Saturday, January 16, 2010

emma


Emma


Shadows of my family
hang from your smile,
like the chain
on your clean lace blouse.

Galena Kansas,
branded on the photo,
tags your face, like cattle
marked for market.

Committed, they said.
Pay no attention
to that girl
behind the curtain.

Days of silence
in a dark corral,
only the absent rattle
of pain and shackles.

The smile, tucked away
in a hope chest
with your locket
and ruby slippers,

waits for the scarecrow
and tin man to link arms
and steer you along
that yellow brick road
to the sky.



willow, 2009


Emma was my great-grandmother. She was committed to Central
State Hospital in Indianapolis shortly after the birth of her first
child, my grandmother, in 1914. It's tragic to think she may have
been institutionalized for life, for something as simple, and treatable
today, as postpartum depression.


For more Sepia Saturday participants click [HERE].

73 comments:

  1. That tragedy befell so many people. Sad, but beautifully written.

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  2. Oh, that is devastating, both the poem and the story. I'm welling up. Hits very close to home for me...an incredible post.

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  3. A wonderful poem, Willow! such a sad story too.

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  4. I guess timing is everything... Indeed this is a sad tale, beautifully interpreted. One can only hope that some reward was given to her..perhaps the Ruby Slippers and the path to Oz.

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  5. There were women in my family who had depression. If only there were anti-depressants in those days, some would not have been institutionalized. It was called "nervous breakdown" at the time. My heart goes out to your great grandmother. She looks so lovely and sweet.

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  6. Such a heartbreaking poem and story about your great-grandmother. Those state hospitals were horrible places to be locked up in that era. I remember my psychiatric rotation at Charity Hospital in New Orleans and that was only about 45 years ago - the hospital was entirely segregated then, and segregated further into male and female, and open and closed units. Patients were herded into huge community showers together, no privacy. And, when I was there, everyone practically got shock treatment, with no sort of preanesthetic! I hated it as a student nurse.

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  7. Powerful story and such a treatable condition in our times.

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  8. What a sad fate for such a beautiful woman. Another reason why I wouldn't want to have lived in an earlier time.

    Imagine if she could know that her great-granddaughter would one day write such a lovely poem.

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  9. Willow,

    A heart-wrenching poem and story of your great-grandmother. How did this affect your grandmother? This is so sad.

    Marjorie

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  10. willow what a gift to her presence and what a heart-breaking consequence for the challenge she was unprepared for. so many people were abused or punished for the medical profession's unfortunate lack of understanding and knowledge at that time. have a peaceful evening at the manor. steven

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  11. heartwrenching...but so beautifully written.....

    so sad to think about women back then and what they must have endured......

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  12. Oh Willow what a beautiful woman, and what a sad story. Hits close to home for me too. I remember my psych rotation in nursing school. Hard to do since I had had shock therapy there as a young mother. ECT which I am convinced saved my life. Blessings
    QMM

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  13. This is such an amazing poem. Thank you. The picture, your thoughts, so touching and evocative. She would be so pleased to be remembered with such dignity.

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  14. My God, she looks so young and so lovely!
    What a gorgeous way to pay tribute to her. I'm sure she knows.
    Wonderful, truly wonderful!

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  15. Oh Willow, this is so deep and haunting. You have a true gift, one that pulls the reader in and won't let go...

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  16. This post really got to me. So sad yet a beautiful tribute to Emma. Thank goodness we have more information today, yet ignorance persists in many cultural arenas.

    I loved how you wove Oz and Kansas into the mix.

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  17. do you know the history of insane asylums ?
    they became popular in the early 1800's. they were mainly filled with woman.
    woman in their 40's and 50's were the main population.
    and i am sure quite a few thrown in with postpartum depression.
    but mainly....woman going through 'the change.'
    isn't that a special little name for what we go through?
    i know that i stopped sleeping, became depressed, was real sweaty, and could get really cranky, with bouts of crying.
    nice eh ?
    i thought the poem was so sad.
    i understood it well.
    xxx's to you

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  18. How very sad, Willow. I've read a bit about the treatment of the mentally ill in the past. Thank God we know more now!

