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Nora Wise

© 2005

I Am From
modeled from the poem by George Ella Lyons

I am from pink kitchen walls
And clean white cupboards
And drawers that take two times to close right.
I am from peanut butter toast and cocoa before school,
A space heater under the metal table,
And the local news on the radio.

I am from Early American wallpaper in the TV room,
Mom’s sturdy black ironing board
And the old 7-Up bottle with a metal top for sprinkling,
Stained from too much iron in the water.
I am from Grandma’s rag rug on the floor
And Grandpa’s rocker and Ed Sullivan.

I am from French Limoges, Irish Beleek and Fostoria,
Dining room adornments as well as dishes.
Cups, tureens, bowls, goblets, platters, tea services
All delicate, beautiful and put into use.
I am from Danish porcelain Christmas plates
And memories that never go away.

I am from Shakespeare and Twain on bookcases,
A green leather window seat cushion
Warmed by the living room radiator,
And a tall Phillipps phonograph playing Rubber Soul.
I am from a Christmas tree in the corner,
Tied up to the curtain rod for safety.

I am from white wicker porch furniture
And lemonade for company
And Liddle Kiddles and Barbie
Communities spread out on every surface.
I am from Grandpa’s handmade log cabin dollhouse
With a door just right for cats to climb through.

I am from snow piles, aluminum saucers, skis and skates,
the Pancake House, the Clark House, Grandpa’s house,
Nancy Drew on Kristi’s bed, and Mom’s blue Skylark.
I am from sandboxes and swing sets, swimming in Round Lake,
A& W black cows, Doris’s chicken, Karl’s calm and the library.
I am from a place of limitless love.

(lesson plan by Scott Hall using Lyon's poem with students)



When I was little
My big sister took me for rides
On her blue Schwinn bike.
She put a pillow in the hard metal basket in front of her.
I perched there, holding the fat black handle bars behind me,
My fingers laced with
My sister’s fingers.
My legs dangled
Until I was older and could fold them up
And sit cross-legged
Like Aladdin on his magic carpet.
The wind made me squint.The bumps made me jiggle.
I could take my pink blanket
If I promised not to let it
Get caught in the spokes.

Now children ride in bike seats
And bike trailers
And bike extensions,
Which are so much safer.
But our hands don’t touch.



Note: Star Tribune columnist, Katherine Kersten, wrote a piece contending that parents are standing in the way of military recruiting, not only because of obvious safety concerns, but because these parents are too protective, too permissive, and “are skeptical of the value of any armed service." I took exception to her narrow, simplistic viewpoint, and wrote a counterpoint.

Somewhere between an Army recruiting office and Fort Bragg, my son learned “to live and breathe the Soldiers’ Creed," just like the young people Katherine Kersten interviewed (Recruits are undaunted by danger, Mom and Dad, July 14).

My son is a soldier; a 21- year-old embarked on a career that, until 8 months ago, I had never dreamed of for him. After all, I’d been the one to exhort “Don’t you make those Legos into guns!” I’d been the one to share family lore about protests in Madison; demonstrations against Dow Chemical and napalm. I guess I, as Kersten suggests many of us errantly do, “view the military through the prism of Vietnam."

However, due to circumstances beyond my control, I now find myself listening more carefully and less confrontationally to anything being said about our military. I try to be more understanding of different perspectives, having bumped up against them in my own home. Why does it often take a personal experience to bend the boundaries of bias?

Still, Kersten’s opinion is that parents are the problem. According to an Army recruiter, “Parents’ opposition is often the biggest obstacle our potential recruits face." The reasons, Kersten suggests, have to do with parents being skeptical about “the value of any armed service," and the desire to protect children from the “rigid and restrictive” Army life. According to her and the recruiter, we are raising “aimless” youth who are being given everything- except values.The recruits she met didn’t care about being “protected." “Steeped in a ‘self-esteem’ culture, where kids often get prizes for just showing up, they seem to thirst for challenge.”

Well, my son could admittedly recount tales of our emotionally charged conversations before he enlisted; tales that on the surface place me squarely in the role of oppositional defiant parent. But the reasons for our differences were neither simple, nor shallow, like Kersten’s sweeping generalizations. They had nothing to do with inflated self-esteem, youth without character, or an overprotective parent. Modern choices are driven by forces that are complex, shadowed and very, very messy; too messy for dogmatic stances that polarize people.

In the end, Evan’s choice to join the Army was despite me, not to spite me. It reflects many facets of his development, some separate, but certainly not in opposition, to me or to my parenting. His choice reflects what he has to give and what he wants to take from this life. More importantly, it reflects the reality of what the world is to him after 21 years of experiencing it. My job is not to completely agree, but to look at the choice through a widened lens; maybe another prism. I will advocate for him, respect him, be proud of him, but I can still question.

I won’t make a blanket endorsement of our Army’s presence in the world today. I remain, somewhat, a conscientious objector to Evan’s enlistment. Still, I accept the ubiquitous military presence that looms in my family’s life now. The reality is that somewhere far before a recruiting office and Fort Bragg, my son became a soldier.