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That’s Noody

This is a repost of a piece from a few years ago. I don’t know what it is that causes someone to be on your mind several times throughout several days, but she’s been on mine quite a bit lately. I wanted her to be on yours too.

That’s Noody

Signaling us to quiet down, my ninth grade English teacher rapped a pencil against the top of her desk. She then gave us our next assignment. We were to write a paper about someone we respected. Someone influential to our thinking and whose character we admired. The paper was due the next week and should be three pages long.

She rapped the pencil several more times to silence the groans.

We had the rest of class time to discuss the assignment and choose who we would write about. After deciding, we were to write our choices on the blackboard. Since the person could be anyone, from any point in time, many chose religious, historical, or political figures. After the last student went to the blackboard, the teacher read all of the choices aloud.

She went slowly down the list reading off names of famous figures like George Washington, Mahatma Gandhi, and Neil Armstrong. She paused when she got to my chalk-written choice.

“Margaret Nelson Perkins Lankey?” she frowned and turned to the class, puzzled.

I raised my hand. “That’s Noody.” I said. “She’s my aunt.”

I was never sure why we called her Noody. It didn’t matter. I come from a large family and almost everyone had a nickname. That’s how it was done. Extended family lived all around me but I was lucky having Noody right next door. She and my uncle were as much a part of everyday life as my parents and sisters.

Noody had an old picnic table under her tree where she did everything from shelling butter beans to cleaning fish to cutting watermelon. When I saw her sitting there I’d walk over to visit. If she said “Let’s go sit in the swing.” I knew I was in for a treat. I loved hearing old family stories and she loved telling them. She taught me to remember where I came from while never forgetting where I wanted to go.   

She could drive a pickup, haul firewood, or cut grass all while holding a handful of cookies to snack on. Once, using a hoe, Noody cornered a snake near her shed. Feeling she was perfectly lined up for a quick decapitation, she raised the hoe over her head and came down full force. She missed, leaving a hole in the ground so deep it took a shovel-full of dirt to fill it. She giggled. Do your best and if it doesn’t go as you hoped, laugh it off.

Many snowy winters we cousins took sleds to a nearby hill and Noody would come along for the fun. She took us roller skating on occasion, showing us up by strapping on skates and heading into the rink like a pro. At the family place on the Chesapeake Bay, while other adults sat in the shade, Noody joined us kids in the water. She taught me how to float on my back, and that working hard may be necessary, but playing hard is just as important.

I once stayed with out of town relatives for some summer fun. When I returned home I met Noody in the swing to tell her about it. She asked if I sent them a “bread and butter note”. I told her no but didn’t tell her I had no idea what one was. She went inside and brought back some of her stationery. There at the picnic table she helped me write a proper thank you note. She taught me that and many other lessons over the years.

Not just a mentor, she was also an ally. Before my thirteenth birthday I saw an ad in a magazine for a tiny incubator and six quail eggs. Mama, not thrilled to add to the animals I already had, gave an instant “No”. Logically, I went to see Noody. I told her I wanted to try hatching eggs. Noody read the ad, put her hand on her hip and said, “Run bring me my checkbook.” With help from Noody, my uncle built an enclosure and the quail I hatched were part of my life for the next few years. She always told me if you want something bad enough, you can find a way.  

Many of my relatives are buried at the church near home. The same church most of my extended family attended, and many still do. When my kids were younger I took them for a walk around the cemetery there. As they read a name from each of the family tombstones I would say, “That’s your great grandfather.” or “That’s your great grandmother.” or “That’s your great uncle.” From a spot a little further down than some of the older tombstones, my daughter read a name.

“Margaret Nelson Perkins Lankey?” she called out.

“That’s Noody.” I said.

When I heard her name I remembered the years of good times with my fine aunt. I also remembered what my ninth grade teacher wrote in the upper right hand corner of my paper.

“Please show this writing to Noody.” it said.

I still wish I had.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Hand in Hand

My grandmother, Nannie, died almost thirty years ago but I still tear up at her memory.

At the time she died I had never written much at all, and certainly not attempted poetry, but the urge to express what she meant to me kept surfacing. Her love of God and her insistence that we would all eventually be together again were on my mind as I thought about writing a poem.

Nannie was a second mother to all of her grandchildren, helping our mothers raise us, watch out for us, worry over us and pray for us.

Just after Nannie died I mentioned to a friend that I had a poem in mind, one that kept surfacing when I least expected it. I mentioned how I wished I’d written something for Nannie before she died so she could have read it. My friend had one response.

“Write it for her anyway.”

And so I did.

Some years later that same friend called to let me know her mother died. In discussing what the family intended to do for a service, my friend said she was going to write some things to say about her mother but wished she’d written them while her mother was still alive. I returned the obvious response.

“Write it for her anyway.”

My friend had long forgotten that she’d given me the same suggestion, one that would encourage me to write my first poem. Nannie wasn’t there to read it, but I wrote it for her anyway:

Hand in Hand

You held me tight in times I might
Not have wanted to stand.
A child so young, life just begun,
You there to hold my hand.

Your years flew past, painfully fast,
Sooner than I had planned.
Effort in talking, weakness in walking,
My turn to hold your hand.

But there’ll come a time, both yours and mine
To see wonderful things, so grand.
We’ll meet in that place, a smile on the face
And we’ll hold each other‘s hand.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Try Writing

“Thousands of people who write believe they are better than thousands of others. They believe they will pen the next great American novel but their writing is dull and full of grammatical errors. Why do they write anything intended to be read by the public? Why do they write?”

I read those lines and was impelled to respond. The blogger’s entire post was arrogant and sarcastic, but those lines were the cherries on top. After I acknowledged that he can post what he likes on his own blog, I then asked if rather than squelch ambitions with a negative message about imperfection, he could instead applaud people for their attempts, for our attempts because I am one of the imperfect. But, we still try.

I don’t necessarily like being serious because, well, it’s not funny. I love a little arrogance and sarcasm as much as anyone, maybe more than anyone, but his post was nasty at its core, humorless and discouraging.

For me, playing with words to form sentences in an attempt to evoke anything from laughter to sadness in a reader is “magical”, and I rarely use that word. Writing is simply another way to make thoughts available to a reader. I don’t believe I will pen the next great American novel, “dull” writing is subjective, and I am certain I end up with grammatical errors in my writing. But, I still try.

I started blogging less than a year ago and up to that point had hardly read one, much less considered writing one. With encouragement from a good friend, I gave it a start. As an adult I’ve never taken a writing class and in high school English I was at best mediocre. So why do I write? Because I want to. That should be answer enough for the judgmental blogger.

When I have thoughts to express, nothing stops the freight train of desire to write them down. I imagine everyone who writes experiences the same at their own levels. If one’s writing could use some pep or have the grammar refined a bit, those things can be remedied. Writers can learn to amp up their styles and they can become more familiar with grammatical rules. Those things can be learned. What can’t be taught is desire. People who need to write come pre-loaded with the desire to try. And so we write.

I sent my comments to the blogger expecting to hear nothing back really. I simply felt the need to counter a little of his discouragement. That freight train of desire to write my response just couldn’t be stopped! In less than an hour he replied. I hesitated for a second to read what he’d written, but the optimist in me thought why not, it could be he’s given some of his overly critical attitude a second thought! I clicked on his response and read the one line from him:

“Your comments contained two grammatical errors.”

He didn’t even tell me what they were!

It didn’t really matter that he’d paid no attention to the point I’d hoped to get across.

But, I tried.

Stuart M. Perkins

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