In Memoriam


 

  Florence Lenore Carrasco Langdon
July 16, 1908-July 31, 2006

 

My Mother

Kevin Langdon

 My earliest memories are of the terrifying, unknown world in which I found myself experienced by all infants but remembered by very few—and the way my mother reassured me .

I remember mom taking me in a stroller to the park. I loved the fresh impressions that came from being out in the big world.

My sister Valerie was born when I was a little over three years old . I remember mom putting us in the bath together, playing with bath toys , talking with her when she was very little , and telling her about the world. I felt very protective of my little sister.

Both mom and dad used to play with me for hours at a time and they both told us elaborate stories, with endless sequels. I wish now that these stories had been written down, as they were quite extraordinary, and fascinating to my sister and me . My mom also introduced me to the world of literature. I was very strongly influenced by the books she gave me , both children’s books and more adult fare .

I attended nursery school and kindergarten without running into too much difficulty, but by first grade I already hated school . It was mind- numbingly boring, not at all like the interesting and supportive conditions my mother created at home, and I began to tune out. I ’ve recently been in contact with a teacher I had in one of the early grades, Miss Rosalie Goldstein ( later Mrs. Jerry Gayne). She told me that I was very uncooperative and used to hand in blank papers when I was bored with an assignment . She helped me to connect with the educational process and socialize with the other children. I am very grateful to her and to the other good teachers I had, because my mom had set a very high standard and most of my teachers were sorely lacking when it came to recognizing my special needs and providing appropriate stimulation .

I was born with hip dysplasia. It wasn’t noticed by my doctors and only came to light through my great uncle when I was about a year old . I had several operations at that time but they were not very successful and I was left with a pronounced limp. My mother helped me to deal with my disability but I often had trouble with the other kids because I was different —handicapped physically but with a mind they couldn’t understand .

When I was seven years old , it was decided that I would need another operation. I was afraid to go under the knife and on the day the operation was scheduled I ran away and hid for several hours before my mom finally found me and took me to the hospital. She understood how terrified I was and helped me to accept the situation.

Mom had lots of good friends . She met with a group of the girls she’d known in school for about 70 years, and her “Grattan Girls” were like family members to us. I remember many occasions on which our house was full of very interesting people, friends and relatives of my parents. I enjoyed these opportunities to converse with adults very much.

When my sister and I were old enough to be left in the care of a babysitter for more than an evening, my mom and dad took a number of trips. My mom always made up a grab bag for Valerie and one for me . We each got one present every day while they were away and that made having them away a little easier for us.

We were not always left at home, though we never accompanied our parents on their longer trips. We were included in vacations at Aetna Springs resort , Yosemite valley and Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park , Webber Lake , and other places in California . It was very interesting traveling with my parents; we saw many things that didn’t exist in our urban life in the San Francisco Bay Area and the family interaction was more concentrated and intense when we took trips together. Somehow, my mother usually managed to keep things light and cheerful despite the stress that being at close quarters created.

When I was 12 years old we moved to Terra Linda, across the Golden Gate Bridge and about 30 miles north of San Francisco . Mom and dad wanted us to have the experience of a more rural lifestyle. The natural setting , before the valley was as built-up as it became later was wonderful, but the cultural level was distinctly lower than in the area we’d lived in in San Francisco . Later we moved to the next valley north, Lucas Valley . Valerie told me recently that one reason for the move was to get away from a family of screwy neighbors across the street from us—and that shortly after our move they moved to Lucas Valley, too, just a couple of blocks from where we were.

The early days in Terra Linda were very difficult . Construction was still going on. I remember seeing bulldozers rolling through our back yard. There was noise and dust everywhere. The builders had cut some corners and many things were not working properly . The school system wasn’t ready for the influx of children due to this new development. My dad actually ran for and won a seat on the school board because he was so alarmed by the state of the schools . But through it all , my mom always made a wonderful, loving home for us, and she never complained.

