Best Loved

When my sister married in 1976, our already burgeoning family became a little more so. Not that we were complaining. Our family is always growing, always extending, even today. But in 1976, we opened our hearts to the Hopkins family: Allen and Audrey, Mark (my sister’s husband), Lee (Mark’s brother), as well as Aunt Jean, Uncle Bob, Gail, Susie, Bobby…well, the rest of the Illinois clan. Over the years we have shared laughter, told stories, sipped many a cup of coffee and savored slices of pie, watched many a Cubs game, attended just as many pool parties, toasted a few warm beers on Lake Geneva, played hundreds of games of Uno, and did our best to comfort in times of sorrow.

Allen and Audrey were most endearing to me, especially as a gangly, shy and awkward teen. I’d spent my childhood with my nose in a book, actually many books, and while I was only aware of my physical inadequacies (too tall, too skinny, too nearsighted), Mr. and Mrs. Hopkins seemed more aware of the young lady within.

Audrey was always gentle, yet a little stern, as if to instill a little Illinois toughness in this weak Kansas bird. She introduced me to coffee, sugar spoons, china cups and half-and-half, and  pies from Baker’s Square, and the definitive Illinois accent. She was classic.

Sensing the writer hidden within the self-conscious, Allen bought me my first book of poetry. The Best Loved Poems of the American People. 648 pages filled with the words of Browning, Byron, Shelley, Kipling, Wordsworth and more. Scribbled in the margins of the index are penciled notes by a young woman I’d almost forgotten. The penciled stars and checkmarks, question marks and exclamation points a personal code to categorize greatness, emotion, questioning or amazement. And looking through the index now, I’m amazed at how a poem I found so remarkable at the age of twelve, still touched me deeply when I was an undergrad in Albert Goldbarth’s poetry class. The poem is Wordsworth’s “Daffodils.”

All those poems, all those words, and yet the ones I memorized first were the ones handwritten on the first page: “To Natalie: Sweet, sensitive and talented; I hope you enjoy this book.” -Allen.

Audrey and Allen moved to Florida in 1984, just one year before I made the trek to become a Chicagoan.  Too soon our relationship became a note jotted in a Christmas card, a quick hello over the phone,  the viewing of photos taken during my sister and brother-in-law’s frequent trips to take the kids to visit. And too soon, Allen was gone. He died in 1995. And just last week, Audrey passed away.

As my brother-in-law made his way to Florida, I searched the bookshelves for that book of poetry. It had been a few years since I’d cracked the binding, attempted to decode the code, ran my fingers across Allen’s beautiful writing. While geography may have limited our conversations or stymied new memories, the impression they made on an anxious young girl trying to find her own was unforgettable.

And now, I’d like to think they are with Andrea and keeping a close eye on us all. Always aware. “And then my heart with pleasure fills, and dances with the daffodils.”

In honor of Allen and Audrey, I’d like to post a poem written by Allen in 1967. This same poem is matted and framed and hanging in Mark and Shirley’s bedroom, so with Mark’s permission I end with the words of Leonard Allen Hopkins:

What Kind of Man are You?

I am not the kind of man who speaks for the sake of being heard

like a caged parrot or a chirping bird.

I do not speak for comment’s sake about pretty flowers or the trees

with as much consequence as a passing breeze.

My voice does not soften in retreat nor do I withdraw in self-defense

just because I fear a consequence.

False actions do not pressure me to silence those thoughts that should be known

just because I stand alone.

I do not bend to hypocrisy nor become part of a masquerade

because of pretentious flattery made.

I do not bow to saintly praises or retreat when pressures beckon

so that I might pass someones inspection.

I judge my fellows by what I know them to be and not by what someone said to me.

My heart and hand I freely lend to any man that needs a friend.

Perhaps I’ll not be judged renowned nor measured for success

but I’m my own more, no less.

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One thought on “Best Loved

  1. Thank you, Natalie, for that touching, heartfelt commentary on my parents. I think of them every day, and miss their company tremendously. As I said on a Facebook comment, they loved being a part of your family, and enjoyed you especially; I think my parents thought of you as the daughter they never had.



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