My Dad (James Francis O’Connor (1926-2012)) taught me a poem. Not as a child, not by telling me about it. Rather, from the depths of Dad’s dementia before his death. Even on days when his world was full of disorientation and confusion. He would randomly recite a few lines “the woman was old and ragged and gray, and bent with the chill of the winter’s day.”
Given my Dad’s sense of humor and penchant for rhymes about drinking, at first I thought it was a limerick of some sort. But it was not a poem or song that I’d heard from Dad before his dementia. And Dad could no longer recall what this line was from or what it was about. But from time to time he’d recite again “the woman was old and ragged and gray, and bent with the chill of the winter’s day.” And sometimes he’d continue “the street was wet with the recent snow and the woman’s feet were aged and slow.”
As we found the following poem on line – I was amazed. Amazed that this poetry that I had never heard from Dad before his dementia – was there – buried in pieces in the recesses of his memory. From my Dad, who was raised in the Great Depression by his widower Father. My Dad, who never really knew his Mother. (His Mother died of tuberculosis after exposure working in the “TB Sanatorium” in Howell, MI in 1928, when my Dad was a 2 year old boy). Yet here was this poem – still in his long term memory – about helping other people – because “she’s Somebody’s Mother.”
By Mary Dow Brine (1816-1913)
The woman was old and ragged and gray
And bent with the chill of the Winter’s day.
The street was wet with a recent snow
And the woman’s feet were aged and slow.
She stood at the crossing and waited long,
Alone, uncared for, amid the throng
Of human beings who passed her by
Nor heeded the glance of her anxious eyes.
Down the street, with laughter and shout,
Glad in the freedom of “school let out,”
Came the boys like a flock of sheep,
Hailing the snow piled white and deep.
Past the woman so old and gray
Hastened the children on their way.
Nor offered a helping hand to her –
So meek, so timid, afraid to stir
Lest the carriage wheels or the horses’ feet
Should crowd her down in the slippery street.
At last came one of the merry troop,
The gayest laddie of all the group;
He paused beside her and whispered low,
“I’ll help you cross, if you wish to go.”
Her aged hand on his strong young arm
She placed, and so, without hurt or harm,
He guided the trembling feet along,
Proud that his own were firm and strong.
Then back again to his friends he went,
His young heart happy and well content.
“She’s somebody’s mother, boys, you know,
For all she’s aged and poor and slow,
“And I hope some fellow will lend a hand
To help my mother, you understand,
“If ever she’s poor and old and gray,
When her own dear boy is far away.”
And “somebody’s mother” bowed low her head
In her home that night, and the prayer she said
Was “God be kind to the noble boy,
Who is somebody’s son, and pride and joy!”
“Somebody’s Mother” is more than the adage of treating others as we wish to be treated. It really exemplifies the notion of being our brother’s keeper – and a notion that has been core to a standard I set for how I treat and relate to others, and to my patients –in that I treat them the way I would want someone to treat my Mother. And Father, Brother, Sister, Daughter, Son…
Part of Dad’s legacy. Lessons taught through role model, words, and deeds.
Happy Father’s Day.
Note: I originally wrote this early in 2012 in the months after Dad's passing. Like my Mom and Dad, the words have aged well as a reflection for both Mother's Day and Father's Day. -- Michael.
The Celtic Maze pattern symbolizes the journey of life and the path of experience, & learning. It symbolizes that there are twists, and turns, the challenges and obstacles in life, but that there are always open doors.