I could give all to Time except—except
What I myself have held. But why declare
The things forbidden that while the Customs slept
I have crossed to Safety with? For I am There,
And what I would not part with I have kept.
– Robert Frost
Looking out from 73 magical years. Who would have thought so many would pass so soon? On December 27, 1941 I was born to Mittie Geneva Robertson and Donald Roy Spaulding. At the time we were living in Missoula, Montana at 926 Poplar Street—a house on a shady street in a quiet neighborhood, although now it isn’t far from the freeway. It may have been an apartment house. At any rate, I was named for my mother’s good friend, Mona–although, it may very well have been that it was Mona’s husband that was the good friend, for it was he that, so the story goes, loved to bath the baby: me. And, eventually, I came to understand that my mother did truly like men far more than she liked women; that is not to say that she was indiscreet, only to say that she didn’t like women so much. Probably lucky for me that both her children were girls.
Since I’m talking about my mother, it’s interesting to me, as I write this, and have inspected a copy of my birth certificate, that my mother recorded Mittie as her first name; to my knowledge that name was always her middle name, and it was passed on to her as namesake to her aunt Mittie—her mother’s sister. Oh, my mother was a complicated lady. She changed her names, or interchanged them, with regularity–Born Roberta (twin to Robert), legally changed to Mittie Geneva (or Geneva Mittie) (Twin to Marion Gene (or Gene Marion)); she was called Geneva, Gen, Neve, Neva, and, finally, went back to Geneva again. And why not? Every change accompanied a life transition and, perhaps, also a personality variation. My mother, as I said, was complex. I don’t believe life ever offered her an opportunity to express all of herself at any one time.
I suppose it’s fitting to begin the narrative, when you look back from 73 years of life, by speaking of your mother. There is no one more important. It seems that is as true from the perspective of 73 years as it must have been at birth. Born to any other I would not be who I am; although it must be said that I am quite different from my mother, yet I am the same.
When my mother died, she recognized me as her own mother. Oh, she had dementia from a stroke, but some inner light recognized the same flame burning in me. If insights have tails, I have my foot on that one finally, and it isn’t going to escape my consciousness anytime soon: we walk in the footsteps of the past.
My mother also said, near on to the time she passed, that she had more friends dead than she had alive. Now I am where I can almost say that: most of the two generations before me, the people who peopled my childhood, are gone; and many, many of my contemporaries—cousins, friends—are also gone. So forgive me if I sometimes seem to be speaking as an oracle from a mountain top: that’s how it seems to me as well. In truth, I have a truth or two to tell. But whoever listens to an oracle? These days, whoever even listens to a poet?
Nevertheless, as Robert Frost reminds me, I have transversed 72 years safely, never going on the straight path but always on the diagonal, and I have kept what I could not part with. Many of those people and things are no longer people and things I can touch, see, or hear; but they are with me still. They have come—and gone—at a high price.
And I am here. Facing year 73. Looking forward, but not forgetting. I have plans for year 73. Also for 74, 75 . . . and so on. In fact, in many ways, my life has just begun.
Mona L Spaulding Baisch