Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Tracing My Way From Birth

…religions should be conceived as route-finding activities, mapping the general paths along which human beings can trace their ways from birth to death and through death.
Michael Novak


For six months I have been wondering if I could discover what has made me the person that I am. Could I begin at the beginning to figure out how I got this way? For example, I always knew that my mother had named me after a series of poems about Nancy Ruth that appeared first in the Detroit News and were widely syndicated. She had cut out several of these from the local newspaper and put them in my baby book. Later I inherited the papers she stored in her hope chest and was touched to find a letter from the poet, thanking my mother for the picture of me. The poet, Anne Campbell, had typed out seven of the poems that my mother did not have.

I went on the internet to see what I could find out about the poet. Eureka! In a 1947 Time Magazine there was an article about her, “Eddie Guest’s Rival”. Two-fifty got me the whole article. My parents subscribed to Time and probably saw it.

Edgar Guest wrote immensely popular poetry for the Detroit Free Press. Their rival, the Detroit News, needed a poet to compete for circulation. Campbell found out about this need from her husband, George Washington Stark, a News editor. In 1922 she began to write poems for the paper and continued for 50 years. She died in 1984.

I have always known about Nancy Ruth. My parents named my brother after my father, but they needed a name to distinguish the two. Campbell’s Nancy Ruth had a baby brother named Robin so that of course was the nickname given my brother. He is now known as that only by the people who knew him as a child.

How has the name Nancy affected what I have become? It is a serviceable name, plain, bespeaking the 1930’s yet seldom completely out of fashion since then. What do people who have not met me think when they hear my name? And how does my name affect how they treat me once they do meet me? My mother told me that the other name she liked was Dolores, after a movie star named Dolores Del Rio. Dolores slept for 16 hours a day to maintain her beauty.

My father read to us every night and recited poetry to us during the day. Poetry has been a part of my life and my brother’s life from the beginning. Sadly, I am no poet. Just an aficionado.

By Anne Campbell

Now all the tiny growing things,
The birds beneath their mother’s wings,
The setting sun, with dimming light,
Bid Nancy Ruth Goodnight.

The chill breeze softens in this hour.
The crocus folds its velvet flower.
Homecoming robins, poised in flight,
Bid Nancy Ruth Goodnight.

Spring warms all gardens into bloom,
But happily n this white room,
The fairest blossom meets my sight!
Dear Nancy Ruth, Goodnight!

Edgar Guest, attending a reception honoring Anne Campbell’s twenty-five years at the Detroit News, said, “There is no one for whom I have greater affection.” Dorothy Parker wrote, “I would rather fail my Wasserman test/than read a poem by Edgar Guest.” I don’t know what Dorothy thought of Anne Campbell, but I can guess.

1 comment:

Miriam Jones said...

Good lord, let's hope Anne Campbell never had occasion to find out what Dorothy Parker thought of her!