do you see the young woman who once was me?

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1951-mom-sisters-and-gran

L to R Auntie Lee, Gran, Auntie Jean, and Mom circa 1950/51

This poem touches me deeply. I think of it every time I see images like the one above of Mom and her sisters when they were young women. I think it must have been taken in late 1950 or early 1951 because Mom has an engagement ring but no wedding band. She and my father were married in Vancouver, BC, on November 21, 1951 shortly after she turned 23. I wonder what they were celebrating when this picture was taken? I’ll never know…

Crabbit Old Woman

by Phyllis McCormack

What do you see, people, what do you see?
What are you thinking, when you look at me
A crabby old woman, not very wise.
Uncertain of habit, with far-away eyes,
Who dribbles her food and makes no reply.
When you say in a loud voice “I do wish you’d try!

Who seems not to notice the things that you do.
And forever is losing a stocking or shoe.
Who, unresisting or not; lets you do as you will.
With bathing and feeding, the long day to fill.
Is that what you’re thinking, is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, you’re not looking at me.

I’ll tell you who I am as I sit here so still!
As I rise at your bidding, as I eat at your will.
I’m a small child of 10 with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters, who loved one another.
A young girl of 16 with wings on her feet,
Dreaming that soon now a lover she’ll meet.
A bride soon at 20 – my heart gives a leap,
Remembering the vows that I promised to keep.

At 25 now I have young of my own
Who need me to build a secure happy home.
A woman of 30, my young now grow fast,
Bound to each other with ties that should last.
At 40, my children have grown and are gone,
But my man’s beside me to see I don’t mourn.
At 50 once more babies play around my knee,
Again we know children, my loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead,
I look at the future, I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing young of their own.
And I think of the years and the love that I’ve known.
I’m an old woman now and nature is cruel,
‘Tis her jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body is crumbled, grace and vigor depart,
There is now a stone where I once had a heart.

But inside this old carcass, a young girl still dwells,
And now and again my battered heart swells.
I remember the joy, I remember the pain,
And I’m loving and living life over again.
I think of the years all too few – gone too fast,
And accept the stark fact that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, people, open and see,
Not a crabby old woman, LOOK CLOSER, SEE ME.

Here’s the trailer of a short film based on the poem (SO touching):

I tried in vain to track down the author of this poem which is attributed to “Anonymous” wherever I found it posted.

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12 Comments

  1. Hi my friend the Amazing Susan,

    I used to have this on my wall when I ran aged care facilities – it is definitely one of the oldies but a goodie!!!!
    Always touches me deeply with the sentiments.

    Sorry I’ve been off the grid a bit – was in Israel for work for 3 weeks, and have been home for 10 days and now am off to South Africa until the end of the moth.

    Hope life is treating you well and I shall try and put some posts up very soon – as always I still follow yours and continue to think you are amazing.. 🙂

    Cheers and smiles.

    Leah.x

  2. Good to see this poem. I was recently looking for it but I couldn’t remember enough of it to search for it! Now that I see it, I remember the title when I read it, in a hospital around 1980 (it made such a big impression on me). The title at the top of the poem, which was framed and on an office wall, was Crabbit Old Woman. I just now used that title to search for it, and I did find that they have tracked down the author:

    (From Wikipedia) – >>”Crabbit Old Woman”, also variously titled “Look Closer”,[1] “Look Closer Nurse”, “Kate”, “Open Your Eyes”[2] or “What Do You See?”,[3] is a poem written in 1966 by Phyllis McCormack, then working as a nurse in Sunnyside Hospital, Montrose. The poem is written in the voice of an old woman in a nursing home who is reflecting upon her life. Crabbit is Scots for “bad-tempered” or “grumpy”…<<

  3. Lovely picture of your Mom and her sisters and Mom. Your Mother appears to be the only woman wearing a corsage so perhaps the family is celebrating her Engagement? Just a thought as they used to do that : ). Wishing you a sun filled Thanksgiving weekend. Patty

    • Yes, Patty, I had the same thought; there’s a strong possibility you’re right. She’s front and center and wears the distinctive dress with panache. She has always been stylish and perfectly turned out in the right attire for the occasion. Mom was never a “fashion plate,” but she had excellent fashion sense and an appreciation for good quality, good value and good looks. She would chide me if I even thought about leaving the house wearing something that was not ironed – even when I was well into my 50s!

  4. Very touching suzie cue,
    She might have added
    So greateful to have a loving daughter as you to feed me and love me so unconditionally through the ups and mostly downs of my olden and difficult years
    Happy thanksgiving Punkie
    xxxx

    • <3 Yes, that's true Louise :)

      I had Mom for dinner at my place last night and I mentioned that you had invited us for turkey, but that it was too far for us to go. She said "That was nice of Luigi." :)

      Happy Thanksgiving to you too.

  5. Some additional thoughts:

    At first read, this poem appears to be about appreciating old people. It is that. But it’s also about appreciating every season as we experience life and as we witness it experienced by others.

    Take a look around and really SEE those you see <3 <3 <3

    XOX Susan

  6. The change of energy and vitality in our lives as we age is sad and moving. We can never know what is in the hearts and minds of others, heck, sometimes I barely know what is in mine! Photo is beautiful, poem is moving.

    • I see it and am experiencing it as a cycle and yes a “change” rather than a loss. Unbelievably, even in the midst of this disease which includes so many losses, i see small ways in which Mom has gained. I surely have grown in the struggle of coping with her illness in ways I never would have dreamed.

      I am also deeply saddened as I witness the way elders are treated. I strongly believe this must change.

      Yes, I also sometimes find it hard to know my own heart and mind! Constant questioning and reflection is required 🙂

      I was delighted to discover both the photo and the poem. And I’m so glad you are there to share this journey with us Heidi <3

  7. I look into my mom’s eyes in those old photos and try to see what she felt at all the different ages. I thought I knew her very well, but now that she is gone, I wonder if I really knew what was in her heart. Life gets more complex as we get older, doesn’t it? Your mom was very beautiful and deserves to be remembered with love and respect.

    • “Life gets more complex…” Yes, it sure does. But it also gets more simple and basic. Such a paradox.

      I regret not having more meaningful conversations with Mom over the years and I wish I had somehow recorded and documented the ones I did have so I could better remember them. On the other hand, I’m grateful to Alzheimer’s for having brought our relationship into sharper focus and inverted in such a way that has allowed the both us to experience each other in a completely different mode.

      And yes, once they are “gone,” there is no way to know. It’s too bad we often only fully realize that when it’s too late… Still, it’s interesting that you are getting to know your Mom, and looking her life and perhaps your own through a questioning lens now.

      I still find Mom beautiful, but in a different way 🙂

      Happy Thanksgiving <3

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