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  19. Marjorie, thankfully, my grandmother was raised by her paternal grandmother, who loved her dearly.

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  20. Renee, yes, those asylums were deplorable, and Central State, was sadly one of the worst.

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  21. Oh my heart breaks for her and for what her life could have been. You have such a gift. A-M xx

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  22. Powerful, Willow. I have a great aunt who basically had the same situation: My grandmother and her sister came through Ellis Island, and Teresa was very young and pregnant when they got here...grandma wound up raising her sister's baby, and "Teresa" was institutionalized. I suppose it was not uncommon at that time, sad to say. My grandmother visited her often, but I went only once to meet her, when I was a child, and never forgot her. It's not that long ago that they treated women for "nerves" and as if they were hysterical or somehow insane. It's scary to realize how recent that all was...

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  23. I can see some family resemblances in her face! :)

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  24. Willow---These are such powerful words you have written. One can follow her whole life through the few lines of your wonderful poem. I can see we have been on the same thought waves these last couple of days. My grandmother's name was Eoma and she died in child birth for something that, today, could be treated: high blood pressure.

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  25. Willow, my daddy worked at Central State during the 1940's and it really stayed with him. Your grandmother was so pretty. I can see the family resemblance also. Thank the Lord we have come so far with mental health. I often think about that and the advances we now have with hospice and I think we are so blessed. Your poetry is so touching.

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  26. she is very beautiful and I'm sure she's proud of her great granddaughters. The same fate happened to my FILs mother (would have been about 1930ish). So sad...

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  27. Lovely photo, Willow, and so sad for her. Many people were wrongly institutionalized in that era for conditions doctors and family members were unable to deal with.

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  28. ACH! Sad tale but a wonderful tribute to Emma. When we think of all the things that are know now that medical science didn't know then...but alas, there is still so much to learn, yes? Hugs to you Willow :)

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  29. OMGosh. I was just going to say it was probably postpartum depression. Oh, so sad.

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  30. Willow,
    A very warm and loving poem to Emma. It is so sad that we all were deprived of her smile and bright eyes. Thanks! Hugs, from Unks (The Bach)

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  31. This post grips my heart.

    I suffered from PPD after having twins. It was 6 years ago but still feels like yesterday.

    Beautiful poem, beautiful post.

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  32. I so appreciate your family history stories. I have enjoyed them all. This is a beautiful poem to go with a lovely image. I'm glad you have her photo and can tell her story.

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  33. Beautiful poem Willow, tragic story. I think Carson McCullars wrote THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER. Read that in high school. And I have to tell you a little ditty about Virginia Woolf. I once read about her being prostrate on a couch with her arm draped over her face. "I'll never write again," she moaned. Have been there before. You?

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  34. A very moving poem Willow. Such a sad story, such a kind face.

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  35. Beautiful Photo, and written so well. I know many were there that
    were not suppose to be.Vety sad.

    Yvonne

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  36. its not just sad, it's horrifying. do you send your poems out?

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  37. you had me hooked with the opening lines..wonderful imagery. scary the things considered cures in the past...glad we have advanced...smiles.

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  38. That's such a tragic story, & a moving re-telling in your poem.

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  39. Beautifully written. And sadly accepted.

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  40. Such a beautiful woman but what a heart wrenching story and poem.

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  41. A very moving poem and a tragic situation.It reminds me a little of the fate of 'Camille Claudel'. This is a French movie that I know you would enjoy!

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  42. Haunting photo -- especially so after learning the story behind it.

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  43. such a sad and tragic tale..powerful post

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  44. Rallentanda, I love the Camille Claudel movie so much, I have a copy in my little film library!

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  45. What a moving post, with yet another beautiful Willow poem. As for myself, I'm so glad to be a woman *here* and *now*.

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  46. Sad, very sad, Not more than just a girl. women really took the brunt of "medical" maddness.

