He kept them in a night table drawer—a treasure of poems carefully hand-written in a composition book by his mother fifty years before. One of the poems, “My Boy,” was about him. How it must have warmed my Dad’s heart when he read it. Reece Wilmer Press, Jr. looked a lot like his mother and had inherited her stocky body build splattered with freckles, as I did.
I wasn’t particularly interested in the poems back then. It wasn’t until 1972, when he gave them to me, that I remembered they even existed. Martha Walton Press had died nine years before my birth. I am truly sorry that I never had the chance to know her. Dad didn’t talk much about his early family life, but I had the impression that it was a bit troubled. My mother mentioned to me that he had to quit school at age 16 to help support the family when his parents split up. (Ten years later, though, he graduated with a diploma in civil engineering from Drexel University).
The poems, written between 1899 and 1911, survived the five moves to date in my life. During this time, the writing has faded and the pages have become slightly torn and dog-eared. A few years ago when I took up genealogy, I read the poems several times, searching her words and studying the stylish handwriting in an attempt to know her better.
Recently, when I began self-publishing, it became apparent that these poems should be preserved in print. The themes of love, friendship, death and life are timeless. The words are cumbersome by today’s standards but their simplicity conveys a richness of emotion and nostalgia. Moreover, my grandmother was a feisty, creative, intelligent woman who played piano by ear, sewed clothing that she saw on a model and ran her own beauty shop. From the little I know about her, she seemed ahead of her time. When she became divorced, she married her younger brother-in-law, a bit unusual for the 1920s. She deserves to be remembered, and I can’t think of a better way to honor her memory.
As I continue in my writing journey, I feel that Martha’s spirit watches me, cheering me on. I sometimes wonder if she would have done more with her writing if life hadn’t gotten in the way. The luxury of retirement was not available to her; at the age of 57 she passed away from colon cancer.
I am planning to publish her twelve poems in a short book entitled, “Martha’s Words,” later this year. Here is the first poem—I hope you like it and will want to read more of her work.
A rose lies withered in my hand,
And one by one, its petals fall.
My thoughts oft turn to a better land
Where no flowers will fall at all.
It reminds me too of an aimless past,
Ah, full of regrets I now see.
Yes, one by one, hopes all fall fast;
There’s naught sure but eternity.
‘Tis sweet to live just day to day
For hope fadeth with the morrow.
And the prize we seek in a worldly way
Is only a false hope we borrow.
I often pray that God, to me, may gift
A life like the pure simple flower,
Content to take his sunshine to live
And scatter his blessings each hour.
Martha Walton (July 27, 1899)