Dancer First on the Floor, Debi

Back then, we had sunburned tips of noses,

sand permanently stuck to feet.

Dinner, a pig pulled and dressed,

Sat abandoned on paper plates.

Sacrifice meant nothing as waves

Crashed near, and the skim of the pool

Wobbled gently.


A standing speaker lept alive.

Soulful beats familiar thanks to dad.

But I was afraid.


Afraid of my height, of my body and how it would

Move wrong or freeze. Afraid of an empty, chlorinated

Dance floor that could swallow me whole.


Did you know this fear? We never saw.

Instead, you charged ahead.

A dancer first on the floor,

celebrity in style, grace and light.

You the heartbeat and we now rushing cells.


How we danced! Your bronzed arms

Swinging front to back. Legs in rhythmic

Steps side to side. Husband across

Matching each joyful bounce. Your ever-widening

Smile an invitation to join

a life of frequency spun open like a feast.


Each song was a gift

and I suddenly lifted from the puddles.


There in North Carolina,

You taught me to be free.

How to harness a deep energy and then, pass it along.


We like ripples danced

until music became goodbye.

Us cousins, tired and sated, followed

like ducklings back over the boards

to a home temporarily by the sea.


written 4.1.20

lunch with my great aunt Alice

The Milton Inn has this blue room
draped heavy in the past –
silver forks and knives
and glassware I used to polish
in early mornings when I learned
to drink my coffee black.

My great aunt Alice and I
used to take our lunches there
sipping diet coke and lemon our
three course meal a time
to talk of lives alike. Her handwriting in
pencil saying, “lovely, lovely.”

[author’s note: my great aunt Alice was an incredible woman and I really miss our lunches. They were a time to talk about writing and grammar and all the things we were geeky for. I still have her edits on my college work. I still can hear her telling me to go west on a trip that she could never take.]

written 11.20.10

remembering my grandfather

Remembering my grandfather today~ (from his obit, written by my uncle)

Charles (Chuck) F. Burrows was born August 15, 1915 in Cleveland, Ohio, to his parents Ethel M. and Harry O. Burrows of Shaker Heights. He graduated from Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland with a BS in Metallurgical Engineering in 1937 and a Masters Degree in Metallurgical Engineering in 1939. He was a member of the Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity.

Thanks to a fortuitous trip to Baltimore, Chuck found the Glenn L Martin Company. The rapidly growing aircraft company was seeking young engineers and offered to hire Chuck on the spot. He started work there in December 1939 and watched the company grow to over 50,000 employees during the war and then downsize to 600 before he retired. Chuck spent a combined total of 45 years with the Martin Company, most of which was spent in the AMT (Advanced Manufacturing Lab). He retired from what was then called Martin Marietta in 1984.

During part of his career with the Glenn L. Martin Company, he worked at the Omaha, Nebraska plant from 1941-1945. There he worked on the Enola Gay, the B-29 Bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb during WWII. He led a team to structurally test the bomb carrier assembly on the plane and had no idea at the time it was for an atomic bomb. At one point, he almost lost his life when a window exploded out of a B-29 during a pressure test, missing him by inches.

One of Chuck’s most notable achievements was the Granting of Patent for the Martin Hard Coating Process, which is still in use today.

Martin Hard Coating is a non-metallic oxide resistant coating applied to aluminum, which provides exceptional corrosion wear resistance. An excellent example of this technology can be found today in Analon Cookware. Chuck’s expertise in metal finishing techniques was world renowned and this was only one of many patents he was responsible for during his career as a metallurgist. Chuck was an avid member of and lecturer with the American Welding Society.

In the late 1950’s, Chuck started his own business, Metal Finishers, Inc., on Franklintown Road in Baltimore. His company was the first Alcoa-Certified, Martin Hard Coating licensee in Baltimore. The business grew to about 50 employees before aggressive union tactics eventually forced him out of business. With partner Bernie Bandelin, another metallurgist who worked and retired from Martin Marietta, Chuck also started B&B Services, a metals joining and consulting service.

