By Sharon Chace
Seldom, if ever, has a poem struck me on a first reading with as much import as did Padraic Colum’s An Old Woman of the Roads. Unlike the unnamed woman in the poem who longed to have a little house, my husband and I actually own a little house. This old woman summons me to deeper thanksgiving and reminds me of a conversation with my English professor during Albion College days in the 1960s.
I could be busy all the day
Clearing and sweeping hearth and floor,
And fixing on their shelf again.
My white and blue and speckled store!
(You can find the entire poem here.)
I feel at home in our tiny house and enjoy using my splatter ware dishes and pans, especially the blue and white ones. I do not dust my porcelain cat collection as much as I did in sixth grade when weekly dusting was a new-found skill.
When Elsie Munro, many students’ favorite English professor, told me over fifty years ago that she did not like weekly dusting, I told her about my cat collection. Perhaps by dusting her pretty things she could more fully enjoy them. She thanked me and said that helped.
In retrospect I wished I had asked her to tell me more about her treasures. Only recently I realized that the material and the spiritual are not always far apart. My family was not materialistic, so gifts other than for birthdays or Christmas are noteworthy. My favorite porcelain cat is tiny—a surprise gift just because from my second mother, Ellie, who raised me after my first mother died when I was three and a half. Material objects such as that tiny cat can represent aspects of selves or speak of deepest yearnings. My precious cat holds a blue ball. In a pottery class with other sixth grade Girl Scouts, I made a black cat holding a blue ball. I have always displayed this larger black cat and the small white and black cat together. This arrangement suggests both ongoing childhood grief for mother loss and also yearnings for connection to both my first mother and to Ellie. Those connections unfolded over a lifetime. My mother was a librarian and fine painter in oils. I still do watercolors with the same colors my mother used. Ellie was the first kindergarten teacher in Rockport and later was most noted for her books about Rockport.
My most recent publication is a story/coloring book titled Sycamore’s First Poem. I wrote the story, and my daughter Amy, who is playful like my first mother, illustrated it. Sycamore is a calico cat that meanders around town and then writes her first poem. Honored to be the poet laureate of Rockport, I want to serve people with poetry, which is why I wrote a book that is primarily for first graders—it’s is my way of teaching like Ellie and contributing to the children’s room in the Rockport Library like my first mother. Like my mother Katharine I paint. Like Ellie I write. Double legacies are a lasting grace. Immersed in blessings, I offer gratitude.
I remind myself to enjoy the treasures of our household but remember to avoid collecting more! However, a blue and white speckled cat did catch my attention the other day. Admiration only…did not buy. Better still, my husband Ernest bought me two calico cats for my collection. When the time comes to pass along my figurines, the cats will be happy memories as they go on their way.
Sharon R. Chace is an artist, writer, and theologian. Her publications include Portfolio of Painterly Poems: A Pilgrims Path to God (2006), An Artistic Approach to New Testament Literature (2008), Protestant Pulse: Heart Hopes for God (2009), My First Introduction to the New Testament (2011), Images of Light: Ascent to Trust in Triumph (2013), and Cape Ann and Beyond the Cut Bridge: Culling and Cart-wheeling (2015).