby so he wouldn’t come to harm.

Ma was too sick to know or care and never even cried

when one night that baby boy just fell asleep and died.

Pa buried him along the trail and Bud and I found stones

to put on top that little grave, to cover up his bones.

Then it was my job to keep us fed and do ma’s chores,

Pa said that I must help them out, I was a child no more.

And then one night, a fellow who was in our wagon train

brought a baby girl to ma, ’twas in the pouring rain,

“the baby’s ma has died“, he said and asked could mama nurse her?

Inside the wagon, ma reached out; I thought that pa would curse her.

Pa said it wasn’t his place to save a babe that wasn’t kin,

The man said roughly “Keep her–I wont ask for her again!”

Well, ma perked up and took the baby girl into her arms,

She put the baby to her breast and said there was no harm,

She called the baby “Miracle” and mostly we said “Mira”

and folks all through the wagon train would come around to see her ,

And they’d bring my mother beef tea and dried fruit to make her strong,

They’d bring us food from their own stores and it wasn’t wrong,

Mira captured all the hearts of folks along our train,

and she made ma happy and getting strong again.

The baby’s father kept his word and never came around,

In his eyes Miracle had cost the man his wife,

In our eyes, Miracle had given back my mama’s life.

I  don’t remember everything–the journey west was long,

days turned to weeks and into months as we traveled on,

Until a rescue party from Oregon came to lead

us on that final leg of journey, of them we had no need,

But they brought water, coffee, things that had run out,

Bud and I got peppermints and we liked to shout.

*

I lived in Oregon all my life, married and had sons,

who married and gave me grandkids, and my life was long.

My sister, Mira, lived with me, long after mama died,

She never knew about her birth although my papa tried

a time or two to tell her, but she’d smile and hug his neck,

and pa would go look foolish and then say “Oh, what the heck!

She was our littler Mirale, my little sister, Mira,

and I always thanked the Lord that we got to keep her.

My brother Bud became a farmer and found himself a wife,

and they lived in Portland for the rest of his long life;

Pa got a notion he would go to California to find gold,

Well, you’ll go alone!” ma said and wasn’t she so bold?

So off he went to pan for gold, later we got word

that pa had died in a bar fight, that’s all we ever heard.

My mama became energized and took up farming on her own,

She had the biggest garden that there was around,

she sold her vegetables in town and quickly became known,

as having the best of everything –her fruit and taters grew

as big as melons and the beans, the best folks ever knew.

One day a week she and Mira took her produce Into town,

and quickly sold ever’ bit of it; she was well known around.

There was one time, a fellow came and asked about his sister;

I told him that we didn’t know a thing, so sorry, mister,

for Miracle was ours; when she came our lives got better,

Back on the trail with ma and pa and all of us together.

 

Sandra Lee Smith

Originally posted September 2, 2012

Updated August 30, 2018

 

 

THE SAN FERNANDO VALLEY

I made the San Fernando Valley my home,

Just like Bing sang it in a song in the Forties;

Roy sang it too and so did Frank,

They all had hits and sang riding to the bank.

 

I arrived in a car in nineteen sixty-one,

with a husband and baby–(a one year old son).

and a crib and an ironing board tied to the roof,

We were a sight to see and slightly uncouth.

 

We rented a duplex on Screenland drive,

In Burbank, close to Hollywood Way,

I walked wit the baby up the street,

to visit bookstores and shops every day.

 

We were poor as church-mice but happy to be

in the land of golden opportunity–

No one had food stamps or welfare checks,

We got by on our own and did what it takes.

We ate a lot of homemade soup,

In a pot that would last a week

And watched Soupy Sales on a little tv

and visited Knotts Berry Farm–it was free.

 

That was the start of a brand new life,

I wrote poems on a small Smith-Corona,

a portable typewriter–not electric,I wasn’t ready to be selective.

 

But I sold some poems and then got a job,,

Downtown L.A. at Hollywood and Vine;

It took three buses to get to work,

I didn’t drive and I went berserk,

 

Back In Ohio in sixty three,

to await the birth of a son,

What was I thinking? That things would get better?

We didn’t fool anyone.

 

December found us driving back West

Now with an infant and toddler,

We rented an apartment near Warner Brothers,

I went to work for Weber Aircraft.

Years have gone by but through it all

The San Fernando Valley was home;

I  knew every street from east to west

From north to south, on my own.

I could tell you what streets didnt go through,

ere the shops were the best,

I knew where our favorite restaurants were,

And the best DMV for your test.

 

And now I have left my valley behind,

thought I know in my heart there can be

none quite as fine as this very first one

In the San Fernando valley

Sandra Lee Smith

Originally posted April 14, 2010

Updated August 22, 2018

 

 

 

CHILDLESS

It was a cold day in January,

leaves rustling in the trees,

dried and crackly falling to the ground,

littering the sidewalks and curbs.

