Notes for Memorial Service for Marian Northrop Kraft
by her son, Robert Alan Kraft
(Waterbury Bible Church, 09se2006)
In times of sadness and transition such as this, I often resort to poetry to express my feelings. Sometimes this comes fairly easily, especially when I have been writing poems for or about the person on special occasions such as birthdays or the like. Thus for my mother's mother, Margaret Miller Northrop Hall, it was relatively easy and natural to take poems I had written for her and adapt them to the memorial mode. Similarly with my father, Howard Russell Kraft. But for my mother, poems had never come easily, although on various birthdays and mothers' days I'd sometimes done a clever little something for her. In retrospect, the most appropriate of those was for her 86th birthday (1998), and in it I began to recognize my frustration. The card that accompanied this poem showed a Claude Monet painting of a woman sitting on the river bank under a tree, with an empty little boat at the river's edge ("Beside the Water at Bennecourt"), which seemed not inappropriate for my mother, with her love of water and of the great outdoors. The poem went as follows:
(With Monet's Lone Woman on the Bank)
Do you sit alone and wonder
beside the water, 'neath the trees?
I don't know this you,
Without an entourage to instruct --
or entertain -- or embrace;
Without your mate, my father, by your side,
or giggling children
or others who share your life.
I know you most as a people's person,
or failing that, so active-prone alone.
When you discard the apron,
or park the car,
or put down the handcraft project,
or tuck the weary in their beds,
Who are you then?
What do you wonder?
Where journeys your silent self?
We have wandered, you and I,
'long many paths, through many scenes;
You've taught me well the wonders,
and how to wonder well.
Is it from you this poet's soul o'erflows?
I cannot know,
but cannot help but wonder.
RAK (16 March 1998)
The mother I knew was mostly a doer, not so much a thinker. At least not out loud. She mostly went about life quietly, avoiding controversy or at least keeping it under control. When needed, she was there, even for strangers, even when that meant postponing her own needs. She seldom talked about her frustrations, her unrealized desires or hopes.
This I did know, although vaguely. My mother was a wanna-be author. She regularly spent her spare time and at the end of the day, in the small of the night, writing -- letters, diary entries, and in her Journal. I had little idea what she wrote, or how much she wrote, but in my role as family historian I inherited those Journals, and her similarly numerous photo albums, when she downsized to move to New Hampshire after my father's death in 2000. She started keeping the Journals in earnest in 1937, as the family was attempting to emerge from the "Great Depression." She continued through the year 2000, and perhaps a bit later, although after that she gradually and uncharacteristically abandoned the practice and spent her evening hours crocheting and reading. She was an avid reader, and her Journals often comment on what she had been reading, which in turn, often sparked her to discuss those topics.
In any event, I am finally getting to know my mother better through her Journals. She made resolutions, and set goals for herself, which helps me to understand how she lived and why I found it so difficult to "poetize" her as an object of observation. Here is something she wrote in the "first Journal," in the entry for Saturday the 4th of June 1937 (p.25b), when she was 25 years old:
Have felt for quite a while that I ought to put down my purpose in life as I see it, in black and white, so that I may refer to it from time to time.
1. To make the world a better place to live in –
a. By educating my children so that they will be a boon to this world of ours & the people in it, & not a drawback.
b. By being always happy & peaceful myself, so that people won’t mind having me around. \Sounds silly, but few people like a grouch./
c. To promote, by writing, Peace, Religion, Help for the poorer classes, Happiness for all.
A housewife can’t do much, but it seems I ought to be able to accomplish that much, maybe more.
She never did succeed as a writer, if publication and income are the criteria, although it was not from lack of trying. Her manuscript recording the letters she received from her bosom cousin, Enid Miller Forsberg, missionary to Ethiopia in the 1930s, was submitted to publishers after1938, but never found a home. That material is now in process of being published electronically on my web page, although to my knowledge, Mom never saw it. Her Journals are also full of tentative titles for essays or books, mostly revolving around her experiences and local or family life. The main title that she fixed upon, and gathered material for, was "These New Englanders," with various vignettes and comments preserved in her files. She took courses in writing, and in addition to newspaper notes on Wolcott events for a few years she did publish a poem at one point, fairly late in life. It appeared in a publication called "Visions" in 1989, and ran as follows:
Through my window --
Wren on swinging clothesline --
Bird floats down . . . down and away . . .
Strolling in my woods, I hear a whistle.
I answer, on key.
Bird-voice comes nearer. . .
Smiling, I answer.
Red-suited Cardinal lands
Above my head.
Drab Mrs. Cardinal swings along nearby.
We take turns whistling happily to each other.
I wonder what I am saying
She tended to work with word-images, as she did with photos, letting them supply their own commentary. After attending a funeral in 1982 she wrote: "I don't much like funerals -- a person's life is so much more important." Thus in a sense her life was itself her living book, her memoir -- promoting "peace, religion, help for the poorer classes, and hapiness for all." I don't need to wonder any longer. She was herself that elusive poem to be appreciated and remembered, fulfilling its purpose in its own way and on its own terms. So now I can supply a final stanza for my "Wondering" poem:
Now that you have left us
I'm wondering no more.
Your pen has told the story
'twould pain me to ignore.
You really lived the book
that you purposed to write
And that you thought so much about
so late into the night.
You are that prime New Englander
honest, sturdy, bold
Your life's the clarion record
through which the story's told!