Poems Without Borders

Pennsylvania

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“PLAIN AND FANCY”


South on the Jersey Turnpike

And west on the PA,

Just some two hundred miles

From New York’s crowded subways,

The “plain and fancy” life

In Lancaster, PA

Is like iced lemonade

On a hot summer day.


The folks are ready to please;

They are “wonderful nice;”

To day and week visitors

They are willing to give advice.

The pot pie is very hot,

It has chicken as it should;

The shoo-fly pie is warm

With whipped cream as one would.


A dish of beans and ham

One has without regret;

It has none of the chunks of fat

New Yorkers always get.

The highways are well marked

The sidewalks, very clean;

There’s no driving through red light;

There’s no honking through green.


These “plain and fancy” folks

“Throw the cow over the fence some hay;”

They “look the window out to see”

Who is “coming the gate in their way.”

These “plain and fancy” folks

To their children well impart

We “grow too soon old

And too late smart.”

(1971:  After visiting Amish country)




THE MAGIC OF MEMORY

Photographs ... and more photographs ...
from years and years ago ...
photographs I haven't seen in decades ...
Why do they surface today?

Here I stand on the boardwalk
at Rockaway Beach near Rockaway Park
with the vast Atlantic Ocean behind me.

As a seventeen-year-old, newly arrived from Hawaii,
and on my way to Greenville, Pennsylvania,
to start my freshman year at Thiel College,
I was starting an exciting chapter in my young life
in this dazzling city of New York.

When I posed at the observatory
of the Empire State Building ...
with Uncle John, Dad's brother ...
before starting a summer job
as a chambermaid at the Del Mar Hotel,
owned and operated by a dear friend
of Uncle John ... one George Topper ...
little did I know that the telescope
that brought the city closer to sight
was a symbol of sorts.

It was the 4th of July when I boarded the plane
at Lihue on the island of Kauai, Hawaii,
off to a distant land I never dreamed of.
An Independence Day with double meaning
for a teenager in search of education.

These photographs bring back memories
of years filled with the excitement
and the expectations of youth.
And memory magnifies those magical moments ...

It was a time when I had no knowledge that Betty,
who supervised my work, and Louie,
the hotel custodian whose face was always red
from drinking too much ... as I learned later in life ...
were Germans making their home
in a new land through the good graces
of a Jewish hotelier who employed them
during the summer months
when the wealthy vacationed at Rockaway.

Today ... I wonder where Betty and Louie,
with their thick German accent, spent their winters.
And I wonder when they left their homeland.

I know that Uncle John and Mr. Topper
wintered in Florida.
Del Mar Hotel closed after Labor Day
and opened again to welcome annual guests
when the summer sun warmed the beach
at Rockaway just right for swimming.
(05/28/2000)



DR. STARY IS A WISE WOMAN

Dr. Stary is a wise woman.
The psychology professor and counselor
At Thiel College (The H is silent, please)
In Greenville, Pennsylvania,
Dr. Stary puts a memo in my mail box
At the start of my sophomore year.
FOLLOW-UP
VOCATIONAL GUIDANCE TEST
Are checked on the form.

The test shows you are highly verbal,
Dr. Stary greets me.
According to your scores you could be
A writer, a secretary, or a librarian.

Secretary? Librarian? I ask myself.
I listen ... I nod ...
Not necessarily in assent.
My verbal ability failing me
For more than just a few moments.

How do you like working at the library?
She asks. I like it very much, I reply.
Dr. Stary leans to the side of her desk
Toward me, her body language and voice
That of one who has three offers
And is focusing on the last.
Have you ever thought of library science?
I love books and all that, I manage to say,
But I never thought of becoming a librarian;
I've always wanted to be a journalist
And dream of working for a newspaper.

Continue with English as your major,
Get your BA, then go to graduate school
For a Master in Library Science.

Use the world of books as a steppingstone
To a career in writing, perhaps journalism,
Georgianne Stary, Ph.D., impresses upon me.

Yes, Dr. Stary is a wise woman.
Librarianship is meant to be
Only a steppingstone for me.
I stay on the steppingstone,
And stay permanently
Until retirement dislodges me.

In retrospect I now see the significance
Of that Saturday morning discovery
At a small library many, many years ago
In the town of Laoag, Province of Ilocos Norte,
In northern Luzon, Philippines, where I was born.

As a fourth-grader I discovered
The secret of that cryptic card catalog
And found Stevenson's "Treasure Island"
And Spyri's "Heidi Grows Up"
Without the help of the male librarian.

Who would have imagined
That a dozen years later
In the City of Seattle, USA, I would receive
A degree that would make me
The librarian I was meant to be?

Yes, Dr. Stary is a wise woman
And Mrs. Alter is a blessing to me.
She gives me an A for my Social Studies
Outline for the Study of Journalism
But writes "For you its greatest disadvantage
Is that it will require constant use of a language
Which is not your native tongue."
And Mrs. Alter changes my plans.
(1984/2002)

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