Poetry Wednesday: You are Old, Father William (Not)

Today is my Dad’s eighty-first birthday and since it landed on a Wednesday this year, I thought I might write him a poem as a gift.*

Unfortunately, loving poetry doesn’t make me a poet** any more than loving the Olympics makes me in any way an athlete, so my best efforts weren’t quite the ode I wanted.

The slowed body sings
To its own ageless spirit
Snap, ping, ouch, crack, damn. . . 

So I tried to think of poems about growing old gracefully, or at least defiantly, about role models and fathers, of tying shoes and sealing wax and cabbages and kings—

Hold up.

Lewis Carroll is good for all kinds of things, isn’t he?  Like parodies so well done that it doesn’t matter than no one remembers the original.

And in many ways, this fits my own father very well:

You Are Old, Father William
(Lewis Carroll)

“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “As I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door—
Pray, what is the reason of that?”

Old Ass Soak“In my youth,” said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
“I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment—one shilling the box—
Allow me to sell you a couple?”

“You are old,” said the youth, “And your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak—
Pray, how did you manage to do it?”

“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose—
What made you so awfully clever?”

“I have answered three questions, and that is enough,”
Said his father; “don’t give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I’ll kick you down stairs!”

My Dad might be slightly more patient than this; heaven knows, he’s used to mouthy kids.

And because Dad loves this kind of stuff—it’s genetic—I tracked down the original poem.***   It’s rather . . . goopier . . . than the original—you have been warned:

The Old Man’s Comforts and How He Gained Them
(Robert Southey)

“You are old, father William,” the young man cried,
“The few locks which are left you are grey;
You are hale, father William, a hearty old man;
Now tell me the reason, I pray.”

“In the days of my youth,” father William replied,
Hourglass“I remember’d that youth would fly fast,
And abus’d not my health and my vigour at first,
That I never might need them at last.”

“You are old, father William,” the young man cried,
“And pleasures with youth pass away.
And yet you lament not the days that are gone;
Now tell me the reason, I pray.”

“In the days of my youth,” father William replied,
“I remember’d that youth could not last;
I thought of the future, whatever I did,
That I never might grieve for the past.”

“You are old, father William,” the young man cried,
“And life must be hast’ning away;
You are cheerful and love to converse upon death;
Now tell me the reason, I pray.”

“I am cheerful, young man,” father William replied,
“Let the cause thy attention engage;
In the days of my youth I remember’d my God!
And He hath not forgotten my age.”

I can see why Mr. Carroll pitched the young fool down the stairs, can’t you?

But really, my Dad is a kind of blend between these two extreme Williams: the one who saved up all his youth and spared himself any risk so he could rest comfortably in mint-condition old age, and the one who fully intends his gravestone to say, “We buried what pieces we could find.”

He’s probably a little closer to the latter . . . But as far as I can tell, he’s had a great time along the way, with maybe a few regrets that he doesn’t, all things considered, regret at all.

And he could totally balance an eel on his nose if he wanted to—or at least he’d have a  blast trying.

Happy birthday, Dad.

Snap, ping, crack, ouch . . . 


*And a card . . . Seriously, you and Mom and going to get a serious Hallmark care package as soon as I get my ducks in a row . . . Okay, I lie, I’m probably going to hand them all over when I see you late this month (hangs head in shame).

**I’ll cop to being a filker, but not a particularly good one.

***Actually, I found the link while I was looking for a clean copy of “Father William.” All hail Wikipedia!


Fiftieth Flowers

My parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary was yesterday.

Fifty.  Years.  Y’all.

I’ve written about my folks here before, about how extremely cool they are, and how I have a lot of prep work to do if I’m supposed to emulate their idea of “retirement,” which so far is roughly twice as active as my “working” years.   I’ve also mentioned their courtship, which was unique in many respects and also might explain a few things about my own ideas of romance.*

So how do you indicate how happy you are that two of the most amazing people you know have managed to stay married, to each other, for fifty years?  And how pleased you are that they stuck to it at least for the first ten, because otherwise you wouldn’t be here to express that happiness?

