It’s a Wonderful Life.
I’ve been thinking about this movie recently, as it seems to surface every Christmas. Sometimes I feel like George Bailey, and wonder what kind of legacy I will leave. I have no children, and have had a few small successes, with my music, teaching, and poetry; nothing extraordinary, but enough to keep going.
I wouldn’t call myself an outstanding poet — most of my fans are friends, a few family members, and other writers. I keep active in the literary community on Maui, my second home, and here in Cambria, where I host a monthly poetry series. I continue to submit my work, and when I get discouraged, I often think of a woman I met when I was 17 named Helen, the aunt of a college friend. She loved my poems, encouraged me to write, asked me to send her my work, and gave me the exact support I needed at that time.
Last month, I received a package in the mail. There was no letter, just a very old photo album that smelled like it came out of some grandmother’s attic, with a sticker on the cover that read, “Sunnie — Janie’s friend.”
Sunnie was my college nickname.
I opened it, and to my amazement, I discovered a Christmas gift I had sent Helen in 1968, which included my poetry, a few photos, and words from other writers that had special meaning for me. Keep in mind, this was the ’60s, turbulent times, when I came of age.
Helen added more to the album over the years, including letters. In one letter, I wrote about being offered a contract with Vanguard records in New York City, which I had to turn down in order to finish college. Upon graduating, I left the country in protest of the Vietnam War and lived four years in Europe as an ex-pat street singer. In another letter, I wrote about arriving in Munich just before the Olympic massacre and how it affected me.
I continued to send Helen my poetry, and she continued to encourage me. She even gave me some start-up money to record my first CD, back in 1992. When she died several years ago, I wrote a letter to the family honoring Helen, recollecting how she’d given me the courage and confidence to keep writing. This suburban housewife, mother, and humanitarian activist, who lived by the words, “Above all, be kind,” was a true patron.
I had no idea this album still existed, and had kept no records of the flower-filled Donovan-esque verses that flowed from me like a waterfall. I was discovering myself through these poems. Helen held on to them all these years. Even after her death, her family had the generosity of spirit to send my own history back to me. I didn’t need an explanation, but I am eternally grateful to them for knowing how much this means to me. Someone had kept my legacy alive for nearly 50 years.
I’m not sure who I’ll leave this book to, not that it really matters. What matters is that there was someone out there who believed in me; who reminds me still that mine really is a wonderful life.
Mary Anne Anderson will resume hosting monthly poetry/spoken word readings, Thursday, Feb. 1 (which will continue every first Thursday of the month) from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 786 Arlington in the West Village. Admission is free. Details: 831-277-4028.