Grandmothers and grandfathers and…
they poke at me and tug my sleeve.
Listen to us; our voices are real.
These things did happen.
Tell our stories, learn from our lives.
Keep our words with you… (adapted from a poem by Pauline Brunette Danforth)
This photograph was discovered during the journey that has led me to write personal essays about homeland, family and myself. The picture shows my maternal grandmother Christine Lebline [Rapp] in 1910, at age 21, about the time she graduated from Indiana University. That was a year before she fulfilled a longstanding dream of traveling alone to Europe, which was unusual for single women to do at that time. I found the picture during a visit to my mother’s home four years ago. I don’t recall ever having seen it before, and since that time, it has served as one of my important companions during my explorations through writing of my life and times.
The assured expression on my grandmother’s face in this photo offers me a sense of her presence, encouragement and inspiration during my writing process. There are times when I even feel as if she is writing these stories with me. My grandmother was a busy woman during her adult life and she never took time to tell much of her story, let alone write it. Now, it seems, she has chosen to write her story through me–and I do not object.
There are other sources of inspiration within my writing space too–my Grandfather Lee Simmons’ pocket watch and a recently-discovered photograph of him holding my father as an infant. There is a photo of my great-great-Grandfather John Lebline, along with his walnut writing desk, as well as photos of some special places I have been, some of which I am writing about in my essays. There are pictures of my three daughters, Jill, Lara and Dawn, and my grandson, Samuel, along with a quotation by Emily Dickinson: I dwell in Possibility. There is a photo of the 90 year-old oil painting of my mother by long-ago Brown County (Indiana) artist Ada Shulz, which served as inspiration for the esssay “Biography of a Portrait.” And, of course, there is a picture of my wife of 41-plus years, Mary Ann, who has been with me every step of the way throughout this writing journey. There are objects too, such as glacial stones, prehistoric artifacts and fossils–each with stories to tell.
Such symbolic companions form a fabric into which I weave myself each day when I write in my space. It is a sacred journey.
This piece was written by Steve Robert Simmons in 2011. All rights reserved.