A Love Story by Karen Shughart

“He alone is great who turns the voice of the wind into a song made sweeter by his own loving.” Khalil Gibran

In the fall of 2016 my mother suffered a series of strokes and went into a nursing home in Pittsburgh, where she lived. My father had died; I became her power of attorney and had her mail forwarded to me here in New York. That December she received a letter with a return name and address that I vaguely recognized. I opened it.

It was letter from a man named Norge Santin, who was inquiring after my mother, our family, and Leonard, my mother’s brother. Then I remembered that Norge was a childhood friend of theirs when they were growing up in Ohio.

My uncle had died earlier that month; after reading the letter I wrote back, apprising Norge of his passing and my mother’s health issues. He responded quickly, saddened by my news. He knew who I was, he wrote, we’d met when my parents lived in Ohio shortly after I was born.

What ensued was a friendship between us, for a time through letters, then by email and phone. Norge grieved with me when my mother passed three years ago and comforted me when one of my brothers died last summer. Each time we made contact, he ended by offering prayers and blessings for my uncle and mother and sending love to me and my family.

He filled in some blanks. I learned that he and my uncle were not just friends, but best friends, starting in third grade. When the two young men graduated from high school they were drafted, it was World War II, and their college plans were placed on hold. Norge returned from the war, got his degrees, married, and had children.

Leonard was not so lucky. Suffering a breakdown during the war from which he would never recover, he spent his remaining years in and out of VA hospitals and group homes. My siblings and I knew his tragic story; our parents made sure he was always part of our lives. What I hadn’t known was that Norge remained a devoted friend to Leonard throughout his life. During visits when Leonard was withdrawn and unresponsive, he’d sit quietly with him, holding his hand.

Eventually our family moved Leonard to Pittsburgh. Norge, despite living in Ohio, continued visiting my uncle until Leonard decided that he no longer wished to see him. Maybe it was too painful to be with Norge, we’ll never know. Norge respected his wishes and never contacted him again, but his love for his friend never ceased; he contacted my mother to receive updates, up until the time when I opened that letter.

By 2019 Norge’s health had declined, he had trouble reading emails and spoke haltingly over the phone. I wanted to meet this man I’d grown so fond of, so that October my husband and I drove to Ohio to visit Norge and his wife, Therese. We were warmly welcomed and spent a lovely afternoon; all of us feeling as though we’d known one another forever.

Because of Covid there were no return visits, but we talked regularly, most recently just before Thanksgiving when I promised to call again before Christmas. Before we ended that conversation, Norge confided he thought his time was near. I told him I loved him, he said he loved me back.

Two weeks ago, I received a call from one of Norge and Therese’s daughters that broke my heart. This tender, humble, gentle and honorable man had passed and Therese, despite her own grief (they were married for 68 years), wanted to make sure I knew. His death, at 94, occurred almost four years to the day of the death of my uncle.

I’m so glad I decided to open that letter, my life is immeasurably enriched because of it. Therese and I share a strong bond; I’ll keep in touch with her and visit when it’s safe. And I miss Norge already. Rest in peace, dear friend.

Gratitude and Poetry by Karen Shughart

For many years the poetry books I collected, starting in my teens, sat on our bookshelves untouched. I have no idea why I stopped reading poetry, but I did.

Then, one cold and rainy afternoon last month, I made myself a cup of tea and after pulling several books off  a shelf, curled up on the loveseat in front of the fire and began to flip through the pages. I intended to find poems of gratitude to be used for this blog, but I got off track, delighting in rediscovering poems I had loved and admired regardless of topic.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

In high school,  I was introduced to the Romantic poets: Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Shelly, Byron, and Blake; whose works beckoned me to understand the world through nature, imagination, revolution and those marginalized in society. I memorized stanzas that I can still recite because they so filled my heart.

Later, still in my teens, I was drawn to The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, a lyric poem that presents deep feelings and emotions on subjects such as life, death, love, and religion. Did it help clarify or shape my own identity? Probably not, as my own experiences and travels unfolded in their own unique way, but at the time, I was entranced by it.

As an English major in college, I read and discussed the works, both in and out of the classroom, of  contemporary poets like John Barth, who was in residence at my university; Laurence Ferlinghetti;  Karl Shapiro; Leonard Cohen; and  Wallace Stevens, who, in 1955, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his Collected Poems. To me, his poems resonate like verbal music and his perfect control of language evokes a myriad of complex feelings.

Throughout my college years and beyond, I discovered, read, and admired the works of many more poets, Walt Whitman and T.S. Eliot among those, but also the Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas.

My father, who was born in 1919, graduated college and then went to serve our country during World War II.  One of George Patton’s scouts, he received two bronze stars. He was a fierce man: in his morals, ethics, and values; his love for his family and for his country. Towards the end, his fierceness continued as he battled serious health issues that never seemed to daunt or derail him from living the remainder of his life to the fullest.

The eldest of his four children, I was the first to read a eulogy at his funeral. I never could have  expressed what I knew of my father’s spirit better than Thomas’ poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night”, written for his dying father in 1947, the year I was born.

So, I guess this blog really is about both poetry and gratitude. Gratitude that I had a family that encouraged education, an education that exposed me to poetry, and a family that embodied and still does today, the meaning and actions of love.