Mothers Day 2013
I presently know very little about my mother, Charlotte Walden. She succumbed to polio epidemic in Phoenix in 1946, when I was about her age in the photo above. My father was still too grief stricken before his own death to discuss Charlotte at length, but I managed to piece together a few bits and pieces.
Bruce Campbell Walters met Charlotte during the WW II at an Oregon movie theatre while he was on leave. Her first husband was killed in the war. She had a child by him; my sister, Oveta. He said Oveta had reached over to grab the brass buttons on his uniform while at the theatre, and he began chatting with Charlotte as a consequence.
Oveta was raised by her grandmother, in Oregon, where I located her in 1997 after noticing that my birth certificate disclosed that I had two siblings by Charlotte. My older brother “Pat” and I were taken to Phoenix. I vaguely remember squabbling on the kitchen floor with Pat as a small child. He was adopted by my grandmother when Charlotte died, my father keeping me, he said, having promised Charlotte to do so on her death bed. He took me to the Midwest, remarried and divorced, and left me in Muskogee, Oklahoma with a foster family for some time before retrieving me after he found another wife in Kansas—he later said that I would have been a lot better off if he had left me an orphan. I was told that Pat, when he was 17 years-old, fell asleep on the couch one day in Phoenix, and did not wake up. That left one sibling, Oveta. She has a huge family. I hope to meet her. She is not fond of the Internet, so we are pen pals
My father recounted that Charlotte woke him up late one night. She was coughing and having trouble getting her breath. He took her to the hospital. A couple of days later she could barely breathe at all. Her ability to speak deteriorated rapidly. She struggled to spell out R-E-S-P-I-R-A-T-O-R to my father. He begged the nurses for a respirator, but was told they were all being used for the epidemic. She died in his arms. He was naturally devastated.
Shortly before my father died in Kansas City, aged 90, he sent me a photograph of Charlotte as an adult. It is to my eternal chagrin that I somehow misplaced it when I moved from New York City. It might be in a box in my daughter’s attic but I cannot bear to ask her to search several boxes—better that she toss the entire lot since I have one foot in my own grave and doubt whether I can get up there to do it myself. I do know that I often prayed to Charlotte, and sometimes my prayers were answered, in marked contrast to the results of my prayers to the gods and goddesses recommended to me: God, Jesus, and Mary. The people who told me that Jesus loved me convinced me that he was only one who did so if he existed. Most of my history has been a terrible mistake, so I am sometimes astonished that I have survived this long to regret it. “That was not me as I am now,” I tell myself, and try to do some good deeds, none of which goes unpunished.
My father was grievously traumatized by Charlotte’s death. He suffered for the rest of his life from what I dubbed the Orpheus Complex, attempting to recover her from the Underworld by means of the little poems that he was wont to frequently polish, none being quite perfect. And he eventually tried to turn himself into Charlotte, taking her name for his own for some time. Here are a few of his poems under his pen name R.B.C. Walters:
Little David Smiled
The priestly words the priest intoned,
Computing nothing to my ears,
For they were tendered null by stimuli
My eyes were forced to see,
Beginning with my mother's face
So tranquil so long,
Transformed into a face of grief,
Flooded with her tears,
As we somehow stood before
A wide expanse of tended grass
Upholding on its breast
Crosses white in perfect rows,
Each one above a grave.
And, as gratuity from Hell
An open grave, too near, too near,
Eager for to hold the dear
And unflawed form of Charlotte
Sans breath of life and flow of blood,
Yet lovely in her youth.
In every dismal hour that night
The skies exuded rain,
And in the very dark of them
Her lonely spirit rose
And, through the path of love we shared,
Each to the other known,
Found her way back home.
Spirits have no way to speak
And lack substantial form,
But, as the leaves of Autumn dance
When Autumn breezes flow,
Papers trembled in my hand
When her presence passed my chair
Revealing that she was there.
And little David smiled.
He woke not from the peace of sleep.
But little David smiled.
Winds Amid the Grass
Speaking through the torrent of my tears,
I sought to know what no man knows,
Why Death at random seeks
The very young and very old
Along with those whose competence is full
As was dear Charlotte's when her last hour came.
The evening winds amid the grass above her grave
Were all the answers I received
Save that they were winds amid the grass.
To My Beloved Charlotte
Fifty years have passed, and three years more,
And post-war Phoenix where we lived
Has fashioned from its crucible the desert sand
Marvels greater than Babylon.
Of every person we then knew,
Only I continue in this world
To mark the anniversary each year
Of your too sudden death.
Shall Nostalgia therefore forbid,
As I'm in transit through some morning half-awake
Between a night bereft of you
And day also cursed,
My hand in love to lightly stroke
The reach of bed where in the former times
You were? Shall God demur if in the lonely hour
My thoughts regress to Phoenix lost
And how your presence graced it?
The Preacher Preached
The preacher preached.
I made no sense
Of anything he said.
My eyes as though not eyes of mine
Witnessed things unreal
As Charlotte, paler than before,
Was lowered toward the ground.
All night long the cold rain fell,
Invading Charlotte's grave.
And in an hour most dark,
Charlotte as a Spirit came
Translucent to our home,
But came not for a view of me
But came to see her child
And To Phoenix
Phoenix, Phoenix, land of Sol,
Nourished by your acquirer below,
I'll not walk your streets again
Nor with these eyes behold
How your buildings, floor by floor,
Of steel and stone and glass,
Soar so high through summer skies
They risk the wrath of Elohim.
Be what you are, if dressed in gold.
I'll never by first class
Nor ever via coach return
Except I come sans mortal form
Seeking Charlotte's grave.
My friend Theresa Jodray managed to find Charlotte’s resting place at a cemetery managed by Grimshaw Mortuary in Phoenix. The headstone had been removed, I was told, and there was otherwise no identifying marker. Theresa said she had wandered about the grounds and finally had a feeling for a particular spot. She asked an employee about the spot, she said, but was told there was no one buried there. She persisted. The records were searched, and they showed that Charlotte was interred on that very spot. She penned this poem:
For the Man and Children She Left Behind by Theresa Jodray
She walks through the world just passing time
A spirit longing for the man and children she left behind
Watching over all the people she knew
Sometimes she's been sad and sometimes blue
Sharing in their walk throughout this life
Watching all their trials with strife
She whispers softly in their ears trying to help them
She hopes they will hear
Watching her own children grow big and tall
When they left her body they were so small
Just a ghost of a woman from a different time
With a heart full of love for those left behind
She watches them closely as they sleep
Wondering will they know her when again they meet
She's seen their mistakes, if they only knew
She's always been with them when her life was through
So she walks through the world just passing time
A spirit longing for the man and children she left behind.
By R.B.C. Walters
September 12, 2000
Psychic, psychic, psychic seer,
You stood upon the spot above
Where dear Charlotte lies,
And your photo via Internet
Caused my tears to flow.
But thank you, thank you, psychic seer,
For now you have confirmed
What sometimes seemed unreal,
That Charlotte was and Charlotte is.
Thanks for finding her.
I believe my mother is still watching over me at this moment. I do not believe that ghosts hover over places where physical remains are finally left or dissipated, but I do believe, based on my personal experience with my father’s ashes and tropical fish in the ocean that, when those places are visited with a certain intention or strong belief, the spiritual aspect of the deceased person, which is actually everywhere but nowhere is particular, may focus or “visit” the psyche of the living person at that spot. It is with that in mind that I hope to find a publisher for my father’s little book of poems, which he was so proud of, and commit the proceeds to the purchase of a beautiful marker for Charlotte’s grave.