My mom — who was born 98.5 years ago — taught school on the Crow Indian reservation in Southern Montana. She grew up on a farm only a few miles away from the Little Big Horn River and went to high school in Hardin, Montana. She was from a generation that still memorized long poems and she won a prize as a kid for reciting something.

In those days in Montana, teachers spent a year at Normal School, a year in the classroom, a year in school, etc. The year before she’d been in school, the year before that was her second teaching year in the one-room school at Warman, a tiny outpost on the reservation. In the photo, it’s the first day of school at Crow Agency. She lived in an apartment behind the Baptist Church in Crow, and she is standing on the steps of her apartment. It was the late 1930s, early 1940s.

She taught poems to her kids, and I’m sure she decorated her classroom to correspond with the seasons. She taught these two Helen Hunt Jackson poems for fall. Both create gorgeous, perfect images.

Helen Hunt Jackson

The golden-rod is yellow;
The corn is turning brown;
The trees in apple orchards
With fruit are bending down.
The gentian’s bluest fringes
Are curling in the sun;
In dusty pods the milkweed
Its hidden silk has spun.
The sedges flaunt their harvest,
In every meadow nook;
And asters by the brook-side
Make asters in the brook.
From dewy lanes at morning
the grapes’ sweet odors rise;
At noon the roads all flutter
With yellow butterflies.
By all these lovely tokens
September days are here,
With summer’s best of weather,
And autumn’s best of cheer.
But none of all this beauty
Which floods the earth and air
Is unto me the secret
Which makes September fair.
‘T is a thing which I remember;
To name it thrills me yet:
One day of one September
I never can forget.

…and October

“October’s Bright Blue Weather”
Helen Hunt Jackson

O SUNS and skies and clouds of June,
And flowers of June together,
Ye cannot rival for one hour
October’s bright blue weather;

When loud the bumble-bee makes haste,
Belated, thriftless vagrant,
And Golden-Rod is dying fast,
And lanes with grapes are fragrant;

When Gentians roll their fringes tight
To save them for the morning,
And chestnuts fall from satin burrs
Without a sound of warning;

When on the ground red apples lie
In piles like jewels shining,
And redder still on old stone walls
Are leaves of woodbine twining;

When all the lovely wayside things
Their white-winged seeds are sowing,
And in the fields, still green and fair,
Late aftermaths are growing;

When springs run low, and on the brooks,
In idle golden freighting,
Bright leaves sink noiseless in the hush
Of woods, for winter waiting;

When comrades seek sweet country haunts,
By twos and twos together,
And count like misers, hour by hour,
October’s bright blue weather.

O suns and skies and flowers of June,
Count all your boasts together,
Love loveth best of all the year
October’s bright blue weather.

My mom and I had a “complicated” relationship. I thought she was amazing, but it was an unrequited love relationship and we weren’t even friends. She plain didn’t like me. Still, there are so many small things like these poems without which my life would be diminished. I cannot see a wild aster without thinking, “Asters by the brookside make asters in the brook.” Though my brook is the Rio Grande, I’ve seen the wild asters reflected there. The vivid blue skies of October in the San Luis Valley evoke “October’s bright blue weather.”

These poems are the lens through which I have always seen fall, and I guess that’s a pretty good legacy to get from a mom. I might not have grown up loving poetry, I might not even be a writer, without this background music from my childhood. Who knows?


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