One traditional way is with an enormous party.

But to be painfully honest, even with guest lists provided by their schools, I have trouble planning two-hour pre-packaged Activity Center birthday parties for the children who live with me.  So engineering a fiftieth anniversary blow-out from two states away was never going to happen.

Luckily, my parents aren’t enormous party people in any sense of that phrase, bless them from the depths of my social ineptness.

Another tradition is to send something suitably fabulous for the occasion.  But what?

Most of the family thought an edible arrangement of chocolate-dipped fruit on stems would be perfect—and it would be.

But odds were Mom and Dad wouldn’t be at home for the delivery, because they’re the busiest people I know, which means the delivery person would leave it at the front door,** except my parents never use the front door, so the delivery would sit there for heaven knows how long, even if I told them to look out for it.  Plus, their house is surrounded by woods containing, as they do, woodland creatures who would literally jump—fangs out, claws extended—at the chance to snack on chocolate-covered pineapple daisies.

And having celebratory food items delivered to one of Mom’s Curves locations seems . . . wrong.

Flowers then. Even I could manage to order flowers.

So I did, online, after going over several websites that convinced me gold has become a terrible metal to associate with a marriage, unless that marriage is plastic, overpriced, and/or tackier than you could possibly imagine.  If that’s the secret to a long-lasting relationship, I don’t even want to know.

Instead, I found this a week ago:

Color Your Day with SunshinePerfect.

It was available in my parent’s area for a Sunday delivery, so I ordered it, added a message, received confirmation, and went on my merry way.***

What with one thing and another on Sunday, I didn’t check my phone until late afternoon.    I had three voice mails.

The first was from the flower shop—as you were probably expecting, because I rule at this foreshadowing stuff—saying that my delivery couldn’t be made because the specific arrangement wouldn’t be available until Monday and to please call as soon as possible.  The second was a repeat, except in tone, which was more of a please call us please, our reputation is at stake, here, lady, please.

While I rummaged around  my e-mail messages for my order confirmation number, I listened to the last message, expecting an ultimatum, possibly with tears.

Instead, it was my parents, telling me how gorgeous the flowers were and how much they loved them, and me.


I called Mom and Dad.  “You got the flowers!”  I said.

“Yes!” they both said.  “They’re wonderful,” Mom said.  “We love them.”

“Great!  Um . . . What do they look like?”

“Well, they have these colorful things called petals, arranged mostly in loose circles” Dad said, “and they’re on these long green things called stems . . .”^

Mom intervened, thank heavens, and described the arrangement—which sounds complicated and lovely, though perhaps not very yellow—and confirmed that our names were on the card.

And I may have scored a couple extra The Thought That Counts points when I described what it should  have looked like.


Mom and Dad had a great anniversary—it was one of the few they’ve actually spent together, apparently, which may be the actual answer to marital longevity—and decided on a mutual gift to each other.

“We figured out that in fifty years, we’ve only had three mattresses, including the old, sprung one we started with,” Mom said.  “It’s probably about time.”

I told ’em to enjoy it, but that I didn’t need any details about how, please.^^  Some secrets to marital happiness I prefer to work out on my own.

But at least I know what I’ll be sending them on their anniversary twenty-five years from now:^^^ a new mattress with a diamond pattern in the stitching.

There.  Done!~


*Nature and nurture both had a crack at that one, believe me.

**Because Philander Chase, Mom and Dad’s dog,  has staked out the back door as his personal “You Shall Not Pass” territory, anyway—think Gandalf and the Balrog, except reversed—and few delivery people or meter readers want to challenge him on this.  He’s of uncertain lineage, except we’re pretty sure all of his ancestors were Very Large and Loud. No idea if the sock-eating thing is nature or nurture, but Phi has a way of indicating that he might take the foot as well, for extra protein.  Sweet dog.  Probably.

