Margaret Roys Stevenson, my mother at age three on their cottage steps in Kuling, the resort for missionaries in China, 1915.
Full Bloom 7 September 11, 2016
Summer wanes at long last.
I will be eighty next spring.
September lets in cooler air.
The hill I climb is steep. A gift
to publish Grace’s diary after
years of digging out its secrets.
In some way I fulfill her and
give away all she lost. Then,
after these eighty days of work,
I can turn back to my life story
and my Russian love. Now
Grace comes first–impulsive,
elusive, funny, unpredictable,
and ultimately unreliable for
her children and her husband.
So, confined, declared insane,
operated on as a means of control:
shock treatment, hysterectomy.
Yet she still loved to play the piano
and laugh. As she lay dying of
cancer, Mother reported that she
was sane. She took her a rabbit,
offered a ride wherever she would
like to go. Grace chose the mental
hospital to see her friends. She had
loved China; Norman, Oklahoma
was never home. When Gracie
died, she was inconsolable and
ran away, looking for a stricter
faith, a strait-jacket that would
hold her together, and then was
found wandering along a railroad
track. My grandfather never tried
to stop her, so the looney bin was
where she lived too many years.
She was sixty-four when she died
and left fear behind for other people:
my mother, her brothers, and their
children. Now I give her early,
happy life away to others. The gift
she had was too heavy for her, too
hard to balance. Now I carry it,
must let it lie lightly on my shoulders,
not heavy on my heart. I’m stronger,
wiser, and people have helped me, will
still help me make Grace immortal, too.
Christmas 1913, on the steps of their Nanking home: left to right, Grace, Jeanie, her younger sister, holding Margaret, Charlie, Grace's younger brother, and Samuel Isett Woodbridge, her father.