When I was in high school , my mom went back into teaching . She taught English at the Dominican College High School in San Rafael , a girls’ high school run by nuns. We graded the girls’ papers together. We laid out  5x5 piles, corresponding to the grades A through F, in my mom’s opinion and mine, then we argued about the essays that weren’t on the main diagonal ( I usually graded harder than mom). Sometimes her multiple- choice questions were amusing ; e.g., one of the choices for the meaning of “inkling” was “a printer’s helper.”

I lived at home on and off into my forties, even (briefly) after I got married to my second ( present ) wife, and I always felt welcome in my mother’s house. I moved out when she moved to the retirement condominium complex where she lived for the rest of her life, in her own ( nice but small ) condo for several years and then in the health unit downstairs, after a series of small strokes left her mentally incapacitated but still very much “there” emotionally.

I feel enormously privileged to have had such a mother, that she lived such a long life, and that I remained in close contact with her up until her death.

 
Eulogy

Valerie Zukowski

Thank you all for coming today.  We are gathered to celebrate , remember and honor the life of our mother, Lenore Langdon.  Our Mom was a lady; she was somewhat prim and proper and knew all about etiquette , but what made her a real lady was her gracious and loving nature .  She always was kind and giving in every situation.  She could always make other people feel comfortable around her.  She put others ahead of herself.  Certainly no sacrifice was enough when it came to caring for her family Whether it was her birth family or the family she created with my father she was always caring and giving , always ready to give of her time and energy and love .

I remember when I was about six years old she told me that now that I was a big girl she would no longer be able to pick me up.  I was sad, but I could accept this.  Soon I fell down the brick front steps of our house.  I must have screamed like a banshee because out she came; she ran down the stairs and scooped me up and ran back into the house.  It turned out I wasn’t actually hurt at all .  But I learned that even if she could no longer pick me up (big girl that I was) she would pick me up anyway if I needed her to.

She really tried to be a sport and humor my father.  When I was about nine years old he got himself a cabin cruiser for cruising around the bay and up the delta.  He would drive the boat of course , and it fell to my mother to leap from the bow onto the dock and tie up.  She also gamely helped him varnish the decks I guess she would do anything for him. And when it came to doing absolutely anything for Kevin—don’t even get me started .

She was also very involved with her birth family .  When her mother became very old and confused my mother and I would very often go to see my Granny during the day while my father was at work and Kevin was at school .  Mom would organize things and do the housework.  Later when her mother died Mom became the matriarch and held holiday events for everyone at her home.  She loved to do that .  She did it graciously .

My mother felt strongly about many things.  She loved the mountains; she loved to go there and learned to ski and even mountain climb.  She was very proud to be a Sierra Clubber.  Whenever we would go to the mountains as a family , camping or staying with friends , she was at her very happiest .

Another thing she loved was tennis, or she kept saying she did.  As far as I know she never played it during my lifetime.

My mother loved language and literature.  She loved the sound of the English language and enjoyed hearing it spoken well .  When she was a child she took elocution lessons so that she herself could speak English beautifully , and she did.  She loved poetry and could make it sound the way you knew it should .  For a few years she enjoyed teaching high school English,  reminding herself of the many books she loved as a young person.

One of my mother’s hidden talents was dancing.  She and my father danced really beautifully together and actually won prizes for their dancing, although they did not have many opportunities for dancing.  She also liked to do little arts and crafts projects like candle making or mosaics, and she saved found supplies for these endeavors in jars in the garage.  Another thing she kept in the garage was stray cats whom she enjoyed taking care of and who honored her by giving birth to many kittens at her house.   Mom loved to travel, but she never did until Kevin and I were old enough to be left for a week or more.  Then she and my father started traveling, and continued on, starting with Hawaii and moving on to Mexico and Europe and Africa .  After my father died Mom kept traveling to Alaska and Peru and China , but I think the thrill was gone when her favorite companion could no longer accompany her.  They took so many pictures, and we watched interminable slide shows in our living room.