Chuck owned his own airplane for many years, a 1940’s Ercoupe, which he flew all over the country. He had plenty of hair raising stories to tell of landing in corn fields, leaking fuel tanks, and flying without instrumentation. But this was before meeting the love of his life Florence, who gave him an ultimatum: her or the airplane…. Chuck chose wisely, and he and Flo were happily married for over 58 years.

Another major aspect of Chuck’s life was his passion for sports, in particular ice hockey and skating. He was on an ice hockey team destined for the 1940 Winter Olympics in Sapporo Japan; however, these games were cancelled due to the onset of World War II. Tough as nails, he had a hard slap shot and even stitched himself up on the sidelines in order to finish the game.

Chuck was an avid bowler in one of the oldest established men’s leagues in the country, the Drug Trade. He bowled over 50 years in that same league, with 20 of those years shared with his youngest son, Rick. Golf and tennis were other passions. He played as often as he could, especially after he retired. Chuck had an excellent short game, always giving friends and family a fit.

An active Shiner, Chuck was a member of the Waverly Lodge and a longtime member of the Boumi Temple Harem. He most often paraded in full Harem Costume. He and Flo attended all sorts of functions with the Shrine: dances, the famous Shrine Circus, and of course, the wild Shrine Conventions. Many longtime friends were made in the shrine.

Vacations with the family were cherished events that took place every summer starting out in Ocean City Maryland and eventually moving to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Playing with his grandchildren, golfing with the boys, playing horseshoes on the beach, relaxing with a newspaper, and going out to eat were Chuck’s favorite pastimes.

During his retirement, Chuck spent many hours building various woodworking projects that he enjoyed giving away at Christmas time. The family displays them proudly. He and Flo were also active members of St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church for over 50 years.

my new year’s resolutions are blue painted plates

My new years’ resolutions are like blue painted plates my grandmother
used to collect with a scene in white and the year in large swooping font,
some (the favorites) hung across the top of the kitchen for display, others
stacked in the cabinets, laden with intentions of one day making it out.

When she died, we came in to clean the house and each took a plate,
mine, 1966, now sits growing dusty on a bookshelf.
I clean it every January 2.

Dull Moments? By Alice B. Johnson

The small house, very much alive,
Wonders if we all are bent,
On making life some sort of game
And looks on with a deep content

At bicycles and bathing suits,
Bats and roller skates,
Bobby-socks and dungarees
And diaries and dates —
First tuxedo to appraise,
Bow tie to approve,
Clothes discarded on the floor
Everywhere I move —
High school year books, trophies won,
Commencement and a formal prom,
Phone bell or a door bell’s ring,
“Is it Jack or Bill or Tom?”
Corsages using up the space
That always was reserved
For more important things – like food –
For dinner to be served.

It seems to say, “Dull moments where
Life lifts its restless wing?
Peace is found in homes where youth
Knows no journeying.”

[taken from Where Childern Live (1958) by my great-grandmother Alice B. Johnson]

estate sale

the first thing to go –
an Orioles picture to a man who
played for the Brooklyn Dodgers
who would, later, give it to his son;
and a couple of porcelain cats
already cherished
in the small hands of a mentally
strained woman;
the printing press and its letters
to a young artist,
and books to budding chefs –
the bedding went to Hispanics, lacking,
and I took an elephant necklace, molded carefully in gold
with tiny bells on each shoe.

memories leave their objects
and barter now
for the flecks of color in the irises of our eyes.

where children live (alice b. johnson)

This is the house where shades
Are never straight,
And children swing upon
A broken gate,
Whose groans beneath the weight
Of bodies, three,
Are lost in childish shouts
Of wildest glee.

When autumn comes to call,
And summer’s gone,
Then piles of dusty leaves
Lie on the lawn,
While parked against the steps
A bat and bike,
And all the countless things
That children like.

I’ve often seen the folk
Who pass this way,
Raise eyes and noses high
As if to say,
“This sort of place is just
No earthly good,
It spoils the looks of all
The neighborhood.”

