Normally, I skip the obits, but every now and then the story of a life catches my eye, stirs my feelings. Sometimes, I will read the story of a stranger’s life, and I feel a certain kinship because I recognize a bit of myself: “Hey, that person, who is gone now, was a bit like me.” And then I wonder how some obit writer will put down in words the story of my life.
And so the topic of the day is Late Bloomers, and the obit in question is for Ann B. Knox, who died doing what she loved. (Isn’t that the best way, if there is a best way?) On May 10, in her 85th year, under the green spring trees in Cacapon State Park in the lovely mountain town of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, she had just finished reading from her latest book of poems at a benefit when a stroke took her away.
In the second paragraph of her story, I saw a bit of my own experience. Call it: Dreams Deferred. In her case, she “spent much of her adult life as a Foreign Service wife hopscotching from one U.S. embassy to another, raising six children at posts including Moscow, London and Karachi in Pakistan.” That was me, too, raising three children in places like Damascus, Syria; Doha, Qatar; and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. “She often grappled with life’s moments of crisis and ecstasy through writing poetry” it says, “but she did not really consider herself a writer until midlife.” Before the days of email and Facebook, I kept a journal and wrote letters, and sometimes poetry, recording what I could of the passing scenes, emotions, episodes in a life I knew would eventually end. That is the thing with writers, I think. We know about the brevity of our time here, and we like to think we can freeze the best bits of it forever in the words we string together.
And how did Ann Knox get her literary ball rolling? “When her children were grown, [she] bought a patch of land in… the foothills of the Appalachians… built a one-room cabin, dug an outhouse and spent much of her time… in that simple place, devoting herself to writing. She called herself a ‘recovering hostess.'” Well, I’ve got my suburban nest all feathered, complete with indoor plumbing, and it is not empty yet, but my schedule, formerly dominated by parenting, continues to open up to writing more and more. I feel like it’s springtime in my life and I’m ready to bloom. Time to write! (Although I never want to stop hostessing. And is there a blog about food in my writing future?)
Ann Knox published two award-winning collections of poetry: “Stonecrop,” “Staying is Nowhere,” and “Breathing In.” She also wrote a book of short stories titled “Late Summer Break,” which, according to the obit, “won praise for capturing fleeting and delicate moments of transition in the lives of parents, spouses and lovers.” Seems like worthy things for a writer to capture, and to freeze in words, for generations to come.