the museum of americana

a literary review

Three Poems by Wendy DeGroat

Garland, Reflections from the Oregon Hill Overlook
M. (Mary) Garland Smith, May 1907; Richmond, Virginia
 
                By the time M. Garland Smith joined the faculty of St. Andrew’s School, it had burgeoned
           from its sewing-school roots (1894) into thriving day and night schools offering students a broad
           curriculum. Grace Arents, who founded and co-directed St. Andrew’s, had moved to Richmond,
           Virginia, from New York with her mother after the Civil War. Grace’s contributions as a philanthropist
            and educator made a lasting impact on Richmond.

 
Over a seam of railroad track and the island of smoke that hovers thick

           above the factories, the river threads, its currents soothing me.

My first year at St. Andrew’s School nears completion, teachers’ house

           full now of colleagues who have blossomed into friends.

One of our directors, Miss Grace, has also risen swift in my affection,

           her confidence in us, in me, tapping a hidden spring.

She has made me believe, as she tells the students, there are no bounds

           to our possibilities. This week found us enjoying children’s songs

and marches for the May Queen, their joy reflected in Grace’s eyes

           as she watched them frolic. At the lantern talk, I studied her

countenance in the flicker, love manifest in her quiet smile, the tilt

           of her head, gentle touch of her hand on a child’s shoulder—

faithfulness the compass that guides her work and ours, all of this done

           for the glory of God. Next term she will begin a social and physical

program for girls modeled on one for boys established with great success.

           When she predicted in this month’s summary report that with it

we may found a paradise for girls in which boys have no place,

           I wonder if she was imagining Summer Rest, a respite

in the Blue Ridge she helps sustain for self-supporting women.

           This summer I will go there to rest in the mountain’s embrace.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 

Illumination, c. 1910

           In May 1907, Rev. John Ridout (co-director of St. Andrew’s School with Grace Arents), lost his wife,
           Faith, to illness. After her death, he struggled to raise their children. When he was unable to find someone
           to help him care for his youngest, Teddy, Grace took Teddy in as her ward. She first hired a nursemaid
           to oversee his care, then a few years later brought in M. Garland Smith to be his governess. Grace
           maintained ties to family members in New York, including her youngest sister, Minnie.

Dear Minnie,

           Remember when I marveled at Broad Street’s sudden glow
           the night President Roosevelt pushed the button
           to start Richmond’s first electric carnival, or the illumination
           we saw at the Court of Honor in Chicago’s White City
           (how those lights wove a magic spell for the eye!)—that
           is the level of energy which flows in this brownstone now.
           Teddy is walking, or running rather (often after the ice truck)
           and motoring his tricycle around the driveway’s ellipse.
           So much motion. Is this what it was like with Lewis?

           I am not averse to merriment. Reminiscing about the Exposition
           calls to mind our Ferris Wheel ride and the amusements below
           on Cairo Street where camels ambled and donkeys raced.
           I didn’t indulge then, but in Port Said in ‘88 on my return
           from Melbourne, Miss Williams and I engaged in a donkey race,
           my young guide belaboring our steed in a mad rush. I did not fall off—
           and I won & it was great fun. I have told you this.

           Garland has left her post as principal to be Teddy’s governess
           and has moved from St. Andrew’s Teachers’ House.
           It is a pleasure to have her here with us. About the fair—
           let me add one thing more. Do you recall the painting that attracted
           the largest throngs there: Breaking Home Ties by Hovenden?
           Farewell scene with a mother’s son set to embark for other shores.
           I understand its draw now, as I imagine you did already then.

                Love,
                     Grace

 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Cog
White Mountains, New Hampshire

            After Grace and Garland had cared for Teddy for eight years, Rev. John Ridout, who had since
           remarried and moved to Texas, asked for him back. In the fall of 1915, Garland accompanied Teddy
           to the Ridout home, returning alone. When that school year ended, she and Grace traveled north.
 

                  Grace’s imagined diary, August 1916

I had managed at Spring Lake to leave this
freighted year behind, tide’s steady wash
a balm, even the sting of children’s laughter
less as other young faces leapt to mind instead
of his. Something shifted in these mountains—
Appalachians further south a landscape of our
parenting. Last week when our cog train climbed
Mt. Washington, I pictured Teddy’s fascination
then attended to the splendid view. Tonight
we took in a concert but “Coronation March”
was the first selection. I closed my eyes—saw him
keeping pace with the rousing cadence. Garland
placed her hand on mine. Later as a Spanish waltz
played, I watched her sway, fingers keeping time.
 
 
~~~
Wendy DeGroat is the author of Beautiful Machinery (Headmistress Press) and recently finished a documentary poetry manuscript about Grace Arents, a Progressive-era philanthropist and educator, and Grace’s companion, Mary Garland Smith. Wendy’s poems have appeared in Cider Press Review, Common-place, Rust+Moth, and elsewhere. She is a librarian in Richmond, Virginia, where she also curates poetryriver.org, and teaches workshops that help writers find creative inspiration in quirky historic artifacts. For readers curious about Garland and Grace in the years after “Cog,” Garland remained Grace’s companion, residing with her until Grace’s death in 1926. In her will, along with money and personal property, Grace left Garland lifetime rights to stay in their home.