The house may look a wreck,
The yard forlorn,
The awnings on the porch
Be sadly torn,
But if folk should become
Just say, “This is the house
Where children live.”

~title poem from Where Children Live by my great-grandmother Alice B. Johnson

wedding toast for my little sister

Since it was so well received, I thought I’d post the “toast” I gave at my sister’s wedding this past weekend. It’s a little long, but I hope you enjoy! Especially if you have or are a little sister. 
Poetry will be back tomorrow 🙂 

First – thank you to the Bryants for a fabulous rehearsal dinner and thank you to my parents – for this wonderful day, for spoiling us rotten, and for setting the bar extraordinarily high when it comes to long happy marriages!
Now… where do you start when you’ve been best friends with someone for almost 30 years? I guess you just start talking about what you know:

Leanne is my baby sister. My little pooh bear. Not only is she gorgeous, she is inspiring in so many ways – her generosity, her compassion, her way of making us all laugh with seal barks…

It’s incredible – we’ve done almost everything together. Literally, as far back as my memories stretch we’ve been side by side, partners-in-crime… For those of you without a little sister, it’s hard to describe what it’s like. It’s like this invisible thread – when she feels pain, I feel it too. When she laughs, I’m usually right there laughing. When we’re away from each other, I miss her terribly. And when we’re hanging out, I have the best time!

Since not everyone can understand, I thought I’d give you some examples. With a little sister, you can:
  • Play piano duets – not that I recommend it, but you can.
  • Experiment on whether a person can be folded into a sleep sofa. In this case, yes – but it doesn’t go over too well. And that’s all the cousins’ fault, especially Ryan!
  • Always have the best beach volleyball doubles partner
  • Count on someone to dance with you when no one else is brave enough
  • Have someone drive you to work for 3 months when you can’t
  • Always have a concert buddy, one that gets you on tour buses and backstage– and pushes you to meet your rockstar boyfriend Dave Grohl
  • Build the perfect fort in the woods
  • Share the embarrassment of cruising the Cali coast in an Aztec
  • Have someone to beat in Monopoly
  • Have a cookie decorating assembly line
  • Share secrets you wouldn’t tell anyone else in the whole world – which we used to do as little kids in these special tents on our beds…
And speaking of tents, that actually reminds me of this one time…

I was in an “explorers club” and somehow I convinced (that’s another good thing about a little sister, you have someone to convince to do things) Leanne and Megan to join. At that time, they were kind of a package deal.

The trip was back-packing on the AT. Everything went wrong – a broken tent, a boy named Toodles who teased them without mercy and peed by their tent, brown leaves/grey rocks, pasta that turned into paste, and backpacks that weighed a ton. Leanne (and Megan) were miserable. I think before the weekend was over, camping was sworn off forever.

So imagine my surprise when Leanne comes to me after one year of dating some guy named Gary, all smiling and excited about spending their anniversary on Assateague Island. Not in a hotel or bed and breakfast or RV… but CAMPING. Camping?!!

And that’s when I suddenly knew… This wasn’t just some guy, this was the one. The love of her life. The scary, overwhelming, spine tingling kind of love of her life.
And I could not have been happier then or now!

I’ve been blessed to be with Leanne and Gary since that fateful, and drunken, meeting at Portside – and even if you guys try to get rid of me, I plan on being with you for all the happy years to come. Gary, I always tell people you are exactly the brother I’ve always wanted. Except you’re a year younger and I always wanted an older brother. But no matter – I couldn’t be more excited to have you in our family!

And no matter what happens good and bad, Leanne’s always been there for me, and I’ve always tried to be there for her. While you now have a new partner in crime and someone else to blame for bad camping experiences, always know that I’m just a phone call or special sister ESP vibe away.

One last thing… Leanne loves tradition, so before we raise our glasses, we need to honor one that the new couple holds very dear….

Turn to the person next to you – raise your hand – and high five!

Now… let’s raise a glass –
To Suela and G; here’s to a love that grows stronger each day, a life that blooms bigger than a sunflower, and a life-long dedication to big bowls of ice cream followed by very loud high fives!!