The Dogwood Pin.

October 28, 2011 § 11 Comments

Claudia, Chris, our mother and the family Studebaker.

Early memory, at least for me, is an archipelago.

Small islands of perfect memory rise out of the watery depths of time and forgetfulness as clear as this photo shot with my first camera (a Baby Brownie).

What follows is my memory of the first piece of jewelry I ever owned. It begins with me squatting in our gravel driveway holding the pin in my hand.

Pearl River girls, first day of school.

We lived in Pearl River New York at the time. I know that the pin came from my mother, something I found in her jewelry box and begged to keep.

The written memory takes the form of free verse but not because I was feeling poetic.

All I had to work with when I stumbled across the memory was a handful of vivid details. I remember distinctly the sensation of sharp-edged gravel beneath my bare feet, but little of the connective tissue that constitutes narrative.

I decided that rather than flesh it out I would list those details and leave it to you, the reader, to string them together.

White as the moon

in the Sunday sun

the gravel driveway


Wearing after-church shorts

(red baggy loose at the waist)

and a hand-me-down shirt

(plaid sleeveless strange pointed collar)

I squat on sharp stones my

summer tough bare feet oblivious.

In my hand is a pin

shaped like a dogwood flower

made in Germany.

Silver my mother says.


You’re a big girl now

don’t lose it.

My first piece of jewelry!

I lift a shirttail and rub it

and listen for the voices of

other turned-loose kids

some Catholic like us:

the Bullises and Pelicanos,

back from mass.

The Cioccos, Burnwhites, and Zawadas

back from synagogues

and white wood

churches less holy.

If I pin my flower on my shirt

who won’t see it shining?

I open the catch

Pinch the fabric over my heart

poke the pin through

close the clasp with a thumbnail.

My pin hangs down

dangling by a thread or two.

I pull my shoulders back

stick my chest out to

make the pin lie flat.

I smile.

Put on crooked maybe

hanging funny maybe

but still sterling

still valuable.

I walk from gravel to path

the silky dust cool between my toes

and cut through the gap

where Mrs. Bullis’s snowball bush

blooms by the fence.

The Bullises:

Mr. Mrs. Linda Johnny and Steven

go to the 11 o’clock

but it’s way past.

Peering through the screen,

smelling its dusty metal

I see kicked-off patent leather shoes

and on the table a lace veil with

a bobby pin stuck through,

a blue Baltimore catechism.

I knock for Linda to come see

and hold my shoulders back.

Note: The grandiose spaces between the lines are not mine. WordPress insisted. Please imagine the poem much smaller and less self-important.

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§ 11 Responses to The Dogwood Pin.

  • ammaponders says:

    (Why does wordpress do that?)
    I love the picture you paint–the clothes, the people coming back from worship, and the freedom to just leave the house and go throughout the neighborhood, safely. I remember when girls ran free in shorts and bare feet. When did that become inappropriate and not proper?


  • Richard D. says:

    Neighbors I would like to have known. Precious images that shiver in the memory, almost slipping away as you recall them.


    • The past can break your heart, can’t it?


      • Sheila Merlau says:

        By chance, did the pin survive your childhood?

        I have a small polished wooden elephant with a missing green jeweled eye that a neighbor child gave to me for my birthday one year. I remember my mother explaining that sometimes people don’t buy gifts, but give you the best that they have. And she thought the elephant had come from the grandparents’ travels. On a trip through the washer one time the beautiful green eye came out, and I still watch, hoping that someday I’ll find a small stone to take its place. Like many things, I’ve never been able to let go of it.

        I worry that today’s children are missing the joy of “one”.


  • Sadly, despite my mother’s warning I lost that pin–but I remember it vividly.


  • A wonderfully drawn memory. Thanks for sharing!



  • Tgumster says:

    Thanks to your posted poem, the pin is forever, virtually. Memory never fails to stir, no matter whose it may be.


  • So true. Is that because memory, like fiction, has been refined until all that is left is what is meaningful?


  • craig reeder says:

    my memories of those times in my childhood are so fragmentary…. and I know i can’t trust their accuracy. but i do have a few artifacts. a nail clipper that belonged to my father… who died when I was 11. It sits in my bathroom drawer, a physical bridge to the past. probably the oldest object from my childhood that i still have in my possession.


    • I sometimes find it sad that the things we own outlast us–the persistence of the inanimate.

      My parents’ hats, which hang on the wall always make my throat feel thick, but I still don’t take them down. The goodness of memory must outweigh the sorrow.


  • I think I like the space between the lines. It makes the poem meander like the mind slowly taking in the neighbors, the pin, and the newly found pride.
    Lovely in ways that can’t really be defined.


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