I wrote this poem thirty-five years ago. It has been published several times and I have had two different people tell me that they have it in their homes, framed on the wall. I’ve never been I never liked the way it ended. The original ending was short of what I meant, it was just wrong and I’ve never been able to fix it, partially because the original version was in my head and I couldn’t get around it.

The poem is written from a story told to me by my Grandmother, Melinda Caroline Nelson Benson. It tells the story of the bonnet that her Grandmother, Karen Marie Jensen, carried across the ocean and across the plains from Denmark to Utah. Karen came to Utah with a handcart company, having to literally push all her belongings across the plains. Crossing the long prairies and several different mountain ranges, the company had to constantly lighten their load, leaving belongings all along the trail. In Denmark, Karen had been a seamstress, an artist who did the finest needlework on expensive clothing and linens. She brought with her a bonnet that she had made, a confection of silk, satin and handmade lace that she felt was the most beautiful thing she had ever created. No matter how hard the trail became, or what else she had to leave behind, Karen would not leave her bonnet. It was a thing of beauty, made by her own hands and she said that no matter what happened, she would take into her new life something of grace and beauty, as a sign of faith and hope. The “I” in my poem is my Grandmother, the old woman her grandmother. My mother still has the bonnet as well as the rocking chair that my Great-grandfather made, held together by whittled pegs, because they had no nails.

I visited the Isle of Ancestors and was met by Melinda and Karen, two women of learning, courage, spirit and heart. Both women believed strongly in knowledge and beauty, in hope and faith. Together the three of us rewrote the ending of this poem. It came out in rhyme, and now carries the meaning that I originally intended for it, but have been unable for thirty-five years to find.

EPC


The Bonnet

I walked her home
For I was young and strong
And I felt good for giving
My arm to one that shook with age

She sat in the sturdy rocking chair
That her husband had made
With just a knife
For they had no nails
And told me of “The Crossing”
And I felt good for giving
A minute of my youth and streaming life
To listen

She showed me the bonnet
Lovely still, though out of style
And told me how she had carried it
Through the dirt and the rain
And I looked
And wondered about giving

She wove me a wealth of wisdom
While I sat at her feet
In my first understanding of life
With aging silk and satin
A treasure of trust in her shaking hands
The beauty she would not leave behind
Still mirrored in her soft old eyes

She taught me the truth of tomorrow
Living means giving in age or youth
Knowledge and beauty are seeds of hope
And dreams are the birth of truth

~ Edwina Peterson Cross ~

For My Great-grandmother – Karen Marie Nilson Jenson
My Grandmother – Melinda Caroline Nelson Benson
And My Mother – Zetta Benson Peterson