One thing my mother felt very strongly about was her friendships.  She held on to many friendships that went back to her childhood. She met with the Grattan girls, a group of friends from elementary school , all her life until one by one they all died .  Mom may have been the last of the Grattan girls.  She had many other lifelong friendships, and they were very important to her.  She had strong commitments to these relationships , and they were very fulfilling to her.  For many years she belonged to the PEO, a women’s organization she enjoyed and through which she strengthened friendships that endured through many years.  Her friends were loyal to her in the same way , and she valued these relationships very much.

My mother was proud of her education and many abilities .  She was cultured and beautiful and charming .  But she is most remembered for her sweet and loving nature .  Everyone who really knew her loved her for these qualities I would like to read a portion of a letter sent to me by Susan Fiori, who knew my mother here at Villa Marin.

It ’s so sad to think about your mother not being on the earth any more.  Her sweetness was so palpable and real .  She certainly embodied the essential quality of love through all her levels of aging and dementia. To be in her company always made me feel calmer and safer somehow.  I will surely miss her—the way she would look right into my eyes and smile at me like an angel!


The Language of the Poet
Lenore Langdon

Reprinted from The New Thesaurus , Volume 1, Number 9, May -June 1979. 

 The chief attribute of the poet is the creative energy or imagination that enables him to set forth in a concentrated or heightened form an idea or emotion that others recognize and share . The poet experiences moods, emotions , or ideas which he then phrases in appropriate words, musical, symbolic, or thought - provoking , which will most accurately reflect or express the feeling he wishes to convey to the reader. The poet perceives ordinary   events and things in an extraordinary way , seeing meaning and beauty in them not usually apparent . Not only does the poet possess this ability , but with his fine ear and powers of discrimination he perceives the uncommon meanings and uses for common words, as well as the uncommon words that will most exactly transmit his thought , thus permitting the unusual way of employing language to make it memorable as well as beautiful .

In the words of Matthew Arnold, “Poetry is simply the most beautiful , impressive , and widely effective mode of saying things; and hence its importance .” This is only one of a great many definitions given by a great many poets of equal stature. I like it because of its directness and simplicity.

According to T.S. Eliot, emotion and feeling are best expressed “in the common language of the people— that is, in the language common to all classes. The structure, the rhythm , the sound , the idiom of a language expresses the personality of the people which speaks it .” He feels that the duty of a poet is to his language—to preserve, extend and improve it . This is important for the continuity of language so that the best will not be lost and so that the quality will not deteriorate. He also believes that poetry has a social function —“ that in proportion to its excellence and vigor, it affects the speech and sensibility of the whole nation.”

As an example of the poet’s ability to choose just the right language to express his thought consider the following poem: 

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

by William Butler Yeats

                        I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
                        And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattle make.
                        Nine bean now will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
                        And live alone in the bee- loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow ,
                        Dropping from the veils of morning to where the cricket sings;
                        There midnight’s all a glimmer , and noon a purple glow,
                        And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
                        I will arise and go now, for always night and day
                        I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
                        While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavement gray ,
                        I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

 In this poem Yeats has expressed his desire for and dream of peace. He recalls a lake he has seen and imagines how he will enjoy the peaceful home he will make there. The auditory effects of the “bee- loud glade” and “lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore” are famous for their evocative music. No less evocative are the images of the simple home as it changes with the changing hours of the day. His desire for this serenity is so intense that even in the city streets he hears its music in his heart always. How beautifully he chooses his rhythm , rhymes, and the build-up to the final intensity of feeling is easily appreciated as one attempts a paraphrase in prose . The spareness in his choice of items in the first stanza demonstrates economy of example and exclusion of irrelevant detail . It is possible to see in this poem the importance of tempo. It starts out briskly, with his determination of what to do, and slows down with the use of long vowel sounds of the fourth line. The second stanza continues these long slow sounds and allows full savoring of the charm of the place. The third stanza stresses the strength of his need to effect his dream.

