Resolute in Hope

Monday Morning Musings:

This post was sparked by Jane Dougherty’s Poetry Challenge 11—A poem based on a common saying. It’s probably not what she had in mind.

I also drew inspiration from this Washington Post column by Dana Milbank.


You can’t pee on my back and tell me that it’s raining.

The phrase is probably more striking in Yiddish*,

But I don’t speak the language of my ancestors

Though my mother spoke it fluently.

Now she remembers only bits and pieces

Of the language her grandparents spoke.

My uncle, my mother’s younger brother, knew it–

Only that, as a small boy, until teased by others

He forgot his first tongue.

Tongue-tied by American society.


In the car, my mom recounts old memories, her past,

Sitting there in the front, with my husband driving,

Roads and time both traveled, both flowing past.

She recalls how she and a school friend

Practiced dancing after school.

They were about twelve years old or so.

Giggling together and gliding about the floor,

1930s music and Depression dreams,

Just two schoolgirls having fun.

Children of immigrants in Philadelphia.


The dancing could not last long, sessions ending because

My mom had to make dinner, both her parents worked long

Hours in their candy store.

Her friend had chores to do, too,

Since her mother had run away with her lover,

He had been a boarder in their house–

Everyone had boarders in these immigrant homes–

Relatives, friends, and friends of friends.

We’re treated to gossip about people long since gone

And long ago scandals.


My mother said her cousin, the artist Abe Hankins,

Also practiced dancing with her, since he lived with them

For a time. She’s not sure how long.

Glamorous and sophisticated, she thought him,

He had just come from living in France.

He knew the latest styles. I suppose.

Was he studying art there

Before the winds of war blew that world away?

I learn he was wounded fighting in the first world war.

He was singer before he was a painter.


“He married his niece, you know,” she offers casually.

My eyebrows shoot up from the back seat.

“Oh. . .I didn’t know,” I say.

His brother’s daughter.

Well, the marriage lasted, I guess.

And his paintings now hang in museums. 

Perhaps her story is not quite true

But mixed with others’ stories in the past.

I wonder if my mother is thinking of someone else.

Family history confused.


Reflecting on the past as the year turns over and we look

To the future. Reflections and dreams streaming through

A prism of what we know, bending and forming a rainbow

Colored by memory.

My husband and I have celebrated

The turning of the old year to the new with our dear friends.

For almost forty years, we’ve shared a celebration.

How is that possible?

Will we tell our children of long lost relatives?

Confusing their stories with others we knew?


We’re Still Young at Heart


January, named for the two-faced Janus. Backwards

And forwards we go. Should I make a resolution?

THIS is what I did last year.

THIS is what I will do this year.

Good luck with that, if you choose.

But no, not for me. I’ll just wing my way through

Another year, as I always do.

Making daily lists that I often ignore.

But oh, crossing items off feels so good,

Doesn’t it?


Looking back and looking ahead, I suppose I could say I’ll

Learn Yiddish. But I won’t.

I could just as well say I’ll learn Italian, Latin, or Greek.

But I’m certain I will not.

I know enough Yiddish though

To know you don’t say anyone got schlonged.

So please do not pee on my back

And tell me that it’s raining.

I know the difference, I assure you.

Even if I can’t say it in Yiddish.


Instead, I will resolve to be the best I can be.

And if I fail–Well, it’s in the striving, isn’t it?

Learning comes from books, movies, and even watching TV.

From good talks with friends, and from listening, too.

The new year begins with old and new.

And I can dream of peace and light and good things to come.

Or as Mr. Carson of Downton Abbey says,

(As we bid the cast farewell this year)

“We must always travel in hope.”


* Du kannst nicht auf meinem rucken pishen unt mir sagen class es regen ist.

For New Year’s Resolutions, nothing can beat Woody Guthrie’s New Years Rulin’s. He resolves to brush teeth, to love everybody, and to beat fascism– among other things.









33 thoughts on “Resolute in Hope

  1. Wonderful! It wasn’t what I was thinking of, you’re right, but so much more interesting to go off on a tangent of your own. This makes me think of the conversations I’ve been having over the holidays with an American cousin of mine I’ve never met, trying to untangle our common past and realising that his stories only touch my versions in some places and we veer off into completely different territory for most of them. The truth doesn’t really matter though. That we know or don’t know doesn’t mean it didn’t happen 🙂

  2. Thanks so much, Jane! How cool to compare your stories–or versions–with your American cousin. My brother asked my mom if we had relatives in France. She didn’t think so, but it’s possible. Or something to imagine. 🙂 Of course, if they had stayed in France through WWII, I don’t know if they would have survived. Somber thought there.

  3. I’ve read several posts recently by authors who have methodically listed goals for 2016, not a bad thing. But winging it works for you, so why deviate. After all, Blake said somewhere “Catch joy on the wing.”

    The family history with a twist was fun to read. What! He married his niece 😉

  4. I love your story here. And your stories of your mother’s stories, too.

    Forty years counts. It counts a lot. Great photo.


    Woody Guthrie was working from quite a list there. If you haven’t checked out Dylan’s “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie” in a while, it may resonate you since you’ve just referenced his list.

