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Ruby’s House

to the memory of Ruby Elaine Seal Rizley (1896-1978)

You knew it when you woke up in the morning and you heard
The sound of pigeons cooing just outside the windowpane,
And opening your eyes, your childish heart was freshly stirred
To see that fading wallpaper around you once again.

You knew it when the wafting scent of pancakes on the grill,
Ascending from the kitchen made its way into your room
To tantalize your nose and make you rise up with a will
To trace that sweet aroma that could drive away the gloom.

You knew it when, on walking down the stairs, you heard the voices
Of aunts and uncles chatting lively at the breakfast table
And knew that with your cousins you would soon be making choices
On how to spend the day and play as long as you were able.

But most of all, you knew it when you heard a warm “hello-o-o!”
And turning round, you saw the grand old matron of our clan,
That gritty lady born of settlers’ stock so long ago,
With whom the epic saga of our family’s life began–

A tale so full of drama it can make your spirit reel
Of covered wagons entering a wild, unsettled land,
Of common folk with tender hearts and sturdy spines of steel,
Of romance on the prairie yielding children as God planned.

You knew then, when you saw her, you were where you loved to be—
In Ruby’s house, for there, no matter how far you might roam,
You’d always find a welcome, as a sailor on the sea
Upon a tropic island finds a home away from home.

Yes, Ruby’s house, that magic place, that house of mystery,
A child’s paradise, a private Oz, a fabled realm,
A place with power to set a child’s imagination free,
A mighty clipper ship with Mama Ruby at the helm!

Of course, my grandpa, Daddy Ross, lived in that house, but he
Passed on when I was just a tyke, before I knew him well,
And so that rambling manse was “Mama Ruby’s house” to me,
Of which, engraved in memory, I’ve countless tales to tell:

Dank autumn tales that smell of pumpkin spice and burning leaves,
When in the dusk, we’d dare each other to approach the door
Of that old corner house with sagging porch and spooky eaves
Where some old woman lived who had gone crazy years before.

That’s what we told each other, as the bravest of our gang,
To catch a glimpse of that mad woman sitting by the fire,
Would peer through darkened window or would knock with hollow clang
Upon the door, which sent us fleeing her psychotic ire.

Another autumn day, we found a crate beside a shed
Filled with assorted arms and legs and other creepy stuff,
The mildewing remains of garden statues, now long dead,
That would come back to life (we said) if you looked long enough!

I’ve icy tales to tell of winter days when falling snow
Would lead to numbing hikes across the endless fields of white;
We’d tramp for miles without a thought of where we wished to go,
Then thaw out with hot chocolate before the fall of night.

When night time fell, we’d gather in a mothball-scented closet
Or in a darkened room, wide-eyed, with eager ears to hear
A scary tale by candle flame, then all would gasp because it
Would flicker by itself, as if a passing ghost were near.

And when the flowers blossomed in the springtime, to the park
We’d race with our bright whirly gigs that in the spring breeze twirled
And fly our kites on gusty breezes as a singing lark
Made circles in the sky above our green, idyllic world.

Or else we’d sit upon two granite lions in the field
That crouched like silent sentries sent from some other dimension
To guard the children, watching them through stony eyes to shield
Their lives from harm, by staying there, forever at attention.

And how could one forget a long and lazy summer morning
At Ruby’s house!  When sitting on the covered porch, we’d see—
While rocking back and forth under the ceiling fan adorning
That languid spot– old monster movies playing on t.v.!

We’d fill our glass with cubes of ice from Ruby’s Frigidaire
And spend the morning watching films or playing games for fun;
We’d stand before the window unit as the cooling air
Made bearable the heat of the day beneath the blazing sun.

On rainy days at Ruby’s house, you never could get bored,
For there were always things to do you’d never done before,
Dark halls and closets to uncover, rooms to be explored,
And mysteries that lay behind each yet unopened door.

Descending basement stairs, you might spend there an hour or two
Perusing dusty stacks of magazines piled on the floor,
Their ancient headlines, fading pictures bringing into view
A vanished past, by showing how things were in days of yore.

You might play that old pump organ that sat in the salon,
Its wheezing sound evoking memories of days gone by
When circuit-riding preachers in revivals would preach on
And folk would sing, and sinners on the mourning bench would cry.

You might decide to peek into the upstairs corner room
Where Mama Ruby’s mother, Miss Leota, lay asleep
At noonday in her chambers (still and silent as a tomb),
Her gaunt form lying, mouth agape, for hours without a peep.

Or if you dared, you might pry open that most creepy lair,
A closet filled with aging china dolls on different shelves
With broken faces, sunken eyes, torn dresses, missing hair
Like some demonic workshop of a few demented elves.

How many are the memories I have of that dear place!
They blow into my mind like windswept leaves that never cease,
So colorful, yet fragile, fading as they swiftly race
Across the days remaining till I don death’s frosty fleece.

They fly across the broken sidewalks of my vanished youth
Along the lane into the twilight haze and disappear,
Sweet vestiges of childhood still to taste with my sweet tooth
Before they melt away just like those days of yesteryear.

Yes, Ruby’s house will always be a palace in my dreams,
Its gothic hallways built into the chambers of my mind,
A part of me, where loved ones dwell and children full of schemes
Still look to open some new door. . . and wonder what they’ll find!

