The earth is a little less bright this week. A great and gracious man, who treasured his privacy almost as much as anything else in his life, has been lost to us. George McClellan Withee passed away at the age of 91, peacefully in his sleep. He and his wife Esther were a second set of parents to my wife and her four siblings growing up in Pacific Grove, California. I only met them after Diane and I became involved but quickly became enamored of them both.
To say that George valued his privacy above almost everything else is not to forget that his greatest treasure always was his wife, and his family. In writing my blogs I always sent a copy to George and he always sent me back a response, often a cartoon or a smile or a picture or a thought relating to a specific line in the text of what I wrote. It was always positive and encouraging. When Di had her car accident last December and I went through a period of anxiety that I could have lost her, George was always there for me, reminding me of the treasure I have in my wife. He lost Esther several years ago. In one note I said how grateful I was that I could tell my bride how much I love her; George quietly responded, he wished he could, every day.
George was a member of the Greatest Generation, the men and women who endured the terrible war that still defines the humanity as a being, and from which, despite all their sacrifice, we still have not evolved. He was pilot of a bomber in the Pacific. His crew’s motto was, “Ragged but Right.” Like most of his fellows, he never talked about it. Yet he did write about it, at least once, in one of several selections collected for an anthology called “In Their Own Words.” I invite you to go to the web page, http://www.315bw.org/anthologies.html, and find his contribution, a poem called “The Ghost of Five Nine-Three. No wonder I liked him so much. And thank, you, George, for everything.
I've been thinking. I know that is a dangerous thing to do, but I can't seem to stop myself. The brain just kinda goes that way. I have never been busier than now, since I retired from my day job and moved to Montana to be closer to our grandson. And yet, poetry flows from me like never before. I have been thinking a great deal about this passion within me, and wrote the following lines of prose.
I am a poet. I have chosen a means of expression that makes no money and has few admirers yet many, many contributors. Thousands write; hundreds read. It may be the closest a writer can come to painting: each sketch, each oil, each verse is a private showing.
A book takes forever to write. I know: I have two published, many others collecting dust waiting for me to get back to them. A poem is more like a snapshot, quickly taken, then selected and edited and offered. More precisely, poems are journal entries written both for ourselves and for sharing – our experiences, our observations, our thoughts, our feelings – our souls laid bare for the love of words.
Why do we do it? We are curators who hang words on gallery walls in limpid museums in our minds, doors open to invite anyone inside who happens to be passing by, but no advertising budget to let them know we are here. At least we are not closed Mondays.
Today is special. Each day is special, of course, without saying so. But today is August 22, and for the fifth time this year Helium has put one of my poems on the front page of their website. This one is a Tanka – a Japanese structure something like an extended haiku with a rhythm scheme of 5/7/5/7/7 beats. This one is on coffee. Please go to helium, Where Knowledge Rules, and flip through the featured articles and you will find me.
Today is also a day of relief: in a season of forest fires one broke out about two miles away from our home in a not-so-remote spot even closer to our friends and out-laws. That fire was met quickly with an aerial assault combined with careful ground efforts, and has been contained at a relatively small 105 acres and no structures damaged. My heart goes out to anyone on the fire line, and for the National Forest Service scrambling to find enough money to finance all their efforts. The fires so far have cost nearly one billion dollars to fight. In relative terms, that’s about a week in Iraq or Afghanistan.
It is also a day for planning. Our nephew Erik had open heart surgery last month, which forced the cancellation of their vacation plans for August. So they decided that they would use that money to buy tickets for Diane and me to go to Holland to spend time with them. It was an offer we could not refuse. We are leaving in one month exactly, on September 22, and staying with them for three weeks. Much to do, much to do!
So it has been a long while since I have blogged. I guess I had to have a good reason to dust off the cobwebs. Thanks for listening!
I was born in Holland in 1950. My parents immigrated to the US when I was two. I have many close friends and family on both continents. My wife Diane and I have been happily married since 1974. I have four children and one grandchild (two more are on the way). I love writing and sharing what I wrote most of all..