***I did, however, leave a message on Mom and Dad’s answering machine, warning them to keep an eye on the front porch.  I don’t trust deer any more than I trust raccoons.

^Dad’s sense of humor is an area that tends to veer right off the nature v. nurture debate smack into the dread of heredity.


^^^For those of you who just said, “Wait a minute,” I invite you to click all the links about my folks that I’ve scattered through this one.  If anyone can make it to their seventy-fifth anniversary, they can and will, in the most casual and natural manner possible, and why all the fuss?

~Still won’t want any details, though.  Just sayin’

Wearable Tahiti

At one point during my parent’s last Thanksgiving visit, Jane ran up to me and said, “MomGrandpa and Grandma are going diving for black pearls next week!  In the ocean!” and charged off again.

Five minutes later, Dad walked into the kitchen.

“Hey, Dad.  Jane says you and Mom are going deep sea pearl diving next week.”

“That’s not true,” he said.  “We’re going in early February.”

And they did.

I can’t imagine that anyone who has read previous posts about my parents could be surprised by this.

Or my the package that arrived yesterday, addressed to Jane, Sunny, Sarah, and Watson Wesson.*

Inside, were these:


Jane and Sunny both received a long string of pale shells and a mother-of-pearl teardrop.  The exquisite cowrie shell is Watson’s.  And my gift is the flower—a hibiscus, maybe?—with the beautiful black pearl.

Pearl in the Hibiscus

We were collectively overwhelmed.  The children had to be forcibly removed from their finery at bedtime and Janie put eyeprints all over my pendant.

It’s supposed to snow today, but my parents have given us a little French Polynesian warmth to hold us until Spring.

And I got a blog post out of it!

Now, that’s generosity.


*Watson was surprised, but she wasn’t aware of my parents’ tendency towards spontaneous, unofficial adoptions.

Random Thursday: It’s all Relative

Been an odd week at Chez Wesson, all told—though I’m not telling all of it.



Let’s Give Mommy an Earmworm:  Sunny

Singing this under my breath all day wouldn’t be so bad, if I worked in Youth Services.

I don’t.


Invisible Fairy Gardens

When my folks arrived to take the kids to Six Flags last month, Mom showed me photos of the old herb garden.  What was once a clump of wildly overgrown, half-buried half-barrels is now an area of raised beds and neat plantings—though I noticed St. Francis of Assisi is still being strangled by the mint.*

To the right of that longsuffering, if fresh-smelling, saint is Mom’s fairy garden, of which she is very proud.

It features an upright log with a driftwoody sort of top and a small door at the bottom.  There is a pathway.  There are toadstools.  There is patio furniture. There are gnomes.

It is excellent.

It is also invisible, because I couldn’t pull the photos off her camera for some reason and decided just last night, that I could use them for today’s post.   I called Dad, explained how to send an attachment, and after a while, received an iPhoto file that he thought might actually be all the photos on Mom’s camera and which completely baffled my laptop when I tried to get it open, even with the recommended software.

My husband suggested that Watson might be able to open it on her iPad, so I forwarded her the file and sent her a head-up text before remembering that she has trouble getting a connection on her Virginia-based phone, especially when she’s in my MIL’s guest room (ie, the back basement).

I could  have gone down to see her, but I’m essentially lazy and a few minutes later, my MIL came up for a book she’d left, anyway, so I asked her to ask Watson to look at her e-mail, but only if Watson wasn’t asleep already because it really wasn’t an emergency.

Apparently, this translated into intercepting Watson on the way to the bathroom and telling her I needed her right away.

So Watson and I had a very quick conversation which was half apology on my part and half yes, okay, hurry up and tell me what you need, please on hers.  She told me to forward it to another e-mail address and disappeared.

Fifteen minutes later or so, I received an e-mail that said she couldn’t get it open, either.

