Miss Wilms

There were three Wilms sisters.
Long after that generation was gone,
I discovered they had a brother
who served with my grandfather in WWI.

They never told my grandmother she had cancer.
She was in the hospital for months,
but the grandchildren were not allowed to visit,
because we might tell.

I was only eight years old
when my grandmother died.
I remember most of all
the delicious smells of her kitchen.

My mother adored her mother-in-law.  She told us
how much my grandmother loved us, the children
of her son, her only child.  My grandmother’s sister,
unmarried, childless, became her surrogate.

When we lived in Baltimore, Aunt Lil
came to dinner almost every Sunday.
She taught us to play poker,
and called my father “Chickie”.

I cried on the the train from New York on the way
 to my great-aunt’s funeral.  I was allowed to take
a jade vase from her apartment.  I still have it,
along with the ashtray we gave her that says “Miss Wilms”.

For the dVerse prompt from Sarah where she asks us to write about grandmothers.

Aunt Lil made this vase, trying to capture the color in a Van Gogh painting that she loved. The painting on the shelf behind it is one of Nina’s.

42 thoughts on “Miss Wilms

    1. That’s so true Jane. How my grandmother longed to see us, and how cruel to deny her knowledge of her illness. And yes, we were very lucky to have her sister, a wonderful woman in all ways.

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  1. Such a poignant memory-poem. The vase is beautiful. Lots of artistic talent in your family.

    The ashtray made me smile because it made me remember all the ashtrays in our house when I was a child and both my parents smoked. There were some beautiful ones.

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    1. Thanks Merril. Aunt Lil smoked until the day she died (another nail in the coffin, she would say, as she pulled out a cigarette) and my father never quit until his 60s. So we always had ash trays too. This one we used for our poker pennies though.

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      1. You’re welcome.
        It’s funny I can’t really remember when my parents stopped smoking. My dad stopped first, and for a while he carried a pipe, not to smoke, but just to put in his mouth. He must have been in his 50s? My mom was older.
        It’s funny. She said she first started smoking when she was young. She was home sick, and a girlfriend came to visit her and taught her to smoke as something to do when she was bored!

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  2. It seems artistic talents run in your family, K. Each of the stanzas create a story of shared roots, shared memories, and that intangible thing called love that outweighs them all. Beautifully written.

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  3. I will always respond to this kind of intimate sentiment. I think we never regret expressing ourselves in this endearing regard. A well said painting you crafted here and it makes itself welcome wherever it lands.

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  4. I really enjoyed this and like the way you have written it. It brings your grandmother to life for me. The story of her vase inspired me to write a poem about my own grandmother. I’d put her vase beside the window this morning – long before I saw the prompt or read your poem.

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    1. Thanks Robbie. I don’t know why so much was kept secret back then–as I was telling someone else, children were usually not told they were adopted as well. There is certainly no shame in being ill (or being adopted). I suppose there was the idea of “sparing” someone the knowledge that they were dying–I know that still happens. Secrets are generally not a good solution in the long run for most situations, yet humans still find the need to keep them.

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  5. Whether you consider that table an altar or not, I can almost feel the energy. Love and history and resilience. You could write a novel with stories like these but for me, I can only really get close to who a person was (and who they were to me) with a poem. This one was beautiful.

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    1. Thanks Sun. The prompt got me thinking about that whole generation, especially since the very last one I knew (my mother’s cousin) just died in November at 89. Also about aunts–my mother’s own sister was important to me to when I was growing up. Children get support from many sources.

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      1. So true. I feel that a lot, being an only child of young parents; I was raised as much by their parents and siblings as I was by them. I’m sorry for the loss of your second cousin. It’s a unique sort of loneliness.

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