A slender volume of poetry written many years ago by one of my classmates, Barbara Lewis, impressed me profoundly. The occasion of her fiftieth birthday had inspired her son to design, illustrate, and publish the lovely little chapbook, a copy of which she inscribed for me.
A short time ago, I wrote to M.K. Shelton to ask that he put me back in touch with his mother, so I could learn whether she continued to write and give readings of her poetry. Shelton’s reply shook me, just as my message had caught his heart momentarily unguarded. Barbara succumbed to lung cancer two years ago, shortly after being diagnosed.
Shelton still recalls his mother’s proud delight on the day he presented her with his gift. Barbara’s poetry was only one expression of her remarkable candor and beauty—traits that take new forms and continue to influence us. Shelton told me, “She seems to have scattered little breadcrumbs all about the path during her journey, because, like you, others continue to pick them up for one reason or another.”
M.K. Shelton, Shelton Graphics
Why do I still pick up the handset on my telephone from time to time, as if to call Mom when I fully know that she can no longer respond to me on the other end? I don’t actually dial any numbers. Needless to say, any contact information on her is no longer applicable. I had been so used to connecting with Mom in that way, and it still feels comfortable to just hold the phone in my hand while I think about her every now and then. Have I emotionally let her go, yet? I believed that to be true, but this behavior of mine seems to suggest something entirely different—something peculiar. Her father had called her peculiar when she was a child, so I guess that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“Boy, you are long-winded,” she would say to me at the end of many of our talks. Just thinking about those particular words of hers puts a smile on my face even now. Of course, we both knew that the “long-windedness” applied to the both of us, and was like a genetic component that all Lewises share to some degree. Certainly, I can recreate two-hour conversations about the many facets of life with others, but the words that Mom and I shared can never be truly duplicated or recreated.
You know, even from a practical point of view, I’m beginning to realize just how much information she had so often shared with me. With me positioned on the eastern coast of the United States, she had access to most of the family gossip, every telephone and cell phone number, and place of residence for just about everyone back home and beyond. At any given moment, I could confidently solicit all levels of vital information from her about someone else within the family.
Yes, my relationship with Mom was as unique and personal as the interaction she had had with each person she loved. She was indeed flexible in that way—allowing you to express yourself in your own distinctive voice. In fact, I’ve learned that her incredible gift of communication had reached far beyond my little world. Her influence touched a litany of folks in virtually the same way she had touched me. Maybe that’s why I continue to pick up the phone from time to time, because I dearly miss my mother and our tailor-made dialog.
M.K. Shelton is an organizational art director and the owner of Shelton Graphics. He resides in Maryland with his wife and children. With his permission, one of the poems from Shang, his mother’s book, will be reprinted here this weekend to celebrate her vitality.