By Janice Lindsay, Contributing Writer
Throughout the secret project, the children impressed me the most. They all knew the secret, they all helped, and they never told.
The Secret Mom-Poetry Project began a few months before my mother’s ninetieth birthday. Our mother, Eleanor Campbell of Jefferson, Maine, had been writing poetry all her life, but especially since the late 1950s when the youngest of us seven children were little. My mother loved little children, and most of her poems were about family life. Many had been published; most had not.
A year or so before her birthday, I realized that almost none of her poems had been entered into a computer. Typewritten copies were stored in file folders. If anything happened to those folders, her life’s work would be lost.
Mom had macular degeneration and couldn’t see well enough to work on the computer. So I offered to enter her poems into word processing software and copy them onto CDs so that we could all have them.
I made the offer before I realized there were 432 poems.
But I soldiered on, and, little by little, I typed all the poems. I finally copied the collection onto CDs and spread the CDs among a dozen different households.
What next? It seemed a shame to let the poems just sit there on CDs. A small collection would make a fine book, but Mom wouldn’t be able to see it well enough to enjoy it.
What if she could hear the poems? What if we could read some of the poems into a recorder so she could listen to them?
What if each of us – seven children, 16 grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren, assorted spouses – a total of 45 — each picked a favorite poem and recorded it? We could edit the recordings into one CD.
And what if we could keep it a secret, and give Mom the CD when she celebrated her ninetieth birthday?
It seemed impossible, secretly coordinating all those people in six different states. But we decided to try.
Our brother who is a music teacher had good recording equipment that we passed among some of the families. Others had their own equipment and submitted poems separately. He collected them, edited them for volume and flow, and created the CD.
We had managed to record 40 people reading 60 poems (some of us couldn’t pick just one).
Our brother who is a graphic designer created a CD cover and included a list of readers and poems.
At our mother’s ninetieth birthday party, the children sat in a row on the floor as we watched a slide show another brother had prepared about our mother’s life. Then we all listened to the CD.
The children had read slowly and with expression, their voices clear and sweet. As they heard their own voices, some of the younger ones wriggled with embarrassment and pride. They listened with polite attention to the grown-up readers.
My mother was thrilled. But to me, the children were the most delightful part of the whole secret project. I believe their grandmother/great-grandmother thought so, too.
Birth of a Child
Once you reached out toward eternity
And caught and held a planet as it whirled;
Just so you hold within maternal arms
One whole new life, one perfect world.
And even in this instant as you gaze
Into the wonder of the sleeping face,
This tiny world will slowly start to spin
And orbit in its own appointed place.