Water, Wind and Land: Metaphors for a Geophysicist (remembrance for Grandpa on his 98th birthday)

My grandfather was an amazing man.  A geophysicist, he was quiet, brilliant, circumspect, pragmatic, a lifelong learner in the fields of math and science and leader in oil exploration – and yet he was so faithfully loving and supportive of a creative like me, his oldest grandchild and just about his polar opposite in terms of interests and passions.

51t9ijqmntl-_sx314_bo1204203200_Grandpa was strong and silent like so many men of his age who served in WWII and saw things they could never describe and didn’t care to remember.  Tom Brokaw called them The Greatest Generation in his influential book of the same name; I just call myself lucky that this first lieutenant in the Air Force fell in love with my grandmother, a divorcé with a tiny daughter, and married her in 1942.

Ruth and Nancy 1941That tiny daughter was my Mom, and this gentle, studious man adopted her as his own, treating her the same as the other children he and Grandma went on to have. I didn’t know Grandpa wasn’t my Mom’s biological father / my biological grandfather for years, and when I found out, it didn’t matter in the least. We were his, and he was ours.

(photos with captions are excerpts from a slide show created by my Dad for my grandmother’s 90th birthday)

Tom Ruth Nancy Steven
Grandpa Grandma Nancy Lucy

A true explorer, Grandpa’s career in oil exploration took him all over the world; he was eventually VP of Geophysics for Superior Oil (now ExxonMobil).  His remarkable career was followed by adventures on the sea, as his retirement began with a 42-foot sailboat and trips that sometimes included lucky grandchildren like my brother and me.

The Sea Urchin

Steve on Sea Urchin
My brother on my grandparents’ sailboat, in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, in the mid-70s; this was an epic 7-day trip I will always remember

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The rigors of sailing gave way to land-based adventures as my grandparents mounted an RV in their 70s and traveled throughout the country, visiting national parks and family, arriving just in time for birthdays and births (including my son’s). Their retirement together was rich in experiences fueled by water, wind and land – and love of family.

Tom Ruth RV

Today would have been Grandpa’s 98th birthday. To honor and remember him, I’m sharing the poem I wrote for his funeral in 2002.

Water, Wind and Land: Metaphors for a Geophysicist (for Grandpa)

 

we are all archeologists now

sifting through our memories of you

sorting the bits and pieces we find

to put them back together

in what will become our lasting “mind pictures” of you

sometimes sifting and sorting alone

sometimes together with your other loves ones

turning our memory fragments this way and that

to see where they fit

and make a clearer picture

all of my finds in this archeological dig of grief

are geo-metaphors for a geophysicist:

~ water, wind and land ~

 

for you were not a man of words

you were a man of deeds

of facts

of maps

and plans

 

my dig finds full sails and stormy skies

radars and Lorans

dolphin fish and egrets’ cries

a wood-hulled boat, a lake cabin, a becalming

your thoughtful brown eyes

your “I love you’s” were spoken in geo-metaphor:

~ water, wind and land ~

“help me steer the boat, Kimmie”

“Stevie, let me show you how to tie a slip knot”

“Of course girls can shoot skeet!”

 

for you were not a man of words

you were a man of deeds

of facts

of maps

and plans

 

I dig deeper, contemplative, archeologist-turned sociologist

looking for meaning

and I find you are an underground river

strong, constant, clear and sure

your life’s waters carried bloodlines and love-lines

equally strong

lifelines guiding through shifting sands

~ water, wind and land ~

 

my finds are home-baked bread

and spectacular jams

a well-stocked RV

crossing ferries and dams

Grandma’s letters with your P.S:

“Math and science, math and science!”

recognized clearly – then and now –

as geo-metaphor love, all your best

~ water, wind and land ~

 

you were a man of deeds

of facts

of maps

and plans

~ water, wind and land ~

 

we dig and sort

together and apart

reconstructing geo-you

in the museums of our hearts

~ water, wind and land ~

 

 

love, kimmie

july 2002


Grandpa and me at my first wedding, way back in the 80s. Those pearls were borrowed from my grandmother, one of the many, many gifts he brought her from his world travels.  His finds, which included on the one end spears and art from Nigeria and on the other end, jewelry like these pearls and a gorgeous raw emerald, have been given to all of my cousins. I got the pearls.