So, I sent Dad an e-mail thanking him for the effort along with another stab at explaining how to attach a photo using an e-mail system with which I wasn’t familiar on an operating system I don’t use, because I’m a librarian and have had some experience in explanations of this kind.**

The explanations aren’t always successful, b either way, at the posting of this, he hasn’t yet replied.  You’d think he had a life that didn’t revolve around me, or something . . .

And that’s why there aren’t any images of Mom’s fantastic fairy garden today—but as the entire family was involved, barring the kids and the cat, I thought I’d mention it, anyway.


Let’s Give Mommy an Earmworm:  Janie

She has it memorized.

And she’s sung it so often that I am psychologically conditioned to respond with the next line whenever I hear:

“Da da DA dada, ChickEN!”

And everyone in the family knows this.


Watsonisms, or Yeah, that one’s my fault

My sister-in-law, aka Watson, has brought more to our lives than a truly massive DVD collection, mad cooking skillz, a dog the size of a pit pony, and a general willingness to schlep her nieces to softball games.

She’s also brought a whole range of infectious sayings.  Usually, it’s one of the kids, but we’ve all pretty much picked these up, barring my husband, who just shakes his head:

Kiss my grits — shorthanded over the months to “See those grits?” and then “Griiii-iiiits.”

It’s all gravy — presumably to go with the grits, but I’m afraid to ask.

Easy, killer — hilarious when five-year old Sunny says this to her older sister.

And what did we learn? — yesterday, or so I’m told, Sunny grabbed Janie’s nose and let go just as Janie took a mock swing at her.  Janie punched herself in the face and sat there stunned as her favorite aunt raised an eyebrow and said what came naturally.

Really?  Really?  — yeah, that’s apparently where I picked that up.  I’d wondered . . .

Dude  — more of a reintroduction, really (really?), but she showed us that a complete conversation could be had with a single word:

It’s all good — See “It’s all gravy.”

‘Sup pup? — because it drives Janie crazy, that’s why.

It was Meeeeee!”  (must be said in a high-pitched voice with enthusiastic Wallace*** hands) —- the explanation for this one involves a sports bike group, an SBD,^ and a six-foot tall Hungarian model.  I’m sure you can work out the rest.

Klassy with a Capital K— follows naturally from the previous one, doesn’t it?

Yeah, that one’s my fault — See “Easy Killer”

Ha!  That one wasn’t me! — translation:  hey, I’m  not the one who dropped the frozen peas all over the kitchen floor and said that word in front of ’em.
It’s a small price to pay for her company, I suppose . . . even if she also sends me things like this, instead of images of fairy gardens:

funny puns - A View of the Milky Way From the Surface of Mars
It’s a view of the Milky Way from the surface of Mars.  Really.


Strings Attached

My husband introduces me to the coolest stuff: cult movies, Metallica, skiing, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, weightlifting, Wallace and Gromit (by the way), Apocalyptica, marriage, Terry Pratchett—or maybe those last ones were me?

But this one was definitely his:

Thanks, love.


* Which appears to be the tradition in every herb garden I’ve seen in which he makes an appearance, even if the gardener never planted mint in the first place.  I can’t tell if this is due to reverence or jealousy on the part of the floral world.

** And have also developed a sort of what-the-heck pessimism that looks a lot like optimism if you don’t’ work with the public as extensively as I do.

*** From Wallace and Gromit.  Imagine him saying, “Cheese, Gromit!  We’ll go where there’s cheese!

^Silent But Deadly

Training Wheels on my Empty Nest

Funny Captions - I'm having fun and you can't stop me

My parents arrived last night, an overnight stop on their way to St. Louis.   When they left, they took both kids with them.

For a week.

Despite the packing, the Great Toothbrush Debate, and the careful counting of ‘sleeps’ in the hopes that Sunny wouldn’t explode from excitement until she was well away, it didn’t really sink in until this morning, after I’d already located two lunchbags and pulled four slices of bread out of the bag, all the while talking to Janie about how much fun she was going to have at Six Flags, what to do if she was lost, and how she needed to look after Sunny, maybe we should go over our phone numbers one more—

“What are you doing, Mom?”