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  47. This is a very moving poem, Willow.
    We were just discussing Emma a couple of days ago...synchronicity again.
    Her story is so sad & tragic and would have been so preventable today.
    And her smile is beautiful : )

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  48. Hello Willow,

    Nice to see this again despite the sorrow behind it.

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  49. What a beautiful life wasted.

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  50. Such awful suffering and here you are remembering...her great grand daughter.

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  51. Willow, that is the saddest thing. Depression untreated and unrecognized is still the plight of so many women worldwide. I am sorry that your grandmother had to grow up without her mother. I cannot imagine anything sadder for a child than to grow up without a mother's love and presence.
    Your beautiful words brought tears to my eyes. Lovely, lovely poem.

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  52. Thanks, Derrick, you're the only one who mentioned remembering it from a previous post. "Sepia Saturday" seemed to me like a good reason to recycle it.

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  53. Beautiful picture and poem - She looks so happy in the picture. So many women were committed back then for simple and/or treatable problems. How sad! Thank you so much for stopping by! Good to see you

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  54. How common that was...to be hospitalized permanently for PPD. SO VERY SAD.

    The name Emma is precious to me...NOT because it is a "dime a dozen" popular name in the 21st century but for its history. We had FOUR grandma's named Emma...thus our oldest daughter has their name. I LOVE IT!

    Your Grandmother Emma was beautiful.

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  56. What a beautiful poem, so real and raw.. it evokes so many emotions! Thank you for opening up your heart to us!

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  57. how great that you took a sad, sad situation and honored your great-grandmother with a beautiful poem.

    hits me in my gut since I've been through post partum depression twice now.

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  58. wow, the same thing happened to my great grandmother. She was in for just over 2 years. I wonder how common this was back then....

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  59. Wow. That is so intense. I learned only recently that my grandmother, at the birth of her fourth child (within six years) had to go for a rest back to Mississippi where she was born, from Brooklyn. The four children, including the newborn were farmed out to relatives. This was something that was NEVER discussed in our family until my own sister, almost SEVENTY years later, had a severe breakdown after giving birth to her third child.

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  60. That is such a moving piece. You say so much with so few words. It has to be one of the best pieces of poetry I have read in a long while.

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  61. Preaise the day you decided to write poetry...and to share it here. God bless the life & spirit of Emma...and her legacy manifested today as we read your art!

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  62. A beautiful woman. You write so well. I live near an Institution was used for all sorts of atrocities. Today it houses only those so unteachable, but they are give care with respect.

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  63. This is gripping. And yet you honour her with tenderness.
    She is so young.

    We are so very blessed now. It makes us accountable to all of these souls somehow.

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  64. I also had a great grandmother who suffered from mental problems, but in the mountains of North Carolina at the time, those things went untreated. She was just carefully handled (or avoided, on bad days) by the community. She basically ruled the family with an iron hand, as her bipolar rages were so unpleasant that everyone wanted to keep her happy for their own sanity's sake.

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  65. She was beautiful and this is so sad.Your poem is wonderful Willow!

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  66. Marcheline, the situation with your gg is very similar to one I experienced.

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  67. Thank you gentle readers, for your heartfelt comments on this sad piece of my family history.

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  68. That was a common way of not only "treating" depression, but of getting uppity women out of the way. Glad I wasn't living in those times.

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  69. Emma was very beautiful. I often wonder if PPD (we're all dr's and we dx'd her via the time portal)isnt PTS. Maybe something happened to this lovely lady that she never could tell being that it was the Victorian era and the ERA hadn't been invented yet. If she could talk of what was really bothering her maybe she wouldn't have "flipped her wig" a la Arthur Janov's Primal Scream. Thank goodness for serotonins and mayo inhibitors. Still a long way to go baby! Maybe a seance would see if her spirit could rest from such past indignities to the individual. Bless her soul!

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  70. Willow, that is heart breaking. A lovely tribute to her, though. And a lovely photo.

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Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.
― O. Henry (and me)