Grandpa and Kim 1984

In his later years, Grandpa channeled his natural curiosity and scientific attention to detail into cooking, mostly bread-baking and jam-making.  He made the same recipes again and again, meticulously documenting small differences until he had them perfected.  Christmas stocking gifts in those years were highly coveted jars of his homemade jellies.  I treasure the memory of our long talks about cooking from those days. I also inherited some of his knives and big pots, which I consider to be heirlooms on par with the pearls.

Rest in peace, dear man, and bless you for teaching us about water, wind and land – and love.

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Copyright 2017, Glover Gardens Cookbook

My Brother’s Suicide: Out of the Darkness and Into the Light

steven-harvell-1423142466I have never said this in a public forum: my brother Steve’s untimely death four years ago was a suicide.

At first, we didn’t know. And then, we did.

But it wasn’t time to talk about it before. Our family and very close friends needed time to process, to grieve, to try to make sense out of something that we will never understand. Ever.

And quite frankly, there was no way to express the ragged, jagged, piercing and seemingly permanent heartbreak that we share. I’ve tried in this blog, believe me, although you didn’t know what you were reading. Some of my hurt-heart poems and writing are linked at the end of the post.

The adage says, “time heals all wounds,” but I wonder why the part about the scars was left out?

There is something true about the healing (accepting?) impact of time, though – it all looks different through the 4-years later lens. I can see past the horror, shock, pain and hopelessness, all the way back to the wonderment and love we once shared, the richness that my relationship with my brother brought to my life, and the Crayola-bright uniqueness that was Steve’s essence. His extremely wise choice in marriage brought me my “sister” and my nieces, a gift that is immeasurable and one of the reasons I believe in God.

My nieces have shared their stories through their participation in Out of the Darkness walks, and their courage is the reason I’m now ready to publicly share this painful story.

The other reason is that, like my nieces, I hope my voice can help impact even one life for the better. Please forgive the raggedness, the jaggedness of this poem, and share it with anyone you think might be suffering alone in the dark.

A Suicide Prevention Poem: Out of the Darkness and Into the Light

please hear my plea

if you are out there somewhere

in the dark

considering taking control of your life

by taking your life

please tell someone

just one person

let one person know

that you are at risk

in the dark

and sad

and feeling alone and desperate and unloved

please hear my plea

know that the people who have always loved you

still do

always will

know that your current situation

in the dark

doesn’t have to be

your permanent situation

there’s no death sentence for mistakes or regret

unless you pass it on yourself

please hear my plea

reach out to the light

please tell someone

just one person

let one person know

that you are at risk

in the dark

and sad

and feeling alone and desperate and unloved

you’ll never know

unless you reach out

that you can live in the light again

we’ll never know we can help

unless you tell someone

just one person

let one person know

we’ll never know

that we could have been

the light in your darkness

please hear my plea:

you matter to someone

he mattered to me


 

Other hurt-heart writings to wrestle with grief and embrace the remaining joy of brother-memories :

Copyright 2017, Glover Gardens Cookbook

Death is Life-Affirming: Hibiscus Haiku

Death is life-affirming.

Family gathers ’round when a loved one dies, sharing memories and telling stories, all a reminder both of the value of the life of the lost one and the interconnectedness of those who remain. We experienced this at Glover Gardens recently when my Dad died, rejoicing in the togetherness of family and friends even while we mourned together. In addition to their continual prayers and love, my cousin’s wife brought a gift to our informal celebration of Dad’s life, a live and blooming hibiscus, with a heartfelt haiku.

your much-beloved dad
like this hibiscus flower
blossomed love and life

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Lucy, my Aunt-Mom and Dad’s widow, took this beautiful picture

I’ve posted before about how we love love love both hibiscus and haiku here at Glover Gardens; this gift was as appropriate and welcome as a hug to smooth a hardship – and so life-affirming! A quick little poem, at the second grade level (I couldn’t resist):

I have a wonderful cousin
who has a wonderful wife.
She wrote a hibiscus haiku
to celebrate Dad’s life.

 

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A white Texas Star hibiscus, blooming for the first time on Dad’s death day

Find more about Dad here.

And here’s a tour through our hibiscus flowers (also shared in this previous post).

