Sunday, January 28, 2018

Arja Holm A Flower of the Heart

Flowers of the Heart Eighteen January 28, 2018

For Arja Holm

She delivered the mail when I lived four
months on the island of Maxmo, Finland, 
in 1996. It was often bitterly cold, well
below zero. The birch branches would 
turn pink in the heavy frost. I tried to be
awake by eleven when she usually brought
the post to our Gistskatavagen Street.
I read late into the night. It wasn’t light
in January until nine, but the sun was
steadily taking over more of the dark.
My island neighbors were Swedish, but
Arja was Finnish, married to a Swedish
fisherman. She spoke Swedish and
English, was pleased to have an American
on her route. Over time we became
friends. She invited me to her home
for a meal, and I met Roger and her 
two young sons, Henryk and Petrie.
In 2004 she visited me here. She was
enthusiastic about everything. We
picked sugar snap peas in my garden.
I was secretary of the Chatham Coalition, 
trying to elect better county commissioners.
For our party, my neighbor Robert roasted
a hog. He and Tuddy stayed up all night
to cook the hog. Then they pulled the
roaster to the farm where we gathered. 
Another neighbor, Bertha Thomas, took
Arja to her Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist
Church for a Sunday service. Bertha was
one of the ministers.. Jeanette, one of our 
Moncure mail carriers, let Arja ride
along when she did her rural route. Arja
was eager to do everything, and we had
long talks about our life here and hers
at home. In 2016 her husband died of
cancer. Years before that, she had
written to me about his treatments.
Cancer is a hard road, and it was hard 
on her, but she saw him through it all
the way. I send her interesting American
and Russian stamps. Her boys have 
outgrown collecting them, but she still 
enjoys the stamps. The Finnish ones are
the most Beautiful, but she already has
those. We keep track of each other’s
lives and have for twenty-two years. She
 no longer carries the mail, but her delight 
in communication hasn’t changed.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Larissa Bavrina: A Flower of the Heart

My night-blooming cereus in full bloom in 2014


Flowers of the Heart Seventeen January 21, 2018

For Larissa Bavrina

We met on my first journey to Russia. 
Who would think I’d make a friend 
in the huge city of Moscow? I’d been 
given the name and phone number of
Mr. Isachenko of the Soviet Copyright
Agency by an American publisher. 
Larissa worked for him, and she gave
my son and me a tour of Red Square
our last day in Russia. At the end, when
she left us at the Leningradsky train
station, I promised to send her paperback
books. She said when I asked for her
address, “You’ll write to me?” I said, “Yes.”
Over the next two years we wrote steadily;
she, about her life in rapidly changing 
Russia, and I, about my life in an American
village. We sent each other books. I was
learning Russian and she gave me tips.
She was one of the few Russians trained
in English. A few letters were lost,
those with feminist content. I’d resend 
those letters, and leave out the women’s
issues, and she’d get them. In 1992 I
went back, this time to two Houses of 
Creativity for writers: Komarovo and
Peredelkino. Then I stayed with her 
until I went to meet Mikhail and his family
in Sharya. Larissa told my seatmates to
take care of me. By then I knew a little 
Russian. I could speak to them. They
made my bed, showed me how to get
hot water for tea or coffee, asked many
questions. I was with Larissa again in
1995. I was returning to Kostroma to
teach at their university. This time Mikhail 
and his son Aleksei drove to get me and
my friends Sharon and John Ewing and
took us back to Kostroma. We met at
Larissa’s apartment. She and her friend
Valeri had collected the Ewings and their
luggage at their Moscow Hotel. All these
twenty-seven years we have kept letters 
flowing. Sometimes we used mail pouches
for joint-venture companies Larissa worked
for or email, and now we’re back to the
regular post. She went to Spain for several
years, worked as a companion, helper to an 
elderly woman. Always she nurtured me,
took me on outings. When I caught a bad
cold in 1995, she applied all her home
remedies: sage tea, nose drops, hot milk
with honey and butter. She visited me
twice, in the late nineties. I’d drive to
D.C. to collect her from Aeroflot. We 
stayed with John and Sharon. She was an
easy houseguest. We talked of children,
grandchildren, books (she loved to read).
She is one of the most open-hearted people
I have known. Her life has not been easy,
but she has taken it in stride.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Helen Atwood: A Flower of the Heart

Three Cliffs Bay, Gower Peninsula, Wales. Photo by John Ewing


Flowers of the Heart Sixteeen  January 14, 2018

For Helen Atwood

I met Helen the first time I visited England 
in 1981. She and her husband Dave were
friends of a new friend of mine. Dave was
American and reassured me when I found
the British politeness intimidating. He
claimed they weren’t all that polite. I began 
helping old ladies with their luggage,
giving up my seat to them, and felt better.
Helen was rather quiet. Her baby Hannah
had her full attention. By 1985, when I
returned, she and Dave had separated,
and she was eager for me to visit. I
found their home before she got back
from work, bought myself a drink in a
nearby shop, and waited on their lawn.
I believe I was asleep when they arrived.
Hannah was very surprised to find an
American in the front yard making herself
so much at home. Helen and I had good
talks, and after that short visit, I often
returned. We’d go to a pub and catch
up on each other’s lives. Once I stayed
longer and helped care for Hannah. I met 
Helen’s parents and later her new man
friend, Mike. Helen had grown up in
Wales, and once she arranged for me
to visit her parents there. Mike liked
to ask me hard questions. They invited
another couple curious about this
American who went to Russia and 
Finland. In recent years Helen and
Hannah visited me here. Hannah now
has babies, and Helen loves being a
grandmother. Much of her life has
been difficult. She has never complained,
but I know she has suffered. She writes
me more often now, and her life has
settled into an easier rhythm, and I’m 

still her friend.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Tracey Brocker A Flower of the Heart

Iris in early spring in my backyard


Flowers of the Heart Fifteen January 7, 2018

For Tracey Brocker

As I age, I make friends more slowly,
sometimes not realizing it has happened.
Often we choose our friends, but sometimes
they choose us. Tracey was cautious
at first. She joined my poetry class. I’d seen 
and said hello to her husband Bill in the
post office, but not met her. She found 
me there, and I welcomed her to join
the class. The other students were
more experienced in writing poems 
in the contemporary way, but she
followed all my suggestions, and
learned from the others, too. She’d
drive to my house in her big truck
and always bring a treat for my dog.
She’d have worked on revisions, and
at the break, I’d let Wag in, and Tracey
would talk to her as if they were old
friends and hold out an especially
delicious treat that made Wag want
to join the poetry class. Her poems
got stronger, and she revealed her feelings
in them more and more. Last summer
I made several unexpected trips to the
Emergency Room of UNC Hospital.
In October Tracey learned ambulances
had been seen in my yard, and she came 
over to investigate. She saw Wag in
the backyard. She called the hospital.
They said I was released. I was in the
waiting room until my daughter
picked me up. Tracey’s concern led me
to put her on my emergency list
and give her my house keys. The next
time I had to go, I called her and 
asked her to feed Wag her supper and
and to give me a ride home. My daughter
had another commitment. Wag is shy,
but she knew Tracey well because of 
those delicious treats and that persuasive 
voice. We got back in time for a snack,
and then it was poetry class time. Tracey
always asks how I’m doing. My little
episodes have gone away or are only 
shadows of their former selves. I don’t
understand what set them off, and neither
do the doctors, but they’re gone now.
Tracey made herself my friend. She lives
in a very different way, in a large house
with extensive grounds. She and Bill
travel the world so he can hunt big game
in Africa and Australia. She always
goes along. They work together on house
improvements, and she manages a large
garden She gives me my own corner
of her life, keeps my list of phone numbers
handy and my house keys. In one day
she made herself my friend.