There’s a poem called “Meadowlark” in the front matter of Leora’s Letters. The genesis of how it made its way there is a Facebook story.
A few years ago I started the Historic Guthrie County, Iowa Facebook page to be able to share old photos and stories from the late 1800s, which I knew others would enjoy. (Membership on that page has grown to over 1000–people sharing their old photos, clippings, and stories.)
One of the stories I posted was about the Victorian house my Goff great grandparents lived in during the 1920s. Mom remembered so many details about the inside of that house, even though she was a preschooler. About every time we drove to Guthrie Center, we’d wind up the hill to see the once handsome house.
A lot of people on the Guthrie County page asked questions or made comments about the story. One was by Nicholas Dowd, who had a photo showing the house he grew up in near the one where Goffs had lived.
At some point, nearly two years ago, Nick mentioned that he’d also done a bit of writing, and told how to access it. I commented in my journaling: “Oh my, the lyrical evocative short poetry about Guthrie County, vignettes with compelling details. . . One about John Parrish, caught his personality. . . Nicholas Dowd’s poems, which quiet me, then I need to read it again, usually with a lump in my throat. They have a contentment to them. . . ”
Last fall I’d journaled, “Nicholas Dowd’s poetry – stops you in your busyness. You’re compelled to slow down to even begin to read it. I can almost feel blood pressure drop. I know I will read it twice the first sitting, slowly, with a lump in my throat right away, savoring each line, each vignette, each glimpse of something precious and maybe even holy. . . Hope he publishes them in a book that we can hold and savor.”
When my book was about done (back in September), I wrote him a note, “I’m kinda looking for something evocative for the front of Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II, which will probably get self-published next month. Finishing up edits and waiting for a cover design. This may as good a time as any to tell you that I’m in an on-line writing group. One expert told how she went back over her journaling once a week, watching for themes. I didn’t realize that I’d journaled about your writing back on February 2018,” and noted some of what I’d written.
I can’t remember whether I mentioned a meadowlark in Leora’s story or not, but Nick found a scribbled, eleven-line poem called “Meadowlark” tucked in a Willa Cather book from college, 50 years earlier. It was almost prophetic. It took my breath away.
All but two lines, which Nick agreed to rewrite. It had never been edited, never published before.
The meadowlark has been a kind of emblem of the Wilson WWII story ever since Mom told me about the last time Danny Wilson was home. He’d recently earned his pilots wings and got a furlough to visit family at the place near Minburn where Wilsons were tenant farmers. With all four brothers in the service, Danny’s sisters were the only family members able to get to their parents’ place to see Danny.
While the family took pictures in the driveway, a meadowlark whistled. Mom said that Danny remarked that it was his favorite bird. Both Danny and Junior mention meadowlarks in their letters home.
Mom gave me a bisque meadowlark, which eventually fell and broke. (I’ve never been able to find one like it.) Aunt Darlene bought fabric for cushions with the handsome bird on it, and of course we all had Marjolein Bastin’s “Nature’s Sketchbook” meadowlark note cards.
Nicholas Dowd grew up in Guthrie Center, where Grandma Leora lived for decades. She would have known Nick’s parents, and likely knew who Nick and his siblings were.
It’s such a blessing to have his meadowlark verse introduce Leora’s Letters, and also to know that her story is the introduction of his beautiful “Meadowlark” poem.