In my almost 80 years it seems as if I have lived numerous lives because the world has changed so swiftly under my feet. My world now as a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, pastor’s wife and poet could not be more wildly different than my first world as a child in the near wilderness of rural Michigan. But as crooked and wandering as the path was, those early days are instrumental to who I am now.
The first house we lived in after moving to rural Michigan from Chicago in 1942 when I was four years old was small, old and shabby, a summer cottage, but just barely. It had no indoor bathroom, only a privy outside. We had no car, no telephone and certainly not a television. What we had was several huge ancient pine trees, a cluster of amiable giants, looming over the house and a lake outside our back door. In the summer there were wild harmonies of frogs, crickets and the scream of a bobcat in the nearby swamp. In the winter the frozen lake came alive, muttered and groaned, sounding dull, echoey booms when long jagged cracks would run across the lake as if something was trying to escape up through the frozen ice.
This house also had a pump for cold water in the kitchen, a small wooden icebox which held large blocks of ice to keep our perishable food from spoiling and a kerosene cook stove. The kitchen, spartan and small as it was, was still the largest room in the house and expanded out to a tiny living room. There were two little, and in the winter, freezing bedrooms. During those cold months while my father worked nights in a small factory, my twenty-five year old mother would dress my baby brother in his snow suit, drag his crib into the living room next to the coal-burning stove in order to keep him warm. She would then sit up throughout the night because she was sure the stove could explode at any moment.
My parents had to lift up a large, heavy trap door in the kitchen in order to climb down to the basement, which was cold and dank and sometimes flooded with several inches of water. My mother wore rubber boots to protect herself from possible electrocution when she went down to operate the old ringer washer. She would hang the clothes outside where in the winter they would instantly freeze. The pants were so stiff with ice that if she ever felt like torturing something she could bend the legs and crack them as if there were human bones inside. After this futile exercise of hanging clothes outdoors she would bring them in and drape them around the house to dry. It’s no wonder that after that first winter my mother declared that she could not live in this God-forsaken wilderness and that my father had better go back to Chicago and find them another apartment. In her eyes, this move from the rapid pulse of Chicago to the slow heartbeat of rural Michigan had been a terrible mistake.
My father went but returned on the train several weeks later having decided that he could no longer live in the city. After just one winter in the wilds of Michigan he was bewitched and the idea of city life was ruined forever for him. My mother accepted this and tough, cheerful girl that she was, made the best of it.
My father threw himself into life in the country. He got himself a shotgun and managed to shoot one hapless squirrel who wandered into his line of sight. My mother skinned and cooked it for our dinner. Even though I was very young I still shudder at the recollection of trying to eat that tough, dark meat with little black pellets scattered throughout. Some of the other men who lived around that small lake hunted muskrat in the winter and so did my dad for a short time. This involved a very cold dark walk around the lacy edge of the frozen lake in the early morning to see if any muskrats had been caught. One could sell their hides and apparently make a small pittance for the effort. I think maybe my dad did this for one winter until his sorrow for the muskrat overcame his desire to be a woodsman and he accepted the fact he was not cut out to be a hunter or trapper. He did love to fish though and either built or bought a small crude fish shanty. It was a little office out there on the frozen lake where he went to conduct business down below the thick frozen ice. The men had various kinds of heating devices, including whiskey, to keep them warm while they sat on a cold bench inside, ate their sandwiches and thought their own slow whiskery thoughts while waiting for a fish to come to their rescue.
It was the world outside our back door that provided our entertainment and respite from the hard factory work my father did and the drudgery of the primitive domestic chores of my mother. But by this time, adventurous and fun-loving as she was, she had thrown herself into this new life on Silver Lake. Once she decided to skate out to the fish shanty to visit my father. She had been a talented ballroom dancer at The Trianon and White City Ballroom in Chicago and saw no reason she couldn’t transfer this skill to ice-skates so she tried to do a Sonja Henie routine with arms out and one leg high in the air behind her—only to hit a snag in the ice and crash down on her chin. Her ankles had also given out at this point so my father had to pull her home on a sled, while she bleed profusely all the way.
One night my mother and her neighbor, Lucille, bundled up all of us children and walked from our houses on the lake to the top of a large neighboring hill where we could look down over the town to the small tool and die factory where our fathers made parts that were used in a war going on somewhere else in the world. In those days as a child standing on that hill with my mother it seemed as if I had taken root at the pinnacle of the world. Arching over this small constellation of two women and four children was an immense black sky studded with sparkling pin-pricks of stars that seemed to dance a little when you looked at them. Into that darkness our breath puffed out little white clouds as we gazed up at that vast bloom of light and felt the sharp and brilliant night, and something profound and unfathomable, settle like a mantle over our small inconsequential bodies.
Before she turned to poetry Sharron was a Social Worker serving low-income families and the mentally ill and worked as a community organizer around issues of civil rights and the anti-nuclear war movement.
Her poems have appeared in Agni, Rattle, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, among others. In 2009 she won the James River Writers Contest and was named the Poet of 2010 by the journal Passager. She also won 1st place prizes in 2010 and 2012 in the Poetry Society of Virginia annual contest, 1st place in the MacGuffin Poet Hunt contest in 2012 and 1st place in the Sixfold Contest in 2013. In 2015 she won the Thomas Merton Award for Poetry of the Sacred. Her chapbook, A Thin Thread of Water, was published in 2010 by Finishing Line Press.
She teaches poetry in Charlottesville and in her town of Scottsville, is married with two children and five grandchildren.
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