.

.

Martin Rizley grew up in Oklahoma and in Texas, and has served in pastoral ministry both in the United States and in Europe. He is currently serving as the pastor of a small evangelical church in the city of Málaga on the southern coast of Spain, where he lives with his wife and daughter. Martin has enjoyed writing and reading poetry as a hobby since his early youth.


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18 Responses

  1. C.B. Anderson

    This, Martin, seems to be a cross between a poem and a memoir, a richly- grained narrative that will remind the reader of his own past or of experience he has, sadly, missed.

    I the ninth stanza, the word “eves” is used as an end rhyme, but I think what was meant here was “eaves,” as opposed to gables.

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      C.B., thanks for pointing out the orthographic error; I notice that Evan has corrected it. I am thankful for those early childhood experiences of childhood adventure in an atmosphere of security, as well as for the opportunity now at this age to express my thankfulness and share some of my recollections through the medium of poetry.

      Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      Hopefully, Sally, the agents of destruction will never be entirely successful in their efforts, but rather, the extreme radicality of their agenda will in the end provoke a negative response from a wiser generation who will once again rightly value as God-given blessings those precious things of America´s past which the current woke mob despises as a manifestation of detestable “privilege.”

      Reply
      • C.B. Anderson

        That’s a hope we can all acknowledge. Never give in to the Manichean heresy that the Enemy is capable of creating anything, much less anything good. The old tried and true is as deep as it gets, and what a blessing it is to be home for the holidays.

  2. Paul Freeman

    Love it! An anthem to your own youth, I guess, Martin, filled with the mysteries and memories of another self, from another time.

    The poem brought to mind all those personal memories I have of a youth before kids cycled with helmets, when you could roam about the neighbourhoods all day without your parents feeling unduly worried.

    Thanks for the read.

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      Yes, Paul, it was an indeed an idyllic era that I had the privilege to grow up in, as I say to Dr. Salemi in my response to his comment below. Although in a sense it seems far away, yet in another sense, the “gothic hallways” of that old house seem now “a part of me” and “built into the chambers of my mind”– having shaped in so many ways the person I am today.

      Reply
  3. DONALD PETER McCRORY

    A LOVELY AND MOVING ACCOUNT OF TIMES (THE GOOD OLD DAYS) LONG BEFORE COVID! MOST OF US HAVE CHERISHED MEMORIES OF OUR CHILDHOOD BUT FEW CAN MAKE THEM RETURN ALIVE IN PRINT.

    I TRUST YOU ARE ENJOYING MALAGA! I LIVE CLOSE TO ALICANTE

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      Donald, I am so glad you enjoyed the poem and found it moving; I myself feel moved whenever I reflect on those days. In that sense, the poem is a fruit of what Wordsworth called “emotion recollected in tranquility.”

      Reply
  4. Brian Yapko

    Martin, this is a deeply charming poem. The length is a bit challenging but it flows so beautifully that this allows for an immersion into your most appealing nostalgia. These wholesome boyhood memories reminded of Ray Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine.”

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      Thank you for your feedback, Brian. I am so glad you enjoyed reading the poem and that you stuck with it– despite its length! I have never read “Dandelion Wine” but I am tempted now to go out and get a copy.

      Reply
  5. Joseph S. Salemi

    An old, large house, with rooms, attic, and cellar filled with all sorts of strange and fascinating things, is pure heaven to a child. And when you know that your grandparents and other relatives are there also, loving and protecting you, it is without a doubt one of the richest experiences of childhood.

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      You have put your finger on what made those experiences so powerfully formative for me as a child– the sense of adventure discovering, along with my cousins, the “strange and fascinating” things in that old house and the surrounding neighborhood in an atmosphere of adult protection, love and security. It was a wonderful era to grow up, in which kids had freedom to be kids, roam around and explore the world, without being enslaved by technology, straightjacketed by overprotective parents or made the objects of leftist propaganda by social engineers. It was a blessing for which I am thankful.

      Reply
  6. David Watt

    Martin, in my opinion, the strength of your narrative poem is that we can all relate to your rich experience and find comparison in our own childhood.
    Thanks for an enjoyable read.

    Reply
  7. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Martin, your magnificent poem speaks of an era our current world tries their utmost to demonize – a moment in time you sum up perfectly with images and emotions that brought tears to my eyes at the same time my mouth was smiling in recognition – a moment in time that future generations will miss out on if our history continues on the same trajectory. ‘Ruby’s House’ is an absolute privilege and pleasure to read… even though it makes me ache for all that is missing. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      Thank you so much for your feedback, Susan! No doubt there are some dark things in America’s past, and real injustices that can never be excused, but it is so sad to see the way that some, full of bitter resentment and envy, would throw out the baby with the bath water by “demonizing” everything about America’s past and its traditional culture and values, even precious things like family and freedom– blessings that ought to be cherished with thanksgiving, rather than despised.

      Reply
  8. Martin Rizley

    Thank you, David, for your observations. I am glad people can identify with the poem out of their own past experiences; it is reassuring to know that people feel a connection with the things that I experienced as a child, and can relate to the feelings those memories evoke in me.

    Reply

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