We walked along in silence,

hand in hand, both of us

wrapped up in our own thoughts;

I looked up at a gray slate of sky,

No sun to be seen and

it began to feel colder;

I pulled my hand away to button up

my jacked and reached into my pockets

to find woolen gloves–but now

I couldn’t feel the warmth of his hand;

Maybe it was just as well.

“Do you  think you will ever change your mind?”

I asked him, finally.

“No,” he replied firmly. “My childhood was grim

enough. I don’t want to take any genetic chances

bringing a child into this world…”

“I never imagined myself being childless forever”

I said with a catch in my throat–I didn’t want to cry

but I felt the tears welling up. “I was willing to wait

until we got on in the world, with our jobs, buying

a house–but–” Now I felt the tears rolling down

cold cheeks. “I don’t want to be childless forever–

I want to start a family now!”

He turned slightly towards me but made no move to

touch my hand. “So go ahead and do it” he said,

“Women are going to infertility facilities and

getting pregnant on their own–you read about it

all the time. But not my sperm and not with me..

I for one don’t mind being childless at all.”

With that he walked away towards his car at the

entrance to the park.  I was stunned by his remarks

–but for the first time I thought I CAN do this by

myself.  I don’t need a husband to have a baby.

I can do it by myself!

I wiped away the tears and found myself smiling.

Not for ME to remain childless!

 

Sandra Lee Smith

originally posted March 14, 2015

Updated July 24, 2018

 

LATE AT NIGHT

late at night when the cold winds howl,

a young mother sings a soft lullaby,

Gently, rocking a babe wrapped in a quilt,

Hoping to keep him warm and dry.

 

late at night she hears an owl,

Hooting high in an old oak tree,

Nurses the baby at her breast,

Marvels how perfect this child can be;

 

1late at night and far away,

She hears the whistle of the midnight train,

Lays the baby down in his crib,

and sits down in her chair again.

 

late at night this young mother waits,

for the familiar scuffle of worn, old boots,

She wont rest until he is home again,

As she hears once more the old owl’s hoot.

 

Sandra Lee Smith

originally posted January, 2015,

Updated July 17, 2018

 

STRANGER THAN FICTION

Mark Twain once wrote “It’s no wonder

Truth is stranger than fiction.

Fiction has to make sense”

And therein lies a core belief.

If I wrote a fiction novel

about an unmarried woman,

living with her parents,

with six children

under the age of ten,

who deliberately was impregnated

with 8 embryos because

she wanted more children,

who would believe it?

Who would buy such a book?

And yet–here in California

there is such a woman

who gave birth to 8 infants about

nine years ago and became a celebrity

with people flocking to see her or her

children, and giving her presents,

a house, no less.

Then strangers began furnishing it

with the help of Dr. Phil.

the news media labeled her “Octomom”

I called her ‘Stranger than fiction”

Sandra Lee Smith

Originally posted March 2009. revised 7-6-18.

BABIES…SURELY THE GREATEST THING

When I brought a newborn baby home  from the hospital,

and placed him in a bassinet, held him in a rocking chair, and fed

him at my breast, I thought to myself that this is surely the greatest thing

About being a mother, having a newborn baby.

When my  child became a toddler, crawling, then walking, exploring his world around him, tasting new foods, playing with little wooden blocks and toy cars, learning new words every day  , I thought to myself that surely the greatest thing about being a mother was having a toddler.

When my child started school and learned to ride a tricycle, and began to  learn his ABCs, and we could go to bookstores together, I thought to myself that surely the greatest thing about being a mother was having a five year old;

When  my child grew a little older and learned to play Scrabble, and we began taking our sons camping and I taught them how to mix and bake cookies, and we’d make gingerbread houses out of graham crackers, I thought to my self that surely the greatest thing about being a mother was having  sons to do these things with.

And then my sons became teenagers who became  young men in the blink of an eye, and as they  brought home friends (and  often runaways and strays) I thought to myself that surely the greatest thing about being a mother was having teenagers who had turned out to be kind and considerate human being, but now  they are men who have children of their own; I thought to myself that surely the greatest  thing about being a mother is having sons who care about you, who call frequently to see how you are who bring their children to you so that they can learn how tomake cookies and gingerbread houses, too, just as they used to do.

their lives are played out in stages, that began as newborn babies and every step of the way , I thought to myself that this was surely the greatest thing about being a mother.

Sandra Lee Smith

Originally composed February 13, 2010/Updated June 22, 2018

Sandy’s chatter note:  I raised four sons ( no girls until granddaughters came along) but this poem is really a composite of bringing four sons into this world. And I really did believe that each stage was the greatest.