Robert Hillyer in his First Principles of Verse stresses the importance of using words in their natural order —not to force an unnatural or inverted order to meet the requirements of meter or rhyme, but rather to alter the poem altogether if necessary to find felicitous ways to express the thought without awkward and self- conscious forcing of the words into a given pattern .

An understanding of poetic language must include an appreciation of the intricacies of verse structure, involving the use of a multiplicity of tools . Thus the poet has to be an accomplished craftsman as well as a speaker of unusual thoughts .

First of his tools to be considered is rhythm , which consists of the repetition of stresses and unstressed syllables, creating a unit known as a foot. In English there are four basic patterns of feet: the iambic and anapestic, of two and three syllables respectively, with the accent falling on the last syllable, and the trochaic and dactylic, of two and three syllables respectively, with the accent falling on the first syllable. Each of these feet conveys a different tone to the matter of the poem, the iambic and anapestic giving a rising feeling and the trochaic and dactylic a falling one .

Each line of poetry contains a certain number of feet, according to the poet’s need or desire . The five foot verse or pentameter is the one most frequently used , since it is the one that gives the most natural expression in English, particularly when used with the iambic foot. Iambic pentameter is the rhythm of Shakespeare’s plays and Milton ’s Paradise Lost and is a suitable vehicle for noble and elevated thought .

It must not be thought that the poet must stay slavishly within the limits of his chosen metrical form. For this reason devices are employed to lend variety. The poet may occasionally change the stress in a line, he may use the pause, known as a caesura, in place of a syllable, or he may use the run -on line or enjambment. All of these devices, if used with skill , enhance the enjoyment and prevent the dealiness of a jingly or sing-song delivery.

The sounds of poetry are of especial importance in achieving the musical effects that are central to poetic value . For these the poet depends on many devices, the most easily recognized being: Rhyme is the recurrence of sounds between two or more words, such as the familiar moon-June, night- bright , etc. Refrain, recalled from old songs and ballads, is a common ploy. Assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds that need not be identical , but close in sound , is often used . Alliteration, the repetition of sounds either at the beginning or concealed within two or more words, is the oldest and most common device of sound , going back to Anglo-Saxon times. Onomatopoeia is the attempt to make a world by simulating the sound of its referent—for example : buzz, ring, twitter, clang, etc.

Among other techniques the poet finds useful are those for purposes of comparison. The most common is the simile , containing the words ‘ like ’ or ‘as’, as when Byron says, “She walks in beauty like the night/Of cloudless climes and starry skies.” The metaphor , omitting the words ‘ like ’ or ‘as’, is stronger than the simile . “There is a garden in her face,” by Compton , gives a sudden vivid picture. The mind of the poet leaps to a comparison that is ordinarily not thought of, but is instantly recognized when the poet expresses it .

According to Lawrence Zillman, “poetic devices are the ‘embroidery’ of poetry. On or into the cloth of language these sounds are applied or woven. They give color, life, and often great beauty to the poems in which they are used .”

The true poet has a natural ear for sound which makes his choice among the great number of poetic devices easier than it would be for one not so gifted. However, even in the appreciation of poetry some form of natural ear is necessary .

Thus we see that the poet’s choice of form and device has a great effect on the language he employs . It must constantly be borne in mind that he has a thought he wishes to convey that must in no way be subordinated to the mechanics or versification. Indeed in every case the reverse must be true. He particularly wishes to avoid stilted or archaic expressions, forced rhymes or fillers. “The poet,” according to Zillman, “must be master of his technique . . . so the poet must select wisely the elements of form with which he works . All elements must work together to make the poem: the mood of the poet, the nature of the subject , and the infinite variety of effects .”

The poet enjoys a thrill of recognition in finding the words or phrases to express his ideas in a fresh way . As Robert Frost puts it , “For me the initial delight is in the surprise of remembering something I didn’t know I knew.”

 

All of the above was published in Noesis, the journal of the Mega Society, #182, September 2006.

 

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