Why does my book title, Three-Penny Memories, have the number 3 in it? Read on and then listen to my recording of a poem from Chapter 3, “Departing from Gate 3”.
When you see the number 3, what do you think of? This number represents many triads in our culture: mind-body-soul, birth-life-death, harmony-balance-wisdom, beginning-middle-end, and the three sides of a triangle.
As part of my journey in designing my poetry book, I took an online course called Memoir Writing, Ink, taught by the best-selling memoirist Alison Wearing. One lesson she taught was to find a “container” for the memoir. To do that, I searched for a metaphor and landed on the number 3. When Mom’s heart and kidneys were failing and family was gathering, my brothers and I took a break to grab some lunch. While I was getting out of the car, I saw before me on the asphalt parking lot three shiny pennies lined up perfectly in a row. I was stunned.
Mom could not pass up a penny on the sidewalk. She would always pick pennies up and expect me to, but I would refuse. I think this would upset her. It was one way we would squabble. Her insisting and my resisting. So of course, when I saw three perfect, beautiful, shiny pennies lined up by the car door, it took me aback. How could coins land out of someone’s pocket in a perfect line on the ground? And who would take the time to place brand-new coins that way on a busy parking lot?
I imagined my Mom saying, “Pick them up.”
I knew I should pick them up, but I resisted.
When we returned to the car, the pennies were gone, and I regretted not picking them up because I felt this experience was a message. I kept pondering why I was shown “three” pennies in such a striking presentation. Not one penny but three. Not old-scattered pennies but shimmering ones. As it turned out, these three pennies foretold Mom’s destiny. She died on the third of April 2016.
The number three also came up in the memoir writing class. We were taught a technique to write a memoir spanning ten years using only three-word sentences. I went crazy with the form and wrote several poems about Mom and me using the three-word sentence form. And some poems have stanzas with three lines. (So as not to be monotonous, however, I varied the poetic and syntactic structures and formats.)
I also divided my book into three sections, like a three-act play. Chapter 1, Light, is about my life with Mom up to the time I became independent. Chapter 2, Dust, covers Mom’s move to be close to me and her onset of Alzheimer’s while living in an independent living facility. Chapter 3, Echo, is about her move to assisted living and her death. As this book is a memoir, I had to show the interplay of the arc of our two lives through challenges, conflicts, and resolutions. In fact, my publisher, Ingrid Wilson (EIF- Experiments in Fiction), told me that as she read Three-Penny Memories, she felt like she was reading a novel.
Moreover, while Mom was in assisted living, I was struck by the rule that if Mom refused help, like a shower and clean clothes, three times, the nurse didn’t have to give Mom the service she really needed.
After mom died, an owl perched outside my bedroom window for three nights and hooted loudly. Because owls are thought of as messengers, I wondered if Mom was trying to communicate with me. She had feared death, so maybe she had good news for me about life after death.
Returning to the beginning of this post, my book definitely covers the arc of two lives, birth-life-death in a three-act play, and I wanted to maintain harmony-balance-wisdom during her care.
Then there’s the triad of mind (our memories, as I lost some with encephalitis, and she lost hers due to Alzheimer’s); body (the book describes our complementary physical challenges. With her, a birth that nearly killed her, a secret pregnancy and aging with Alzheimer’s. Mine, paralysis form encephalitis, a ruined reproductive system, infertility, and a miscarriage I kept secret); and soul (Our intangible bond, our mystery. There is so much I don’t know about her even now, and I wonder if she showed me her authentic self. I also wore a different face for her sometimes. Though we were strangers to each other in many ways, we were stubbornly loyal to each other.)
On a triangle, we see three sharp angles, which can represent conflict, but a triangle also offers grounding and stability. Think of the magical powers and strength of a pyramid. Mom and I were pierced by the sharp angles at times, but she raised me with love, so I feel that our multi-faceted diamantine love helped ground us.
Today, I would like to read a poem from Chapter 3, Echo. It includes my finding the three pennies and describes a dream I had after Mom died. She was on a bed in a draped alcove, her shoes neatly stowed under the bed, and she needed her purse to pay bills. I realized the setting in the dream represented a funeral home, and as her caregiver, I had to write her final checks. In the dream, I relived my worry, loss, and grief.
In keeping with my “container”, the number 3, and envisioning Mom leaving on a flight to heaven, I titled the poem “Departing from Gate 3”. Here is the audio.
“Three-Penny Memories: A Poetic Memoir” launches on Amazon on Saturday, October 15! You can purchase a paperback copy for $12.99 or the Kindle version for $6.99.
Thank you for being with me on this journey! I hope this book helps people who have (had) a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other form of dementia, or encephalitis. DES babies and their offspring may also relate to some of these poems. Yes, three health conditions!