Pink Calico & An Oregon Tale

Submitted by Caleb on Thu, 03/29/2018 - 01:26

The first poem is based on a story set in upstate New York during the Civil War. I found it the 1964 book 'A Vanished World' by Anne Gertrude Sneller who was Elvie's niece and Sarah's daughter. The second poem is set in Oregon during, I suppose, the 1840s. I found it in a reference book at Multnomah County's Central Library many years ago. The themes of the poems are similar so I thought I'd share them together.

Pink Calico

How she afforded it no one could think!
Fold upon fold of calico pink!
A beautiful bolt, not grey, black, or brown
But coral pink calico, bought in the town.
In the days of the war, cotton put on fine airs,
And hand-me-down dresses were all we could wear,
But one day our mother came back to the farm
With rosy pink calico under her arm.
'Elvie and Sarah need dresses’ she said
And before us the calico fabric she spread.
And Elvie and I had never seen such
Glorious pink, it was almost too much!
And I saw in her eyes Elvie’s heart rise to heaven,
With the wonder-filled joy of a girl just turned seven,
As with love overflowing she stood gazing upon
The calico fabric as pink as the dawn.
‘Now, girls’ said our mother ‘it’s time supper was laid'
Then safe from the sun till the dresses should be made
She put up the cloth in the closet to stay,
But we thought on it all of the rest of the day.
Carrying candles together we went up to bed
But eyes closed or open Elvie saw in her head
That glorious fabric brought home from the store,
And she felt that she had to just see it once more.
In the parlour our mother and father were sitting,
Father read by the fire, mother worked at her knitting;
Not a sound could be heard but the needles' soft click
And the turn of the page and the clock’s steady tick,
When all of a sudden a scream tore the air,
Then scream after scream — father leapt from his chair
And mother in haste cast her work on the floor,
And they ran to the cries — to the closed closet door!
Throwing open the door they found Elvie inside,
Clutching her candle as in terror she cried,
For before her was lying, with flames rising higher,
The sunrise pink calico blazing on fire.
Father beat out the fire, mother took in her arm
The terrified girl, and she came to no harm,
Still she cried from her fright and for the calico too,
For the folded pink fabric was burnt through and through.
Then mother said ‘Hush,  you are safe, do not sorrow,
And I’ll look at the calico fabric tomorrow.’
But how she could manage it we could not think!
Work with those cinders of calico pink?
But she worked all next day and well into the night,
Piecing together the calico bright,
Cutting and measuring, matching the grain —
And on the table by morning two dresses were lain — 
And Elvie and I had never seen such
Beautiful dresses, it was almost too much!
Beauty for ashes was no fairy story,
For there it was lying in pink calico glory!

An Oregon Fairy Tale

Four months upon the trail their soles had killed;
Miss Maryanna’s shoes were all worn out.
As autumn fell her family raced to build
An Oregon home. And no one thought about
How Maryanna barefoot looked quite wild,
Except for Maryanna, I should say.
At fourteen years she knew she was no child –
And wished that she had shoes most every day.

Sometimes some Kalapooias came to call –
She’d crouch beside the stove to hide her feet –
But Robert Westwood was the worst of all,
She never knew when they might chance to meet.
He was a settler, living near their land,
Who walked the trails that she liked best to walk,
And gladly gave her pa a helping hand,
But rarely showed that he knew how to talk.

He didn’t say much, but he at least could see
How any time that he and she would meet
Miss Maryanna fast from him would flee,
And at the same time try to hide her feet.

One rainy day upon the path they met
But he had made a plan to stop her flight,
He’d thought about it so he wouldn’t forget
The words to say to set the matter right.
“Hey, Maryanna! let me see your foot.”
The tears welled up – Who was this awful man?
Could any be as cruel as he? she thought.
She stamped in anger and away she ran.

Beneath the Alder tree where she had stood,
Between the leaves he saw her footprint laid.
He bent down low to measure in the mud
The mark that angry Maryanna made.
The day the snow first fell upon the firs,
He laid two doe-skin shoes down at her door.
They fit! And so she knew that they were hers,
And she would be the barefoot girl no more.

Author's age when written


I enjoyed these both very much! I loved the use of "pink as the dawn" when describing the calico. It gave such a lovely image to my mind's eye.

I don’t thrive off of chaos: chaos thrives off of me.

Wow! I loved the first one so much. I did like the second one, too, though I think I liked the pink calico just a little more--it had such a precise, stepping, dance-like flow. It's neat how you use stories in your poetry--true ones. They make it all the more fun and interesting.

Both of these stories are beautiful, Caleb! No wonder you wrote poems about them. I loved them both! I think, however, the second one was my favorite. Robert Westwood's kindness to Maryanna, in spite of her loathing him... something about that is really moving. It leaves me wondering, did she warm up to him later and reciprocate his kindness? Since you based these off of stories you encountered, perhaps you know? :)

"The idea that we should approach science without a philosophy is itself a philosophy... and a bad one, because it is self-refuting." -- Dr. Jason Lisle

Thanks for your kind comments.

As I remember in the Oregon story, there was no reciprocation of kindness written about. Who am I to add it? I think there's a kind of charm in leaving it unsettled. It was in a book from around the 1920s I think, which was (if memory serves) a collection of Christmas stories from old Oregon. I picked it up in the library years and years ago, and the part of the story where he measures her footprint really stuck with me. I think the end is the prettiest poetry of the poem, and very Oregonian (alder, fir, mud.) I wrote it very quickly while I was writing Romsdal because I felt I needed to write something with a different tone.

In Pink Calico I chose that triple-foot meter because of the word calico. But with that dancing triple-foot rhythm it's so easy to slip into a comic tone, and I had to struggle against that. I wanted to get that feeling of a child's heart being full.

And he was just wondering, for he was a severe critic of his own work, whether that last line couldn't be polished up a bit...
~P.G. Wodehouse