Monday, February 26, 2007

The Story Behind The Poem

My dad would often read poetry to us when I was a child, and sometimes I post these poems on my blog. I received a most interesting comment from someone who read a poem that I published as a post in December. The poem was "St Peter at the Gate" and it was one of my favorites when I was growing up. So imagine my surprise to get this comment from a lady who said her great grandfather was the author of that poem. Here is her comment, and she tells the story behind the poem. Very interesting, indeed.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Thanks for posting this wonderful poem.

It is actually by my great grandfather, Joseph Bert Smiley. In 1893, he lived in Galesburg, Michigan, whose population was then 400, and fell in love with Nina Burdick. But her mother, Lucinda Burdick, quashed the romance. She didn't like Bert because of his nervous twitch (chorea, aka St. Vitus' Dance) and his occasional stammering.

One day at the post office, he and others heard Nina's father, Dr. William A. Burdick, comment that he wished the current series of revivals would come to an end, as he "Hadn't had anything at home but Jesus and cucumbers for six weeks." That triggered the writing of this poem; my great grandfather wanted to put that line in verbatim, but decided it was too profane.

My great grandfather was the publisher and editor of a local newspaper, Smiley's Kalamazoo County Enterprise. Printing it there was (I regert to say) his revenge upon Mrs. Burdick, because of course everyone in town knew who the poem was about.

Interestingly enough, Miss Nina Burdick remained a school teacher and single all her life. When she died, she left everything she had to Smiley's widow, Fern, my great grandmother.

Anastasia Theodoridis
Richmond, Virdinia

No comments: