Grief Songs Excerpt: “First Sacrament”

My debut poetry collection, Grief Songs: Poems of Love & Remembrance, was inspired by family photographs. Some photographs prompted my own memories, while others were taken before I was born or when I was too young to remember.

The following account of my baptism came from a biography of my life titled, “An Account of Your Life Until Now,” written by my mother. (My dad was still in seminary, so he was unable to administer the Sacrament himself. The trip from New Haven, Connecticut to Rhode Island normally took about an hour and a half.)

On February fifth we took you up to Rhode Island to be baptized. We left in a very bad snow storm and it took us four and a half hours to get there. You had one feeding on the way but slept off and on through it. You woke up five minutes before we got there and fussed the whole time except between four and eight Sunday morning when you slept restlessly. You were fed the minute you got in church and slept through the rest of the service. Everyone took pictures of you after the service and you wouldn’t open your eyes until after they were through.

Oddly enough, the “now” of my life ended in August of 1957, when my brother was born. Coincidence? Not according to my mother. Chasing after two mischievous young children who were “forever cooking up schemes” left her with no time or energy for life-chronicles.

My mother told me the story of that horrendous snowstorm and my intractable crying many times when I was growing up and when I became an adult as well. The worst of it was the church ladies’ cooing about what a good baby I was.

As a child, I read my mother’s account of my first twenty months of life many, many times. When I read the account years later as an adult, I was immediately struck by how young she sounded.

Here is how I distilled my mother’s experience, which ultimately became a part of me:

First Sacrament

 

seminarian
drives four hours through the snow
daughter’s sacrament
mother rocks her as she cries
prays the car stays on the road

Image shows book cover Grief Songs: Poems of Love & Remembrance. Coming September 26, 2021, Available for Pre-order on Amazon
Click image to pre-order.

 

 

99 thoughts on “Grief Songs Excerpt: “First Sacrament”

    1. Such depth in such a short extract, Liz. Particularly with the photograph of your young mother – a vulnerability that comes across.

      Toughen up or go under – the lot of all young parents.

      Her desire to chronicle your life from minute one is also, to my mind, a reflection of the complete wonder that bringing a new life into the world brings, along with responsibility.

      Congratulations.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments, Frank. I think you’re right about the impulse behind the chronicle. She even included a chart from the hospital that recorded my weight in grams each day and a tracked my behavior throughout the day (sleeping, fussing, nursing, etc.). She continued the record on graph paper for well over a month.

        Liked by 2 people

  1. What a gift to have those early biographical notes from your mom. How sweet, Liz. And of course they ended when your brother was born! I love picturing you reading them as a child. A lovely poem and your comment that your mom sounded so young struck me as so poignant. I look forward to the read!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi, Diana. I’m sorry for the delay in my response. I found your comment in the spam folder. (Ya gotta love WordPress.) I’m still struck by how young my mother sounded in the biography. Then again, she was twenty-five at the time, so she was young. I do hope you enjoy the book!

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Sometimes what ends up in spam is so illogical! And it happens to all of us. My mom just turned 87 and we were looking at old photos of her. I know what you mean. It’s so poignant to see them as young women, facing the challenges of becoming moms. ❤ ❤ Hugs.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Congratulations again on the collection, Liz — and what a great, nostalgic, familial sample from it! Glad your mother was able to write about your early months before life got too busy for her.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you, Dave! My mother took up writing again when she moved into a retirement community to be closer to me. She wrote a family history tracing each side of her family back ten generations, complete with historical context for each generation. Guess who got to play first developmental editor, then copy editor?

      Liked by 5 people

  3. How wonderful to have such a detailed account by your mother. What stood out for me was that the doctor put you on phenobarbital.

    That is a wonderful photo, and your mother does look so young. That ride most have been horrible.
    Congratulations again on your book!

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Thanks for a wonderful post Liz. I wish I had such a reference point and regret not asking enough questions; well, in fact no questions were asked. One just didn’t; and, only now and again someone will recall or share an image. As I grow ever older we get less and less in number and move further and further apart. All I truly remember is that I had a wonderful childhood. The sun seemed to shine all the time.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. You’re welcome, Goff. Some stories were a staple throughout my growing up years, while others my parents shared after I became an adult.

      You have the makings of a good poem in the last two sentences of your comment.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. An excellent distillation of a day that must have gone on forever for your mom, and how lovely to have all that history to draw on. Funnily enough, only earlier today my mother was lamenting the fact she hadn’t made an attempt to keep a diary at ay time in her life.
    Looking forward to your book even more now, Liz.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Oh, that is a coincidence! I remember when I was pregnant with my daughter, my mother telling me to pay very close attention to what the experience of being pregnant was like because it was so easy to forget after the baby was born.

      Liked by 3 people

  6. My how things have changed and yet stay the same concerning mother’s worries. Your baptism story is so precious and precarious! What a treasure your mother left for you, and thank you for sharing. My first grandchild was born during a blizzard that struck overnight. I drove home from the hospital at dawn in a complete whiteout not knowing where the road ended and the fields began. The dedication of parents to important milestones is amazing, isn’t it? 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you so much, Darlene! I’m sure you will find some interesting tidbits. My granddad kept a dairy for most of his adult life, with the focus on the temperature, barometric pressure, and home maintenance performed. Not exactly enthralling reading.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Congratulations Liz – I have already made a pre-order from Canada. The link between Mother and Child has many layers of complexity, beginning before birth and continuing after a passing. I especially appreciate your use of photos to inspire your powerful messages via poetry. I look at my mother’s photo as a young women and wish that I could have known her then, at the beginning of adulthood when her life was all before her. How life moves on with us carried along.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you so much, Rebecca! I know just what you mean about the link between Mother and Child. If I look at that link over time in my writing, it starts with wanting to break the link when I was a rebellious teen (but not really) and ends with my becoming her.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Do you remember when I recited this Tanka? What you didn’t know is that I had to have several “takes” because I started to cry when I read (and still do) “for a time she stood fearless….”

        Wilderness Tanka

        snowy wilderness
        cold winter sun, soaring trees
        a small lone figure
        for a time she stood fearless
        my protector, my mother

        Elizabeth Gauffreau, Tanka Poetry

        Liked by 3 people

  8. Wow! How fortunate you were to have a mother who chronicled so much for you! And that is really the way it goes, isn’t it? The first child gets all the pictures taken and you have to hunt for pictures of number 2, 3 and 4 because mom is so busy! Excellent!

    Liked by 3 people

  9. It is a gift to have your mother’s written memories, even if it was for a brief period of time. Your poetry captures her words and thoughts. Well done, Liz. And, congratulations!

    Liked by 1 person

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