Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

counting by 7s

That’s the thing about time. A second can feel like forever if what follows is heartbreak.”
~Willow Chance (character), from Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, pp. 350-351.

Though this book is written for children (approx grades 6 thru 9) and the voice is young, it is the voice of experience and the voice of genius. Willow Chance functions by information and logic, yet learns to bend and act outside that guiding structure. She meets people and touches their lives, just as they touch hers. The story is peopled by unique, quirky, and sympathetic characters. We experience them through Willow’s eyes and through their words and actions. The ultimate message of this book is that people are survivors, and that people need other people. It was charming and humorous, poignant and profound.

Here are a few more words from Willow.

“I know that I will think about this day many times.
Then I realize that it is the 7th day of the month. And I’m not surprised.
7 is a natural number.
And it is a prime number.
There are 7 basic types of catastrophes.
And 7 days of the week.
Isaac Newton identified 7 colors of the rainbow as:
Violet
Indigo
Blue
Green
Yellow
Orange
Red
Dell put people in 7 categories:
Misfit
Oddball
Lone Wolf
Weirdo
Genius
Dictator
Mutant
I have my own system of order.
I think that at every stage of living there are 7 people who matter in your world.
They are the people who are inside you.
They are people you rely on.They are people who daily change your life.
For me I count:

(spoiler avoided here)

I decide that when my head begins to pound from now on. I will shut my eyes and count to 7, instead of by 7s.
I see each one of these people like the colors of the rainbow.
They are vivid and distinct.
And they hold a permanent place in my heart.
…I return to the stairs, and as I sit here in a slice of winter sunlight, two small birds find their way down to the honeysuckle planted next to the bamboo.
They speak to me, not in words, but in action.
They tell me that life goes on.”

(pp. 376-378)

Sloan, H. (2013). Counting by 7s. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers.

Years – Planting by Cinda Thompson

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This poem can be found in the anthology “When I Am An Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple” edited by Sandra Martz.

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Planting
by Cinda Thompson

Two
Old people work
Side by side
She wears a hat
The old man boasts
No hair at all
She moves
And he kneels
He digs
And she nods while
He speaks
To the seed
She ardently covers
Row by row
They rise and bend
Over their garden
On earth
Sunflowers will bloom
Toward
Late summer

Years – Love at Fifty by Marcia Woodruff

love birds

This poem can be found in the anthology “When I Am An Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple” edited by Sandra Martz.

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Love at Fifty
by Marcia Woodruff

We come together shy as virgins
with neither beauty nor innocence
to cover our nakedness, only
these bodies which have served us well
to offer each other.

At twenty we would have dressed each other
in fantasy, draping over the damp flesh,
or turned one another into mirrors
so we could make love to ourselves.

But there is no mistaking us now.
Our eyes are sadder and wiser
as I finger the scar on your shoulder
where the pin went in,
and you touch the silver marks on my belly,
loose from childbearing.

“We are real,” you say, and so we are,
standing here in our simple flesh
whereon our complicated histories are written,
our bodies turning into gifts
at the touch of our hands.

Years – A Woman at Forty by Enid Shomer

mirror

This poem can be found in the anthology “When I Am An Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple” edited by Sandra Martz.

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A Woman at Forty
by Enid Shomer

A woman at forty
stands long at her mirror
as though it were a pool
that could smooth
the distortions of her face.

On the street she walks
as if each step led her
to an altar, and any corner
might straighten out
her life.

She cultivates flowers,
drapes everything with polished chintz.
Among friends she speaks little
but her hands, moving from hair
to lips to lap

tell the same story
as the bit actress
who inadvertently points to herself
as she declaims the entrance
of the queen.

At night she listens for a knock
on the door, though everyone
she knows is asleep.
Through her window stars
which once granted wishes
are burning as they retreat.

Years – Survived By His Wife by Margaret Flanagan Eicher

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This poem can be found in the anthology “When I Am An Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple” edited by Sandra Martz.

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Survived By His Wife
by Margaret Flanagan Eicher

Eyes swollen she lay in their bed —
Head covered, legs drawn up,
cold though her forehead was damp —
who had warmed herself on his warm flesh.

Now his absence was a constant companion:
his hairbrushes, his keys,
his clothes still smelling of him
in his closet, covered, like museum artifacts.

She shuddered, remembering the shoes he wore
were still beneath the bed
exactly as he left them,
as if covered by a glass case.

All of the things he had handled,
used, inhabited, and finally left
were covered or lying about
like the frames of stolen paintings left behind.

Years

Wearing Colors

My youngest sister just celebrated one of those landmark birthdays, the last of my four sibs to cross that line.  I expected it to make me feel older, but it really hasn’t. I look at each of them and see  how beautiful they are – each vibrant and young in their own way. And I’m not THAT much older…relatively…

When I had this particular birthday my baby sister sent me a red hat in a beautiful old-fashioned, rose-covered hat box. It was a joke and I loved it. I still looked young and felt even younger. That sweet, silly, extravagant hat has been sitting in wait for my sister to join me in this decade, which we will share for the next year, until it’s time for me to leave it behind.

I bought her a purple shirt to go with the red hat. The shirt, I must add, is a lightweight wicking shirt to be worn as she runs – 5Ks and half marathons – or maybe bikes with her husband across the state in 4 days.  This one is definitely not aging!

To add to the fun, I ordered a copy of that iconic book, “When I Am An Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple” edited by Sandra Martz. I’ve read the poem, “Warning”,  from which that line originates many times, but didn’t realize it had come to rest in an anthology on women and aging. The book is out of print, so it had to be specially ordered. When it arrived, I opened it in search of that poem, wanting to mark it so that my sister would be sure to see it. A half hour later, I was still standing next to the open Amazon box and reading poem after poem with tears gathering at the corners of my eyes. It is a wonder of language that words have the power to touch places in our hearts and open them wide. I will share a selection of these poems over the next few days.

This first share is more whimsical and I dedicate its presence here to my siblings, Valerie, Linda, Steven, and Catherine. I love you. ❤

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WARNING
by Jenny Joseph

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.