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Copyright 2017, Glover Gardens Cookbook

~ with help from Marsha (haiku) and Lucy (cover picture) and Dad (inspiration) ~

you, amazing you / footprints on our heart-sands (another poem for Dad from a grateful daughter)

IMG_0151you

were an amazing father

you taught me to

believe

in myself

in God in love

in family in miracles

in old movies on a rainy afternoon

in grilled cheese sandwiches

you

got up with us kids

every day before school

making our breakfast

telling tall tales

“killing the biscuits” with the butter knife

you

taught us to love simple things

the sea sky and seagulls

the wind in our sails

July 4 fireworks and hot dogs at the beach

you

were an amazing husband

steadfast when

Mom was sick for decades

you

never complained

or made it about

you

or “took time off”

or felt sorry for yourself

even when she died

you

gave your next wife

the same care and thoughtfulness

and respect

and honor

you

were an amazing grandfather

mindful and present

you

listened more than you talked

making those kids feel like special starfish

you

were an amazing friend

collecting people like seashells

keeping them always

appreciating their beauty

their uniqueness

their worn-smooth spots

you

were an amazing role model

“what would Frank do”

a testimonial from friends

about your wisdom

you

never judged never condemned

but always remained authentic

about your beliefs

accepting without endorsing if

you

couldn’t agree or understand

you

were the most consistent

person I ever knew

like waves crashing to the shore

you

gave your heart completely

the whole package

with no strings

just acceptance and love

you

will be loved and missed

forever

your footprints on our heart-sands

you

amazing

you

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your footprints on our heart-sands
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My Dad and me, Thanksgiving 2015; I still feel his arm around me

Copyright 2017, Glover Gardens Cookbook

photos courtesy of Joie, one of the amazing granddaughters of the amazing and wonderful man, Frank

A Poem from Long Ago: “For You, Mom, On Your Brother’s Death”

My uncle Nathan, my mother’s brother, would have been 70 this month. He was only 40 when he died in 1988. Sad and shocked, I wrote this poem for my Mom at the time and it was part of his memorial service.  Just today, I found it while browsing through old files from my Dad’s computer; it is sweet that he kept the poem all these years.

For You, Mom, On Your Brother’s Death

Love, the wind, God, memories:
all intangible,
all to be touched with
thoughts and feelings,
not with fingers.

All so precious:
lives, souls, people.
Does one quit existing
when the breath is gone
     or
simply become an intangible,
touchable with thoughts,
with feelings,
like the wind?

Can we not summon Nathan
by thinking of him?
Is he not crystallized
into being in those
vignettes of him that
we remember?

Isn’t he still the same young
man who made
risqué remarks about the
pantaloons on my
doll Elizabeth,
because I remember
him that way?

Won’t I make a present
of a never-known great-uncle
Nathan
to my children by
conjuring his image,
remembering him that way?


With the wisdom of hindsight, I wish I had spent more time talking with my Mom while she was still alive about how she dealt with her brother’s death. I didn’t know then that I would also lose a younger brother while in my 40s.

Nathan and Steve 1966
Nathan holding my brother Steve; both would die young but leave lasting memories and wonderful children

Reading this (clumsy) early poem of mine again in the wake of my Dad’s death just six weeks ago, I still feel the same way about touching the intangibles, conjuring the images of the loved ones through stories and memories.  My Dad is sitting on my shoulder right now, next to my Mom.

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My Mom, her brother Nathan, and me, 1966; shocking to see that cigarette
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A cocky young Nathan while he was at Texas A&M Galveston earning his degree in Marine Transportation

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Copyright 2017, Glover Gardens Cookbook

12 Radical Reasons to Write Poetry

The list in the blog post referenced here is a wonderful and persuasive set of arguments in favor of writing poetry, by a self-proclaimed “shameless and impassioned advocate for the poetic voice as an integral player in an integrated life”.  Kelly Belmonte is the founder and Chief Muse of All Nine, and, in her words, “offers just a few of the best reasons to give a go at writing a poem every now and then”. Read them here: 12 Radical Reasons to Write Poetry.

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The header for the All Nine blog, the nine being a reference to the nine sister muses of Greek mythology who represent multiple domains of creativity and intelligence. 

My own “radical reason” to write (poetry, essays, blog posts) is quite simple: the words dwell within me, but have a life of their own and must be released. What’s yours?