Friday, July 13, 2012


image from google 

Mary's Mixed Bag, at Imaginary Gardens With Real Toads,  has set us the task of writing to the number Thirteen. Mary gave us lots of choices: to write about fears and beliefs around Friday the 13th,  writing a rondeau, (a poem with thirteen lines), or the age thirteen, either ourselves or our daughters at that age. Thirteen. I remember.

I turned thirteen
the summer my father died.
Twelve was awkward.
It was all arms and legs 
and skinned knees,
from always falling down.
A pony-tail skinned back, 
freckles, pedal pushers,
gawkiness that
annoyed my mother -
a desire to be seen,
with no clue how to 
make it worth looking.

Over that summer,
a transformation 
My father had died.
I was no longer
a child.

I learned how to
Do Hair,
sleeping at night on prickly rollers
with pincurled bangs:
(this was akin to the self-scourging
of the mystics, but with
only a sore scalp
in return.)

"You have to suffer to be beautiful,"
my mom always said,
I learned how to 
accent the positive
with a bit of makeup,
huge round blue eyes
in the time when I still had eyelashes
(ah, youth!)

When cousin Charlie came 
for my father's funeral,
I was sitting in Grandma's living room, 
reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,
a book that was a revelation to me,
discovering Francie and I
had similar fathers. 
Charlie stopped short
on the threshold:
"Is that Sherry?" he asked,

was standing on the steps
of the church
at the end of the funeral,
looking out at the traffic 
on Bernard and Richter,
everyone going about
their ordinary summer afternoon.
It was my mom looking at me
and saying,
"We have a long row to hoe,"
me feeling like
her protector.

We did.
We had a long row to hoe.
But looking back 
down all those shambling years,
I can still remember
- exactly -
what it felt like
to be


  1. Forget my comment about not being able to find this at Toads. It works fine:)
    You must have been in the process of saving it or some such as I tried to get here. Such happy and very vivid memories of your being 13. It sounds as if you positively blossomed once you reached that year. Big blue eyes eh! Nice :)

  2. You wrote a good description of the transition from 12 to 13, and I enjoyed your reminiscences. I was gawky in those years too, tripped over my own feet; and yes, I remember those horrid rollers to sleep on. I would guess 13 will always stand out in your memory because it was the year your dad died then and everything around that time is clear! A 'long row to hoe.' I remember that expression!

  3. I'm so happy to read this poem about a hard age with both its trials and its rewards. I have not yet lost a parent (God bless them), and think to lose one at 13 and let it mature you is incredible. Some of the teens I taught could not cope with this type of loss. But for you it is also the year gawky turned into a lovely young lady with a mother that affirmed and new arts to learn with companions in books and knowing it! This poem is a gift.

  4. My father died the summer I was about to turn sixteen ... a hard row to hoe, yes your Mother was right. My mother raised three girls from that day forward .. the youngest only eleven. I thought your poem for this prompt was one of the best!

  5. Yes, you described 13, so well. The gawky, awkward years right before you turn into a swan ;D
    Loved your insightful view. My row to hoe was at 18, when my Dad died suddenly. Well Done Sherry!
    You have been a gardener for awhile...hugs!

  6. Thirteen was difficult for me, too. I didn't lose either parent, but it was such an awkward, painful age for other reasons. I really enjoyed this poem, Sherry. It covered a painful subject. I'm sure it was somewhat difficult to write...

  7. Sherry, your words transported me right back to my gawky younger self, and that longed-for transition period when I might yet turn into a swan. "A desire to be seen, with no clue how to make it worth looking" is exactly how I might have verbalized my feelings, had I been able to find the words.

    Although our stories all differ, you definitely spoke for many of us today...:)

  8. Sherry!!! Outstanding!!

    I love how you approached this section...great way to word it...

    was standing on the steps
    of the church"

    "It was my mom looking at me
    and saying,
    "We have a long row to hoe,"

    You really have such an amazing and intriguing life, Sherry! If you had it all written into a book...I would read it...twice even!!

    Such a gift you have!

  9. The first line really got me, really!

  10. I like this:

    "freckles, pedal pushers,
    gawkiness that
    annoyed my mother -
    a desire to be seen,
    with no clue how to
    make it worth looking"

    This was an engaging piece which held my attention throughout. Very interesting memories and storytelling. I enjoyed it, Sherry. Thank you for sharing from such a vulnerable place.

  11. "We have a long row to hoe,"
    me feeling like
    her protector.

    Wonderfully spun with a comfortable voice that draws one in!

  12. Thirteen!! :) It's beautiful how you vividly capture a memory of your childhood. Lovely piece

  13. This is an amazing narrative, Sherry. So much your story, but with so much for the reader to relate to.

  14. hehe... when I came to comment, there were 13 comments...

    anyway, what a sad year for you... my husband lost his mother at the age of 14... but I don't think it's ever easy, really

  15. A desire to be seen and no idea how to make it worth looking is the way I felt at 13 too. You've captured the awkwardness of adolescence perfectly. So sorry that you lost your Dad when you were young. It stops time somehow and wounds and you have to just go on with the empty spaces. Please accept my symapthy.


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