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By Don Kenton Henry


Yours was the first voice I heard

Each breath you took you shared with me, My heart beat but for you

You kept your place each time I stumbled, though everything inside you begged, “Pick him up!”

But you were there when I took my first steps

You counseled me through my failures and my victories and taught me what to take and what to leave behind from each

And I watched as your partner, a guy they called “my dad”, walked out the door and left you with three more like me

And I saw the first hint of gray


You had a patch for broken hearts delivered at the hands of winsome school girls

And ice for the black eye delivered by a bully or two

“Wear them proudly!” you urged, “You’re just giving life a whirl!”

And so I did

And I watched your hair turn a little grayer


You were at the principal’s office each time they said I couldn’t learn

At the police station each time they said I was bound for juvy hall

And when I totaled my first three cars

Some said I had a death wish

I replied, “I like life too much . . .”

And you said, “He’s finding his way. He will show you all.”

And you believed this even though I did not

And I watched your hair turn grayer still


I watched you cry as the bus took me away 1,500 miles to live with that same guy we once called your partner. Something you swore you would never let happen

When everything inside said, “Stop that bus and let my young man off.”

But―when no one else would take me―that’s when I got religion. And you were there when that bus came back the other way

And four high schools later I graduated. Something of which you said you had always dreamed

You smiled a smile―more with those big brown doe eyes of yours―than with your lips

Eyes that spoke more than words could say

And you never pushed college on me the way you did number two and number three

Younger . . . but far more focused than I


You watched me walk across that high school stage and then let me walk out the door of our home once more. You let me earn my way with my hands and back. Watched me grow strong while I labored with older men building boilers and railroads until my arms became hard like those things of iron and steel

All while your hair became like laced with white―as the bark of oaks―or Indiana corn rows become laced and lined with wind-driven snow


But my mind was soft and idle so I came to you

And you asked, “Is it time?” And I said, “Yes”.

And you went to bat for me once more and got me a chance  where no one owed me one

And that chance changed my life. Once more you changed the course you had set in motion


And when my only child was born, and everyone held their breath in fear I would neglect the gift that life had brought me, you told them “Watch him rise to this occasion.”

I named her for your mother. But for her, I wouldn’t have had you. But for you, I wouldn’t have the gift I pay forward in my daughter

And I lay in the other bed, across the room from yours, and listened as you spoke with pride of your children and grandchildren

You spoke not a word of regret for yourself or of what I know life shorted you

Only of your pride in us . . . and me

The others more deserving. I guess me because I walk straight where once I stumbled

And somehow you managed to keep your hair, though now all was white and thin as the frost on the hospice windows that Christmas, your favorite of the holidays


I listened to the nurses and caretakers who had looked after you the last three months enter your room and I bore witness as they told how you changed their lives. More than one single mother going back to night school or college

“Your mother believed in me when no one else did,” they told me, with tears in their eyes.

“I’m sure she did. She saw the good in you. She had that way about her,” I said


And I was there for you when the radiation failed and cancer was claiming a body that should have had many more days with her flower garden, grand babies and, now, grand babies

And I told you so

And you said, “Ah, Don . . . I was just giving life a whirl. You keep doing it for me.”


And I was there, just me and the preacher holding hands at the foot of your bed, the others having gone home for a change of clothes and a meal, when that preacher prayed, “Dear heavenly father, please take Marietta into your arms and welcome her into the Kingdom of Heaven.”  I watched your chest slowly rise and fall with his words. And it went up with, “Welcome her into the Kingdom” and came down with “Heaven”. And never came up again


And I am here now. Still breathing and my heart still beating since you started this thing for me called, “life”. And I see you standing in the door of our home. It is summer and you are wearing that cotton plaid dress, the one of subtle red, black and green you sewed for yourself so you could buy store bought for the four of us. And your hair is thick and dark as that of a Persian Princess and your brown, doe eyes are deep and bright and smile even more than your lips as I come up the steps



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