Sunday, October 22, 2017

Elaine Goolsby, A Flower of the Heart

Flowers of the Heart Four  October 22, 2017

For Elaine Goolsby

Her voice was never loud, yet
she stood firm when it mattered.
She listened well and then asked
penetrating questions beyond the
skill of most social workers, trained
though they are to get to the bottom
of things in other people’s souls. I
first met Elaine when her poet
sister Virginia visited me. I came to 
know and love her when I taught a
writing class through Durham Tech, 
and asked my students to bring in
a letter they, or someone else, had
written. She brought her pen pal’s, 
from when she and Graham began
their correspondence right after
World War II. This first letter,
recovered, set off what she called
her “letter in a bottle.” She wrote
to find him, and he called her up.
Their correspondence came back
to life. She showed me the letters,
and we decided to publish them, 
and did.  Graham came for the
occasion. Later she would go
to England, and I would meet him,
too, when I was in Wales. Elaine
and I became close and had lunch
together every few weeks, first at
the Greek restaurant, Mariakakis,
and later at Nantucket, both in
Chapel Hill. By the 90s, at Fortune
Garden or their Thailanna, near where 
she lived in Durham. Elaine, a good
listener, was occasionally fierce,
but only when it mattered. She knew
more about me than most people did,
and then she was always helping me.
In the 80s, my Carolina Wren Press
became a Durham Arts Council
affiliate, and all those boxes had to be
moved several times, and her husband
B.D. would help, too. When I left the
house on Barclay Road to move to
Saxapahaw, she and her son Chris helped,
despite icy rain, on January 1. One very
hot July day in 1995, she and B.D. moved
me from the room I rented in Saxapahaw
to a storage unit. We ate watermelon for
electrolytes. When I flew out of Raleigh-
Durham they’d let me sleep on their 
couch and then take me early to the airport.
When B.D. got sick, I’d call a cab. She
took nearly every class I offered, and
kept writing poems. She lost B.D. and 
other good friends. She has had a lot of 
losses, but she’d talk to those dying
and offer comfort. Slowly her mind
has drifted into early dementia, but she 
keeps reading. When she couldn’t take
care of her daughter, Heather began taking 
care of her. Now they have her quarantined
because she might have tuberculosis. No
one can go into the house, and she can’t 
go out until they know. As long as I could,
I took her to Thailanna and brought her
library books. She’d still ask those
penetrating questions, but she’d forget
my answers. Anna and Gif came to love
her, and we all miss her. She’ll soon be
eighty-eight. She doesn’t complain about
all her losses. Sometimes she laughs.
A very sturdy, sane friend, who, through
these years, has found the grace to accept
what she can’t change.

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