Family Matters–Poems for and about Grandparents and Grandchildren
by Judie Rae
42 Poems ~ 72 pages
Price: $20.00
Publisher: Kelsay Books
ISBN: 978-1-63980-353-8
To Order: Kelsay Books or Amazon

Reviewed by Michael Escoubas

In her late teens, my wife of 54 years, was hurt in an ill-advised relationship. During this dark time, she found refuge on her grandparents' farm. Away from social scrutiny, she felt the healing hands and wise counsel of these loving people. Out of the crucible of experience they became ministering spirits to a devastated girl. This memory returned to me as I set about writing this review. Family Matters is a collection replete with life, captured in verse, which will encourage and verify our roles as major influencers in our families.

Grandparents and the Sense of Place

It is difficult to separate special people from their habitations. Rae opens her collection with “The Cottage”, excerpted here:

          No one clear memory
          of the first time I saw my grandmother’s
          cottage stands out, no haunting view that returns
          distinct from all the other times
          I visited–and love–that home.

          The river? Certainly that. But also
          the wooden floor Grandma
          painted forest green,
          bent over at the waist, wearing her
          no-nonsense shoes.

          The washer with the wringer
          That once drew here hand through.
          The bruises, the broken
          Hand, I see still.

The poem continues setting a stage, as in a play. Grandma’s garden which produced homegrown raspberries sitting on a bowl of cereal, a tiny bug found floating in melting ice cream served for dessert. “He didn’t eat much,” Grandma says; the dining room where everyone gathered to wait out the storm until it passed; and geese flying in flocks marking seasonal changes. The person so much a part of the place; the two are one in the make of the mind; both indelibly etched in memory.

Grandparents and the Sense of Touch

“What She Said,” is rich with healing intimacy. The poet:

          … can hear still my grandmother’s
          archaic language, feel her warm
          aged hands as she patted my back,
          attempting to soothe me,

          to erase the pain of whatever
          hurt had befallen her grandchild.
          Solace was her magic,
          a stoic’s take on the world,
          the bandage she offered.

          Her own pain was masked,
          by the aid she gave

Whatever it is that grandparents have, call it a gift … Rae captures. Grandparents mask their personal hurts as they, with deft fingers, rub the shoulders of the aching young. Rae describes it thus …

          and rubbed my shoulders
          waiting for the ache
          to ease, listening,
          always listening, saying
          little, though some words
          ring yet in memory:

          Don’t fret, child.

A Word About What Poets Do

The best poets have a knack for drawing you in. They have inscrutable eyes. Commonplace things breathe the essential air of love. That's how it is with Judie Rae. In  titles such as: “The Woodshed,” the scent of wet wood, the musty residue of a leaky roof come through. “Unspoken Love,” tenderly evokes wonderment as the poet recalls opportunities when she didn’t tell her grandmother how she colored her life, how she gifted her with a childhood worth remembering. Rae displays literary skill in her use of humor and irony in “Saving for College,” where coins were saved in a large jar deposited by parents, friends and relatives. One day the jar was shattered. When grandma inquired of her granddaughter where a replacement jar could be found, the response was: “Probably at the college fund store.”

“For Aubrey, at One,” makes excellent use of internal rhyme, a technique which serves her well in delivering a heartfelt message:

          Fever claims her baby rest
          and she lays her small fierce body
          against my chest and pats
          my back as if to say,
          It’s okay, Grandma; I know
          you had nothing to do
          with this.

          The wild expanse of years
          moves between us–
          little miss/crone
          bridged by touch
          I pat her back
          to soothe
          this child of my child.

          As my grandmother
          patted me,
          her wrinkled hands, so mild,
          now mine
          breeching time
          to bind all three:
          Ghost, Grandmother, Child.

In this my seventh decade, I’ve learned to let my children and grandchildren live their lives. While tempted to impart “my” thoughts, “my” opinions, “my” wisdom, quite often I am the one who learns and grows because of them. However, if I were to offer a life-vision for my dear ones, this would be the one:

          Directions to the Good Life
          For my grandchildren

          Head north to the future, windows
          rolled down to collect the breeze.
          On you way, feed the hungry.

          Gas up on wonder.

          Bypass the intersection of bitterness
          and anger. Get lost. Find yourself
          in kindness and smiles.

Grandparents: If you’re looking for that elusive “something” you can’t quite put your finger on .… pick up a copy of Judie Rae’s, Family Matters–Poems for and About Grandparents and Grandchildren.


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