    “You can touch and twist
    And turn two kinds of doorknobs
    You can either go to the church of your choice
    Or you can go to Brooklyn State Hospital
    You’ll find God in the church of your choice
    You’ll find Woody Guthrie in Brooklyn State Hospital

    And though it’s only my opinion
    I may be right or wrong
    You’ll find them both
    In the Grand Canyon
    At sundown”

    – Twenty-year old Bob Dylan in 1961

  5. Thanks Merril, glad to find a kindred soul who wings their way through life 🙂 I agree muchly re: crossing things off a list and the satisfaction it gives … even if not done. There’s a freedom in doing what can be done tomorrow ..:)
    I love the Yiddish sayings – oy veitch nir .. I think this is correct but not 100% sure .. but Oy Vey is so expressive … as is shlong as is peeing on my back and I know it’s not raining … I think I’ll employ that for a bit in response to others 🙂
    Thank you for this inspiring post .. I love the lines supplied by Bruce and will look up the list and good on Guthrie re brushing his teeth, daily, hopefully –

    • Thanks so much, Susan. Yes, I always add some little things that I know I’ll do to my list, just so I can cross them off. 🙂 There are some great sayings–though some are a bit “earthly.” Bruce’s addition was great.

  6. Merril, hubby’s grandparents owned a candy store, too! in New York. And my grandfather’s father owned a candy and ice cream shop in Kalamazoo. Lots of sweets in our families!
    Re the marrying of the niece, I will say (and this has been confirmed by genealogical research by moi), hubby’s grandmother was his grandfather’s half-niece. The only fact that could be disputed is if there is even such a thing as a half niece or if she’s just a niece. So it happens.At least in Canada.

    • My mothers parents had a candy store with a fountain, and then I think they had more of a small grocery store. After that my grandfather worked for RCA Victor in Camden, NJ.

      Yeah. I definitely need to find out some more info about the niece thing. Interesting though that your husband’s grandparents had a close relationship. 😉

      • LOL, yes, a close relationship and a long and happy marriage. From what I’ve pieced together he was a lovely man with a gorgeous tenor who had sung for the emperor and later became a cantor. She sounds like the boss of that relationship and in a portrait of her she has her hand on her hip in just that way.

  7. If you wing it you’re certain to have less disappointments at failure Merril. I wing it every year and each unplanned change is triumph.
    Travelling in hope, beating fascism and loving everybody sound just about ideal for me though I’m making no resolutions just in case.
    xxx Gigantic Hugs xxx

  8. Pingback: Poetry challenge Sayings: the entries | Jane Dougherty Writes

  9. Just another example of your knack … your gift that you share with us here … that is, the gift of weaving seemingly unconnected ideas into a tight fabric of thoughts. Loved the thoughts around your mother’s early life. Happy New Year, Merril.

  10. Love how this poem develops organically from a seed, then stalk, then leaves, then fruit. Your love for history obviously arose out of conversations like these.

    After the note about the artist marrying his niece, I clicked on the link and was intrigued by the painting “Anniversary” in which the face of a young woman emerges but the man beside her is obscured. Would love to know the narrative behind that image.

    As for winging it, I think that we all end up doing that despite our best-laid plans. I admit that planning itself, especially while sitting under an afghan in front of a fire on a cold winter day, warms the cockles of my heart. It’s in the dreaming that, for me, the creative energy arises that carries me forward on the wings of hope.

    I know you are making your own journey your own way and wish you much joy in 2016.

    • Thank you for your lovely and thoughtful comment, Shirley. I love your comparison on how my post develops from seed and on, which probably gives me more credit than is due.
      I went back and looked at the “Anniversary” painting. I wish I knew the background story, as well–if even if there was one. My mom owns some of his work, as do other family members.
      I agree that making plans is often delightful, and actually, I am quite a planner. I just don’t do resolutions. 🙂

  11. I don’t know if this is what the challenge called for, but you certainly did a great job with it. I enjoy the way you seemingly meander and yet it all connects. Happy New Year, Merril. I think 2016 will be just fine — maybe even better — without resolutions. I’ve been perusing Woody’s list. It’s a good one. I particularly like numbers 31 and 32. 🙂

    It’s odd, but I think I’ve heard that saying although not in Yiddish. Maybe some variation of it. I’m not sure.

    • Thanks so much, Robin, for your kind words! Woody did come up with a good list.
      I imagine there are similar sayings in many languages. Yiddish has some great ones. There’s one about growing in the earth with your head in the ground and your feet in the air. 🙂

  12. Merril, you do more than “wing it”–your words fly with vivid details and real moments in time. The friend’s mother who ran off with the boarder flooded me with memories; our neighbor when I was growing up had been raised by a depressed single mother who never recovered after a similar situation. This post soars, Merril.
    Well done.

  13. Merril … As the years slip by, memories flood in. I love the images you brought to the surface in this post. I, too, have not made a resolution this year – except to have more “gratefulness” for what we’ve been given.

    Mr. Carson, of Downton Abbey, expressed it well: “We must always travel in hope.” 😉

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