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Untitled Poetry Collection

In fond memory of my mother-in-law

Edna Yoder Miller



At first, I call her Mom.

I always thought I would do that—

my mom called her mother-in-law Mom—

but it feels awkward for me,


and after my own mother dies,


I could call her Edna, but that feels so impersonal,

even though that is her name.

My husband calls her Mom, of course.

Our children call her Grandma,

and as grandmas go,

she’s the most loving,




grandma there is.

One day I try it, call her Grandma.

She doesn’t seem to mind.

It slides smoothly off my tongue. I try it again.

It feels right. I don’t know it then,

but our time together

has just begun.

In her later years,

the hands so quick to help me

will need help.

I will become her caregiver,

her advocate,

her friend.

Our worlds will intertwine,

my news, her news;

her cares, my cares.

Silly me, I will learn

the title doesn’t matter

when you hear each other clearly

with your heart.

The Nursing Home

We leave in forty-five minutes.

Grandma is ready:

suitcase packed,

favorite sweater on,

pack of Kleenexes in her pocket.

It’s now or never. I gather my wits,

find a paper and pencil,

and begin to ask questions.

These blue cups and saucers—

different in design, all clearly old—

who did they belong to?

What is the story of this little penknife?

How old is this vase?

Did Grandpa give you this mirror?

She follows me to the back room with her walker,

turns the walker around,

sits on the seat with a plop.

I open the cedar chest. Grandma leans forward as I lift up each item.

That flower garden quilt—my mom quilted that for me. Let’s take it along.

The quilt is faded and worn, and we discover later it will not fit her bed.

Dad wore that white suit when he worked in the mental hospital.

It is no longer white.

Oh, the friendship quilt! I quilted that with Mom and my sisters before I left home.

Pink strips divide brightly embroidered squares with the names of Grandma’s nine siblings.

I dig deeper in the cedar chest. I am pinning notes onto each item.

Be careful with that pin on that old fabric! Grandma says.

Finally, we need to leave. Grandma takes a good look around.

This trailer, this home,

place of much joy,

much pain.

There is love in her leaving—

she knows it is best for us—

there is love in our sending—

we know it is best for her—

but now that this day is here,

we are all holding tight

to years of memories and relationship.

They will hold us steady.

We can’t know it then,

but Grandma will be okay.

Last One Standing

She will go if it kills her.

She will go if it is the last thing she does.

It’s Mary’s funeral; Grandma will be there.

We always thought Grandma would die first.

Mary was the youngest sister.

Mary always got better.

How will Grandma go on

without Mary?

Grandma will represent her generation

at this funeral. The rest are gone:

Alvin, William, Perry, Aaron, Levi,

Martha, Barbara, Irma, and now Mary,

not to mention every last one

of the in-laws.

We scramble to figure out what Grandma will wear:

the sweatpants and sweatshirts

she wears every day at the nursing home

will never do.

Yet she must be warm.

Her clothing must bring her comfort

on this day, one of the hardest days

of her life.

In the end, we bring the beautiful sweater—

creamy with blues, pinks, golds—

Grandma has asked to be buried in. She will enjoy it

while she is alive.

Her favorite nurse

gives her a special hairdo.

We fit dark bedroom slippers over her feet,

protecting the sores underneath.

This may be too much for her; we don’t know.

But she will be there.

Her nephews and nieces will see their dear Aunt Edna

one last time.

They will talk to her in Dutch.

She will know their names.

She will look beautiful

one last time.

The Comforter

We wrestle with the quilting stands, my daughters and I.

These stands, these frames

were as familiar to Grandma as breathing.

So how did she choose which quilting sticks to use?

Which side of the sticks turn in and which turn out?

Wouldn’t she laugh to see us! If only we could ask her.

What pins did she use to pin the backing on?

Oh, that’s what the funny-looking pins were for!

Next, we know, comes the batting, pull it further, there.

We complete it with the quilt top; let’s just knot this one.

For today, one on each side of the quilting frame,

we will talk women’s talk while pulling needles through.

We’ll come behind, snipping yarns and knotting knots,

then roll in sides and take the comforter out.

We all feel close to Grandma, somehow, though we know

none of us can quilt like Grandma did.

It’s enough to feel the joy of our accomplishment



“What kind of cookie is this?” my sister texts, sending a picture.

I have given her a plate of Christmas cookies.

The cookie in her fingertips is half-eaten,

buttery crumbs and bright yellow frosting, the perfect companion to her creamy coffee.

“I didn’t know these existed!”

I didn’t know, either,

until I met my mother-in-law.

It’s a thumbprint, this cookie.

I don’t make them every Christmas—

I’m far too lazy.

I was going to take a shortcut this year,

skip dipping them in nuts,

but oh no,

not okay with my daughter, home for the holidays:

she was going for the real deal.

Grandma’s thumbprints

require the best ingredients—

no substitute for real butter!

the most steps—

mix the dough,

shape the dough balls,

dip in eggs, then nuts—

the closest watching—

make the thumb imprint at precisely five minutes;

bake exactly eight minutes more.

Grandma filled the thumbprints with bright dabs of frosting:





an Easter rainbow at Christmas!

It’s the only way to make thumbprints.

It’s easy to find the recipe in my recipe box,

one of a few in Grandma’s distinctive, pointed cursive—

look for the splatted, dog-eared one

(actually, look for two of them,

because it wore apart on the fold).

These days, our thumbs make the prints in these cookies,

but if we close our eyes,

we can imagine they taste just a bit

like Grandma’s.

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