I looked at the  knife.  “Making your lunches for—oh, wait.  You’re not going to camp today, are you.”

“No.  No, we’re not.”

“Right . . . want a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast?”

“No thanks.”


So that’s how eating a pb&j for breakfast was my last sacrificial act of parenting for four days.

I have to work today—it’s my one night a month—but after tonight I’m off until Saturday.

Four days of  Mommy Time.  Four bright and shining days.

Those of you without kids—and I know there are a few of you out there, somewhere—may not understand the feeling of freedom, verging on vertigo, that this has given me.

A few of you might even wonder if  celebrating this might not be just a bit close to Bad Mommy territory.

I’m wondering that myself.

See, I once mentioned on a forum, in response to a thread about how we fit writing into our lives, that since I had two kids under ten and a full-time job, most of my ‘solid writing time’ was before they woke up and after they went to bed, and that sometimes my husband took the kids away for a couple hours on the weekends so I could fit in a little more.  Otherwise, I did the scribbled notes thing throughout the day.  I wished I had a whole day to write, sometimes, but the kids wouldn’t always need me like they do, so I’d keep on trucking until I did—or words to that effect.

Or maybe not quite to that effect, since the moderator of the thread immediately replied that children were a choice and since I chose to have them, it was ironic that I was complaining about the time they took out of my day.  And that some people have a whole day to write because they’re disabled, or unemployed,so where did I get off envying them with my able-bodied, employed privilege?  And she herself was working two jobs and taking care of her elderly mother, so I should probably get over myself.

I got over myself so much that I apologized to the thread for not understanding the question and for implying that I was Busier Than Thou and quit the forum.

That was four years ago, and I’m still trying to parse it out.

The thing is . . . my children were both choices.  Janie was a gift and Sunny was a bona fide miracle.  I love them and am amused and amazed by each of them every day.  My world—the entire world— is better because they are in it and if there ever comes a time when I’m called upon to trade my life for theirs, tell me where to sign and get the hell out of my way.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t get impatient and annoyed with some of their behavior—and vice versa,  no question.  That doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally want to  pursue a plot thread or enjoy someone else’s words or play Plants vs. Zombies—or clean the grout with my fingernails—rather than read Barbie and the Three Musketeers for the fifteenth time in three days.*

And it doesn’t mean my offspring and I don’t need a break from each other—from the mutual whining and nagging and revolting choice of favorite foods and the bedtime battles.  And, for the love of all that has ever been holy, Pokemon.

I’m looking forward to watching my favorite shows when they actually air and to not watching anything animated or geared to the Disney demographic.** I’m gonna have zucchini tarts for dinner with companions who won’t make horrible faces at the thought and eat ice cream in the living room without worrying about setting a bad example.  I’m going to sleep-in, see a PG or R movie or two without using the mute button and subtitles, stay up as late as I want to finish that Alexandra Sokoloff novel . . . and I’m gonna write.

It’s going to be great.

Of course, the reason this time is going to be so enjoyable is that it’s short.*** I’m going to get them back.

I’m expecting to get a little anxious around Thursday and I insisted on phone calls every bedtime. I’m a little anxious now, thinking about nights without giggles and tickles and Super Sunny stories, or questions about how the universe works and why it isn’t a little more sensible and maybe just one more page of Calvin & Hobbes.

But I filled up on hugs before I left this morning and I’m glad they’re getting this time with their grandparents.

And that I’m staying home.

Yeah, pretty soon, I’ll realize that filling up on hugs isn’t possible and maybe I won’t be so glad that the majority of their time won’t include me.

And that I’m staying behind.

But I’m thinking that this trial run should be pretty cool.

Pass the Talenti and the remote.

*Sunny is really good at finding that book, no matter where I’ve hidden it.

** I’d look forward to having the television off, but it’s baseball season and I’m outnumbered.

***Okay, I did beg Mom for another week . . . But sheesh, who wouldn’t?